I smiled nervously and thought, This is strange and funny but sort of sexyâ€¦ I thought of my new lover and how this could make a great kinky scene. I knew he was waiting. I never did well with silences. I heard the priest place his palm on his wooden shelf. I had to say something. What constitutes a sin anyway?
It was early evening at St. Augustin’s church in Boyle Heights, California. I was at a rehearsal for my secretary’s wedding. The jacaranda trees outside the church had left a light purple trail on the maroon carpeting that adorned the entrance. The wedding party sat in pews awaiting their turn to confess. Little glints of light bounced on the stained-glass windows. I sat outside the yellow pine door staring at the crucified image of Jesus at the altar. When I was a child, I would trace the blood over the arcs of his feet in my mind. When that game ended, I would imagine I lived in the church with all my friends.
Now, as a grown-up, I found myself inside a small, dark room where there was only enough space for me to kneel. It smelled like burning coal, and the seats were lined with blood-colored velvet, the smoothness of forgiveness. I was here to earn my turn for that dull wafer and sip of wine. There was a long, fat, leather kickstand on the floor to cushion my knees, and a smooth, light pine bar to hook my feet around. It was the stuff fetishes are made of. The thin bar, with just the right amount of room for you to strike prayer position, it was a whisper from God or a priest or a master, the tight caress of the wooden room. “Good girl,” it said. When I closed the door behind me the sounds outside stopped. I knelt. My bag sagged beside my crossed ankles, a bottle of Coke inside made a clinking noise against the metal kickstand on the footrest. “Uh helloâ€¦ I’ve never done this before.”
“When did you go to your last confession?” It was a firm, fatherly voice, starchy and raspy.I could hear the window screen open. There was a dark grate between us. It was a farce. We both knew who the other person was. I knew he was the priest who was speaking to me outside, and he must have known who I was because I was the only English-speaking person there.
I clasped my hands together and bent my head down before the grated window. “This is my first confession.”
“Have you had your First Communion?”
“Well, you must have confessed before that. When was that?”
I searched my memory for hints. I knew there were classes for that. Catechism classes I had to endure for several hours after school. I was sent away frequently to some sort of principal’s office for doodling in my gold book. I would doodle devil’s horns on Jesus’ head. I would update the sketches of myself to look more punk rock. I remembered the woman who drove me home every day. She was a cat woman, the kind who owned so many cats she didn’t even bother to name them all. Her car reeked of animals and cigarettes; she was overweight and her arms and elbows would leak onto my side of the little white Volkswagen bug every time she shifted gears. That’s when I stopped trusting the whole thing. I thought it was just another ride home for my mother, another free after-school program.
“I don’t know. I was about six or eight.” By now I had slunked out of my prayer position and nodded my head to the side.
“How old are you now?”
We were looking straight on then. “Thirty-two.”
“So how long was that?”
I paused, looking down at my hands. I made math noises.
“I guess about twenty-six years. Something around there.”
“Okay.” He took a moment. “I want you to lean in and whisper all of your sins to me.”
You see what I mean by kinky scene? I tried to think of the absolute worst thing I’d ever done. An image of my brother’s large dark hand holding a gun came to my mind. I saw only the butt of the gun, his hands between a woman’s legs, the skirt of her dress up against the wall. I tried to remember but I couldn’t see the woman, I couldn’t look, I was watching out for people in the parking lot. I was looking for people coming but I was crying. “Give me your money!” B said. He was just acting; he wasn’t really that bad. But he loved it. He loved this acting. He’d tell me later he thought his character had reached new heights. He had the woman pinned up against the wall, and with her sad white dress with brown flowers crumpled up around her waist, B pushed a gun up her. He’s huge, six-five, black, onyx black, muscular. It just looked so awful. I thought he’d gone too far. It was real; he was sticking a gun up some woman’s pussy for money. That’s what I thought. He didn’t have to do that. The woman pissed herself, the gun. She was a grown woman, she was shaking, she had money.
My hands were resting on the window in front of me, slightly moist. “Omissions to act. I think my sins aren’t so much things I did but things I failed to do,” I whispered.
“You have not confessed in twenty-six years and that is the only sin you can think of?”
“Uh, yes, Father. Except maybe honesty. There are times when I have been dishonest.”
“What about sex? Do you have sex?”
I smiled to myself. Oh naughty priest, I thought.
“Yes, I have sex, Father.”
I was in my element now. I smirked at the priest. Is this what he wanted?
“About how often? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year?”
I thought, There’s a lot of math involved in this. I looked down at my hands. Let’s see, I’ve been around thirty-two years. I started having sex pretty young, but maybe regularly around twenty-three.
“Father, is this an average?”
“Once a week.”
“Are you married?”
“Living with someone?”
I didn’t answer right away. I didn’t know how to answer. Maybe I should say that my boyfriend left a toothbrush at my house, and that has recently elevated the level of our relationship. But I wasn’t quite sure what to call him. I had been living like a lesbian for the last ten years, and now I was dating a trans guy, and I just wasn’t used to using the words boy and friend together in a sentence. When I was searching for a gender-neutral term that I could use to describe him, he suggested I call him toothbrush-leaver. I started to say, “Father, I have a toothbrush-leaver” but thought better of it. I settled on “Father, I’m gay.”
“I don’t care if you are homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, cisexual. But you have drifted from your faith. I cannot let you take Communion tomorrow because it would be sacrilegious.”
I slumped in my kneel. No longer feeling the good girl caress, no longer caring. Well, no longer caring completely I suppose. You see, there’s more to the story about the brother. It’s true he was an asshole and that’s probably what sticks out about him. But his madness was driven by a need to satiate his heroin addiction. I used to take him to pick up his methadone. All the junkies sat around with little waxed Dixie cups, the Easteresque pastel flowers ridiculing their addiction.
They used to sit around with those cups, the dope fiends. They would take them apart, unravel them into one long piece of waxed paper, unfold the curled edges, and lick it clean. My brother seemed to hunker down in the chairs, making the plastic chairs disappear, like a parent at back-to-school night. He would look angry, then sheepish; he’d take his Communion in his mouth (that’s what we called it, “Communion”) and finally he would look relieved for a moment like an exhale. The last time I took him, he stood up to leave and I noticed his hands were still clenched in fists. Not a good sign for him. When he reached the door he smacked some guy on the head with one hand while delicately removing the Dixie cup with his other. He was always so coordinated, never got the BZZZZ in Operation. “Punk ass biotch!” he sneered and ran outside before anyone could move. They were in slow motion in there. Time stopped in there.
My brother eventually died. I always quote his last words as being “Fuck it.” This sounds apathetic but really it wasn’t. It was his faith. You see, despite his grungy, crass lifestyle he was deeply religious and he wore a gold crucifix around his neck. When he said those words they came out more like a slur, “Fuuuuuckittt.” At the same time he paternally stroked the miniature golden figure of Jesus on his crucifix. I got comfort in this. Regardless of all the horrible, mean, desperate things we did, there would always be a place for salvation. This priest was taking away my last hope for salvation. I say I do not believe in it but I want to. I wanted to think that the thing that kept me out of this small closet my whole life was not complete lack of disbelief but that this fell somewhere on Plan B and I was currently still working on Plan A.
“I don’t feel I have drifted from my faith. God is with me in everything I do, Father.” I pulled my feet and knees out from the holster and crossed my legs in the chair. I raised my hands so my silhouette would cast a deep shadow across his face. If shadows were felt it would have been a slap. “But this is your church and I will respect your wishes.”
“Okay, if you promise me not to take Communion tomorrow, I will absolve you of all your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.” He slammed the door of the window shut. The room grew dark.
I sat there sad, like I had lost something. Confused. I looked at the floor, at the stupid leather log designed to cushion knees. I could not leave the room, so I put my head down on the little wooden shelf. My dark curls splayed along my shoulder, my designer jeans falling low on my ass, I pushed my sneakered feet into the floor to try to get centered. Wait, did I just get rejected from taking the Eucharist? The thing that people have been hounding me about for so long? I mean don’t they recruit for this thing? I became overwhelmed with the guilt and shame of somebody else’s judgment of my spirit. I felt unlovable. And this is where I get stuck. I find it very difficult to write my way out of this because that phrase is so painful. To feel unworthy of love is like having your body hollowed out so your spirit becomes separate from the vehicle that is your body. You’re untethered, insatiable, every movement you’ve made up till now is completely worthless. “Unlovable,” it leaves an echoâ€¦and my heart feels like a jumbled mass. Like this:
Outside of the church there were three cars, a Jeep, a tan Buick, and right next to the door in a parking spot designated with a sign that said “Reserved for Fatherâ€¦” there stood the man with the voice. He was tall, bald, doughy. The type of white man you would be surprised to know was fluent in Spanish. A Phil Donahue, Santa Claus variety of white man. He was bent over struggling with his car. He drove an old navy blue Cutlass Ciera, with dark blue leather seats.
hasn’t had a drink in 15 years
hasn’t masturbated or had sex in 15 years
hasn’t had chocolate in 10 years
of all these he misses chocolate the most.
The last time he had a girlfriend she stopped kissing him when she discovered he wasn’t circumsized.
He thought it was his technique.
He practiced on his hand.
He was an altar boy
His favorite person was the priest he served as an altar boy when he was younger
The priest brought his St. Bernard with him to church.
This church will not allow pets unless they are service animals
He bought a service vest for his dog but knew it was a lie.
His dog is a toy yorkie
And when his mother kissed him her lips lingered a moment too long.
“Having trouble, Father?”
I’d like to say that he appeared jolted by my voice but he did not stop tinkering with his car. His face was red. I got closer and peered under the hood.
“Just think I need a jump.”
His battery was covered in corrosion.
“You might need help getting to those battery plugs. Mind if I help you out?”
This finally jolted him. He looked up at me, his starched white priest’s collar smudged with grease. I looked at him as long as I could. Held his gaze, showed him my wet eyes. They were glassy from rejection. I remembered my bottle of Coca-Cola. I handed the bottle to him. He popped off the top and took a big slug. I looked at him big hot sweaty, then back at the battery.
He does a miner’s swipe on his forehead, “Thanks I needed that.”
What he didn’t know is that Coke contains carbonic acid,which eats away limestone and most metallic oxides quite readily, while not dissolving pure metals as quickly. The Coke was for the battery.
I stood there and thought, “This is what Jesus must have felt like.”