This is a collection of true stories.
When I was five I almost drowned. Even at that age, you’d think I would have had some kind of divine near-death experience—say, a bright light at the end of a tunnel, a chorus of singing angels, or visions of my short-lived life flashing before me. The drama of it all certainly warranted some kind of grand illusion. But no. What happened that day in the lake at Munroe Falls, Ohio, gave way to more practical allusions. It was my first real encounter with guilt. And regret. And thankfulness. And that was even before I ended up Catholic. But it wasn’t before I’d acquired the Ruth family gene—an inherited characteristic that runs smoothly through my grandmother’s side like fine whiskey. The independent, don’t-care-what-you-told-me-not-to-do-I’m-gonna-go-right-ahead-and-do-it-anyway trait. (Similarly played out in infamous fashion by George Herman Ruth, aka Babe, who our family believes is an ancestor—story in Part Two.) That same trait runs stubbornly through my oldest daughter, and in some cases, can be a good thing. But that day, it nearly got me killed.
From Boy Trouble:
I was heavily influenced by television male role models, such as Rodney Harrington from the 1960s TV night soap, Peyton Place (his fictional brother, Norman, was the “nice” one, therefore not nearly as appealing as bad-boy Rodney. Even Allison Mackenzie put sweet Norman in her “just a friend” category), the leather-jacketed “Fonzie” (who, though sweet, was a bit dangerous, thus far sexier than wimpy Richie Cunningham, who would forever be Opie to me), and Billy Jack, the hunky, rough-and-tumble, peace-loving karate expert who, in 1971, became a movie cult hero to hippies everywhere.
From Suffering For My Art:
When someone says, “Don’t take it personally,” you are bound to take it personally. Because it is. You are personally deemed a loser. When they make it clear they don’t want you anymore, you’re right back on the school playground, the last one picked for the game. You are the unwanted morsel of candy—bit into, spat out, and left abandoned among the empty crumpled wrappers in the 16-oz. box of chocolates. You are the wad of repugnant chewed-up Juicy Fruit stuck underneath the school desk, or church pew. You are the unsolicited piece of junk mail that is so unwelcome people angrily rip you up microscopic pieces before tossing you in the garbage, then complete the act by dumping stale coffee grounds on top of you like a ceremonial burial. . . No matter how much you ache to leave a job, or a marriage, you want to be the one who leaves. Not the one who is left.
From Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl:
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been, uh . . . um . . . I think . . . no . . . I guess . . . well, maybe . . . uh, probably about . . . four months? . . . since my last confession.”
I’ve always found this holy practice bizarre. There you are, kneeling in a pitch-black closet, confessing all your ungodly behavior to an authoritative voice that will judge you without even knowing that you’re really not all that bad a person. This, after actually having waited in line to totally rat yourself out. This, after having memorized your sins because you can’t bring the long list into the confessional since it’s too damned (oops, sorry God, I’ll add that to the list) dark in there. Still, you’re supposed to keep track of each and every trespass because the numbers are important to measure out the penance. You are then forced to underplay your crimes—slyly altering possible mortal sins to venial—because you don’t want this Man of God thinking poorly of you. You then ask for forgiveness and hope The Voice bestows a light sentence. (You’ve already increased those odds by going to Father A, the kind one, rather than Father B, who’d make his own mother say the entire rosary. Twice. And with feeling.)
And What It All Means:
I believe life is a test, the multiple choice kind. Like when Dorothy and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz must decide which direction to take at the four-way crossroad. The fearful ones choose to turn around and go back. The doubting ones choose not to choose and stay stuck in neutral. The brave ones make a decision and venture on. Perhaps we’re given these tests to see what we do with our dilemmas. How we handle our relationships with the people in our lives. We’re not supposed to have all the answers. It’s the process, the journey, as they say, that provides the best memories—and some of the best stories.