My mother was happy when I announced that I was going to be an altar boy. At eleven, I was perhaps a little young for such an important task, but ardent in my desire to please God.
And I learned quickly, not only memorizing all the Latin needed for my responses during mass but understanding what it all meant, the significance of those holy words and phrases. I even strove to understand the “why” behind the different parts of our holy mass.
I would perhaps make a good priest one day.
* * *
I woke up happy that Saturday morning, dew wet on the new summer grass. Everything still and quiet, the morning after payday party night.
It was a few months after I’d begun what I saw as my solemn and important work at the church. I’d already served a wedding and a funeral and was proud of myself for executing my duties flawlessly.
I was up before everyone, save my dad, who always woke before us. He was a solitary shadow sitting at the Formica and chrome table in the kitchen, hunched over his coffee. Perhaps thinking of how long he had to wait before he could exchange his coffee for something stronger, something that might help him forget the horrors of his war in Italy.
That image of him is fresh in my mind even today. Too soon I would copy it—and continue to do so for more than twenty years.
I kissed his sunken cheek goodbye.
* * *
Maybe I could become a priest. They send you to school, and you have lots of time to learn, to help people. Those thoughts ran through my sleepy brain that morning, full of possibility as I donned the white surplice, a symbol of the purity of those chosen to serve the Holy Church.
“Bonjour, mon enfant,” the Monseigneur greeted me as he entered the vestry from the sanctuary of our church.
What is he doing here? I wondered. The Monseigneur never performed Saturday mass.
“Tu es mon serveur aujourd’hui?” he said so quietly that I could barely hear him.
“Oui.Yes, Father, I’m your server this morning,” I whispered in French.
“C’est bon. Dis-moi, aimez vous Dieu?”
I turned my eyes down as I replied, “Yes, Father, I love God very much.”
This man represented God here on earth and was to be revered and listened to. Obeyed.
“Bon, très bon.” He came towards me.
“Dieu aime ses serviteurs obeissants.” God loves his obedient servants. He stopped inches away from me. “Would you like to become a priest?”
“I can help,” he said as he took me to him.
I turned my face to the side, toward the long window with the sunbeam filled with dancing dust motes, my back to the rectory where this man of God lived with the other priest.
Where is Father Gautier? He should be here. I tried to will his arrival. Fear pounded in my head.
But Father Gautier didn’t come, and there was nothing to do but stand here, this man’s arms holding me tight against him, his erection pushing into my chest. I could feel the pulse against my little body, throbbing, almost touching my heart.
“Dieu vous aime, mon petit.”
I knew that God loved me, but I was confused, too afraid to make a sound. Monseigneur Fortier knows what is right, I thought. He listens to my Confession and gives me my penance and forgives my sins.
He began rocking back and forth, gripping the two of us in a macabre parody of dance.
I could smell the sweat of him, feel the rough cloth of his robe against my cheek, almost taste his breath as he moved his head down to stroke my head with his chin.
He held me close, so close, chanting in time with the rhythm of his masturbation, “God loves you, my son, you are a good boy, you are a good boy.”
I don’t know how long we stood locked in that loathsome embrace. I gave myself to the brightness streaming in the vestry window from a sun that seemed so far away from where my body was being forced to endure this.
Twenty minutes? Two minutes? I don’t know. I have no memory of time. The next thing I recall is a shudder from him that brought me partway back from the safe place where my soul had retreated.
Then…kneeling next to the altar, ringing the bell to announce the miracle of the Transformation.
Then…waking up, fully dressed, on top of the chenille spread that covered the bed that I shared with my brother.
No more sunbeam. Only the smell of him still strong on my cheek and a one-dollar bill in my pocket.
* * *
What had happened was wrong, terribly wrong. That I knew.
But what could I do? I couldn’t tell anyone—after all, who would believe me? And even if they did, they would wonder why I had done this to him, how I had made it happen. I was doomed to spend eternity burning in hell. In anguish for the direful deed I’d committed.
I was isolated. More alone than I’d ever felt.
I didn’t want to go back, couldn’t go back. I couldn’t let this happen to him again.
* * *
I only returned to church when I had to, with my mom or with our school. The Monseigneur came to my classroom a few times; it was common for the parish priest to visit schools under his “protection.” I felt confused when I saw him. He had no reaction to me. Did he hate me for what I had done? I had seduced him, which made me evil.
We moved shortly after that, and I think he moved as well.
* * *
I was thirteen when we touched down in our new city. It was mid-July, six weeks before a new school and new people. Six weeks to figure out how to hide the scared, lonely child so he wouldn’t, couldn’t be hurt again.
I watched the others in the schoolyard, how they interacted, who they looked up to. I made a lot of mistakes in grade eight: got into a couple of fights, got my face slapped, but I worked out what it would take—a little charm a little smarts, a bit of balls, and a fast tongue to cover up the holes in the persona.
I could be “The Cool Kid”
I couldn’t play any instruments. I couldn’t even carry a tune, which was a handicap in the days of the British invasion and long hair. But I could manage the band, find the high schools looking for live music for their weekend dances. Introduce them, be the first on stage, make a lot of noise, be noticed, be a part of something bigger than me, and with all of the energy floating around no one would notice the tremor in my hands or see the fear in my eyes. Hell, behind the purple granny glasses, you couldn’t even see my eyes.
A reverse superman, take off the spectacles and I was a mild mannered little kid, Clark Kent with no hidden powers, but put them on and I was a STAR. Even the girls from St. Mary’s Academy wanted me! I looked good on the outside.
On the inside I was as a dead man, too angry to fall down, too scared to cry out.
Long bouts of severe depression.
Years of beer and crack.
Fast life, slow suicide.
Later, long bouts of therapy.
* * *
After forty years of hell, I went back to that church. I needed to face my demons.
I discovered that he was still alive and living no more than two kilometers away.
The rage I felt was like no other, and in my car I screamed and cried and pounded the steering wheel. I wanted to kill him. I had the means. I knew where to get a gun with no questions asked.
Instead, I called the police.
* * *
When I finally confronted him, now old and frail and so much smaller than the last time I’d seen him, he had dementia and couldn’t even understand the accusations read out in court.
He was found unfit to stand trial.
But at least he and his family and the public had heard the charges. And I had stood up to him and the bishop who protected him.
I wasn’t the first, you see.
* * *
He died less than a year later.
I sued the Church and won. But what I had really wanted was an apology, which I’ll never get. That day in court I finally cried. I cried for the child I’d been; I cried for the child he’d been. I cried because I realized, finally, that it wasn’t my fault, that it wasn’t even personal. I was a fence post when he had an itch.
I took my shame and gave it back to him.
And I cried some more because I wanted to take him in my arms and say that I forgave him for what he had done.
But I didn’t. I was still too scared—afraid others would not understand that although I could never condone, never accept his actions or even like him, I could love him the way Christ loved his disciples, even Judas.
After all, wasn’t that what Father Fortier had been taught to teach so long ago? It was a lesson that took me four decades of agony to learn.
And all these years later, I can still smell his sweat.
Rick Brazeau has been writing for about five years. He has always felt that he had a voice but it was drowned out by self-doubt and insecurity which manifested itself through anger and a “lone-wolf’ mentality.
Therapy and sobriety are finally changing that. Previously his only outlet was photography, which you can sample on Facebook (search for Rick B Photography.)
He currently lives just North of Toronto with the love of his life, Antonella.