It had started out as a great Sunday. The weather was nice, and I was finally on top of my college work and my work for the internship. Working at an IT company has always been my dream and the internship was like the first step in that dream. The company was on solid ground and there was lots of opportunity there. My supervisor was already making noise about me working there after college.
But I had been so busy lately I had tuned out the rest of the family. You know how it is. You’re in your twenties, balancing work, school and an active social life--- Who has time to check up on mom and dad, right? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly, but I was just tuned out. I had been looking forward to catching up at church, but when I got there it was just mom and the rest of the kids: Angelica (17), Joseph (10), Maria (8), Christie (7) and Peter (5).
Mom looked upset and urged Angelica to take the rest of my brothers and sisters inside to get us a pew.
“Where’s dad?” I asked.
“He can’t come,” she said sadly. “Faith, his illness--- It has taken a turn for the worst, I’m afraid.”
“But, I thought the doctors said he was responding to treatment. He was getting better!” I stood frozen to the ground, my body suddenly feeling heavy.
“He was, when you saw him last week,” she said. “We were all hopeful, but by Tuesday he was in pain again. He cannot go back to work, Faith. The family is in trouble.”
“Wait, trouble? What trouble?”
“The house,” she explained through teeth clenched in frustration. “If your father does not work, we will lose the house. We need you to work now. It’s the only way.”
“B-b-but my classes--- The internship---“
I backed away from her a few feet putting my back up against the wall of the church. I wanted to run away.
“You’ll have to quit college for now, but you can go back. People do that. As for your internship, well, you weren’t getting paid anyway,” she dismissed. “Who cares?”
“Mom, I told you, that’s not what it’s for. It’s for the experience! It’s so they hire you after you get out of college!”
“Pff! And meanwhile you’re nothing but a slave! Quit! This is good! I did not like you working for free!”
My mother was raised an old school Catholic. She was very traditional and sometimes didn’t grasp modern concepts. One of these concepts was internships. She had convinced herself that I was somehow being exploited by the company to work for free and no matter how many times I explained that wasn’t the case, she’d somehow talk herself back into that position.
“Mom! That’s not what it is!” I insisted, my hands clenching into small fists. “It’s for experience and connections so I can move up in the corporate world!”
“You work hard, you move up. What else is there?” she dismissed me again.
“You don’t understand---“
“I understand that we need money,” she said getting right up into my face. Her breath was hot on my cheeks and her eyes were stern with accusation. “Do you want us to lose the house? The house that we raised you in? Your poor father!”
“I’m not saying that--- Maybe there’s another way---“
“There is no other way! What do you think? Money will just come to you? This is real life! It is hard! You work!”
“Anyone can go to college. You’ll go back.”
“No! I’ll lose my scholarship!”
“Ah, they’ll give you another one. You’re smart,” she assured me, patting my cheek with one of her small hands. “You worry too much. Come on. Mass is starting.”
I went inside the church. There was no sense talking to my mother now. When she decided a conversation was over, that was it--- It was over. I could tell she was angry and disgusted with me. So what’s new? When I did what she wanted immediately everything was fine, if I balked even in the slightest at a request I was the worst human being to ever walk God’s green earth. It was all or nothing with my mother. That was her personality.
Sitting in the wooden pew next to my sister, Angelica, I picked up a hymnal and pretended to follow along with everyone else. When I was a kid, I used to follow along quite closely to the Mass, wondering how the adults did it. Now I knew what adults did at church--- Think about anything other than God.
Glancing around, I could see the other adult faces now. Who was thinking about their relationship or job? There was someone, staring off into space wondering if that promotion was coming. There was someone else probably thinking about a sick relative or all the housework they had to do when they got home.
I was thinking about what minimum wage hell I’d be trapped in for the next five years. Dropping out of the internship would be bad enough. I had only just gotten into my groove there. No one would remember me if I left. As for college, I had a scholarship and there was no way I’d keep it if I left for a year much less however long it was going to take to save the house.
All I needed was one more year in college and then I could get a good job. Then I could just slice off a piece of my salary to help save the house. But mom would never go for that, not now. I knew her tone. She had a plan and needed the family to pull together and stick to it.
Of course, there was my brothers and sisters to think about too. They were mostly too young to work. Angelica taught music lessons after school, but she didn’t make much money. It would probably be at least a year before she could get a real job and really help out. Then where would I be? Probably stuck managing a Starbucks somewhere, wondering what my life could’ve been like. God! This sucks!
Oops! Sorry God. Guess I should be asking you for help. I’m in a church after all, but I’m just not feeling it today. It’s probably self-centered of me to only think of myself in this crisis situation, but I just needed one more year! Just one!
The Communion line started, and I got up with everyone else. The other adults were doing the 1000 yard stare like me, no doubt thinking about their lives and their problems. I couldn’t help but wish I had a husband to take care of this: someone successful with a good job that could just help out with money for a while.
Michael fit the bill. He was my latest failed relationship. He wore a suit to work and drove a BMW. Michael was polite and, I thought, family oriented. Guess I can’t really say either way. Never got that far with Michael, just a few lackluster dates and his work email.
I should’ve known that relationship was going nowhere. We never seemed to connect on a social level. I would talk, he would talk, but the talking might as well have been air escaping. Neither one of us seemed to listen to what the other was saying. Michael was into politics, sports and watching Netflix. I was into family, computers and my faith. I also wanted to be married, but that was an awkward subject to bring up on a date with a guy you barely knew. Something about us just didn’t click, but I guess we were both too polite to say it to each other. In the end, he stopped responding to my emails and texts and that was fine.
Before that was Kyle. Kyle was trouble. At first, he seemed like a lot of fun. I guess technically in a way, he was fun. He bought me flowers, took me to clubs, bars, shows--- Sometimes we’d get a little drunk and go walking by the river. We’d make out on a random park bench or something. PDA was not a negative with him.
But it turned out, it was all about the sex. The clubs, bars and shows were just a means to an end, getting into my panties. At first I thought the sex was hot, passionate and fun, but then I came to realize it was something else. The final straw was when I caught him cheating. He texted me when he meant to text another woman. I got the impression she wasn’t the only one he had lined up.
How do these horn dogs find the time to juggle so many pseudo relationships? If they put as much effort into getting to know someone as they did into getting laid---But hey, that’s college guys, right? They think with the little head and not the big one. When the truth came out it was humiliating. I had told everyone about Kyle. I had told him I loved him. I had swooned over him, waited for him and longed for him when we were apart.
All that time, he was just using me for sex. I should’ve known a few months in that he was bad news when he couldn’t remember the names of any of my family members, even the ones he had met. I had definitely told him those names, but he wasn’t listening. He just pretended to listen because that’s what he was expected to do. Thank God we had used protection. No telling what would’ve happened if he had gotten me pregnant and who knows what STD’s he’ll one day pass on to some unsuspecting girl.
“Body of Christ,” muttered the priest, breaking my train of thought and putting the thin flavorless wafer on my tongue.
A priest could never help you with relationships. How could they? You needed to be in one to really understand all the nuances. What experience could he possibly draw from? My mother, however, she would tell me to talk to a priest if she knew all my issues with men. Either that or that I should just find a “nice Catholic boy” to marry.
I really did want marriage, but I also wanted a career. Sure, kids would be great, but I didn’t want to end up like my parents were now. Their marriage was strong, but very traditional, and we were poor. I was lucky to get a scholarship and go to college, the rest of my siblings--- Who knows?
I took a sip of the wine, crossed myself and went back to the pew. We eventually went back to the familiar rhythm of singing, praying, kneeling, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was lost in thought, torn between helping my family and realizing my dreams. Maybe there was still time. Maybe there was another way.
Maybe I could ditch the internship and get a part time job? Would that be enough? I could talk to the college. Maybe I could go to class part time and work full time. Were there enough hours in the day to be a full-time student and work full time? Geez, when would I do the homework or study? Maybe if I got a job as a security guard. All they do is sit around. I could study or sleep. I’d only have to do it for a year or maybe two if I went part time to class.
There was an option of online classes. Would my scholarship support that? Could I even get a job that would pay the mortgage and the bills? I could if I finished college in a year. Dammit, I need more time!
We filed out of church after mass. I put on a brave face when I said goodbye to the priest. I got in my car after I told my mother I’d meet them at the house for Sunday dinner. But, then I drove to an empty parking lot, parked the car and just cried. I punched the steering wheel and screamed. My life was unraveling and I needed a new plan. I begged God in that moment to show me a way out and help me get through this awful time.
I looked around the parking lot. There was nothing but silence and empty spaces. I felt utterly alone.