Monday, July 15, 2013

The Mission

As a child, I was never alone. Not for a single moment, not ever. God kept a constant eye on me, as did Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, my patron saint, St. Theresa, my Guardian Angel, and my late grandmother.  Always there was another awareness in this skull with me.  It's why I believed that everything that happened, happened for my pleasure, edification, or punishment.  The green grasshopper that landed on my shoe, car crashes, my mother's moodiness, squalls -- all happened to get my attention, to reward or punish me. For this reason, I thought it entirely normal in the middle of 6th grade to ask Jesus for a miracle. 
I was desperate to skip 7th grade and that would take a miracle. I didn't have to explain to Jesus why.  He already knew my body was unlike any of the bodies of my peers. I wore a training bra and had started getting periods. I locked the bathroom door to leisurely examine every inch of my blossoming skin.  I secretly tried on my mother's makeup, even kissed a boy on the lips. Sister Millicent, the principal of St Joseph's, knew some of these things, suspected the others, and it was she who would have to make the decision. I prayed intensely for His intercession, so intensely that sometimes strange states came over me. I saw Crucifixes made of roses. Jesus stood there and light shone at me through the tiny hole in each of His palms.  I prayed for weeks, for months, and then one night, having received no sign one way or the other, I lay in bed flat on my back, placed my right bare foot on top of my left bare foot, stretched my arms out flat and wide across the bed, closed my hands into fists, shut my eyes, inhaled deeply, and prayed. Dearest Jesus, I am ready to feel what you felt. For as long as I can stand it. Just please, please, let me skip 7th grade!  I held my breath, waited. The bedroom was still. No horrific pain seized my feet or hands, no auras. Only a feeling of falling... falling like a leaf.  And it was morning. Bright sunshine, clear air, Dad shaving in the bathroom. On the morning of the last day of school, I lay drowsily in bed. There were tiny red spots floating on my bedroom ceiling. When I focused on them, they vanished and little hearts replaced them. It was a sign but I wasn't sure what it meant. At 3:00, my mother and I sat in Sister Millicent's stuffy office in the brick building attached to our stone church. On the wall behind her hung a very large and beautiful crucifix. We had been summoned here without explanation. My mother sat stiffly beside me. She had reason to feel anxious. The left side, the academic side, of all my report cards that year were lined with VG's, which meant Very Good. But the right side, which graded my deportment and piety, was marked top to bottom with NI's, Needs Improvement.  My mind wandered from my dusty shoes, to Sister Millicent's thin lips, to my mother's cold stare, to Jesus whose head bowed so low on His chest I couldn't see His face. The conversation about my deportment seemed endless. Sister Millicent mentioned the bucket bag on which I had written the names of cute boys. She was displeased by my giggling at morning Mass. She reminded me that she had caught me eating before taking Communion. I felt myself falling into the clasp of another strange state. And then I heard her say, "but next year.....enter eighth grade....skip seventh ..."  I was speechless. Elated.  It was a miracle.  For me on par with the Visitation at Lourdes.  I am an agnostic now but, still, that was a miracle.  


I shoplifted food in college. 
My roommates were not against shoplifting.
My core personality, the judgmental and mildly obsessive one, 
the one who was me most of the time, 
disapproved of shoplifting. 
But when you're a multiple personality, 
the alternate--in my case, 
the childish, impulsive one, who fancied herself a free spirit--
was quick to justify

I'm not a typical multiple: I wasn't hung out of windows 
or locked in basements. 
But my mother, with her explosive temper, 
and my father with his cold, sarcasm scared me. 
And the Catholic church with its many levels of hell and sin, 
scared me too.  Being a child under constant threat 
of violence and damnation
may have caused my selfhood to seek safety in disintegration, 
a way of compartmentalizing all that angst. 

I'm not sure having two personalities is an illness. 
People are naturally bisexual, biracial, bicultural, 
why not bi-personality? 
That's how my free spirit sees it. 
In the opinion of my core personality, however, 
being multiple is just a defense mechanism. 
She's convinced my alternate personality 
craves attention, that my alternate slammed that block of cheese 
on the kitchen counter for applause. My free spirit asks, 
Aren't we all really multiples? 
Look at all of our previous selves--selves we can't even remember--
the preschooler who was terrified of the dark, 
the teenager who stuffed her bra with tissue. 
And don't we disappear every night in our deepest sleep? 
And don't we turn into Pterodactyluae in our dreams? 
So really is there a one and only true self? 
One that can't slither Houdini-like out of one belief into another? 
Selfhood is a mystery.