Thursday, August 27, 2009

Father F.

So I've decided to share an excerpt of my unfinished memoir.

Before Chris and I moved from Victoria, I attended a memoir writing class at UVic. For our last class, our instructor encouraged us to bring a piece of writing from our memoir, or to prepare a new piece altogether, to share with everyone. I reviewed my manuscript, looking for the perfect scene to excerpt and to prepare. I fully intended to share it with the ten or so other students there, even to the point of bringing it to class with me. But, because of the sensitive subject matter, and because I didn't want to risk offending anyone, I kept it to myself.

It's a completely true story. Prior to this excerpt, I wrote about several more instances involving the same character that left no doubt in my mind what his intention was that night. You'll have to trust that I know what I'm talking about.

As I transcribed this today, I made several more revisions, and I see that it still needs more work. But this is what it looks like now, and I hope you get something out of reading it. If you have any feedback, good or bad, please share it. Thanks for your interest.

Father F.

One night, after eleven, I sat in the small kiosk at the self-serve gas station where I worked. As usual, business had been much busier earlier in the evening, and there wasn't much activity around the tarmac then. I was either cashing out, balancing my transactions, or, having completed those tasks, watching the small TV on the counter, its snowy reception broadcasting a few local channels.

Through the reflections in the glass that surrounded me, I saw a large car drive around the back of the kiosk, pass by on the right, and pull up the centre island directly in front of me. I didn't immediately recognize the car, but I sure did when the driver got out. It was Father F., our local parish priest, and he wasn't buying gasoline. He was walking toward the customer door in front of me.

I heard the scrape of metal as the bottom of the door moved past the frame. Father F. walked into the customer vestibule and greeted me. Without hesitation, he leaned down to look at me through the small window open between us, and he asked me when I got off work. The question seemed unusual coming from him at that time of the night, but I answered at 1:00 a.m.

"How about coming over to the rectory for a drink when you get off?" he asked me then. From the smell of his breath, I knew he'd already been drinking.

I froze then, blood draining from my head, and I'm sure the expression on my face told Father F. I was stunned by his assumption and embarrassed by his question. I didn't say anything. I was too scared. I didn't know what to do.

The recognition on Father F.'s face told me he knew what he'd done. He mumbled something like, "Maybe some other time," and he turned around and left. He got back into his car, and I watched as he drove down the tarmac and turned right onto Gordon Drive, St. Pius X and the rectory several blocks down the street from the gas station, and just one block away from where I lived with my parents at the time.

Shaken, I finished the rest of my shift, but I couldn't focus or concentrate. I kept reliving Father F. asking me that question, and my imagination led me to wonder what might happen if I accepted his offer. If I drove my car to the rectory after work, parked in the adjacent lot, walked to the large brown door, and rang the bell. I imagined him greeting me, his Roman collar loosened, the first few buttons of his shirt open, gray chest hairs poking out.

I imagined him leading me down the hall to the living room--a room I'd never been in as a parishioner--the lights down low, some soft, unrecognizable music playing, a sofa awaiting us. He'd offer me a seat, and, turning toward the bar, he'd ask if I wanted a glass of wine or something to drink. I'd decline, because I don't drink alcohol, and he'd tell me he had Coke or fruit juice or water, if I preferred. I'd decide on something, not really wanting anything, and Father F., after pouring our drinks, would walk toward me on the sofa, where he'd hand me my drink and sit down with his. At first, we'd talk quietly about nothing, the creepy smile I recognized from when he shook my hand at church every Saturday evening emerging, as he said something he thought was funny, in an effort to help me relax. Then, he'd lean over, put his hairy hand on my knee, tell me he'd always found me attractive, move a little closer, and....

When I drove past the rectory on the way home that night, I noticed his car in the driveway, and no lights on in the plain, square, two-storey building. I was still so freaked out, that our parish priest, a man who represented God, and the Catholic church, and everything that was good and kind, and who had made a vow of celibacy in order to be ordained, had come on to me, one of his trusting parishioners. Weren't priests supposed to be above that? And, even if they weren't, shouldn't he have come on to a woman, not a young man?

And, even if his choice was to have sex with men, shouldn't he have been discreet enough to go after someone outside of our parish, someone who didn't attend church where he said mass? What he had been thinking, or had he been thinking at all? Did he really believe he'd get away with it? Did he consider the effect his come-on would have on me? Even if I had been out, and accepting of my own sexual orientation, which I was years away from, didn't it occur to him that he'd violated the trust I had in him as a man of God, someone I looked up to as an example of who and what I should be?

My mind reeled with unanswered questions, and I shuddered as I parked the car in front of my parents's house. I wondered if I should say anything to my mother in the morning. I didn't want to get Father F. into trouble because, after all, nothing had happened between us. Still, maybe someone needed to know. Maybe someone needed to talk to him and to warn him. Maybe I just needed to tell someone about it.

In the end, despite what it could mean for Father F., I didn't keep it to myself. I told my mother when I got up later that morning, although I have no recollection of it, nor do I remember what she said. But, knowing my mother, especially where our parish priest was concerned, she probably thought Father F.'s invitation to join him for drinks at 1:00 a.m. was harmless. Or, if she suspected anything untoward, she wouldn't have said it. I doubt that she thought he intended to have sex with me. After all, to that point, who'd ever heard about the local priest coming on to a young man? For all I knew, perhaps she'd even blame me for making up the whole thing, although I don't know what she might have thought I'd have to gain from doing that.

Attending church after the encounter at the service station that night was difficult. Our usual parish priest, Father M, still wasn't well enough after surgery to return to his job, and Father F. was with us for several more months.

I avoided going to church for several weeks right after. I couldn't face Father F., knowing what I knew. And, for a while, I even considered attending another Catholic church in the area. Immaculate Conception wasn't far away, and I could have easily driven there if I'd wanted to.

But St. Pius X was just down the street, the church I'd attended for years, and, in a way, it was home. I still respected the church, the building, what it was about, what it stood for, and how it made me feel when I was there. And a part of me needed what I got there, whether that was a sense of inner peace, or a connection to God, or whatever it was. In other words, no indiscreet priest would chase me away from my home church, since I wasn't the one who done anything wrong.

Eventually, I returned to St. Pius X, with Father F. continuing to officiate over mass. During the customary peace offering, he made less of an effort now to come over to where I was sitting and to take my hand in both of his. But it happened from time to time, and I wondered if, on those occasions, contriteness was what I saw in his face now. The smarmy smile had been replaced with compassion in his eyes and a genuine warmth in his face.

Shortly after I started attending mass again, one of Father F.'s sermons was about forgiveness. I listened to his words carefully, wondering if he saw how what he preached applied to him and his moment of indiscretion. I couldn't help thinking that, in the only way he could, Father F. was asking me to forgive him--for making an inappropriate assumption about me, for taking advantage of the trust I had in him, and for putting me in an uncomfortable position.

After that same mass, I remember Father F. made a point of shaking my hand as he stood outside the front door of the church, where he greeted many parishioners before they left. He kept what he said appropriate to the occasion, and he seemed to search my face for the forgiveness he sought.

Finally, all of the drama ended when Father M., a sweet, dear Irishman, returned to the parish. I was grateful when I saw him presiding over mass again, because, no matter how hard I tried to forget, no matter how I tried to give Father F. the benefit of a doubt, as long as I had to face him once a week, I couldn't move beyond my feelings of betrayal.

To my knowledge, Father F. was a priest in the Nelson diocese for many more years after the incident. Then, some time later, I heard through our family that he'd been sick, I believe with cancer, and that he'd passed away.

I don't know why--and I may burn in hell for writing this--but I was relieved when I heard that he was gone. I was long an adult by then and had moved away to Vancouver, where I was certain I'd never come into contact with him.

But, throughout the years, I always wondered if he'd taken a liking to another young man, and if he'd ever approached him in the same way that he'd approached me--with an indirect but unmistakable intention, with a need that drove him to the unforgivable.


  1. Interesting and well written Rick. I felt I was there with you. I'll leave any technical critique to someone more qualified than myself :).

  2. Rick, thanks for posting this. You've shared a hurtful part of your past and that is never an easy thing to do. I think we've all got similar situations that we'd like to keep locked away at the back of the closet, but airing them out can often clear the cobwebs that mess with our heads. Your posts are helping me get to know you better, Rick. I read every word and I do appreciate your frank honesty.

    As for feedback . . . not sure what you're asking for. If it's about the story, well, I've given you some already. If it's about your writing, my kids would tell you RUN IN FEAR because I am a brutal editor! Funny how all of them keep coming back for more.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your feedback.
    First, along the lines of what you said, Wendy, I felt unexpected relief to have finally had the courage to share this here. Almost no one knows about this incident, and, in posting it to my blog, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I felt much lighter as I made dinner late this afternoon, after having posted it.
    On the subject of being a brutal editor, Wendy, it would be unfair of me to ask you for that. First, I know it's far from perfect. The problem with editing is that you can edit your brains out, think you've finally reached a point when you can't improve it further, then discover there even more things that don't meet your expectations. This is where I'm at with my whole damn memoir, all 426 pages of it. It's a lot of work editing just four pages, let alone 400 or more. The task is daunting, and that, to some degree, is why I've left it alone. Every time I start to edit in earnest, I give up in frustration. I'm not to the point where I can do that yet.
    Second, a brutal edit demands a line by line, even word by word reading and examination, and lots of work on the part of the editor to provide the feedback that will be most helpful. So, no, I'm not looking for that from you.
    What I was looking for are any glaring errors or inconsistencies. If you saw anything like that, please let me know. Otherwise, in my own good time, I'll keep reworking it until I'm happy (like that will ever happen). The danger in editing is that you can edit so much, the very life is sucked out of what you've written. I don't want that either, so there's a fine line.
    Thanks again to both of you. I appreciate you sticking with my blog and taking the time to read it and to comment on it.

  4. OK - in rereading, I found 3 areas that need attention, but these I think are probably typos that may or may not be in your original manuscript.

    1. "and I watched as he drove down the tarmac and turned right onto Gordon Drive, St. Pius X and the rectory several blocks down the street"

    I got a bit lost here at the Gordon Drive, St. Pius part. I imagine you're missing the word "to"?

    2. "told my mother when I got up later that morning, although I have no recollection of it, nor do I remember what she said."

    I was a little unlcear as to what it was you had no recollection of - what exactly you said to her, actually talking to her at all, or what she said back to you (which would make the next line redundant). I'm not trying to be picky, I just find it a bit awkward.

    3. "since I wasn't the one who done anything wrong."

    Again I think you're simply missing a word in there.

    I know what you mean by over editing. I always found I got better marks in school if I just wrote an essay off the cuff the night before it was due. Everytime I sat down and edited it, I somehow took the essence away resulting in much lower marks. I wouldn't recommend this method to everyone of course!

  5. Thanks, Jeanette, for giving this another reading, and for offering some suggestions I should consider in further revisions of this piece.
    A writer's goal is always to be as clear as possible, so that his or her meaning is conveyed to the reader. Whenever a writer fails to do that, he or she needs take a closer look at what's written and make the appropriate changes.
    I didn't realize that you reread some of my posts, and I'm most grateful to you for taking the time to do that and for showing me places where I could have been clearer in my meaning.
    Thanks again.