SallyBryce2_s (23K)

STORIES

  1. RAGE
  2. THE TRAIN RIDE
  3. ME TOO
  4. A PINK CAR
  5. MRS. BODKIN
  6. WOUNDED
  7. A SCRAPPER
  8. BABY
  9. THE PRIEST

RAGE

Imagine that you are nine and can sense tension in your house, that things are about to erupt. You may not know the actual circumstances or conflict but your experienced sensibilities pick up the undercurrents. You become the helpful good child because you’re afraid and don’t want to be the match that lights the fire.

“Is that what’s for dinner? Where’s the meat?” Your dad looks disgusted as he stirs the pot of bean soup on the stove.

“If you hadn’t gambled most of your paycheck we’d have meat,” your mother says under her breath.

“Don’t give me any of your lip woman; I make plenty of money.”

She doesn’t respond.

Instantly he grabs a dish out of the sink and throws it against the wall and you watch the messy pieces shatter to the floor. He kicks the kitchen chair over. Your mother recoils from the outburst. “Now Bob…..please Bob,” she says as he pushes her against the wall with one hand on her throat and a fist in her face. You see how fragile she is—her inflamed eczema, her depression, her ragged dress, her eyes wide with fear. She is no match for this six foot man hardened from outdoor construction work.

“Don’t hurt her!” you say impulsively with no concern for yourself. Is it because even as a nine year old you need to support her, show her how to be strong, how to stand up to this powerful bully? More likely it’s because you know that he could kill her and without her you would not survive either.

He turns to you now engulfed in rage, and unbuckles his belt and pulls it out in one dramatic movement. You are indelibly marked now with this event. Forever when a man pulls his belt out like this you will be triggered and instantly regressed to this moment and experience your raw fear again even when there is no threat. His flushed face has blue veins bulging and pulsating on his forehead. You run through the rooms crying and pleading with him to stop unable to dodge the folded belt coming down across your back and legs with brutal force. Furniture is overturned, lamps broken, pictures get bumped from the wall. Your two siblings know how to hide when they hear the fracas start.

“Bob. Bob. Please Bob. That’s enough Bob.” Your mother’s words do nothing because the rage has not run its course. Like a wild fire there is still more fuel. Even though you were not the one who demeaned him, who rejected him, who found him inadequate, the beating must go on. Is it exhaustion that makes him stop or is the demand for justice finally satisfied?

You run to your room. You are wet with pee and sweat and your body is burning all over with welts. You bury your face to muffle your cries lest they incite him further and bring more pain. For a brief moment with your face in the pillow you feel grateful that you are still alive, still breathing, still able to move. Your mother is alive too and you hear her sweeping up broken glass. In another few moments there will be calm like the gentle rain after a violent lightening storm. Your pounding heart starts to slow.

Your mother comes in and checks your body for marks and bruises and determines that you may be able to go to school tomorrow with long sleeves and pants. “Why do you goad him on like that?” Her fingers trace the welts that are starting to raise. “Why do you get in his face?” Now the tears and sobs come from your deepest place because you are to blame for this. She is siding with him against you and it is too much to bear.

“I’m going to get a job when I grow up and take care of you so you don’t have to live like this,” you say to comfort her, wiping your face on your sleeve.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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THE TRAIN RIDE

Imagine that you are not quite three years old and wake up in a crib in the middle of the night and discover you are alone in the house.  So strange, cold, and dark are your surroundings that November night that at first you don’t recognize where you are.  The dark outlines and shapes of ordinary objects appear menacing and weird like a foreign landscape.  You cry for your mother and search for her in the house only to discover that she isn’t here.  You have no idea what to do or where to go. 

Then you hear the key in the lock and feel the cold draft as the front door opens and you are more frightened and hide in the closet.  Even though you soon realize it’s the familiar voice of your father home from the steel mill, you are not sure it is safe.  Now you are shaking in the pitch black hiding place, comforted somewhat by the faint smells of your mother’s perfume.  His mutterings and agitation as he looks and calls for you only make you more afraid as you know his threshold for rage.  The longer the hide-and-seek game goes on the more convinced you are that the belt will be your punishment if you come out.  He yells angrily, “get out here!” and grabs your trembling arm and pulls you roughly out of the closet when he finally finds you.

Now you are on the train platform shivering in the cold November night when this huge thunderous train comes roaring into the station and a wall of cars flies by with dizzying speed within inches of where you stand causing the wooden planks under your feet to shake and vibrate.  The train stops with a piercing shriek of brakes.  The seat is cold stiff leather.  It smells of smoke from cigarettes and the coal fired engine.  You are thrown back on the seat when the car jerks forward.  Your father soon starts to snore while you press your face against the black glass and look out into the night. Where are you going?  Have you been bad?  Are you being sent away, given away, punished?  Will you live?  Will you ever see your mother again?  The train gathers momentum as hour by hour it speeds across the countryside and through towns.  It is a long, long trip; and your stark fear keeps you awake.

The sky is starting to turn from black to grey in the first light as you walk from the station.  He prods you to walk faster but you are so filled with despair that you have no will to continue.  Even with threats you don’t care.  You drift behind him.  He waits impatiently for you to catch up.  He becomes angrier.  And then like a vision, a ball of sun comes peaking over the horizon completely lighting the street and you can make out in the distance two small figures waiting on a porch.  As you get closer they begin to wave.  And then you recognize them as your Nana and Pappy, your maternal grandmother and grandfather in their little house.

It is with joy and relief that you run that two block stretch as tired as you are and throw yourself into the arms of your grandparents.  He lifts you up and she kisses you and they cushion you with their warmth and excitement.  You smell bacon frying.  You go through the familiar rooms.  Then to the surprise of everyone you start crying.  What happened?  What’s wrong?  The three adults look quizzically at each other and shrug.   Then your Nana says as she’s drying your eyes, “I just got a call.  You have a new little sister.”

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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ME TOO

Imagine that this man we’ll call Barry was like an uncle to you. An outgoing cheerful successful executive, he had grown up next door to your dad and has been a lifetime family friend. Lillian, his wife, a large simple woman who is passionate about baseball and baseball memorabilia, enjoys having you visit them for dinner in her homey kitchen. You are grateful that when you asked Barry for help to get a job after your high school graduation, he says, “Come in on Monday dressed for work and I’ll find you a temporary slot here. I’ll have someone in personnel call you.”

It is now your third day at your new job and you are wearing a business-like green shirtdress and low heels and your shoulder length hair twisted into a neat bun. It is 11:00 a.m. when you see Barry who had been on a business trip when you magically got hired without so much as an interview. He is your father’s age with a full head of curly grey hair and glints of gold crowns when he smiles at you. Your mother said she had a crush on him in high school.

I’m going to need her for the rest of the day,” he says to your supervisor, then to you, “Bring your things.” You are totally surprised but clean up your desk and follow him into the elevator down to the parking garage. “How about some lunch?” He opens the passenger door, a shiny black Mercedes sedan. You are soon exiting the garage and working through stop and go traffic. “I know a place not too far away that has great food,” He explains. “A friend of mine is trying to make a go of a restaurant there. I want to help him out. We can have a leisurely lunch and catch up.” He reaches across and pats you on the thigh. “I bet you have a lot of boyfriends.” He laughs and takes his eyes off the road to look at you. You are leaving town now and the buildings and strip malls are giving way to open fields and pastures.

Its many miles and more than thirty minutes before you are turning into the driveway of a restaurant and motel that looks like a truck stop off the interstate. “It doesn’t look like much,” Barry says, “But the food is fantastic. It’s a mom and pop operation.” There is no rush hour here. A woman maybe younger than she looks, with deep lines in her face and smelling faintly of cigarettes, greets him by name He turns down the offer of menus “Trust me,” he winks at you. “They have great steaks. Do you like steak?” He orders a bottle of wine. “Let’s celebrate your new job.” When the wine comes he pours two glasses, “Here’s a toast!” He touches his glass to yours. You tell him you have no experience with alcohol and are not even old enough to drink, but he laughs.

The bottle is half gone when the steaks arrived—huge t-bones with wedge fries and coleslaw. You are hungry and the wine is relaxing you. Barry is telling you about his life and how he managed without a college degree, something you want for yourself if you can find the money. He pours the rest of the wine into your glass and signals to the waitress “I’m switching to Canadian Club!” The waitress brings him a glass with ice and a double shot glass of whiskey. “I got a death sentence a year and a half ago,” he blurts out suddenly and his eyes fill up. You are confused. “Cancer. I got cancer. I’m forty-seven now. Who would have thought? The treatment is worse than the disease.” He looks away. You reach across the table and cover his hand with yours to comfort him and say how sorry you are.

You head off to the ladies room to splash water on your face. You feel woozy and dizzy. The waitress follows you in and lights a cigarette. “How do you know this guy?” she asks leaning up against the laminate counter pocked with cigarette burns and blowing smoke in your direction. You explain he’s like family, that you’ve known him all your life. The waitress says Oh but nothing more, reapplies her lipstick and leaves but the exchange makes you uncomfortable. When you get back to the table Barry has settled with the owner on the check and left a pile of bills for a tip.

Once outside in the bright sun instead of walking to the car he pulls a motel key out of his pocket. He is perspiring. His face looks ashen. “I’ve got to rest for a short while,” he says. “I think I drank more than I should. It’s only 2:30. I’ve rented a room for an hour. We can talk some more.” He leans on you as you walk to the room. You see him as more vulnerable now, more frail, not the large competent man from your childhood.

You feel a cold chill going into the motel room. It is small and dark with the blinds drawn, smells of stale smoke, and the air conditioner rattles noisily on the high setting. The cheap gold and brown bedspread is well worn with a wood grain dresser holding an oversized TV. Suddenly you are very sorry you had called him and taken this job.

“You’re my heaven.” He sits down on the bed. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispers hoarsely, his eyes wet, his jaw trembling. He takes off his jacket and tie, and pats the spot beside him for you to sit down. You aren’t used to drinking and feel weak, confused, and sick. This job is important to you. You have no one else who will help you with money for college. You keep searching for a way to get out of this. You aren’t sure where you are exactly.

He grabs you roughly and pulls you down on the bed and starts unbuttoning your dress. “You have such perfect skin. I imagine your titties are the prettiest dusty rose, are they?” He rolls on top of you and works your panties off enough to begin pushing his erection into you. You try to get him off of you but the wine mixed with his weight and determination are too much to overcome. His veins on his forehead are distended and pulsing. You smell strong alcohol on his breath. You can’t believe what is happening to you. “You’re my heaven,” he says slurring his words, and trying to kiss you. When you stand up you are so shaken and upset you can barely put yourself back together. You run outside but realize you don’t have a ride and there’s no one to call. You think about finding the waitress to help you but you don’t want to explain this to anyone. You are overcome with shame. You say nothing when he appears with the car key and manages to drive silently back to town. Even if you knew this was a crime you wouldn’t report it, the humiliation would be too much to bear. You go to work the next day.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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A PINK CAR

Consider you are a loser and a failure in every way. As an only child both parents died—your dad by a drunk driver, your mother from cancer when you were twelve. With a diagnosis of ADHD and other problems, being large and mouthy and acting out at school, none of your relatives would take you, and you ended up in foster homes, six of them. Kicked out of the foster care system at eighteen without a high school diploma, you lived on the street for awhile hanging out with other teens for protection. Getting pregnant was actually a break for you as the religious group who ran the soup kitchen had a place for you to stay, and helped you and your daughter get on welfare and in subsidized housing.

The task of making a life for your daughter is motivating you to succeed somehow. You are more than a hundred pounds overweight, on medication for depression and still having mood swings. You go to Alanon and CODA meetings and Adult Children of Alcoholics and allow yourself to be as big and outgoing as you are and practice telling your truth. You have no marketing skills, not even a high school diploma, and have never held a job but someone in the apartment where you are living invites you to a meeting for a national cosmetic company and you imagine that maybe you could do this. Then at the rallies and gatherings for interested women, you get the mic and tell the group the horrific details of your life in foster care and on the street and convince them to join your organization, because you say, “If I can do this anyone can.” You love these women who want what you have and they love you back. You know how to empower people, how to make them feel good, how to inspire them to work hard. You are no threat to anyone. Soon you have constructed a large following, an organization that makes it possible to leave welfare, move your daughter into nicer digs, and not too long after that you are actually driving a pink car.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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MRS. BODKIN

The first snowfall that year came early and with little warning, dumping a huge avalanche of wet flakes, turning the slides and swings and monkey bars into ghostlike mounds, and obliterating all the divisions between roads and parking lots. It was a blue-grey world outside my third grade window and eerily silent without traffic when the principal came by to announce that the busses couldn’t run that afternoon. Students left with parents who came in tractors, trucks, or four wheel drive vehicles, or those close enough to hike. Snow plows would not get to this rural town until morning if then, Mrs. Bodkin my teacher announced. “The office will call your parents.” We had no phone and the neighbor would get the call. I had no idea what would happen next.

I was the only child left in her room when the sky turned dark, the room started to cool, and we had washed the blackboard and gathered the scissors and rulers into their boxes. Mrs. Bodkin, a tall pretty woman with short red curly hair and glasses, kept looking at me as if to say, “What am I going to do with you?” I watched out the window, now frosting at the corners, wishing for someone to come for me but knowing deep inside that there wasn’t a chance. We had an old vehicle that sometimes would run but not in this weather, not this night.

The principal came by in his boots and overcoat. “You two are the last ones here.”

“We’re going now too,” Mrs. Bodkin said. “I live a few blocks from here. Get your coat on!” With the principal locking the door behind us we started out. We discovered where the curb was by almost falling off. My feet were freezing and wet in a few minutes and then turned numb. We took a short cut through backyards and down alleys in snow up to my knees. It was slow going with each step requiring us to lift our legs high and plunge them down again into the deep drifts. Mrs. Bodkin led the way. “Try to put your feet in the same spots as mine.”

Mr. Bodkin was outside shoveling the walkway of their little house when he saw us coming. They hugged and kissed on the porch before she introduced me. We were in the warm kitchen with a wood stove burning and pulling off our wet shoes and socks. Mrs. Bodkin rubbed my legs with a towel to get some blood going, placed my wet things near the stove to dry, and found me a pair of her woolen socks to wear. They had a telephone and she called my neighbor who assured her that the message would be delivered to my parents that I was safe.

Mr. Bodkin and I played checkers and Sorry at the four-person table while my teacher made us grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup from a can. He took his losses hard when I won and made me giggle at his theatrics. I slept that night in one of his T shirts in a big four poster bed with a down quilt. By morning I could hear the traffic moving with the clink of chains on the road and knew the plow had been through. We had cornflakes for breakfast and toast and jam. Mrs. Bodkin made sandwiches for our lunch. She braided my hair but not the tight, scalp-tingling way my mother did. “You’re presentable,” she announced. The hike back to school was easy since the snow had stopped and the walkways had been shoveled. The busses had arrived with kids again and the school day began.

But on this day my whole world had changed. I had no other focus now than to please my teacher, with whom I had had this intimate experience. All of a sudden I got it—what school was about. Up until then, I was spacey and troubled by my home life-- by the domestic violence that was always a threat even when it wasn’t actually happening, by our financial problems and my father’s gambling, by my mother’s depression and illnesses. Before the Big Snow I didn’t feel like school mattered all that much, but now it did for the reason that my relationship with Mrs. Bodkin mattered. I had bonded with her. I became her pet. Regardless of what was going on at home I did everything as well as I could at school. I amazed myself with my ability. I made straight A’s. I never wanted to miss school. I started to see myself as smart and other kids did too. The seeds of what would become my drive and determination and my belief that I could do great things was sown that day.

Mrs. Bodkin, you must be gone by now or very old, but I’m sorry I never got to properly thank you. I don’t know what would have happened to me if no one had given me what you did—the realization that I was worth something, that I was smart and capable, and most of all that someone as beautiful and wonderful as you actually cared about me and believed that I would be successful. I basked in the glory of being your pet that year and I wanted nothing more than to win your smiles and praise. You were a gift to me and I knew it then in my childish heart but I know it much more deeply now.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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WOUNDED

Greta is an edgy kooky thirty year old in Puerto Rico with a degree in engineering but also an artist. She’s got several tattoos and some piercings going on and has broken up with the partner who moved there with her. I had seen her in my office years ago when she lived locally and she found me on the internet and was willing to pay privately to avoid the hassle of starting over with a new therapist. She’s trying to decide whether to move back to the mainland, get another degree or another job. After a few minutes when her dark asymmetrical hairdo falls over her eyes she tells me the more immediate reason for our session—every night she’s drinking with her friends as the only social life she has now and it’s getting bad.

I remember her childhood wounding. Greta grew up in a very conventional family who didn’t get her. Even as a young girl she wanted to create outfits that were more expressive than her mother could tolerate. As bright as she was, she didn’t date, go to the prom, and when she came out it was devastating to her parents who longed for a conventional daughter and grandchildren. She said that for her whole life—well maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration—they had subtle ways of communicating their disappointment.

“How are you being re-wounded?” is what I always want to know. “What is going on that is making you regress, feel like you’re disappointing someone, not fitting in?”

“Funny you should say that. I could date guys; there are enough of those hitting on me. It’s so hard to meet gay girls here. I don’t know where to go to do that. Caroline, my ex, wanted kids. She’s found someone else who is so superficial. I look at her and her new girlfriend and wonder how I stayed with her so long. Even now I’m trying to stay friends with them even though I feel like the odd one out”.

“What’s that about?”

“Same stuff. I always think it’s me if someone doesn’t want me. What’s wrong with me? Even my job. I’m working my butt off here and they keep giving me more to do. I don’t want to disappoint them either.”

“Who are you disappointing, really?” She starts to cry. I know she gets it. She doesn’t have to say anything.

“I feel like crap, especially going to work hung over a lot of days. I’m a mess.”

“How can you support yourself better?” I want to tell her she’s beautiful and bright and amazingly talented, but no one likes to hear that from a therapist. Some deflect that kind of compliment with you’re paid to say those things. Some think it’s patronizing.

“I have to take care of myself better. Realize that my value doesn’t come from what other people think of me.” She finds a Kleenex in her bag. “I need to push back on this job thing that keeps growing. They would be up shit creek if I left. I have some leverage. Why don’t I use it? I have to be willing to disappoint them. Say no. Advocate for my own needs. Take a risk.”

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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A SCRAPPER

Ellen, my client today makes my heart swell like few clients have the power to do. I feel my love for her when she sits like a man on the edge of the chair with her elbows on her spread knees and I know she will fill up the hour with her big extroverted self. She’s a slight woman of thirty with natural wispy blond baby hair and when she described her prostitution get up it was so right for her. In the school uniform of the local Catholic school Ellen took up her position on Ninth street with a plaid jumper, white blouse, knee socks, sneakers, and a Minny Mouse back pack. She had more old men perverts to beat off and blow off in their trucks—farmers from the country, workers finishing up their round of beer at the bar. It would have been good money if she didn’t have to buy drugs for her pimp and herself.

Getting pregnant wasn’t the problem since she had had two abortions already, it was her mixed feelings about it. She maybe wanted this baby for some odd reason and as the weeks of indecision ticked by she ended up keeping the pregnancy. Going cold turkey off of the heroin looked like it was going to thwart her plan and produce a miscarriage but it didn’t. She had to get free from her pimp which got her a few beatings and again threatened the pregnancy but miraculously Adele is now four. Her father is a mystery, a passerby, an insignificant sperm donor.

Ellen is a gift to me. She has insurance through her barista job and is struggling to use the anger from her sexually abusive childhood to make a life for herself and her daughter. Today she can’t wait to tell me her news about applying for junior college. “I passed the GED. I wrote the damn essay about my life on the street with the expletives deleted—it was so f-ing clean you would have been proud of me. I couldn’t believe my SAT score. The practice book helped me. But shit, my rap sheet got me rejected.”

“Your arrests? They had to get that information?”

“Shit yea. I was arrested so many times—felonies. Prostitution and drugs are a felony.”

“What can we do about that?”

“I had these people like you, my probation officer, my boss, to write letters, to attest to my recovery, to vouch for me. They’re going to let me try a semester on some kind of trial basis.”

“Oh Ellen!” I begin to weep. Yes therapists do weep. There are those times when it’s the most appropriate thing and it just comes out of me unbidden. “You’re going to go to college. You will be so good.” I cry some more and she cries with me. We blow our noses together on Kleenex from the same giant box.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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BABY

You cringe in shame when you get flashbacks from your past and see with your more mature vision all the mistakes you made. It’s especially painful when you realize what you made your child endure. It’s good in one respect that your state of mental health wasn’t clear to you then or you might have given up and never struggled to make it here, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

When you gave birth at the age of twenty to your first son, you couldn’t warn him that he was in the arms of a woman who was really an emotional child. That night could only be described as terror for you. You started labor at a Christmas Tree lot in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, and in your enormous overdue state lost your footing on the ice and almost fell. The lot man caught you and called out in a friendly voice to your then husband Don who was looking at trees, “Hey man, you take care of her.”

Don was so enraged that he roughly pushed you back into the car and threatened you with a fist in your face saying “If you ever do that again…” You know what your crime was—you made him look bad. He hit you and knocked you around often over your seven years together, only once really bad when he thought you were having an affair. But his threats were believable this night and you apologized as you always do.

The birth did not go well. A rapid snow storm prevented the relief staff from making it to the hospital. You were isolated in a labor room for eight hours with the sound of many other women beyond the thin partition moaning and screaming. There was no one to comfort or support you or even to explain what was happening. Don wanted no part of the birth and was agitated and pacing in the waiting room, complaining about food service not being available according to the aid who checked on you. The baby was born just after midnight. Don was angry when they wheeled you both out together on a gurney. “What’s wrong with him?” he demanded. “He’s blue. He’s a blue baby.” You tried to tell him the baby’s face was bruised from the delivery and one eye was swollen shut.

The nurse said, “You don’t have a roommate yet so Hubby can stay with you as long as he likes,” but he left immediately to take care of himself yelling that he was exhausted and hungry and had no sleep. The nurse put you in the bed and took the baby to the nursery. You fell into the deepest loneliness and misery you have ever felt without even your baby to hold onto. Hearing the babies crying in the nursery, you couldn’t sleep. Your body ached, but your heart ached more for there were two of you now.

There was no joy in the morning when Don appeared refreshed and happy bringing a bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear and reporting on his calls to the families. To be honest you needed Don when you married him against friends’ advice. You were so depressed, so anxious, so uncertain about your life, you wanted his strong opinions, his confidence, his direction. You fell in love with his charisma which you came to understand was so much like the fire of your abusive father. In the beginning Don gave you the attention you craved and never got from your father. He structured your life. He was critical, but you believed it was because he cared, that he was right and you could learn from him.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence.

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THE PRIEST

Imagine that your family has no working vehicle despite two broken cars sitting in the front yard overgrown with weeds. You live five miles out of town and on this bitter cold Sunday in Pennsylvania in January your mother takes you kids out to stand on the dirt shoulder of the country road and hitchhike to Mass. It never takes long to get a ride; the first or second car almost always stops. It’s hard for anyone with empty seats to whiz by your family decked out as you are in thrift shop hats and ragtag finery. On this day it is a grey haired man with a shiny black four door Ford sedan who pulls over a few yards in front of you. Your mother sends you as the boy to talk to him and in a few minutes he waves you to come. You kids climb into the back seat and your mother gets in front. You have never been in a car with such soft grey seats that is so spotless and new and toasty warm.

“Your young man here says you nice people are going to church. Where might that be?” Your mother explains we are Catholic and must get to St. Cecelia’s before 11:00. “Wow, that is very devoted. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to travel this way.”

“It’s what we have to do,” your mother replies. “It would be a sin to miss Mass.”

Many drivers seem awe struck by your mother’s determination and some even volunteer to fetch you later after the service and return you home. This one does not but dutifully takes you to the front door of the church chatting about the weather and the snow that’s predicted. “Pray for me!” He calls from the open door as you thank him and wave goodbye. The wind blows through your thin winter coat as you climb the steps.

At church you sit and kneel on hard wooden benches and the service is in Latin. The sermon is in English and is always about sin or worse this day a plea for money. You are thankful there is no incense which often sickens you. Afterwards you go with your mother to the bank of candles in the front where she puts some coins in the slot and lights a large candle in a red glass container for your intention. “Pray children that your father gets work and there is money,” she whispers, which is always the same intention. Then those of you not in Catholic school must go down to the unheated church basement where Sister Mary Joseph teaches you the catechism.

“Who made you?” she demands.

“God made me,” you reply in unison.

“Why did God make you?” She taps her long wooded pointer on a desk to emphasize the cadence.

“To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.” It seems to go on forever in the freezing cold with relentless repetition.

Today however only your sisters descend into the basement to get grilled by Sister as you go with your mother on a special mission. “I need you to help me talk to Father Murphy and to corroborate my story,” she says in soft conspiratorial tones. “We need his advice.” The priest was the direct line to God and like God has your very life in his hands. She trembles as you wait silently in the rectory parlor with its cases of statues and rosaries for sale until it is your turn.

The priest is a Capuchin, and no longer is in the stiff vestment you saw at Mass. A heavy man, he wears a long brown robe tied with a rope cord and a hood hanging down his back. You are directed to his office where he sits behind a desk and you sit in adjacent chairs. The air is tense as your mother tries to say why you are here. She starts to weep and you want to comfort her and talk to the priest for her but you don’t know what to say. “I need permission Father,” she begins. “I need to leave my husband. He is no longer drinking but his volatile moods, his gambling, and his abuse of me and the children have become intolerable.” She turns to you and says, “Tell the priest about the beatings, how you’ve had to miss school because of the welts and bruises, how you fear him.” You nod compliantly but no words will come out. “His rages are very frightening. He can’t control himself. He has guns. I’m afraid for our safety,”

“It is difficult my child,” Father says with some measure of compassion while your mother rummages in her purse for a tissue. “I want us to pray about this matter.” With that he gets up and kneels on the floor with his hand on the desk to steady himself and your mother and you get down on the floor and do the same. “Heavenly Father, this woman is married in the Church in the sacred sacrament of Matrimony. Show her how to accept her cross to bear with her husband and let her be the holy example for him. We beseech you to help her become the instrument of his salvation in Jesus name amen.” With that he stands up and offers you a blessing, making the sign of the cross in the air. He leads you back to the parlor and says, “Go in peace.” You are out on the street with the first dusting of snow starting to fall.

Your mother’s eyes are wild like an animal’s when you leave. “What does this mean?” you ask. “Will we have to stay?” She doesn’t respond. You already know the answer. No one talks as you go to where your sisters are waiting and the four of you make your way to the highway to hitchhike home. Even though you are only eleven you realize that religion is never going to be an answer for you.

Please note: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons is a coincidence. Sally Watkins, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, can be reached at 916-220-3228 or through her website www.healingwords.net.

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