Out of Myself And To You

I was slain by the spirit when I was only ten years old. This is not a story. This is not hyperbole. This is only the fact of a hand I can see and resee whenever I need to—a nun’s hand, looming softly, rippling towards my face as if on the quietest gust of candlelight. This is the last thing I remember before passing out.

My mother has it on video. The nun’s hand is on my forehead and then my mouth parts, gentle and slow. An inexplicable zoom-in on the missing of my front teeth. A shuffle and I slip off the chair onto a maroon carpet. My fall is almost perfect, except that the edge of my ponytail catches on the leg of the chair and the auburn of my hair is so precisely the same shade of its wood that we become two planes of a single thing. The nuns speaking in tongues along the room’s periphery move in like a flower blooming in reverse. They lean over me, they lean back; they lift up their faces, caterwauling, arms in the motion of splashing water.

The label on the VCR tape is “THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.” Years later when we watched it I laughed and you laughed but my mother knows—and on most days I know—that they cured me.

“There was nothing to cure,” you told me. You were in your closet and I was watching you dress. You were wrong but how can I say it? In your sleep I would position myself to catch the wash of your breathing. When once you rubbed something off your face on my shoulder I felt sheepish and lucky. To be better than for you I would have given up many things.

“Maybe you’re right.”

There are ways to be mentally ill and there are ways to mentally ill. My way of being mentally ill was to weep all day at school. It was too public of a way. Impractical, also: the ink ran on my homework. I over-watered the grass on the playground and they blamed the landscaper and he lost his job. I scared away my friends, the boy who prank called me and might have been my first boyfriend if everything had been different.

For months I missed art class and sat in the office of my school counselor, who had a voice like shucking oysters. When I think of you sometimes I’m bafflingly back there, sitting on the corner of her green sofa that had come unstuffed, watching her at her desk. Behind her are rows of books that you would call self-help nonsense and she’s, she’s—she was useless, really, to me, but the nightshade flicker of the beauty mark by her mouth is like yours, and the across-the-room warmth of her heavy neck is like the jut of the vein on your forearm, the smoke of your mouth. And it makes me wonder if ever in the self-centeredness of my baby misery I had thanked her, had even glanced up at her from under the weight of my sogged eyelids when she spoke.

I think you would have liked me better if I had been saved a different way. Saved like my grandfather was saved when he fell off a friend’s boat into the Atlantic. He was left bobbing there, to die, until a manatee came and smiled at him. She prodded him with her slick body to shore. Would you have come out to meet me, your brown body brown, your brown body working to suss out an ocean, to suss me out, floating on my back over a bed of coral, looking for your face in the sun?

Instead I was saved by a spirit that recollects itself as a sea-wave in the stomach. Always in moments that you wanted nothing to do with. Like when with a gasp I crossed myself without meaning to at dinner with your parents. How I once genuflected in the aisle at the movie theatre.

When the ink of your printer smelled of the Virgin’s roses when I was around, sheet after sheet. You collected them and with a gesture that was not intended to be beautiful but was you threw them high and angrily towards the ceiling. I smiled: you and I, and around us a garden, dazed and paper in the air.

“Take your miracles and go,” you said to me. “

But I will love you out of myself.” And then, louder, “I’ll love a way out of myself. Out of myself and all the way to you, you—”

Pages to the floor. White cheeks sigh to rug.

The question I have left is what you would say if I came to you now like I was then. I will be very young and sad, but my arms will still be cool like they were when you would lie in them. Sorry in advance, for I will cry until the tight straw of your welcome mat splinters.