I am taking communion for the first time in a while. I walk up to the priest, in his robe, in the chantry. I am handed the wafer. He wipes the cup. I put it to my lips, sipping just a little bit of wine, just a small touch to my lips because I can never forget what my Dad said about backwash at a baseball game I think, a long time ago, when I was just a little girl. I used to cover my plate with my hands when my brother burped, thinking that his mouth, his body, sent a wave of germs over my plate. And of course he would burp more and more, watching as my hands danced to fight off the waves.
I take my lips off of the golden cup as he wipes them for the next one. I go back to my little chair. Bow my head in prayer. In my periphery, I see the man in the back left corner bowing, deeper, deeper. I think he is from Texas. I think this because he wears brown leather shoes, like the boy from a college in Texas that my best friend from Texas spoke to at the station in the middle of the night as we waited on a train to take us uptown to a club that would close before we could even step inside. Even here, the people have to sleep. Eventually! Eventually.
I don’t know what to pray for. It was once that I had a long list, like a grocery list of dreams and fears and hopes. When I was ten, my parents asked if I wanted to skip fifth grade. I still don’t remember why, what I had done to show them that I was ready to jump a whole year ahead in something, and somehow the decision, after the principal and superintendent, and whoever else’s day job it was to determine the future of little children, landed on me. It was my decision. To leave my little classroom where the teacher still took photos of us on the first day and hot glued them up to the board under our names, my decision to go straight to the middle school with lockers, girls who wore makeup, wandering in the hall with just a few minutes of chaos to get to a destination. And so I took communion one Sunday at ten years old — they passed the little bread pellets around with grape juice and I chewed the body and drank the blood and bowed my head and asked God if I should skip the fifth grade. and I don’t remember if he told me to or not, but I did, and I was seventeen when I went to college. A lot of things changed when I was seventeen, not just in college. I was only seventeen. People told me — often and starting young — that I was mature for my age, that I was an old soul, but still, I was only seventeen, and everybody knows that’s what you tell a kid to get them to trust you. Or maybe it’s what you tell a kid when they’re a little too quiet. A little too somber.
They cross themselves, here in this chantry. And we had to walk up to get the body of Jesus. And the priest, I’ve never seen one in a real robe like that, with a rope around the neck or waist, the whole garb, really. I wonder if this is a catholic church. That shouldn’t matter, though, right? The nitty gritty. I am trying to speak to God, so what if the denomination has its own name, its own rituals. I am trying to speak to God.
And the priest, with his robe. He stands. He has a receding hairline, a nasally voice that makes me feel like I can trust him.
“It all started with chaos, and then God made the light and the darkness. The separation.” I am summarizing. I used to take notes in church once, in middle school (I was only ten), in college, but now I listen. I listen. And I try not to cry. “God looked at the world. he looked at it. And he saw the need for you.” For me. “And yes, this world doesn’t make sense. Life is so short. And eternity is the promise. Heaven is the promise.”
The doors to the chantry bust open. The man sitting there, manning them jumps. He looks at the woman who has just entered. He looks tired. He is wearing a suit. Like the pastor in all the churches I grew up in. The woman has a suitcase, a paper bag, a bonnet on her head. Her eyes seem swollen, but I don’t look at her for too long because she sits behind me and I am trying to listen and trying not to cry and trying to give her some peace, some dignity if she truly is in a bad spot. That’s what you do with people in a bad spot, right? You don’t look at them too much. Throw a dollar, drop five in a cup, click on a virtual fundraiser, walk quickly — but don’t run, never run — when they’re veering at you on the sidewalk. And we’re so scared of them, these people in a bad spot. So scared because we strip them of their humanity, refusing to acknowledge that the most dangerous person is someone with nothing left to lose, and more often than not (probably always) we and this world we’ve built are the ones who have taken it all away. We take away their humanity. And that’s why I’m here. Because it doesn’t make sense to me, this world doesn’t make sense — everything is upside down and backward. And I am still so young, and nobody tells me I am young. They tell me they’re proud of me. They look at me, they expect to decide things for myself, things I don’t know if I’m ready for. And I wonder if I had never made that first decision — if I had had one more year, if I had grown a little slower, if I hadn’t been seventeen when I went out into the world as something larger than myself — if it would make sense to me. If I would be able to understand the distinction in all of the chaos.
And I was grocery shopping by myself. I went to the place where I get my produce. I buy vegetables and I put them in the oven and I wait sometimes. So I went to the grocery store so I could get what I needed to do this “cooking,” this thing that feels like nurturance, and a man with a hoodie was there and he walked, slumped over, he bounced with every step, like his knees were tired, his jeans, black jeans, hung in pools around his legs, the shape of the legs didn’t even hit the denim. And he slung a backpack off of his shoulder he didn’t come far, he didn’t have to, he went to the refrigerated section and reached up, up to the top shelf, he reached, his hands touched the cool plastic wrap atop a bin of ground meat, of raw, ground meat, and he put it in his backpack, and he tried to run out, he tried, but his knees, his thin legs, he seemed so tired. And the guard, the meaty, bulky guard, also in all black ran after him, and I looked away. I never know whether I should look or not. I don’t know what to do when someone’s in a bad spot like that. And when I look around, when I try to see what everyone else does, everyone else who maybe had another year, who maybe didn’t skip the fifth grade, they’re all looking away. They’re all looking away. And that doesn’t feel right either.
So I checked out with my vegetables. I paid for them. I went to the next store. The place where I can buy aluminum foil. Name-brand candy. I picked up a few things, waited in line, scanned them myself. And as I bagged them in my reusable back and got a few cents off for bringing it, I thought about him. Thought about how he got in that bad of a spot. Thought about who put him there. Did I put him there? How far am I from that bad spot? And I paid. I paid with my cell phone. And I began to walk away.
Someone tapped my shoulder. They spoke with an accent and stood, meagerly, next to his wife.
“You dropped this.”
He handed me my wallet. I thanked him. Smiled. Left the store, thinking about how nice it was to feel cared for by someone else, someone I didn’t even know. And as I walked home, the weight of my groceries, my vegetables, my name-brand candy, my aluminum foil, weighing me down, I kept thinking about him, about that man who had only wanted a tub of raw meat. I questioned why the world treated me so kindly (sometimes) and him so cruelly (I’m assuming almost always).
I don’t understand how we let it get this way. And maybe I missed it, maybe I missed it during that one year, or maybe I would’ve picked up on it had I been eighteen and not seventeen when I went to college, or maybe that is the chaos. Maybe this is the chaos.
“We are not made for this world,”
the pastor says in his robe. When I was a little girl, my pastor in his suit said that too. And I didn’t get it then. I had to be made this world! I was good at it! I was mature for my age! I read books! Early! and lots of them! But I had just gotten here. I didn’t really understand what I was reading in those books. I loved The Diary of Anne Frank, but I didn’t really understand that she too was just a little girl, and that unlike me, she would never get to grow up. Even at sixteen, after the skip, before college, I read Invisible Man, impressed myself with textual analyses in class, but I didn’t really understand that book, that that’s how you get in a bad spot, that’s how you are pushed to the fringes. That maybe the protagonist was unnamed because nobody ever used his anymore. That maybe he had forgotten it himself.
They start singing a hymn. And I look around for a hymnal. There is one in the back of the chair to my left. I join the singing. Her paper bag rustles as the woman behind me leaves. And this service, this song, it reminds me of my Grandmother. I will call her, tomorrow, to tell her so. She used to let me bring toys to play with during the sermon. I didn’t need to understand the words yet. I was still young then, not even ten. She had a nice, sharp voice. Alto. And I wonder if my father felt this way when he left her. When he went out on his own. I know my mother felt like this. And I miss them. And I think I want to go home. Or at least call them. To hear my name, in their voice, voices in which it is familiar. And I sing the name of God. I sing something to Jesus and I hope it doesn’t sound foreign. I hope it isn’t in vain. And the wafer sticks to my throat, dries it out. I wish I had had a little more to drink — a little more — to wash down the body of Christ, even if a stranger’s mouth had touched the cup, even if their lips had sipped the blood and left something of themselves in it.