Jesus Christ died on a cross to save me from my sins.
How can one mind comprehend and appreciate that? It’s like gathering this entire shore, from today’s walk. (Good thing someone brought this 10-inch dump truck. We’re gonna need it.)
Repentance was the theme for all of the feast day. From hour to hour and chore to chore, the central thought was sin and forgiveness, humility and gratitude. The idea came along on a morning walk, chanting the steps with Psalm 50/51 in Church Slavonic. It was there on a visit to the bike shop to drop off a thank-you card for a tire check by a respectful talented mechanic. It was there while buying eggs and hearing the cashier’s Christian testimony. It was there talking to drivers on the bus. It was there at the monastery for Good Friday vigil. It was there at the thrift-store fitting room thanking the staff in hijab with a “Ramadan Karim!” (These women in their trousers, manteau coats, and full veils took over the shifts for the staff out on Easter weekend — and these women did it without a drop of food or water since dawn). What memory of repentance was worth writing down as a story for this day? What example best conveys metanoia, true change of heart, and the grace to return to Our Lord and Savior?
It has to be that midnight special of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
That was well over 40 years ago, for a transplanted co-ed with no street sense at all. On that afternoon I went out and walked the city, scared of going home to my roommates, our campus neighbors and faculty and friends, my loving parents who would call with eager questions about my weekend plans, and the recent verdict of the school psychiatrist. All of them urged me to break out of the comfort zone, date the new boyfriend, and practice the compromise skills that would make me a good wife one day. The accomplished young man had many fine sincere generous virtues, and was eager to enhance and inform my personal growth. From his point of view, compromise was simple. All it meant was no unaccounted AWOL time away from him on weekends, no more nibbling nuts & berries or other rabbit food out of little pocket packets, no singing along to the radio or anywhere else, no high collars or long sleeves, no highly textured fabric, no tied or covered hair, no speaking to other men (including my faculty advisor), and most of all no God. That was just his idea of efficient sensible operating procedures. It was meant to protect us both, and especially him, from What People Might Think. He was fine educational company, and I was overjoyed to be with him and to learn all of his rules. But soon his level of exasperation, and the number of rules, kept growing: no tracing finger lines in the steam condensation on a glass of ice water; no letting shoelace tips tap on the floor; no changing seats midway through a campus party; no more warbling the falsetto “Rrrighty-OH!” from those Felix the Cat cartoons; and some lengthy rubric about maintaining the patina on carbon steel kitchen knives. It didn’t work. Within a month, this man’s last nerve was losing its myelin sheathing due to my rube manners. (As always in this blog, I carefully alter the details to make everyone unrecognizable. For all we know, what sent him storming out of Shaky’s Shrimp Shack could have been seeing me nibble my ear of corn vertically instead of along the row.)
So before one Saturday date night, I ran away from my suitor and just didn’t go back. I was getting scared of his level of upset, scared of facing the disappointment of my roommates, scared to face my inept self. Knowing he was likely to call the house over and over asking the other girls where I was, I disappeared from all usual haunts (language lab, library, local Cathedral, park outside, neighbors). Instead I walked all over the city. Friendly all-new hidey holes beckoned me inside to escape and pass the time. One was a whole new church, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, for half a Mass and a rosary. One was the discount cosmetology school, where a waist length of hair drifted to the floor. One was the Yes! natural food store down the Exorcist Steps to the canal, for bulk bin pocket packets of sunflower seeds, savory nut wafers, dried apricots, and coconut date rolls. One was a tour of the Old Stone House on M Street. One was The Hecht Company department store, where the staff bit back smiles at my excitement seeing pullover sports bras (No fussy hook & eye in the back? Whoa, I want one of those!). With this sturdy one-piece garb I purchased the thickest heaviest turtleneck with the highest collar in ribbed hunter-green wool, plus a jade-green head scarf, and put them all on in the fitting room to wear out the door. Last there was the Army Navy store with an eye-catching display window of goldfish bowls heaped with shining nails; I hurried right in and bought my first pair of high combat boots with thick gumsole cleats, then ran my fingers through the fishbowls and picked out a dozen shining stainless six-inch nails and three lengths of rawhide laces. The fellows at the counter struck up a nice chat, and asked in sociable fashion what repair job called for all those nails. At my idea they raised their brows and nodded. I walked out all smiles.
After an evening’s jostle through candle and soap boutiques and chocolatiers and bakeries and endless couples holding hands and bright windows with French menus and musicians on the street, I stopped short at a movie marquee. For months it advertised the same late-late feature. There an hour early was a boisterous queue of fans, though ticket prices at the time were skyrocketing up toward the $4 mark. Somehow I found myself at the window, bought a ticket just like everybody, and was swept inside.
The house was packed. The audience wore wedding clothes and motorcycle leather and chenille boas and bells. They waved umbrellas and sprayed water pistols and threw toasted bread and white rice and ticker tape and confetti. They hollered out the lyrics and lines. They acted out flickering scenes of glare and blare, overstated costumes and makeup, theatrical theatrics. The sound system revved right through the floor and into one’s ribs. An exploding kaleidoscope of plot threw pieces of archetype around from every which where. Something about a wedding? Motorcycles in the house? Thunder and lightning? Transylvania?
I parked my combat boots up on an empty seat back and bit my cuticles, rocking back and forth, staring at the filmed and live antics. The jokes flew like the ticker tape over my head. No word of dialogue made it into long-term recall. Neither did a note of the music, though there was plenty, and loud too; that Mr. Curry could sure belt out a tune. (Apparently one of his show-stopping vocal numbers is still so popular that fans my age who met and courted and sparked at those shows use it as an anthem for their spouses’ funerals.)
This is not to advise being out at midnight in Washington DC, or walking home in the wee hours from the bus stop. But for that performance, my plush seat felt like the safest haven in the world, the last place where anyone who knew me would think to look. That perception of safety is not as outlandish as it seems. The Picture Show was a public event supervised by management and the fire code, not an exclusive arrangement for two. The Show had stable rules familiar to virtually everyone, built up by large-group consensus each week over a period of years, not invented on the spot by one person to manage another. The Show was choreographed consensual adult group play, not private coercion. The Show channeled cathartic singing and dancing, and welcomed a free range of individual creativity equally from all participants. Most of all, The Show was not spurred on by unbearable anxiety and need for control and social image; it was inspired by campy schmaltzy merriment.
In that crowd, no one looked annoyed or distressed by me at all. Someone loaned me an umbrella. Grown men in lace veils served us toast, and I passed around nuts and berries. During some pointless catchy ditty, I heard myself humming right out loud. Shaking rice off a sleek helmet haircut, securely armored by a new foundation garment that couldn’t be unfastened until I took it off myself when I was good and ready, warm in a nubbly wool turtleneck, under a homemade necklace of braided rawhide and flashing six-inch nails, I felt welcomed and free.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was a full-onslaught sensory reset. For those hours there was no brain bandwidth available to worry and brood about my dating failure. Judging by the crowd, the point of this whole folderol was being yourself. For me, that meant genuine repentance for the wrong steps of serving a wrong relationship, and thankfulness to God for setting me straight. It meant breaking neurotic rules and going home to Godly ones. It meant returning to the body and soul that Jesus died for. Instead of driving any more nails into His cross, it meant wearing those nails around my neck for weeks as a reminder and guard over my heart.
Thank you, Mr. Curry. Blessed Easter.
You are an amazing writer/storyteller. Wishing you Easter blessings.