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Divorce: When One Half Wants Out

Divorce Cakes a_005

Divorce Cakes a_005 (Photo credit: DrJohnBullas)

Someone told me a story about a woman who refused to admit that her marriage was over.  It was before the “no fault” divorce laws in New York state.  She decided to legally contest her husband‘s petition of divorce.  The woman felt that her husband had no right to leave her.   In her mind shhe had been a good and loyal wife, and he had no right to end the marriage.  She was also Catholic and believed that divorce was immoral and a sin against God.  A few years later, after spending a small fortune on legal fees and lawyers a judge agreed with her.  The court denied her husband’s petition for divorce.  Even though they were physically separated and no longer a couple they remained legally married.  Desperate, her husband moved to New Jersey with his new girlfriend and started the process all over again.  They couple is now divorced.  As much as my heart goes out to the woman, she should have just let him go.

A failed marriage is kind of like our own personal fairy tale but with a horrible twisted bad ending – one we never would have expected.  Most marriages end when one half of a partnership wants out, not with both sides sitting down and coming to a mutually agreed upon separation.  Sure, those amicable divorces are out there, and some couples have literally tried everything to make their marriages work before they decide to end things.  But since I started writing about divorce I have gotten an avalanche of stories from readers about their own divorce related battles.  In most situations, one side simply wants out of the marriage while the other spouse fights desperately to keep things together.  In some cases the spouse who wants to remain married is simply crushed by the split.  It might take two people to get married, but it only takes one to force a divorce.  Not every marriage falls apart due to constant fighting, any number of things can lead to a divorce:

  • Rampant infidelity – sex with multiple partners over the course of the marriage behind their spouses back
  • Falling in love with a new partner
  • Midlife crisis – suddenly they want to completely rebuild their life – including their spouse
  • Substance abuse – spouse refuses to seek treatment
  • Untreated mental illness – spouse refuses to seek treatment
  • Massive deception – leading secret life
  • Fraud – married for a green card, inheritance, money, etc.
  • Closeted homosexual – married to have “normal” life

What is tragic is that I have met so many men and women who are not accepting that it’s over.  What they tend to say repeatedly are things like:

  • I don’t want to give up on this marriage
  • I grew up in a broken home and I vowed to never let this happen to me
  • I thought if I just worked hard enough that I could avoid divorce
  • How can he/she do this to our family? – It’s not fair

Relationships involve two people, and no one can control the behavior of another human being.  If your spouse wants out, there is not much you can do about it.  We all think if we just sacrifice enough, give up more and more of our happiness we can make it work.  I put up with an emotionally distant man in a celibate marriage because I refused to give up on my vows.  I believed in the sanctity in marriage and believed with all my heart that if I loved him enough and gave up my own hopes and dreams for his, that we would be together forever.  Somehow along the way I missed the point that the marriage was not the source of my happiness.  Just being with another human being does not always give the greatest fulfillment or joy.  I know this now because four years after leaving my husband I am much better off emotionally than I was for the last few years of my marriage.  Unwittingly we buy into the hype that romantic love is the greatest thing in the world to achieve, when I would argue it’s not.

Life isn’t fair for many of us.  Time and time again I have heard stories of one partner horribly betrayed by another.  We didn’t sign up for this.  We didn’t stand in front of our families and vow to give up on our version of a happy ending.  One of the most difficult realities to face as an adult is the willingness to admit we are powerless in certain situations.  No matter how hard we work, we cannot fix something that cannot be mended.

It’s awful and the pain is real and devastating, but just because that our original dream didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean we can’t find a new one.  If your partner wants out and you have tried everything to make it work – let them go.  They might have a change of heart and realize their mistake, but do you really want someone who left you in the first place?  No one is perfect.  There is no single human being on this planet who can complete another.  Even if they are the parent to your children, and even if you thought your life would work out differently.  As hard as it is when our marriages fall apart, we have to forget about the life we envisioned married to our spouse.   We have to instead learn to cherish and love our new reality.  It will get better, every day, week, month and year…just hang in there. 🙂

The Anti-choice movement – Pro-Birth and the Fear of the Single Woman

Pro-abortion march

Pro-abortion march (Photo credit: American Life League)

I honestly don’t know if it is possible to debate this subject in a logical way.  For every argument the pro-choice side throws up the pro-life side throws up a photo of a mangled fetus or an ultrasound, then the pro-choice side points to images of dead women and butchered reproductive organs.  Obviously it is a highly emotional subject for many, but there was a time when no one would even think to politicize a woman’s choice in the matter.  Abortion has existed for thousands of years, and if made illegal will simply return to the back alleys in the form of dangerous sometimes lethal procedures.

I use the term pro-birth in the title of this piece instead of pro-life for a very specific reason.  Most proponents of the pro-life argument are in fact pro-birth and not exactly pro-life.   As some pro-birth types who fight to save every pregnancy are the same folks who would love to see an end to food stamps, welfare, the WiC food program, Medicaid, state child health insurance programs and even Head Start, the pre-school program for low-income children. If they are so pro-child and pro-family why leave low-income households with little to no government support.    They cavalierly say these families and mothers can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” when they don’t even have a pair of boots, much less any straps to pull them up with.  Some of these more extreme right wingers would not only put an end to all government assistance, they would also end access to most forms of birth control and abortion in nearly all cases.  Yet according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute 6 in 10 women who have an abortion already have a child, sometimes several children and the primary reason they give for having the procedure is the need to care for their existing children.  According to the same report, 4 in 10 of women who have abortions have income below the federal poverty line.   So many who seek abortions are already mothers desperately trying to support and take care of their families.

The myth perpetuated by some in the anti-abortion movement is that of a cold-hearted selfish single woman who gleefully terminates pregnancies at will.  They have sex without marriage, and a life lived for themselves and not for the benefit of a child.  To some conservatives these women are not following the rules of nature by being sexually active and not reproducing.  Although modern humans especially in wealthy industrial nations are not even close to living in our natural state.  Thanks to advances in medical technology we are living into our eighties, with marvels such as: antibiotics, vaccines, organ transplants, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, pace makers, and artificial joints.   We also are hardly living according to nature when we ship food all over the world.   We use fossil fuels, chemical pesticides and fertilizers and have boosted food production to levels that were unheard up just a few generations ago.   These medical and technological advances are taken for granted yet any woman who wants to control their reproductive system is asking for something entirely unreasonable.  If we can cheat death with antibiotics then why not plan our families with hormonal birth control?  The single childless woman who lives her life without a man would be a far rarer occurrence if she did not have control of her reproductive rights.

Making their case even more confusing are the same conservatives who rail against the childless single mother are the same who condemn a woman who purposefully has a child out-of-wedlock.  In 1992 vice president Dan Quayle lamented against a fictional character on the show “Murphy Brown” for setting a bad example by actively choosing to raise a child as a single-mother.   Twenty years later the debate still rages, but what these conservatives forget is that we have always had single mothers.  The tragedies of premature death, warfare and abandonment have always supplied plenty of single mothers. The real fear is women living without men, defying the male power structure and living as they see fit.  The single unmarried woman becomes the ultimate she-devil, the woman who can live without a man and things like abortion and birth control make this lifestyle that much easier.

To some conservatives any woman who lives without the traditional nuclear family structure is somehow going against “the rules”.  The teenager who gets pregnant and terminates her pregnancy somehow got away with negative behavior.  She did not pay the consequences for her actions.  The brutalized rape or incest victim must also pay penance for the sins of another and endure nine months of a pregnancy only then to raise her attackers baby or give the child away.  The religious person might think that since they are “playing by the rules” that everyone around them must adhere to the same morality.  Even though many religious types don’t even adhere to this strict code of moral conduct themselves.  According the the Guttmacher Institute 3 out of 4 women who have abortions would call themselves religiously affiliated and Catholic woman have abortions at almost the same rate as the general population. A recent study cited in the New Scientist showed that pornography sales are actually slightly higher in Republican leaning states than in Democratic ones, one of the highest being the ultra conservative state of Mississippi.    And how many examples of religious leaders do we need that have committed transgressions against their own sermons of morality.  Here is a handy list of just 12 that doesn’t even include the child sex scandals in the Catholic church.

But most important the same groups that claim that every fertilized egg is a sacred human life aren’t even consistent in their message.  Medical procedures such as IVF use countless embryos many of which do not result in a life birth.  Most couples make dozens of eggs and try to implant a few at a time.  In most cases several eggs are naturally rejected by a woman’s body and fail to attach to the uterine wall, many more remain in frozen storage.  The majority of these frozen embryos are ultimately destroyed when the freezing process has degraded them or when a couple is finished with the process.   The real fear here isn’t the plight of frozen embryos because after all these women are actively choosing to become mothers, at great cost and with some medical risk. The real fear is women actively choosing to not become mothers.  If the pro-lifers really cared about every embryo we would see pickets and protests outside of fertility clinics.

The world is overflowing with children who are already born and living on the edge of survival.  If the energy and money spent trying to save every pregnancy in the US went instead to ensuring the safety and well-being for children in the third world or even here in the US, millions of lives could be saved.  Of course some on the pro-life side of the debate are active in children’s charities and even adopt or foster unwanted children, but most would rather spend their time and energy condemning total strangers whom they know little about.

I just have to go back to a bumper sticker slogan that I saw many years ago that for me puts this issue to rest perfectly.

If you are against abortion, don’t have one.

If a pro-life advocate wants to raise their children and teach them that abortion is a vile crime against humanity, no one is stopping them.  However when they try to limit the rights of a total stranger and what she can or cannot do with her body they go too far.

The Birth Control Debate and Religious Freedom – Faulty Logic

Birth control pill

Birth control pill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Catholic church has already spent upwards of $2 billion on child sex abuse scandals so I guess spending money on lawyers for this is nothing new for them.  I read an article yesterday about how some Catholic institutions are suing the Obama administration over the proposed birth control mandate.  As it stands, religious organizations will get exemption that requires health insurances companies to pay for birth control so religious organizations do not have to pay for it directly.  Health insurance companies are not against this, as birth control is more cost-effective than pregnancies.  Birth control is also cheaper than a ruptured ovarian cyst or other complicated medical problem that hormonal birth control is sometimes used to treat.

The thought of my grandmother and other relatives giving money every Sunday to their local Catholic parishes to pay for lawsuits like these, when there are poor and needy people in their local communities is baffling to me.  Not to mention that although there were primitive forms of nearly every type of birth control except hormonal during the time of Christ, it is never mentioned in the bible.  Even though the bible includes restrictions on diet, clothing, worship, and nearly every aspect of life including restrictions on masturbation and sterilization yet female birth control and abortion are not even addressed.

Religious organizations, such as the Catholic church cry foul claiming that this mandate will force them to endorse lifestyle choices that they believe are morally wrong.   The current position of the Catholic church is that all forms of artificial birth control are sinful as are many fertility treatments including IVF.  And of course they are staunchly against abortion the only exception being if a pregnancy puts the life of the mother in jeopardy.

That being said, what are they getting so worked up about?  I fail to see their logic.  The vast majority of American women are already using some form of artificial birth control.  A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute found that up to 98% of American women have used artificial means of birth control including nearly 98% of Catholic women.  Currently a woman can purchase birth control with nothing more but a prescription from her doctor.  She can do this if she works for a Catholic employer, institution or hospital.  She simply has to pay for the medication out-of-pocket.   Many other forms of birth control are available over the counter at a drugstore, without insurance, the cost being burdened by the individual with no health insurance, or employers involved.

So again what is their point?  If the Catholic church doesn’t have to pay for birth control directly, and the women in question are already using birth control, are they just upset that someone other than the woman using the birth control is paying for it.  Because that is the only real difference here.  No one is forcing anyone to use birth control.  And the Catholic church is not paying for it directly.   Women will still use birth control whether the Catholic church likes it or not.  I guess the church just doesn’t want a health insurance company to pay for it.   If birth control was currently only used by a fraction of women, and this new mandate would cause an explosion in its use I might see their point.  But now nearly every American woman uses birth control of some kind, so the mandate only shifts the costs to either an employer or in the case of religious organizations the insurer.  98% of women is nearly all women, so there will be absolutely no change in behavior.

Any woman who is a devout Catholic can still reject any form of artificial birth control and try her luck with natural family planning.  Natural family planning has a much higher failure rate than hormonal birth control and it limits the days a couple can every sex every month.  But it is every woman’s decision to make that choice, this mandate does not change that basic truth.

The only thing that changes with the proposed mandate is who pays for the birth control, not who is using birth control.  An employer does not have the right to force its employees to not use certain medical devices, treatments or prescriptions because the employer doesn’t morally agree with the moral ramifications of those choices.  Religious institutions should not trump the basic rights of anyone including their employees.  Would this even be an issue if the Catholic church was declaring that any medical treatments that might help a woman become pregnant should also not be covered.  After all, most fertility treatments, at least any that fertilize an egg outside of a woman’s uterus are strictly forbidden by the Catholic church.   For the past three decades fifteen states have enacted laws that require at least some insurance coverage for infertility treatments.    Interesting how the Catholic church wasn’t making a fuss over state mandated fertility treatments, but they act as if birth control is a matter of religious freedom.

Birth Control Debate: Religious Freedom or Sexism?

U.S Postage Stamp, 1957

U.S Postage Stamp, 1957 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am completely floored by the current debate over the health care mandate requiring health insurance companies to pay for birth control and religious freedom. For starters no one is arguing that men receiving a prescription for the erectile dysfunction drug fill out any forms or prove that they are married or using the drug to procreate. Other than a few crafty legislatures who have introduced bills as a means to protest these insane attempts to limit access to birth control, no one has argued against viagra in terms of religious freedom.

And what about religious freedom? When did the right to worship as you please change to the right to influence or direct the personal behavior of your employees? Health insurance isn’t a hand-out paid for entirely by the employer and given to employees out of the goodness of their hearts. It is part of an employees compensation, so the employee is in effect earning their health insurance through their hard work. Most plans take a portion of the premium directly out of the employees paycheck. And the employer is allowed to deduct a certain amount paid for their employees premiums off of their tax liability, as health insurance is just another cost of doing business.  I also cry foul because so far there has been no mention of IVF fertility treatments.  The Catholic church is against IVF treatments because they create many embryos that ultimately get destroyed in the process of trying to create a pregnancy.  IVF treatments are not being mandated as part of basic health insurance coverage by the government but it is interesting how the pro-life movement rarely mentions them or brings up the topic.  We don’t see throngs of protestors outside fertility treatments for the great multitude of frozen embryos destroyed as a result of these fertility treatments.

So how far are we going to take religious freedom?  How much can an employer influence the lives of their employees in the name of religious freedom.

Would Muslim employers

  • Require female workers to wear a veil while at work, or even a Burka
  • Be allowed to discriminate against women and refuse to hire women based on their religious beliefs
  • Pay women less than men, based on their religious beliefs
  • Ban all pork and other prohibited foods under Islamic law in the workplace even for non-Muslim employees
  • Make non-Muslim employees observe Muslim holy days and traditions including fasting
  • Require moments of silence in the work place for all five times during the day that Muslims pray towards Mecca

Would Mormon Employers be allowed to

  • Ban Coffee from the work place
  • Institute modest dress code laws
  • Require mandatory readings of the Book of Mormon

Would Scientologist employers be allowed to

  • Refuse to cover any psychiatric or psychological drugs or care
  • Force employees to attend Scientologist meetings or treatment such as for alcoholism or learning disabilities
  • Demand every employee to be audited with an e-meter

Would an orthodox Jew employer be allowed to

  • Force female employees to wear wigs and forgo pants for long skirts and modest clothing.
  • Institute all Kosher laws regarding the Sabbath and food restrictions

Would a Jehovah’s Witness employer be allowed to

  • Refuse to cover many surgeries that would require a blood transfusion

Christian Scientist

  • Ban most medical procedures in favor of spiritual healing and prayer

Seventh Day Adventist

  • Require all employee to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet while at the work place

And could any religious employer refuse to cover the legal spouse of a same-sex marriage in the states in which same-sex unions and marriages are legal?  Most states mandate employers to cover their employees for some type of health care coverage depending on the amount of employees.  Could an especially frugal employer simply state that their religious beliefs would only support 100% faith healing and prayer, pretty much wiping away the need for health insurance entirely.  Why not?  If an employer gets to act as a parent to their employee and decide what is morally acceptable and what is not, what is to stop such an action.

The birth control debate is just another ridiculous attack against women.   And I don’t know when the employer’s right to freedom of religion supersedes the right of an employees right to privacy or their own religious freedom.  I thought religious freedom was the right to worship as you chose, not the right to dictate to others how they should or should not live their lives.

The Tree of Forbidden Foods

So regular blog readers, this is sort of writing practice for me.  I have just acquired a literary agent and I am working on a memoir.  Not exactly the book I was planning but I am overjoyed by the opportunity.  This wouldn’t go the book, as its subject matter doesn’t pertain to what I am basing the book on.  But this was one of my most popular stories that I performed on stage and I am trying to adapt my style more for the page rather than a stage.  They are after all two totally different mediums.  I hope you like it.  I will probably continue to edit it, as that is what I do. 🙂 

English: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, m...

One of the reasons I have a complicated relationship with the religion of my youth is that without it, I probably wouldn’t be here.   My parents practiced the 1970’s Catholic version of family planning, most of which consisted of prayer.   My mother didn’t have four children as much as she had a litter.  She basically had two sets of Irish twins.  We weren’t exactly 12 months apart but our births were so close that she had all four of her children in five years.  Having us so close together definitely affected her parenting style–which would be described as passionate, dedicated but foggy.  She would usually get the big picture as we were all clothed, fed and supervised but tended to miss small things.  She was constantly calling each of us by the wrong name, a problem made more difficult by naming us all names that started with the letter J.  And she wouldn’t notice fairly obvious problems.   I wasn’t diagnosed with my lifelong asthma until I was an adult, my sister went an entire day with a broken arm until someone decided to take her to the doctor, and my brothers would come in scraped and bloodied from fights and rough housing and she wouldn’t blink.  We rarely arrived to sporting events or school functions on time and sometimes she would completely forget about them.  Her organizational style was ambitious but her plans never really worked out, it was if she was an architect without a contractor.  She would painstakingly go through the linen closet making labels for each shelf in her beautiful perfect handwriting.

One shelf would say

“Fitted sheets”

And another

“Pillowcases”

The problem was that the shelf labels didn’t correspond to their contents.  Instead of fitted sheets and pillowcases the shelves were full of random items such as 10-year-old sunscreen bottles, the occasional cloth diaper and strange unknown medical devices that I suspect were left over from her multiple pregnancies.  The sheets themselves were all mix-matched and thrown in one on top of each other in great heaps.  Some were so threadbare you could see your hand through them.  It wasn’t that she didn’t care; she was simply in over her head.  My father worked long hours as an auto mechanic and when he got home planted himself in a recliner to watch non-stop television programs while engulfing copious amounts of peanuts and beer. His parenting style was to scream and threaten in loud outbursts and then go right back to watching television.  Not exactly the most effective way to manage children, as all it did was to make us fear him and avoid him at all costs. And children tend to mirror their parents behavior.  So when fighting with each other we tended to scream and terrorize just as we had seen our father do.  It was a small three bedroom home full of four maniacs acting more like a pack of wild dogs than children.  So given this environment, a lot got overlooked.

At the age of nine I got hit with some bad news.  Our dentist informed my parents, that I not only needed braces but serious orthodontist work.  I had inherited the under bite that ran through nearly all the females on my father’s side of the family.  If I didn’t get my bite fixed soon, I was going to need headgear, and not just the kind of headgear worn at night, but the kind of humiliating soul crushing headgear that is worn all day long.  He was so dramatic in his warning that he made it seem that braces weren’t an option, but they were a medical necessity. If they weren’t cemented on my nine-year-old teeth I might as well just resign myself to a life of working as a freak at a sideshow attraction.   X-rays were slapped on lighted screens, hushed tones and dramatic voices used to illustrate his point.  My favorite example was the plaster model cast of my mouth.  He used this for to the most terrifying effect.  When he made the teeth go up and down, with an under bite that I suspect he exaggerated, he was telling my parents with this little puppet show—your daughter’s a monster.   Get this girl braces or else.

I grew fast and early as a kid and had lost all of my baby teeth by age nine, so there would be no extractions involved.  But because of my father’s health plan, they were only going to cover partial braces for the first year and then the rest would follow.  Partial braces might sound better but they were a horror show.  The braces were attached to only my front and back teeth leaving a vulnerable wire connecting everything.  Eating anything hard or tough would cause the wire to shift often cutting into the back of my mouth and the inside of my cheek.

So knowing this was a problem certain foods were to be avoided.  My orthodontist even had a “Tree of Forbidden Foods” in his office.  It was an actual miniature Christmas tree adorned with plastic examples of all of the items a kid with braces was supposed to avoid.  Apples were prominently displayed.  My mother completely forgot about this and would just give me the same sad lunch she gave all of my siblings for most of our childhoods–A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple in a paper bag.  The bread was the extremely inexpensive kind bought from a discount grocery store.  We would buy it in bulk and throw it into an ancient electricity guzzling deep freeze in our basement.  Throwing one in on top of the other caused the loaves to become smashed and deformed.  The peanut butter came out of a huge bucket (sometimes government issued) and the jelly was never better than store brand.  Every day the weight of the apple in our lunch bag would cause the bread to flatten and the jelly to seep through the sides.   The apples were the cheapest kind available, probably intended for applesauce, not to be fed individually to children.  For years I had that same pathetic lunch, sometimes she would mix it up and I might get pickle loaf or liverwurst with mustard but it was nearly the same thing every single day.

My Catholic school had a very Dickens like quality to it.  We had one grade per class and everything was rundown and barebones.  Our lunchroom was the basement of the church and we sat at long dark brown wooden tables with tired old matching benches.  We were each given a half carton of milk, but the rest of our lunch was up to our parents.

So it was my smashed and deformed sandwich with a low-grade apple next to lunches that a child could only dream of eating–hard-boiled eggs, Capri Sun juices, ham and cheese sandwiches made with light fluffy wonder bread, little tins of pudding or canned fruit and the two items I hardly ever ate as a child because they were deemed too expensive, yogurt and seedless grapes.  Even now the thought of both of them send me into a dizziness of expectation yet I still rarely buy them because they are after all expensive.

So when surrounded with bounties like these, I couldn’t even give my lunch away, and since I couldn’t eat the apple without pain and injury, I had to throw it away.  One day while discarding my apple, the school janitor caught me in the act.  He was a large creepy looking man named Mr. Cooper who had a sheen of serial killer about him.  He was tall with fuzzy red hair that only covered part of his scalp, it was messy and seemed to grow in patches.  His belly was enormous and stuck out so much that it was his most prominent feature.  He wore this one piece blue uniform that always seemed to have stains of unknown origin down the front of it and was two sizes too big.  Every day it was always the same uniform but with different stains. Mr. Cooper looked like an escaped hillbilly convict and he smelled like old socks and stale beer.  And he was constantly sweating.  He would sweat even when it was cold outside–we were all scared of him.  When he discovered my crime of tossing the apple he immediately sent me to the principal.

Every kid in elementary school has a principal, but having your priest as your principal is an entirely different matter.  If your principal is your priest and your priest is God then your principal becomes GOD.  My principal was the pastor, or head priest of our entire parish. Father Hogan was a controversial figure.  Father Hogan was a bit of an egotist and refused pretty much all criticism, not that he got that much.  People tended to love or hate him, and I will admit he scared me more than Mr. Cooper.  It wasn’t any one specific thing he just had the aura of a self-important sadist.  It was all about Father Hogan, all the time.  He was bald with a pleasant face, but he suffered from the skin disorder psoriasis and his treatment included lying under sun lamps, so he was constantly sunburned.  His face was usually a bright red, which gave him a slight demonic quality.  I have a photo from my first communion where Father Hogan is half-embracing me, and I remember at the time it was taken I wanted to run away from him as fast as possible.  He was also known to have a penchant for nice cars and fancy vacations, which seemed odd for a priest but as my mother said.

“What else is he going to spend his money on?”

And I guess she had a point.  An example of his inflated ego was in how he treated the school intercom system.  It wasn’t enough that any time he entered a classroom we were supposed to jump up at attention and immediately pronounce in unison.

“Good Morning Father Hogan”

But he used the intercom system throughout the day at random to check in on the teachers.  I think he did it just to strike fear into our hearts

“Good Morning Class!  It’s Father Hogan I hope everything is going well.  God Bless you”

The intercom hand of God even freaked the teachers out.

It was well-known that Father Hogan had a yard stick on the wall of his office and did not see anything wrong with “doing what needed to be done” to anyone foolish enough to force him to use it.  The Tales were wondrous, everything from slaps across the back of the hand to full beatings.  I never knew anyone to personally experience it, but I didn’t want to find out.  I was so freaked out by the tales that I was scared to go to the office even when I was sick.

My trial.  I remember being in the tiny beige office, looking at the yardstick on the wall and both Father Hogan and Mr. Cooper behind the desk.  I was in a large wooden chair and even though I was big for my age, my feet barely touched the floor.   Father Hogan began to scold me on being wasteful, selfish and basically a horrible person.  I had indeed thrown out my apple into the garbage, a perfectly good apple that my working class parents had spent their hard-earned money to buy, the apple that starving children everywhere could be using as nourishment, the apple –  my sin MUCH LIKE EVE revealed.  The truth was I actually felt bad about throwing it away.  I was fully indoctrinated the bloodied and tortured Jesus Christ on the crucifix that hung on the wall behind Father Hogan, scared the living hell out of me and I did not want to get on his bad side.

My punishment.  After berating me for several minutes it was decided what was to be done.  My own personal witch trial of sorts, not only was I going to serve penance for my sins, but I was going to do it publicly.  The large plastic 50 gallon garbage can was dragged out to the corner of the playground/parking lot.  And I was forced outside in front of the other kids during recess to dig into the garbage, find the apple and eat it. I remember trying to plead my case, braces, bleeding gums, pain, not a good idea to eat food from the garbage, but all to no avail. I think they showed some mercy because it didn’t take long to find the apple, I think they must have placed it near the top.

I ate the apple.  Crying throughout as it caused my braces to get caked up and scrape against my gums and bleed, the wire shifting and cutting into the back of my mouth.   The adults just stood there staring at me in disgust.  Hadn’t any of these losers ever seen a kid with braces?  Didn’t they know about the Tree of Forbidden Foods?  I think I had bits of apple in my braces for weeks.  The rest of the kids just stood there frozen.  No one laughed or made the situation worse for me, I think they were traumatized.   When it was done we all went back to class and it was never brought up again.

Now you would think after telling my mother of the apple incident that she might call up the school and complain, or that she would at least try to plead my case with Father Hogan.  Or at least apologize.  I didn’t pack my lunch, she had.  But my mother has always had a difficult time admit fault on anything and she never went against a priest so after a long pause she said simply.

“Julie you should have given the apple away instead of throwing it away”.

And then she just sort of walked away. That was it.  I was publicly humiliated, could have damaged my braces, bleeding, in tears and that was it.  My mother couldn’t stand up to the priest, as at least in our family as in most Catholic families the priest was an extension of God and you just didn’t question a priest.  It was to be the beginning of my loss of faith in the church.  How could I take them seriously after blatant child abuse was not only condoned, but turned into a spectator sport?  I realized that day that adults can be far worse than children.  I had always looked up to adults thinking they had all the answers and they would do the right thing.  But after that day, I discovered the janitor was a petty thug, my priest was vicious and cruel and my mother could inadvertently frame me for a crime.

Eventually my mother forgot about the apple incident entirely and instead of giving me oranges in my lunch the apples came back.  I became an expert at throwing them away, almost ninja like in my techniques.  I got so skilled, I could get rid of them before entering the school building.  For months, flocks of birds and squirrels survived on my discarded fruit.  I don’t blame my mother though, like I said, she had a lot to worry about.  If anything the whole incident taught me that sometimes logic won’t win out, and that it is sometimes better to hide an injustice all together rather than pleading with those who could care less about your plight.  And strangely my situation was the opposite of eve, instead of eating the apple I threw it away yet it still destroyed my innocence.  Adults could be worse than children, I would never look up at them in the same way again.

We were eventually transferred to public school with its fancy luxuries like carpeting, brightly painted walls, art and music classes, playgrounds with actual playground equipment and a hot school lunch program where everyone ate the same lunch and everyone was happy.

Why I am No Longer a Catholic

My family’s Catholic faith dominated every aspect of my childhood.  My mother was so devoted she would drag her four children to holidays that were no longer Holy days of obligation after the reforms of Vatican II.  My favorite obscure Catholic holiday was the holy day of St. Blaise.  We would kneel before the priest as he crossed two unlit candles across our throats and chanted away in Latin.  Saint Blaise was the patron saint of throat ailments.  This ritual was meant to ward off disease, yet we got strep throat every year immediately after this ordeal.   Because it was no longer a Holy day of obligation and it didn’t improve our throat health, there was no reason to attend this mass yet we went, year after year, without fail.

My mother would also drive us to Catholic shrines and Holy relics all over Missouri and Southern Illinois.   We once visited a statue that was on route across the country.  It was making a stop in St. Louis at Lambert International airport, and for whatever reason could not leave the airport.  A tiny group of the truly devoted from my parish went down to Lambert to gaze at yet another statue of the Virgin Mary still half-encased in its shipping crate.  According to its legend the statue had cried once, it didn’t cry that day as we huddled around it, no matter how much we prayed for tears.

Catholics love statues. Special anointed statuary traveled from home to home to multiple families in our parish.  We had statuary in our front yard, we had crucifixes in every room, and at the top of our stairs was a full color bust of Jesus complete with bloody thorns piercing his head.  As a child this confused me as there was clearly a “Thou shall not worship graven images” commandment.  My parents explained that we weren’t worshiping the statue, but the saint the statue represented.  But it confused me because we would go to visit statues that had cried, and bled, so what were we worshiping again?  The saint or the magical statue?

My entire family attended mass every Sunday without fail.  We also went to nearly every parish function, carnival and fundraiser.   Catholics love to gamble, at least in the form of Bingo, and I was an expert bingo player by the time I was five.  At night just as we were tying to fall asleep we could hear our parents chant the rosary.  Their voices muttering the same prayers repeatedly with great speed, trying to get it through the prayer cycle as quickly as possible.  My parents strictly enforced the restrictions of lent, and no one never would even dream of eating anything but fish on Fridays.

My parents gave us illustrated books of the saints complete with more blood, gore and self-inflicted torture that a child could hope for.  I knew by the age of six or seven that St. Peter requested he be crucified upside down, that St. Sebastian’s body became riddled with arrows yet he miraculously survived, and how Saint Lawrence’s tormentors roasted him alive on a grid iron.   Many of the female saints would now be considered sufferers of anorexia, and other forms of cutting or self-mutilation.  In the Catholic tradition this self-inflicted torture was not questioned or a cause of concern, but held up as example of divine holiness.

A memorable story, was of St. Maria Goretti.  The brutal tale repeated throughout my childhood, was a cautionary tale for young girls.  St. Maria was 12 years old when faced with a rapist armed with a 10 inch blade.  She refused him sexually and he stabbed her fourteen times because she wouldn’t submit to him.  On her deathbed she forgave her attacker.   He went on to become a lay-brother who worked in a monastery while her action of forgiveness was held up as a shining example of purity and devotion.  All I got from it was that it was better that she was fatally stabbed than raped.   I didn’t think any 12-year-old would invite a rape by a 20-year-old man.  And did the poor girl have a choice?  Wouldn’t he have just stabbed her anyway?  Most children, Catholic or not, would have reacted as Maria had.  I didn’t think a pagan child would exactly welcome forcible sexual violence.  Or was the lesson – when in doubt remain a virgin for God even if it means your life or your virginity?  It seemed like a lot to swallow for a story intended for children.

Then there were the pro-life rallies.  As I was born in 1973, the same year as Roe vs. Wade my class and everyone younger than myself were known as the children of ’73.  The priest would actually group us together and then speak of how all of us had narrowly escaped death in the womb.  In my case it was a bit absurd as I my mother was seven months pregnant when Roe v. Wade became law.   My mother, always a bit morbid, liked to remind me that during my pregnancy, her non-Catholic friends told since she already had a boy and a girl and times were hard, that she should throw herself down the staircase and induce a miscarriage.  My mother would reassure me that the thought had never occur to her.  Funny though how she felt the need to tell me that story, and tell it to me more than once.  At the rallies bloodied images of aborted fetuses were everywhere.  The most startling image was of a baby doll spray painted red, rammed through a pitchfork held high above the frenzied crowd.   My first rally, I must have been around three or four, marching along with my fellow children of ’73 to raise awareness of the abomination.

Then there was my Catholic school.  The building itself was depressing enough with cracked linoleum floors, poor lighting and mismatched desks.  Every detail of Sacred Heart Elementary was beige or gray.   The hallways were lit by two huge opaque skylights that on cloudy days let little light in, blanketing the entire school in darkness. Coats and playground equipment were housed behind a cinder-block wall in the back of each classroom.  The coats thrown on hooks and our only playground equipment: two red rubber balls and two half-rotted smelly jump ropes, were kept in a over-sized metal trash can.  Once behind the wall there was essentially no light so occasionally children would push and fight among the coats.  Hazing and bullying was also rampant.  Our playground was the parking lot, not even a swing set was available for the first graders.  When we would watch film strips the screen was the window screen complete with holes and stains that would obscure the picture.  The bathrooms hadn’t been renovated since the 1950’s the stalls were all dark wood, and only the girls bathroom had stalls.  The boys bathroom had one long urinal in which everyone would relive themselves at the same time.  One particular priest who would run up and quickly whip his penis out to urinate in full view of the boys some as young as age six.  This same priest was accused and later convicted of child sex abuse.  Yet when my brother complained of this behavior his complaints were not given any credence.

There were no rules it seemed against physical abuse against students with, teachers mildly shoving kids against the wall, rulers slapped on desks, and of course the yard stick that hung prominently behind the desk of our pastor who also our principal.  Directly behind his chair there was a yard stick and a large paddle.  The stories of beatings by both implements of corporal punishment were epic.  The wild tales mostly involved transgressions by boys.  I don’t know how many of these stories were true, or pure fiction, but when we transferred to public school the idea of a teacher or principal hitting a student was unheard of, no one even joked about it.

The girls also had to endure a daily uniform check.  The teachers forced each girl to stand up and lift her skirt in front of the class, if her shorts were not the uniform issued maroon polyester her parents received a letter.  This practice went on until one six-year-old had a breakdown during the hideous ordeal.  It was abruptly stopped after her parents complained.  To further terrify us, it was standard practice that at any time during the class, our pastor, with his paddle and yard stick, would listen in on any classroom via the intercom.  The teachers literally put the fear of the omniscient God or voice of God in the form of our principal watching and waiting for the slightest slip up.

When I was in the fourth grade, my family finally debated removing us from the school.   My younger brother suffered from a learning disability and his teacher’s solution was to shove him in the hallway.   For most of the school day he sat in a desk by himself with nothing to do and no one teaching him.  His cruel and inept teacher had given up, and this was her preferred method of dealing with her problem student.   My mother fought to the point of complete exhaustion to get some extra help for my younger brother and eventually gave up and put us all in public school.

I was once publicly humiliated because I threw away an apple my mother put in my lunch.  The fact that I had braces on my teeth and I wasn’t supposed to eat apples had no baring whatsoever.  My pastor  interrupted and summoned my entire class to the parking lot while a large trash can was drug from the church basement.  As they stood in a large circle they watched as I hunted through the tossed away lunches and half empty milk cartons to find my discarded apple.  Once I found it, covered in garbage and slime, the pastor forced me to eat it before the assembled crowd.  As I stood there humiliated and ashamed I cried uncontrollably while my gums and mouth bled from the torturous ordeal.

When I told my mother about the incident when I got home, she sided with the priest.  To make my situation even worse she would still absent mindlessly give me apples in my lunch.  I became a skilled master at throwing them away before I made it to the lunch room.  Luckily by the end that school year we transferred to public school where no one cared what we ate or didn’t eat.

Then there was the incident during a mass when I was 12 years old.   Our new pastor became bent on building projects, including adding another very expensive statue.  Since my parish was in a poor community the projects could not be built without massive fundraising campaigns.  Every week the sermons focused on nothing else money.   I grew increasingly annoyed by these constant pleas, my frustrations peaked when a deacon delivered an anti-protestant and antisemitic joke involving a “cheap Jew”.  I walked out immediately after the comment and refused to go back.

All of these things disillusioned me  long before I learned of the pedophile in my parish and the pedophile in the neighboring parish, and the life destroying court trials that accompanied the abuse.  Eventually I also discovered the dark history of the Catholic church: indulgences, forced conversions, harassment and assassinations of scientists, the crusades, the inquisitions, the hundred years war, the suppression of women, and the suppression of knowledge, the fear and distrust of human sexuality and widespread antisemitism, and the long line of corrupt popes, cardinals, bishops, monks and priests.

The modern church with its pope, regarded as infallible in regards to church doctrine, who preaches against condom use in AIDS riddled Africa, denounces birth control in over populated impoverished nations as well playing an instrumental role in the cover-up of child abusing priests.  According to Catholic doctrine it is better that six baptized children die before the age of five, that it is to have two children live and thrive into adulthood.   It is not about the quality of human life, but the number of Catholic souls.

The most disturbing quality of my Catholic upbringing was the suppression of free thought and questioning authority.  Priests were held up as being above mortal humans with shortcomings and frailties   After all every Sunday they turned ordinary bread and wine into the spiritual body and blood of Christ.  They were also the only ones who could absolve sins through the sacrament of confession and could even exorcise demons from the damned.  This mentality is exactly why the church was able to cover-up the child sex abuse for as long as it did.  Parents of the victims would think nothing of leaving their children alone and unprotected with a celibate adult male, as they were after all magical spiritual men of the cloth.

The saddest part for me of losing my faith, is that in my youth, I was a believer.  I would pray to the Virgin nightly as the images of a bloodied half-naked Jesus always terrified me.   The sweet face of Mary in her gilded blue robes and her arms outstretched while crushing a serpent beneath her feet gave me solace.  She was my hero, my sweet face in the evening to look up to and to put my life’s prayers and fears into her never-ending loving face.  I would have dreams of her hovering over my bed with light pouring from her eyes telling me everything was good and that I had nothing to fear.  The fighting in my household would stop, the Russians wouldn’t nuke us to oblivion and that one day I would be able to get out of that tiny bedroom and sleep on a bed on which I couldn’t feel springs through the mattress.   I was so proud at my first communion at age 7 when I held my beautiful shiny statue of Mary that I picked out myself at Catholic supply.

The only peace I get now from Catholicism is the music inside the great old churches.  Some of the greatest composers wrote almost exclusively for it.  The music that would fill the church was magical and still leaves me teary and nostalgic for the dream that imprinted in my mind at such a young age.  Huge choirs singing at their fullest and enormous pipe organs playing such beautiful melodies that I could feel them in my bones.

I just can’t forgive the church for its many sins.  The Catholic church hasn’t learned from its mistakes, nuns are now forced to beg for donations for their retirement while abusing priests have attorneys defending their cases paid for by the Vatican.  I can’t stand the hypocrisy.  I can’t stand the dumb blind belief in anything that is not provable.  I don’t believe that telling my sins to a corrupt priest will cleanse my soul, or that chanting verses repeatedly will save me from the fiery depths of hell.  I don’t believe in hell and I don’t believe in heaven either.  I don’t believe in any one being holier than anyone else.   Or in any religion being one true path.  I believe we are human, and we are the smartest animals on earth, but like any animal we have traits and habits that are predictable and we are all very flawed and primal when exposed to the right stimulus and environments.  I also believe that we are both angels and animals.   Capable of great art, music, compassion and kindness but also of great terrors and base instincts.   So despite all of those trips to visit statues, the lovely songs, and dramatic stories the corruption and abuse was too much for me to stomach.  I have met priests that I admire, and Catholics that I truly love deeply within my heart, but I gave up on the institution long ago.

I am not here to tell anyone how to live or what to believe.  If you love the Catholic church and you think it does beautiful things through charity and the spiritual life for its believers, then its your right.  If the church brings you a sense of peace and love, then by all means worship as you see fit.  But it is also my right to reject that faith, and reject it openly.