I have never told anybody this story – ever. At first I could not because I was so shocked by it that all I managed to do was store this unwanted piece of information in the darkest corner of my vortex. I kept it well hidden from daylight for three excruciatingly long winters. The longest and coldest I have lived through. The problem that arose after this period of total isolation – where I had kept myself as hidden as my dark secret, and had barely left my tiny, cramped apartment – was that the expected relief from the shock turned out to be an even worse enemy. Instead of the willed and prayed for redemption and empathy, from myself at least, I soon found out that the only replacement to shock was shame. And it was worst.
So bad in fact that I immediately started to miss my original ordeal and pray for it to come back. Of course it never did. And so, I remained stuck inside with this heavy stain. I found myself cutting ties with the last two friends I had sort of kept in touch with during the first phase. I had told them a white lie and had kept them at a safe distance, letting them closer or not at will. I managed that feat for three years. My lies had must have been credible enough for they never pressed me more than would be acceptable from mannered manicured Victorian residues.
When shame came, I switched tactic with them and told them coldly what I thought about them, knowing that once they knew, they would never try to see me again.
In a way, getting rid of them was to be my only source of comfort during my darkest days. I did wonder for half a moment why they had ever been my friends in the first place, but this random thought was soon replaced by my real worry and no, nothing surprised me anymore. Not my past, not my future, not even my uncomfortable and suffocating present. What were they but tenses anyway?
Since I had, for obvious reasons, – well, obvious to myself- stopped attending mass and going to confession I resolved to building my own confessional and purgatory at home.
I recited dozens of Hail Mary’s a day and at least as many Notre Père, alternating English, French and Latin. In fact there were days, even weeks when these were the only words that came out of my mouth, days when I would scream them, weeks when they would be my only conversations, I would sometimes alternate a sentence from each and pretend they were actual friends communicating with me. I would provide all the answers, set the table for three, and wrap it all up with a Bloody Mary or two.
My other source of solace came from my not so new television post. It was one of those old sets that did not mind, or that actually enjoyed a slap or two, to get to work. Although I did not always have the patience to watch the endless supply of silly programmes aired till no hours, the TV was turned on most of time. When the skies outside were as somber and scary as my inner thoughts I would bless the TV and gratify it with a Mary or two.
However, and to my great despair, no matter what I did, or how I did it, the prayers, the isolation, the TV on its head or not, the bloody and bloodied Mary’s, The self-flagellation, the self-purgatory, the shame would not go away. I could not get over it, it was eating my insides, it was making me see a monster I refused to be, whenever I would see my reflection in the only mirror I possessed, in the lavatories.
On what could have been a beautiful morning, five years after I found out, as I was standing for my morning “business” I got so scared by the man staring at me but not staring at me, his vicious and viscous eyes, his hollow and lifeless eyes, his crooked nose hiding a good part of his faces, his paper thin lips so tightly closed they looked like a no entrance sign. When the man raised a bushy eyebrow I screamed and punched him straight in his nose, and punched and punched until there was nothing left of him and he lay lifeless shattered in a thousand bloody pieces in and around the lavatories.
My hand was in a similar state. But my hand was still alive. I wrapped it best I could with toilet paper and started praying.
I prayed, prostrate in the toilet for 72 hours.
After that came the realization it was crucial I saved myself … from myself. I had lost quite a lot of blood, and I felt as though the reflection of that skull crashed in a thousand pieces relieved me a little from my shame, as if some of my shame had been crashed at the same time. I know, I know, it probably sounds crazy, but I swear it happened like that. My feeling of shame was but half what it had been. After a two hour shower, a shave and a hard-boiled egg, I put on my shoes, took my umbrella and headed out resolutely.
I knew the time had come. God had heard my prayers and was guiding my steps,. He took me straight to the church at the end of my road. I went straight to the priest and begged him to forgive me and hear me. It took some time for the priest to recognize me. He had not seen me in 15 years. When he did, he gently smiled to me his eyes filled with all the compassion and goodness I had come to look for and invited me to the confessional.
It is only when I was done confessing to the father that I truly started to feel relieved and started to live again.
My first stop on my way out of church was to the bar, where I knew no one apart from Mary. I sat holding her and pondering the light punishment I had received after confessing: one Hail Mary!
I thought the priest must have become a softie with old age. Who knows, maybe he suffered from some old people disease, like Alzheimer or something and had forgotten the other punishment.
It never dawned on me that what I had been so shocked about and what had kept me locked with shame like a madman for fifteen years might not have been as bad as I had thought it was.
I had made peace with myself after the priest absolved me and resumed my life, and although, it never was like before, it was not as bad as I had feared it would be.
The Sunday after my release and my come-back amongst the mortals and the sinners, as I made my way to church, I did not notice the people looking at me, and snorting. I did not hear the blond lady tell her husband I was the man the priest had told her about … the Jew…