when i was little, i fervently believed in miracles.
i didn't cope well with life's ordinary, every day struggles. i would misplace a stuffed animal and be absolutely distraught, my mind jumping instantly to the worst case scenario that i would never see the beloved toy again. i reacted like i was experiencing the death of a friend. the panic would overwhelm me, gripping my larynx so that i had to struggle to breath.
one thing that calmed me was praying to saint anthony, who i knew to be the patron saint of lost things. my mom had an old black beaded rosary with a saint anthony medallion from some elderly relative or another, and i would ask to borrow it whenever i was desperate to find some priceless and irreplaceable treasure. since i lost my stuff a lot, eventually my mom just gave me the rosary to keep. saint anthony became my favorite saint when, after bending my head and closing my eyes and trying to focus my mind on the words of the hail mary for a dozenth repetition, it suddenly popped into my head where to look for my plush beagle, lucky. when i found the toy i became sure that saint anthony and i had a special connection, and i determined to chose him as my confirmation saint when i was olden enough to receive the sacrament.
i read copiously as soon as i was able to, and some of the first books i could read all by myself that i was introduced to were the lives of the saints. i knew instantly when i began to read that i wanted to be one of them instead of myself; i wanted to build a house out of sticks and leaves in my parents' backyard like saint rose of lima. i went as far as to try to convert the grey, green, and red plastic playhouse into my own special shrine, complete with crosses made out of twigs bound with string, and once i almost managed to kneel down in the gravel and pray there. i got halfway to my knees before the self consciousness became too much. the playhouse didn't have a door, and the windows were shuttered but they didn't lock, so i was afraid of being caught and looking foolish, and of ruining my prayer by turning it into something public instead of between me and god. i wanted to talk to fishes and tame a wolf like saint anthony. i wanted to starve and mutilate my body like saint clare and saint francis and the children of fatima. i tied a piece of ribbon as tight as i could around my round, babyish belly, and for a brief period wore this under my shirt in as close of a parody of lucia's rough rope belt and my other heroes' hair shirts as i could manage. i found a cheep faux silver ring and tried to dedicate it as a promise ring and to wear it always, but it was too big to stay on my finger well and i kept worrying it would fall off while i was asleep or land with a splash in the toilet. sometimes i snuck peaks through my eyelids in the dark at night, and thought i saw red, glowing eyes searing into my, a sure sign that the devil lurked in my bedroom, waiting for me to doubt or have a sinful thought.
there was a time when i believed i had a vocation to be a poor claire nun. i even started dressing like one, using miscellaneous costume bits and pieces to construct a brown robe, white hood, and black veil for myself. i wore this makeshift habit nonstop until one day i happened to be near the entryway of the house when my mom answered the door to a complete stranger. i do not remember that he showed anything but curiosity at my mode of dress, and my mom laughed it off saying, "this is our poor claire." but for some reason i was cut of the quick, keenly humiliated. i put away the costume and never wore it again and stopped talking about being a nun when i grew up.
i think i let my mom down, the day she asked me as she drove the car and i sat shotgun, if i ever thought anymore about being a nun, and i said no. my mom was the source of the lives of the saints books, and had some religious phrase or lesson always at the ready. she wouldn't tell me about god's command to her to marry my father until much later, but when i was young i do remember her explaining the miracles god had worked for her.
the first, she claimed, occurred when my oldest sister was still a baby. my mom was driving along with her newborn in her car-seat, when all of a sudden a large metal piece fell off of a truck in front of her. i picture it as a huge, slate grey hood that ought to have been secured down to the bed of the truck, flipping over and over like a tumbleweed as it makes its way unstoppably toward my mom. it is too late to swerve out of the way. my mom tightens her grip around the steering wheel, her knuckles going white with the strain. she sends a quick plea toward heaven just as the accident is about to unfold. and then - nothing. the hood or sheet metal or whatever it was just vanished. gods angels carried it away.
the second miracle that happened to my mom, which she related to me, was a vision of god. and it was about me. my mom had just finished labor when she saw him. he spoke: "take care of this one. she's going to be my angel." and then, all of a sudden, a weight like a bowling ball slams against my mom's chest. the nurse has placed me against my mother's body, which i squish, being an eight pound eleven ounce fatso even at my birth.