There are two sides to the congregation, and I mean that literally.
When I walk in, I sit on the far side, but the whole time we face each other like two sides of a broken mirror, too busy focused on the other to realize something is happening in the middle.
It’s hard not to be a writer for an hour. To be silent yet engaged, alone yet together. It’s hard to sit and stand and not at least cut a glance to the girl three feet away, coughing under her blanket. The preteen three rows up, her whole body bobbing with the music. The two elderly couples in the front, turning to each other and grinning as if to say, “I have waited all week to see you again.”
I am getting better at it, but it is hard. Most of the time, it feels like I am sitting knee deep in a community that sees me as temporary.
When I was a child, and well into my preteen years, I used to keep my jacket on in church. Not because I was ready to scoot at a second’s notice, but because I was small, so small, and always cold.
Now, though, I don’t even wear a jacket. I set my purse down on the seat next to me, hoping someone might notice this gesture. See? I am staying.
When instructed, I turn to the man behind me, middle aged and Asian, and shake his hand.
“Kaleigh,” I say.
He doesn’t offer his name. None of them do.
And so I stop repeating mine, wondering if you have to earn names like Girl Scout badges, or if mine is just too Irish, too unfamiliar, too softly spoken over the din of chatter encircling our miniature introductions.
I wonder if he even knows I introduced myself.
When I leave, I go to slide the Cather into a shelf, but it doesn’t quite fit and a teenaged boy wordlessly grabs it from me, clutches it to his chest, and fits it neatly into another row. My cheeks burn with irresponsibility.
I start to remark that there is no room, I can see that, desperate to explain to someone that I am capable, but he doesn’t listen.
I wonder, then, if this is about books on shelves.
Sometimes, I’ll admit, it feels a bit like entering the high school cafeteria and watching the automatic reflex of others stretching themselves over the benches, ensuring that there is no room left for you.
There is no room for you.
I can’t see myself in the broken mirror of the congregation. I don’t know how I fit. Just that it feels less earned, more forced, than it has in my entire life. Just that every other time I entered a church not as an outside so much as a good friend, girlfriend, sister, relative of an actively-involved, regularly-committed churchgoer.
This time, I am on my own.
And I wonder if it has anything to do with books or jackets or leaving. If it’s all in my head.
Maybe, I wonder, they know I’m walking on this thing called Catholicism like a frozen lake in the middle of winter. Maybe I am nearly transparent, saying the wrong responses and singing out of tune.