God Punishes Those Who Skip Church

It’s every teenagers dream to wake up and find a nice car in the driveway to celebrate the sixteenth year of life.  My parents and I had already had the discussion, and there was no way in hell that it was going to happen to me. I guess there was a little part of me that had hopes they were only pulling my leg, and that we were in fact secretly rich.  I had this elaborate scheme in my head that they had a trust fund in my name somewhere and were making me work to teach me a lesson on how the common folk lived. None of that was true, though it was a nice thought.

My parents sat me down in the living room to discuss transportation “options”. My mother sat on the couch looking quite stoic as my father began his lecture about how a car was a death trap on wheels, that driving was a privilege and not a right, and carelessness resulted in loss of limbs. He folded his arms, looked at me sternly and in a completely serious tone said “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye! You should have seen what happened to this guy at my high school. He was careless. Long story short, now he’s in a wheelchair because he was too busy trying to impress his friends by goofing off behind the wheel.” I just stared at him. “His poor, sick, elderly parents had to wheel him up the aisle at graduation because he was paralyzed. FOR LIFE!  I’ll bet he doesn’t think it’s fun and games now!” He exclaimed, looking at me with one eyebrow raised for emphasis.  The only thing I wanted to know was just who was this poor bastard, and how come he was never mentioned before now?

Dad went on to say that I could only drive our ten -year old family Chevy Malibu under very close supervision and tom foolery would not be tolerated. It probably did not help my case much that I could not stop giggling at the mention of the words “Tom Foolery”. What the hell exactly was that anyway? It also did not help my father’s lecture either that in the sixteen years on the planet I had witnessed him cursing, speeding, performing illegal U-turns, providing justification for running a red light – “I was already in the middle of the intersection!”, and his infamous “Oh fuck I dropped my cigarette!” maneuver where he balanced one knee on the wheel while he simultaneously reached between the seats in an effort to snuff out the butt, because pulling the car over would have been too inconvenient.

Ironically enough he was the one to teach me to drive, though he made me nervous as hell. He was always squirming in the passenger seat while grabbing the “oh shit bar”. My dad and that glove compartment strap became best friends during my driving lessons. He would grab it, make a face, and shout “Elizabeth, WATCH! WATCH !” while lifting up his legs and flinching.   I was watching. I was watching a grown man practically piss his pants in terror!

 I never understood that because I was actually a pretty decent driver. In fact, I wouldn’t have even hit that cop car two months before getting my license had he not been yelling at me. My mother knew nothing about the entire incident until the police showed up later that night to arrest me for hit and run. “DAD!” I screamed down the stairs as the policeman was standing there. “You told me to go into work, and that you were going to leave a note.  I can’t believe you didn’t!”  I was practically hysterical! I wouldn’t last five minutes in Prison. I am not mechanically inclined, and I definitely would have had to ask someone for detailed directions as well as a demonstration on how to make a shank. My friend Skylar would last though; anyone who knew how to patch drywall to cover up a butt print after a handstand mishap had my vote.

My mother shaking, screamed down to my father “What on God’s green earth ever possessed you to leave the scene of an accident?” Her voice went up an octave every other word.  “What kind of an example are you setting for our daughter?”  Thank God that banister was there because it was the only thing at that point holding her up. Dad finally emerged from his office knowing full well that he would have to face her sometime. I guess he thought that it was probably better to do it with witnesses present, especially one that had a gun. “What?” He asked sheepishly, avoiding her gaze as he came up the stairs. “I looked. There wasn’t any damage. So I left.” That’s when it happened. My mother’s head exploded, right on the landing.  The policeman after seeing that decided not to charge me. He did however give my father the lecture from hell, as well as a ticket.  Her timing could not have been better!

The only solace in not getting a car was that my two best friends didn’t get cars either. Skylar, aka “Sky” was my friend from the second grade. She had a boyfriend who had a Camaro. Rebecca, aka “Red” was my friend from the seventh grade. She was given the ok to drive her parents Sunbird. Her nickname came pretty easily because she had long, dark red hair. Between the three of us we managed somehow to get around without relying too heavily on parents.

Red was over just hanging out at my house one Sunday. We both had managed to get out of going to church, but we were nearly out of excuses. My parents had finally given in and left us alone. After they left, Red looked at me and said “I’m starving”. Those were two words that never needed further explanation because I was the fat kid among us, and I was always up for food. Smiling wickedly, I said “Hey, I know where mom and dad keep the spare key to the Malibu.”

Red was a few months older than me, and she already had her learners permit. The sub shop was about a mile from my house and between the two of us we had enough money to each get a sandwich. She looked at me and said “Let’s go!” Red was fearless. Lady, my Siberian husky followed us to the landing as we made our way out the door. She looked at us as if to say “This definitely won’t end well.” In my mind however, our plan was flawless. The last thing I said to Red as we pulled out of the parking space was “For the love of God be careful”.

We had at least an hour until the parents came home, even longer if Father Thomas was giving the homily, less if it was Father Mike during football season. Luckily it was almost summer, so we were guaranteed Father Thomas would be lecturing the heck out of everyone. Although he was a kind man, he was probably the most stern among the Priests at All Saints. He was definitely “old school”. Women should cover their heads during service. No jeans allowed, or God would smite you. I would often sit in the pew and count the number of parishioners standing in line for communion in jeans and wait for someone to be smitten. I just wanted to know what that looked like! He would always give the raised, one eye brow look of discontentment at the jean wearer. Why even bother to receive the Eucharist when surely they were doomed to hell? 

     He didn’t understand the younger generation because he was in his seventies by then and set in his ways. Father Mike was the complete opposite. He was young, vibrant, handsome and full of life. He didn’t care if people showed up in jeans for mass. His only concern was that they came at all. His only complaint was with the mothers of the screaming babies during mass. To this day, I still remember that the sound proofed cry room took well over forty thousand dollars of donations, though no one used it. I thought we should have kept the forty thousand and invested instead into tiny bottles of vodka. That would have kept them quiet for at least two hours! That idea landed me an extra ten Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s in confession on Saturday. I should have known better and waited for Father Mike, but his line was too long.

Father Mike encouraged the Youth Group to participate more in the masses. He even allowed us to form a youth choir and liven up the songs with a guitar and a tambourine; although, there is only so much that one can do with hymns. My idea of adding an electric guitar was promptly vetoed. Of course, Father Thomas was more than against the idea citing that our Youth Group did not take church seriously, and that our song interpretation was a sacrilege. Father Mike however won the argument and everything went swimmingly, for a while.

     Father Thomas’s theory on us was proven shortly thereafter when our lectern arrived for mass late, hung-over, and read a part of the scripture as “flaming brassieres” instead of braziers. The entire church erupted in laughter. Father Thomas just looked at us as if to say “I hope you still find it funny when you’re in hell!” Suffice to say, the lectern position was given a minimal age requirement of forty, and our choir was disbanded.

    The other residential Priest in our Parish was Father Viviani. He also did the Sunday homily, and he took the late shift. He wasn’t that big on football. He was perhaps five foot five, round, jolly, and Italian. He spoke with much vigor and humor. He was however, absent minded and very impatient. He never remembered to turn off his microphone prior to the service. The congregation was subjected to “No! What are you doing? Come on! Come on! You boys are trying my patience” and “remind me to tell Dorothy that the cleaners put too much starch in this collar again. I will be scratching throughout the entire service!” My favorite was his every other weekend comment “Does the red light mean it’s on?” Tap tap. “HELLO? HELLO?” The microphone sound check routine hadn’t made it yet into Church practices.

     I liked it when Father Viviani did the service, but only because his pre-mass routine was hilarious. I did find it irritating though that for years he called me Betty, no matter how many times I corrected him. I finally gave up.

I was wondering which Father was doing the homily as we drove to get our food. The trip was uneventful. I was confident we would beat my parents’ home. We paid for our subs, and made our way back to the car. I made note of the mileage, and figured my folks would think nothing of two miles being added. Little did I know that the mileage would be the least of my worries. We made it home without incident, and Red managed to park the car exactly how my parents had it. No one was going to be the wiser.

I took my house key, got out, and started to walk to my front door when I heard Red behind me exclaim very loudly “OH SHIT! OH SHIT!” Those words are never good to hear when you have just finished committing a multitude of crimes including driving without a licensed driver, and unauthorized vehicle use. I slowly turned to look at her. She was pale white, paler than usual considering that she had a beautiful, creamy complexion that was set off by her gorgeous red curls.  I was always jealous of her hair, although she hated it. “What the hell?” I said looking at her. “What’s wrong?”

“Shit! Damn it! Beth the key! Beth the car key!” She could barely even get any words out. My first thought was that she dropped it down the sewer drain. There was no way in hell my fat ass would fit through the opening of the manhole, so I had already made my mind up that she would be the one going down the sewer ladder to retrieve it. If only that were the problem!

“Beth the damn key snapped off in the ignition!” Her words did not register. “WHAT? What in the hell are you talking about?” I asked. My voice started to shake with panic. I honestly thought she was joking. “Stop messing around, let’s go eat” I said. Red had a weird and twisted sense of humor like me.  She replied “Beth I ‘m not kidding.  LOOK!”  I poked my head into the passenger window and sure enough, there was the key completely snapped off in the ignition. There was no getting out of this one. We were caught red handed literally. “How in the hell did you manage that?” I yelled.

“I don’t know. I don’t know! It just snapped!” She was near tears. “It doesn’t just snap. The key just doesn’t magically break off.” I retorted, utterly annoyed. The weird thing was at that time, she and I were the only ones capable of the cosmically impossible. Skylar had a party once and gave a demo of “shatterproof” dishware. Ten of us stood in her kitchen and threw a bowl at the wall. The dish bounced off the floor, the counter, and the wall and yet there were no visible cracks. After everyone had a try, it was Red’s turn. She threw the bowl and the damn thing shattered into a million pieces. A loud voice behind me said “Shatterproof maybe, Red proof definitely not”. If she and I had been horses at the Kentucky Derby we would’ve been the long shot that had a million-dollar payout.

I thought about that party as I stood there peering through the passenger window at the ignition in absolute disbelief. “Red proof” meant not “fool proof”. I wanted to laugh at the irony and yell because there was no covering up this teenage blunder. She looked so guilty and upset though that my anger didn’t last long.

     We needed a plan, and a good one! Sky was the planner. She was the brains of our little operation, but as usual she was over at her boyfriend’s house. I was happy for her, but also ticked because she would’ve come up with some detailed lie that would have outlined a perfectly thought out explanation that was not only plausible, but incredibly believable. She had once managed to convince a guy she didn’t want to date that she had a wooden leg. She made him feel like a complete jackass when she caught him staring at her pants.  I’m sure he was trying to figure out which leg it was. She read him the riot act! It was an Oscar winning performance. He ended up apologizing profusely and leaving abruptly, completely red faced and embarrassed. We never saw or heard from him again.  

     I have often said throughout the years that she would have been brilliant and successful either in politics, acting, or being a well-paid hit woman. Sky was like Bill Nye the science guy, MacGyver, and every winning contestant of “Survivor” rolled into one. She was resourceful. If Sky had been there she would’ve tearfully recounted to my parents how the three of us were forced at gun point to the car for an attempted carjacking. She would pause dramatically, while Red handed her a tissue so that she could blow her nose. I however, would bury my head in my hands and nod, but only because my facial expressions give me away. I am a terrible liar. She would’ve looked my mother in the eye and told her how a struggle ensued. During the chaos, the key broke off in the ignition. Unable to commandeer the vehicle the scared, drug crazed, masked assailants fled the scene, leaving us in shock and unable to move.

     She would’ve certainly played up the “Drug crazed” part, as my mother was convinced that everyone was on drugs. She would’ve then slumped rather dramatically on the couch, exclaim how incredibly sorry we all were for the terrible inconvenience, and insist that the three of us pay for the replacement key. My mother would’ve thrown her arms around us and told us how happy and relieved she was that we managed to walk away unscathed. The money would’ve been the last thing on her mind. She would have certainly refused Sky’s offer, and insisted instead that everyone stayed for dinner. After all, dinner was the least she could do considering our harrowing ordeal and narrow escape from death. Yes, Sky was really that good!

     That day however Sky wasn’t there, so it was every woman for herself. “Man that sucks!” Red said sighing. “Well, umm Beth, I am so so sorry! I guess I should probably get going then.” She just looked at the ground. “I don’t know what else to say”.  Neither did I. “Call me later, and let me know what happened.” She said as she walked towards her house. I already knew that the only way I would be speaking to her anytime soon would be either at school, or secret notes delivered via Owl. It’s too bad that Harry Potter wasn’t around. I could have used him. If we had cell phones back then, it would have definitely been confiscated. The only thing I could think was that the sub had better be the best damn sandwich I had ever eaten because my ass was grass, and I wouldn’t be enjoying take out for quite some time. I ate in silence waiting for mom and dad to come home, and the wrath I would most surely face. 

     When my parents finally walked in the door my mother announced that she had a “honey do list”, and one of them was grocery shopping. The four of us would not have fit into Dad’s truck, and I knew what was coming. “Umm Dad? Can I speak to you downstairs please?” I whispered to my father. He nodded, then sighed heavily as we made our way downstairs to his office. I am a terrible liar, however it was ten times worse where my father was concerned.  He just knew! He could take one look at me and just know what I had done. I didn’t even need to say a word. We weren’t even in the office door two seconds when he looked at me and said “Elizabeth Anne, what is it?” The use of the middle name is always a killer. He was trying not to smile, though like me, he was not very good at hiding facial expressions.

I slowly took a deep breath, sighed heavily, and spilled my guts. “Ok well um, it’s like this. Red came over and we were hungry so I grabbed the spare key and we took the car and went to the sub shop and now the key is broken off in the ignition and she left me here to take the blame alone and I am so sorry! I will pay for it!” It all came out as one long run on sentence. He just stared at me. Silence is never good. I was certainly not expecting what came next. He just stood there with a smirk on his face and started laughing. When he regained his composure, he managed to utter “Boy, your mom is going to be PISSED!”

“Tell me something I don’t know!” I muttered, rolling my eyes. “Beth Anne!” was his prompt retort. At least we had dropped the formality of the first name.  The middle name reference still meant that I was in trouble, however, it was not as serious as I had originally thought. I did the walk of shame up the stairs to tell my mother, and my father followed. We found her in the kitchen rearranging the contents of the cabinets, muttering to herself about how no one ever helped out. “Perfect” I thought glumly. “Umm, Mom? Uh, I have something important to tell you. First, let me just say how incredibly sorry I am. Honestly, I’m really, really sorry.” She slowly turned and looked at me with a pot in her hand. Bracing for impact, I spilled my guts and recounted the entire event.

     She just glared at me with one eye furrowed. It seemed to bore into every fiber of my being. My mother is five foot one, and back then she was a hundred and ten pounds. She had a gaze though that would’ve stopped anyone in his or her tracks. She didn’t even need to say a word. All of my friends were scared of her, and rightfully so. The term “Stink eye” didn’t even begin to cover it. It was almost as if she had super powers. Wonder woman and her invisible plane didn’t have anything on her. She was the Justice League! One look from my mom and you would be weeping and curled up in the fetal position in a corner sucking your thumb. Secrets would’ve been revealed, and there would be no place to hide.  

     If she had worked for the Government ISIS would have surrendered the first day, no questions asked. She would have made an excellent CIA interrogator. She had a way to get to the bottom of any situation.  

     Everyone says that moms are the best at laying guilt. I disagree. Everyone is an amateur compared to mine. If there was ever an Oscar Category for “Best Guilty Lecture”, she would win hands down. After all, how could anyone compete with “I grew up in an Orphanage in France, came to the U.S. with nothing and didn’t even know the language!”

I braced myself because I knew what was coming.  She immediately launched into the mother of all lectures. This time, she really out did herself.   “I just can’t leave you alone for one hour. Not one hour! I should have MADE you go to church! It certainly would do you some good; running around here, acting like the world owes you a favor. You should have been in church, praying for those who are less fortunate than you.” She barely took a breath before continuing. “All those poor souls in purgatory who need your prayers, and you decide to go gallivanting around town to get food while there are people out there that go days without a meal!”

At that moment, I had to bite my tongue. I disagreed with her word choice. Gallivanting to me meant traveling more than two miles from the starting point. For some reason Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow’s poem popped into my head, and I began to imagine myself on a horse carrying a sub in one hand and a lantern in the other as if I were Paul Revere. “The Parents are coming! The Parents are coming!” If we had gone on horseback, I wouldn’t be in this situation! Where was Secretariat when you needed him?

 My mother apparently noticed that I had tuned out so she slammed the pot that was in her hand down on the kitchen counter.  I was very grateful for that because she would have begun to hand me my limbs when she was done had she had not noticed my blank stare.

 When she saw that she once again had my full attention she continued, “And who exactly will be paying for this little fiasco? Hmm? Did you even stop to think about that?” She picked up the pot once more “I bet you didn’t did you?  DID YOU?” She pointed the pot at me. I dared not interrupt her.

     She was on a roll. “Your dad and I work our fingers to the bone just to put a roof over your head, and this is how you repay us? You certainly have a lot more than I did growing up. I considered myself lucky that I even got an orange for Christmas! I came to the U.S. with nothing.  I should be able to trust you. You betrayed that trust while we were in church. AT CHURCH NO LESS!” She made it sound like I had held up a liquor store, forced some illegal aliens to work in a sweatshop while denying food and water, and drowned a bagful of defenseless kittens just for good measure; all while she innocently sat in church, praying for my very soul. We could have had t-shirts made up that said “Got guilt?” Needless to say, I was grounded.

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