Excerpt From Chapter 3 of Celibate: A Memoir "Telling Father"
After (Father) James and I dropped my friend Silvia off at home, I asked him if he wanted to see the house I grew up in. It was a corner house we moved to in Dyker Heights when I was a year old, the one that made a few boys in my third grade class sing “Rich Girl” at my back, which confused me because rich, to me, meant ease, and there was always something broken in our house that my mother was left with to fix. She sold it when I was seventeen, and the new owners tore it down and started all over again. It hardly looked like the house we’d lived in, but every time I was in the neighborhood, I drove by as if I was searching for something and the answer might be there. As soon as I told James to pull over, his eyes widened. “Wow. Your father must have done really well. Were all these people around you rich?” “No. Yes. I guess.” “Look at this block.” I gazed out the window to the spot where we’d had a giant fountain with a goddess at the top who was supposed to spout water but never worked, so I used it as base for hide and seek. It looked like the fountains on the Sergio Bruni and Mario Lanza album jackets that my mother had stacked in the breakfront, music I never saw her and my father dance to, not even once. That’s when it hit me. Infanzi. The people who bought the house from my mother had the same last name as James. I touched the glass and turned to him with my hand still on it, “Their name is spelled exactly the same as yours. And it’s not a common last name.” “Really?” he said, but he seemed more impressed with the house, ducking his head to stare out the window again. I was stunned at the coincidence, certain that it was more proof that he was my destiny. There were all the other parallels too. His phone number, except for one digit, was the same number my family had when we lived in this house. He and I often wound up in the same place at the same time without knowing, like the night we were inches away in a crowd at the mall listening to the St. Stephen’s children’s choir sing Christmas carols. There were also our results from the Myers Briggs personality inventory, which we talked about on the phone the night before. While he put me on hold to find his scores, I moved to my bed to get cucched, a half Italian, half English word my mother made up that means tucked in and cozy. When he came back, he told me he was an ISFP. I was an ISFJ (the first profession on the list of recommended matches was Roman Catholic nun). We were both introverts who preferred to focus on information rather than interpretation and to consider people and circumstances over logic, but I liked to have things planned and settled, and he liked to keep his options open. All I could focus on were the first three letters. During this same conversation, I finally asked him when he felt called to the priesthood. He said he was twenty-two and in medical school feeling lost, thinking why I am doing this? He passed a church everyday and thought maybe that’s what he was supposed to do. The school gave him a leave of absence for a year. He never went back. “I see,” I said and then I went back to our scores, “The similarity, it’s strange.” “I know.” After a few more minutes in front of the house, we drove to Shore Road, parking so close to the Verrazano Bridge that the cables looked like a giant, glorious necklace over the Narrows. He asked if he could play me his favorite George Michael song, which I guessed was “Kissing a Fool.” He asked flabbergasted, “How’d you know?” I said, “It just has that sound.” When he opened the glove compartment to get the CD, I saw his dashboard sign that read CLERGY in large, black letters. I looked away, said nothing, but then as the long, sensual notes filled the car, the sign felt as if it had grown eyes and was staring me down through the closed compartment. I started to talk about the bridge to get James’ attention off me, but it was too late. He curled one of his legs on the seat, and said, “As of tonight, Brooklyn is officially my borough. I grew up here.” I looked at him crookedly and, said, “Nooo, this is my borough. You grew up in Queens. Claim an identity and stick with it,” driving my hand playfully but pointedly into his chest, dimly aware of what I was implying. Then he looked in my eyes and said, “When I was in the seminary, I used to say to myself, ‘Somewhere out there, there’s a girl’…You’re her.” George Michael was up to the part about kisses and lies, but I only heard kisses. I turned sideways and leaned into his shoulder so that I was facing the bridge, trying to ignore the clergy sign and the sinking feeling in my gut. I was in a parked car with a priest late at night, withholding the truth about my calling, pretending I trusted him. I knew this was terribly wrong, but there was the way he made me feel, my sense that fate had brought us together. I couldn’t fathom how celibacy would ever bring me the peace that it brought the Sisters. How could God who has no body, who is all Spirit, and no longer walks the earth in the person of Jesus fill my deepest desires? I wanted to bury myself in James, believe he was everything I’d ever wanted and needed. I wanted him to rescue me from my loneliness and calling, even though I knew he couldn’t. We spent the next half hour alternating between talking and being quiet, though I don’t remember what we spoke about. It was all surreal, the music faint in the speakers and the tree branches, like my intentions, wobbly in the wind until he said, “Maria?” We moved our faces toward each other, and then, opening his mouth wide like a novice, he kissed me.