When I was a little girl, my mother would dress me in my finest clothes every Sunday. These cream chiffon puffs usually consisted of the most uncomfortable, itchy material imaginable, especially in the desert where we lived. My ensemble was complete as she stuffed my tiny feet into black patent-leather Mary Janes as shiny as a beetle’s back. In fact, that is exactly what I imagined they were; big fat beetles who would take me anywhere I needed to go. I stood on them proudly, a tiny queen of insects.
Unfortunately, my enjoyment was cut off the moment she would try brushing my hair; it was a tangled mess the color of black coffee that somehow always resembled a nest rather than actual hair. It never quite knew if it wanted to be curly or straight. What resulted was a frizzy combination of both that I hated very much and, more often than not, never even bothered combing. What was the point? I would think. I would just have to do it again tomorrow. This could very well be why there are so many embarrassing pictures of me as a child whose head is nothing but black tumbleweed.
For a few years, my mother made me go to church (force would be too strong a word, but you get the idea). I never understood why. After all, I didn’t understand a single word they were saying ... but at least I liked the way it smelled. It was not until I became restless and started to walk up and down the back pews as quiet as a strand of silk falling to the floor that my mother realized church might not be for me. She has always been a very devout Catholic and her first thought was that I had somehow become possessed by a demonic force. So I was blessed. I loved the way the priest sprinkled holy water on me because I could imagine it was rain.
One particularly hot and itchy Sunday, I got it into my head that I could take a book with me to church (sneak would be too strong a word, but you get the idea). I had long since moved on from children’s novels and onto books like Stephen King’s It. After all, what harm would reading do so long as I was quiet?
Once my mother settled into her seat and all her focus was on the man in the robes who I still never quite understood, I took out my contraband and placed it between the pages of my hymn book. Word to the wise: Stephen King novels are very difficult to hide. A few moments later, I felt a chill run through my body and the world stopped turning. Slowly, I looked up and saw that my mother was glaring at me in that unholiest of mad mother ways. It scared me the way no Stephen King book has ever done. I placed the book back in my satchel and for the first time prayed that I would lived to see another day ... or at least find out how the story ended. It was the longest church assembly of my life. It would also be my last.
My mother never forbade me to read Mr. King’s books, but it was clear how much she disliked them. She also never asked me to go to church with her again. I had snuck in what she believed to be the antithesis of the Bible in the holiest of all places and in her eyes, that was nothing short of sacrilege.
“There’s something very wrong with that man.” She would say.
So there must be something wrong with me. A nagging voice in my head would add.
She never said it, but I felt the waves of disappointment from her as surely as if they had been radioactive. It was true, there was something wrong with me. Otherwise, how is it possible that I could spend hours on end reading, writing, imagining stories as they tumbled about my head like so many people and places begging to be released from captivity; yet, I could barely listen to a scripture from a priest without becoming temporarily narcoleptic? I was happiest when I lost myself between the pages of novels or stories I was writing, as I met people and discovered places I never even knew existed.
“Late at night my mind would come alive, with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it; longing for transformation.”
My mother, always an extraordinarily keen woman sensed this. After my rotten attempt (and it was rotten only because I didn’t get away with it) at literary espionage, something happened. Sundays were no longer days I had to dress up because oftentimes, she was out the door before I even woke up. There was, as there should be, a wave of sadness that swept through me in knowing that my mother no longer needed me with her; that somehow, I had hurt her ... deeply. It would not be until many years later that I would realize there wasn’t something wrong with me; her church simply was not my church.
It was a hot summer day in the desert, waves of heat rose from the pavement; but inside ... inside it was cool enough to need a sweater. As I walked between the towering shelves of books, as quietly as a piece of silk being dropped on the floor, I ran my fingers gently across the hundreds of spines, stopping every now and then to take a novel in my hand and decide whether or not I wanted to take it home with me. They whispered to me, telling me their stories as I walked past. These were voices I understood. I had found my church.
But the librarian won’t let me burn incense here. I guess sometimes we really can’t have it all.