I sat outside the confessional and timed how long the girls spent in the box. The longer in, the more sins they committed. These were the girls I wanted to date. — Mark

Even though the Porro six-pack barely registered on Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s radar compared to the Cagney’s twelve, the Corcoran’s thirteen, or the Cermac’s fourteen, the Catholic Church loomed large on ours. 

I went to parochial school as did my older brothers and sisters. I attended Mass Sundays and Holy Days and dropped coins in the collection basket, though I made sure to avoid the excruciating ten o’clock High Mass when priests mishit notes that not only put the fear of God in me but in every stained-glass window. I ate fish on Fridays, said grace before all meals, and, like Dad, prayed on my knees at night. And every year I suffered through Lent by giving up candy for those forty endless days. However, on Sundays we could, by Catholic Law, indulge. At the stroke of midnight, my brothers and I sprang from our beds and gorged on our sweet hidden treasure until collapsing in diabetic comas. 

To enter the Gates of Heaven, you just obeyed the Ten Commandments. If not, you went to church, confessed your sins, said some prayers, and all was forgiven. Not much of a deterrent, but something I relied on more times than I’d ever admit to in a court of law. Your First Confession was a big deal. You needed to do it before you received your First Holy Communion—an even bigger deal. But my big deal morning began in confusion. I finished the first grade and believed I was in the second. Over breakfast, my sister, Laurel, insisted I wasn’t ‘officially’ a second grader until school started in September. So, when I pulled back that velvet curtain, slipped inside the pitch-black box, and knelt on that uncomfortable step—I guess to remind me of my unworthiness—I hoped the kind, understanding priest would help settle the debate. As I listened to muffled voices behind the latticed window, my heart raced. I shifted back and forth on aching knees, waiting, and waiting. When the muttering stopped, a sudden and intense urge to pee made me want to escape. But as the window slid open, I froze. An imposing shadow spoke in a calm tone. “You may begin.”

Thawing quickly, I stammered through my not-so-well-rehearsed lines. “Um, bless me, um, Father.” The shadow said, “Go on.” Silence. The shadow prompted. “For I have sinned…” “You too?” I didn’t say that, but wished I had. Instead, my tongue remained tied. Then the shadow’s calm voice turned sharp. “How old are you?” Perking up. “Okay, so I think I’m in the second grade, but my sister says I’m not.” “Come back when you’re old enough.” I’m thinking, “I’m six, give me a break,” but before finishing that thought the window slammed shut. And with it, my hopes of being absolved from my sins, my trust in priests, and my faith in the whole idea of confession. And besides, my knees hurt, and I had to pee.

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