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The Apple of Perfection
This brisk Saturday evening is not as innocent as it disguises itself to be. It hosts the reason for the friction in my veins; the itch. My heart pounds as if I’m standing on the edge of a life altering experience, or being herded into a giant door that I’m too nervous to enter. All the formal preparations we did this morning sheared the top off my fear, but concurrently unleashed the malevolent monsters of anxiety that presently crawl around inside my buzzing head.
Confirmation: such a simple word, such a big meaning. I’m not even sure what the full meaning entails, and yet here I stand, antsy, about to be confirmed. The gravity of the situation crashes into me like rough ocean waves coming on consecutively, determined to swallow up the shore - and me. Am I really ready? I’ve been repeatedly telling my mom that it will mean life-long commitment, but she keeps on making it sound like it’s just a simple ceremony.
I spot the disarrayed line into the nave and navigate towards it through the multitude of chattering parents and children. My unforgiving heels click on the freshly polished, ivory tiles as I get in place, second in line, behind Emily Alli. Heels hurt. I’m never wearing these bloody things again. I flex my toes unconsciously and rove the surrounding area with my eyes for the candles we’re to be carrying in the procession into church. My brother picks his way through the hoard towards me, muttering apologies to the people he bumps into in the crowded hall.
“Do you know where Mom and Dad are?” he questions, a foot away. I just realized we match, which probably isn’t a coincidence. He’s wearing a jetty suit with a red tie and I’ve donned ebony gauchos and an onyx top with gregarious rosy flowers. His face is flecked with pitchy stubble and I’m wishing he’d shaved. He looks like a bum, even with the suit. It’s like he doesn’t care. Caliginous eyes devoid of happiness, pride, anything that could possibly be positive, demean his Hollister® model features. Slouched shoulders reduce his commanding stature, as if that will make it like he was never here. If he’s not a good Catholic how can I be?
“I think they’re in the nave looking for seats,” I reply after a minute, glancing in that direction. My god, all the seats are taken, they must be furious.
“Hey, seen any candles…?” I start, when a fleshy woman bustles forward with a cart of lit-wicked-beeswax.
“’Scuse me, ’scuse me,” she repeats, steering expertly through the mingling people. “Pardon me, thank you, Miss, Madame,” she says, nodding her head to each in turn.
My ears fill with the heavy weight of silence as the last few children receive a candle. I hear the cart steadily withdrawing, a ssqqqqq piercing the air. “Since I’m your sponsor, what do I do?” my brother asks.
“God, Nick, this is exactly why you should’ve come this morning and not slept in!” He goes to respond, but the piano awakens from its slumber and we silence as our eyes snap forward.
I deem this slow music funeralistic; its low notes weave through the rows of people and swim up into the rafters to lounge and watch us children suffer in nervousness. A thousand pale orbs stare at me from the pews. Man these skylights are bright…or maybe it’s just me? My beat red face and sweaty skin are indicators of my nerves, and I twist my abdomen and shoulders in my uncomfortable, fancy clothing. Eh, I wish I were just a member of the audience!
Down the aisle we walk, in perfect alignment, slug-paced, smiling (awkwardly myself) for the grinning-overly-ecstatic-creepy camera man right in front of us, and we’re heading right into his clutches. Emily veers. Our line takes a safe left towards a smiling, grandma-like woman with hands outstretched for our candles. We hand them off to her one-by-one and she sets them in a decorative little pattern around the altar as we file into our assigned seats.
My designated place: front row. Emily’s beside me along with another teenage girl and their sponsors. Front row, joyful. I can’t help but fidget, trying to decide where to put my hands: folded, splayed on my knees, folded, splayed on my knees. I pick at my shirt under the direct gaze of the priest and eventually lace my fingers together upon my lap. I don’t think I’m ready for this.
The aroma of the spiced oil, or chrism, the Bishop will use to seal the Holy Spirit within us etches the air, drifting down from the uncorked, oblong glass bottle on the altar. Next to it the Bible lays luminescent with grandeur, a silky red pagemarker dangling onto the crisp, white linen cloth from one of its pages. I’m trying to calm myself now, studying the cloth’s embroidery of leaves and flowers in happy, springtime pastel colours, like Mother Nature at peace. Was it made specifically for the church itself? Simplicity is beautiful...the very fabric itself holds the essence of love and holiness within it. This morning we burned our sins, and still the scent of charred paper is in the room, mixing with the odor of the candles and oil in the air to nip the back of my tongue: acrid, I cough quietly a few times.
Finally all conformandi are seated, silent, and the piano has come to a halt now that Bishop Gumbleton is stepping swiftly into the sermon stone semi-circle. He grins broadly, mini-suns dancing in his eyes. I thrill as the tingly happiness radiating from him reaches my body. How odd, he looks extremely lively for such an old man. He must have the touch of God in his blood.
“Welcome,” he begins, smiling ear to ear, his papery skin crinkling. “Welcome, blessed children of God, but soon, adults.” Every pair of eyes fix themselves on the Bishop, every ear opens wide to drink in his loving words.
The speech is unlike any other I’ve heard before. Awed, and in rapture, I feel inspired. I’m envisioning beauteous, Godly moments of life that I want. Yet a great knot forms in my already jumbled stomach. Lately I’ve taken a detour off the path of God for numerous tangled reasons, inexplicable, but known to me. I feel like I don’t know enough about other religions; some might be better. I feel as if Catholics are all talk and no action. I know I do not agree with all the Catholic beliefs. Skeptical, sensitive, staidly me: I keep wavering in faith. Why can’t I simply believe...humph, that’s easy, because it isn’t simple!
And then the Bishop says something that hits me. “This is a commitment for the rest of your life.” I consequently shrivel inside. The rest of my life? I can’t imagine that, I’m only fifteen! “When you are confirmed, you are agreeing to a life of servitude and discipline, a life of respect, admiration, devotion and unquenchable love for God. You must be ready to battle sin forever, and be all you can be.” At this point I’m silently freaking out. All I can be? Battle? I can barely survive the life I have now, with school and family and everything. I can’t do this. Can I do this? I’m not that strong, dear Lord, I’m not that strong. I can’t conquer the devil: he is undeniably strong within this world… within my life. “Please, sponsors, pray for your conformandi. Give them extra strength for their commitment, their struggle, and their lives.” I’m not ready, I can’t do this, but I can’t just stay seated. Gah, is it a sin to walk up there; make a promise to God and not be ready? “The rest of your lives, my children, like the commitment I made for the rest of my life.”
I can’t do this.
Vwtt! An instant vortex, sucking my mind into my mind, with the scene laid out before me. A silver gate and fence; eaten by vines and roses in full bloom. The gate stands ajar, leading into a bountiful garden and in the center thrives a vast and luscious tree, not only tall but thick. Never have I seen such a big tree in real-life. On its sturdy fingers hundreds of thousands of apples hang ripe. One catches my eye; red, round, perfect.
I imagine, I think, it calling to me. Its scent stands out amongst the others, begging me to pluck it from its haven and bite down onto its firm skin, into its sweet and crisp flesh.
I step forward, wary of what I do not know. Some magic eerie brilliance lingers about this tree. Some feeling in me lurks just out of sight and I can’t quite decide: awe or unease? The more I think about it the less certain I find myself to be. The tree stands an arms’ breadth from me now. The apple pleads with me, yet I will not grasp it; it screams, yet I will not reach out. Why? I see myself quite clearly, and in all actuality I want the apple, but do I want the apple?
Csssssss. Instantly shivers rack my body. Down from the branches it slithers, weaving and undulating ceaselessly in a mass of inseparable coils. “Yesss, I know se apple callsss to you.” My legs twitch yet I cannot move, wanting to run but gripped, rooted to the spot like an extension of the tree. “And why should you not take it? You have every right, do you not? The Apple of Perfection, what wondrous thingsss it could do for you, my dear.” He silvers his s’s, a great boa constrictor.
“The Apple of Perfection?” I inquire after a moment, stuttering, not knowing where my voice just appeared from.
“Yesss, take a bite, you will ssee, you will seee!” My hand flinches, and raises an inch, reaching out. A glint appears simultaneously, blazing violently in the snake’s eye, red in black, like the flames in His black-pit, Hell. A snake: deceiver, liar, trickster, messenger of the devil and no friend of mine. Like poison from an Adder’s tongue his words kill, like clever propaganda his words deceive. My hand swerves, from apple to snake’s throat and as quickly as the glint came a hard venom takes its place. The snake hisses and spits and squirms but to no avail, he will not be the Great Undoer; not today, not ever.
My eyes sparkle with hot tears and the flames of ninety-two candles create white blurs inscribed on the insides of my burning eyelids. “Now, let us be vessels of our Lord, God.” Bishop Gumbleton bows and we all clap enthusiastically. I dab my eyes gently with my fingers, trying not to smudge my makeup, then wipe my hands on the seat. I bat my eyes a few times and peek out from between my watery eyelashes. His eyes, my eyes, our eyes meet and I know, and he knows that I possess more strength than I realize.
I can do this.
I stand, my legs do not shake. I step, my foot does not falter. I follow, I do not hesitate. I gaze into his eyes, I do not blink. He looks down at my nametag to see what confirmation name I’ve chosen for myself after many, eventually fruitful, hours of strenuous contemplation. His eyes move across the tag slowly, then squint and do a double take; he smiles wider. An unearthly splendor emanates from that contagious smile; it’s palpable and beautiful. “Trinity, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Bishop Gumbleton proclaims and it sounds as if God is speaking too, entwined in His sons unforgettable words of power.
“Amen,” I say clearly, beaming. He beams back and I see God in him and he draws with his hand, the hand of God, the chrism cross upon my forehead.
I am awakened, reborn, new baptized. Transformed.