Part II: Journeys (Chapter 12)


Westbound at the I-94/I-80 Split, South of Chicago

I was a sedate and obedient child.

Maybe it’s part of my problem now, why I have difficulties staying within acceptable boundaries, why I embarrass you sometimes, why I’m tempted to –

Oh, it’s nothing.

Really, Sheldon. I’m just running at the mouth.

It doesn’t mean a thing –

‘Cause the fat lady can’t sing!

– Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. Once, I got into trouble for trying to out-cuss my cousin Daniel O’Flaherty – you’ll meet him at the reunion.

I don’t think you’ve ever met him. I haven’t seen him in years.

Please, please, let him be a no-show.... Please, God, if you really exist!

Anyway, after Mr. MacIntyre, our white-haired neighbor, caught us screaming dirty words on Nana’s front porch, I realized I was in deep trouble. I was hoping he’d forget the whole incident, but, of course, he hadn’t forgotten the cuss words Danny and I had shouted for the entire neighborhood to hear, shocking words that were now getting back to Nana.

By the time Mr. MacIntyre had decided to snitch, Danny was long gone, so guess who bore the brunt of the fallout?

Nana and the old man stood on the front porch, Nana’s hands on her hips, Mr. MacIntyre gesturing wildly, embellishing, I’m sure, his side of the story with impossible scenes that never really took place.

Nana called for me and forced me to face my accuser. As I stood before him, I could feel the old man’s sour breath on my face, his accusations digging in like hot splinters under my fingernails.

When it was over, I ran to my room and threw myself on the bed, burying my face on the pillow, waiting for Nana’s footsteps, for the inevitable punishment, maybe even soap in my mouth, for sure the belt across my bottom.

I considered running away, far away from Sioux City, maybe even back to California to live with my mother and her new boyfriend, but how would I get there?

I had only 75 pennies – money I had extorted from Danny – enough to get me across the Missouri River to South Sioux City and back on the bus, maybe a one-way ride to Dakota City.

And Danny was safely away from Nana’s reach, near his bratty brothers, back to Marybeth Andrews, just a dumb girl who liked to play silly games with him.

I think I’m going to be sick, Shel.

You’d better pull over.


I feel better. I just don’t know what came over me.

Game? What game?

Oh, that. It was nothing, I don’t want to talk about it, it was just child’s play, not worth mentioning.

Please don’t push me on this, Shel. It’s not the right time.

Nana didn’t spank me. Instead, she told me to put on my pink dress and white patent leather shoes.

“You’re going to Confession,” she said, wagging her finger at me.

She called up Father Salvatore to arrange a special Confession.

I wanted to die.


I climbed the steps to the church, my shoes clicking on the concrete. It was hot, and for the first time in my life, I felt sweat trickling from my armpits. Inside the vestibule, the click, click, click of my soles echoed into clomp, clomp, clomp.

I might have been going to the guillotine.

I slipped into the Confessional, a small trapezoid space crammed into a leftover nook, an afterthought.

As Father Salvatore slid open the door, the wind blew through a small window, whipping up the curtain separating my unspeakable sins from the man of Christ on the other side.

He sees me!

We both pretended he hadn’t seen a thing.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I disobeyed my parents, I told a lie last week, I took a cookie without asking, I took the Lord’s name in vain, I had impure thoughts –”

“I committed adultery –”

“Adultery? Child, you can’t commit adultery, you’re much too young. Now tell me what happened.”

I don’t want to tell him, he knows who I am, and I’ll never, ever be able to come to church, ever again.

“Tell me, child.”

And if I don’t tell him, I’ll go to Hell for sure, because it’s a double mortal sin if you tell a lie in Confession, and you’ll spend three eternities in Hell, though it sure feels hot in here right now, my armpits are sticky and stinky, the sweat between my legs gluey and yucky. And this is only a small sample of the real Hell, so I’d better be good and get it all right and not miss even one thing....

I tell him everything, every detail, and I’m reliving the whole thing all over again, and I can feel Danny on top of me –

Please, God, bring on the darkness!

– Then I said my Act of Contrition, and Father Salvatore gave me six “Our Fathers” and six “Hail Marys” as Penance and sent me on my way.

Will I ever forget? I want to forget. I want them all to suffer for my sins.

And that was it.

Shouldn’t we stop for lunch now? I’m starving, and I don’t think I can wait until Joliet.

I need to fill that big empty space in my gut.

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