Memoirs Of A Catholic Misfit
Published: February 5, 2009
All my life, things have been weird. When I was just a kid, I suffered through a series of unfortunate, extremely frizzy permanents, overseen by my older cousin who was a beauty school dropout. Yes, that’s me, the misfit, with the glum expression and the big bush of electrified curls in the family photos.
To make matters worse, I was overweight. Oh, not as bad as my classmate, poor Patsy Hogg, whose tragic name so accurately described her physique. But, still, the truth was that I was quite chubby and awkward and had to wear stretchy elastic on my skirts.
My earliest memory of school days is running eagerly across the yard toward my kindergarten classroom and then hearing some skinny kid screaming at me: “Hey, Fatty!” Unfortunately, that name stuck.
We moved from New York to Miami when I was just seven, and my classmates at Fairlawn Elementary School found my northern twang absolutely hilarious. They would ask me to repeat certain words, especially “coffee” and “toilet,” so they could double over with laughter.
I certainly tried to be like the other Miami girls, who were mostly thin and talented. In sewing class, I took on a very simple project of making a skirt, selecting a pattern that had no buttons, zippers or fancy lines. Problem was, I sewed the pockets on the wrong side, and my inside-out skirt became the laughing stock of the class.
To make matters worse, I was also the only girl who could not do a forward roll in tumbling class. I did most of my praying as I waited in line for my turn, asking God to intervene with a heart attack or even an atomic bomb, anything to spare me. But my turn always came, and the skinny girls collapsed in fits of glee as I floundered gracelessly on the mat.
I’m the one whose bowling ball always hit the gutter. The one who did a series of thunderous belly flops in swimming class. And the one who failed her driving test at age 16—and not for some minor mistake like driving too fast. No, instead I literally ran into—and flattened—a stop sign, at which point I turned to the officer and said, “I guess the test is over.”
I keep telling myself that other women suffer similar misfortunes, but I’m not so sure. How many, for example, started their working days as a teenager in the lingerie department of Burdine’s department store in Miami, reporting to a curvy manager named Lolita? I was barely wearing grown-up undergarments myself and had to sift through mountains of double Ds for grouchy customers, while Lolita barked orders. If you don’t believe that’s a trauma, think again.
Other girls went to college, met the man of their dreams, graduated and got married. I became a rebel, carrying an Army surplus gas-mask bag instead of a purse and dating tortured would-be poets, destined to two-time me. While other girls were nursing their first babies, I was delivering a three-pound dissertation on existentialism to my graduate advisers.
Today, I still don’t fit in. I’m a Catholic woman without children. A Southerner without a drawl. A grown woman whose pet is, of all things, a hamster named Ignatius.
Despite all this, each week I join all the normal folks at St. Thomas More Church to worship God. Yes, they are the Southern ladies whose homes sparkle with a Martha Stewart glow. The gentlemen who drive fine, well-appointed cars. And the thin, popular children who surely excel at doing forward rolls in tumbling class.
But I know the real truth. I know that hidden beneath the apparently perfect facades, there are broken memories, weeping hearts and tattered dreams. I know I am not as alone as I once imagined, back in the days when a cry of “Fatty” could shatter my heart.
How amazing that when the crowd inches forward—the young and the beautiful, the tanned and the talented—there are counted among them the broken, the scared and the flawed. How astonishing that, when the priest raises the Host, the misfits can whisper “Only say the word and I shall be healed.”And when the priest says “The Body of Christ,” we answer, just like normal folks do: “Amen.”
How amazing that the Lord God Almighty makes himself small enough for us to consume, to love, to protect and to house in our hearts. What a miracle that bread becomes flesh, wine becomes blood, and in a moment of great mystery, all the hurts dissolve and the broken memories fade. And the misfits become the beloved.
Lorraine Murray’s books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com.