Deal With It
"Deal with it." That’s what my mother would have said, "Just deal with it." As a teenager, I sometimes made the mistake of arguing with her. “How can you be a Catholic and a bigot?” I asked her one night after she had just closed the front door on an East Indian friend of mine.
She replied, “I’m a Catholic and I’m a bigot. Deal with it.” My mother wasn’t a big fan of pure reason. In fact she wasn’t a big fan of anything or anyone except for maybe the Pope and Jesus Christ. And that’s just because she hadn't ever had either one of them over for dinner. If she had, she would have had something to say about them once they left.
Marriage was a holy sacrament to her, one of the few ways a woman could attain some degree of respectability and acceptance. But sometimes when my father got up to change the TV channel, she’d give him the finger behind his back. Yet she’d kneel in church, bow her head and pound her chest with her fist as if she was the Mother of God herself. Go figure.
I don’t recall her ever giving a priest the finger. Not exactly. She revered the priesthood. In her own way. For example, one night after an uncle’s wake, I was driving a particularly well-lubricated priest back to the rectory. The priest was grinning widely and singing an Irish tune. Every so often he’d look over at me, his eyelids wavering at half mast, and say, “You know you’re the cutest thing I’ve seen in an awfully long time.” My mother was sitting in the back seat. I couldn't quite see her in the rear-view mirror, but I was pretty sure I could hear her breathing.
At one point the priest ventured a hand across to touch my stockinged leg. The tips of one finger touched my thigh for a split second only. Then something strange happened. His hand seemed to magically rise up and hover suspended in mid-air above the gearshift. I glanced over and saw he was staring down at his hand as surprised as I was. My mother had reached forward and grabbed his arm in an iron grip. “With all due respect, Father,” she smiled, “I have nothing but the greatest regard for the priesthood. You truly do God’s work here on Earth. But if you touch my daughter’s leg again, I’ll break your goddamned arm.”
The priest retracted his hand, laughed and said, “All in good fun. No harm done.”
And when he climbed out of the car, he blessed us. “May the Grace of God be with you,” he said, holding himself steady against the open car door. “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Goat.” He walked into the rectory like a man walking in a rowboat, the heavy cross around his neck knocking against his chest.
I turned to look at my mother. She had relaxed against the back seat, her purse in her lap, her hands nervously folded on top. She looked out the window into the darkness for a moment before swinging her eyes around to meet mine. “Amen,” she said.
I was peeling an orange at my desk when she approached me. The other students were filing out of the classroom for lunch. "I won't be here for at least a week, maybe 10 days, "she said. "I'm going in for more skin grafts."
It's not like I hadn't noticed the scars. Everyone had. They started at her left ear, bubbled down her face and stretched down her neck in accordian-like folds reaching into her blouse.
"How did it happen?" I knew I shouldn't venture there, but I did anyway. I had wanted to know from the first time I saw her.
She stared at the floor. "I'm worried you're going to judge me." She flashed me a quick smile. "I used to do crack--I don't anymore. One night at a party, a guy I didn't know said let's go outside. I got some really good stuff. Your mother always tells you never trust a stranger, right?" She smiled again. A nervous smile. "Anyway, I said sure. Free drugs right? After we got high, he pulled a squirt bottle of lighter fluid from his pant pocket and sprayed me with it. Then he lit a match." She was staring at the floor again. Searching it. Trying to find the pattern in it. " He laughed. When I went up in flames, he laughed. Like it was hilarious. I started to run. He ran after me. I could hear him behind me gaining on me. He just kept laughing and squirting me. I was wearing a lace blouse. By the time they got me to the hospital, they couldn't tell which was my blouse and which was my skin."
She was still staring at the floor. "He turned himself in. He told them about the drugs. They didn't use a jury because he plead guilty. The judge gave him six months." She picked up a pen from my desk and clicked it several times.
"I wish the judge could've seen me. He never saw me. Never saw what I looked like." She was looking straight at me now. Her eyes were a deep brown. The kind where you can't tell the pupil from the iris. "You should have seen me."
"He got six months and I got this life sentence." She smiled again.
We stared at each other for a moment. I figured she was about two years older than my own daughter. Then I offered her half my orange.
About the author:
For twenty-five years, Cathy MacLean taught English and writing at Capilano University in Vancouver, Canada. Since her retirement, she has been mining the rich vein of her family life to create stories where alcoholism, drug abuse, Catholicism, humor and love are the driving forces in her narrative. She says her biggest challenge in writing non-fiction is trying to make the truth believable.