My family crawled into the paneled station wagon for the three minute drive to church. In the vestibule paved with gray stone, an usher cupped my father’s elbow and whispered a secret in his ear. My father nodded and pointed. There was a draft in the church. My shoes crushed the carpet. I dipped my fingers in cold holy water. We genuflected, hands holding the corner of the pew. On my wool skirt, I slid down the soft, polished wood. I silently said nearly the entire mass with the priest, wordlessly instructing parishioners. Threads of white lint rested on the men’s suit coats, and bobbypins in the women’s buns yawned. I counted shoulders. I recited the responsorial psalm, the Lord’s Prayer. My skirt itched. Standing, I held the soft pew in front of me. The wood gave when I squeezed it. I spun out my elbows like a circus performer. My sister whispered a laugh. My father frowned. I dropped my arms to my sides and fiddled with my skirt’s hem. I dropped a warm dime into the wire collection basket. The smell of metal stayed on my fingers. My father stood, and I straightened my knees and followed with my sister and brother. The usher handed me a heavy plate of bread, my brother a small pitcher of water, my sister the wine, and my father the wicker basket of bills and envelopes. The organ sweated out a song and we walked to the altar. At the railing, the priest took the gifts, and my family spun in a rehearsed circle and returned to the pew. My skirt itched. The priest droned, the organ moaned, the congregation rose for communion. On the way to the pew, I passed pebbled yellow windows made from plastic. The stations of the cross hung on the walls, cheap wood with plastic Jesus scenes in gold relief. The priest prayed and said, “The mass is ended. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We stood and walked to the church basement for donuts and coffee laid out on the long tables used for school lunches during the week.
Things I’m thinking about today.
The idea that you can write an autobiography that superficially has no resemblance to your life. You can write an absolutely, 100% true autobiography that your closest family members wouldn’t recognize as nonfiction. Every story you write, no matter how wild, is autobiographical. You can write a story about an ant colony that lives on Mars, and the story is absolute truth. And in writing your wildly unrealistic but completely true autobiography, you might heal yourself.