“I’m going to argue,” I told them.
If I had known what blood pressure was at age 18,
I would have noticed it rising.
The parents had told me to sit down for a talk.
The rooster lamps and fake maple furniture stood witness.
“The Unitarian Church is a communist front organization,”
my father said.
“You have to pick a different one.”
Every Sunday for 18 years, I attended Mass.
I wore a handkerchief on my head instead of a hat.
I liked to sit in the balcony with the organ.
The sound shimmered and pounded through my body
as I read the back of the missal
about the blood and torture of the martyrs.
I was an outlier in church.
My father once insisted I genuflect on our way out.
“No. I don’t want to,” I said.
“Do it or you’ll be in big trouble,” he said in a stage whisper.
I shook my head.
He called my name and pointed down.
His face was getting red.
Everyone was watching.
He dragged me out by my ear like in The Little Rascals.
I forget what my punishment was.
When I turned 18, they said I could choose my own church.
But I still had to go every Sunday.
After my Communist Church was rejected,
I decided that every Sunday I would take
the Santa Monica Bus to Ocean Burgers, where
I ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke.
I watched the waves roll in as I dipped my fries in catsup.
By the time I ate and took the return bus trip,
Church was over.
“It’s private,” I said when they kept asking for details.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Somehow, they found out the truth anyway. They gave up after that.
Suzanne O’Connell’s recently published work can be found in Drunk Monkeys, Wrath Bearing Tree, Paterson Literary Review, North American Review, Poet Lore, The Summerset Review, Good Works Review, and Pudding Magazine. O’Connell was awarded second place in the 2019 Poetry Super Highway poetry contest. She was nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her two poetry collections, A Prayer for Torn Stockings and What Luck, were published by Garden Oak Press.
Image: “Bannerman Castle” by Daniel Nester