The photos rattled on the walls, which were 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 spirits. 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 was staying awake.
“Wake up! Wake up, it’s time for your first communion.”
My dad was whispering in that really loud way that drunk people whisper when they are aware enough to know they should be quiet but are too enthusiastic to actually be quiet. He hardly ever drank, but when he did something memorable was sure to happen.
My family was very religious, a result of staunch catholic upbringing. My dad’s brother was even made an archbishop. 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 similarly 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 a fantastic life in America, but at age 9, we were still recovering from that chaos and an ornate first communion for me had not been 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 I was withdrawn after a few visits, either because I was prone to acting out or my family didn’t feel like going to Church an hour early, or possibly both.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 me not having had 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 dark and stormy night was as good a time as any to walk me through this sacred ritual. He was not entirely untrained, as he had spent time in the seminary. Still, its 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 and a lot of wild gesticulating. I’m sure the actual conversation took place in Tagalog. I distinctly remember the wild look in his eyes. It was the same look he got whenever he hatched a crazy scheme.
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 and I thought “well, ok, we’re doing this.” I closed my eyes and recited … absolutely nothing. I had not even listened to any of his sermonizing. 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 here 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 and 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 didn’t.
Eventually the drowsiness took hold again and I laid my head down.