When Sister Mary Eunice McKee was a mere four years old, she narrowly avoided drowning.
At the time, she’d lived in southern Maine, and looking back, Mary remembered fondly the fresh seafood and state fairs. (They were nothing like today’s deep-fried, ungodly pigsties.) And in early July 1942, her father had gathered the wife and children and led a trip out on the water to prove his newfound worth to the family, before the divorce papers were signed a year later.
“John, whatever are we supposed to do out here?” Mother said. She was quite overweight, sitting against the wall of the boat with her thick arms crossed and her knees conservatively and smartly pulled to her chest. Her dark green dress, simple and worn, seemed the garb of a princess to young Mary. Mary stood, her stubbly legs wobbling against the pull and push of the tide on the hull of the boat, her white-blond hair gravitating towards the sky due to static electricity. Tommy was idle next to her, thumb placed neatly in his mouth.
”We’re out for a nice ride. How about you calm down and pay attention to our dear children,” John said, his thin brown brow furrowing behind the dashboard of the captain’s quarters. His voice was surprisingly high but scratchy from years of drinking and smoking. To this day, Mary barely had anything to remember her father by besides the cold threat of violence behind his cheery-like demeanor.
Mother stopped Thomas from standing up and toppling over the boat side. Poor Tom had begun to cry, and the cry soon turned into a howl.
”By God, woman. How am I supposed to drive this damn thing when you can’t watch my fucking son?”
That was when Mary stepped off the edge, her arms outstretched like the wings of one of God’s beautiful creations— a black-capped chickadee, or a goldfinch, or a common Jay. Her feet left gracefully, and Mary had looked down and noticed the white polished shoes on her feet with the little black ribbons.
Those feet hit the water first. Then, the hems of her denim shorts. Then, her pale belly — the water held her coldly in its arms, and for a moment time seemed to pause, and Mary thought, I did it! I’m flying. Upwards, upwards! — and then the water released her from its embrace, and instead pulled at her shoes with immense strength, and before she could process what was happening she was under.
Oh, it was suffocating! Life was so cruel! Mary opened her mouth to scream out, but clapped her hand over it instead. She was going to run out of breath in this water like the lady Mommy heard about on the radio. They’d spoken about it over dinner — green beans and potatoes and meatloaf. Goodness, Mary never wanted Mother’s appalling meatloaf more in her miserable life!
Her body sank lower. Is this what it’s like to die, God? Why must you drag this on for ever? I am a child! Hurry soon so that I may stand dripping at Your holy gates! She began to pray frantically, kicking her legs and arms to the words of her gospel, the light of the sun de-blooming as the water pulled her deeper.
All seemed lost, and she was crying out to Jesus when a pair of strong hands dove down from the shrinking sun and grabbed her by the straps of her shirt. God! You’ve come to save me! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! Then it was up, and up, and up, and when Mary and her Savior’s very hands broke the surface and crested the air, Mary coughed and hacked and spat in her own father’s face.
”You fucking brat,” he spat back. “You’re a real genius, getting in that mess. You think God cares about shit like you? You’re dumber than any twit I could pull off the street.”
“Oh, shaddup. I’m supposed to believe you didn’t want her dead? Floating all bloated an’ purple on the surface of the water like a dead walrus or a goddamn martyr?”
Mary had begun to sob then, louder than she’d probably ever sob, and since then she’d been able to cry at the drop of a hat. Oh, but now...
Now was worlds worse.
Mary lost the ability to cry. She’d lost the ability to physically perform any task. Even breathing was often forgotten by the host of her body, and sometimes it would stand unblinkingly for hours just to revel in Mary’s silent screams at the pain of her burning, dry eyes.
Our Father who art in Heaven, grant me mercy. Bless me with your strength. I am not in control. What should I do?
But for the first time, Mary couldn’t feel the light of God inside her. Not only that... but the mechanical darkness of Leviathan had frightened Him away.
When I’m done with you, you’ll be nothing but a husk. A meager red smear upon a Persian rug, it said, and her heart froze. Its voice was hers, brazenly in the forefront of her mind, and she heard the click of teeth and wetness of lips curling away from bared teeth.
You have my body, but you will not take my mind, Mary told it adamantly. It laughed back.
Oh, my love, you don’t get it, do you? It doesn’t matter what you think of me... You’re in my clutches. I can make you smile, frown, speak. I can break your legs like twigs and you’ll feel every ounce of it. You’ll steal, and kill, and worship false gods. I’ll make you touch yourself for the first time...
No! God is all-loving. He’ll forgive me, just as long as I pray and confess to him. You don’t scare me!
The only god you’ll answer to is me, it said. And there it was again— the wet sound of jeering lips peeling from teeth. You’re helpless as a lamb already slaughtered. Don’t you feel the blood rushing past your ears? Pooling wet and wicked against your cheek?
Mary was suddenly aware of a cold prickle threading itself into her skin. I’m naked, she realized, appalled.
It only smiled cruelly in response, and brandished a pair of silky red panties in the mirror; Satan gripped Mary’s feet quite like that eventful day in July 1942. But this time, there were no strong hands to pull her back to salvation.