The confessional, a small wooden stall divided in two with a partition behind which a priest sits to hear the confessions of all sinners, both lured and frightened me at the same time. There was much that I longed to free from my young burdened soul, but I feared the wrath that might find me once my demons were liberated.
I’ve always found the Catholic place of worship mystically pleasing with its familiar fragrance of melting candle wax and incense. The temple’s interior soothed me with it’s dim, but colorful light pouring through the multicolored stain glass windows. Church was always breathtaking to me; it’s vastness crowded with plaster saints, angels and virgins all dressed in garments and jewelry selected for their ability to reflect the strategically placed lighting. And how I loved to hear the bells toll the hour before mass. To hear it echo throughout the unoccupied building terrified me as much as it thrilled me. The entire ceremonial invocation, despite its excessive and vexatious kneeling, standing, sitting, kneeling, standing, sitting…simply set me beside myself in sheer awe.
Wide eyed and trembling I sat in the cramped space. I could hear my own breathing, I tried to silence my breath. In the dim stall I inhaled through my nose and exhaled out my mouth.
“Is someone there?“ Asked a gentle, soothing male voice, “Hello? Do you wish to make a confession?”
I swallowed and tried to make my heart stop. Surely he too could hear it about to pound right out of my chest. I sat frozen in the confessional unable to make my lips move, unable to respond. The door opened and before I knew it I was racing past every plaster saint, angel and virgin in the church. Their glass eyes following me out the wooden doors and into the blinding sun.
Another indistinguishable day went by filled with the mundane motions of my daily routine and as I walk home from school I remind myself that Sunday is only two days away. I turn the corner and find the cathedral with it’s center, main entrance doors wide open. A tower on each side looming high above and over me like a giant monster about to swallow me up into the bowels of Hell.
I quicken my pace and focus on my every step. With my chin to my chest and school books in hand I began to chant aloud, “Confess on Sunday, confess on Sunday…” and crash right into a pair of legs, feet showing out the bottom of a black skirt. My books scatter about the pavement.
“Slow down there, what’s the hurry?” It was the same unmistakable gentle, soothing male voice! I panic and scramble to collect my books. As I reach for my third and final book, I find myself tugging at it.
“There you go, everything in order,” he says and hands me the book. Still staring at his feet, I wonder why this man does not wear shoes. I see his hand reach for my chin and pull my face up. “Are you okay?” he asks. I nod in the affirmative. He’s still holding my chin. I contemplate his attire, not a dress I guess, a robe-like, priestly uniform. “You don’t have to wait till Sunday,” he offers.
“I know. I can pray anytime. But…” I trail off, his hand is on my shoulder. We begin to walk towards the church.
“But there is something that you wish to confess,” he leads me both in words and direction. I stammer in response, “Yes.”
“Then you’ve come to the right place,” he says while extending his left arm, into the room. My eyes scan across the pews and beyond to the confessional.
“N, n, now?” I stutter under pressure. My eyes adjust to the dim lighting.
“In a minute,” he replies. I watch him exit the church. Somehow I find his manner and touch very comforting, but I guess that’s his job. I’m alone in the church, it’s quiet as I pass the many plaster saints, angels and virgins. Their eyes follow me knowingly, but I cannot stop my feet.
“I, I’ve, I’ve never done this before,” I managed to whisper into the screen partition. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Good,” answers the voice on the other side. “That is your first confession.” The voice is familiar, but somehow restrained. Kneeling, I inched as close as I could to the screen. He sits on the other side, head down with his hands clasped together and on his lap.
“How do I start? What do I say?” I question. Knowing that it is him on the other side relieves me. I tell myself that it was meant to be, that he be the one to absolve me of my sin. I am instantly calmed and reassured by his presence.
He breaks the silence, “Just say what is in your heart, admit that dark spot is there and the light will cleanse you.” Silence fills the stall again.
I clasp my hands together and rest them on the ledge of the partition then place my forehead atop them. I close my eyes, “I ‘m afraid,” I managed to whisper.
“You are in a safe place here,“ he encourages, “there is nothing to fear.”
I want to believe him, but the weight of my confession is too heavy a load. I fear the wrath and retribution for the sins I am about to disclose. I fear the light is not bright enough to eradicate the dark shroud that wraps my soul. I steal a moment and look up to find him unchanged: head down and hands clasped together on his lap. I rest my head on my hands, “I have been silent too long…” And with those words the floodgates opened.
“Bedding arrangements have always been strict in our household, guests or no guests. Gender segregation is a house policy without question. Hence, Patrick was assigned to share a bed and slumber with the boys. I’ve always shared a bunk with one or the other of my brothers and this evening there were three of us in one bed including Patrick. They lay side by side at the head of the bed, while I lay at their cold feet. I wore a T-shirt and boxer shorts to bed, as always. Oh, how I detest those shorts with their course linen feel against my skin, I prefer briefs to boxer shorts with their unwieldy bulkiness bunched up between my butt cheeks and worst yet their inability to hold me in place! I recollect a most excruciating experience with my zipper: I had just finished relieving my bladder after having run all the way home from school. Then somehow, in the rush of things my penis was caught by the foreskin in the zipper. I panicked. Frozen with fear and a most agonizing pain, all I could do was scream! Leaving her kitchen chores behind, my mother rushed to my aid and found me standing in the doorway to the bathroom with tears running down my face. ‘What’s the matter, what’s wrong, why are you crying?’ She asked completely mystified. My hue and cry were enigmas to her. Was it not clear? Could she not see the reason for my pain? Wordlessly, for I was incoherent through all my sobbing. I looked down at my entrapped penis and then back up at her in exhaustive helplessness. An unmitigated despairing wail was all the instruction she needed. With a swift, but gentle tug at the sliding piece of the fastener, she released my aching penis from the torturing teeth of the zipper. The pain persisted to throb in my pants, even after I placed it back into my shorts and closed my zipper. The stinging sensation, caused by the pinch of the zipper’s teeth on my foreskin lingered, but the discomfort soon became the furthest thing from my mind as I realized that embarrassment was reddening my face. An inexplicable intermingling of emotions interlaced my laughter and tears as my mother kissed and wiped my face dry. This bizarre episode was to recur once more before I was switched back to briefs…”
Saturday morning was filled with domestic chores and no matter how much I tried, I could not help but feel guilty for running out like I did. Eventually I made it back to the cathedral. A service was in session so I just hung around the courtyard. I circled the fountain a couple of times wishing I had spare change to toss into the basin. When the congregation had all dispersed I noticed my priest was with an elderly, hefty nun. They faced each other, his hands were on her shoulders as she smiled up into his eyes. I purposely walked past them and into the church.
Two men were pushing in a coffin at the front of the church. Curiosity stirred in me; was there a body in there? I have never seen a corpse before. A chill ran up my spine and I disappeared in to the confessional. I kneel and put my head down waiting to hear the priest walk in, but only silence greeted me. I looked up to see him sitting there, patiently waiting for me to start. He smiled, I blushed and put my head down, then began the continuation of my confession.
“Later that night, in what seemed hours, but perhaps only a fragment in time, I awoke to a whisper in my ear, ‘Get up.’ Patrick was trying to rouse me without waking my brother. Dumbfounded I asked, ‘Why?’, ‘Just follow me,’ he retorts, pulling on my arm. The cold floor beneath my feet brings me to full conscience assuring me that this is not a dream. I follow him through the dark and toward the bathroom without apparent reason. ‘Close the door behind you,’ he instructs, while pulling on the chain that serves as a light switch. Blinded by the light, I instantly raise my arm to my squinted eyes. ‘Get on your knees,’ he orders. Lowering my arm, I find he’s standing before me, stripped of his sleeping apparel. I’m stunned with bewilderment. What does he mean, Get on my knees? And why is he completely naked? My confusion is pushed aside, for the moment, by curiosity. I cannot help but stare at his mid torso. He is stroking himself to an erection. I feel the familiar sensation of a hard-on growing in my shorts like the second’s hand of a clock ticking its way upward, slowly, but surely. He doesn’t repeat his request; instead he places a hand on my right shoulder and applies downward pressure commanding my direction. Without breaking my stare at his erect penis, my knees bend under his force and drop to the floor. He guides his penis up to my mouth and presses the head against my lips. Rubbing against my closed mouth, its warm smoothness sent an odoriferous and enticing scent. I was enraptured. I placed my hands on his hips and closed my eyes. Minimum pressure parted my lips and slowly he pierced into the moistness of my mouth. He grabs hold of my head with both hands and thrust his hips in a slow rhythmical motion. My lips, firmly encircling his penis, revel in the sensation. With my eyes still closed, I allow my hands to wander, feeling his butt cheeks tighten as he thrusts forward and relaxing back to their smooth round form, when he pulls back. I tighten my grip on his butt, more so for tactile pleasure than for the sake of keeping balance. I opened my eyes at the removal of his penis from my mouth. ‘Stand up, turn around and bend over.’ he instructs me with military sway. Without question, rising from my knees, I obey in the same military precision. ‘Wait,’ he insists, tugging at my shorts, pulling them down around my knees, ‘now bend over.’ I let my shorts drop to the floor and step out of them before I complete his command. Almost immediately I feel his stiff penis at the portal of my anus. Again, I close my eyes so that I might concentrate on what I am feeling. His large hands, spreading my buttocks apart, are rough in texture. I feel an alien sting at the base of my anus as the head of his stiff penis penetrates me. My sphincter contracts, closing around his penis. Still more pain when I bite my lower lip in reflex. The muscles in my face tighten, as if drawn by a magnet toward the space between my eyes, contorting my countenance into expressions of excruciating pain.”
I freeze. My lips won’t move. My mind is blank.
“Are you okay?” the priest asks in a whisper. I open my eyes and nod, mumbling in the affirmative. “This is a huge burden for a young man to bear.” I do not reply, my mind is still blank. I look up. “Know that I do not judge you. Cleanse your heart…”
I interrupt him, “I, I can’t, I can‘t…remember. I can’t remember.” I have been hauling this weight for so long, I don’t remember more.
“The mind has a way of protecting us from a traumatic experience. Tell me only that which is in your heart, only that which comes to mind,” his blue eyes are reassuring. I roll my eyes from left to right as if in search of the lost memory in my head. But Time has long since buried away these remains I exhume in attempts to resurrect.
“I don’t remember climbing back into bed or anything else that might have happened that night. I do recall what happened the following day. Monday afternoon and another tiring day of school was behind me. Walking up the dead end street to our house, I could see Patrick playing football with some other neighborhood boys. They’re not looking at me, but they know, I thought to myself in suspicion. He’s told them everything. They‘re just pretending not to know. Stepping up the driveway to our house I heard my name called. It was the voice of my mother. Panic filled my lungs and fear raced through my veins. Mothers only call you by your middle name when they are vexed. The paranoia in me whispered aloud, She knows! He’s told her also. I can hear it in her voice! The front door hangs open behind me. The bathroom door, partly open, is to my right. With fear racing through my veins, standing in our front room before my mother it is difficult to mask the terror on my face. ‘Yes Mam,’ I managed to voice, with the calmest tone I could muster. ‘Listen,’ she begins, ‘I’m going to ask you something very important. And I need for you to answer honestly.’ A short pause, then she continues. ‘Whatever your answer is, I promise, I won’t be upset, you won’t get in trouble for telling the truth.’ Our eyes locked as she gently placed her hands on my shoulders, until a burst of laughter from the boys playing football broke the silence and unlocked our stare. There he was, playing, laughing with the other carefree boys. Meanwhile, I stood before my angered mother who was soon enough to ask the dreaded question I knew well was to ensue. And I thought to myself, Oh Lord, can one fear the wrath of one’s mother more than thee? And if so, is that a sin? She ceased the moment, turning my head by the chin, to face hers and asked, ‘What were you doing in the bathroom last night?’ There it was, the question to which I was expected to respond to with all honesty. But the truth was still unclear to me. Surely she wasn’t expecting to hear every graphic detail. What did she want to hear? How did she know about the bathroom last night? Had he told her everything, as I feared? Or worse, did the perjurer fabricate a completely different story, so as to make me the culprit? Had she heard us wake in the middle of the night and walk to the bathroom? And, what exactly had she heard if anything at all? If she did hear something, anything, anything she disapproved of, why didn’t she interrupt?”
Beyond the confessional partition his blue eyes were hidden behind his closed lids. With his head down he appeared asleep, but I knew he was listening intently to my every word. His hands were gracefully clasped atop his black vestments. I continued to retell what little I could remember.
“What were you doing in the bathroom last night?’ she repeated, startling me, pulling me away from the thoughts racing in my petrified mind with a sudden jolt of my shoulders. Again I stared into her eyes, like a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, completely terrified. I scrambled through every corner of my mind searching in vain for the right answer. ‘Nothing,’ was the only word I could pronounce through my trembling lips. The very lips that sinned only hours ago. The very lips that bit in pain from his piercing…. Now these lips, having felt such pleasure and pain, denied my mother’s ear the solemn truth. But she knew I was lying. She knew the truth and wanted to hear me disclose these truths myself. Just like God, who already knows, for He sees all. Yet we are expected to confess none-the-less. ‘Don’t lie,’ she says, pointing her index finger at me. ‘Why was Patrick in the bathroom with you last night? Tell me the truth, what were you doing?’ she demanded. ‘He just walked me to the bathroom,’ I lied. She could see through my mendacity as well as she could see my obstinacy to confess. I had no knowledge of what Patrick might have already disclosed and didn’t care to incriminate myself. I wasn’t happy with the sound of things, neither was she. Her demeanor persevered. I wouldn’t divulge a word to confirm her speculation. The redundant cat and mouse game of question and answer must have exhausted her patience, because we stood in silence for what seemed to be forever! She ended the silence, not with a vociferous shout, but with a gentle, motherly tone, ‘Did he touch you?’ she asked almost whispering the word ‘touch.’ Despite my certainty that she knew the correct answer, I shook my head to gesture no. I wasn’t aware until this point that tears were running down my face. ‘Did he hurt you?’ she continued, stressing the word hurt with empathy. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘nothing happened.’ The garden of lies was never this bounty. My forgery was hardly audible past my sniveling. She was as heartbroken as I. I’d lied to her and she knew it. But, how could I admit such sinful behavior, I enjoyed the meeting that took place the night before, confessing so would have shattered her heart to smithereens. She stiffened her posture and pointed her index finger at me as she resolutely pronounced, ‘I don’t want to see you around him again! I don’t want to find out that you were alone with him!’ Looking up from me, and out through the open door she continued, ‘As a matter of fact, his welcome is over!’ I don’t remember much after that speech. I don t remember seeing Patrick for a long time after that day. It was probably years, once my mother’s fury waned and she felt that the threat of his molesting me had unconditionally ceased. But I don’t see it as having been molested. I feel I was a willing participant.”
Silence. I expected to hear him protest, to insist that although I was a victim of sexual molestation, I too somehow must do penance. Some sort of punishment for my illicit behavior. Some sort of forgiveness prayer one hundred times over or until my tongue fell off, whichever came first. I kept my eyes closed and listened for his breathing, for the rustling of his vestments. I wanted to hear him tell me that I would be okay. That I had survived the worst. Still nothing. I slowly lift my head to find myself alone, his side of the stall empty. I was confused. Where did he go? When did he go? Why? Isn’t he supposed to assign penance? Do I just wait here? What if he doesn’t return?
I took a moment to collect myself and walked to the fountain outside. I sat there a moment and traced my fingers over the surface of the water. Two nuns were headed towards the church arm in arm. A young slender one I had not seen before and the short, elder, hefty one from earlier that day.
“Excuse me,” I asked as I caught up with them. “Where can I find father…um, Father umm…” and I realized that I did not know his name.
“Hello young man.” greets the tall slender nun. “I’m sister Mary.”
The short hefty nun smiles dreamily and asks, “What does he look like?”
Without pausing to think about it I reply, “He’s tall, has blond hair and blue eyes. He wears vestments like a dress not pants like the other priests.”
“Sorry,” sister Mary begins, “We don’t have a blue eyed priest…”
“Oh I’ve seen him!” exclaims the hefty one.
“Yes, sister Christine, you’ve seen him.” says sister Mary as she waves her hand inches from the others nun’s face, “She’s blind as a bat you know.”
“What do you mean?” Again confusion overwhelms me. “She was talking to him earlier today, right over there by the left entrance.”
“Sorry son,” sister Mary offers, “You must be confused. This one can’t see a thing to save her life and we certainly don’t have a blue eyed priest here, of that I‘m certain. And not any that run around in a dress!”
“I might be blind to the physical world, but I can see the Divine clear as day,” pronounced sister Christine, “but you’re wrong young man, I wasn’t talking to him, just basking in his light.”
“Lord Jesus help me,” sister Mary said rolling her eyes to the sky. “She’s blind and loony. What ever did I do to deserve this?” She reengages her elbow with sister Christine and leads her into the cathedral. “Come on batty, we have work to do. This funeral isn’t gonna set itself up. And I have to watch over you…”
Something in me lurched as I followed them into the cathedral. “But he just heard my confession, then suddenly he was gone. Shouldn‘t I be punished or something? One hundred prayers…or a lashing?” I asked.
Sister Mary turns around to face me and tilts her head. “A lashing?” Her face is contorted with bewilderment, “And what good would one hundred prayers do you?”
“I…I feel unfinished. I need to know, that…you know,“ and here I look up at the ceiling, “that I’m forgiven.”
Sister Christine interjects, “When your confession is from the heart, the light will cleanse you and all is forgiven.”
“If you must be absolved,” Sister Mary says without meeting my gaze as she searches in a utility cupboard, “Here,“ she hands me a chamois. “You can dust all the fingerprints off that box up in front.”
“You mean the…the coffin?” I ask incredulously. But she’s already leading sister Christine off into a chamber beyond the plaster saints, angels and virgins.
I inch my way up to the alter, towards the coffin that sits at the front of the church. As I pass the confessional I notice that the right door, the one where the priest sat and listened to my sins, is ajar a few inches. I look back to check if the nuns are around, but surmise that I am alone. I slowly pull the door open as I peer into the stall. Empty.
I reach the coffin and tentatively stroke the box with the chamois. I start to wonder what became of my priest. Who is he? Where did he go? Why doesn’t sister Mary believe me? What is his name? All these questions running through my head keep me from fearing the task at hand. As I rub a section of the coffin with many fingerprints I realize that I’m at the head of the casket. Again I look about to ensure that I am alone and start to open the front portion of the box. The upper lid springs open suddenly! Not empty!
I am not alone! Inside lies a man who could easily be asleep, but I know better. He seems to be at peace, serene. His blond hair neatly combed. His hands clasped atop his chest clad in black. As I study the body I notice that the interior of the padded lid is embroidered with a name: Godfrey Mason, in cursive lettering. I lean in a bit in attempt to further inspect his funeral attire but cannot see into the lower half. I raise the lower lid of the casket to discover he is dressed in a black smock-like garment. A vestment that runs the length of his body down to a pair of exposed bare feet! I do not need to pry open his eyes to know that they are blue underneath those lids.
A piercing “cling” followed by an thunderous “clang” commenced to toll the hour before mass. Fear driven steps carry me out of the cathedral, tears running down my face. To hear it echo throughout the unoccupied building no longer thrills me as much as it terrifies me. As I run past endless rows of pews I drop the chamois onto the marble floor and chant his name to the ominous rhythm of the bells: Godfrey Mason, (cling-clang, cling-clang) God-frees-My-son, (cling-clang, cling-clang) God-Speed-My-Son, (cling-clang, cling-clang) Godspeed My Son!
A sharp and sudden pain strikes my shins as I topple over and into the courtyard water fountain. The cold water sobers me and I sit in the foot deep basin starring back at the cathedral. It’s center, main entrance doors wide open. A tower on each side looming high above and over me like a giant monster about to swallow me up into the bowels of Hell.