I always had a hard time paying attention in church. When I was young and attended a Baptist church not far from the Marine Corps base where my father was stationed, I would sit next to my mother on one of the unforgiving, straight-backed pews and twirl my fingers. My father wasn’t there because he was deployed overseas to Vietnam. Even when he returned, my only memories are of my mother in church. I know he came, but I don’t remember him being there. It was her presence— quiet, dignified, and calm—that stands out the most.
Anxious for the worship service to be over even before it began, I’d sit there, trying to get comfortable in the pew, noticing how other kids were squirming in much the same way. We didn’t have children’s church in those days. Kids were expected to worship as adults—sitting erect, eyes fixed on the preacher. I never could manage it. Instead of looking toward the front of the church, I’d glance around the room as the preacher bellowed.
There was the old couple next to me who smelled of dust and Chanel No. 5, but they always held hands. I wondered what it must be like to grow old with someone and feel their skin change from warm and supple to the parched stiffness of old age. Did they notice? Did it make them sad and long for days past? Or did they rise above such things, loving each other all the more, not in spite of time’s passing, but because of it? As I stared at their entwined hands, the sagging skin and pronounced veins, I hoped that, one day, a man would love me enough to hold my wrinkled, spotted hand and never let it go.
Just in front of me and to the right was another old woman, but her husband had died years ago of suicide. It was her third husband. She came home to find him dead from a gunshot wound to the head. All three husbands had died, although the first two were from natural causes. People used to laugh about her surviving three husbands, but I didn’t think it was funny at all—just sad and lonely. I’d watch as she would burrow through her purse every Sunday for a peppermint and work really hard not to make any noise unwrapping the crackly cellophane (though she always did). It took forever. I wondered at the time if she was using the peppermint to distract her from not having a hand to hold.
Not Like Those Other Kids
Across the aisle, there was the girl who always wore pink lace and whose golden curly hair fell down her back. I wanted hair like hers. Mine was short and dark, cut unevenly above my ears (compliments of my dad’s barber). I felt unattractive and boyish. What would it have been like to wear pink lace and have long,…