Vitalia Joy Cardillo
Born at home on April 15, 2014 – 4:25 pm
On a warm, drizzly afternoon
The train is already overcrowded
as it pulls up to the platform.
We morning commuters pile in,
and my eyes shift to overstep
the suited fellow to my left.
There are no empty seats.
I take my stance
in front of the pole,
holding on with one hand,
with the other on my satchel.
No space left to rest my gaze,
I lock on to the elbow crook
of the gentleman in front of me.
He is reading, and I creep up
his arm to take a look at his book.
He peaks to his right,
probably feeling my inquiry,
and I cast my eyes past him,
looking out the window at the gray sky.
A man’s face is pressed to the glass.
At the next stop, commuters crowd the door.
I brace my stance as they flood in
with unassuming eyes,
looking for the sacred cracks
in our bodily infrastructure.
Somehow they meld in,
and the humid, sticky air mortars us together
from one end to the other.
A solid brick of commuters
on our way to build the Empire.
Why do I go to church? I go out of habit. Out of the feeling that if I don’t go, then I’m probably not a Christian. But then I wonder, what is a Christian? What is the church?
I sit in the back row of the floor-part of the auditorium. I keep thinking to myself, “Why am I here?” I sing the words projected up on the screens, and bounce Annie on my round belly. But I’m not really sure what I’m singing. The songs don’t seem beautiful. I’m not engaging with these songs, these words. Am I just not thinking hard enough about the words?
The kids are here with us, and enjoy playing with the adorable toddler sitting next to us, playing a quiet, informal game of peek-a-boo with the boys in the row in front of us. They look forward to Children’s Ministry because they’ll get to play and color and have a snack of Veggie Sticks.
We drop them off. Why do we drop them off? I guess I don’t have a good reason not to. We walk back into the auditorium to hear the sermon. Today they read Luke 6:12-26. I’m not really sure what to take from everything the pastor is saying.
As he’s talking, I think to myself, “I’m definitely in the ‘woe’ category.” Rich, check. I rarely go to bed hungry, and if I do, it’s because I’m too lazy to prepare anything for myself to eat. I’ve been trying to learn to laugh again and have fun, with Joseph, with our children and friends… but I see that means I’m destined to mourn and weep. Do all people speak well of me? To my face, yes. I’m not aware of anyone’s strong hatred toward me, of being excluded or reviled on account of the Son of Man.
So in conclusion, I must not be a Christian. I may as well not come to church. But we seem to keep coming. Is it just to show my face and have others think I am a good person? Is it just to have some sort of social interaction, shallow as it mostly is, with people other than my immediate family? Is it to check church off my imaginary weekly checklist?
Joseph mentioned to me recently that Bonhoeffer didn’t grow up going to church. He seemed to be a pretty sincere follower of Christ. What if we just took a break from church? Like we did with small group. But we’re still not in a small group. Does that mean we’ll likely stop going to church altogether?
Perhaps abandoning the weekly routine would give us a different perspective, and a little time and space to think about what Church really is, and what it means to be a Christian. Or perhaps I’m just not being faithful enough. If I just stick it out, and show up every week, will then God show me what all this really means? Part of me is afraid that if I leave, I prove to myself that I’m not really a Christian. And all the while, I’ve deceived myself that I’ve loved God and wanted to do His Will and not my own.
In writing this, I’m not trying to be critical of the church I attend. I really am thankful for the pastors and the people there. I know many who attend feel well nourished by the songs and preaching. But I write this because these are the thoughts I’ve been having, and as much as I’m afraid to share them, I know it’s not helping me or anyone else to keep them in the dark. So please join in conversation with me.
Earlier in the evening Emeth busted his lip. A bit swollen, some of his words came out more slurred and lisped than usual. This is a transcription of their evening conversation while looking at the Weather Book.
[On the page, a hot air balloon is drifting into the sunset.]
E: Is ‘ere wots a seats in dere?
E: Just one?
M: Yeah, only one person could fit.
E: Oh. Why onwy one person?
M: Cause there’s not enough space…
[She turns the page. A statue of an early northern European weather god named Thor is in the upper left hand of the page.]
E: [Interrupting] Wook at dat!
M: Wait, that’s not so bad. That’s not scary.
E: Do dat have a mouth? That’s his mouth. Is that a betend sing? [Pointing to the "thing" Thor is holding up to his mouth.]
M: Mmm. I don’t know if it’s pretend or real.
E: Wook at that! [Pointing to Osiris, the fertility god of ancient Egyptian mythology.] That’s silwy.
M: Yeah, that’s silly man.
E: What’s both dose? [Pointing to the Florentine thermometer and the Condensation Hygrometer.] Think they are things. [Pointing specifically to the Florentine thermometer] Think they are whites [lights]. Think that’s a white.
M: It looks like those are candles.
E: Oh. Think dat’s the candle in the bed-drum [bedroom].
M: Well, I don’t know.
[Micaela turns the page to reveal a depiction of the Académie des Sciences in Paris.]
E: Think dat’s at night. Will dere house fall?
M: It might fall since… ’cause I don’t know if they live close to the… um… ocean.
E: Think dey do.
M: Well, I don’t know, ’cause I can’t see outside of their house.
E: It might fall. It will happen. Their house fall alweady!
M: Mmm… It didn’t fall. The page is just ending.
E: Oh. Look at that. Do we have a clock like that? [A barometer]
M: Actually, that doesn’t look like a clock.
E: Do it have a thing on it?
M: What are you talking about?
E: On here.
[On the next page there is a sidebar with some seasonal proverbs, a drawing of a peacock, and a few men plowing a field with a pair of oxen.]
E: A duck! [Pointing to the peacock.]
M: Um, actually, that’s not a duck.
E: Is it a geese?
M: Um, actually, not a geese.
E: Is it a animal? Are those animals? [Pointing to the oxen.]
E: Dat one’s not a cow!
M: Yeah, it’s not a cow.
E: What it dis, dough?
M: Um, it’s a peacock.
E: Why peacocks like dat?
M: It looks… We saw a peacock at the zoo. It was a daddy one. It was so pretty!
E: Is dat a mommy peacock?
M: Yeah, that’s a peacock, too.
E: Is dat a mommy one?
M: Well, I don’t know. It could be a daddy one or a mommy one.
E: Think it’s a mommy one.
M: Well yeah, I would guess! Since the daddy one’s are pretty.
[Page 73 reveals a black and white photo of an International Meteorologist Organization members meeting, with men in dark suits, sitting and standing as though they were posing for a school picture.]
E: They at the church.
M: Actually… well yeah, that looks like a concert.
E: Yeah. Its have wots of people.
M: Somebody’s preaching.
[On the next page, for reasons not known, there is a silhouette of an angel flying through the air with a trumpet in his mouth, an airplane dropping bombs over Japan in 1944, and men in a control room with hundreds of knobs.]
E: What is he’s doing? Why he have a trumpet… and flying?
M: Actually, I think that might be… Wait I think…
E: Think dat’s a trumpet. What’s that?
M: It looks like a hollicopter.
E: Think dat’s a airpwane.
M: Well it looks like a… it’s a hollicopter.
E: Um, airpwanes have wots of seats. They do [attempting to convince her.]
M: No they don’t!
E: Do one person fit in dere?
M: No, a lot a people.
E: Why people don’t have wots of seats? [...] What dat?
E: It’s not.
M: It is. Why dat’s a boy angel?
M: Actually, umm. It look… It’s a girl angel. ‘Cause I see it’s a girl angel if I look really close. [Taking a closer look] Yeah it is. His face looks pretty. [Now addressing Rachel] Mommy, is that in a airplane? Are they working on the buttons?
R: I’m not sure.
M: Well it seems like it could be.
E: Think that’s is a diff-ent [different]…
M: No, that’s a airplane.
E: Think dat is a pwiano. [Now pointing to the control room.]
M: Plano [indignantly]!
E: White [right]? Its a pwiano!
The steps up from the train platform smell like urine. Whose bodily liquids are now leeched to the bottom of my shoes? Who slept here last night? Who passed through? I ascend into the biting cold, zippering up my coat a bit more to seal in what little heat my body can generate. The city is coming alive. Like cockroaches being scared out of our secret places, we ascend from underground, and descend from white-washed condos, scurrying along the sidewalks.
A semi is pulled over on the side of road, idling as it makes a delivery. At the construction site across the street, the beep beep of a backhoe is backing up to make another grab at some rubble. A taxi driver’s short honk attempts to draw my attention, and I catch myself from turning my gaze.
Another block and I see a tattooed man working for the Street Department, rumbling along in the opposite direction of traffic. He’s riding what looks like a cross-breed between a baby elephant and a rhinoceros. This oversized street cleaning machine seems like the epitome of waste and inefficiency as it sucks up cigarette butts and lazy coffee cups. He attempts to snort up a cleverly lodged cigarette butt, scraping the vacuum over it to get it dislodged. Defeated, he gets off and pulls out his secret weapon: a firmly bristled broom. Whack! Whack! It flies loose.
I slip in to a coffee shop before getting to the office. The clink, clink of Italian designed cups on cherry slab tables twirls into my ears, while the barista creates his own music to dance to at the espresso machine. Slam, slam, wash, grind, spew, turn, squeeze, press. The golden drip splatters into the white cup, while he gracefully pours steamed, foamy milk into a second espresso bath. I imagine Degas in the corner, setting aside his ballerina canvas to capture this modern dance.
With a splash of caffeine to my head I finish my walk to the office. Passing through the park, I hear the wren songs and the gurgle of pigeons. I breathe in deep as this will be the last bit of fresh air in my lungs for awhile.
Ding. The elevator door opens on my floor. I punch my number and scan my hand. Beep. Click. The door unlocks. I place my lunch into the rattling refrigerator, then settle my things at my desk. I walk over to the other side of the office where I’ll be training in a new department.
I turn the corner, and greet the man who will be training me. A tall, handsome, stocky fellow, a few years my elder with a a military cut, tucked shirt and tie. We greet each other, then he asks me to grab the chair from the cube in front of his — an empty desk which will at some point be mine. I roll the chair into his cube, and take a seat.
The bathrooms are within earshot. Every time someone opens the door I hear the hinges squeak. Chitter chatter bubbles around me in surround sound. Attorney’s are getting heated in debate over a case. The computer fan picks up speed to disperse more if its heat into our little cube. He turns on his clip fan to help cool things off. The air conditioner kicks on. Finally. Or is that the heater? Click, click, clickity, click, click goes the keyboard.
The frequency of his deep, fatherly voice blends harmoniously with the hum of this office lullaby. It’s not long before I sway on the peaks and troughs of this rhythm, settling in.
* * * * *
After lunch, I come back to my desk only to find that my computer is gone. I turn to the girl in the cube next to me for an explanation. She whispers, “Two guys from IT came by while you were at lunch to move your computer to your new desk. HR didn’t tell you?”
I pack up my few belongings. Some photos, drawings by the kids, office supplies and radio, and head to my new desk.
I unload my belongings. I plug in my radio and turn on NPR, but it’s too staticky since I’m no longer close to a window. To my right is a six foot pillar. On the other side of my wall to the left is another. Over my front wall are the bathrooms. The afternoon is quiet. The late lunch crowd is out. Some attorney’s are at court. Others have their doors closed, attempting to get some work done. The A/C is off. I sit still for a moment to embrace the stillness. I blink, and I can hear the whoosh of my lashes.
The silence is broken when a diagonal cube-neighbor begins muttering, over and over again. “I’m losing my mind. I’m losing my mind.”