For the Journey
Mr. C is already in his assigned seat. Slumped down, staring. He straightens up when he sees me. “I love you JB”. “I love you, too, Peter”….. Fist bumping he reminds me, “J. B. like JellyBean” I laugh and nod my head; two weeks ago he started the Easter countdown with me before noon mass. “Its almost Easter, JB!” he shouted at me when I walked into the lobby” He looked coyly at me sideways with smiling Jesus eyes. “What do we get on Easter? He asked me in a sing-song way like I was a third grader. I shrugged. “What kind of candy do we eat?” Both enjoying this game, I said. “I don’t know, Peter, what kind of candy do we eat on Easter?” He smiled and I smiled “JELLYBEANS” we said in unison. We laughed. And then his eyes changed and he was back inside himself.
He is out here tonight. “Happy Holy Thursday! Jelly Bean! Father Steve is washing my feet!” He squeals in delight. Yup. It’s the start of Triduum and my toes are clean – MIdnight Onyx is the color I have chosen. Deep blue-black like sky above Gethesemane – not pink or purple or red, because I am also getting my feet washed tonight.
My feet are flat as a board with strange long toes. Just like my father’s feet. We used to look at the prints in the sand, like duck feet next to my sister’s delicate two-part high arched prints. “Ugly” he said when I was running barefoot in the house. “keep them covered — I hate to see you running around in bare feet”. When Bo came along, he also had ours – flat baby feet that never grew up.
The first time I had my feet washed I was hungover in San Francisco. Somehow I ended up in the Castro offering my callused heels and ingrown nails to the women who laughed and talked behind their hands at how rough and dirty they were. I was the only women getting my feet taken care of. All the chairs were filled with bright and beautiful men, lovely shining arms and legs in tank tops and shorts. Graceful feet being offered for blessing. Arching and pointing toes like ballerinas adorned with rainbow flags and glitter. When she asked me to pick a color, I stared. The boy in the chair next to me pointed at the green with the sparkles. “it matches your eyes.” His white teeth laughed against his brown face; he moaned in delight and ran his fingers ecstatically through his black curls while the girl kneeling before him kneaded sweet-smelling lotion into his calves. I flinched every time the woman in front of me touched my flesh. “Relax, honey, you’re so tense” he wagged his finger at me. “Enjoy, yourself, girl. This is a short life.” I wondered how he could be so happy. Every day was a head throbbing, dry mouthed, jaw clench until cocktail hour. It was only 11 AM. I had nothing to offer but scabby toe-claws.
And then, when my feet literally broke under the weight of all the pain I had stuffed into my poor bloated body– the healer would put my feet into the hottest water I could stand — until they boiled angry red and then she would plunge them into a bucket of ice. Purging pain as the blood ebbed and flowed. I would cry out “FUCK” as she poked the needles into my heels and between my toes. Offering up my chi in feet that looked more like porcupines now.
Standing, tonight, in Bo’s Doc Martins, holding the oil of the Catechumens that I was anointed with last year, my mind goes to my pocket where there is a picture of him next to my last chip. I want to stick my hand in there, and rub the little red ruby on the coin with my thumb, but I am afraid to take both hands off the bottle for fear of dropping that precious stuff on the concrete floor. I lean my shoulder close to my friend, the lovely priest who is giving us all our parts in tonight’s celebration. “My hands are sweaty,” I confess. He laughs. This year, I laugh too.
Last year, I was exposed and worried. Moving into Triduum and taking the final step to becoming Catholic for real. I remember tonight as I stand holding the oil that will bless the new people on our vigil night. And I remember last year kneeling at my seat and every time the door opens, I moved my eyes sideways to see if T would be walking through the door. He had been missing for months. At recovery mass the night before he slipped in and sat next to me. As he had done in the past – just as if he had not been gone. The first time this happened I was furious to the point of tears. Bo used to do this shit all the time. Disappear — unresponsive to my calls…. leaving me pacing the house frantic. And then he’d appear — nonchalantly shrugging off my fears. Nothing is going to happen to me, Mom. You worry too much. Heh.
Father traced a cross on my forehead and said “Jesus blesses you for three more days” and patted me on the head like my dad used to when he told me my feet were hideous. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. I followed T for the anointing of the sick. I put my hand on his back while all his sins were being wiped away. I could feel his spine poking into my hand under all his layers. His face was taut and there were hollows under his eyes. His hands were shaking while Father crossed his palms with oil. “Thank you Father” we all said and then T turned and hugged me so I can feel all of his sinew — so skinny and trembly — and of course I thought of Bo and that precious hug we had, squeezing his flesh and bones in mine that last time. “I have been thinking about you — heathen! So you are going to be turned into a Catholic!” I laugh — but not really.
Outside we stood at the meeting after the mass that happens after we bless ourselves and linger longer while the priests gently nudge us out of the sanctuary and into the world on the street in front of the red doors. He told me about his Easter conversion in some northern wasteland city — and how he freaked out Holy Thursday and went on a meth binge leaving his sponsor waiting for him standing at the baptismal font wearing her special ordered from San Francisco Easter Vigil outfit. “She was so upset” he tells me. I didn’t really know what to say. I was tense about this whole “turning Catholic” thing. I felt so many times like bailing and T was freaking me out by telling me how he went out over the promise of salvation. When I told Father that Ed might come to that vigil where I would profess to believe all the Catholic Church believes and teaches…and that I didn’t really want him to. “That’s not your call.” he told me a little sternly.
I wanted to run. But where to? There is no place else to go, I have come to believe with all my heart.
Now when T shows up I just feel a little sad and tired. I just slide over and we do mass and then maybe go eat some vegan chinese. He’s back in the hospital tonight so I don’t have to think about him — don’t have to wait for that other shoe to drop.
I take Bo’s shoes off of my feet. The smell of the lavender oil I prayed into my ankles and arches reverencing and blessing them myself this morning thanking Jesus that they are healed and I can walk without pain, wafts up reminding me to breathe. I am offering my feet again — “Nice toenails” Father says as he struggles to kneel and I struggle to lift my legs up over the basin. Warm water is poured, a white towel is proffered, we are singing Ubi Caritas. Everything seems graceful in spite of our age and crassness.
When Father is finished, he looks up into my face and says “Thank you.”