Imagine you’re my mother. Imagine you’re the virgin Mary. The virgin Mary has been reincarnated into this tall, thin body, this black hair and green eyes. She’s been reincarnated into a woman who chain smokes capris and drinks mountain dew out of plastic gas station cups. My mother as the virgin Mary.
It’s no treat, being the virgin Mary. You have to give up your family, your life, your home. God is constantly relaying messages and instructions to you in his deep, authoritarian voice, and you can’t write them down fast enough. You scrawl them as quickly as you can, in your perfectly slanted penmanship, on the backs of old Christmas cards and the margins of newspapers, but you just can’t seem to get ahead.
You’re not a very confidant Mary. Some of God’s messages are confusing and you can’t ever figure out how to carry out his instructions. And not only that but the Devil is always shouting at you too, trying to get you to do the wrong thing. It takes all of your strength to stay on the side of God. It takes all of your focus. There isn’t any time to eat, and you can’t risk falling asleep. It’s best not to answer the phone, because other people, unbeknownst to them, are under the Devil’s control, and they might try and wear you down. And it’s easiest not to ever leave the house, unless you run out of cigarettes.
Somewhere in the fog beyond God’s deep voice and the shrill, needling voice of the Devil, there are two children. They are bad children, demanding and distracting, screaming and crying and running away. They keep asking for things that have no relevance, clean socks and money for the bus and something to eat. They’re moving quickly to the side of the Devil, although if you focus hard enough, you might be able to bring them back to the side of good. But you’re not sure how much longer you can hold out, saying the rosary on the floor, crouched in front of the glowing radio. It’s a nice rosary, with glass beads the color of pomegranate seeds. Your fingertips are smooth and you move them over the beads, saying the Hail Mary again.
But you’re out of cigarettes, and cigarettes are a problem. The state pays your rent and gives you paper books of food stamps, but you can’t buy cigarettes with food stamps. So you put the children in the small blue ford and drive the icy streets to the grocery store, where you give each child a one-dollar foodstamp bill and send them inside to buy a miniature reeses peanut butter cup. Each child comes out with seventy-five cents in change, and after a few rounds of this you’ve got enough for your cigarettes.
Your children, your babies. You used to sleep with one of them, her little fist curled around your hair, until it got to taking too much energy and you had to sleep alone, or not at all. It takes so much out of you, to fight the Devil.
It’s important to listen to music, to help lesson the voices of the demons who are always chattering, always trying to break you down. Tell you that you’re stupid, fat, and lazy. You can listen to the radio, and that’s pretty good. You also have your little walkman with your James Taylor and your Dolly Parton tapes. Those are pretty good too. James Taylor is so good looking, and his voice is so sweet. Of course, you know that you’re pretty good looking too. After the divorce, for a while, you went on dates with men you’d met in the classified section of the newspaper. You put on your ruffled blouse and white shoulders perfume and brushed your long, black hair and said, How Do I Look.
You Look Beautiful, said the children.
The men were nice, bush pilots and outdoorsy types. They took you and the children skiing, to the state fair, and up in single-engine planes. They bought the children little things, small plastic animals and hamburgers. It was fun to date these men, but then the devil would show up and try to influence you, especially if there were any red-headed women in the mens’ past. Red-headed women are always working in cahoots with the devil.
You stopped dating. What’s most important, as the re-incarnation of the virgin Mary, is to transcribe god’s messages onto the backs of greeting cards. It’s best not to leave the house or talk to others or interact with the children. If the teachers at the childrens’ school become concerned, if social services calls, one can just move to children to another school. It’s best not to open up even a crack, because the devil could come in.
Sometimes you go into the catholic church downtown, the big stone church with its beautiful stained glass and it’s empty, echoing halls, and you light a candle for your children, that the Devil does not take them. It would be better that Jesus would take them, tonight while they slept, than the Devil. It would be better that they died while they were babies than the Devil get them now. It smells of incense in the church and you kneel in a pew to pray. You think of the virgin Mary with her pale blue eyes, her bare sandled feet. You think of the complicated draping of her clothing and her plump, open palms. You are the virgin Mary, floating on a cloud of God’s grace, high above the city, where the Devil cannot touch you.
(I am writing about my mother every day for a week. This is the second post.)