Thursday, April 07, 2005

Fallen Angel

See? I wasn't always the crazy wild child from two posts ago. In 1962, I was a devout communicant with dirty knees and Edith Prickly glasses.

There were three things that eventually drove me away from the Catholic Church:

Inspired by I-don't-know-what, I went through a very pious year when I was 10. Attended Mass every single morning. I shit you not. One day, I was at morning mass with a good friend, and decided to tell her a joke that my sister had shared with me the previous day. (What is it about being in church that creates the uncontrollable urge to tell a joke?) It went like this:

"There's a new man in our office. His name is John Benjamin Hind, but since he has red hair we call him 'Red B. Hind'."

This was, by far, the MOST hysterically funny thing we ever heard and we couldn't contain ourselves. We couldn't even look at each other without bursting out laughing. After Mass, the priest sent an alter boy to grab us. We had to kneel on a hard block of wood with rice sprinkled on it for about an hour while he changed his clothes in front of us. Strike one, Catholic Church. You have no sense of humor and your priests are all perverts. I guess we dodged a bullet with that particular guy, but at least one other from our parish was outed as an abuser later on.

The next serious blow to my "faith" came later that year. From the time I was about five, my parents had thoughtlessly left me to fend for myself against two much older male cousins on a weekly basis. Marge and Sal were busy engaging in Sunday afternoon penny-poker games with my aunts and uncles while I sat in one of my uncle's locked Cadillac getting a reluctant biology lesson from these two monsters. I distinctly remember staring at my white anklets and black patent leather Mary Janes as a way to disassociate while they argued over penis size and who was going to get to do what to me, or me to them.

I was wracked with guilt over this activity (even more so than when I chewed a piece of gum that my friend Andrew had stolen) so I decided that the only course of action was to march myself over to church and confess. Saturday after Saturday, I made my way there, stood outside and rehearsed the words I would use to describe my "sin", hoping that I didn't have to spell it out for the old guy behind the screen. Each time, I became consumed with anxiety, turned around and ran home.

Finally, a Saturday came when I mustered up the courage to enter the confessional:

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been six weeks since my last Confession..."

I got no further than that. Six weeks?? SIX WEEKS? Did I have ANY idea how heinous that was? The priest lit into me, my little, devout, 10-year-old church-going self, with such venom that once he finished I kept my sins to the standard, "Lied, cursed, disobeyed my mother", did my 10 Hail Marys and got the fuck out of there. I never went to confession again. (Well, I did go into a CONFESSIONAL one more time, but I'm saving that story for the book.)

That was strike two. Strike three came that same year, when I sat in my fourth grade class and listened to Sister Mary Fill-in-the-Blank pontificate about the evils of communism: "Everyone has to dress the same, and think the same..." I raised my hand and asked her why that was any different from what we were doing, right there in Catholic school. I was sent to the principal's office for "insubordination."

I stopped going to church, figured out that the Golden Rule was as effective as anything they could teach me, and decided that "I don't know" was a perfectly acceptable answer to all the hard questions that religion was supposed to sort out for us. I've never looked back.

My cousins grew up to be used car salesmen. I grew up to provide multiple therapists with down payments on houses in the Hamptons and a couple of Ferraris. Quell surprise!