Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 1 - What I Hate About Myself

I've been a big fan of the blog Eleanor's Trousers for a while now. She is a fellow, aspiring writer and I like how she writes and her perspectives on things. If you aren't familiar with her, you should read her blog and follow her on Twitter. She's the kind of person I would be good friends with in real life I think.

Eleanor is doing a meme. In fact, I've seen several people doing the meme lately and I have decided to join in. Normally I don't do memes, but this one is like a series of daily writing exercises, which I need right now because, as I mentioned, my experiences are limited to things that happen in the house and the doctors office and the few points in between. The meme is called "30 Days of Truth" and each day you write on a different topic. I'm not sure I have 30 days so I may do two on some days or take longer than 30 days. We'll see. In any event, I resolve to try to get out of the box on these topics as best I can to really challenge my writing. I took a workshop with a writer who told us to never write about the first thing that comes to mind because it will always be common and cliche. Wait for the second, third, fourth and fifth things that you think of. Those are more unexpected. I'm going to attempt that. On the first day you're supposed to write about what you hate about yourself.

What I Hate About Myself

When you're in fifth grade you can acolyte at church, but the other fifth graders are a year older than me. Does that mean I'm lying? Is it your age or your grade that matters? Do they figure if I can go to Middle School, navigate the change of classes that I can be trusted to light the candles on the altar?

What I most want is to wear the robes because it is like playing dress up. I have played dress up with my friend Katy since kindergarten but now she won't anymore. Fifth grade. Middle schoolers don't play dress up, so I go to her house and we have nothing to do except watch TV or sit outside and talk about people at school and how we hate them, which makes me want to put on old silky nightgowns and be someone else even more.

Being an acolyte makes me feel like someone else. First the black robe underneath. It's so long it covers my toes. Some of the popular kids from school go to Sunday School with me and they make fun that I still wear mary-janes like a little kid. Black in the winter and white after Easter. You can't see them under the acolyte's robe. Then the white smock, thin as gauze over that. 

Our church has two cross necklaces hanging on a nail beside the robes. Both drop from black, silk cords. One cross is large, silver and ornate. The other is carved from plain wood and smaller. This is a test, I believe. Which one will you pick? Pick the wrong one and you go to Hell. The pure of heart make the modest choice. When the popular girls from school light the candles they always choose the silver because they are like the evil sisters in a fairy tale who ask for trunks of jewels. I am the pure sister who asks for nothing but a single rose, so I pick the wooden cross. I am proud when I unravel it from its nail and loop it around my neck. I passed the test.

Sitting near the altar makes me closer to Jesus. The acolyte's seat is a velvet cushion in a carved nook beside where the pastor sits when the choir sings and he takes a break. We are surrounded by stained glass. Jesus on the cross, angels, lambs, grapes and fish. The organ pipes rise up around us like silver reeds and rushes shooting up from a lake bank. We walk across a red carpet - movie stars at a film premiere. I imagine cameras flashing as I step to light the altar candles. The sanctuary pews are filled. I am the star of a Broadway play and I don't miss my cue.

My stepmother Louise is the one who insists I sign up to acolyte. Extra-curricular activities. She likes to run off lists of things she has me doing: the piano lessons I hate, art classes, 4-H with a pack of redneck farm kids, gifted and talented and now I am lighting candles at church and that is the only thing on the list, besides the art classes, that I really wanted to do. I feel like this will make her proud of me since I can't get the hang of reading piano music or sewing skirts for 4-H. I want my father to be proud of me too. I want him to see the wooden cross and know I passed the test because that would matter to him.

When Louise signs me up, I meet with Reverend Lucia one time and he shows me what to do. Take the long, brass stick, push up the wick, have a grown-up light it for me. Usually it will be him because I'll go out first and he'll come out after the candles are lit. He shows me the order to light the candles. Stop and bow my head before the cross in the center of the altar. Light the other side. Push the wick down to put it out. Go sit down. When the service ends, turn the brass stick around and use the bell to snuff the candles. Go in the same order.

At home in my room I practice with a stick I sneak in from the yard. I have to get the bow right. A dramatic pause. I must look pious. I practice in front of the mirror over and over, loving the way I look when I do it.

Then finally I am doing it. It's time. It's my Sunday to light the candles. Reverend Lucia meets me in the room off of the altar area. I want him to notice that I chose the wooden cross, but he mentions that the robe seems too long and warns me not to step on it and trip. He lights the wick and when we hear the organ swell, he opens the door and nudges me out.

I am perfect. I remember the right order, the bow, everything, but when I go to light the first candle on the altar, it doesn't catch.

Sometimes this happens on birthday cakes. I've seen it. You just hold the flame at the candle's wick a little longer and it will suddenly flare.

Nothing happens. 

The wick is jammed down inside the brass cap that crowns each candle. I hope my flame will melt the wax and untrap it, but still, nothing happens. Wax runs down the candle onto the altar cloth. I stand there. My heart is beating. The organist plays the same song again. There is a murmur in the pews. What's happening? What's the matter with her? Why can't she light the candles? She's too short to reach up there and pull the wick out. They should have got a bigger kid. How old is she anyway?

Save me. Someone come and save me.

I don't think to light the second candle and go on from there. My own wick is burning low now, so I push it up further and the whole thing goes out. I have no light.

Please save me.

Reverend Lucia is beside me flicking a lighter. He relights my flame and pulls the wick out of the cap of the first candle so I can light it. He does this for each candle, pointing so I know which one to light next, even though I already know. I am so humiliated. He doesn't leave my side. The organist has played the same song three times over now and I want Reverend Lucia to leave. I want to tell him that I know the order and it wasn't my fault the candle wouldn't light. I did know how to do it. I did.

When I am mad, I cry. When I am embarrassed I cry. I sit on my velvet cushion in my carved nook and I cry silently the whole service. I have to wipe my face on the sleeve of my robe because I don't have any Kleenex. I wonder why this happened to me. Is it because of my age? Had I lied accidentally? Was I too little? Too full of myself? Not really pious at all and just putting on an act, playing dress up like a little kid.

I hate myself. I hate that I have never made a free throw in gym class. I have never saved the day. I have never been extraordinary, shining, brilliant-beautiful different real and truly pure of heart. I am punished. I am just as vain as everyone else. I am vain about not being vain. I didn't pass the test after all.

What I hate about myself is that when it's finally my turn, when I finally get my chance, I choke. The robe is too long and I stumble. I strike out. The candles don't light. I miss a crucial step in every important process. I can never reach the wick to pull it out of the wax and fix it. I always make the light go out.


One Mean MFA said...

Woman, this meme thing is a great idea. I thoroughly enjoyed your first post of "What I Hate About Myself." I think I'm going to have to try it on my blog too because as each day passes in the semester I find myself putting my writer on the back burner and my students and their work so high up on the priority list. Silly job getting in the way of things I like to do.

mcgrimus said...

Beautifully written. It's funny what things we carry around, and how long we hold onto them. And of course writing them out can be very therapeutic.

Anonymous said...

Oh honey, you're not the only one. In fact, I think a lot of us are just waiting around to get another chance to light that candle.

Gina said...

I swear, I had the exact same experience as an acolyte when I was about 9 years old the candles wouldn't light and I ran out crying. I was so embarrassed. The good thing that came of it is an elderly lady in the congregation wrote me a lovely letter and it struck up a friendship that lasted many years until she passed away.

Milesly Rose said...

This is why I was never an acolyte. On Children's Day, I gave the sermon.

You might enjoy this book:

It's called Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To

Sorry, I don't know if you do audiobooks or not, but this was the first link I grabbed. :)

Laurie said...

You are SO amazingly talented. Please don't ever stop writing for any reason. Hug.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I am dying to know what the mystery unauthorized work on the house was. I hope the fee on the After The Fact Work Permit wasn't too high; can you please please please spill what the mystery alteration was on twitter!!!!11!

p.s. go wide lawns! we love you!

Anonymous said...

Ohhhhhh - plumbing.

Thanks a million for satisfying my nosiness.

go wide lawns!!!! we totally love you!!!

Anonymous said...

Well here's the thing. After church when everyone was in Fellowship Hall drinking coffee, I would sometimes sneak upstairs in the sanctuary and push the wicks into the wax. The ensuing chaos a week later was intoxicating for this 10 year old.

I forgot all about this, and now I'm confessing. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this. From a fellow life choker.

Keep writing, I love reading it.

LegalMist said...

Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.

Miss Kitty said...

I [heart] you, WL. You are so brave to post this. (((hugs)))

You're going to be an AWESOME mom. I know it.

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