The angelic choir reverberates around us, and I am pleased to discover I still know all the lyrics to all the songs—even the lesser-known second and third verses. Every seat is taken, and the air has turned steamy, electric. It’s the coziness I love, the wattage turned way up, the crescendo of anticipation. I stare at a statue of Mary, her demure, unlined face, a blue robe pooling at her tender feet. The unluckiest virgin of all: robbed of the pleasures of sex and yet condemned to the pains of childbirth.
When it came to Dustin, my ecstasy was short lived. If Mom disapproved of my crop tops and cutoffs, how would she take my having a boyfriend? Too embarrassed to tell her and too afraid she’d find out, I sent him a break-up note through a friend at recess two weeks after he asked me out.
I felt the same dread when I called Mom to tell her that Michael and I would like to stay together in my room during our Christmas visit. “I can’t approve,” she said, my heartbeat quickening, “but y’all are gonna do what you do, I guess.”
It occurs to me to feel bad—for my whiskey buzz, for my long list of grievances against the church, for wearing a skirt that wouldn’t pass the kneel test—but, blessedly, I don’t. Michael murmurs admiration for the acoustics, the celestial minor chords, and I am thrust back to the early days of our courtship last year, when we sat side by side on his piano bench. The brush of our forearms as he taught me how to move from D to G.
I wish Mom could know how happy I am to be here singing “O Holy Night” with the nuns, relishing the cathedral’s smoky incense and lavish stained glass, as much a part of me as my unplanned hip tattoo and collection of feminist lit—both of which Michael appreciates when we curl up together on his worn Mexican blanket and share a joint in the dappled sunlight of our favorite cemetery. I wish she could know that when it comes to the sacred mysteries of life, there are many ways to worship. Surely every act of love is an act of God?
The choir falls silent just before Mass begins—our cue to escape. We surrender our prime seats and tiptoe down the aisle, past the crowd standing in the back. I swing the heavy door open and nearly run right into the brotherhood assembled on the stairs. At the top is the lead altar boy, bearing a giant cross, followed by more altar boys, half a dozen priests, and finally the bishop, in his medieval miter. The moonlight catches the men’s white robes and gold sashes, and I am reminded of the pageantry and freedom of the gay bar.
The freezing air numbs my thighs. Frankincense drifts from a priest’s swinging thurible, and I hear echoes of the church organ starting up again. The weary world rejoices. As the men begin their measured entrance into the cathedral, Michael and I glide hand in unwed hand down the staircase, back out into the night divine.