Riding my bike with the Blessed Virgin Mary
Her face was shiny serene, porcelain cheeks painted high with a light pink blush. Her blonde hair was barely visible as it peeked out from under the powder-blue veil. On her slim shoulder was a line of long hair, a thin yellow snake curling down onto her covered breast. Her tiny lips were rose-petal red, like one of my dolls.
Mary, Mary, Blessed Virgin Mary. Please make me like you. I want to be blonde and skinny and perfect, like the Breck Girls in my mom’s McCall’s magazines. Seriously, Mary. Intercede for me, that’s what they say in the prayer books. Make me special. Different. Not like this. Not the girl who lives in the country and who weighs more than the boys and who has to wear a tight uniform every day.
I shut my eyes, stayed on my knees and quit breathing, imaging some holy white light singling me out from above St. Michael’s Church, a celestial beam into our tiny Iowa town. Hold, hold. Nothing.
I sighed and sat back on the pew, still the same. Still the fat girl in the fourth grade. I was already dreading the one-block walk from the church back to the school, fearing a replay of yesterday.
“My, heavens, you have a big behind,” Sister Rita said in her high-pitched voice, adding a swat to the back of my uniform skirt. I could hear giggles coming from students behind me.
To say Sister Rita was mean was like saying all those pictures of the crucified Christ hanging in our school were just kinda bloody.
It didn’t get better inside the classroom, either. We had been assigned to read something about Pocahontas and John Smith, a tragic love story I adored, and I had done my homework. Every time Sister Rita asked a question, my hand shot up in the air, a daily occurrence which she grew tired of.
She would look past me, around me, call on anyone but me. At the end of the story, she posed the obvious question.
“How did Pocahontas die?”
One kid guessed a heart attack. Another said cowboys killed her. I was shocked -- how couldn’t they see the obvious answer? My arm ached for being in the air so long. Finally, the nun gave in.
“Does anyone other than Peggy know the answer?” Silence. Sister Rita nodded my way.
“Pocahontas died,” I said, “of a broken heart.” Class dismissed.
I always felt better when I got home, after walking past the public school and the Clancy’s big white house and up the dirt road past the barbed-wire fence that marked the beginning of my family’s acreage.
I knew there were Twinkies in the deep-freeze that sat out on the porch. Hunkered down like a whale laying on a beach, the white-sided freezer held the stash mom bought at the day-old bread store every Saturday. The first package went down fast, gulped like medicine. I immediately felt calm, happy, full. The second I savored, biting off both ends of the frozen golden sponge and saving the best for last, the frozen rock of white center that was so sweet it made my teeth ache. I buried the cellophane wrappers in the garbage.
Then the best part of the day. I got my navy blue Huffy out of the barn and hit the road. I’m just certain I’m the world’s best bike rider – I could ride with no hands and I knew every inch of the gravel roads around our little farm.
I could go as far as I wanted. Up the hill, past our Secret Hideout, around the corner and down to the Egg Lady’s house. Spot, my dog, traveled with me until he got distracted. That was fine. Sometimes he got in my way when I drove curves going really fast.
Up here on my bike, the wind blowing back my hair like the ladies in the magazines, I waspretty and fast and always ready to save the day. Up here, I can rescue my friends from a burning house and give a kidney to someone so it saves her life and I’m the most religious girl in school.
Up here, the Blessed Virgin Mary is riding on my handlebars, her blue robes floating around me. The wind in my ears sounds like applause.