by Lorraine Murray | June 4, 2013 12:01 am
My life has always been weird. As a little girl, I suffered through a series of unfortunate, extremely frizzy permanents, overseen by my older cousin Paulie who was going to beauty school. Yes, that’s me in the family photos with the glum expression and the fuzzy head.
To make matters worse, I was overweight. Oh, not as bad as my classmate, poor Patsy Hogg, whose tragic name so accurately described her physique. Still, I was quite chubby and awkward, and had to wear stretchy elastic on my skirts. One of my earliest memories is running eagerly across the yard toward my kindergarten classroom and then hearing some kids shouting at me: “Hey, Fatty!” Unfortunately, that name stuck.
We moved from New York to Miami when I was just seven, and my classmates found my northern twang absolutely hilarious. They would ask me to repeat certain words, especially “coffee” (cawfee) and “toilet” (terlet), so they could double over with laughter.
I was the only child who could not do a forward roll in tumbling class. I did most of my praying as I waited in line for my turn, asking God to intervene with a heart attack or even an atom bomb, anything to spare me. But my turn always came, and the skinny kids collapsed in fits of glee as I floundered gracelessly on the mat.
I’m the one whose bowling ball always hit the gutter. I’m the one who did a series of thunderous belly flops in swimming class. I’m the one who failed her driving test at 16 – because I flattened a stop sign, at which point I turned to the officer and said “I guess the test is over,” and he replied “Damn right it is.”
I keep telling myself that other women have suffered similar misfortunes, but I’m not so sure. How many, for example, started their working days as a teen-ager in the lingerie section of a department store, reporting to a curvy manager named Lolita? Barely old enough to wear grown-up undergarments myself, I sifted nervously through mountains of double Ds for well-upholstered customers while Lolita barked orders. I still dream about it.
Other girls went to college, met the man of their dreams, snagged a degree, and got married. I became a rebel, carrying an Army gas-mask bag instead of a purse and dating tortured would-be poets, who had a penchant for two-timing me. A few years later, while other girls were showing off their first babies, I was delivering a hefty dissertation on feminism to my graduate advisers.
Things aren’t much better today. I’m a married Catholic woman without children. I’m a Southerner without a drawl. And in a neighborhood where dogs reign supreme, I have a pet hamster.
Despite it all, each week I join all the normal folks in my parish at Sunday Mass. Yes, there are Southern ladies whose homes, I’m sure, sparkle with a Martha Stewart glow. There are gentlemen who drive lush, well-appointed cars. And there are thin children who I can tell at a glance would excel at forward rolls in tumbling class.
But I know the truth. I know that hidden beneath the apparently perfect facades, there are broken memories, weeping hearts, and tattered dreams. I know I’m really not as alone as I once imagined, back in the days when a cry of “Fatty” could shatter my heart.
Because, you see, here’s the amazing part: When the crowd inches forward – the young and the beautiful, the tanned and the talented – I detect among them the frightened and the flawed. And when the priest raises the Host and says “The Body of Christ,” the misfits reply with their hopeful “Amen,” just like the normal folks do.
What a miracle that the Lord God Almighty makes himself small enough for us to consume, to love, and to house in our souls. What a miracle that bread becomes flesh, wine becomes blood – and in a moment of great mystery, our hurts dissolve, our broken memories fade – and the misfits find their place, finally, in His heart.
Lorraine writes about her unusual life in “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.” She has also written two comical mysteries, “Death in the Choir” and “Death of a Liturgist.” Her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com.
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