The Detailed Accounts Of An Individual's Spiritual Misadventures

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A creative writing assignment; a work in progress.

Submitted: November 28, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 28, 2011

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One: Nine Snails

“Damaged people are dangerous.  They know they can survive.” —Josephine Hart

 

“Nine snails today; you were nine snails late!”

This is what I would usually bark as I plopped down on his molten leather car seat. Every day after school I would count the snails as they curiously traversed the sidewalks; he was always late. My teacher, half-visible in the school window above my green snail-counting bench, always appeared half-scolding as we drove away; her flustered cheeks like polished apples. She could never look actually angry. Every once in a while she’d send grievance notices to my mother, or whom ever oversaw my daily care; they were for me to deliver when I arrived home.

“I’m sorry, I’ll be earlier next time,” he’d whine out of his car window with his most convincing grin. My father made for a very handsome offender.

I could usually maintain my scowl long enough to earn a small, wrapped chocolate. His pockets were always filled with treats to mend my spirits, though my spirits weren’t usually the ones that needed mending. His moods were a menagerie of misplaced and often unwarranted reactions; one step out of line for me might mean no dessert. It was for this reason I often kept a mousy temperament around him; I didn’t want to tip toe my way out of Grandma’s fruitcake.

“You know you have to forgive me anyway,” he’d say, “we never keep angry with family be…”

“…Because family is what counts.”

I was a skilled sentence-finisher, especially when it came to his expressions; but it did help that he was always saying them, and that he was always right. On the drive home from school I’d usually deliver my best attempt to convince him of how many inches I’d grown in intellect that day; when I was seven, my smarts grew in inches, just like my height.

“I got three boxes today, because I read three books faster than most kids read one!”

As an expert exaggerator, I always did my best to wiggle my way to his good side; it never worked, but I never minded.

“You know, Abbie, it doesn’t count as three separate books just because you can read the same story like a record on repeat. Besides, you should be doing your addition and subtraction work. That’s more worth your time.”

Mondays were reading days and I loved to revisit the pages of Strega Nona, because witches were my favorite fairytale creatures. With her doughy nose and sharp headscarf, she would command her magic noodle pot to craft noodles as she pleased; and to my amusement, my Grandma did much of the same with her magic this and that.

“Well, no one makes better magic than your Grandma,” he’d announce, asserting against my defense that my Grandma was better than any old Strega Nona, “And there’s nothing more magical than a meal on the table.”

As soon as we rounded the curve in Clover Lane you could see it, Grandma’s house. He would shift the gear into neutral and I’d be darting across the lawn before he could pull the parking brake. “Grandma!” I’d shout as I burst through the door. The aroma of stewing potatoes and cabbage would dance under my nose from the moment I entered. For him, meals were always at Grandma’s; for me, home was always at Grandma’s. I had a room at her house that soon came to be my own after my parents decided they needed some time together without distractions. They would fight a lot, my mom and dad, and I assumed their distraction was me; if I just went to Grandma’s, they would stop fighting. It was for this reason that I would be subject to punishment the next day for unreturned school grievance notices, but I never minded.

“Hello, little one! I’ve waited all day for you,” my Grandma would say.

Every night there would pan out the same: after a few games of checkers—as many as it took me to win, we’d all sit down to supper, and eat as quickly as it was set down.

“Scott,” my Grandma would say, “stay the night, there’s plenty of room. We’re going on a walk soon and later we’ll watch the television together.”

I’d usually chime in as well, begging him to stay behind, but his answer was always the same:

“Mother, you know I can’t. Julie and I are still finishing the paper work.”

I always thought work was a place adults went to while kids were at school, so I didn’t understand what paper and work had to do with each other; but I knew better than to argue, so I would let him be on his way after dessert. He left me behind every night, but I never minded.

Every morning at eight a.m. Grandma would drop me off at school. Tuesdays were always math days, and on this particular Tuesday, I was dreading a math test. I hugged her with all my love and told wish me luck.

“I know you studied well, Miss Abbie, but I might have something that will help.”

Excitedly, I asked her to tell me, trying to imagine what treasure she’d pull from her purse.

As she began to tug at something, she whispered, “This is the scarf I wore for all of my math tests. It’s a magic good luck scarf. You should keep it just for today, and see if it’s magic for you too.”

Astounded, I thanked her and rushed off through the school doors, brushing by the freshly dewed edge of my green snail-counting bench. After I reached my class, my day continued as it normally did; the same lunch, same teacher, same friend.

Hailey Goldsmith was my best and only friend, even when I didn’t feel like having a friend; and that is what counts. Sometimes I would sleep at her house. It was the thing to do when you were best friends. That, and argue. Our friendship was a constant competition of who was better at this or at that. She was always better at math, but I never minded.

After the daybreak bell on this Tuesday I settled into my usual seat on my green bench. As I placed my belongings next to me, I began to devise a list of reasons to convince my Grandma to let me keep her magic scarf when I got home to her house; but I made sure to take note of the first snail that made its way toward my toes. I’d gotten to around twenty when it began to get dark and I’d noticed the snails stopped coming.

Well this is a funny sort of thing, where do they go?

He’d better have a hundred chocolates with him. My teacher’s even gone!

After another few hours had passed, and I’d spread out on my bench, I tried to make out all different faces in the moon. I wondered if the moon was ever late for the night like he was late for me, but I knew the answer. The chirps of crickets filled my ears as the cool autumn wind blew, and I soon felt my eyes get heavy.

I knew he wasn’t coming when I awoke the next morning in my mom’s icy, unfamiliar sheets, still in yesterday’s jumper; and I knew he would never come the following day, when my mom picked me up from school, on time, and so delicately explained why I would no longer need my room at Grandma’s house.

“Your Dad’s gone; there’s another woman,” she said. “You won’t be seeing your Grandmother anymore either; it’s not good for you to see either of them.”

“But. Why?”

“Mom’s okay. Everything will be okay. You’ll see; things happen for a reason. They work themselves out.”

I didn’t care about the reasons, I was angry. The kind of irrational frenzied angry that all seven-year-olds are capable of. I never minded when he corrected my exaggerations, or when he would leave me behind at Grandma’s. I never minded that I had a hard time with math, or that he didn’t have the time to help me study. But I angry that I ran out of snails; that he was wrong about family, and that I can’t forgive him anyway because he never came back—and I’m not sure if he even wanted to.

I suppose that she just assumed that since I was so little, my opinions were little as well; anyway, she never bothered to ask me anything about it. And soon after one morning, somewhere between nibbling the more edible bits of my icing-absent toaster strudel—my mom was never one to cook a meal, and the longing for my Grandma's problem-curing trinkets, I lost my faith in family and anything it counted for. I lost my belief that lateness was accidental occurrence and not a personal, negligible choice. And I lost my hope that I would ever see a fit home cooked meal again.

But perhaps the greatest loss of all was me, and what I felt like I deserved. I should never have to settle for less ever again.

 

Two: The Fourth Most Important Member

“So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” ?Sylvia Plath

 

Shortly after my mom married another man and my family had packed up and moved up north to a seemingly exotic Ohio, I began to see a new sense of order for the first time in my life. I was regimented; my entire nine-year-old existence took place on line four of a whiteboard, because, as it seemed, I had come to be the forth most important member of the family. The whiteboard held a giant equation for family “success:” the monotonous daily tasks for each member that served to define our weekly functions. I rose at eight each morning, followed by a short list of daily chores: I made my bed, I outfitted my mosquito bites with a unnecessary bits of fabric and plastic—because that’s what “women” do, smeared something called deodorant in a few crevices, took out the family trash, walked the family dog, and finally, I made my own breakfast. New Dad, or Nad, as I so fondly referred to him, was brash, detached, and to the point—and he had points on everything. There was never an unnecessary occasion for him to interject, and every opportunity for him to do so was another stitch in his idea of a tight family fabric—a fabricated family was more like it.

By this point it’s probably a good thing to mention Nad’s role: his job with the military. I’d pinpointed this as the most accurate source of his compulsive need for scheduling activities. My favorite of these activities happened to be the family’s trip to Sunday Catholic Mass, and it was the king of the trash heap, so to speak. It wasn’t the best because it was deprived of any duty; there were of course, new rituals to observe upon stepping through Church doors. It wasn’t my favorite for the racist homily, how many old ladies I could find secretly stealing a power nap—“resting their eyes,” as adults see it, and it wasn’t because I could steal sips of wine without fear of any reprimand. It wasn’t even for the crazy hats and get-ups that priests and other Church officials would drag out on seemingly random occasions. My weekly hopes were driven wild for another reason not unlike those of most preteens: junk food; and Sunday was the only day of the week I was allowed to consume it. After Church, Nad would drive my mother, sister and me to McDonalds where we would order the twenty-piece box of Chicken Nuggets. Now, I know what you’re thinking—twenty nuggets for five people isn’t exactly the junk food binge most kids crave, but this is where you’d be wrong. It was just enough chaos to keep a fourth grader in line under the stuffy hegemony that is a stepparent. And I was content in my secret knowledge that Chicken Nuggets were, in fact, better than his God.

 

After ten years of rule, Nad left; and soon after, my mom married yet another man. I wasn’t the fourth most important anymore; it would hardly be plausible to say I was important at all. These small notches in disappeared as the line of time folded over on itself: Nad still picks up his daughter, my younger sister Audrie, every Wednesday and takes her out to ice cream for two, as if more had never even existed.

 

 

Three: THIS Girl

“If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much!” ?Lewis Carroll

 

His name was Father Mike, and as a man of God, he surreptitiously abused several high school kids. And no one gave a damn.

To back-peddle a little bit: he was the superimposed ringleader of my Catholic upper-crust high school and an all-around pleasant guy. He hobbled through the halls every morning around at eight, greeting every spiteful student face he could find. He attended every period’s lunch—ate with his “flock,” so he would say, guided late bell stragglers to their proper places, sat first row at every school-wide meeting, and of course, had an untiring ear for delinquents’ confessions. But that was before I caught word of the real Mike.

It was a sweaty Tuesday afternoon and I had just bumbled up to a good friend’s locker.

“I vomited,” she whined.

“Yeah, yeah, Molly. That’s what you get when you replace all your food groups with gummy bears.”

“No really. I’ve…let’s go to the bathroom. I’ve really got to get something out.”

As a side note: yes, the girl’s bathroom is where all of the most important shit goes down. It’s usually just mascara, sex and tampon talk, but every once in a while you get something gross. I mean really gross. And that’s exactly what this was.

“Well, I was in Seniora Barney’s class…and I forgot my homework. So, of course, I went to confession and…”

“Nothing new with you, Mol.”

“Yeah, but Father Mike was there. I mean waiting, really creepy-like. And I went up to the screen to do my thing...”

“Is he ever not there? He’s creepy by nature—he can’t help it.”

“He asked me if I liked sucking…”

“…Su”

“YEAH. I just…there were no words. And he kept talking!”

“Wait, let me sit. On a toilet, I guess…but he said WHAT?

“I don’t know what to do. I just sort of tuned him out—the last thing he asked was if I wanted to mess with his junk.”

“HIS JUNK? You’ve got to tell someone.”

“Are you nuts? I don’t want to be THAT girl.”

“Well, Mol, I hate to be THIS girl, but I’ll tell if you don’t. He could have hur…”

“Hurt me? He can barely hobble his limp butt through the halls in the mornings. Look, I don’t know what was going on, but maybe it worked. I don’t think I’m ever going to forget my Spanish homework again. But I’m serious, not a word. This can’t ever get out; next year I want a normal senior experience, not one infused with talk of Father Mike’s junk.”

“Alright. You win.”

And that was it. We dropped it. I did, however, keep my promise to report the priest, and that was when everything changed. I was brave enough the following Tuesday.

“Several other kids have already come forward, your friend is not the first.”

“Oh, good, so…”

“Look, my sincerest condolences to your friend…Molly, but at this point Father Mike has put in his resignation and it’s really out of our hands. Letters to parents were mailed this morning, and you can rest assured in a safe educational environment from here on out. Thanks for coming by, but I’ve got to get to this meeting…”

“That’s it?”

“Yes. Letters were mailed…”

“It’s going around school that the guy was in a car accident! Aren’t you going to make some kind of announcement? Everyone is wishing him a safe recovery for God’s sakes!

“Watch your tone and get to third period. Letters are what we’re responsible for and letters are what you’ll receive. Thank you.”

And that was it. For the next three months people sent the guy flowers; he was a mourned victim. And what’s worse: I became the villain. It turned out that we did get our condolence letters in the mail; and despite my intentions in speaking with the principal, Molly wouldn’t speak to me for a week. When parents gossip, kids listen; and sure enough, come the following Tuesday, every kid in school had listened. Among others, Molly was caught in the ignominious epicenter of a sixteen-year-old’s social worst nightmare.

A week turned into three, and three turned into flaccid “sorry” and “it’s okay” glances; the glances turned into gun-slung mute stares, and half way through my senior year the stares turned to silence. And Molly hasn’t spoken to me since.

If I were to mimic her actions just as she’d intend each of them, then I would have been nothing more than her shadow—and she already had one of those. We all do.

Four: Going Forward

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along…you must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ?Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Seven tests, three Snickers, and two shit-fits later: I was definitely pregnant. The silver lining…at least the thirty-dollar spring for the digital Clear Blue was worth it.

I’m only twenty! I like my boobs!

Oh my God, what the hell am I going to do?

My boyfriend’s going to leave me. Fuck.

I remember burying my face in my pillow crying like a red, wet idiot, begging any God to somehow help me find my way out of this paper bag. And unsurprisingly, there was only silence: the all too familiar silence of all the world’s problem-solving gods.

 

Around a week later, I’d finally wrapped my head around it…at least for as far as it would stretch. Yes, I was on birth control. And yes, for a while I was going to get an abortion, actually for about four weeks. During that time I had become quite familiar with a local Planned Parenthood, the infamous abortion clinic I’d watched my Catholic high school education spit on several times over. I scheduled several appointments over the span of a month, and each time a new problem came up:

“You scheduled the wrong appointment type, you’re going to have to reschedule.”

“We can’t find the baby? You’re sure you’re pregnant?”

“We see here you have a…preexisting condition? Just get a confirmation from your doctor…”

After a few weeks of trying to stuff my looming conscience somewhere under a rug, I called my family together. I remember it feeling like a lifetime movie, with everyone acting like I’d walked outside to find the stalking murder instead of dialing 911. It was a humiliating tenth grade mock trial, ending in a reluctant not guilty verdict: “I shouldn’t have to suffer for my mistakes;” everyone sure that I wanted an abortion except me.

At about 13 weeks I got a voicemail confirming my procedural appointment. On the day of, I remember sitting in the light blue exam room of a Planned Parenthood, observing my taunting surroundings: the gaudy magazines—“watch the pounds fly off! Here’s how,” the sharps container conveniently next to the tissue box, as if the two were in mournful dialogue, those terrible anatomical plastic toys, and the deafening silence. Again, I realized that I was alone; it was just me and the loathsome scent of isopropyl alcohol, stabbing its sterile message into my brain. As my eyes swept over my exam room I caught sight of it: the vacuum, the very same vacuum that all Catholic high school teachers use to terrify their female students. This time it worked—I found my pants and bolted.

Traumatized, terrified and alone, I returned to my college dorm room, to my pillow. I’d just started feeling especially sorry for myself when my day suddenly got worse. I had missed an online midterm for my Global Communications class. It was the perfect ending, really. After I threw some shit around and felt even sorrier for myself for a while, I decided to come clean about where I had been; I was sure that was the only way he’d ever consider letting me retake it. Sure enough, not even an hour after I’d sent the thing and moved on to eating the entire kitchen, he replied:

“Call me. My cell phone number is on the syllabus.”

He’s going to grill me.

He’s going to call me a slut; he’s probably so anti-abortion, it’s not even funny.

When I called the next morning, I was met with the surprising sentiment that he’d taken it upon himself to learn my name and seat preference. After shooting the shit about Russia (it’s unavoidable with international-types, really), he asked me what I wanted.

“Well, I would really like to just take that test, without it I’ll…”

“No. What do you want?”

“Well. The plan is to get an abortion, when I call again. They keep making me reschedule.”

“That doesn’t sound like what you want.

“I know. I don’t want it. I’ll be secretly ugly. But my family…”

“Just think of it this way: I could never regret my children. The test will be open until midnight. I’ll see you in class Wednesday.”

 

No, I wasn’t persuaded into “pro-life.” And no, I didn’t place the mysteries of my inextricable situation into some god’s hands, though I really wanted to. Out of one class, out of several, of a hundred students, he asked what I wanted. Short, sweet, and to the point. And every answer to every heavy decision that would ensue presented itself in the guise of the one solid response I could generate at the time: I’m not going back, so I’m going forward.

 


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