All the details were in order, but a few days before our departure, I discovered to my dismay that I had booked our London to Lisbon fight on ‘The World’s Most Hated Airline’. This was alarming and I decided some deeper research was in order. It turned out Ryan Air had a notorious history, but it’s future was terrifying. Although some clause in health regulations had prevented them from installing pay as you go toilets, they had plans to concoct stand up seating. Their refurbished planes would have skinny poles with tilted seats for bottoms to lean on. This had me imagining us in a tin box filled with little sardine people, all happily saving money. We all have experienced tortuous travels in a world where bums are increasingly gaining in a disproportionate ratio to the steadily decrease in the size of airline seats. I remember picking up a long neglected thread with God, as I watched a bountifully bodacious woman approached my row. God unkindly sent me a disturbing vision of a Kardashion ass and then delivered. And then there are the muscle men with elbows suspended in the air, far beyond their hard earned bulk and their intimidating knees sprawling out on either side, way beyond acceptable boundaries. I think there must be some exclusive natural law meant for sociopaths and the alpha-inclined folk.
It’s 1962, the Beatles audition for Decca records, Jackie is decorating the white house and John Glenn orbits the globe. It’s also the year Fidel Castro gets excommunicated and now I’m about about to join him. (not in Cuba, just as an outlaw from God.) I move down the aisle to the confessional like a prisoner to the gallows, it’s like wading through molasses. Candle smoke and the musk of incense fill the air. There is divine presence in the heavenly shafts of light radiating from the stain glass. Tiny angels dressed as dust motes are floating in this essence and God is quietly judging me.
Trembling, I make my way into the bleak box. I’d always felt the confessional was like a little clubhouse, only holy. I’m seven years old and don’t realize that the sin I’m about to confess requires at least two people to carry it off. All I know is that somehow it involves naked women. The priest slides the tiny window open and I blurt it out. ‘Bless me father for I have committed adultery.’
Only a few months earlier my classroom was preparing for our first communion and official debut into the Catholic church. I was too young to understand the miracle of the virgin Mary, but I liked the way she looked. We learned about things like mortal and venial sins. Mortal sins are bad, like when you kill someone or you miss church. If you die with one of these on your soul it’s straight to hell, no parole. Die with a venal sin, like lying or stealing a cookie, and you do time in purgatory. To get to heaven from purgatory you need someone to pray you out. Purgatory was not a ghastly as hell, just grey and boring like a hospital waiting room. It all sounded a bit like a complicated board game. There were other rules too, girls couldn’t enter the church with a bare head and we must eat fish on Friday and beans on Saturday night. Wait. I think the beans thing was my mom’s idea not God’s.
The biggest news was that we were to have our own personal Guardian Angel. This turned out to be a nebulous presence that acted as a liaison to God and watched over us…all the time. I began to feel that my privacy was being violated. I had a sense of being watched and became increasingly paranoid. The scariest part was the suspicion that this angel could read minds as well. It occurred to me that my guardian angel could be doubling as a snitch to God. Years later Nixon pulled something like this off when he had CIA agents spy on the democrats under the guise of offering security.
The glorious morning of of our first communion came and went. I got to wear a beautiful bride-like dress, a gossamer veil and white gloves, plus I was given a set of amazing glow in the dark rosary beads. The bonus: I now had a perfectly pristine soul, no bad marks. I vowed to keep it that way forever.
On the Sunday following first communion, the girls and boys were asked to come to regular Mass wearing their communion dresses and nifty black suits. I was so excited! I envisioned myself flowing down the aisle like a saint on a catwalk. This was not to be. In order to take this sacrament you must be sin free and fasting. That morning an inexplicably dark force drew me towards a Cheerio box. When I came to my senses, I had a single heretic Cheerio in my belly. After a brief but tumultuous argument with myself (mediated by the guardian angel)I fessed up. I was sidelined, sentenced to sit in my now glaringly white gown, while the congregation side-eyed me wondering what atrocity I had committed. I pretended not to notice as an endless line of smug saintly classmates flowed past.
Later, I kept up my religious studies by watching a series of Cecile B.Demille films. I was enthralled to hear God’s rumbling voice through the silver lined clouds and see Jesus wandering on and off screen scored by a Hollywood choir of angels. I became fascinated with the half naked woman (Ann Baxter) who loved Moses. Wrapping herself around him she slowly keened ‘Moses Moses Moses’ with a deep and sultry voice. But it was after watching a movie about Saint Bernadette with her beautiful face illuminated by the Virgin Mary that changed my life for…well for at least a few weeks. A misguided epiphany fired and I began to believe that I too was made of such stuff as could attract the attention of the heavens. I began practising in the mirror, rehearsing for my audition with the saints. I cultivated an ethereal grace and piety and allowed it to radiate from my face. I patiently waited for some talent scouting angel to take note and invite me into the loop.
Time passed and so did my holy aspirations. Life went on, our scuffed up souls occasionally needing the shoe polish of confession. It’s the morning of the afore mentioned wicked sin and I have forgotten my hat. My quick thinking Aunt bobby pins a kleenex to my head and I enter the church. Most weeks, my sessions in the box are embellished. Rather than bore the priest I make stuff up ‘I lied, I cheated, I hit my sister, I stole cookies.’ So, usually my only real sin was lying to the priest.
It’s no surprise, that once adultery enters our conversation, the priest requests some background information. I told him that I had been innocently nosing through my brother’s stuff when I happened upon a magazine that brought to mind those fascinating Cecile B. Demille women, only with less clothing. A lot less. I don’t remember the exact number of rounds I had to make on my ‘glow in the dark’ rosery beads but I do know it took awhile and that my mother looked quietly alarmed.
When I think back on that brief moment of sin, I realize that I could have shrugged it off and reasoned that I had done no real harm. I might have gone about the rest of my day carelessly stealing cookies. But I was not alone that day. My old familiar nemesis cast it’s shadow and I felt the unmistakable breath of an avenging angel. I was busted. My guardian snitch to God was in the room.