At fourteen, she had earned enough money to buy her own car. During her senior year of high school she was a waitress at a truck stop and worked the nightshift. It was Kansas in 1982, and the only blemish on her record was losing the keys to the family home. It happened at a party. There was a pile of winter coats on a bed, and a cup of beer. Then there was the shame of having to wait on the front porch in the freezing cold until her mother came home.
We were sitting in a sports bar drinking Dogfish 60 when my friend gave me this account, but even she admitted that it didn’t explain her current issue with guilt. She felt it all the time, anytime she drew the slightest boundary. I tried to be of help.
“Well, is there something that you’ve done,” I asked. “Ya know, that makes you feel really guilty. I mean really.”
She told me there wasn’t, and yet I had witnessed her inability to disappoint firsthand. She couldn’t do it. Self-preservation was not in her wheelhouse.
Then without thinking I said, “Are you Catholic?”
I was unprepared for what followed.
“We were Episcopalian, and then my parents went crazy and we were Lutheran for a while. I did go to church with my Catholic friend once. I was fourteen,” she explained.
I was two thirds through a pint of beer and deciding whether to have a second.
“I went up for communion with my best friend,” she added, “but the priest told me I couldn’t have the body of Christ. I wasn’t Catholic. I said,’Oh, yes I can’ and snatched the wafer out of his hand!”
“The body of Christ,” I asked.
“You snatched the body of Christ out of the priest’s hand.” I asked again to clarify.
“Yep,” she said. She was walking to the bar for another beer. “And I ate it.”
I had my own Catholic friend as a kid and recalled sitting in the pew as her whole family got communion wafers without me. For that matter, I hadn’t been a Girl Scout. My mother didn’t schlep dozens of boxes of Thin Mints around in her station wagon. For a few seconds I contemplated the spectrum between the Thin Mint and the body of Christ.
“Yeah, I’m not sure where that guilt comes from,” I told her. “Maybe it’s not your guilt at all.”