-Published in Swallow the Moon 2015
The wooden pews of St. Valerie were filled. Not a single seat was empty, which was a pleasant sight to see in a small suburban church. Sitting in the front row between proud parents was Zack. He was the same age as me, and we went to the same Elementary School. He rode on my bus, but we never sat near each other. I also went to Catechism with him on Mondays. Most of the time, he dressed like all the other boys. Today, he wasn’t wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. Instead, he was dressed up really fancy, like me.
He was wearing all black. His shoes were polished, and his suit was new: freshly ironed, crisp, and free from any dust. His hair was slicked back with gel and was as dark as his clothes. It reminded me of my half-brother, Eric, because that’s the only thing I really remembered about him, other than the fact that he and Dad both played guitar and liked music a lot.
The only thing that wasn’t black was his tie. It was pure white. It matched my dress, my Mary-Janes, and my veil. I looked like a bride, but I was far too young to be one. Seven year olds didn’t have to think about marriage or husbands.
However, this was a wedding of sorts. After all, I was about to marry myself to the church, to God, to Jesus. He gave his life for me, to save me from the sins I had yet to commit. Now it was my turn to give back.
The mass dragged on, as it always did. My mind wandered to more important things, like my homework, when I was going to see my friends, and what we were going to eat for dinner. I thought about the big party we were having after mass, and I started getting excited for cake and presents. I wondered if Zack was having one too.
My fingers touched the silver and peridot cross hanging at the base of my throat, and I shifted my gaze to watch the others listen to Father Cavalier’s sermon.
I could see Zack sitting quietly. Though he sat straight forward, like me, his eyes were watching the others too. We observed them as Father preached the gospel.
“Now, who here has wished something bad upon another person after they made you late for work, or cut in front of the line?” Father asks. A few people raise their hands. Father raises his too. “I know I have! Especially when the Tigers are winning and the other team hits a home run and gains three points.” This caused the parish to chuckle. “As much as we might want to curse others, that is not the solution. The gospel of Mark clearly says, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’ If someone does you wrong, do not wish harm upon them. It may be hard to do so, but it is the will of God. Hatred breeds hatred."
The parishioners sat wide-eyed and silent, nodding their heads and murmuring hushed agreements. I never understood how they could focus so well on something so boring. Maybe it was a grown-up thing. Maybe after I received my first communion, I would be able to understand them better.
John, the organist, continued to play songs and lead the parish in hymns. Prayers were said for the unfortunate, and money was donated to the church. After we said the “Our Father,” we all collectively fell to our knees and bowed our heads. The cushion on the kneeler was worn and flat, causing my knees to hurt. I fought back the urge to cough as I breathed in the heavy incense that hung in the air. I watched Father bless the bread and wine. We learned in Catechism that this is when Jesus went into the communion. There was a word for it, but I never could remember what it was. I had never seen Jesus come in before. It probably happened while Father prepared the Eucharist, when I was too distracted shaking hands with strangers.
Father then called Zack and me up to the altar. Together, we walked down the aisle and stood in front of the priest. I didn’t know what Zack was feeling, but I was nervous and excited. Was this what a wedding felt like?
“This is the body of Christ,” Father said.
“Amen,” we said together with our palms outstretched. One by one, we ate. The small, circular wafer melted the moment it touched my tongue. It had no flavor.
“This is the blood of Christ,” Father said.
“Amen,” we said together as we reached for the golden cup. One by one, we drank. I grimaced as the wine touched my tongue. It was too bitter and tart.
We turned and walked back to our seats as John began to play “One Bread, One Body.” I could see my family sitting in the pews. My mom, beaming as her one and only made her first communion; my dad sat proud, yet confused (he never went to church); behind them, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins smiled and waved.
Eric was not seated among them.
One by one, they too went up to receive the sacrament. My cousins, who were still too young to get their first communion, and my dad, who wasn’t Catholic and couldn’t receive communion, stayed seated. I sat down beside him.
“I’m sorry your brother couldn’t come. He had a job interview today,” he whispered as I knelt and made the sign of the cross to pray. “It’s important that he went, because he isn’t making enough money with just the band,” he added, as if to excuse him for his absence.
“It’s okay,” I whispered back, like I always do, even when it’s not okay.
“I’m sure he’ll try to make it to the party.”
I closed my eyes and started to pray: Dear God, thank you for my first communion, and thank you for everyone here.
I used to think that he would find me important one day and come to my important stuff.
Please help me do well in school.
Now I knew that he had more important things to worry about, like his job and his band.
Please help me be a good Catholic.
He wouldn’t come to the party.
Please help Eric.
My brother is the body and blood of Christ.