In church, I get antsy. Not like thumb-twiddling, hat-adjusting fidgety, but hand-quaking, Tom Sawyer-esque anxiety—though my impatience is due to fact that I can’t write down everything running through my head, whereas Tom’s was simply boredom. My mother is opposed to letting me write all over my arms the way I want to, for fear that the ink will poison me.
Oh, yeah, also because I look like a maniac when scrawling pen notes across myself while sitting in a pew (i.e. the time the word TOMATO was scribbled across both of my knees for no apparent reason, though it meant something at the time, I’m sure).
The thing with houses of worship is that I find they foster some kind of elevated thinking process for me—I feel like I get to lift off the top of my head, let it swing at the hinges, and watch all of my thoughts float to the ceiling, flourishing in colored light from the stained glass windows, or swelling to fill the space. I try to remember a string of fragments without being disrespectful by assigning each scrap of thought to a finger. For example, if I notice the Latin of a hymn sounds like a heavy cobweb of tangled tongues, I’ll repeat “Latin cobweb” in my head while staring at my thumb. Honestly, I’d much rather brave ink poisoning. The only problem is that I get so neurotic about forgetting these fragments that sometimes I forget that the goal is to compose thoughts at all.
One day last year, after church, I rushed home with my head teeming, sloshing full of stained glass and psalms and, most prominently, thoughts of the new choirboy. And of course, because I am very cool and normal, I immediately flung myself on the snow-covered trampoline outside, bundled in paisley knee socks and an ugly, ugly Holden Caufield-y hunting cap, to write about this boy that I saw in the church. Having taken you through how the floating splinters of idea transform into my journals and these pieces, I thought I would show you, O faceless reader whom I love so much, one of my many (quasi-embarrassing) pieces born during mass. Ahem. Here goes.
My gaze dribbled down from the wooden cross on the wooden wall to the choirboy, who was anything but wooden.
He sat next to a serious black man in glasses and deep concentration, whom I have named Steve.
Next to Steve, the choir boy stood lankily, the color of aged lace, with eyes set deep and bright, brows strong and defined. I named him Prosper, my favorite name, from a children’s book I read a very very long time ago. The perfect name, because I knew I would, could, never talk to him.
He couldn’t have been more than eighteen, maybe nineteen.
I could see from the blush of the tip of his narrow nose that he had a cold. I sniffed delicately, elegantly in solidarity.
He had a shine beneath his eyes, his acutely fashioned cheekbones twitching with song. I wished my name was Kyrie Eleison because of the way his mouth lovingly fluttered when he sang those words.
His jaw shifted left and rotated in a circular motion to accommodate each roll of “Alleluia.”
The ceiling was fretted with daisy chains of expertly spun song. The rich resonance of his voice, filling the chapel, was splintered with his booming coughs, equally rich. Not a crass, phlegm-filled series of ragged intakes of breath, but a smoldering symphony of punctuation. It fits. It is beautiful. I am a mess.
I rubbed the ends of my hair between my index finger and thumb. My teeth felt like Tic-Tacs, all round and jumbling around in my mouth like mints in a plastic box. My forehead suddenly felt hot as I casually brush across it with a cool finger: Oh God. Do I have a fever, O God?
The brisk wind rested, yawning outside, blowing freshly fallen snow lazily across the churchyard, skittering the precipitation into tinier and tinier particles across still green grass. It’s hard to feel December in here.