When I was nine, I had a horrible trip to church. Granted, most trips to a house of worship have this potential, because no one goes for fun. It’s not a water park after all. Oh, and children are forced to sit there and be obedient as crazed adults say nutty things to us afterwards. Not to mention out of touch clergy inform the congregation as a whole that God secretly hates you and that you are hell bound. Ahh yes, church.
It was Christmas Day, and my mother insisted on dressing my sister and I alike in green dresses and green capes. The green was a Christmas Tree green, and the matching wardrobe made no sense to either of us. My sister and I were hardly twins. I struggled with my weight and even had a trace of cystic acne at that age. Skipper on the other hand, had a thin frame that weight never stuck to and was on iron pills. She also had clear skin. The two of us looked so different and acted so differently there was a theory amongst school mates that one of us was adopted.
That day, I had a terrible stomach ache. I wanted to stay home. After begging my mother, she told me that if I missed church that my dad wouldn’t let me go to the family Christmas party we were having. My mom is the oldest of six and my dad the second of seven, and my aunts and uncles were bringing all my cousins. No way I was missing that. So I decided I would suffer through church.
On our way to mass, Skipper blurted, “April tried to get out of church.”
“I had a stomach ache.” I informed her in the back of my dad’s overheated Buick.
“Whatever. You just didn’t want to go.” Skipper told me. That is when I reached over and smacked her.
“There will be no hitting or getting out of church or you aren’t going to the party.” My dad said as we got out of the car and Skipper tried her damnest to manufacture crocodile tears.
It was a normal Christmas Day. All the regulars were there, decked out in the best clothing possible. They would be seen as nothing less. After all, God was watching as well as the rest of the congregation. Then the CE church goers filed in, yes the Christmas/Easter crowd. They make their appearance twice and year, but then sleep in every other Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation. The CE crowd is special, because there are several young men who were regulars at Choice Cigarettes and several young women dressed like they should have been swinging from a pole instead of swimming to communion. Needless to say, we were all there.
As mass dragged on, I began to feel hot. I began to feel hot. Queasy and barely able to stand, I asked my mother to take me to the bathroom. Grudgingly, she took me. My father shot her a look of consternation, probably believing Skipper’s lie. In part it was because my trips to the bathroom were so frequent people were staring, but also because he probably felt I was just trying to get out of church. Communion finally came. It would be this and then I could go home and lay down for a bit. This was my mom’s promise to me if I got through the entire mass. Sure, I felt like I was dying. Still, being a Catholic is like having a heroin habit. You go no matter what, and no matter how the church informs you that God hates you, there’s no way you can ever stop.
Walking up to communion, I began to feel worse and worse. My stomach lurched as if I were on a roller coaster. Finally, bile came up my throat. Turning my head so I wouldn’t hit the old lady in front of me, I puked my guts out. Green vomit shot out of my mouth on to the pew to my left. Church ladies in the middle of prayer looked in shock and horror. People in the communion line stared at me, the ghost white child in the green cape with lime green spew springing forth from her tiny mouth. Then, as if ashamed of their gawking and remembering where they were, they returned to prayer.
My mother, shocked, whisked me from the communion line and back to the church bathroom we went. Now my father was ashamed of shooting us the dirty looks during my repeated trips to the facilities. I was in fact ill. Despite the fact church bored the hell out of me, I wasn’t trying to get out of it. No, not on the day where the big family Christmas party was to take place. Of course, as this was going down my parents had a screaming match in the bathroom. “If you knew she was sick, why the hell did you bring her to church!” My dad thundered. Now it was all my mom’s fault. Convenient and typical.
“You wouldn’t let her go to the party.” My mom replied, innocent and doe eyed, knowing her people pleasing had put us all in an awkward spot.
“Now I can’t let Linda Blair go to the party. Not after that episode at communion. Your dad has a compromised immune system after his hospital trip. She’ll be puking everywhere, all her cousins will have random germs and they could kill her grandfather!” My dad was angry now, and made no sense.
“Stop acting like this was my fault!” I demanded. Both my parents stopped, ashamed of their bickering in the House of God. Then my dad grumbled as he found the rest of the ushers to eliminate the health hazard I created. The priest tried his best to continue mass as the Pittsburgh Catholic was laid down to wipe up the vomit, because for some reason the church was out of paper towels.
As this was happening, I asked my mother who Linda Blair was. My mom explained that she had starred in a horror movie called The Exorcist about a girl who gets possessed by the devil. “She vomits during the time when they are trying to get the devil out of her body. And her puke is lime green, just like your vomit and just like your cape.” My mother informed me in a fashion that was both chipper and somewhat unfitting for the occasion. Then she informed me that in a way I failed because I forgot to levitate. Now I wanted to die.
When I got home, I was allowed to rest for a bit. Skipper, feeling bad for what she had done in the car, committed a self-imposed penance by waiting on me hand and foot. After some crackers and tea, which my tiny butler supplied, I felt better. It was a stupid stomach bug that kids get sometimes, and believe it or not throwing up gets it out of one’s system.
However, the day’s humiliations had only started. Seeing that I regained my color, my father allowed me to go to the party. However, the day’s humiliation had only just started. My parents, especially my dad, thought my projectile vomiting was the funniest thing in the world. He told all the party guests the story, as if he was a comedian, center stage, with a mic in his hand on a prime time show. Now I wanted to die for a whole new reason. Thanks Dad.
To make matters worse, my brother Wendell was no help. When we were doing a Christmas craft with my cousins, a family tradition led by my Uncle Ken, Wendell said, “This green is like what came out of April’s mouth. You should have seen her at church. It was pretty sweet.”
“It would have been even cooler if her head spun around.” My cousin Robbie said. It was one of those moments that I can safely say I totally hated my family. I wished I, not my cousin Robbie, was adopted.
“That actually happens in the movie the Exorcist. I couldn’t sleep after seeing it.” My Uncle Rob, Robbie’s dad, shared. Now our interest was piqued. What was this movie? We had to know.
Of course my parents thought this was the most amazingly entertaining story of all time, and told any one of their friends who would listen. A few weeks after Christmas came the Super Bowl, and during a shindig hosted by clients of my dad’s, they told the story to a packed room. This time as a duo. I wanted to pack my bags and run away from home. Had they let me stay home from church I would not have barfed in such a fashion. Their friends got a kick out of it, and shared stories of their children’s vomit episodes. No wonder adults stashed their elderly parents in crappy nursing homes. Stuff like this.
“April’s is the all time best. It’s just like The Exorcist.” My Uncle Chaz informed him. While Uncle Chaz was not a blood relation, he was a long time client and close family friend of my dad’s who had known me his entire life. More of this Exorcist talk.
That is when Wendell, Skipper, and myself began a campaign for our parents to show us the film. My father put his foot down, no. It involved demonic possession and would scare Skipper. As for my mom, she agreed. Plus she didn’t like the use of foul language. Wendell tried to tell them that they used that language all the time in the house. “We are teaching you to be better.” My mom informed my wayward older sibling.
Two weeks following the Super Bowl, my father was out of town on a business trip. It was my mother with Wendell, Skipper, and myself. My mother suggested we rent a movie. During our trip to the video store, Wendell saw the Exorcist. “Can we rent this?” He begged.
“I don’t know. It’s too scary.” My mom said.
“Isnt that what you equated April’s vomiting episode to?” Skipped inquired. The spite was using complex words at this stage in her development. A sign of things to come.
“Yes.” My mom said. Then she thought a minute. “Alright, but if Skipper gets scared, the film goes off.” It was a good resolution. We could live with that.
The next day was Wednesday, ironically our CCD Day. If you don’t know, CCD is the Catholic equivalent of Sunday School, and occurs on either Wednesday or Sunday for those who elected to take the public, secular education route. My mother agreed we would watch The Exorcist as we ate dinner and then off to CCD we would go. Parking ourselves in front of the television, my mother pressed play on the old school VHS.
As the film went on, I was intrigued by Reagan. Although the film was slow at the start, a challenge for a 12, 9, and 6 year old, she managed to tell us the best was coming. As Regan became more and more possessed, I was sucked in. Of course, Skipper wanted to know if there was a medical explanation for her behavior. She had watched a documentary on television with our father about tribesman somewhere that behaved this way as a result of brain infection. This curiosity was laying the ground work for her future career as a doctor. She even insisted when Reagan vomited that the bile should be shipped to a lab. As if she were the keynote speaker at Vanderbilt where she regularly presents as an adult, Skipper insisted that the contents must be examined. Of course, there I was cheering for the devil. My mother sat perplexed on how she could have two very different daughters come out of her womb.
Skipper was not scared but fascinated. Wendell, however, proved to be a horse of a different color. Pale white, he had the same deathly pallor as I did the day I vomited in church. Several times, he visibly gulped. “Are you getting sick, honey?” My mom asked.
“I’m fine.” Wendell said in an authoritative tone. Yes, freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.
“He’s scared.” Skipper said.
“Shut up!” Wendell told her. Normally Wendell and the little Smurf got along quite well. This was a shock. My mother signaled to Skipper to be quiet and the movie continued.
As Reagan vomited again, her head spun and she began to levitate. This was awesome. It was everything my Uncle Rob had told me about. When the film ended, it was time for CCD. She said, knowing we didn’t want to go, “Just remember, they always call a priest in case of demonic possession. So if the devil ever enters your body, you don’t have to do all the leg work Reagan and her mother had to do because of Captain Howdy.”
“He was so scared.” Skipper said as Wendell left the room.
“Oh yeah, and he couldn’t hide it.” I told Skipper.
“That wasn’t very nice that you told your brother he was scared. Wendell has the right to be scared.” My mom told her.
“But he kept trying to hide it and lied about it. Skipper just called him on what was there.” I told my mom.
“Now no more making fun of Wendell.” My mother instructed both of us. “Boys, are sensitive, but they hide it. Just be aware.” She told us, informing the two young girls of their older brother’s burgeoning masculinity.
Just then, my mom went to enter Wendell’s room. “Not one word.” She commanded as she slipped into Wendell’s closet.
“What’s she doing?” Skipper asked.
“I don’t know but I can’t wait.” I told her.
Like he was sentenced to death, Wendell painstakingly brushed his teeth before CCD. Part of it was hiding his fear, and part of it was that he didn’t want to go to begin with. Just then, as usual, he realized he forgot his coat in his room. As always, he hung it in his closet. While his clothes remained safety hazards on the floor, for some reason he always hung up his coat.
Wanting to save time, he didn’t turn on the main light. As he put his hand on his closet door knob, a high pitch voice screeched from within. “Demi! Demi!” Yes, the exact words Linda Blair screamed as she was possessed by the devil.
My brother screamed in reply. I wish I could say it was a manly scream, but it was more or less a shriek that one would suspect would come from miniature Skipper and not him. Freaked out, my brother sprinted away as the blood curdling sound continued to come out of his mouth. He had to escape the mysterious fiend in the closet and pronto.
Seconds later, my mother, a teeny woman barely five feet tall, tumbled out of the closet laughing. Skipper and I also began laughing. While totally evil, this was totally amazing. My mother, now barely able to contain herself, still screamed, “Demi! Demi!” But broke it up with fits of laughter in between. That is when Skipper and I joined the chorus in tormenting my unfortunate brother. Poor kid was enduring puberty and now this.
Meanwhile, Wendell went from frightened to angry. He had been punked and didn’t like it. “I hate you all!” He screamed. His rage faded within ten minutes when he realized that this had in fact been pretty funny, and joined in on the joke.
Looking back, my folks taught us an important lesson between Vomit Gate and the Exorcist. Sometimes life could be embarrassing, and sometimes what you faced could be scary. But the only way to get around it was to laugh along with your humiliations, and cackle in the face of your fears.