written for Writing.Com pageant--there is no love without proof of love
I keep telling myself not to be nervous. There is nothing to be nervous about. No big deal, this is what I do for a living. Only friends and family are here. Why then, am I trembling, drenched with flop-sweat? No way will I be able to sing this morning.
Maybe it's this place. This Byzantine Lithuanian Church full of plaster saints and an actual crucifix. Nobody designs churches like this anymore. Most Catholics have given up images of the bleeding Christ to symbolic stone or plexiglass crosses. Leave it to Dad to have a funeral mass here in this gothic horror. Twenty years ago, I walked away from this church and from God.
I stopped believing when I was twelve. The year my mother's insanity blossomed into full flower. Mom spent that summer at St. Francis Hospital having her brain fried with shock therapy. Her womb was already fried from three previous miscarriages. My own womb was blooming. I spent the summer dealing with my first period and sitting in front of the TV watching Password and Guiding Light.
At summer's end, Mom came home vacant and hollow-eyed. By Thanksgiving she had overdosed from the sedatives she'd been hoarding. I quit going to church and Dad just didn't seem to notice. Dad missed a lot.
I had joined junior-high chorus that year and discovered I had a voice. I could sing. Music became my escape and my salvation.
My voice wasn't great. Good enough for small-town musicals and weddings. I took the usual route--full-time music teacher, part-time performer. I've been happy enough, I guess. I had hedged all bets and chosen to remain single and childless.
Dad's death had been quick and unexpected, a cerebral aneurysm. Aunt Helen, my father's sister, had made all the arrangements. It had been her idea for me to sing at the funeral.
Dad had only heard me perform a few times. I never found out what he thought, one way or another. I wasn't even sure he liked me. Certainly, he had never said he loved me. I was an obligation, a duty that had to be dealt with. I had to beg him to attend my high-school graduation. After that, I stopped asking for anything.
So, here I am in the front pew of St. Casimir's, elegant in mourning black, waiting to have a crack at the Ave Maria. I'm a lyric soprano, I can do this. But my throat is so tight and strapped I know only frog-song can croak out.
I haven't been to Mass in twenty years, and I haven't prayed either. Right now, I am looking up at Jesus' blood-stained face and I am pleading with Him for a miracle. I look up at the ceiling. The Holy Ghost is there painted against a blue-sky and encircled with lights. That bird spreads his Pentecostal wings and dives right at me. Only he's not a snow-white dove but an uncanny, tiny bluebird.
The first-time I ever sang for my father I was a bluebird. I was seven, in a school-play of Peter Rabbit. I was the only bluebird that had a singing part. But I needed a costume. Mom was barely functioning even then. She couldn't make me a costume. I had thought my heart would break. Dad stepped in and took me shopping for a robin's-egg-blue organdy dress. He made me wings, spending hours after work glueing layer after layer of blue crepe-paper feathers. Wondrous wings. You don't give wings like that to an obligation!
When I come up to the pulpit it's not the Ave Maria I'm singing. My throat has opened in joy, spilling a liquid alembic of antiphons and psalms distilled from a childhood song. I am a bluebird of happiness borne on crepe-paper wings. I sing for my father, I sing for me:
Run Peter, run. Run Peter, run.
Leave your jacket behind you,
or Farmer MacGregor will find you,
Run Peter, run.
I return to my pew, sobbing. There is a legend of Elau, a female angel formed from the tears that Jesus shed at Gethesemane. I believe that now there is also a bluebird formed from the tears I've shed for my father, and for me.