“Get out of this bed right this minute, and get your ass to mass.”
I’d been out gallivanting the night before and now my mother stood over my bed, trying to guilt me into getting up to make my Sunday obligation.
That was what it was called. An obligation. No matter where you were in the world, you needed to hunt down mass schedules and get to church sometimes between Saturday and Sunday night.
I was 21, already out on my own but still went to mass when I was home to keep up appearances.
“What did you say?”
“I said, I’m no longer a Catholic.”
In her cold icy silence, my Catholic life flashed before my eyes.
I’d been a very faithful child.
I loved the church.
I loved seeing my grandparents there. If I was good they’d ask me home to breakfast. Grandpa would stand at the back with the men ready to collect the money and Grandma would talk all through mass. I’ve prayed enough for a hundred lifetimes. Her laissez-faire attitude bothered me. For, I believed the prayers, the priest and the congregation recited would convert Jesus’ body into communion. I am not speaking metaphorically here. I was so naive I actually thought the chalice was empty at the beginning of Mass and if we didn’t stand and sit and kneel properly the baked hosts would not be manifested.
I had blind faith that if I prayed hard enough my psoriasis would be cured. My grandparents would drive me to Catholic shrines for years so my skin to be cleared up. We hit the shrines across the country, from Midland to Montreal, and this lesser-known one up near Eganville. It was held in August and it was hotter than the hub of hell. I see myself as a young girl walking around in the midday sun, bowing before porcelain saints, and saying the Stations of the Cross, hoping that Jesus would leave some psoriatic plaques on the altar.
If I looked faithful enough perhaps on the way home I could convince grandpa to stop and swim in a creek by the side of the road.
Yes had such faith as a kid, Every year I performed the rosary and wired medals of Saints on my undershirt. Every year I created elaborate Christmas concerts. I was the self-appointed director, writer, producer, and star of these productions: I was a lot like Francis Ford Coppola, in his Apocalypse Now phase. The rehearsals were fraught with a diva’s emotions. Many a night, we were down in the Rec room rehearsing with me screaming, “If you guys don’t get this right, Mom and Dad will walk out.”
To which my sister Karen would say in her smug way, “They live here. Where are they going to go? Upstairs?”
She almost got recast as the Third Wiseman for that crack.
I had given her the lead as the Virgin Mary, but she didn’t seem to appreciate my creative staging of the nativity scene. In my opinion, there had been too many productions where the Virgin just sat there looking beatific, so I rewrote the stable scene from a feminist point of view.
As the plastic shower curtain opened, my sister acted out a homebirth complete with labour pains while Alice Cooper crooned, Only Women Bleed on the cassette tape deck. When she was about ten centimeters dilated, she pushed the baby Jesus out from between her legs. My two-year-old brother was cast as Baby Jesus but he crawled out from her skirt and said, “Me no like sandals.” Then he went and sat on my mother’s lap. My parents laughed so hard, Dad had to take off his glasses to wipe away the tears. They didn’t walk out, but I almost did. I began crying, screaming that everybody was wrecking my creative vision. And then my mother in her loving way said: “For god sakes, stop your bleating and finish this up so we can have a snack.” (Many directors afterward would say the same thing!)
When Mary was spent from her long stable birth, I once again took center stage with my bangs hanging in front of my eyes, sucking a piece of hair, strumming the guitar, singing “Someone’s Dropped a Bomb Somewhere.” As I sang in the key of off, my mother took a moment to change Jesus’ diaper and Dad nodded off in his Lazy Boy chair.
Then around the time of puberty, I finally put two and two together on this Catholic thing.
Despite all the praying and prostrating at shrines, I was still riddled with red plaques all over 90 percent of my body.
Then I found out the Eucharist was baked by nuns. I was a gullible child and thought that if we prayed hard enough communion hosts would appear out of thin air by the end of Mass. This came on the heels of my parents breaking it to me that Santa Claus wasn’t real. I was thirteen and even my eleven-year-old sister didn’t buy into that.
Then I had a bicycle accident where I had a brain bleed and that changed the way I thought about everything.
So yes mother, I am Catholic no more.
I was sick and tired of praying to dour saints with their glassed-over eyes that followed you around the room. I was sick of all the kneeling, genuflecting, and pleading and dousing myself with Holy Water and still feeling bad about myself twenty-four seven . I was sick of all the bleeding. The Bloody Mary’s and all those bloody statues of Jesus with nails in His hands.
Most of all I was sick of my mother’s assumption that she was in charge of my mortal soul.
When I came back to my body, Gwen was still standing over me. “What the hell did you say?”
God, was the woman deaf? “I said, I am not a Catholic anymore!!”
She breathed in and out whistled a command, “Get your arse up out of that bed and get to mass before, I crucify you.”
To most people, the threat of crucifixion might be a motivator but this was her go-to threat since I was a young child.
“Clean that bedroom of yours before I crucify you.”
“Eat your peas, before I crucify you.”
Sometimes she’d even get graphic and describe how she was going to do it.
“If you don’t get up and help me do the dishes, I’m going to nail your hands and feet to the clothesline pole in the backyard for all the neighbours to see.”
As scary as the image sounds to an outsider we all knew it was a bogus threat. Gwen wouldn’t even hang her undies on the clothesline in case the people would guess her bra size. She was hardly going to nail me up on a cross for all the neighbours to see.
From under the covers, I mumbled, “If you crucify me, how am I going to be able to go Mass?”
A sound escaped from her pursed lips, a high-pitched sound liked she was a balloon losing air. She had lost her words and pulled the covers off me. I still had on my bra, as well as my day of the week underpants. Add to this visual, one knee-high pantyhose (no idea where the other one had gone) and one high heel shoe covered in mud.
“Hell and damnation. What is going on here? Do you think you are having fun? You are not having fun.”
“I’m having fun.” I pulled the covers back over my head almost asphyxiating on the smell of my morning breath.
“And another thing, take your damn shoes off when you go to bed.”Then she slowly closed the door. I poked my head out from under the covers when the door swung open again and she fired one more shot.
“You can’t stop being Catholic. You are born Catholic. You will die Catholic “
There it was the curse, I’d try to outrun for the next thirty years: because as all Catholics know, that religion is like the Hotel California: you can check out but you can never leave.