Here's a follow up to the last post from about a year ago.
My Natty Moods
I’ve worn my hair in pigtails the last few days. A sort of tangible reminder that Natty is still around. I get in these moods. My Natty moods. When I feel small but rambunctious.
Actually, she used to be Allie. The character I created and wrote about all the way up through high school. But Allie is her own person now. A real fictional person who I do not wish to encumber with my emotional baggage. So in the story I wrote a few years ago about my relationship with her, I changed her name to Natty. I always liked that name better anyway.
As I woke up this morning, she grabbed hold of me. I have often tried to ignore her but I knew my therapist would tell me to listen to her. Would ask what she’s like. However, since my therapist is not around anymore, I asked the question myself. And listened. And as Natty talked, I realized she sounded just like the memoir piece I started writing a couple of years ago in the voice of my ten-year-old self.
It made me cry. I never meant for her to get locked away and ignored. First physically when I broke my ankle and it didn’t heal properly, leaving me unable to play kickball or ride my bike anymore. Then emotionally when I started raising my baby sister, and then my baby brother. And especially after my stepfather tried to crush her. She wasn’t safe in my world anymore.
I’m not sure what made her come out so forcefully this week. Perhaps it’s because I was such a good grown up the week before when I finished my review of post-Zionism, and filled out all those forms for school and Social Security, and agonized over my application essay for the editorial fellowship. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt stronger and healthier this week than I have in a good year or so, suggesting to her that just possibly the body she used to inhabit will let her in again.
During these Natty moods, I have this intense craving for structure and discipline. For a good, long, hard spanking. Not that I’ve necessarily done anything bad, though I find myself feeling much more guilty about petty failures than I normally would. But somehow the spanking would be a palpable reminder that in many ways I am a little girl. I have permission to be Natty once again.
That permission came in the oddest sort of way this week. I finally made it to confession. The Roman parish I’ve been attending because I can’t drive out to my Byzantine parish only has confession once a month or by appointment. And I’ve been hesitant to go because I’ve never been to confession with a Roman priest. But I found out that Father P does the Spanish Mass out here once a month, and as he’s bi-ritual, as well as the one who heard my first confession three years ago when I converted, it made sense to go to him. As I began my confession with him on Saturday, I realized I’d forgotten how human he was. He talked to me about his own health problems. Almost seemed to justify whatever sin I confessed. Then I confessed the one I was the most nervous about.
“I’ve had impure thoughts. Read impure things. And…and…something I’ve never done in my life before…I’ve masturbated.”
He nodded and sighed and looked sort of flustered. “Well…okay…see…alright…” He started in his rapid voice. “I understand why the Church was so big on procreation in the Middle Ages when people only lived until 30 or something. And of course, the more grievous sin is if it’s with someone else. But there’s a lot of disagreement about whether it’s a sin at all…Some priests will laugh at you if you confess it. Some, of course, get really concerned. I just figure if people want to confess it then I let them – I mean the whole point of the sacrament of reconciliation is so you don’t have to feel guilty anymore…”
“Well, it’s just that…” I stammered with an equally flustered voice. “I’ve never done this before and it just seems like it was wrong or something.”
“If it feels good it must be wrong?” He chuckled. I blushed and giggled a little.
“Well, yeah sorta…And it does feel good. I mean, I feel so healthy afterwards.” Wow. This certainly was not how I expected this conversation to go. He smiled, then sighed.
“It’s…it’s up to you if you want to confess it. Let’s just say…” He paused, still looking for the right words. “It’s just…it’s just…not uncommon.” He nodded and returned to the order of confession. As he gave me my penance he stressed that it was not punishment but for healing, a very Byzantine-Orthodox view with which I was familiar. As an optional penance, he wanted me to look up verses about forgiveness in the Bible. I immediately thought of one from Psalm 103: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are but dust.”
I thought of one of my earliest confessions with Father S, my parish priest. He admonished me “you’re going to make mistakes. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it.” For the last few years it seems like this has been a theme God has been emphasizing to me. That He knows I’m not perfect. Just as parents allow their kids to make mistakes – to be kids – God was allowing me, encouraging me, to be myself, to be free, to be the kid I in many ways still am. As I walked home from church, Natty soared.
But right now the adult Michelle must get ready to go for her interview with the Pacific Historical Review about that editorial fellowship. Prepare to discuss style sheets and research about the appropriation of the construct of the American West in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Yet I know that Natty won’t be too far away. That all of this started when I was a kid and devoured the Little House on the Prairie books and became a walking encyclopedia of Laura Ingalls Wilder and pioneer trivia. Then read the Black Stallion Returns set in Arabia and became enchanted with Arab culture. And when I get home, I’ll change from my sensible skirt and shoes into my flannel jammies. Take down my hair and brush it back into pigtails. And savor that delicious tension between my Natty mood and my grown-up self.