The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view


"Haunting memory," by Michele Walters

"Haunting memory," by Michele Walters

All of us have The Anniversary.

It was the day we lost it, the day we were caught, the day all that had been hidden became known, the day all hell broke loose. Truly a pivotal day, a day from which all subsequent days have taken at least part of their meaning, because life changed so dramatically that day. It’s a day that ranks up there just below wedding day and death days of family and friends. Truly, although it sounds a little weird to say so. It’s a day we wish had never happened — but then, where would the rest of life as I have known it been. The second chance. The loving transformation. Hope.

What would life be without ironic twists?

June is always a weird month for me because of that particular anniversary. It also happens to be the commemoration of St. Alban — and the anniversary of my ordination to the deaconate, at least I think so. The tapes that play are not those of my ordination but of those horrifying moments of being caught with a woman not my wife, not in flagrante delicto but sure enough kissing passionately. His face, her husband. Her face. Then what? It’s all a blur, really, a crystalline impression of life moving way too fast for this small mind. Something was definitely over and something else beginning. I would never again be friends with her husband. (We had been.) And, as it turned out, she would cease to be much of a friend within a year. I wonder how often that’s the case.

Then began the slo-mo, the leaden trudge through that horrible conversation with the bishop, wherein he wondered out loud whether my wife was frigid. I wanted to paste him on the spot. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t. I walked out of that meeting inhibited and enroute to filing for divorce. Moved out. Moved home. Priest on the lam. Still gives me the creeps to think about it.

Out of work. Hmmm. Now, there’s a concept. What’s an inhibited priest good for? Not much. Substitute teaching. Leasing cars. Posting clerk for my father, an accountant. Went to school to learn that craft and take the test, but kept wondering whether I might move away to be nearer She With Whom I Wrecked My Life. No dice and just as well. It fizzled, both of us left holding the empty bags of our broken marriages, she with two sons and I with three sons and two daughters in absentia. I’d visit five hours away on some weekends, then kiss good-bye. “Mom, why is daddy crying?” That went on for months.

Go to church? Sure, why not? Well, for one thing, it feels strange. All I do is sit in the corner, near the back and choke back tears. People wonder. You don’t know what to say or whether to say you’re a “former priest.” “Former?” they ask. “The usual reason,” you say, smiling, trying to keep it light. They walk away. You feel undressed. Ashamed. Humiliated. You deserve it. Not your wife, though. Not your kids, one of whom has told her second-grade classmates that you’ve died.

Psychotherapy? Sure, except I’m unemployed and uninsured. You don’t get much of that for free. Spiritual direction? Yes, thank God. Probably kept me from pulling the trigger in an Act of Ultimate Selfishness. Still, suicide does take some kind of guts, but I certainly had none. One of the counselors I did meet with a couple of times on someone else’s nickel (my bishop’s) ventured to say that our marriage seemed to have died for lack of courage, mine and hers. Mine for sure. My wife, though, turned out to have quite a lot in rearing five children alone. If there are any heroes in all of this, it’s them.

You don’t “get over it.” You haven’t walked away unscathed. You never forget The Anniversary, and probably just as well. It helps you keep your bearings in an odd though relentless way. “God give me the serenity to remember who I am,” or so the song says. These aren’t serene memories, but thank God they are distant. They are not “just memories,” though. They are the way things were brought forward day by day, month by month, year by year, because nothing of the way things are is untouched by them. Best to make them allies, if not friends, for the keeping of perspective and for the keeping of new but similar promises that you were not able or willing to keep back then.

Been to hell, thank you. Don’t want to go back.

Posted by Prodigal + to The prodigal priest at 6/23/2005 11:12:00 PM


3 Responses to “Anniversary”

  1. […] I felt a little softer than usual this morning, less hardhearted, some would say. So, I took up the Daily Office, thinking about my late sister, Sue Utley, the anniversary of whose death was yesterday; then, somehow, came thoughts of another looming date, June 22, 1982: The Anniversary. […]

  2. […] and so many of my loved ones and friends, the details of which are too numerous to mention here. (Click here for some sense of it.) Suffice to say that my moral core was rotten. In many ways, to this day, I […]

  3. So, you’re only human after all. Nice you decided to join us. This does not display weakness, but, perhaps an untapped strength. L’Hayyim !

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