Merry Christmas, Catholic Girl

Merry Christmas, Catholic Girl

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by Beverly De Soto Stevens

This is my fourth Christmas as a divorcee.

Four Christmases ago, my so-called husband left me with a broken-down house, a five year old Chevy van, a basement full of water and an utterly empty bank account. Plus a frightened seven year old, and a very angry teenaged girl.

When he threatened us, I made several trips to the police station to beg for help. Finally, one cop took pity on my terror. He solemnly advised me to change our locks and to keep the outside lights on.

Also, never, ever, to let my ex back in the house.

“If he, ah, does something you don’t like once he’s inside,” he told me, burly arms crossed in front of him. His warm brown eyes were sympathetic. “Then our hands are tied. Because you let him in. You understand my meaning?”

I swallowed the tears welling up in my eyes, hating my weakness. Yes, I nodded soundlessly. I understood. Despite the fact that I was a highly educated professional, I understood. My husband, an alcoholic, a vain actor and a cowardly sociopath, was a man. He could hurt me, even rape me. I understood that.

“If he, ah, does something you don’t like once he’s inside,” the policeman told me, burly arms crossed in front of him. His warm brown eyes were sympathetic. “Then our hands are tied. Because you let him in. You understand my meaning?”

Officer Donzella looked concerned, and handed me his card. “You call us if he shows up again, okay? We’ll be watching the house.”

I didn’t have to, thank the Lord. My ex disappeared as soon as the divorce was final.

“He just dove into the bottle and disappeared, right?” said my best friend Jan. Which is about right, I suppose. After all those years of marriage to a raging alcoholic, I was just about finished, myself.

That was four years ago.

Today, my basement is dry. Our house is repaired. We own a sensible, un-sexy car. After 18 months without health insurance, with great relief I began work as a bank manager. I continue to moonlight on weekends as an SAT tutor.

I have a very Catholic housekeeper. She cleans and cooks, and makes sure the kids are taken care of, closely guarded. Nancy is in a Catholic girls’ high school. David is in a small Catholic grammar school. My nightmare, hard to shake off, is that he will kidnap them.

I work seven days a week to maintain this life. After a year on Paxil, I now control my stress and anxiety with exercise. I sleep soundly at night; we have two dogs who bark at the least provocation, and they have slept quietly by our sides for about two years now. Nancy has been accepted at a very good university for next year. David is a happy-go-lucky 11 year old. I have righted the ship.

My best ally in all of this has been my Catholicism. This may seem surprising to some; our parish was the center of a national scandal when our priest and his boyfriend the wedding planner were arrested for stealing $1.4 million. Many people lost their faith in the wake of that scandal, among others.

I did not. My faith was not dependent on our suburban parish; in fact, I had years before started to attend a Latin Mass in a small chapel at a nearby nunnery.

Our parish was the center of a national scandal when our priest and his boyfriend the wedding planner were arrested for stealing $1.4 million. Many people lost their faith in the wake of that scandal, among others.

It was the Gregorian chant that attracted me. But it was the sound Catholic orthodoxy of the brilliant priest that kept me returning, week after week. There, my kids learned to sit still during Mass. Soon, they learned the thrill of the Sacred. And finally, safe in the arms of Mother Church, I could let down my hair and cry for hours in the little chapel. The Sisters understood. Occasionally, I would be aware of the rustle of their habits as they genuflected in the chapel to visit their Lord.

So you can imagine my surprise last week when Officer Donzella – sans police uniform – knelt in the pew opposite us yesterday, on the first Sunday in Advent. Of course my kids had no idea who he was, but afterwards at the coffee and doughnut hour, I approached him.

“Hello!” I began, all smiles. I wondered if he would know me.

He stood drinking coffee in his pressed khakis, looked at me blankly for a moment, then blinked suddenly in recognition.

“Well, hello!” he said, smiling back. David – now an altar boy — was distracted by the doughnuts and his Sunday playmates. Nancy was swallowed up in a group of laughing, homeschooled teenagers.

“I’m surprised to find you here!” Officer Donzella blurted out, then looked abashed.

I laughed merrily.

“Why?”

“Well, ah, you didn’t seem like the Catholic type to me,” he said, truthful, but reddening.

“No?”

“Well, maybe ‘Catholic.’ But not actually Catholic, if you know what I mean. What's it called? ‘Catholic In Name Only'?”

I let out a peal of laughter.

“I’m pretty Catholic,” I replied wryly.

We both laughed.

“Yeah?” he said, and I noticed his eyes were twinkling.

“Yeah,” I said straightforwardly. “Actually. So what are you doing here?”

Jan was unimpressed. “He’s a cop,” she intoned. “They are all nuts.”

“Oh come on, he goes to the Latin Mass.”

“Great. So he’s a religious nut,” she said. “Even better.”

“I live here. Always have,” he said, and then said grimly, “But I had enough of that business at the parish…”

“No kidding,” I agreed, and waited.

“Somebody told me the nuns have Mass here,” he said. “About the music…”

“The chant?” I supplied.

“Beautiful,” he shook his head, a little dazed. “Outta this world.”

“Yes, it is,” I ventured. There was a short silence.

“So, no more trouble from your ex?” he asked tentatively. “I mean, it was a few years ago…”

“No more trouble,” I said, and knocked on the wooden table next to me. He chuckled again. I noticed that his eyes wrinkled, and wondered how old he was. Somewhere around my age, I decided. Early 40s.

“These your kids?” he asked, indicating Nancy and David, now bearing down on us, dressed to leave. The after-Mass crowd had dispersed.

“Yes,” I said shortly, suddenly shy. Then I recovered myself, quickly shook his hand, and turned to go. He did not try to stop me.

Jan was unimpressed.

“He’s a cop,” she intoned. “They are all nuts.”

“Oh come on, he goes to the Latin Mass.”

“Great. So he’s a religious nut,” she said. “Even better.”

I resisted.

“I like him. He’s the first guy I have liked in years.”

“Yeah? So what’s his story? Does he have kids?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, listen, just be careful,” she said. “Go have yourself a little fun.”

“I don’t want to have a little fun,” I said, somewhat piqued. “I want to get married.”

I couldn’t believe I actually said it.

Jan eyed me uneasily.

“Really? After all you’ve been through? Why?”

“I don’t actually know, except that it has something to do with the way a life ought to be lived.”

Ought to be lived? Sounds awfully judgmental to me.”

“Yeah, I guess that's what I am,” I countered, chuckling. “Call me ‘judgmental.'”

I surveyed myself critically in the mirror before leaving the house tonight. I am still slender, and somewhat stylish, in a muted kind of way. My shoulder-length brown hair is attractively cut. My face is unlined, except for the deep furrow the stress of recent years has worn across my forehead.

I sighed and wrapped a warm red shawl around over my ankle-length black woolen coat. It would be cold tonight at the lighting of the town’s Christmas Tree.

As David and I walked by the police cars stationed at the edge of the crowd, I suddenly heard a voice call out.

“Hey!”

Donzella detached himself from his fellow cops. He was imposing in his policeman’s winter coat, his weapon on his belt. As I looked up at him, our breath fogged the frosty air.

“Will you be at Mass at the convent on Sunday?”

“Uh, yes. Yes, we will.”

“Me, too.”

We eyed each other awkwardly.

“Okay, so we’ll see you there!” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. David tugged on my arm, and I turned to go.

“That’s Trevor’s dad,” he stage-whispered as we walked away. “Trevor Donzella, in my class.”

My heart constricted.

“Yeah?” I replied, crestfallen. The Christmas lights around me suddenly seemed garish, and I shivered in the cold.

“Yeah,” echoed David, “Gotta go!” He patted me solicitously on the arm, and took off to join his friends at the base of the tree.

“Um, listen, would you like to have coffee or something afterwards?”

I sighed, and turned around. Officer Donzella was standing behind me.

I sighed and wrapped a warm red shawl over my ankle-length black woolen coat. It would be cold tonight at the lighting of the town’s Christmas Tree.

 

“Listen, I’m not sure.”

His face fell. When he spoke, his voice was hurt.

“Oh sure, I understand. It’s okay.”

“I’m not sure you do understand.”

“Y-you have plans. It’s okay.”

“No, I don’t. But I also don’t know anything about you.”

His face softened, and he grinned.

“I’m a cop. A Catholic cop.”

“Right,” I smiled in spite of myself, then shook my head. “But that’s not what I mean.”

His face grew hard.

“You don’t date cops?” He said. The words fell like stones between us.

“No,” I returned, with some annoyance. “I don’t date married men.”

Married? What makes you think I’m married?”

“My son goes to school with your son.”

“Okay, I’m divorced. Like you, right?”

“I’m divorced, yes. But I wasn’t married in the Church.”

He nodded.

“Does all this really matter to you? I mean, I just asked you for coffee.”

I sighed.

“You asked me if I was Catholic. The answer is yes. It matters to me.”

“Okay, so I was married in the Church. We had one child. She left me for another guy. Now we’re divorced. It’s a mess, like everybody’s life is, these days.”

“Okay, so I was married in the Church. We had one child. She left me for another guy. Now we’re divorced. It’s a mess, like everybody’s life is, these days.”

“Right. And you are going to Mass?”

“Yeah, I felt like Trevor needed to go to Mass. So when I don’t have him, I go anyway.”

“Why?”

“Why?” he echoed, puzzled. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Because Mass is where you’ll find a nice girl?”

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them, but he didn’t flinch. Instead, he held my eyes steadily.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “That’s what I want. Though that is not my main reason for going to Mass.”

I nodded. To my intense annoyance, my heart was beating wildly.

“What did you mean when you asked me if I was Catholic?”

He chuckled.

“I didn’t think someone like yourself, uh, would be. I mean, with following the rules and everything.”

I didn’t understand.

“Following what rules?”

He took a deep breath.

“You’re a professional woman. Professional women don’t believe in the Church’s rules about, well, stuff.”

“You’re a professional woman. Professional women don’t believe in the Church’s rules about, well, stuff. And they don't date cops.”

Before I could answer, he added in a flat tone, “and they don’t date cops.”

He snickered, then, without humor and turned to look at the multicolored lights of the Tree.

“What are you talking about, the rules?” I was incredulous. “You mean the rules about sex before marriage? Well, you’re wrong. That’s exactly how Catholic I am. I don’t date married men, and I don’t have sex before marriage.”

I was way louder than I meant to be. People were looking at us as they passed. His face was unreadable, but I thought I detected a glint of humor in his eyes.

“Would you date a cop with an annulment? Without having sex before marriage?”

There was another silence. Then I lifted my chin and smiled gently up at him.

“I would be honored to date a cop. With an annulment. Under the usual conditions.”

The grin spread across his honest face, lighting up his eyes as it went.

“OKAY, then! So you will have coffee with me after Mass at the convent?”

I smiled broadly. “Yes, but only at the convent…”

“Until I have an annulment?”

“Yes.”

Domincan Nuns ad III

“Even if it takes months and months?”

“Yes.”

Pure joy lit his face. Or maybe it was the tears in my eyes that made it seem so. In any case, we stood there on the pavement under the Christmas lights, grinning at each other like fools.

“Merry Christmas, Catholic girl,” he whispered, gazing down seriously into my eyes.

“Merry Christmas,” I replied, and turned to intercept David. “See you at Holy Mass.”

I wrapped my red shawl tighter around me, and together with my son, headed for home.

“That’s exactly how Catholic I am. I don’t date married men, and I don’t have sex before marriage.”

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