Now that Dad was free from my mother, he decided to have me baptized. That event’s photograph didn’t survive the first photograph massacre–there were two. My Communion picture must’ve wandered off, hidden between pages perhaps, because it survived. I confess to still being a photograph thief–smuggler–ever since, sending pictures into hiding where I know they will be safe.
The nuns thought that all my second grade classmates should participate in my baptism. Well, why not? Each child would dip her or his fingers into the holy water and make the sign of the cross on my forehead. I stood near the altar in my pink, floor-length dress. The fabric was too heavy for the Florida heat, but I loved the design of red roses–with long green stems, leaves, and thorns–that came up from the hem and stopped in full bloom at my thighs. Hard to imagine, I suppose.
My classmates–near twenty in number–fussed in their line up the marble steps. You see, children do not daintily dip their fingers in holy water and make forehead-size crosses. They scoop the holy water and smear it in their classmate’s face. Holy water ran into my eyes, my nose, and mouth. My eyes watered and my nose burned. The holy water felt and tasted like oil. It splattered on my white lace collar.
I remember the feeling of sweat under my dress. One boy was especially happy. A few months earlier I’d kicked him in the stomach for trying to look up my skirt. He gleefully dunked his hand in the basin, and I promised myself that next time I’d aim for his head.
Then everyone blurred. My godparents went first. Then the nuns. My classmates. The colors in the stained-glass windows mixed together and the floor tilted. Wow, I thought. This is what it is liked to be baptized. The church turned, and then it spun. I fainted.
My classmates thought I was dead. And that was cool.
I was famous for days. My classmates told me again and again how cool it was when I passed out in front of the altar and my father had to carry me out through the double doors. One girl asked me if I’d seen angels.
In real life, fainting at an altar is just fainting. No angels or rays of light from the heavens. Nothing but a skinny, sweaty, nauseous, 7 year old. In fiction though, it means something. The character is marked. Things will happen. Her world was one way before she hit the floor and another way when she woke up in her father’s arms. There could be transformation or revelation. A new world could be created. In fiction, a moment like that is not wasted.
In my real world, however, that boy tried to hug me and I slapped him as hard as I could and he cried. It’s not like I’d seen an angel, after all.
(The boy in the picture, R., just to be clear, is not the boy I kicked and slapped.)