“If you see a big red cross in the sky in God’s blood, come right home,” my mother once said to me. She had been reading about the Virgin Mary appearing to people in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“How will I know it’s God’s blood, Mom?” I asked, sixteen years old and snarky as hell. Being snarky helps keep at bay one’s absolute terror. “Should I reach out and taste it?” My mother rolled her eyes at me and wrung her hands, as she often did to quell the bowling ball of anxiety she carried in her stomach.
"Mary of the Immaculate Vagina," as I liked to think of her as a teen, had all kinds of advice for how to make the world a better place and how to be a better Christian. Many people were inspired by her messages, but my mother moved quickly into panic mode. She gathered the supplies that one of her apocalypse-for-dummies books suggested: 3 white candles blessed by a priest, plenty of holy water, paranoia.
What if she was right? What if we would be “taken bodily to heaven as martyrs” if we were good or “destroyed by demons” if we were bad? And the kicker was that after I got home, post divine hemorrhage, I was warned not to let family members into the house because they could actually be demons in loved ones’ clothing.
My view regarding keeping loved ones locked outside was that wasn’t it better, “more Christian,” as I’d gotten used to saying, for argument’s sake, to let them in? How brave would it be to allow these possible demons inside, in the name of loving one’s family? But I guess my mother did not see it that way.
The thought had not even crossed my mind that perhaps I would not be allowed into the house, for fear of my being a demon dressed as a teenager. (Insert puberty joke here). But I suppose it stands to reason that my mother would not have let me into the house. No wonder I spent many a teen year scared, with sleep paralysis, and convinced that the Virgin Mary might just appear and I would be a very bad girl because it would scare the holy shit out of me.
My sister pointed out that my mother got her three days of darkness after all, right before she died. She luckily, if you can call it that, only had to spend three days in the hospital at the end. I don’t know that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy but I can understand how we might want to believe that we have that kind of control over our destiny.
I am thirty-nine now and I still miss her. We lost her in November of 1999 to ovarian cancer. She was beautiful like Grace Kelly and tender. I felt when she died that all of the tenderness, in fact, had drained from our family. The very flesh that my sisters and brothers and I came from was gone and it was also the flesh and spirit that buffered so much hardness in our family. The gentle smile - gone. If, however, to come to us in our dreams, and still comes to me sometimes. She's healthy in those dreams.
Older and arguably wiser (or at least with distance for processing) I return every November to taste the grief and see what is there to learn. The big red cross in the sky is her anxiety, the fist under the table when she wanted to speak but couldn't because the voices of others were always louder, the fear that overtook her for no reason. That is the big red cross in the sky and whenever I start to see it because I'm not breathing enough or I'm worried about other people or I'm simply bumping up against the shitty parts that this world imposes on us I will, in fact, Mom, come right home. I'll come right home to love. I promise.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
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