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The Crucifixion

By Irene Zion

Memoir

It happened when
she was five.
She went to a convent school
in Italy.  
Her teachers were nuns,
shrouded in black habits
with white wimples.

It must have been a holiday. 
Her brother was home 
from school in Switzerland. 
He was eight and a half. 
Her father was home too
and that was rare.

Her mother was there,
but she didn’t see her very much.
The little girl ate meals inside
and went to school,
but otherwise, she stayed in the yard
outside with her dog.
She was not allowed inside
during the day;

her mother was cleaning.

She was asleep when the

screaming awakened her.

Her daddy was yelling and
her brother was howling.
She opened her bedroom door
and crawled out to see
what was happening.
She had learned to keep down low
and be quiet
so she wouldn’t be noticed.

Her father was beating her brother.
Her brother was mewling
and trying to get away,
but he couldn’t.
Her daddy was extra strong
when he was angry.

She saw the figure of a cross
leaning against the wall
in the dark shadows.

Her daddy was going to crucify
her brother on the landing
of the staircase between
the ground floor and the next.

It only surprised her a little.
She expected such things.

She crawled back to her room
and slipped into bed. 
She never thought of going for help.
What happened, just happened.
There was nothing anyone could do
to change things. 
All things were predetermined,
inevitable.

She covered her head
with the sheet and the blanket
and she sang songs to herself
to muffle her brother’s screams
until she went to sleep.

She woke up in the morning
and remembered with a
jolt
that her brother was dead.

She went downstairs and saw
when she passed the landing
that the cross had been removed,
all evidence cleaned up.

She was an only child now.

She walked into the kitchen and saw
her dead brother sitting at the table.

She stared at him.
Her brother did not look at her,
nor did he speak to her.
He simply sat at the table.

He was a holy ghost.

She touched him,
and she could feel him
with the tips of her fingers.
She was surprised that
she could feel a holy ghost.

Sitting down at the table,
she studied her brother.

If he were a holy ghost,
that was one thing,
but
if he had come back from the dead,
that was
momentous.

Now she was thrilled.

She waited to discover
which it would turn out to be.

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.