First Rites

Besides Sundays there were Wednesday evenings and the occasional Tuesday. They called Tuesdays “visitation” and we would meet in the parking lot and load into a van. There were little cards with peoples’ names and addresses on them and we’d drive around until contact was made. I always managed to hide a few cards and claimed carsickness but it was too humid to stay in the van. Oftentimes I’d recognize someone from school and felt like apologizing but couldn’t. On Wednesdays, it was a bit easier because we arrived early so my mom could volunteer. I skated the parking curbs on the side of the building and could hear the choir practice. Other times I’d wait on the stairs at the cosmetology school next door. There was this kid who dropped out of eighth grade, and I was his lookout while he smoked. He preferred to be called Fluid and got kicked out of youth group more than once. The youth minister was large and pale and wore tight shirts that made sweat stains around his belly. One day we went on a retreat that turned out to be a rented trailer in the country. In the afternoon we watched films inside and at night played games in the dark. I wound up sleeping under a table listening to Sanitarium from Master of Puppets on repeat. The following morning my headphones were taken away so I could be open to the message. Other retreats included all night bowling and Friday night lock-up. Arrival was at ten and they would keep us awake with caffeine, sweets, and more games. I frequently got nervous being separated into groups and remember once winning a race in the foyer wearing high-heels. Later I escaped to the pews of the sanctuary. It was pitch black and I found myself standing in a drained baptismal with white robes hanging over the windows. It was strange to see where all those people went after the altar calls. Those were on Sunday mornings and the services were very long and formal. It was important to sit behind the older ladies so you could sleep behind their hair. After the closing song I’d wait in the car seemingly for hours, listening to mix tapes, mostly Suicidal Tendencies or Maiden. Then we’d drive to a Chinese restaurant or go to this pizza place that had a buffet. I’d watch the others play video games but most of the time I’d just go outside. The clouds were always cumulus and some afternoons you could hear the wind and think about what it’d be like to be somewhere else. It really didn’t matter though, maybe I could get dropped off at a friend’s, watch Kung-Fu Theater, or skate the mini-ramp in the backyard. He had twin sisters and we could do whatever we wanted.

Micah Ballard, "First Rites" from Waifs and Strays, City Lights Spotlight No. 6. Copyright © 2011 by Micah Ballard.  Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books.
Source: Waifs and Strays (City Lights Books, 2011)
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