Tragedy—I sensed before me some horrendous fate. At age eight, I thought I’d be orphaned by thirteen. At age nine, I suspected that I’d be paralyzed—in some capacity—by fourteen. At age ten, I figured I’d die by fifteen. It all had to do with these dreams. They weren’t nightmares, but, like, a grand fortitude that would awaken me in the night and launch me into an excessive state of awareness. On one shoulder, a weight of pain, and on the other, purpose.
By year number eleven the dreams had so well chomped away at my psyche that a doom took autonomous root. I didn’t even notice the dreams set sail, until three days after Mom clonked the infamous, recurring plate down in front of me.
I still liked venison. It was a real miracle. The thin, muted meat supported a dollop of clearly cornstarched, sienna gravy. A few peas rolled around on the far-side of the meat, which was all fine by me. The only thing that did bother me was the same thing that bothered me at every meal. Those damned plates—just short of beige with the rings of fruit-laden garlands looped around the edges—were such a distraction. They made even the most colorful food look like week-old leftovers, not to mention the irreducibly spookish tinging noise they made when a fork touched down.
Across from me, Dad drew out his seat down. Mom had been calling venison “O’bone steak” for a number of years. When the boys were young they didn’t like the thought of eating a deer, so “O’bone steak” became the code-word for venison. To the three of us though, it was just slang. Mom knew that I liked deer, and I knew we had to eat it over the winter—no mystery to veil.
After we prayed, I poked at that thin, flaky little piece of meat and lifted it to my mouth. Eating venison on Good Friday felt sacrilegious. I knew the Baptists didn’t really care what you ate. I guess it was just all those years of Catholicism behind me that had me anxious about it. The great burden of fasting still lingered on my eleven-year-old frame. You see, Mom and Dad used to pick up a blueberry muffin for me every Sunday between CCD and Mass, until, of course, my first holy communion. Then I had to fast, to mourn the significant loss of berry-stippled dough.
I forked a second square of steak and plunked it into my mouth. The miraculous part: that deer and I had some history. Looking back on it, I could very well have been disgusted by venison for the rest of my life given our situation. Lo and behold, we met once a week, at least, and I never uttered a word of disdain.
The previous December Dad lobbed a snowball into the ominous, crow-housing pine tree which recreated a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. I tumbled backward into the snow. It towered over my head. I struggled up to my feet and ran for cover. Bounding through the dense snow, I hiked my knees up to my chest. The little, garden playhouse entered my vision—a close refuge where I could escape my snowball-pelting father. I swung my arms wildly as I reached for the little metal handle. I heaved the door. The frozen eyes of a skinned deer stared me in the face. Stunned and screaming, I, again, fell backward into the snow. The door slammed shut. I sprung up. Dad chased me into the trees.
More snow fell overnight. I headed back out in the morning since it was good ol’ packing snow. I set out to reestablish what was left of my fort, but on the way, I stopped at the playhouse. I hiked over, wishing I had a pair of snowshoes like Jeremiah Johnson. The door creaked as I slowly pulled at the little handle. The deer hung there. It didn’t look as horrifying as I remembered. My eyes descended to the OSB floor. A little snow-drift ramped up the back wall. The brown slush bore dark red droplets, all frozen in place. I noticed that the deer had been ripped open down his stomach and his antlers had been cut off, but even so, he appeared to have peaceful countenance.
Shortly thereafter, my brother’s deer was evicted and sent to a kind of purgatorial resting place, the basement freezer, until chunks of him were brought up once a week.
Little did anyone know, I remained haunted by the vision of his frozen innards. However, these visions didn’t bother my eating habits, except for that Good Friday, though it had nothing to do with the fact that I had visions of the deer in his most vulnerable state.
We ate early because the Good Friday service started at six. Mom cleared the table and insinuated, as only moms can do, the necessity for my father and I to go change our clothes without actually having to say, “Hurry up and get your sorry butts in the car!” She already had on her make-up and had her hair curled out into an equilateral triangle. I changed into my black dress pants and a suit jacket. For the Good Friday service, it was a tacit rule that one must wear black or a muted color of some sort, more or less ranging on the cool side of the wheel.
Mom was sitting in the front seat of the car when I entered the garage. When I opened the back door a blast of icy wind slapped me in the face. Mom had the tendency to get to the car five minutes before me and ten minutes before Dad. When it was cold out, she’d blast the air, hoping that the car would be warm for us when we got there. Regardless of my mother’s good intentions, the blasting air was always, always still cold when I got in.
We ascended the final hill swiveled into the parking lot. The church had an aura of death about it. The low-hanging steel-city clouds nearly brushed the tip of the steeple. The clouds’ misty tentacles reached toward the roof, but could only stroke the treetops.
Everyone carried umbrellas at their sides, anticipating rain upon exiting the service. Dad stopped in the restroom and mom and I ascended to the balcony. The lighting was dramatically dim, as the Baptists preferred. We took our seats. The can-lights emitted a soft glow. Their gold interior reflected down warm light. Some of the bulbs seemed a stronger wattage than the others, but when squinting they joined together in an amber chorus.
The worship pastor walked onto the stage. A spotlight flashed on his face. His deer-in-the-headlights reaction quickly returned to somber—downturned lips and incandescent eyes. He welcomed everyone and began leading an acapella hymn. “When I survey, the won-drous cross, on which the prince of glo-ory died. . .”
The sanctuary filled with funereal voices, one of them was mine. The singing evoked in me a kind of darkness. The trial of our Lord ought not to be startling, after my eleven-odd years of reflecting on it, but it still was. Every year Good Friday felt out of place. I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get to Easter already—not to mention the glorious chocolate bunnies and eggs and crosses that awaited me. After eleven years, my heartfelt constricted, as if my lungs sank in and squeezed it.
Dad joined us. He set his Bible on the pew and began singing. He had a way of moving his hands about when he sang. They moved differently than his routine sign-language dialect.
A sadness washed over me, a heavy, weighty, inescapable sinking of mind, weakening of body and yearning of heart. The pastor extended his arms, letting us know we could be seated.
The lights darkened black for a few seconds. Twelve figures scurried around the stage. Then, a woman’s scream rang-out. The lights rose, brighter on stage than on the congregation. All very close together, three Roman soldiers stood on one-side and a group of rag-tag Jewish men and women stood on the other. Peter had just cut the ear off one of the soldier’s ears and Jesus was about to restore it.
That’s when my hands began to rise in temperature. They felt painfully hot—hotter than hell-fire-and-damnation. I looked down at them and slowly turned up my palms. There in the middle of each hand was a little pink line. The lines extended barely a centimeter long, but were symmetrically placed on both my right hand and my left hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mom’s face fixed on the stage. I discretely looked back down at my palms. The line looked like a two-week-old scar.
At home, I had a little Bible with pictures inside. An image of Christ colored the whole right page next to the ascension story. He stood upon cumulus clouds. His long, white tunic blended into the haze at his feet. A purple sash draped around his shoulder and trickled down his side. Christ’s arms were extended forward showing his palms. The scars from the nails gleamed a vibrant red.
With odd resolution, I concluded, perhaps, I would be crucified. One time, Dad had a vision where he hung on the cross. He said, that he turned his head to the side and looked over his shoulder. He found Jesus hanging on the opposite side.
I rested my hands back on my lap and looked at the stage. Simultaneously, I felt both pride and dread. I had heard of those scars before, but they settled somewhat obstructed in my mental dossier. The scars must have been downloaded from somewhere, from some conversation, from some CCD lesson, or some evening story-telling. A few of the saints got the scars. They meant that those individuals had a special likeness to Christ. Those chosen ones were granted special access to him. I felt a little smirk creep onto my face. Beneath the smirk, I sensed a whisper of fear.
The can lights gleamed a starry night. My senses swelled and swelled, the way they do when you know something is about to end. It’s like your senses get extremely spongy so that they can soak it all in.
Everything looked so clear. The cool air rushed through my sinuses. The rough and worn-down cushion allowed my butt and legs to rest on the hardwood pew beneath. With all this wonder, still, dread-drenched my tongue. The dread settled so thick that I couldn’t swallow it down.
On stage, Jesus hung on the cross, unclothed, for the most part. Looking at the audience, he said, “It is finished.” His head clunked to the side. His eyes still peering forward shimmered a vacant stare.
The service lasted only forty-five minutes. The lobby, usually full of laughter and jabbering and hugs and little kids scurrying through the cracks, lay silent save a hiss of whispers. Outside gray clouds radiated a cool brightness. It was so dark in the sanctuary that even the cloud-covered sky blinded me. Mom popped open the umbrella for our trek to the car. An old woman’s perfume clung to the hair follicles in my nose almost the entire way.
We rode home. I examined the scars. My hands no longer burned.
The scars remained through Saturday, yet my hands felt normal. The pink fleshy scars felt no more tender than the rest of my palm as if they were some trick being played on my mind. Throughout the day I glanced down at them. They didn’t inhibit any of my playings, or drawing, or helping Mom pre-cook stuff for the family get-together on Sunday. They just stayed silent and secret, there with me.
On Sunday, I found my Easter basket. It hid behind the old, maroon, rocking-recliner—an easy spot. Mom and Dad ran out of good spots, and I suppose they figured I didn’t care as much since I was getting too old for the whole shebang. Who’s to blame them? Kids try to give off that vibe when they are attempting to seem more mature. I wasn’t exempt from that.
We went to the church. The clouds had lifted since Friday, but the sun remained covered. Even so, the bright colored dresses of little girls and the smiles and kisses from the old-people illuminated the lobby. Streamers and multi-colored lights flashed in the sanctuary. That’s one of the first things I learned about the Baptists. They are stigmatized as “those roisterers so terribly fond of celebration.” Every holiday they sought to be more extravagant than the last—oddly enough it really did seem appropriate.
The whole morning was so exhilarating that I never even noticed the restored quality of my palms until I plucked the bread from that excessive, gold plate.