(From "Charming Emily" - http://charmingemily.blogspot.com )
In the first six weeks at Retreat, I learned to pray in my own words, to find grottos in the silence, and to offer what I have to those in need.
Apparently by not dying at that point I was eligible for a promotion. Once I became a Priestess I most enjoyed hearing confessions and giving absolutions.
I do not wish to heal. I do not wish to heal others.
That isn’t why I’m here; except it seems to be exactly what I’m doing (again, but now for free, which is lost to me hour by hour, let it be known).
I retreat, they follow. I meditate, they surround.
I try to keep my hands to myself, but like magnets they snap into place, aligned, silent.
Without them, without this, I think I would spend my days waiting for the sunset, then, after that, I would spend my nights waiting for sunrise.
I would be waiting and waiting for this to just end.
But it will.
Katie followed me on my walk today, holding a rosary and asking about hell.
I say nothing, I’m not here to say anything, I’d like to be a stone, ignored and silent, baking in the sun.
“The pain,“she asks, “is it mental? Or physical? And is that what God DOES? Abandons us to a sadistic torturer?”
I wonder where she got this, but not enough to interrupt her, which would also involve turning around, which today I am too weak (or, rather “light”) to consider.
She continues, “I don’t understand a vengeful God….” Then she stops, huffing from whatever condition brought her to this camp.
I pause on the narrow bridge over the koi pond, not intentionally waiting for her.
The ripples between me and the darting fish magnify my baldness. I look like an initiate, a nun, a priestess.
Coincidentally, I think as I ponder myself as confessor, as minister, as gateway, it now seems relevant and almost a sign this whole time that I prefer caftan dresses with long wide sleeves that make triangles when I hold my arms out.
I packed four of them (red, white, blue, black), before I even knew.
Katie follows me, talking more to herself than to me again, which I am not going to point out to her.
“So why did God punish me? What did I do to deserve this? And is dying like this enough for what I’ve done or will I still be paying for eternity for something I did years ago? Or what? I wish I hadn’t and if I could do it again I wouldn’t, but now I still have to pay? Will I? I need to KNOW, you know?”
We walk under canopying oaks draped with Spanish moss.
A greedy squirrel stops in front of me; yesterday I brought my lunch.
He remembers. I nod and shrug. He shakes his head. Disappointed.
She continues.“I need to know who to talk to, what to say, what to do, to just FIX this for once and for all, to let it go and to know I’m not spending eternity in flames, tortured, roasting, thirst. That’s worse than Cinderella’s stepmother. How could a good and decent God send us to THAT? So I should fear him? Hell ya, I fear him, like I’m cowering in the corner waiting for some beating I just know is coming, so I’m mad too, because how could He do that to me? “
“Isn’t it enough I’ve lost my breasts, lost my hair, lost my job? And now I’m facing eternity being tortured. Oh. My. God. This is insane. What was I even born? Why even create me?”
At this point we’d crossed under the canopy of oaks, arriving on the rocky shore.
I laid my folded red blanket into a thick small rectangle and poised myself to wait for the sunset.
Two ducks sat beside me; a family of turtles sleeping and sunning on a rock held their stillness.
Katie paced between me and the shore. “I mean, I don’t even know how this is going to end. Right? I could live to be 90. I could be a grandmother. And I could worry about dying later, but I can’t stop now because if this doesn’t work and I do go then I want to ready, but how? Again, like, is there a form? Because I heard Catholics have a form , like ‘its been x months since my last confession; I’ve done 4 of #x, and 3 of #8.’ I can never memorize the amendments. What if I don’t do it right?”
She looks at me, I look at her.
The part of me that once would have laughed or would have corrected is still.
Nothing I can say matters anyway, I am vaporizing, can’t she see this?
I tilt my head up to the sun which is directly overhead, welcome its revealing warmth on my head.
I’m tempted to run my hands over my head but instead slide back to stillness.
The water is motionless now. There are no clouds.
The air feels clean.
I notice my life continuing.
I breathe in, then out, over and over, appreciating how effortlessly it comes.
Katie keeps talking.
As the ducks leave me, she is still talking.
“How do I just forgive everyone? Because I hear you need to do that and I can’t forgive someone and really I don’t want to. I want him to roast I hell over those flames tortured for what he did, for what he made me do. For real. For REAL, how can I forgive him and why should I forgive him, he hasn’t even asked me to and I don’t want to, and it was the ONE thing I said I would never do.”
The ducks left me, one signaled the other it was time, and off they went.
The smaller one looked back. I think she feels sorry for me.
The sun moved across the sky, unimpeded by clouds.
Katie kept talking.
“If I could do it again, I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have A. met him or B. slept with him. Even though my GOD that man came over me like a tidal wave, like washed me away into his world and I couldn’t stand and I didn’t even want to, you know? Hello? Sister? SISTER?”
I look at her, now. I am not her sister.
Oh God, she thinks I’m a nun.
“Look Sister, I don’t know if you’ve always been a virgin please don’t tell me please but hasn’t a man ever made you melt?”
Katie is satisfied.
“After our first date, he walked me back home and sat outside my window, talking to me through the screen. I invited him up but he said no. Seriously, I forget that night because it was before. You know? He said it was against his religion and also, he said I wasn’t clean and if he touched me he wouldn’t be clean. And that was a big deal, in case he died on the way home.”
“We talked all night, offering pieces of ourselves into the air for each other, each story building stacking delicately together. Did you ever realize how important it is to tell good stories? We become the stories we tell about ourselves. Ever heard that? I don’t know if I made it up so you can use it if you want, if you ever talk, but anyway, I dated a guy with these pointless stories. He would take three hours to describe a half hour sitcom. It’s like no one listened, and he kept talking, talking, filling the air. He never had a point, he never got anywhere, he just talked and talked. But no, this was different.”
“I melted in his stories, cursing God for every second he’d been on earth but hidden from me.” Katie sighed and followed my eyeline to the sun, which was lower and softer now.
I consider opening the bag of nuts and raisins in my pocket, but choose to stay in this pause of silent emptiness.
Right now I’m only still and peaceful, so I do nothing.
Katie continued to talk and I wonder how she hasn’t needed water.
Actually, Katie’s frail frame was gesticulating energetically as she talked about this man, this event, this whatever.
“When we went out he looked so tenderly like he could somehow reach into my sore spots and fix them. Fix me. And I wanted him to, I believed he could, like he was going to be that guy who would read my mind, know what I wanted, never would look at any other women but me. His hands….”
Katie looked down, “Now I feel like a train crashed into me and I didn’t think to move.”
At that point she sat next to me, unwound enough to look where I was looking, noticing the how the sinking orange surrendered to the purple, sending streaks of pink and red to say thank you thank.
Now, after her silence, she was ready, and without a ritual or a proclamation, she offered her burden up.
“It was only once. On our third date. It wasn’t what I’d hoped. He walked in the door, looked me over and shook his head. Not a hug, you know? That says something. Anyway. He marched me to my closet and proceeded to choose this and that and then said things were dirty or dingy or cheap and we were running late, and he went to get a glass of water while I accessorized the slutty short black dress I’d worn for Halloween last year as a one of the back dancers in that “Addicted to Love” video, with the red lips, remember?”
I do remember, and she can tell without me saying a word.
“So then I’m dressed and come out and he has pulled all my glasses into the sink saying they’re dirty. He wanted me to wash them before we left, and while I washed them he stood next to me, tossing peanuts into his mouth, explaining that I just wasn’t turning out to be what he’d expected, but not to cry, I was beautiful, really, for people who looked past things, he added. Then we finally went to dinner and the place was awful and the waitress fawned on him. He ate salmon and ordered salad for me.”
The sun lingered so long, I think she wanted to hear the story too.
“I needed to learn some things, he kept telling me, for my own good. And I believed him, I swear to you, I swam in his eyes like those cowmaids or milkgirls or whoever danced drunkedly with Krishna. I would change for him. And at home he told me he couldn’t stay the night but that he would put me to bed. Which he did by some hypnosis I can vaguely remember, but I never saw after that night. I thought it was the beginning, otherwise I would have paid more attention, you know?”
Two turtles slid off their rock into the water. The others stared at the sun.
“It wasn’t… romantic?... and then, he just sprung up and afterwards he said my butt jiggles and to work on that. That’s what he said. Then he had to do some ritual cleaning and blew me a kiss on the way out because he couldn’t touch me.”
“So then a week later, he comes over on his way out to meet another girl and I’m eating dinner and he said it smelled and it made me smell and pretty much I lost my appetite at being so gross you know? He called the next morning before work, then at lunch to make sure I wasn’t eating, then again after work. Each time I’d invite him over, each time he’d say no.”
“Then I called him. Twice. Without his permission. A woman answered and I wanted to die. For the first time in my life, really seriously, I wanted to die.”
I sat still, very still, surrounded by ducks and pigeons and a few peripheral squirrels.
Time has become meaningless to me lately, more since my appetite left.
It was night now. Compassionately silent stars stood guard over our confessional by the lake.
In my head I call the turtle next to me Teddy, like Teddy Roosevelt (“sit quietly and wear a hard shell,” I imagine his slogan would be) and imagine him giving his friendship freely.
He opens and closes his mouth then twists his head.
The pamphlet mentioned hearing loss as one of the signs.
I’m not listening for it, but I’m not afraid of silence.