Angels

April 10, 2011
“Angela!” Gabriele hissed in my ear, waking me. My head snapped up and I guiltily surveyed the scene. Mom and Dad were staring daggers at me and glancing pointedly at the priest whose blah-blah-blah I was supposed to be paying attention to. I sat up straight and laid my hands neatly in my lap, trying to channel the luminescent marble angel in the relief above the altar.

I knew the drill. Later, after the service, I would attempt an apology. Mom would just shake her head and say, “No. Beg God’s forgiveness, not ours.” Then she and Dad would walk away, thinking they were leaving me alone to pray about my mistake.

But I never talked to God in those empty minutes.

As a Catholic teenager who had been homeschooled my whole life, my entire existence could be boiled down to three things: church, prayer and studies. Like my namesake in the marble statue, I was frozen in a veneer of smooth perfection, surrounded by other stone figures. It was lonely, this marble existence.

Sure, there was the occasional awkward socializing with other homeschooled kids, usually on some educational field trip. Add in the agonizing Family Night once a week, which usually consisted of board games or a G-rated movie, and you’ve got an accurate picture of my life.

Most Family Nights ended with me screaming at Mom and Dad, demanding to know why I couldn’t go to a real high school. Apparently it was “too dangerous.” There weren’t enough “good people” there. But if being a “good person” meant praying constantly and talking to God like He’s either your best friend or some mighty power that might strike you down at any moment… I guess I was a bad person, too.

Before each meal, my mind wandered, thinking about everything but the words being said with closed eyes and folded hands. I dozed off during Bible study. I reviewed information in my head instead of asking God to help me do my best on the exam in front of me. I hated rosaries. And I committed what was, in my mother’s eyes, the Unforgivable Sin – I fell asleep during church.

Of course, my parents were aware of very little, outside of the sleeping in church part. They thought I was the perfect role model for my younger sister. Honestly, though, Gabriele could have given me a few pointers on “how to be a good Catholic” – she was the one that was probably going to grow up to be a nun or something.

My salvation, surprisingly, came from a Family Night Feud. I think that was when my parents finally began seeing me, not "her” – the perfect Catholic child. Casually, I asked (again) why we had to be homeschooled.

“Angel–” My mom started.

“Don’t call me that,” I interrupted.

She sighed, “Angela, we tell you this every day. You are old enough to know that not every teenager knows right from wrong as well as you and Gabi do.”

“That’s the thing, Mom,” I insisted. “We know what’s right. We can keep ourselves safe. Isn’t that enough?”

“No, it’s not enough,” she replied.

The argument stumbled down the well-worn path.

Suddenly, Gabriele jumped in. “I like being homeschooled,” she said. I gaped at her. Usually she tried to stay out of these arguments. She ignored my stare and continued, “I don’t want to go to public school. My friends at church say that people there do–” she dropped her voice to a whisper, as if repeating a dirty secret, “drugs.”

“See, Angela?” Mom said. “If things are that bad at the middle school, just imagine what the high school is like!”

“You know I’m not dumb enough to do that stuff. Do you really want me to be a friendless loser for the rest of my life?”

There was silence. Then my dad spoke up for the first time, saying softly, “She’s right.” The three of us just looked at him, dumbfounded. “Angela is a good judge of character. I think she should be allowed to attend public school next year.”

Needless to say, my dad’s words caused an uproar, but it didn’t matter. That fall, I entered Washington High as a sophomore.

I didn’t make friends as quickly as I expected. Only one group seemed open to another member, and at first, I was reluctant to join them. I had been taught to fear people like them. Yet they welcomed me, the outsider. There was a condition to their friendship: my parents never knew that I was one of them.

We would drive by them on the street and my mom would laugh. “Look at those five kids, dressed in black like that. Look how sad they are,” she would say. “Deprived of the light of God. Do they go to your school? Don’t associate with them.” I would just nod.

Things changed once I became a part of their clique. I don’t think my parents noticed at first, but each day, I wore a little more black. The first day I came downstairs dressed all in black, Mom flipped. She started screaming at me, telling me I was turning into someone she didn’t know. Dad tried to stay calm, but I recognized the anxiety verging on panic in his eyes. Almost every day, when I came home from school, I would find them on their knees in front of the cross, holding rosaries, praying fervently.

Eventually, I stopped going to church. I always found someone to let me spend the night on Saturday and “forget” to wake me up on time for church the next morning. They were happy to house me; most of them didn’t even mind if I forgot to ask in advance. They knew I would come.

Certain nights, though, I was banned from their homes. They apologized, saying, “Trust us, Miss Catholic. You wouldn’t want to be there.” I knew that they said it with affection, so I didn’t mind, but I always wondered what they did on full moon nights that I wasn’t allowed to see. They never answered my questions about it, repeating my nickname and saying I didn’t want to know. But I did.

Finally, they included me. “The time is right,” they said.

It was a Friday night, a full moon. When asked where we were going, they only smiled conspiratorially at each other and said, “Esbat. You might not need your nickname after tonight. You’ll enjoy it, trust us.”

After a long drive out of the city, into an open field, we pulled over. “This is the place.” I looked around skeptically. It wasn’t much, just a crop-circle-like ring in the center of a field. Dirt clods in furrows and smelling of freshly-mown hay, about as far from the perfection of an ornate sanctuary as I could get.

We walked across the uneven terrain towards the center of the circle. As we got closer, I noticed a large five-pointed star drawn on the ground in the clearing. “You stand here and watch,” they said, pointing to a spot on the ground just outside the circle. I obeyed.

Four others took their places, each standing on a point of the star. The fifth girl stood in the middle of the space, hands raised, head tilted back to the sky. The light of the moon made her face look like an angel, perfect and smooth. Suddenly, she began chanting loudly. She was singing in a language I didn’t recognize, but I could feel the power in her words. Slowly, still chanting, she walked backward toward the final empty point of the pentagram. The moment she reached the point, the others began chanting with her.

My skin tingled, and I could feel energy in the air. It felt as if my entire world had been reduced to the size of their circle. In that vast open space, we were tightly connected to each other by something powerful and wonderful. The chanting continued, louder, much louder than could possibly be emitted by five human throats.

It was then that I realized I was chanting with them. I had never heard the words before, I didn’t know what they meant, but somehow I could sing them at the top of my lungs and call a God that I knew, for the first time in my life, was there.

As suddenly as it began, it was over. I found myself in the car, on our way back home. Everyone was talking and laughing, discussing the Greatest Ceremony Yet. “You need to study so you can join us,” they told me. I could only nod.

It was hard to keep the Greatest Experience Yet a secret from my parents and Gabriele, but whenever I felt the need to tell them, I reminded myself that they would ban me from ever seeing my friends again. I thought of the marble angel in the church, silent and waiting, and kept my mouth shut.

After that night, I joined the Group on every Esbat – or full moon ritual – and I felt the marble veneer that had bound my spirit for so long slowly beginning to crack and fall away. In my free time when my parents weren’t around, I studied the Book of Shadows and other Wiccan texts, willingly, joyfully. I felt alive.

By some wonderful divine timing, I was ready to be initiated on my eighteenth birthday. After the rite, They presented me with my own pentagram pendant, and it felt right when I slipped it on. I knew it was time.

When I arrived home, I found my parents and Gabriele already sitting on the couch waiting for me. “Happy birthday!” they exclaimed, all jumping up and hugging me. I pushed them away and told them to sit back down. They did so, looking stunned.

“Mom, Dad,” I began, and took a deep breath. Just then, my mother noticed my necklace.

“What is that?!” she screeched, pointing at it. “The symbol of the devil, that’s what it is!” She burst into tears.

“No, Mom,” I tried to explain, “we’re not Satanists. How can we worship someone we don’t believe exists?”

She wouldn’t listen. My father stood up and pointed to the door. “Get out of my house,” he ordered, his voice low but shaking with anger. “Now.”

I obeyed slowly. I knew that my friends were waiting outside for me, ready to take me to a more accepting home. “Goodbye,” I said, reaching for the doorknob.

“OUT,” was their only reply.

So I went out. My mother threw a rosary at me as I left. “You are still a child of God,” my mother shouted at my back.

I didn’t turn when I said, “I know.”





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