The photos rattled on the walls, illuminated intermittently by the flashes of lightning like a strobe light. To this day I can’t remember if I woke up because of a thunder strike or the unsettling feeling of a hand shaking my shoulder in the middle of the night combined with the pungent odor of whiskey. It had been storming all night and I had woken up several times from my light sleep and relaxed my way back into slumber. This time, I stayed awake.
“Wake up! Wake up, it’s time for your first communion.”
My dad was whispering in that loud manner that drunk people whisper when they are aware that they should be quiet but are too enthusiastic to actually be quiet.
My family was religious, a result of staunch catholic upbringing. My family even boasted an Archbishop in our ranks. As a result, my family had always made a point to uphold the sanctity of Catholic sacraments. My sister received her first communion from the Pope (or at least I think that’s how the story went), and my brother received his under a similarly august and solemn ceremony.
I, however, had never received my first communion. My family had fled the Philippines during the revolution and abandoned everything we owned. We would eventually rebuild our life in America, but at age 9, we were still recovering from that chaos. An ornate first communion for me was neither possible nor a priority. I had barely even attended Sunday school. I was withdrawn after a few visits, either because I was prone to acting out or my family didn’t feel like going to Church an hour early, or possibly both. Still, it seemed like the guilt of not granting me a first communion had finally taken its toll on my dad and nothing calls a good Catholic to action like soul crushing guilt.
After what smelled like more than a few drinks, my dad decided that this stormy night was as good a time as any to walk me through this sacred ritual. He was not entirely untrained. He had spent time in the seminary prior to meeting my mother and deciding that God had other plans. Still, it is generally frowned upon for anyone other than an ordained priest to undertake the ceremony.
I was still half asleep and mostly scared. Nine year olds don’t typically get woken in the middle of the night for anything other than a house fire. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just a hazy recollection of wild gesticulation. However, I distinctly remember the wild-eyed enthusiasm that accompanied it.
To this day I have no idea where he got that communion wafer, in the middle of the night no less. Armed with that and some sort of pocket prayer book, he just went at it. He began sermonizing to me about the ceremony, what you said, what you thought, how you prayed. I nodded my head vacuously, because I was still half asleep. We repeated some words, and I don’t know how long that lasted.
I snapped awake right at “ok, lets go!” I remember looking around and realizing we were the only two awake. Somehow, none of this had woken anyone else up. We got on our knees I recited … absolutely nothing. I had not heard a word of his sermon. Dad didn’t seem to notice though; he broke the wafer and gave me a piece. Having attended services every Sunday, I knew that you ate the wafer and made the sign of the cross. This might have been sacrilege, but there is a thin line between sacrilege and doing whatever you had to do to go back to peaceful sleep. This seemed to appease my dad, as he smiled, chuckled and put his hand on my back.
“It’s just that easy nonoy,” he said proudly.
“It was just that easy.” I could tell from his smile he was happy with how it all went. All that guilt had been lifted. Dad scurried off, and that was that. I looked around thinking “surely a moment like this comes with something, maybe fireworks, or a song?” Apparently, it did not.