The Body of Christ, or “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way Out of Duane Reade”

Does God test us? Does God put us through seemingly unbearable trials of darkness wherein we wonder if there even IS a God? (I am apologetic in advance to atheists, but I was raised a good Sicilian Irish Catholic by a mother mercilessly schooled by nuns. She scrubbed the floor on her knees with a rag, gave us everything and herself nothing, and was perpetually guilty and/or inflicting it. All said, she did a wonderful job in instillling in me a grander sense of All That is Right and Good Even When The World Can Suck Sometimes.)

I will nonetheless and as usual share my thoughts, lest i endure one more night of sweaty insomnia in the centuries-old iron bed that has witnessed too many tears and enough drama for a lifetime. The bed is broken and morosely sagging on one side now, the only souvenir of a lost baby papa, and is too big for one tiny/big person to fill without a nightly small stab in the heart.

Perhaps you ask, “WHY oh why must this pathetic creature air her proverbial dirty laundry daily and besmirch herself as the Queen of Too Much Information???”

Why? Because as an artist, and a very real and honest Velveteen Rabbit worshipping woman who has seen the depths of hell and come back to blog about what it is like — what it is like to be in a near coma for a month, or diagnosed as terminal/inoperable, or to try to walk up 5 flights weighing 78 pounds from a botched lung operation and spaced out on enough morphine to kill a horse, or to close my eyes to a golden light and know my body was leaving you — I have no skeletons in my closet any longer. I have no secrets. I wear my skeleton on the outside and as of late there is a watermelon safety pinned to my belt. My nerves are on top of the bones and if it is good day, some skin stretches taught over the bundle of sticks, baby and tears that I have become.

The truth will set us free. Without fail. Our indiscretions and mistakes, or “research”, when shared honestly, always help someone who is a passenger on an ocean liner sinking even more quickly than our own personal Titanic.

My secret to longevity? I am the strongest bilge pump operator ever set out to sea. Just when the force of the whirlpool vortex from the depths of the ocean floor is about to swallow me into the total and absolute absence of light, and the glowing deck lights are flickering and going out one by one, I have managed to bail enough salt water to right the vessel.

This time it is different. I can still hear the strains from the dining room of the shimmy and the foxtrot and the clinkcrashclink of the Reed and Barton silver and Johnson Brothers china, sliding and smashing to bits as the ship goes down, listing, leaning violently and without grace, and the floor goes up. Yes, the band plays on. I always listen for it….the ones that come through the din of splintering wood, crying infants and frightened men, silently strong mothers, alarms and sos calls, and the mighty roar of the sea are what I paint to. My personal ghost best friends. Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday…music to sip absinthe to.

I run to the bilge room but my babybelly is in the way and i slip in the salty sea that fills the elegantly papered hallway. My arms are too tired and heavy as planks. I feel like floating. This is not good. There is a defined absence of panic in my heart and i feel grateful for the womblike saltiness engulfing me all around, buoying me with a false sense of security just before all goes dark.

Today was that day. Titanic going down. I ditched the deck chair. Too exhausted and baby fat and irritated to bother with the bilge pump. Land line cordless fell in the tub, celly out of time. Went for an aimless walk at dusk, or so i thought, and the thought did cross my mind that I had left several messages for the priest of my lovely little congregation in Gramercy Park. I am relieved.

Then, upon realizing that Father Jacob would not be able to reach me by dysfunctional telephone, a severe case of the Fuckits descended upon my soul, a black Pigpen-worthy cloud that did not give a rat’s ass if I was crying by the Febreze in the middle of Duane Reade. “FEBREZE IT!!”, thought i, and laughed so hard I almost choked on the snot that remained from my eventide of public tears.

I wanted nothing in the store. I wanted to go listen to Charlie and Ella and close my eyes and float in salt water. Trying to recall the prayer of St. Francis verbatim, I turn to flee the vile store and it comes.

“Where there is sorrow,
let me bring joy
Where there is darkness, let me bring light
Where there is fear, faith
Where there is hatred, love…..”

I look up and nearly pee in my too-tight-from-baby undies. Father Jacob, his blue eyes and rosy cheeks the personification of All That Is Right and Good, was walking toward me with the most beautiful smile I think I have ever laid eyes on.

“Janice! So good to see you. I’m on my way to Calvary to give a homily and holy communion. Would you like to walk with me and tell me what’s going on?”

As a good Catholic girl, I resisted my first powerful instinct, which was to holler,

“Hallelujah!! There is a God! He’s watching me!! Do I want to walk with you? Does a bear shit in the woods, Father???!!!”

I smiled at him through my tears and said,

“Yes, Father Jacob. I would love that. Thank you.” Ever the lady, ha.

He said, joking in his 33-year old “cool” priest sense of humor,
“Come, little lamb. Rejoin the flock!.”

I am speechless and enthralled by the beauty and strength of my faith. God is the one who has never ever abandoned me, lied to me, abused me, forsaken me. God is the one who has taught me I can overcome. He has made me into the Cat With 19 lives. I am here as a living testament to the will to survive. To spread joy and love and light. Even when I think things FUCKING SUCK. They usually don’t if I keep my eyes wide open. I am blessed. SO much to be grateful for.

To the end of the story already. The service lifted me from a hole dug in stony soil. I needed redemption. The scar on my throat and obviously pregnant belly painted me with a giant scarlet letter A.

God loves me anyway. My congregation loves me anyway. The wafer that is the Body of Christ stuck to the roof of mouth and struck me as hilarious and disturbing. The wine, the blood of Christ, was rather tasty to my palate and I felt a Catholic sense of alcoholic guilt. But I am a human. I am not St. Janice.

Things go down. They come back up. Life is a wheel, like the one on my Titanic. And when you are too tired to pump the bilge, let go and float in the salty sea. Let go, little lamb.

Trust me, you will see. You will be floating in the sea in the middle of the Febreze at Duane Reade, and a baby pink lifeboat will suddenly bob onto the horizon, as if from nowhere.

That, to me, is the essence of Faith.

I love you, my friends, and may you all have sweet dreams. Please keep me, hopeless sinner Almighty, in your prayers. If you forget my name, just call me Hester (Prynne, lit reference), or better yet, that out of wedlock ho in Gramercy.

BOO YAH!!! (;

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