Updated: May 22, 2021
Marked events in second grade that stand out for memory's purview were the taking place of my First Confession and Holy Communion. These events were given very great importance in terms of our Catholic formation. So, my relationship with these various concepts , such as sin, guilt, etc. had continued apace. It's funny...For some reason, concepts regarding God's love, care and mercy were eclipsed by these. For some reason, they didn't really have a chance in my psyche...So, by the time I was being prepared for my first confession, I was in pretty deep with the misery these powerful, more negative, concepts could wield.
I have a memory of the night before my first confession. I made my mother sit down, with pencil and paper in hand, and record all my sins and the number of times they took place. Truly, I wished she had just said something like - this is foolish, Annie. You don't need to worry about this! But, though, she conveyed this in a nuanced fashion, she went along with being my recording secretary. Actually, it does create a comical scene in ones mind. I think we were in a small room, like our laundry room. I cannot imagine why we were there, but there you have it! And I dictated my sins and she recorded each sin and number of times. I would love to find that paper where she duly recorded all these...For instance, I probably cited yelling at my brothers, in particular the one closest to my age as he could be very annoying.
And, this presented me with another quandary. At some very basic level, I think I was receiving the message that normal human emotions - such as sadness and anger - were not allowed even when one is confronted with abnormal and crazy behavior. My parents were violent with each other, my father mainly in the physical sense and my mother mainly in the verbal sense, but I had to mind my Ps and Qs at all times. It was a recipe for great unhappiness and confusion. It seems I was not allowed solace or release. What a sad pickle to be in! Standing in line the next day for my first confession, I came upon a rock solid way to make sure I mentioned all my sins. I decided to just recite some of the Ten Commandments (as at least a few of them had, obviously, not taken place) and then attach arbitrary numbers to them. Little did I recognize the irony that this might be considered dishonest as I was making up the numbers. (And, it is possible that I might have mentioned coveting my neighbors wife since I probably didn't know what that meant and thought I should include it, for good measure. And, if so, the priest must have found this hilarious!) And, of course, the first confession is followed by the first communion! A beautiful dotted Swiss white smocked dress was made for the occasion. I remember it well. And the perfect veil hanging from a circle of tiny white rosebuds and green leaves that rested on the top of my head completed the outfit. Actually, the perfect socks and shiny, white Mary Jane shoes really did that. I did feel like a cross between a princess and a bride. What marred any joy, though, was my acute concern about committing a sin between the first confession and communion! Sinning seemed so readily at hand. I was still kind of unclear how a seven year old could really commit sins of any consequence. Nevertheless, I still needed to be very careful, so careful...I remember sitting up on my bed the night before my first communion attempting not to sin. Perhaps if I sat perfectly still and controlled all my thoughts, I could remain unblemished. This was truly exhausting. And, it did extract any happiness from what was meant to be a joyous sacramental occasion, a peak experience in my young Catholic life. I did make it to the altar eventually to receive that thin white wafer that represented the body of Christ in I guess what I considered a fairly unblemished state. But, there was already too much heaviness, to much worry and fear surrounding the event, for me to feel any upliftment. As humorous as, in retrospect, some of this behavior can seem - I was like a seven year old going on seventy- it was a misery-making time for me. I wish someone had noticed this odd behavior, this untoward scrupulosity, and headed it off at the pass. I could have possibly avoided years of undue sadness. But, that was not in my destiny... Another ann-ecdote!..During this time of greater and greater religious scrupulosity, I started feeling the need to kneel by my bed each night and pray for everyone I knew. Now, being a fairly social creature, I did tend to know quite a few people! So, this was a tall order...Night after night, I would dutifully pray on my knees, longing for reprieve, longing for comfort of bed and eventual sleep! I also had to physically perform this praying perfectly. That meant performing the sign of the cross impeccably. If my fingers did not land squarely where they were suppose to, I had to do it over. The more I attempted perfection in these actions, the more exacting I became. Really, it became torturous! So, one night, I just had had enough. I was tired and basically metaphorically flipped the proverbial bird and - through my actions - said enough! Yes, I did what you are now possibly imaging. I rebelled. I crawled into bed without first praying. It felt awesome! Such freedom. I was so tired and sleep beckoned. No long minutes praying and trying to remember mentioning everyone I knew. No perfect signs of the cross that usually only happened after repeated attempts. I sank into the mattress, cozy and happy. Yes, there was decidedly a rumble of concern way down inside me. But, fatigue vetoed all this and I drifted off to sleep. The next morning I awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for the new day. I innocently wondered in to my parent's room, adjacent to my own, and saw my mother propped up on her bed. I, then, politely inquired into my mother's well being, expecting a rote response of sorts such as...."I am fine, thank you, Annie. And, how are you?!” But, no, no such uncomplicated and reassuring response came my way! She furrowed her brow and said that, oddly enough, she was feeling worse on this particular morning, that her state of health had worsened during the night. I guess she was dealing with a health issue. I don't think I knew that then but apparently and sadly she had suffered many miscarriages over the years and perhaps this was one of those times, and she was recuperating. So, upon hearing her response this feeling of doom arose inside of me. Oh, no! This was all my fault! I hadn't stayed on my knees and prayed and that's why she was feeling worse. This tendency to ascribe fault to myself had been growing since first hearing about sin, heaven, hell, etc. and, it kicked right in that morning, not missing a beat. Truly miserable, this was. Oppressive guilt tramples out joy. I remember that awful feeling... Years later, when attending eight grade in San Salvador, El Salvador - our next foreign assignment after a few years back stateside, I still battled this scrupulosity. We lived in a lovely home, spacious and beautifully appointed. I was walking by the living room enroute to the kitchen. And suddenly I must have been besieged by what I consider an impure thought. God knows, it was probably totally innocuous, like one of my siblings really annoying me and I was naturally ruminating about this and feeling anger. And, my mind took note of this. But, back then to balance things out I would tend to drop to my knees to nullify the thought and expiate myself. So, I promptly dropped to my knees - I was practiced at this and knew how to do so without bodily injury as this entailed a hard white tile floor - when suddenly I heard someone burst out laughing behind me! Unbenowenst to me, I was not alone. Someone was sitting in an armchair in the living room. And this person thought this was a mighty funny sight! Oh, gosh...the embarrassment. But, as it turns out, he was no stranger to this sort of scrupulosity. Somehow he communicated that he knew and understood, and that he too had dealt with a similar proclivity. That did alleviate the embarrassment somewhat and I felt a little less alone in my travails for a short while. You see, in my family situation, so much attention and energy went into my parent's relationship, the lunacy and awful dysfunction of the severe violence, that the kids did not seem to merit much attention if they found themselves in a quandary - if they had a problem. Or, at least I should say that I felt very much alone and invisible in my misery. Perhaps my siblings would describe it differently...in any event, my mother use to take great stock in how one looks. If you look good, if you are attractive, then everything else is secondary. In high school, I started exhibiting the eating disorder, anorexia. That went on for a number of years. I guess it was parts needing to control something, as well as a cry for help. More about that later! Annie Kiyonaga