Red, Sky and I were like the three musketeers. You hardly ever saw one without the other two. Red and Sky had much more in common. They listened to heavy metal, and liked the band Slayer. That music just freaked me out, and they made fun of me for it all the time. I liked Heavy Metal too, but my tastes leaned more towards the “Glam Bands” of the eighties, and Punk like The Ramones. Our friendships despite that were complimentary. Our personalities just mixed well. Red’s mom was very involved in the Church as was my mother, so the two of us were thrown together more often than not.
Red and I were forced to attend church, something that both of us rebelled against. Red even went to the extreme of shaving the back of her head and the sides. She dyed the newly shaved parts black, just because she knew her mother would have a complete stroke when she saw it. Red was a wicked genius and I deeply admired her for that. She was never afraid to push the limits, and she quite often did.
My phone rang one afternoon and Red was on the other end of the line, completely in a panic. “Beth, did they tell you yet?” she asked, utterly furious. She didn’t even say Hi first.
“Did who tell me what?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Your parents. They are making us go on that Religious Pilgrimage to Medjugoria for two whole weeks! This SUCKS!” She sounded like she had just been handed a death sentence.
“NO WAY!” I screamed into the phone. “How in the hell did I get dragged into this?” I was in shock.
“My mom told your mom about it and now you are going too! Can you believe it? Two weeks in Yugoslavia. What the hell are we going to do there?” Her voice had suddenly gone soprano.
“Remind me to thank your mother personally” I said sarcastically. “I could kill her!”
“Yeah well, get in line. This blows! I can’t believe this shit! Mom is off on one of her religious crusades, and we’re stuck with her. We even have to climb Mt. Krizevac.” Her voice was really high pitched now.
“SHIT! Seriously? They are going to make us do that climb? What is that, like five miles?” Now I started to panic. Imagine being a fat kid having to hike five miles in staggering, hundred degree weather. Yeah, that sounded like a dream vacation! Not even Dolvette, or Jillian could have motivated me enough to be excited, and that was saying something! I did feel like “The Biggest Loser” at that point!
“I think it’s two and a half miles up the mountain.” She replied.
“Umm Red? That’s five miles up and back, unless there is a helicopter waiting at the top.”
“Oh yeah, you’re right.” She laughed.
It was actually nice to know someone with poorer math skills than mine; though in that moment, it offered no comfort. I said nothing. Breaking the silence, she said “Mom should be back any minute from prayer group. I’m sure your mom will break the news tonight! I gotta go. I was supposed to have the kitchen cleaned before she got home, and I haven’t even started it yet.” Red was like me. We both waited until the last minute to do things that we were given plenty of time to do.
“Ok then. I will call you later and tell you what happened. In the meantime, hit those encyclopedia’s you have at your house, and find some contagious disease that will get us out of this. Seriously! DO IT!” I shouted into the phone. That’s what we had. There was no internet back then. If there had been, I’m sure Mad Cow, Bird Flu, and Ebola would have been at the top of our Google list. We probably would have spent countless hours on the Center for Disease Control’s Website looking for a way out. The words “Zombie Apocalypse” would have been thrown in there too, but only because it made me laugh and I thought it was cool. Nothing beats a failure but a try, even if the idea was ridiculous and highly improbable. We said goodbye to each other. After I hung up I stared at the wall, and waited for my mom to come home to tell me the “good news”.
When she finally came home, she flew up the stairs and excitedly screamed my name. I begrudgingly walked down the steps and drug my feet the entire way. THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. I did it on purpose, because she hated it when my brother came up or down the stairs sounding like a herd of elephants. How did she know what a herd of elephants sounded like? She was born in France, not Africa. I was pretty sure there weren’t elephants in the orphanage. If there had been, she would have found a way to work that into one of her lectures. My mother was brilliant like that. She had a way to make one feel guilty about the tiniest indiscretion while reiterating relevant, worldly issues at the same time. In a weird way I was hoping for that noise lecture, though none came. She was just too excited, and apparently that trumped elephants. Hannibal made it through the Alps with only a few elephants and unfortunately for me, my mom shared that same stubborn philosophy.
She acted like I had won the lottery when she told me about the trip. She kept saying things like “Oh, what a wonderful opportunity this is!” “You are so lucky!” She just looked so genuinely excited. It was all that I could do to keep my smartass comments to myself. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings but this was not good news at all in my mind. I was pretty grateful actually that my father had conveniently slipped away to his office halfway through “the good news” announcement. He was a smartass too, but he at least he had the good sense to keep those comments to himself for the most part, where my mother was concerned. Mostly!
If he had been there, I’d probably would’ve gotten grounded for life. My dad and I had a secret, unspoken language. It was almost as if we just knew what the other was thinking, though no words were ever spoken. We mostly got in trouble together at the dinner table. He’d make some obnoxiously loud and inappropriate bodily noise and that would send me into a fit of giggles. He’d look over at me and start laughing because I was laughing. That would pretty much send my mother over the edge. “We do not appreciate that at the dinner table” she’d say, as she slammed her silverware down on the plate. “What is wrong with you two”? Was that a trick question? How much time did she have? If she needed an immediate answer, I was pretty sure that I’d have to go get my “list of reasons I’m going to hell” checklist. I thought sins were supposed to be between the person and God. Did she expect me to read it out loud? If I had to read it out loud, I’d be in big trouble in addition to whatever penance Father gave me on Sunday. I may not have been an honor student, but I was pretty damn sure that there was a clause in the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prevented double jeopardy. Boy was she tricky! My dad and I ended up just mindlessly staring at our plates for the rest of the meal. It was better that way. If we looked at each other, we would’ve started the laugh fest all over again. That would’ve ended with a suspicious looking pile of dirt in the backyard, and a missing persons report.
My mother continued her excited utterances about the trip. “We just have so much to do!” I just sat in silence listening. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God. I did. I just hated the fact that I was being forced to believe. I happen to be one of those people that thinks that true faith is just something that you have to achieve on your own, and I just wasn’t quite ready yet to accept it yet. I had no evidence then. Little did I know that my first clue would be found there in that tiny village, on top of a mountain.
The next few weeks were filled with shopping, packing, and child abduction lectures. Sometimes the lectures overlapped the shopping. My mother was great at multi-tasking. It was the act of trying on clothes that I hated the most. I was the fat kid. There was nothing worse than standing in a dressing room, looking at yourself in the mirror wearing the fabric equivalent of a circus tent. All I needed to complete the ensemble was a big red nose, and floppy shoes. Knowing my luck though if I did have the shoes, I would have tripped and broken my leg. I’m horribly uncoordinated. If I had a broken leg, I would need crutches. You can’t possibly climb a mountain on crutches. That would just be cruel and unusual punishment, and I’m pretty sure that even my mother would have to concede on that one. Hmm. Maybe there was a chance that I’d get out of going on this trip after all! The worst part was that the clothes that we ultimately bought were off limits until the trip. Those were “special clothes”. My mom treated them like they had super powers. In my mind the only thing magical about them was the fact that they fit my huge ass.
Up until I was eight, I was skinny as a rail. I was so thin that I used to have to hold onto the sides of the toilet to prevent myself from falling in. My grandmother was always saying to my dad “But she’s so thin!” and my grandfather would pipe up from his wheelchair and say “Just leave her alone, she’s fine!” It is because of him that I firmly believe to this day that blind people can see things no one else can. My granddad was the wisest man I knew.
The night before I was to leave, my mother sat on my bed in front of my mostly packed suitcase with her list, talking to herself. At first I started to respond to her questions, but I was met with “Shh! I’m thinking”. I didn’t understand that at all. Isn’t thinking supposed to be done quietly in your head? I resisted the urge to stand there while I pointed at her head and shouted “Mom, I know that it makes sense up there, but I’m out here!” That would’ve been the end. She would’ve pulled out some ninja move and killed me with one punch to the throat; all without looking up from her list. Jackie Chan had nothing on her! When she got to the bottom of the paper, she finally said “The electricity converter”. I didn’t respond, and that irritated her. “Beth, do you remember what I said about the converter?”
“Shit!” I thought to myself. I thought that her out loud comment was another “shh, I’m thinking” moment, but apparently it wasn’t. I just shook my head no. Exasperated, she demonstrated for the fifteenth million time how to use the electricity converter. I should’ve paid closer attention, because that demonstration was the most important and significant lesson of my life, and I totally blew it because I was lost in thought. It would later prove to be extremely costly.