Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Own Jesus

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I went to a Catholic school with grades kindergarten through eighth, and while Catholic schools have the reputation of sheltering their students from the harsh cruelties of real life, the only people that my school sheltered were the white boys who got expelled from public school for being juvenile delinquents. The only other kids there were children of the teachers, rich kids from the rez, and me.

These were the last of the years when I believed everything.

I remember clearly the day when I discovered that the cast of larger-than-life holiday characters who I had grouped together with the saints became nothing more than costumes. I was eight and in the third grade, weaving an Easter basket out of colored pieces of construction paper, when Chris Whitebird, the evil boy sitting next to me, chirped, “Ay, guess what? There’s no Easter Bunny!”

I made my best “get real” face at him and replied, “Yeah, right. Who puts candy in your Easter basket then?”

“My dad,” Chris said.

What was he thinking? What blasphemy was coming out of his mouth? Was he retarded? I had to set him straight, but not before I pointed out the idiocy of his belief. I looked at Chris and said, “What do you think, the whole world’s lying to you?” That pretty much summed up the vast extent of my own belief system: How could everyone from your parents to your teachers to the people on TV be wrong on purpose?

I went home that afternoon and hung myself on the cross over my bed, where—for whatever reason—I felt most comfortable. Positioned in, draped from nail to nail, I turned a tired eye upon my mother, who dusted the wooden slats of my tomb. “Mom,” I said. “Is the Easter Bunny real?”

She hesitated in the way that mothers do at times like these, in the tradition of parents everywhere who eventually get caught between not wanting to disappoint their children, and not wanting to lie. “No,” she said. “He’s not.”

“What about Santa?”

No.

“The Tooth Fairy?”

No, not her either.

“What about Jesus?” I said, the entire world as I knew it suddenly a practical joke.

“Jesus is real! Jesus is real!” my mother responded, insistent and sincere. She helped me down from the cross and helped my brother up. Everybody got a turn in my family.

***

Many years before this, in my fours, Jesus had left Easter treats in my yard. It was a one-time event: my savior, candy, and Spring, all in my hand. I had a brightly colored woven basket and might as well have been in it. Life was good. If it sounds like a dream to you, it did to me too.

But then I slept or napped—a season changed? I remember foraging with my old Easter basket under the front bushes, looking for sustenance, still four. I found what I thought must be the perfect leftover: an overlooked candy egg, dyed the most perfect Robin-egg blue as to appear almost real, lying there waiting for me in the twigs and groundcover. I picked it up and popped it into my mouth, expecting malted milk and chocolate.

But of course it was a real bird’s egg, and out of season at that.

***

I round the corner from my living room to my kitchen, past a stack of clean dishes drip-drying in the sink, a full calendar, a pile of stamped bills ready for the mail. It’s between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., pill-taking time again. I look at the little pile of amber and white and purple that I laid out for myself earlier.

They remind me of jelly beans.

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