Until now things have been told chronologically. If I were to keep going in the way that I have been, I would say that I am now a senior in college (flash to images of too-tight pink pants, more inadvisable hair, a room of my own, walking drunkenly in a very short skirt down the side of the road ignoring a gorgeous -- gahORGEOUS -- kid named Beau driving his black suburban slowly beside me telling me to knock it off and get in the car).
But today I’d like to go back -- further back, I mean. Let's lose the very short skirt and brief drunken burst of confidence. Let's go back to before I occupied my romantic life pursuing pretty faces void of relatable content. Let's go back to before I was afraid of men. Let's go back to when I thought they were all as kind as my father. Let's go back to when I loved intelligence, when I’d experience palpitations over a well-executed sentence. Let's go back to when I didn’t stop and think whether I deserved a man or not but rather sat in awe of the good ones sipping up their earnestness and their humor and their kindness and their minds like they were some sort of chocolate trifle that I had to choice but to savor, separate from myself.
I adored three priests, four if you count my father. Technically speaking, two priests and a monk. But that reads too much like the start of a really bad joke, the kind I like to tell if only to see the genuine looks of bemused annoyance the dart across the faces of my favorite people. There is nothing so revealing as the face of a person hearing a truly bad joke. It’s great.
I toss my dad into the list because I love my dad, and because if I’m going to write a whole mess of words about these three guys I dug who happened to be priests I can’t be so obtuse as not to mention that this is also my father’s actual vocation. A cigar is a cigar, and sometimes what you know and love and what has never failed you brings you comfort and safety and makes you feel more sure of yourself and your goodness than anything else ever could.
The priests: There was Drew, a student in one of my dad’s college classes, Ryan, an 8th grade classmate who loved the civil war, and Andrew, a dear friend from college whose parting note as he left secular life for monastic sits framed above my desk.
I adored all three, but not like any of the others. There was no pain or ache or longing. There was fascination, appreciation, and genuine care. There was understanding. For as long as I have secretly believed myself to be bad, hateful, evil, and unworthy of love, there were times when I knew this couldn’t be true. These men made me feel that way then. Now, as I chip and dust away at the fossilized gollum I present to the world in search for my authentic self, I try to do with the care I remember from them now issuing from my own careful hand: I am good. I am good. I am good.
Drew was the tallest man I’d ever seen in my life. My sister is married to the third tallest, whose brother is the second, but Drew’s height remains unchallenged. He had an excellent head of dark brown hair that smelled like Pert Plus. I know this because my father had him over for dinner with the family and he dropped his fork, bending over, head in my face me taking a tremulous spasmodic breath in, to pick it up. He was only considering the priesthood then, though from the amount of time he spent talking to my dad I should have sussed that it was a done deal. He acted in a play and my father took me to see it.
He had a tremendous voice, but it was his thick, rich laugh that pinned me in place. He was thoughtful and kind and exceptionally funny. He towered like something that towers (a tree, a crane on the dock that whisks the cargo crates effortlessly into neat multi-colored stacks) and he listened so sincerely when I quietly talked about the miniseries I was watching at the time.
“It’s called the 10th Kingdom? And and - this girl from New York stumbles into this um, fairy tale realm? I’m making it sound really dumb,” I trailed off, desperate to leave the dinner table and watch the show, desperate to stay and try to talk to this very nice man.
“It doesn’t sound dumb at all!” he said, and I felt like I’d done something exceptional. Drew was an actual giant. I saw him a few years later with my father once he’d taken his vows and, shaking his hand, I was once again struck by his innate goodness and also the exceptionally silly clerical hat he was wearing. Seriously, it was dumb as balls.
Ryan was a persnickety kid who I never knew well other to realize that he was exceptionally smart. In high school, my friend Katherine pined for him and he blustered away her intense affections like an 80 year old man would the antics of a sugar-high toddler. I found his curmudgeonly manners at age 13 reassuring, and his passion for the Civil War funny, and the well-groomed way in which he kept his hair soothing. He was the sort of guy I imagined my parents thinking I’d date, and while I knew better, it was fun to imagine a life where I picked the thing that would do me no harm.
My father mentioned that Ryan was joining the priesthood years later and I wasn’t surprised. “Another one bites the dust,” I probably said wryly because that is the sort of thing I was expected to say. But I was happy for him.
Andrew isn’t anymore since he took orders after we all graduated college. He and I were in plays together and a few classes. He wore tweed often and was in the fraternity where I spent the most time. He dated one of my dearest friends, and sitting in the backseat with them in the front as we drove around the rural community where we lived I felt very safe and understood and loved.
You must understand: This was not the sort of crush where there was pain or longing. It’s important that you know that. This was something else. Andrew was fiercely intelligent but never condescending. Ever. I’ve known so many smart people who are. He was funny and bright and strange. Once, drunk and deep in conversation out of nowhere he said to me, “YOUR EYES ARE ENORMOUS” and it reduced us both to a puddle of giggles. Seeing the reflection of the backyard bonfire glint off his glasses while the Rolling Stones blared from inside the house it sometimes felt like I’d traveled back in time and was watching my father on the cusp of his 20s.
There are good men like these men. They are people I have, in my own benign way, romanticized. Unlike my father, they are not men who I shoved from the pedestal upon which I placed them, because, I guess, I need a reminder that goodness exists. I am reminded everyday of darkness and complexity in myself and in others. The card Andrew gave me after a dinner in Dallas once we’d all graduated and a few days before he went to the monastery and I moved to New York reads: “‘While writing, keep your eyes on what’s important,’ and do not forget that wherever you are, each of us makes of his heart a home for you, with its peculiar decorations and activities. Only knock and the door shall be opened...!” So this is what I try to do.