Only Fallen Ones
When we pulled out onto the road back home, I had to ask.
“Colleen, what was so funny in there that you couldn’t stop laughing.”
“It was funny. If you could have seen those people but you had your eyes closed like the rest of them. If I could put them on national TV I could make a fortune.”
“Try to consider my position for a minute. What if you took me to a novena for the first time and all I did was laugh. How would it make you feel?”
“Oh, Brian, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.
It’s just so funny. They all take that humming seriously. You’re not as far into it as the rest of them, are you?”
“As far as I can be with the interruptions I’ve had. It’s still not real polite of you to have done that.”
“I was also a little scared and nervous if you couldn’t tell and I laugh sometimes as a defense mechanism.”
“You’re hand felt like a wet clam.”
“Very poetic expression.”
“It wasn’t right to keep laughing. Christ, Colleen, once I could understand but not every time.”
“Well I was scared, I already told you. It was creepy. It was like there were forces in there or something.”
I looked over at her. She was serious. The first night I met her she reminded me of an angel without wings and I still got that feeling every time I looked at her. Any other woman
I would have gone ballistic, driven home, and never called again. But not her. Despite the fact that we weren’t supposed to allow anything to come between us had the teachings, she was and at one level, I knew it. I was helpless to try to change it, too.
“Why can’t you at least be open-minded about it?”
“Because they’re a cult.”
“Colleen, my mother thinks there are 2,600 cults in the United States today. Don’t you think at least a few of them are legitimate churches? This one is.”
“Brian, why don’t you reexamine your own faith. Have you read a Catholic book lately? You might be surprised to find how much your own faith offers before you go off in search of these way-out Eastern religions.”
“It’s not my faith.”
“It is so. There are no former Catholics. Only fallen ones.”
“You sound like my mother.”
“She may be right. The only difference between me and your mother is that I’m not going to fight you over it. You’ll come out of it one of these days and back to the Church and I’ll be here waiting for you when you do.”
“You’re that certain, eh?”
“Yes. You’re cute when you’re mad.”
“I’m not mad! Who said I was mad!?”
“The veins sticking out your neck, that’s who.”
“Why wouldn’t I be mad! I bring you to a meeting with a church I belong to and you make a mockery of it. You’re also neurotic.”
“Neurotic! What do you mean I’m neurotic! Who wouldn’t be neurotic after growing up in the household I did. God, if you only heard that story, but I’d need a lifetime.”
“Is that why you belong to this church.”
“At least you called them a church. Yeah, I don’t feel like I belong in the Catholic Church anymore. It let me down.”
“Colleen, give me a break. I’ve been away from women for some time now.”
“You mean from Officer Training School (OTS)?”
“I mean from that and the teachings. I’ve been away from them for- about a year. It takes time to readjust to the finer aspects of a relationship like a simple good-night kiss.”
“I didn’t ask you to get fresh. I just asked for a man’s kiss, that’s all”
She was smiling at me furtively.
We were in front or my house now and she had to get her mother’s car home. I looked up at the Sky. It was spotted with stars like diamond on blue-black velvet.
The moon was at full mast and lit un all of Colleens features. She tilted her head UP at me and parted her lips. I took her in my arms and wrapped my hands all the way around her frame.
She slipped her arms up my back until her hands cupped my shoulders. Her embrace was an dancers--strong, passionate, and vibrant. I met her lips and sailed away, only to be reawakened by her voice.
“Now that was a man’s kiss. I’m glad our men in blue can still handle their women. Je t’adore. Au revoir, Mon Cherie. Don’t you love French? It’s so much more romantic than English. I’ll bet Gaelic is too, I just don’t know it. English is such an efficient language, and there’s nothing efficient about romance. When will I see you again?”
“Maybe never after your behavior tonight.”
“Oh Brian. Call me as soon as you can...like tomorrow morning for example.”
She heard from me the next day, alright. And for the next thirty as well. It was, in my mother’s phrase, a “whirlwind romance.”
She took precedence over everything: the Church Glorious and Victorious, the running at which I had become so proficient at OTS, my family, the Air Force, and friends that I’d intended to visit in New York and Washington, DC. She was the only thing I desired.
We didn’t do a whole lot but talk and go to a few movies and plays and engage in marathon make out sessions.
But it was the moment shared that became what mattered in my life. It was as if time itself and been suspended for me and I’d been granted a reprieve from the struggle to enjoy life for a while. Coming as it did at the end of OTS, it was doubly sweet and precious.
Her family became as precious to me as she was. She came from one of these large Irish Catholic families where the father actually stuck around to raise the kiss.
Again, as my mother used to say, “There are two kinds of Irishmen: the big, two-fisted drunken types who abandon their families like your father and the gentle poetic type who love their families to death.
I had the misfortune to marry the first kind and it’s my cross to bear and by the grace of God I will carry that cross, but once in a while I meet friends of mine who’ve married the second kind whose husbands are saints.”
Colleen’s father was, in many ways, a living saint.
The guy stands six foot five inches and about 280 pounds.
The first time he shook my hand he nearly crushed it, not to intimidate me, but simply because he was that strong. And Colleen was the apple of his eye, the one who was going to become a nun, until I came along, that is.
When I ate dinner at her house I would catch him sizing me up from the corner of my eye. Apparently I passed muster because when they bought him a Porsche that he never would for himself, he gave me the keys to take it out one day with Colleen.
He’s a children’s surgeon at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and also takes care of seven orders of nuns for free.
Five years ago he had two massive coronaries and nearly died because he was trying to send six of his nine kids through college all by himself. Since that time he’d attended daily Mass and told Colleen, “I don’t know how anyone can survive in today’s world without daily Mass.”
His dinner table was a night’s entertainment every time I ate there. Each of the kids would compete with a story to match the last one told. Conversations ranged from politics to medicine to past family folklore to whatever was current that day. The conversation was constant, the food ample and piping hot, and the deserts worthy of French compliments.
One day chocolate was served over ice cream.
As I was still in the teachings, I had to refuse both because one contained chocolate and the other contained sugar. He was confused but as a man of few words he kept his silence. But it was too much for the mother who’d taken to real estate when the father had had his heart attacks to help get the children through college, to stand.
“I thought you were in the Air Force? What are they teaching you guys these days? Only communists don’t like chocolate and ice cream.”
“Mother! If he doesn’t want to eat it he doesn’t have to. Do you want some coffee Brian?”
Coffee was allowed in the teachings. You can only keep people awake so long when they decree all night so coffee got the seal of approval.
“He doesn’t drink either does he Colleen.”
“I thought you said he was Irish Catholic?”
“What kind of Irish Catholic is he? Protestant?”
“I just saw the effects of it in my family that’s all.”
That was a lie: in a way. I drank plenty before the teachings but I wasn’t about to get into how filling up your pores with alcohol prevented God’s light from coming in with a woman who’s house contained works from the Vatican’s art collection.
“What do you do for fun? Keep Colleen up all night?”
I shot a glance at Colleen and it had registered. Her mother had been on her for days about how our staying up until five in the morning each night was not appropriate with the younger ones in the house.
We would stoke up the kerosene heater, which after the energy shortages the late seventies became a standard feature in the big old houses in the Northeast, get talking and it would be five o’clock in the morning. We’d resolve each night that it wouldn’t happen again and sure enough each night it would. Her mother had her dig in.
“Brian let’s get going to your brothers.”
Ron had invited us over for dinner because his friend Mike had just returned from the Middle East where he’d negotiated with the Saudi’s on a solar project.
On City Line Avenue Colleen lost it.
“When are they going to allow me to grow up. I’m not a child. If I choose to go to bed at five that’s my choice. She knew what she was saying there.”
“You live under their roof you play by their rules. It’s as simple as that. ’Whoever pays de cost get to be de boss.”
“They still shouldn’t treat me like a child. I’m sorry Brian. I don’t mean to be ruining your night.”
“You’re not ruining my life. You look adorable when you have tears streaming down your face.” I took her hand.
“Oh Brian, I don’t deserve you.”
“Reverse that and you have it right.”
“Let me stop acting like a baby. I hope your brother likes me.”
“He’ll love you. My mothers’ already informed him that I’m spending so much time with you I don’t have time to hang out with the cult. He approve...”
“I don’t want to keep you from going over there. Just let me know when you need to go over there and you’re free to go.”
“Well people have called my house and wondered where I’ve been.”
“Then go over. We can see less of each other.”
“It’s hard. I feel guilty in a way. I haven’t even been decreeing twice a day which is a minimum.”
“Brian, you’re free to go see them. Don’t not see them on my account.”
“It’s not you, it’s me. I want to spend time with you or I wouldn’t be spending so much time with you. It’s just the old economic law of trade-offs.”
“So I’m a trade-off?”
“No. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I feel like I’ve become so enamored of you I’ve neglected my religious life. My friends, too. My mother says that Ira has called from New York several times and Jim from DC.”
“Brian, you’re saying that I’m not letting you be you.”
“I’m not saying that. I’m saying that it’s a trade-off.”
“So I am a trade-off!” She began crying again.
“Colleen” maybe you should know that it doesn’t do good things to me to see you crying. In fact, it makes me feel like a heal.”
“I’m not crying to make you feel like a heal.”
“Oh, Brian, I don’t know...my mother was also giving me a hard time about see in g you so much and...” She began crying again in soft sobs.
“If you live at home you’re going to hear it. It’s a Philadelphia tradition. The kids stay at home in Philadelphia longer than any other city I know of.”
“I’m also scared about this cult. Every time you start the car up you have to say a “St. Michael” decree. When we drive along you launch into any number of decrees. It’s not prayer. Prayer is said slowly from the heart. If you could only talk to this friend of mine, Father O’Brian could explain it better. Every time I try you give me one of those looks and it hurts.” She continued to cry.
“Honey, I’m sorry. It’s my faith and I don’t want it to come between us the way it has with my family. I thought we could reach some kind of accommodation but obviously we can’t.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that between you and my faith I’d have to go with my faith.”
“Brian, I know this isn’t you talking. I can tell when it’s you talking and when it’s these masters talking. Just stay with me and you’ll see I’m right. I’m only human though and you make it hard at times.”
“I didn’t mean that Colleen. Christ, you’re the best thing that’s happened to me, ever. If I can’t take a little questioning then that’s on me. Now dry them eyes sweet sugar. We’re just about there.”
Ron lives in Alden Park Manor, otherwise known as “Big Pink” to its inhabitants. A millionaire went broke during the Depression constructing these five huge pink stone monoliths on the Wissahickon. We entered the lobby and a bespeckled man smiled as we walked past. I picked up the phone and dialed Ron.
“Yeah. Where’ve you been all night?”
BUZZZZZZ ... and we were inside the grand entrance, a medieval castle-like structure about four stories high with archways, cast-iron candle holders and an enormous fireplace.
“Hi Brian. As usual, let me apologize for Ron’s rudeness.”
“What rudeness? The guy’s in the military now. If they don’t teach him anything they can at least teach him to be on time. Why don’t you introduce us to your friend?”
“This is Colleen. Ron. Joanne. And Mike is inside.”
“We’re having wine Colleen if that’s alright with you. What do you want Brian, water on the rocks?”
“How about ice tea?”
“Christ. Who ever heard of a religion that didn’t allow drinking. Are you still keeping everybody up with your “HARI KRISHNA HARI RAMA’S”?”
“Ron, it’s not the Krishna’s.”
“Who can keep up with all these cults these days. No wonder our economy is crumbling. Half the best and the brightest are out worshiping the latest religious fad.”
“Ron I was hoping we could get beyond that tonight for once.”
“Shit you’re right Brian. What does Colleen think of it?”
He shot a glance at Colleen and she looked at him knowingly.
“She’s of the same opinion as everyone else.”
“I knew she looked like a sensible girl. Mom may be right. Maybe she is the nice Catholic girl who’s going to win you away from the.”
“Yeah. Let’s go in the living room and try to make sense of Reagonomics. That’s as much hocus pocus as your cult.”
At one point, I cornered Ron in the kitchen as he was fixing another round of drinks.
“Colleen’s a pretty nice girl. How’d you meet her? How serious are you with this girl?”
“Real. I’m thinking of asking her to marry me. I’ve been thinking about it for some time.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little early? Marriage is a rather long term proposition...like a lifetime.”
“Not right away. When the time is right.”
“Give it some time. Holy Mother going to marry you or will it be a priest of the true faith?”
“We’re free to marry in other churches.”
“That’ll make Mom happy anyway. Let’s get back inside.”
We spent the next three hours discussing politics, movies and the arts.
Colleen said on the way home, “I felt like I was at the Yalta Conference sitting between these world movers and shakers.”
On the way home Colleen was especially affectionate.
“Brian, I like your family. That artwork on your brother’s walls is beautiful.”
“He did half of it. He’s won art contests but you’d never hear him tell of it. Jeanne has to dig it out of the closets and frame it or it would probably disappear.
Despite his gruff exterior, the guy’s a marshmallow underneath. As my mother would say: ‘Whenever you need him he’s there.’ He can also keep a secret like no one else I know.”
“Brian I’m sorry about ruining your evening.”
“Who said you ruined my evening? You made my evening!”
Her smile consumed me.
Of all the women I’d ever known, none had been so kind or understanding. When I’d broken up with Coleen, I was convinced that there was no one out there who could possibly ever measure up to her, and yet here I was with someone who surpassed her.
I thought of words to say to express that to Colleen looked over at her, and gave up. There were no words adequate. So I stopped the car.
“Brian what are you doing. Where is this’?”
“It’s the Wissachickon Valley at Green Valley.”
“I’ve never been in it from this side. It’s freezing out there. There must be at least a foot of snow on the ground. What do you think you’re doing?”
“Just come with me.” I helped her out of the car and ran with her down the lane. We entered the forest and she kept sliding and falling. I laughed.
“It’s not funny. I told you I’m deaf in one ear. It’s because I don’t have any fluid in that ear which also means that I don’t have my balance. During the day I’m alright but when I try to walk at night I look like I’m drunk; like right now. Help me walk! Where are you taking me.”
“Here.” I wrapped her around me and we pushed through deeply snowed embankments until we got to the bridge. We crossed the bridge and the scene was right out of a Currier and Ives illustration. I located a small cabin and pulled her inside. She started laughing.
“You’re crazy. Anybody ever tell you that.”
“I’m certified crazy. Ask my shrink.”
“What am I doing with you?”
“Who else would put up with me.”
“I don’t know.”
The creek was making such a loud noise that it was hard to imagine that this valley was located in a large city. The trees were heavy with snow and the sky was milky white with stars. The temperature was so cold that we had to wrap about each other just to keep from freezing solid. Colleen got cold and let me know.
“Let’s get out of here. I’ll turn into an icic1e in about a minute.”
“I’ve got something to tell you.”
“Tell me back home. The kerosene heater awaits us.”
“Colleen, I’m trying to be serious.”
“Be serious back at the house. Let’s go.”
“Look at me will you.”
“I can’t. My eyes are frozen solid. Brian. Whatever it is it can’ wait.”
“Fine. Fine. It’ll wait then. Maybe forever.”
“Brian, what’s wrong with you. You don’t have to get all mad. Come here my little pumpkin. What’s wrong.”
She tried to hold my arm.
“Forget it Colleen. Just forget it.”
“Brian! Will you hold me! I can’t walk up this gorge you grabbed me to unless you hold me. Now hold me.”
“I’ll hold you.”
I tickled her in the snow. “AUGHGHGH!!!”
“Colleen. Keep it down. Anyone passing by will think that I’m trying to rape you.”
“Then help me up.”
“There.” I stood her up and looked into her eyes.
She hugged me in a bear grin and rubbed my back. We kissed and my anger, if it existed, melted.
Back on the road, back in Colleen’s affections and the world was alright for now.