In "Salvation," what does the author mean when he says, "I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved."
The narrator is recalling a time when he was twelve (going on thirteen) and attended a church revival. Near the end of the revival, the children were supposed to approach the front row and be "saved" by Jesus. The narrator, Hughes, had been told about this by his Aunt prior to the actual event. So, he was prepared for it and expected to be saved. The narrator takes what his Aunt says literally:
My aunt told me than when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her.
Note the use of exclamation points; this underscores his expectations but also could emphasize the degree of his disappointment when he fails to experience what his aunt had described.
When the narrator fails to "see" Jesus or a light, he doesn't know what to do. Eventually, his friend who also had seen nothing got annoyed and got up to be saved. Finally, the narrator (again, this is Hughes) decides not to hold things up. Since his friend had lied and had not been struck dead by God, he felt it was time to lie and get up and be saved.
He was saved in the eyes of the church, but he did not feel saved on a personal and/or spiritual level; in fact, he felt guilty for lying and betrayed by others who told him he would see and feel certain life-changing things. Had he understood that "seeing" was meant in a more intuitive way as "knowing" or "believing", he might have had a different experience.