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4:40 pm | 05 January 2004 | NO SAINTS

The reason for most of my writing's being at least semi-autobiographical seems clear if one considers the held-by-many tenet "art is pain." Not that I'm one of those none-so-sweet-as-melancholy, ravens-tearing-at-the-sewn-shut-eyes-of-my-deeply-darky-dark-soul writers, either (or not since oh about 1995, anyway). I have just been coming to terms with the fact of my bad luck, a fact my mother remarked upon in so many words on this, the Christmas of my twenty-fifth year, while stuffing a bagel chip into her mouth, as so: "You just have bad luck, honey. If there was ever anyone couldn't afford to take a chance, it's you."

The bipolarity of my upbringing--jettisoning to and fro between a repressive Catholic household and a spitefully quasi-atheist one--explains most if not all of my adult (if i can be said to be an adult) aesthetic. My faith is rooted in a deep fear of oblivion, and my concept of oblivion is less a nothingness than the sneaking suspicion that there is of course a God, but that He is deeply pissed at me. I fuck up a lot, in unoriginal ways, and then suffer a sort of Spanish self-imposed penance replete with fetal rocking, halfassed Hail Marys, and ulcerous stomach landscapes, as though the bookkeeper of sin were a mobland loan shark with a 600% interest rate.

The last time I drove through Albuquerque, bowed (figuratively, of course, as i was driving) by 1500 miles' worth of anxiety-ridden moping and a day of reactionary AM radio, i asked God for a sign of His existence (I said i was unoriginal). To make it easier for Him i gave Him until midnight mountain time to give the sign, and additionally I mentioned that I would be, until midnight, on a high level of alert regarding anything sign-like in nature. Well, unless the appearance of Target's mammoth bullseye on the frigid desert horizon was proof of divine existence, God did not trouble Himself to be seen that night, and i kept on driving.

I see signs all the time. Meaningful names seem to appear on semi-truck doors and on the labels of food packaging, and i swear i am surrounded by both falling stars and by streetlights that wink off just as I pass beneath them. Nevertheless these signs frequently come to nothing, and I've never seen the face of Jesus in any food item (although I once found a piece of candied ginger that bore a remarkable resemblance to the young Rod Stewart).

Still, nothing curbs this irrational, lamebo search. I make little bets with the Fates just to watch myself lose; i wager on the number of steps i can take before the crossing light goes to the red blinking hand; driving, i press my tongue to the roof of my mouth every time my car is between two telephone poles, pulse pulse pulse down the highway. I like the Celtic pageantry of the Church I grew up on the frayed disingenuous edges of and i enact little rituals, build little shrines out of plastic army men and the rabies tags of my dead dogs.

I am a creepy mythy Irish girl, after all, by nature if not wholly by blood, and I spent hours last summer sewing fourth leaves onto ordinary clovers and then mailing them to all the wrong people (the indefinite hands of the Furies, it seems, would not be forced on this issue either). But i think that i go back to the saints again and again not only for their epic folkloric value but for the example they set. They suffered for their faith but are remembered, revered even, with whole feast days set apart for the riotous celebration of their ignominous deaths. I know that i'm not exactly being persecuted by the townfolk for the spiritual space i intermittently inhabit, but i am suffering all the same, and there's no Feast of St. Claude that i'm aware of yet.

I have fistfuls of small silver medals depicting saints. I used to think of them as protective elements and usually didn't venture forth without at least one safety-pinned to my person. At an antiques show i bought a charm bracelet from the '40s already packed full of them, little Judes and Christophers jingling like something cheap and bright, and i thought it was especially powerful, some kind of like talisman to ward off the malice we live in. Jesus' nose has a shiny coppery Rudolph look from having been rubbed by years of nervous fingers, and the worn-down Theresa has the blank face of an Amish doll.

Last month I got food poisoning and, retching at 80 down Interstate 5 from San Francisco, I dug the bracelet out of my bag and put it on for comfort, for luch. Within 24 hours my car had died forever, I was still a Vesuvius of Cutty Sark and cheap pizza (the last things i had consumed the day previous), and someone had let me down in a time-for-a-Depeche-Mode-marathon-crying-frenzy sort of fashion. I was possessed of a strong urge to fling the damn bracelet, with its now-leering Jude medallion, into the bay, but i refrained.

It is now 2004. My application for sainthood has grown fatter, as has my demerit card. I have lost much and gained a little, materially, and my heart has the mechanical makeup of a year-old car driven 300,000 miles, and i have a strong symbolic urge, too, to toss the last of my last loves in the bay, to heave him like a bracelet grown too heavy and worn, the way you scrap a Chevy for $200 and the license plate, the way you puke out a window at ten over the speed limit. But i don't. I look over at my phone, at the put-there-long-ago Saints Brigid and Patrick medal glittering evilly from it, it seems, and i pull the medal off, banking into my brand-new trashcan, and i stare at the phone for a sign. I'll give it until midnight to ring. clm.

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