Friday, October 16, 2009

Why I Hate Mustaches, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and PTSD

            I stare at my Reeboks and the grey floor of the rectangular office.  The thin carpeting is immaculate, not a blade of fresh cut September grass, shred of paper, or dust bunny to be found anywhere.  I know, because I’m both janitor and lawn-boy of the red brick Catholic student center.  The extra cash pays rent on my studio apartment ($175/month), and cleaning the church gives me pride; lets me know I have a place at the university, an understanding community of peers and wise spiritual counselors.  The office in which I’m sitting must be spotless at all times, for it’s the campus pastor’s office.  Even the top of the door frame passes the white-glove test.  I know, because Fr. Mustache checks it monthly; therefore, I check it weekly.

            Every item has its place in Father’s office.  Endless volumes line the floor-to-ceiling corner bookshelf.  Next to the shelf is a window, whose vertical blinds are always open to the view of the ΣΑΕ house.  At night, drunken frat brothers can sometimes be seen peeing off the porch in the direction of the church.  On the window sill (and also covering every other empty, flat space in the office), are framed pictures of Fr. Mustache and the couples he’s married during his campus tenure.  Below the window stands a simple table, with a green fabric covering (liturgically appropriate) that holds a wooden stand and Bible, displaying Father’s favorite passage: Sirach 2:1-18, “The Crucible of Humiliation.”  Next to the table is another dustless floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, and in front is a black rocking chair on which I sit, wondering whether I have a place in the Church.

Fr. Mustache listens to my confession from his desk, which runs along the remainder of the wall up to a wall-sized window that looks out onto campus.  On a caster-mounted, padded, and black office chair, he sits and spins around on a transparent plastic floor covering to face his computer desk on the opposing wall.

He’s multitasking, probably working on his coming Sunday homily or a presentation for the archdiocesan building renovation committee; something important.  Really, I don’t know what he does in here for fourteen hours days (even when school is out).  I’d like know.  I’d like to know everything about what it is to be a priest.  But what’s the point?  As soon as I tell him what happened, my vocational journey will end.

Silently, I stare at the dark hair on my forearms, which are crossed in front of my concave abdomen and purple and gold T-shirt.  When did my arms and legs get so hairy?  I pick at the fraying edge of my loose-fitting jorts.  Nothing fits my skinny, boney, wimpy body.

Fr. Mustache's over-sized egg-shaped head and its tuft of salt and pepper hair stare at the computer monitor.  His short legs, small torso, and hanging belly are adorned in their usual black clerics.   His pianist-strong fingers, with their gnawed-to-the-root fingernails, punch away at the keyboard.

“Well, spill it already, Pastrone.”

I hate the nickname that he’s given me, but it does its magic.  I tell him my sin.

Something happened when I visited my childhood priest, Father O’Baldy, last weekend.  He’d invited me down after receiving my “I’m going to be a priest and in large part thanks to your positive influence on my youth” letter.   Fr. O’Baldy warmly welcomed and begged me to tell my life history.  (He was an old family friend and wanted details.)  Wholeheartedly, I trusted him, even with the truth of the sexual abuse I’d endured and about being attracted to males.  Fr. O’Baldy told me there was nothing wrong with my attractions, stripped naked, and invited me to do the same.  Confused and excited, I did.  We gave each other massages, but never touched each other’s genitalia.  (This was celibacy, after all.)  Then we masturbated in front of each other.

Fr. Mustache’s fingers stop typing.  He turns to me, his baggy, brown eyes piercing his glasses.  The plastic floor protector crunches as his chair rolls towards me.  The warm, moist scent of his coffee tongue overpowers my nose, which is now being prickled by his graying mustache.  My body freezes. His stubby fingers dig into my knees. 

“This is appropriate touch.”

His hands slide from my knees, move up my inner thighs, and grasp onto my tighty-whiteys, my soft cock and balls.  Squeezing.  Hurting.

“This is inappropriate touch!”

I’m no longer in the church office celebrating confession.  I’m in another rectangular room, smaller, brighter, purer.  Antiseptic.  The paper under my naked fifteen-year-old bottom crunches against the examination table.  The spicy scented pediatrician’s hand is on my penis.  His salt-and-pepper mustache pricks my clenched lips.  His tongue forces them apart invading my mouth, my soul.  The walls of denial tumble, each movement of the slug-like tongue confirming the truth that I cannot, will not, face: the genital “exams” of the past few years were not standard procedure—they were sexual abuse.  The pediatrician finishes before the nurse and my mother return.  I sit paralyzed, clothed in lies and denial that will protect me from the truth until I’m in college and I trust someone enough to tell the truth.  He’s a mustached priest, my boss, my spiritual director, my confessor. 

Ten months after telling him, I sit in my confessor’s office with his angry, repressed digits collaring my cock and balls. 

I’m paralyzed again, just as I was in the pediatrician’s grasp.  My eyes fill with tears.  Finally, I inhale.

“I’m sorry, Father…please…please let go of me.”

He does. 

And then, he absolves me of my sin.

Code of Canon Law:  Can. 1387 A priest who in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession solicits a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished, according to the gravity of the delict, by suspension, prohibitions, and privations; in graver cases he is to be dismissed from the clerical state.