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They thought God had killed me.

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.

But that is not this story.

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.)

5 thoughts on “They thought God had killed me.

  1. Good stories. I can’t imagine my second grade class doing that, and having to put up with it. With all your vignettes, a larger story is definitely starting to appear. I don’t know if it’s the story that you lived, but it’s a very evocative one.

  2. I love this. You’re right–in fiction, the fainting would be a turning point. It makes me think of the part in Richard Wright’s autobiography “Black Boy” in which his extended family and friends virtually force him to “save himself” at an all-night ecstatic revival service. His grandmother misunderstands him and thinks that he has seen an angel. She tells everyone, and soon he is the object of great admiration for the first time in his life. He soon tells the truth, though, and falls from grace.

  3. Wonderful memory. This reminds me of the scene that made me fall in love with Louise Erdrich’s books. I believe it’s in THE BEET QUEEN, which I read in college. The young protagonist slides down the slide and lands face first into the icy mud. When she stands up, someone believes they see the image of Mary in the mud. She is revered ever after. People comes from miles to see the Virgin Mary in the frozen mud and ice. I can’t remember the rest of the book, but I remember that scene and how much I loved it.

  4. Man… PLEASE tell us you’re archiving these things off-line somewhere. It’d be an honest-to-God loss if your Internet provider went belly-up, or WordPress ate all your posts, or anything remotely like that.

    (Just took a swallow of water from a glass downstairs. As I was looking out the kitchen window, for some reason I imagined these collected as a page-a-day calendar for writers. Ka-ching!)

    Also delighted to see the folks in Lake Belle have apparently acquired a scanner. They may eventually need to acquire a professional indexer, too, to keep all the relationships straight. 🙂

  5. rowena, it is the story I lived as best I remember. Thank you for reading.

    Liz, I know that Richard Wright story. It’s a wonderful story.

    shelli, I haven’t read The Beet Queen, but that scene sounds compelling. I’ll take a look the next time I go to the bookstore (not that my stack of books needs to grow).

    JES, I do try to save everything on an external hard drive. And I agree about the professional indexer. I can hardly keep everything straight.

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