I would have seen it coming if I hadn’t been so preoccupied by the voicemail Monsignor Spit-vac had left. I heard him leave it. It wasn’t his first call to Fran. In fact, it may not have been his first call that week. I could have easily erased it but why bother. I couldn’t get in more trouble than I was already in. I was grounded from all of my activities, even the lame ones. Any belongings that mattered to me were confiscated. Even worse, I was a daily line item on the old ladies prayer list. No one envied that. Nothing was worse than knowing all the old ladies were praying for you to be someone you were sure you could never be. It took an act of congress or the second coming of Christ Himself to get off that list.
I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere besides Edward’s house, which was fine by me. None of that other stuff mattered if I could escape my own house. I could have been rehabilitated from all of my behavioral issues with relative ease if my parents could have tolerated my company for longer than an hour. A lucky break for me, depending on how you define luck, I guess.
“Beep. This is Monsignor Spevak. I’m sure you know why I’m calling. Erin is just not adjusting to Catholic life. I doubt she possesses the intellect. Sister says she seems impervious to Christian doctrine, a well-documented indicator of demonic possession and something that should cause you grave concern. Regardless of how amusing your daughter finds our faith to be, this is no laughing matter. Sister says Erin is intentionally trying to drive her insane and that the only friend she’s made is a seventy-eight year old Jesuit. I don’t know what is wrong with her but…beep.”
Cut the windbag off, mid-bitch. He was right. I was trying to drive Sister crazy, even if she was already well on her way. I had extraordinary, nearly telepathic, button pushing skills, especially with the Catholics. And, so what, if I did have a 78 year-old Jesuit friend? It was one more friend than old Spit-vac ever had. Whatever. I knew Fran wouldn’t call him back. He already knew what was wrong with me. Most likely, something similar to what was wrong with him. It could be some sort of demonic possession. I’m no expert, although I didn’t think a fat girl would be a likely candidate. Seemed like overkill if you ask me. I thought being fat was about as bad as it could get. That was how the nuns had explained it. Sloth. Envy. Pride. Greed. Vanity. Wrath. Gluttony. I figured I was covered. I couldn’t spin my head around. That I knew. I tried it the second I saw Linda Blair do it in the Exorcist.
Days passed and no one mentioned the voice mail. Just as my false sense of security began to settle in, my brother burst into my room.
“I think you’re in trouble, again.”
I don’t know why he always felt the need to add “again.”
We assumed our usual positions next to the heating vent just as the grandmother was telling Fran that something was “overdue” and “settled” for Saturday. Maybe they were going to have me exorcized after all, as a precautionary measure. It may be terrible to admit but my heart leapt, for a second, in that rift that exists between hope and reality. I was ready for a change, just not the kind I got.
I wondered if it would be painful, the exorcism, like having a tooth pulled or getting hit with a line drive. They could check my head for sixes if they wanted. I didn’t see any when I looked. Peanut said they would dump me in water to see if I could float. He said that was how they tested witches. Floaters were doomed. He figured it had to be the same kind of criteria and suggested I prepare for the worst. He said his grandmother always said I was “full of the devil.”
I was relieved when Saturday finally arrived. I had lost sleep thinking of all the ways I could be exorcised. It didn’t help that Peanut added new potential tortures hourly.
“They’ll make you drink holy water to see if you explode. Maybe put bamboo under your fingernails, or poke you in the eyes with needles. At least until you talk.”
“Talk? Talk about what?”
“Until you tell them how you got possessed!”
“I’m not possessed!”
“If you say so but I’ve seen you float.”
I came downstairs dressed and ready to make a break for it the second cartoons ended. My heart pounded in my ears so loudly I could barely hear. I was on the brink of vomiting the entire time and barely touched my Honey Combs.
The grandmother stopped me just as I hit the front porch.
“You’re not going anywhere. Say goodbye to your friends and go do something with that hair.”
Wally, Edward, Sal and Peanut stood on my front porch, looking like pallbearers, white as sheets, as the grandmother closed the door in their troubled faces.
I said goodbye to my brother with a rather convicted sentiment. I didn’t know if I would ever see him again. It was evident that he would make a rapid recovery. He never even looked away from the television. He’d miss me in a month or two. Maybe. I’m sure he was relieved by the prospect of a less volatile household. I couldn’t blame him.
The grandmother and Fran were already in the car when I got in. I was confused that none of my things were packed but figured there would be a uniform involved. Special ordered, no doubt.
We drove in silence.
I closed my eyes and prayed. I was notorious for praying only under duress, a deal maker from day one. They never worked. God didn’t listen to me. I understood why. He was disappointed in me. We were even. I was disappointed in Him too.
I opened my eyes when the car stopped. We were in front of the mall. I was perplexed. The grandmother hopped out before we came to a complete stop. I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to get out until Fran looked over his shoulder and grimly wished me “good luck.” Good luck? Why did I need luck?
I struggled to keep the grandmother’s pace. She was quick and clearly on a mission, a deadly combination, one that required me to be lucky. I had narrowly escaped complete humiliation during our most recent shopping trip when the grandmother discovered I could no longer fit into the conveniently paired Garanimals. I was grateful. I hated the potentially combustible, poly-fiber attire more than I hated my school uniform. At least with the uniform everyone looked equally ridiculous. The Garanimals craze was an attempt to get me to conform on a core level. I was having none of it. As it was, I mixed my monkeys’ with my lions’. It drove the grandmother bat shit.
We walked for what seemed an eternity. Finally we entered a section of the store I had never been in before. It was as far from the beaten path as a department could be while still housed in the same building. I could feel the shame before its contents offered an explanation.
“You need to start wearing a bra.”
This could not be happening. The concept had never occurred to me. I mean, I knew what they were and I assumed I’d be forced to wear one. Eventually. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would wear one voluntarily. Maybe the government regulated them or the church. Probably the church. It certainly could have been based on a medical need. Some of the women I’d seen obviously had a condition that would warrant one. Like Lisa’s Aunt Shirley, she could take you out with one boob from a hundred paces, clear the dinner table with an abrupt grab for the salt, suffocate the life out of you if you stood under four feet tall. Those kind of boobs should be monitored, for everyone’s safety.
A bra was the last thing I needed. Something like this was sure to broaden the separation between my peers and me, a quickly expanding rift as it was. That, and it would be discussed in the same way everything was discussed. Loudly. Publicly. Relentlessly.
I was due, I suppose. Edward had just gotten special glasses to correct his wandering eye. We had pretty much milked all of the eye material anyway, even though Wally and I secretly thought it was kind of cool. We wondered if Edward could see in two directions simultaneously. We tested him a few times by giving him the finger in his peripheral vision. Eventually Wally got caught. Edward pinned him on the ground and dangled spit in his face. They were disgusting.
He was getting off easy if you ask me. The eye was getting fixed. There was no fixing the bra issue. I’d much rather sport a magic spy-eye.
Wally would still be Wally. That was some consolation.
I waited in the fitting room, horrified, wishing I were somewhere getting an exorcism, even if it required potentially exploding from holy water. The grandmother threw back the curtain and handed me what looked like a parachute without a canopy. I strapped it on with no instruction. I didn’t see the point of wearing one. I mean, who cared besides the grandmother? I looked at myself in the mirror. The bra felt tight and cut me in half, like a rubber band on a burrito. I could barely breathe. I was unaware that adjustments were possible I just knew they were necessary.
Once I put on a shirt no one would notice.
I arrived home to find Edward and Wally sitting on the curb waiting. Wally sprinted to the car the second we pulled in.
“Thank God you’re home! We found a dead raccoon by the park. Peanut ran over it with his bike by accident. He’s home throwing up. You missed it.”
“I was trapped with the grandmother.”
“Did you have an exorcism?”
“I’m not possessed, Wall.”
“That’s not what Edward said. Right, Eddie? He said when you say the rosary you get hives. He’s seen them.”
I smacked Edward.
“What? Sometimes if I sit behind you in church I swear I can see smoke.”
Sarcasm never found its way to Wally.
“I’m not possessed, jackass. Stop listening to Edward. Do you remember when he told you KISS was staying at Brian Kopeck’s house?”
“He told you to peek in the window to see them. What happened? Did you see KISS?”
“What did you see?”
“Old man Kopeck playing with his weenie.”
“So what does that say about Edward?”
“That he has no idea what Gene Simmons looks like?”
“God, you are an idiot.”
“Maybe. So, how come you’re wearing a back brace?”
In the weeks of bra torture that followed, I had never seen Edward so full of joy. He broke two bras in the first week. You can only ask so much from fabric, even the elastic-y kind. My back was covered with welts. Peanut was so deft at strap snapping that he could do it while we were on our bikes riding at full speed. He nearly killed us both more than once.
This was only the beginning, the inception, coming attractions…