~A memoir from childhood
I was forgotten once.
I attended the public school when I was young even though I was Catholic. When it came time to make my first confession, which was a scary enough proposition in itself, I had to go to the local church. I was in the second grade.
My mother didn’t drive, and was largely confined to the house because of my disabled sister Annie. Mom had arranged for me to walk to church with a couple of older girls who lived about three blocks away and attended the Catholic school. I had met them, but I didn’t know them well. Shellenbergers. It’s interesting the things we remember.
Things were different in those days. It wasn’t out of the ordinary that I would walk somewhere at a young age. We walked to school and back every day, but I had never walked to church.
On the morning of my first confession, I walked the three blocks, then up the steep steps to the Shellenbergers’ house. I crossed the covered porch and knocked. After what seemed like an eternity the mother answered the door. “I’m sorry,” she said. “They already left. If you hurry you might be able to catch up to them.”
Hurry I did. I was terrified. I didn’t know how to get where I was going. I ran down the steps and turned the corner to Roosevelt Street where I could just barely make out the other girls in the distance. I did what I usually did when I was scared, upset, or sad. I started crying.
I followed the girls from a distance. I couldn’t catch up and stumbled along behind. I was now crying profusely.
From my vantage point I saw where they turned a corner. I followed and made it to my destination. The nun who met me at the church door took one look at my red blotchy face and wanted to know what was wrong. She led me through a door and down a quiet hall to a room where I could regain my composure. My first confession was anti-climatic after that. Facing a priest behind a screen in a small darkened room and telling him all the sins I had committed was nothing compared to the trauma I had experienced getting there.
To this day I don’t know why I became as upset as I did following those girls to the church. Although I tried to deny it to myself, in part I felt that my mother had let me down. I was alone; I didn’t know where I was going; and she was supposed to be taking care of me. Like other thoughts I’d had before and would have through the following years, that led immediately to guilt. Mom had to stay home to take care of Annie. She shouldn’t have to worry about me.
Maybe I felt sad that those people Mom trusted to help me let her down as well. Maybe I was just sad that I had been forgotten.
I was only seven.