Faith in Boys, Bikes and Wallpaper

I had all kinds of faith when I was a kid. Faith in Christmas presents, in the sweetness and chaos of my brother, in pathological lip-gloss reapplication, in swimming pools, in ketchup all over everything, in my bike.

I had faith that my mother would remain fierce and beautiful and my father funny. I had faith that I could be those things if I paid attention. I would cherry-pick and incorporate. Season myself to taste. I would control myself. Everyone thinks they can do this. I didn’t know that then. But I had faith that concentrating really hard was the answer. Sometimes I notice myself being the things that they are, all kinds of things, and their voices are suddenly inside me, finding their way out. I’m surprised every time. Like I’ve belched in public. I have faith it doesn’t show. Did you read that on my face? I’m very good at not showing. I ask all the questions.

I have faith that asking all the questions will fill me up. My story and others joining it, all tangled, similar and dissimilar at once. A head full of stories. Nutrition. Good company. Who said I wasn’t a cannibal?

I had faith that worrying would keep the thing I worried about away. Of course I still believe this. Of course it’s the truest thing in the world.

I had faith in old houses as a child. In wallpaper with sage green bamboo designs, a pastoral, Asian village repeat all over our walls. Where did this wallpaper come from? Who chose this from some tiny swatch? I have faith this wallpaper will enter my mind right before I expire, floating by like a flag in the breeze. I had faith in six-over-one sash windows that jammed, and pebble driveways where dandelions tried to sprout, stunted and barely off the ground. These were the best kinds of houses. I had faith that old houses would make me feel safe.

I was sure I was going to have an old house by now for my own kids. For a while I did, but I don’t anymore. I don’t have faith that houses can do all the things I thought they could. But it’s hard to say. I change my mind all the time. I’d like to live in one again, someplace far from here.

Here is fine. It’s as good as anywhere else. Better than some places for sure. And even close to perfect often enough. But I know there are other places for me too. I keep having faith, year after year, that I will end up in that Other Place. It might be a habit or it might be faith, but both those things are just grooves in my mind to pass through like a train on a track.

I had faith there was an intermittently terrifying God that could see everything I did as child, even in my bedroom closet, where I’d part the clothes and draw all over the cedar walls with markers. I remember drawing trees with people standing among them. Round heads, stick limbs, curtains of hair. Lots of eyelashes. I talked to myself in there and made up stories and interactions. I tested out curse word arrangements — fucking bullshit fuck, holy fucking shit, motherfucker, Jesus fucking Christ — and thought with closed-eye focus about the boy I liked. I kissed my own hand. Prepping as if a test was coming.

Everything was seen by some adjudicating cosmic being and he judged me for my choices. He determined the course of my future based on my Goodness and Badness. I had faith that being afraid of this would force me to do the right thing. And if I couldn’t do the right thing, maybe I could send prayers outward and upward explaining how sorry I was. Didn’t mean it, couldn’t help it, I can fix it. I had faith my badness would stay under control.

I had faith that having to participate in confession as a child was sadistic. I made things up because I couldn’t think of real sins, and if the priest thought I was going to tell him what God already knew about kissing my own hand and crank phone calls and all the fuck-shit-motherfuckers he had better wake the fuck up.

But confession got me acquainted with guilt, and though people will tell you it’s a useless emotion, I’m not so sure. Guilt has kept me in line more than once. I like knowing it’s there.

I had faith in rolling up the waist of my school uniform skirt in order to make it shorter. I had faith in my saddle shoes until I lost faith in them almost overnight and got black penny loafers and placed shiny dimes in them. I thought this was very cool. If I had faith in anything it was coolness.

Even now, my faith in ankle boots is unshakeable.

I had faith that having faith in boys would make them nicer, better, sweeter, less infuriating. I was just a kid.

I tried to keep the faith in the melancholic, bad poetry I wrote as an adolescent. Some of the poems were embarrassing to reread even an hour after I’d written them. Wow, I’d think, this is insufferable! If anyone reads this I’ll dive into a volcano. And then I’d do it again. Eventually I came to my senses and wrapped each journal in black masking tape and then all together in one bundle. It’s a big, heavy brick — a black box recording for a whole, uneventful decade of an unremarkable person’s life.

I had faith in sleepovers with my two best friends, twin sisters. They are my friends today. I could have a sleepover with them tonight and still talk to them for twelve hours straight. We ate piles of toxic junk: salt and vinegar potato chips, devil dogs, pizza drenched in neon grease; and watched movies: Time Bandits, Can’t Buy Me Love. We stole cigarettes and chain-smoked sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of the night. We were waiting for something to happen. We had faith that something would. Sometimes it did and then the other two would worry that whatever happened to the one would never happen to them. I had faith that worrying would keep the thing I worried about away. Of course I still believe this. Of course it’s the truest thing in the world.

I had faith in MTV and the videos we would choreograph. We performed ludicrous routines in front of the TV in our pink, synthetic-satiny nightgowns. We thought we were hot, unequivocally. We thought we were “foxes.” We all had long hair parted in the center, barrettes with ribbons braided on them. Combination skin. Scabby knees. Our teeth were like cubist paintings. I have faith in braces.

I had faith in boys. All kinds.

I still do.

I had faith that having faith in boys would make them nicer, better, sweeter, less infuriating. I was just a kid.

Now I don’t think faith needs to cover so much territory. I only need it for the things that torture me, things with no guarantees — that my kids will be forever safe and healthy, that my husband will be too. The rest gets managed. I was in New Orleans recently, a place that celebrates life and death in equal measure, and is kept thriving almost entirely on the power of faith. If something is good enough, important enough to believe in, such as: New Orleans won’t slide into the Gulf because who wants to live in a world without New Orleans, then faith carries me to where I need to be.

I have faith that I’ve already done enough. I don’t mean to sound unmotivated. I’m motivated and inspired all the time. And I don’t mean to sound smug. I haven’t done anything world changing. Lots of people have, because human beings are amazing, but I haven’t. I haven’t advanced medicine or saved lives with my own brilliance or bravery. I’m only doing regular things in a regular way around here. I don’t pretend. Or try to convince myself that any of it is Important to anyone beyond the five or so people I think about every day. And they all live right here in my house.

I have faith in laughing every day and in a good fireplace and in some of the books and in my husband’s furry chest and our kids’ every single thing and a good drink and what it feels like when my son hits a three point shot and gorillas and porches and Louis Leakey and basketball and great sex and whatever else lifts me almost off the ground.

For years, I had faith that I would have done something to remap the world by now, but that is gone in the best possible way. Off to rest at the feet of some other girl in her bedroom closet, filled with terror and big plans. Some girl kissing her own hand in the dark. May it take her far.

(Photo: Nancy Gonzalez/

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