Thursday, February 21, 2013
I was trying any way I could think of to connect to my kids. I tried to find out where they were living so I could see them and talk to them. I mailed them letters hoping they would get them. I talked to their teachers and friends asking them odd questions like "Have you seen my kids lately?" or "Would you give them a message if you do see them?" I even asked my siblings to help.
I asked my sister, Peggy, if she would call the girls' mother to see if she could talk to Mary or get her phone number, assuming her mother wouldn't deny her aunt this kind of information. And Peggy was willing to help. She gave this a shot and called Karen and asked her how Mary was doing and if she was in school and other things like this. But she didn't get very far. Karen was on to her and knew she was gathering information for me, and this ended up being a dead-end like the others had.
And after a while, Peggy got tired of me asking her to try to get through the blockade set up to prevent me from seeing my kids, and I didn't blame her. It wasn't an easy task. But she still wanted to help me, and so she came up with another idea — she told me I should see a priest.
I wasn't too sure about this, though. It had been years since I had talked to a priest or even been to church. I was a fallen Catholic, and I didn't have too much faith a priest helping me solve any of my problems — especially the kinds of problems I was experiencing at the time. I was raised a Catholic and went to a Catholic school when I was young. I was even in a seminary for a while after high school, thinking I wanted to be priest myself. But that was years ago and these was no longer my beliefs. They were my sister's beliefs, and they worked for her. But I think she thought they might also work for me, or that maybe by talking to a priest, I might somehow be drawn back into the church and maybe even get some advice in the process. I wasn't too sure about this, though.
But I was desperate and willing to try nearly anything at that point, even something that seemed like a last resort. And it was starting to feel like my family thought it was time for a last resort for me — time to call in a priest and maybe even administer the last rites. But I didn't care too much at that point either, and I couldn't see how talking to a priest could hurt anything. Maybe he had the kinds of connections I could use.
There was a Catholic church across the street from where I lived, and I walked though the parking lot almost every day on my way downtown to get groceries or check my mail. Behind the church rectory was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded by flowers in a peaceful little garden setting. Sometimes I'd sit near the statue and think about my Mary and remember what it was like to be a child her age, back when I was in Catholic school. And sometimes I'd even catch myself uttering a "Hail Mary" or two and asking the statue of Mary to help me find my Mary. Force of habit, I guess.
I took my sister's suggestion and called the priest and made an appointment. I met him at his office one afternoon and he shook my hand and invited me in to sit down. I began telling him my story:
"You see, Father, this is kind of an odd story, but I'll try my best to explain it. A few months ago all these crazy things happened and ... "
And I proceeded to tell him how I had lost my job and lost Mary. And that was it. I stopped after that. I didn't tell him about my mother's death because I had learned it was better not to spring all three of these calamities on any person at one time. It usually made people uncomfortable and sometimes even freaked them out — it was not Minnesota Nice to talk about such things.
The priest had no problem understanding how I could lose my job. Nothing strange there. And he also seemed to get how my daughter could reject me. But when I tried to link the two events, I lost him. Even when I mentioned the threats I got from Social Services and my employer, the bad-mouthing that went on prior to Mary leaving me, or all the other parents I knew who had had the same thing happen to them, he still didn't get it. None of it seemed to make any difference to him, and he just sat there calmly waiting for me to finish my story so he could ask me his question:
"So, what did you do to your daughter to make her hate you?"
"I didn't do anything, Father. That's the point of my story."
"You can tell me what you did."
"I'm serious. I really didn't do anything. I'm a very devoted parent. That's why this is all so crazy. I was the only parent who took care of Mary when no one else would. I would have known if I had done something."
"So did you apologize to her?"
Padre no comprendía. He wasn't getting this no matter what I said, and I think he thought my story was my way of working up to confessing some great sin I had committed. I didn't have time to explain my whole story to him, however, and give him the background that probably would have helped make more sense out of it. I was tried of having to do this anyway.
But I also got that he didn't get it. Few people did. Even divorced parents, unless they've been through a nasty custody battle, seldom understand how a child can be turned against a parent. I probably wouldn't have understood it either, had I not been constantly surrounded by people who were trying to take my kids from me. I was naïve about these things too, and I had to learn the hard way that the irrational rejection I was experiencing, not only can happen, but almost always happens in the presence of an on-going custody battle like the kind my ex and I had been in for years.
I realized just how far out of the priest's realm my story was. He had probably never heard a story like mine, and this seemed even more obvious now that I saw him struggling to think of something else to say:
"So, tell me, John, where's God in all this?"
Which was disappointing — disappointing that his only advice to me so far was to confess to something I didn't do, apologize for it, and then tell him where I thought God was.
My beliefs no longer put God in any place a Catholic priest would understand. But I didn't care too much about this either, and I started toying with some answers I could respond with:
I don't know where God is, Father. I thought he was here. Can't you find him? Maybe I can help. Where did you last see him?
None of which I said, of course. Instead I tried to answer his question a little more sensibly:
"He's in the middle of it, I think," even though the real answer was that he wasn't in the middle of anything. If he had been, he probably wouldn't have let it happen or he might have tried to fix it. I didn't want to tell him that I felt abandoned by his God.
So I decided to move on to the next part of my story — the part about my mother. Maybe he could relate to that. It was about death, after all — something he was familiar with. You know, funerals and the like, a big part of his job. A big part of religion. Surely he couldn't doubt that I had lost my mother like he did my daughter. And who knows, maybe mom's story would bring him back to territory he was familiar with.
"Well there's this other thing too, Father. After I lost my job and my daughter, my mother was murdered."
He stared at me.
"Yeah. In a nursing home. Beaten to death."
"Probably with a bat."
His jaw dropped and he sat motionless, and he started scanning the distance to the door and glancing at his phone. I immediately wished I wouldn't have told him anything, but it was too late. I quickly re-ran my story through my head and realized how macabre it all sounded. I'd told it so many times, I'd forgotten how crazy it really was — my boss fires me, my kids don't want anything to do with me, and my mother is somehow murdered and even the police don't know who did it.
Oh my God, what is this, Fargo? I suddenly felt like I was in a scene from that movie, and wondered if maybe we're all crazy up here in Minnesota during the winter. Baseball bat? A wood chipper couldn't have sounded any worse. How could I say this to a priest? He probably thinks I'm ready to confess to an even worse sin — one involving my mom, and my kids, and my job — and maybe thinks I had something to do with all of these, and maybe he thinks he's next!
I thought by telling him about my mom's death, he would find himself in familiar territory, and we could talk and he would tell me standard Catholic things like what prayer I should say and how many times I should say it. And he would tell me how my mom was fine where she was in heaven or purgatory, or wherever she was, and we'd say some prayers and maybe call upon a saint or two.
But that wasn't happening. Instead, he was gripping the edge of his desk and staring at me wide-eyed; and for a moment I didn't really care about this either. The familiar role I had envisioned for him was also the role that had driven me away from the church. At least it wasn't why I came to see him that day. Old-school Catholicism, even though it may have comforted him, wouldn't have answered my questions. I didn't care so much about where my mother was now; I wanted to know how she got there, and the line of reasoning I was following would only have led to an even more illogical line of questioning where I could see myself blurting out something like:
"So how many hail Mary's do I have to say to find out who whacked my mom?"
Which wouldn't have solved anything, especially the problem I was now facing, which was no longer my job, my daughter, or my mom — it was his composure, and how he was handling all of this. It wasn't good.
I turned my attention back to him sitting there wringing his hands and perspiring. I was truly worried about him, and our roles had now reversed. I needed to help him cope with what looked like a crisis on his side of the desk, and I tried to reassure him that things were going to be fine:
"Look, Father, everything's going to all right. I think I got it all figured out. You really helped me and I feel better now and I should probably just get going..."
We got up to leave and and nervously mumbled something while he put his hands in his pockets:
"All righty then. You take it easy, now, okay? And ah, hang in there. And ah, okey dokey."
"You betcha, Father"