It was before Easter, I was about 17. Ever since I was a baby, every year, the week before Easter, I’d get a completely new set or, according to the poverty of the year, a piece of new clothing and would go to church with my gran for confession and communion. It was tradition, taken in earnest more for the sake of the ritual than of the contents, I suppose. So I went.
I had a heavy conscience that particular year, I could have used a sympathetic ear and a soul to tell me that my mistakes were forgivable in the long run. (I still secretly long to hear that). I needed to repent. Cause they were serious, my sins, that particular year – they still are. I had betrayed a friend, by choosing to soothe my boyfriend’s fear of the not-understood and unmatchable friendship I had with this other boy. Who, I thought, had needed me and I had let him down. I had left him alone with his pain to save my teenage relationship and, although little was irreparably damaged, choosing for my own security counted in my book (and it still does) as a sin. But definitely worse than that… But no, first the story.
My conscience was also heavy because I knew the priest was going to ask questions of an intimate nature, warranted by my growing-up looks at the time; the answer to those questions didn’t count, for me, as a sin, but I was also not willing to lie – after all, what would then be the point of the procedure. So I went.
I queued after a few meters worth of old ladies who would kneel for a minute under the apron-like garment and get their blessings. My heart was rather small by then, as that of anyone supposed to get naked in front of an unknown fellow human being in order for the second to appraise one’s belly flaps (for what else is confession in an orthodox church one doesn’t necessarily frequent enough to be acquainted with the priests?). And my turn came – I had my list carefully prepared and was ready to face my shame, but before I could open my mouth – `Well, my child, are you pure?` the fatal question came at once. `It depends on the standards`, I dared to mutter (although I cannot begin to guess where I got the courage). `The standards are quite clear, he said, have you committed any impure acts?`. `I have made love to my boyfriend`, I mumbled. `Is this the boy you intend to marry?` came the unexpected, apparent, but treacherous way out. Almost out of breath with the frustration of where this was going and asked to decide upon the entire course of my life then and there, I managed to spit out my answer under the skirt of my obtuse God representative: `No!` `Then, he said, unless you plan to marry this fellow, it is a sin.`
I have no recollection of what happened next or what number of Hail Mary’s I was supposed to say in order to get my blessing, cause he sent me on my way without me being able, to this day, to make my confession: `Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I have sinned irreparably with my thought and with my deed. I have hated my sister, father, I have envied her her parents who weren’t really mine, I have refused to understand how and why she could be miserable when she had everything I longed for, I have been allowed to slap her when she was playing the game of stretching one’s nerves and I have been allowed to yell at her and dislike her, I have never stood up for her and now I can never ever make amends for what could later, maybe, have been swept under the rug of personal history as mere sibling rivalry and covered with hundreds of beautiful memories of togetherness. Our pictures, father, are mostly a lie, apart from whenever I was kissing her warm, soft temple – and I so wish that she were here to fight this out and fix it…`
So I stopped going to confession at all. Because omission, even involuntary, is a sin.