I was raised Catholic, but in a casual way—we went to church, I had CCD, but my parents never made me feel like I was a heinous, sinning little shithead who didn’t deserve the love of Christ. I appreciate that. But then, when I was eleven, I went to Catholic school.
I was only there for two years; we moved when I was thirteen, and I spent the remainder of my pre-college education home-schooled.
Still, it makes an impression on you. My first confession as a Catholic school student, for example, was especially traumatic.
So I was sitting there, with this apparent voyeur of a priest, who wanted to know all my sins. I had made a list of those sins beforehand, on loose-leaf paper, but I sensed that he would not be amused by my crib notes. Sins, after all, are supposed to weigh on you. You shouldn’t have to remind yourself what they are.
I was already off to a decidedly unimpressive start. It had been five years since my last confession, and since this was a face-to-face confessional, I had actually gotten to see the judging look on Father C.’s face when I told him so.
I was six when I’d had my first reconciliation. I was eleven now. Surely I had done some terrible shit. But none of that shit would come to mind, and there was a line of students outside the confessional waiting their turn, and the longer I took, the more screwed up I looked.
How many sins can she possibly have?
So I lied. I confessed to shoplifting, to physical fights, to gossip, to pro-choice views. I confessed to questioning the existence of God, and to “making fun of Jesus.” I confessed to sleeping through CCD, and I wondered aloud if President Clinton were just a nice man after all. I confessed to everything I could imagine, and then, to cover my tracks, I confessed to lying.
Father C. prescribed my soul a metric shitton of prayers, prayers I only skimmed. Hail Mary, the lord is with thee, now and at the hour of our death. Okay, one down.
While the abridged prayers played in the back of my mind, I debated the pronunciation of “amen.” There was the always-popular and supremely elegant ah-men, but it gave the impression of tramp-in-training (the only sin, incidentally, to which I had not confessed). Ay-men was grammatically problematic—why not ay-man? I considered uh-men, but ultimately decided it was the second syllable that was wrong, and settled on uh-min, which means absolutely nothing.
Our father, who art in heaven, uh-min.
When my prayers were over, I stood and looked down at my knees. For the first time I realized that if I wanted to know how badly the other girls had sinned, I could look at their knees. If they were especially terrible, their knees would be flushed deep pink and bear the imprints of wooden kneelers, while the knees of good girls were virginal and unmarked. With boys, well, no one knew. They were exempted from wearing the ubiquitous school girl skirt, after all.
As it turned out, this was our recess for the day. Yes—I had spent my recess lying to God and cheating on atonement. I figured that I was already going to hell, so when our teacher showed us a picture of an “aborted baby,” a grotesque photo of a bloody, third-trimester fetus still in the womb, I was the one who raised my hand and pointed out that there wasn’t any blood at all—the entire picture had just been tinted red.
My teacher just stared at me. I think it was around this time that the Catholic God said, “fuck this girl, she’s a smartass.”
And so I transitioned from a sporadic Catholic to a recovering Catholic. The Church is screwed up; unfortunately, it’s aesthetically gorgeous.
Visually, I remain drawn to it, much like a bug bouncing around inside a lampshade because the light, it is so pretty.
Father C. went to jail, by the way. Embezzlement.