By Patty Clark
The priest never understood the severity of my suffering. It’s not like I robbed the church basket or threw a baby bunny off a bridge. Unlike most mischievous girls, Marie Antoinette never knew the adolescent amusement of teepeeing the neighbor’s house with multi-hued crepe paper… right before it rained. Neither did I. But I can’t say that I didn’t think about it.
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It was my eighteenth year of living when I honestly thought I was going to be the next Virgin Mary.
The nuns of holy agony pried me away from any boy that came within touching distance and made me guilt ridden for years. I had to sit in a dimly lit church confessional expressing every transgression to a shadowed ecclesiastic. Then I averaged two icy plunges per week into holy water. In my eyes, those lusts and excesses were not so despicable and I shouldn’t have had such harsh penances like a million Hail Mary’s.
A Different Shade of Red
Before the Rain
The priest never understood the severity of my suffering.
It’s not like I robbed the church basket or threw a baby bunny off a bridge. Although I admit to leaving urine specimens in swimming pools and having my parents cater to my long lists of demands. Unlike most mischievous girls, Marie Antoinette never knew the adolescent amusement of teepeeing the neighbor’s house with multi-hued crepe paper… right before it rained. Neither did I.
But I can’t say that I didn’t think about it.
Now I’m only 15% Catholic, I don’t consider my sins scarlet anymore.
They are more on the pinkish side. I spent countless Sundays going to the altar, eating a wafer and gulped some wine, went home with an overwhelming desire to do something a bit naughty.
I mean when a pastor invites me to eat flesh and drink blood, I thought it was a forum for cannibalism. And I was forced to give up things like doughnuts for Lent. I would have liked it more if the communion wafers had been satisfyingly smothered in caramel and colored sprinkles, and the wine was 100% Welch’s. And church attendance would have risen substantially if Clive Owen had been my pastoral vampirish initiator.
Week after week I found myself cowering before the clergyman.
“Father, I know it’s only been fifteen minutes since my last confession. But will I be forgiven after singeing my sister’s hair with the matches that I wasn’t supposed to play with?” I began to sense the monumental amount of guilt that I was going to feel for the rest of my impish existence. But I must have done something right.
When I was a pre-teen, I entered a contest for a bike and won. Then I gave it to my girlfriend who needed it more than I did. That same week I found myself back in the confessional repenting, “Bless me Father for I have stained the carpeting while chasing my sister.” According to my mother, it was a sin to be in hot pursuit of someone while holding an open container of chocolate milk.
I’d like to clear my conscience completely about all those supposedly horrible things I did that sent me into a deep shameful spiral and has haunted me until 1998.
That’s the year I began living guilt free. But what if I’m playing baseball and I steal second base? Does that count? And I want to know who exactly carved out those Commandments?
Thou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. I believe that saying “Jesus” beats the “F” word. And Thou shall not make idols, unless I want to buy beer for the underage and have them worship me forever after. I did learn that thou shall not make large bank withdrawals with a loaded weapon. And to love thy neighbor, even though I’m not a fan of their nude gardening.
My parents should have joined Compulsive Liars Anonymous with all the sandbagging they dispensed, like telling us that Santa was living large and somewhere north with flying reindeer.
I eventually took on the hobby of habitual lying myself. Like the big bad bear in the kitchen lie. I told my girls that if they held the freezer door open too long the cold would get out and a huge polar bear might appear. My animal loving middle daughter stood in front of the appliance long enough to catch a cold telling me, “I’m just waiting to hug the big guy.”
I was also culpable for hiding my children’s toys that were deadly obstacles and obnoxiously loud.
“Gee, I’m not exactly sure where your Barbie accessories and Mr. Microphone are!”
So it’s no wonder each of my girls at one time or another fibbed, “I haven’t seen your lipstick,” when clearly their mouths all the way to their earlobes drastically displayed the colored cosmetic. I wondered how old they were before they realized that “Mommy and Daddy were just doing gymnastics in the bedroom” was a great big crock of sham.
I had to explain that hearing “Oh God” wasn’t showing disrespect to the Lord in any way just because we weren’t in church. It was worth every flame of eternal hellfire that awaits my wicked body.
The Guy in Charge
It was bad enough repenting for my own misdeeds.
I also found myself praying on behalf of a contrite child. “Bless her Father, she strayed into the neighbor’s yard and picked all their begonias.” Not to mention my girls concocting fictional stories to the neighbors about us never having any groceries in the house when I practically took out food loans to feed them.
All those times I took them to Chuck-E-Cheese for dinner eventually led to guilt. I thought that establishing lousy nourishment and teaching them how to pass off counterfeit coins while I was drinking beer was a grand idea at the time.
Once I forgot to leave tooth money under one daughter’s pillow and had to come up with a fast thinking fabrication that the fairy only comes on second Saturdays of the month. I thought my words would be richly flavored with trust and thankfulness. But no. Now that my girls are adults, they can’t ask me anything anymore without counting on the validity of a polygraph test.
After inhabiting this planet for over half a century, I’ve experienced random flashes of light that could either be the Lord speaking to me, or the mere warning to run for cover in a lightning storm.
In order to become more of an immaculate me, I shouldn’t have to say, “Bless me Father for I have slaughtered” every time I stomp out a spider. And I suppose I should be truthful when someone asks if I dye my hair. Had my mother been a more intimately connected with Conan O’Brien, I’d be a genuine redhead.
When I end up in a senior home and raise my hand to use the bathroom, I hope they won’t think I’m lying when I say, “I really have to go.”