DYING WISH Tom Mazanec The Voice came out of the shimmering darkness: "What is the one thing you would wish to know about your life?" "I don't understand. What's happening? I just lay down to take a nap...my chest and arm felt sore, thought that would help." "You have died of a heart attack. I am offering you the opportunity to have answered a question that you have been most tormented by. What in your past is it your dying wish to understand?" Gary thought for a moment. What cast a shadow across the landscape of his life was the death of his cousin Harry. Why had he attacked a priest, putting the man's eye out and then jumped from the roof of his school building? He had just moved to a small town, but millions of kids had done that without freaking out like that! "I want to understand why Harry did what he did." "Granted." *********************************************************************** "Wake up, Harry. It's time for you to start your new school." Gary opened his eyes. What a weird dream he had just had. And who was - "Aunt Mary!" "Harry, what's wrong with you? Get up and get ready for school." Gary was in a strange house. And even his body felt strange. He crawled out of the bed and followed the woman who looked just like Aunt Mary (but she can't be...she's dead!) down a hallway, then turned right through a door and into a bathroom. Still walking in a hazy daze, he looked into a mirror and saw the face of his cousin Harry staring back at him. A face he had not seen in 30 years. Vaguely, his mind seemed to have two memories...he could remember both things about his life as Gary and the past of Harry. Well, maybe he was being given a chance to live the life Harry never lived - he would certainly not end up like his cousin. In fact, with his knowledge of what the next three decades would bring, he would be in a position to live a very good life indeed. The right stock market purchases...or maybe he was just dreaming. In either case, he would go along with it. St. Jude was a parochial school, with a Church as part of the building, and neighboring convent and priest's house. Gary-Harry was starting the sixth grade and his teacher was a tall, stern nun. Gary-Harry was off to a good start the first couple weeks... he already knew all the class material and he was not as fidgety as the other children were. But the other children bored him, and he began to be harassed by some of them who sensed that he did not fit in. The priest, Father Mike, would visit and take some student to the church after school for a talk. He was taller than Sister Fatima, and built with the physique of a gym teacher. Sister Fatima was quietly proud of having students with such a relationship with their priest...perhaps they would become priests themselves someday. But the other children were quiet when Gary-Harry asked about these talks. One day Gary-Harry was chosen by Father Mike, and he had a chance to talk to Father Mike about how lonely it could be when he was not able to closely relate to the other children. It was the closest he had come in the last few weeks to an open conversation, even if he could not tell Father Mike about his life as Gary. He couldn't even make small talk with his "parents" without having to remember not to call them Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe. Father Mike was a breath of fresh air. The next day, Father Mike asked Gary-Harry to the Church again. "It's not easy being a priest, Harry. You know how lonely it is to be the new boy in town. Being the Servant of God is a lonely road as well. Jesus wants you to help me with my loneliness. It is a great honor to serve the Lord this way..." *********************************************************************** Gary, or Harry, or *whoever* he was, was sick and horrified. That man tried to seduce him and then, when he tried to get away, he had raped him. Gary had always been a devout Catholic, like his entire family had always been. For a priest to do that left him stunned and betrayed, far more than he would be had anyone else done such a filthy thing to him. And Father Mike had the nerve to tell him he would be committing a mortal sin to tell anyone else about that abomination. Blasphemy! Gary went home and was quiet at dinner. Even Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe noticed something wrong with him and asked what was the matter. Gary told them what was the matter. Afterward, his "parents" just stared at him. "You ought to be *ashamed* of yourself for telling such filthy, filthy lies about a man like Father Mike!" "He's a pillar of this community. Are you trying to ruin our lives here? Get on your knees and ask God to forgive you for the filth you spoke here!" Uncle Joe grabbed Gary by the ear and practically threw Gary down on his knees. He slapped Gary on the face so hard that his head seemed to spin. "Pray! Pray to God to forgive you!" More slaps finally led to Gary's "praying" as he was commanded. The next day, he asked Sister Fatima if he could speak to her during lunch hour. She agreed, and when the time came he told her what had happened. She stood there like a thundercloud. "You have slandered a holy man of God." she said very quietly, more quietly than he had ever heard her. "You owe a priest the respect you would give the Lord Himself." She grabbed him by the shoulder, pinching him very painfully, and dragged him to the bathroom and over to a sink, where she grabbed a bar of soap and rammed it into his mouth. She rubbed it in his mouth until it foamed and then threw it back unto the sink. Gary twisted and broke free of Sister Fatima, running out and racing down the hall and out of the school. He ran down the street and staggered, winded, into the town's police station a block away. "What's the matter with ya, lad? Ya supposed to be in school!" exclaimed the big, ruddy-faced policeman at the desk. Gary waited a moment while he caught his breath. What Father Mike had done was a crime, and now he was going to pay for it. When he could speak, he told the officer what had happened. The officer looked at him for a long moment. "You are a spoiled little punk. Kids today...television spoils ya. Never had TV when I was a kid. If I was ya pa, I'd take a strap ta ya. Now get out, before I tell yer folks what crap you're spoutin'...or toss you in the jail where ya belong!" Gary staggered out of the police station. What would he do? Could he run away from home? He could get a job...no he couldn't, he was only twelve years old. What was it his father had told him, in the hospital, just before he died? "Gary, if you ever get into trouble and need help, you just go to the priest. He's there to serve God and help you. The priest is the best friend you can have when you think you're all alone." God, what about when the priest is the trouble? This wasn't the Eighties, it was the Fifties. John Paul II was not Pope, Pius XII was. Reagan was not president, Eisenhower was. Was nobody going to believe him? ********************************************************************** Dr. Olman was the town's doctor. He was skinny and bald, except for a fringe of wispy white hair. "The child is obviously having trouble adjusting to a new town. He is telling these lies in the belief that it will make you take him back to his old town." "What can we do, Doctor? We can't just move back, Joe needs his job here." "You will have to be strict with the child. Cruel to be kind, so to speak. 'Spare the rod and spoil the child'" "We've punished him already, Doc. Every way we can think of." "You doubtlessly mollycoddled the child in his old hometown. That is the mistake so many parents make nowadays. It's why we have so many juvenile delinquents." "What can we do now?" "It is important that the child - " "'The child' is sitting right here." "My, little pitchers have big ears...and a big mouth, too. Children are meant to be seen and not heard." "I WAS RAPED!" "You don't even know what the word means." Aunt Mary said. "Father Mike has spoken with me about the child. Fine man, Father Mike. Fine man. He has asked Sister Martha not to expel the child. A little permissive, I feel...the child should at least be suspended. A bit permissive, but a fine man. Of course, Father Mike has insisted on speaking in private with the child. I hope he can do him some good." *********************************************************************** Gary was in an office in the school. Father Mike glowered at him. "You will learn to be a good little boy, and to respect a man of God and to do what he tells you to do, without trying to tell other people lies about it. You are going to help your pastor 'relax', and if you fight me this time I'll make you regret it." The priest came at him. Gary, in desperation, kicked him between the legs...hard. Father Mike doubled over and screamed. He rose back up...his eyes were glazed and his face splotched. "I'LL KILL YOU! YOU GODDAMNED BASTARD I'LL KILL YOU!" Father Mike lunged and grabbed Gary around the throat, splaying Gary across the desk. Gary snatched anything his hand could grab and found a pencil. He thrust the pencil into Father Mike's face, and the point buried itself deep in his eye. Gary leaped away as Father Mike snatched and threw a statue of Jesus at him, which missed and bounced uselessly against the wall. He looked like a madman, with the pencil still sticking out of his eye socket. He roared incoherently and went after him. Gary ran down the hall and into a stairwell, Father Mike half a step behind him all the way. He tried to go down the stairs, but Father Mike was there to grab him. He climbed up a flight of stairs and came to the top, where there was a door. He opened it and found himself out on the roof. Father Mike was hot behind him. "YOU FUCKING LITTLE PUNK!" Father Mike grabbed Gary's collar, but Gary twisted and broke free. In panic he raced blindly across the roof. He banged into a kind of railing at waist height, bent double, and tipped over the edge. He had been granted his dying wish. AFTERWORD I have been a Catholic all my 44 years. I am not so innocent as to not realize that priests are human beings, and as in any other group of human beings, there are one or two percent who are capable of doing such monstrous things. This sickens, but does not surprise me. I am, of course, nauseated when a priest does this, since that is a violation of a trust I believe is literally sacred. But even more am I stunned by how the Hierarchy has treated such priests...given the horror they seem to show for such sexual evils as _Playboy_, I would expect a bishop to have a stroke or heart attack when informed of such a...sin is the worst thing a Catholic can call something, but that hardly seems adequate. Instead, they often covered up such abominable crimes and sent the guilty priest to another parish, where he would continue to spiritually mutilate more innocent children. I pray that the Church will be cleansed by this crisis and come out of it purified. If only we could have done the right thing in the first place. Jesus, forgive us.