Confession

All posts tagged Confession

On hearing and personal normalcy.

Published September 28, 2016 by mandileighbean

Round of applause, please; I’m actually posting weekly! Granted this is the first time it has happened, but it’s all about the baby steps, right? It’s all about doing the work.

So without further self-aggrandizing glory, or further do, here’s this week’s writing prompt. I’d like to thank Cristina Hartmann who wrote a beautiful, poignant article on her deaf experience. Her willingness to be so honest and so personal helped me through writer’s block and taught me to be open-minded through validating the idea that there is a common human experience no matter the extenuating circumstances.

Enjoy.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #29: A deaf woman undergoes a surgical procedure that enables her to hear for the first time.

The surgery had been an absolute success, one worthy of being documented in some elite medical journal that was never actually read but given a prestigious place on a bookshelf of some pretentious professional. But Monica had no idea that she was a medical marvel; not yet, anyway. She was still floating somewhere in the dark ether of anesthesia, blissfully unaware of the momentous, tragic changes in her life that had occurred while she was sleeping peacefully.

Monica had been born deaf, an innocent victim of her mother’s sins. Monica’s mom had been a pretty heavy drug user in the very beginning of her pregnancy and though her daughter had been the reason she finally got clean, it was too little too late. The damage was done and in her youngest years, Monica was constantly shushed so that the toddler wouldn’t make noise at inappropriate times. How was Monica to know she was even making sounds, let alone when she was being shushed? The kid couldn’t hear, couldn’t hear a damn thing, and so Monica struggled to learn American Sign Language. Doing so allowed Monica to meet many, many different people and in her important, formative years, she signed with adults, and that early exposure to maturity and a cynic sort of wisdom only vaguely hidden behind smiles that didn’t quite meet the eyes (because she was still a child after all) indelibly shaped Monica’s personality. She had always been an old soul – polite, conservative and comfortable even in the strange solitude that came with being unable to hear.

Being comfortable wasn’t always synonymous with being complacent, so when Monica had been referred to the Cochlear Implant Center, she continued on that journey to meet with an audiologist, and when her medical history had been sufficiently reviewed and all the necessary medical tests had been conducted, Monica willingly moved on to the last phase, which involved a psychiatric evaluation. In the end, all had been golden and she was approved for cochlear implant surgery.

Monica remembered her hands twitching nervously as the surgeon explained the procedure. She thought it was nice he wanted her to be informed, but Monica was letting most of it simply fall away. She was too nervous to concern herself with the details of the surgery because it wasn’t the impending incision that troubled her; it was the aftermath. She had been relieved to discover that she would still be unable to hear like a hearing person, and that the implant could be turned off so that Monica could effectively be deaf again. The thing Monica hated most about being deaf was that it was not her choice; taking a wide view of the thing, Monica supposed you could say it had been her mother’s choice, but unwittingly so. Either way, Monica liked the idea that being able to hear was her choice, very much her choice. If she longed for the familiar soothing and peaceful silence she had lived in for so long, Monica could go there any time she liked. That thought had calmed her enough to go ahead with the procedure.

Surprisingly, the surgery was no big deal; Monica learned that the majority of patients go home the same day, and that the surgery only lasted between two to three hours. After minimal hair shaving and a small incision (the aerated bone behind her ear had to be removed so the device could be implanted), she’d go home and remove the dressings the next day, standing in front of her bathroom mirror, breathing deeply and listening hard for anything, anything at all.

What a change it would be; good or bad, it would certainly be different.

So as far as anyone was concerned, Monica should have been on her way home. But her shit luck reared its ugly head once more, and there had been a minor complication. The procedure had caused facial nerve stimulation, and they wanted to keep Monica longer (overnight) for observation, to make sure the damage wasn’t permanent. The surgeon would tell her, with an overly enthusiastic smile and tone to let her know her optimism should not in any way shape or form be deterred, when she woke from the anesthesia but even that was taking longer than it should. A surgeon couldn’t be expected to wait around all day, could he? Certainly not; time to wait around was not a luxury in the business of saving lives.

Monica was therefore all alone when she began to stir. Well, all alone if one discounted her roommate, which it seemed most people did. He was a young man essentially being kept comfortable until he inevitably kicked the bucket. The car accident had ravaged his insides; so much vital stuff had been bruised and was bleeding and it was just a God awful mess. The next of kin had been alerted, but there wasn’t enough time (was there ever) and that poor young man was going to die alone and he was going to do so in a matter of moments.

“I’m so scared,” he breathed. It took a lot, to make noise, to push enough air through his throat to vibrate his vocal chords. It was a lot of work, a lot of effort, but it had to be done. Everyone deserves to have a final say, and he was going to have him, goddammit.

Monica’s eyes shot open. She heard it; she heard it. It startled her awake, the husky voice wracked with pain and despair, but it was the only voice she had ever heard. She was hearing. She was smiling and tears were freely pouring. She hadn’t processed what the voice said exactly, but for now, it was enough that it had been audible.

“It’s not fair,” the voice croaked. “I didn’t do anything wrong, man. I was wearing my seatbelt. I was sober.” There was a deep, shuddering breath. “How can there be nothing that they can do? How can this be it?” The voice broke near the end, cracked into a million desperate shards that had nowhere to land, nothing to shatter against.

The voice asked questions Monica was unable to answer, not only because she didn’t know how to intellectually, but because she didn’t know how to physically. She had years of speech therapy to go before she’d be able to effectively communicate without using her hands. Any sound she attempted now would be unsettling at best, impossible for the man suffering beside her to discern. Her smile had faded, had done so quickly, and something akin to indescribable sorrow had contorted her features to something decidedly less than beautiful.

“It’s karma,” the man said. He waited a moment, for an absolution perhaps. Maybe he was waiting for a kind soul to argue otherwise, but there was nothing. “It has to be karma,” he continued. “I knew she was drunk but she was smiling and laughing and I never heard no.” There was sharp intake of breath. “I swear to God, she never told me no. She never asked me to stop. I was young and…” his voice trailed off. Monica didn’t think he would speak again, and she was okay with that. She didn’t like playing priest in this warped confessional. How could the first voice she ever heard belong to a dying man, a dying man that felt the need to confess the worst thing he’d ever done? If he wanted to talk about what was unfair, Monica was game.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “I don’t want to die.”

Monica shut her eyes tight, letting the tears roll freely. What else could she do?

 

deafness

On being a big, fat liar.

Published February 13, 2016 by mandileighbean

doughtheliar

Two weeks ago, I went to confession. The line of sinners was surprisingly long; I assume the snowstorm from the previous weekend had kept the faithful at home and away from the church, so everyone was playing catch up. That’s why I was there, at any rate. But there’s something about being in that intimate, sacred setting that always compels me to spill my guts. Maybe it’s a simple effect of being raised Catholic, a kind of Pavlovian reaction to the whole ceremony, but I like to believe it’s more than that, like it’s a sign from the universe that my faith is real and working, and that this kind of spiritual purging is healthy and necessary. Whatever the reason or motivation, when it was finally my turn to enter the confessional and the heavy, cloth curtain swung shut behind me, I dropped to my knees and told the priest everything that had been burdening my soul. I unloaded my emotional baggage, carefully and delicately removing every piece of troublesome ego and holding it up to the light to reveal all the intricacies. I think the popular nomenclature for such an event is “word vomit.” At the end, I was breathless but felt somewhat lighter. I also felt guilty and ashamed, truly humbled.

And the priest laughed. He laughed loud and long and hard.

This may seem like a harsh reaction, but please trust me when I assure you that it was completely warranted. My life, as of late, has turned into quite the melodrama. To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but if you could me a favor and think of the most ridiculous plot line from a daytime soap opera – that’s my life. That’s how I’ve been living. To hear it out loud, to finally speak about it all, was somewhat amusing. I was on the verge of laughter myself – sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, no? So the priest was in no way a villain. His laughter subsided, and he told me I was certainly in a “sticky situation.” He promised he would pray for me.

The priest promised to pray for me. That’s how dire my situation is.

I hope this anecdote helps illustrate why I haven’t been keeping to the resolutions I made so boldly before the new year started. I’m the worst, I know, but I’m trying.

I hope you are all trying to, no matter the endeavor.

You’ll be hearing more from me soon; I promise.

lying

On being clean.

Published July 16, 2012 by mandileighbean

I had a really wonderful time with loved ones yesterday at Cheryl’s surprise 50th birthday party.  Cheryl is the mother of my best friend, so I view her as my mother by extension.  She is extremely caring, loyal, honest and strong.  I am blessed to have her in my life and be counted as her loved one.  I am also blessed to have such a large extended family, blood relations notwithstanding.  At the party, I was one of the few people who were not related to Cheryl by either blood or marriage.  I viewed myself as a kind of ambassador, representing my family, and it got me thinking about why it becomes so difficult to mix different groups of friends; I believe it is because different people allow one to show different sides of him or herself.  We love myriads of people.  Hopefully, most of us are surrounded by people who bring out the best in us.  But now and again, we develop toxic relationships and love the people who hurt us and bring out the worst in us.  Some people see that as being weak, and as being taken advantage of.  I prefer to see it as being brave.  To give love unconditionally time and time again no matter how many bruises it inflicts is a beautiful and precious gift that is clearly deserving of being shared with everyone.

Never stop loving.

“Oh Jesus, I’ve fallen. I don’t mind the rain if I meet my Maker; I’ll meet my Maker clean. But Jesus, the truth is I struggle so hard to believe I’ll meet my Maker.  I need my Maker.”

– “Get Me Right,” Dashboard Confessional

“And can you kneel before the King and say, ‘I’m clean, I’m clean’?”

– “White Blank Page,” Mumford & Sons

PROMPT: “He was pretty religious once.”

PIECE: Marilyn was slowly walking from the church.  Her high heels were clicking against the concrete and the sound echoed out into the almost deserted parking lot.  She paused at the curb, fumbling with her tiny purse, looking for her pack of cigarettes and lighter.  Will didn’t like her smoking in the car, so she figured she’d feed the craving before climbing inside.  It was an act of consideration and wisely played, because Will would most likely be incredibly cantankerous – he had waited for Saturday evening mass to end in his car in the dry summer heat without air conditioning.  Marilyn had tried to use the lack of comfort and cool air as an incentive for Will to join her inside the church, aside from the fact that doing so could save his immortal soul and provide his life with some kind of moral center.  Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears; Will was not to be shaken from his lack of faith.  She lit up and took a long drag, exhaling the smoke towards the moving sky.  It looked like a severe, sudden summer storm was on its way.

“Will still sitting in the car, huh?” a familiar voice asked.  Marilyn turned to see her best friend, Hannah.  Hannah was smiling, sunglasses blocking her eyes.

“Yeah,” Marilyn answered.  “I’ve tried everything, dude.  Maybe it’s not that important.  Maybe I should stop pushing my values on him.”  She flicked the ashes from the end of the cigarette, and watched them flutter to the pavement.

“Maybe; you know your relationship better than anyone else, aside from Will, of course.”  Hannah paused.  “He’s lucky to have you, you know?”

Marilyn shrugged.  “He keeps saying that, and I keep trying to tell him that it works both ways.  Sometimes, I think he gets upset because he works down at the masonry center and he thinks it’s nothing glamorous and that I think the same.”  She turned to face Hannah fully.  “Do you think I’m pretentious?  Do I give off that vibe?”

Hannah shook her head.  “Not at all; and Will’s fears and doubts are Will’s fears and doubts.  It’s his baggage that he needs to work through.”

Again, Marilyn only shrugged.  “I know, but I just want to help.”  Hannah was silent beside her, out of clichéd things to say she’d learned from sitcoms with female target audiences.  Marilyn turned to face the parking lot, seeming to look out beyond it all and into the past.  “He was pretty religious once,” Marilyn said.

“Really; Will was religious?”

Nodding, Marilyn said, “Yeah.  He would go to mass every week, confession every two weeks.  Every night before bed, he’d hit his knees and pray.  He had a Bible beside his bed and he’d try to read a little bit of it every day.”

“What happened?” Hannah asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Marilyn admitted.  “It’s weird.  He won’t go to church, but he brings me every Sunday and he doesn’t go home.  He waits in the car.  What’s that about?”

“Maybe he’s waiting for a reason to go in,” Hannah offered.

On missing information.

Published July 14, 2012 by mandileighbean

So for being Friday the 13th, today wasn’t half bad.  I spent some awesome time with Jimmy who, unfortunately, is returning to Virginia tomorrow.  I also had lunch with Raina and it was definitely enjoyable, and it was wonderful catching up.  Yes, the only thing that absolutely sucked was getting stuck in traffic on the way home … for HOURS.  My car has no air, so I was incredibly hot, sweaty and cranky from about 4:00PM until 7:10PM; 190 minutes of discomfort – that’s torture.

Also, I was offered the job at the school in Oakland.  It all happened really, really fast.  I assumed I was just meeting with the principal, but then my future supervisor brought me in to meet the superintendent and she asked if I was “interested.”  I told her I was, and she started talking about salary and meeting with HR after the Board of Education meeting on July 30th.  My head was spinning.  To be honest, it still is.  I’m already stressing, striking out somewhere unfamiliar on my own and far from family.  My neck hurts when I think about taking over bills, the possibility of having to commute and being independent.  I’ve told myself for the past two years that this is everything I want, but now I’m terrified.  Was it all just bravado?  Am I really content to be living at home, floating between maternity leaves?  Have I romanticized my loneliness and disappointment into something worthwhile?

I need to sleep.  Or drink heavily.  Basically, I just need to relax.

PROMPT: “You accidentally overhear a conversation between two people you’ve never met. The topic of the conversation shocks and dismays you. Write about these conversations and describe how you respond to the content:

 ■1. A conversation between two stockbrokers

 ■2. A conversation between a priest and a member of his parish

 ■3. A conversation between a woman and the man with whom she’s been cheating on her husband

 

PIECE (#2):  It had been a rough couple of months.  It had been months since I’d been to mass, let alone to confession.  Nothing had changed, everything had remained absurdly shitty, so I thought why not give the Big Man a try.  Maybe everything that could go wrong was going wrong because I’d taken Him out of the equation, so to speak.  I was desperate, and willing to try anything to get back on my feet.  I was broke, unemployed, living in my parents’ house, incredibly lonely and as if that wasn’t enough, my cat had gone missing.  Running my hands over and across my throbbing skull, I knelt in the pew closest to the altar.  I released a tremulous breath and looked up at the Crucified Christ.  His frame was twisted in a grotesque display of pain, and his stone, sorrowful eyes looked up for some relief, some absolution, something.  I was looking to Jesus, Jesus was looking to God and we both looked miserable.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the priest treading carpet quickly.  He was obviously in a rush, a terrible rush, as he made sure his eyes remained downcast, evading even the most remote possibilities of making eye contact.  Intrigued by such odd behavior, – especially for a priest – I discreetly followed his progress from the rectory doors in the front, left corner of the church to the confessional booths in the middle of the back of the church.  I craned my neck, understanding that in the priest’s attempt to not see freed me to stare unashamedly.  I had never been to this particular church before, travelling to find anonymity as well as comfort, and was interested to try and case the place, to figure things out.  I worried the intrigue was over when the priest was just about to enter the confessional and begin his holy duties when the doors to the rectory flew open and a man unfamiliar to me burst onto the scene.

“Ben!” he screamed.  “You can’t keep running from this!”  The man’s shirt was stained with dirt and sweat and un-tucked.  He had run a formidable distance, but still managed to sound fierce in between gasps of air.  The priest, Father Ben as it were, remained silent.

“How can you kneel before the King and claim purity when your hands are stained?  How can you offer absolution to anyone when you are damned?”  I looked from the crazed man to Father Ben and back again, wanting to make sense of the conversation and to fill in the gaps myself.  It was near impossible, especially when Father Ben refused to participate.  As the man screamed, the priest remained perfectly still, more like a statue than a man; more like an imitation than the genuine article.

“Who are you going to confess your sins to?” the man asked.  He was gazing intently at Father Ben.  I don’t think he ever even knew I was there.

In response, Father Ben turned from the both of us and exited the church.

From what I could find out from parishioners and close friends, he never returned.  What’s worse: he never even said goodbye.

On being dumb and holding on.

Published July 2, 2012 by mandileighbean

“You must know life to see decay, but I won’t rot. I won’t rot – not this mind and not this heart. I won’t rot.”

“After the Storm,” Mumford & Sons

 

A parking lot filled with cars but decidedly lacking in people is not the best place for an existential, religious crisis, especially not after having too many drinks and engaging in decidedly trashy behavior.  Every nice girl is allowed one night of debauchery, right?  I wanted to cry and run and hide.  I felt as if all of my desperation was put on display for everyone to see, and it was.  I did not conduct myself as I normally do.  I am ashamed by my embarrassingly public displays of affection with a stranger.  He told me his name, but I couldn’t really hear anything he was saying over the bass; my ears still feel fuzzy.  I wish my recollection of my behavior was fuzzy, but it is painfully clear.

I don’t know what troubles me most; the fact that I became someone else last night, someone who I am far from proud of, or the fact that I made out with a stranger in a bar and still feel unfulfilled and lonely.  I have built romance into an overwhelming, all-consuming absence that needs to be rectified on point of death.  I thought a messy, impromptu make-out session would open my eyes and that it would mean more.  But it doesn’t mean anything, and I am no closer to feeling loved and needed in a unique and singular way than I was yesterday.  If anything, I feel like I’ve taken two giant steps backwards.  I feel gross and disposable and dumb.  There was no point to what I did.  I wasn’t that drunk, so I can’t blame it on the alcohol.  Was I really so lonely?  Did I succumb to everything that I judged and feared for a few moments of – of what?  It wasn’t even enjoyable.  I did it to do it, and to be able to say that I had done it; a notch on the belt, something to cross of the bucket list.

But that’s not me! I love love!  I believe that love is awesome and worth living for and worthy dying for and I believe that love is something sacred and I ignored everything I’ve held dear for so long for what?  I don’t understand, and that scares me.  After all this time, how can I not know myself? How can I be so weak and selfish and irrational?

At least I learned that romance and the physicality of romance are two very separate and distinct aspects – for some, they can be easily severed.  I learned what I don’t want – I do not want to be a serial PDA.  I do not want to be that girl at the bar that strangers take pictures of because she’s being that trashy.  It is definitely better being the lonely-looking girl at the end of the bar than it is to be the one making a spectacle of herself – at least it is for me, anyway – to each his own, I guess.  I am going to hold tight to my belief that love is real and something special is going to happen to me.  I can’t rush it or look for it in dark, desperate places.

PROMPT: “A priest is attacked for being a pedophile.  He is innocent of the crime but guilty of something far worse.”

PIECE: Father Brian sat alone in the rectory in his favorite armchair.  It was worn in all the right spots so that it fit his tired body like a familiar lover.  He knew the analogy was somewhat odd to be thought of by a priest – a man of the cloth, as it were – but at this moment, he didn’t care.  Parishioners and clergymen would think what they wanted, all evidence to the contrary be damned.  Father Brian was well aware there had been whispers and subtle suggestions that he was a pedophile.  The mere thought of it turned his stomach and he wanted to rally against his accusers – blacken eyes, loosen teeth and draw blood.  But Father Brian was a holy man – he was not animalistic or base in nature, and was a sentient being.  He could almost understand how the implications started; after all, he was very affectionate with the altar servers.  He tousled hair, squeezed shoulders, hugged freely, but he only did so to show love and support.  His intentions were honorable.

But, Father Brian sighed deeply, let them think what they want because the truth – the real truth – was worse.  He was not an honorable or holy man.  He was a fraud, a louse and weak, so weak.  He was supposed to be righteous and pure.  He was supposed to be leading the way in salvation.  Instead, he valued the dark places of his soul where he refused the light of the Lord and instead lighted the labyrinthine paths with lascivious desires.  Why, just last night after hearing Saturday night confessions, he had gone out to the bar in civilian clothes.  He hadn’t mentioned his occupation to anyone.  Father Brian – just Brian now; as if it even worked that way – took a seat on a rickety, abused bar stool and ordered a beer.  Then he waited.  For the past couple of weeks or so, Brian kept meeting this beautiful woman.  She found him to be a good listener and they would talk until last call and then Brian would see her home.  It seemed harmless enough, but his overly affectionate behavior towards the altar servers made him nervous.  Was his affection misplaced?  Was he treating the servers like his own children because that’s really what he wanted, a wife and a family?  Did he want it with this woman?  Why hadn’t he told her the truth?

Because last night she had kissed him and he hadn’t stopped her.  He was still a virgin, but was that his choice, or simply because she hadn’t invited him inside?

He was losing his faith – he could feel it shrivelling and crippling away from him.  He wasn’t bothering to cradle it in his arms and nestle it in his arms.  Father Brian was giving up.  The parishioners could sense this, but leveled terrible accusations against him.  This he considered his own fault though, because he was using the servers to mask his feelings.  He was working so hard to be the Light, to exude love and joy that it seemed false and sinister.

What was to become of him?

He threw the tumbler of whiskey he had been nursing against the opposite wall and watched the glass shatter, tears streaming.  It was all very fitting, very fucking fitting.

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