I had never seen my father with any wisp of stubble until the day he was arrested. Truly, he was baby-faced and so in my mind he was baby-spirited. Events seemed to understand this conception and when guilt was laid, so was a thin layer of manhood. The facts of the arrest are hazy to me now and I was so young when it happened, I doubt they were clear to me then. I do remember seeing my father in the back of a Rock-O-La Café with a girl I recognized from school. I saw him slap her and kick her to the ground. She looked pregnant. I suppose the charges could have been statutory rape, or refusal to pay, or battery. My mother shed no light on the subject. On the day he was arrested, she gathered her things and, to put it politely, absented herself.
The nuns at St. Regis School stepped in to support me. St. Regis was my school and my father’s alma mater so the nuns knew us well enough to put us both up. I was given a cot in my classroom on the south wing and my father a cage on the north wing, where he was to await the trial. I lived there for some time, alone and with my classmates, until, after much deliberation, the nuns decided I should be brought to the north wing to talk with my father; I suppose so that he might be reminded of the life he forsook, or that his son’s love for him might bring about a confession and from me a forgiving.
On the morning of a grey first of the month, I was dressed in a grey morning suit and taken by the nuns out of my classroom home. Each of the twenty or so nuns had a hand on my shoulder as they walked me down the school halls. Not a word was exchanged, but a low mumble mingling with the footsteps seemed to convey something between them. I think it was the mumbles and not the footsteps that were carrying them, and when we passed the gym and the mumbles stopped, so too did the nuns. They very firmly pulled me back into their arms and when I looked up I could see they were all staring intently before them, a sort of afraid. A few of the nuns actually collapsed into the arms of their fellow nuns, who all the while stared down the hall.
A sphere of fog appeared in front of us. It looked like a thought bubble with those cute, rounded edges and it grew to a little three-foot cloud that hovered above the ground. Another cloudy mass appeared inside the bubble, this one taking an almost human shape, with pudgy globules of clouds for legs and arms and a head. Two white circles popped up inside the head and another white circle beneath them. The figure looked familiar and not a little funny, like a depressed Michelin Man. The shape spoke.
I was braced further into the nun’s chests. The two white circles were pushed down to angry slits by a cloudy brow above them. The third white circle got real wide and shouted again with a bassy, booming voice.
“This is what you think I look like?! How dare you?! I look ridiculous – stupid!” The little guy shook his arms and jumped up and down in his bubble. “No! No! No! No! No! I hate you!”
The cloud shriveled up and the shape disappeared. Running, the nuns took me back to my classroom. They took turns with rulers and textbooks smacking me over the head.
“Blasphemy!” they rang. “Blasphemy!”
The nun’s official excuse for kicking me out of St. Regis was that my early four o’clock shadow was upsetting the other children, but I believe it was my encounter with God that got me kicked out, and more their fear of another run-in than my alleged blasphemy. I was handed over to a twenty-something nanny living with her parents in the country and I was actually treated quite nicely there. The nanny’s mother gave wet kisses and made gooey cookies. The nanny sometimes blindfolded me and took me in her father’s pick-up to a surprise fun spot, like Discovery Zone. It was very comfortable being with her and when I found out she received her degree from a university called bible school, I thought I could trust her to know the meaning of my encounter.
“I had a vision of God and He told me He hated me,” I said.
My nanny, trained to appreciate visions of God, had a hard time telling me it was just a dream. She had a hard time telling me anything at all.
“It isn’t certain,” I continued, struck by a new detail, “that, since the God I saw had no pupils, He was even addressing me. Couldn’t He have been shouting at the nuns?”
“Well,” my nanny eventually came up with, “God loves all children.”
Hmmm. I tried to think about that one. I suppose He does.