Sunday Scribblings: Deepest, Darkest (a fiction)
“Of course you are coming with us to church.” Dad said in his most reasonably threatening voice. He was walking around my room, briskly snapping the shades open, already dressed in a crisp white shirt and black pants that reminded me with a start that he was still a handsome man. Of course, what he is forgetting is that I’m in college now, just home for the weekend, well outside his usual jurisdiction.
“Screw that.” I mutter and bury my face into my pillow like the archetypal teenager I’m always trying to be.
“Ooh, Sonia said a bad word!” said my little brother, who came to his archetypal little-annoying-brotherness naturally. He was hopping around the room with one leg of his dress pants on and one leg off. His dress shirt and vest made an interesting juxtaposition with his Underoos.
My two other sisters, Cecila and Carolina, are chasing him around and trying to get their own dresses on at the same time. My mother had a weakness for fancy names. It’s why my poor brother is named Simon Bolivar. Yeah, no one ever calls him that.
It looked like I was the last to know about this little excursion.
“We haven’t gone in over a year. Why start now?” I sat up in bed. Obviously, a long leisurely morning wake up was not going to happen for me today. And I really needed it too. Last night had been a Marty party, which meant hours of cheap beer and intense talk about the Ultimate meaning, the Ultimate responsibility for everything. The death of God. It all made me tired. God and I were through, true, but that didn’t mean I wanted Him dead. That was an opinion I usually kept to myself though. It had been hard enough to convince Marty and his friends that I was no longer That Good Catholic Girl.
My father was still bustling around the room, helping my brother settle into his pants, tossing instructions over his shoulders to my sisters. “Nothing too revealing! And no makeup! This isn’t a dancing party, you know.”
“What the heck is a ‘dancing party’?” Cici wanted to know. “Don’t people always dance at parties?”
“Not necessarily.” I replied, thinking of the party just last night. “Sometimes people just, you know, talk—explore ideas. Learn stuff.”
She made a face. “Sounds boring. Like school.” I ruffled her hair. “Some of us like school.” That’s why I had chosen one four states away, after all. I loved school.
“OK, everyone ready?” Dad asked, his voice trailing off from the kitchen where he was, no doubt, having another cup of resuscitating coffee. I could use a cup myself, but I knew better than to ask him about that. “Sonia, I said NOW.”
We hadn’t gone to church since the funeral. Not all together like this. Every now and again, older tias would come by and swoop the kids together and go. They knew better than to ask him to come along. And by then, I was already at school.
But I recognized that tone. That “I am the final authority” voice. And I was too tired to argue with that. So I pulled on my clothes from last night, still scattered around the room. Black leather skirt, black tights, black boots, black oversized t-shirt.
When he saw me come out of the bedroom, he scowled, but said nothing.
We lived close to St. Theresa's—about three blocks away. Carolina and Cici buzzed around me, talking about school and boys with rushed words that expected me to disappear before the end of the story. Simon held my hand, and I felt unsteady. Miscast. Not for the first time, I wondered if Daddy felt the same way—like he was playing a role with no script, and a director who liked to point and laugh.
The church loomed over us quickly enough. They’d done some renovating—slapped a new coat of paint on it. Walking in, I felt like a scab crossing a picket line. Like I was sneaking in.
I saw so much they had changed. It wasn't the slightly shabby, Gothic style church I remembered. Everything was brighter, more modern, golden woods and endless rows of stained glass to catch any errant ray of sunshine. Daddy led me proudly to one of those windows and said, “Look, this one is in honor of your mother.” I squinted at the sign below. In memory of… and a long list of names. One of those was Sara Lopez. My mother.
“So, basically, a piece of St. Jude’s foot is in memory of my mother?” I asked and immediately wished I hadn’t. Already I was wishing I hadn’t come. She seemed to be everywhere here—in the rows of swaying candle flames. In the bustle of the entering crowd. There was too much of her here.
I know when I say “church music” you are probably thinking maybe an organ, or a piano, and some dour faced matron singing soprano. But that was so not our church. Next to the altar area was a bandstand, with a piano, drum kit, electric guitar, bongos, and room for a full choir. I could see them all setting up, shouting greetings to each other while the musicians warmed up. I remembered seeing her up there too.
The church grew packed. Easter Sunday. I don’t know how I could have forgotten. The mass of people pressed against me, people I knew and people I didn’t. People who looked at me, and then looked away. I didn’t want to imagine what they remembered.
“So, it’s still like a fashion show.” I whispered to Carolina. “Look at everyone checking everyone else out! It’s so hypocritical.”
Carolina looked at me strangely. “I think it’s pretty. Like a party for God.” Her eyes, so like Mom’s, shut me up.
And then the drums banged and the guitar wailed and people began to sing. My little brother and sisters swayed and jumped to the music, the way I used to. The sound was crushing me down, pushing me back, singling me out. It was one long sustained aria of joy, filling everything, stealing the air. I didn’t belong here anymore. Maybe I never had. I had to get out.
I stumbled past them all, staggering out the wide doors into the cool, empty foyer.
I wondered if they had changed it—the small alcove where I used to go with Mom, and then by myself when she couldn’t move anymore. But no, there it was, the deepest, darkest corner of the church. A stone dug out, carved into the wall. A shrine to the Blessed Mother. I always liked it because it was apart from everything else. Private. The one place the sun couldn't really reach. The air was thick was dust motes from the clouds of incense and the smell of burning wax.
Back when I was religious, I used it as a type of wailing wall, scribbling down fervent prayers and stuffing them into the crevices of the rock wall. My finger traced along one of the sides, wondering, and I actually found the crumpled paper within it. I knew what it said. What they all said. Please don’t let her die.
And then Dad came out. “I knew you would be here. She said this was your place. Both of you.”
We stood there side by side, quiet, but I could hear the crescendo of the music crashing just on the other side of the door.
“I shouldn't have gone away to school. I’m sorry I wasn’t here.” I said. The words that had been aching inside my brain for so long, finally said. He put his arm around me. “Please. She called family in like ten states and four countries when you got into that fancy school. She would have killed you!” I wanted to say so much, I couldn’t say anything. So I just nodded.
After a few moments, Dad said, “I wonder if it’s easier for them, the other kids. They don’t have to push her so down deep the way we do. They can just be." He paused, as if waiting for my response. When none came, he continued. "I don’t know what I am looking for here either, m’hija. Maybe that’s the only way to look.” He kissed my forehead and went back into the main church.
I leaned my head against the coolness of the jagged rock and remembered my mother. Remembered her encouraging me to come here even when she couldn’t. To stay soft, and open. “You’re gonna need more than just Dad and the family, Sonia. Your faith is big. And I want you to stay like that. But you need to remember that deepest doesn’t have to mean darkest. If all you see is darkness when you go deep, then you have to go still deeper. Because the inside, Soni, the deepest inside of you is joy.”
“I don’t know that, Mommy.” I answered her now, in a whisper. “I don’t know if I can look there without you.”
The hymn ended with a triumphant burst, and then raucous applause. I peaked through the glass door at my family, at the back of their heads. I imagined their faces. Carolina with Mom’s mouth and eyes, exactly, and Cici with Mom’s face, and widow’s peak. And Simon with her hair color, like burning Champagne. Like my own.
And Dad, trying to build something new from the outside in.
I looked at the paper, now warm from my sweat, ink smeared on my palm. Please don’t let her die. That had been my prayer, and it still was.
Inside, the congregation chanted, one incantation in many voices, praying words I still knew so well. I took a deep breath, and pushed the door open, allowing the rough music to welcome me back like seawater.
To go deeply into darkness, go here.
Labels: sunday scribblings