Memoir

On the Serpentine Path:

A Story About This One Time the Universe Rescued Me from Conservatism

Trust me, Dear Reader, if you’re horrified these days, I’m horrifiedier. Imagine recognizing parts of younger self in these logic and empathy-free people. I thank all the gods I saw the light, but back when I was changing, I thought I was losing my mind. My memoir, On the Serpentine Path, shows my struggle with reality and the mysterious events that convinced me to change my life. It’s about what happens when you see synchronicities, but you’ve been taught not to believe your own eyes. It’s about not allowing yourself to be yourself because you’re pretty sure your real self is an idiot. It’s about my childhood, and how that violent authoritarian environment set me up to be my best worst enemy. On the Serpentine Path is a story that echoes our current cultural revolution, with insights about all of the things that are so hard to understand– the heartlessness and anger on that right, and what it took to renounce it. It’s a true story of hope, at a time when we need it most. Because if  a right-wing tool like me can change, surely there is hope for everyone.

This part is from my childhood, back when I thought God was pretty much a mighty, bipolar Santa.

Excerpt: Rural Maryland, 1975; My family goes to a Catholic Charismatic Mass.

I’d known what to expect back in our rural Maryland parish. I had things to do while the mass went on for the 500 billionth On The Serpentine Path by Michele Kraft time: make up stories about all the statuary. It started with the Stations of the Cross, these plaster bas-relief Peyton Place scenes that illustrate Jesus’s execution story. Station five was the best. Some guy named Simon is helping Jesus carry the cross. Scrawny-ass Jesus is stumbling along in front of him, and Simon, who is built like a brick shit house, worthy of study, is right behind him, shouldering that cross with no problem. Assorted Roman soldiers fill in the background. In my version of the story, Simon refuses to aid this injustice. That’s what I’d do. Cut this all off at the pass. See? Why didn’t God think of that?
Shit, stop it! God is listening!
Simon picks up the cross and acts like he’s playing along, but then he whips around and breaks bad on their asses, swinging the cross around like a giant battle axe. Then he flips it and uses it lengthwise, like a bulldozer to clear a hole in the ranks of soldiers. They fall like duck-pins, and before they can get it together, Simon picks up Jesus, throws him over his shoulder like a damp dishrag and books ass out of there. Problem solved at Station 5, The End.
Can I go now?
Shut up!

We had larger statuary back at our church, too. Mary, the compliant God incubator, seemed to go with her earthly husband Joseph like they were four foot tall salt and pepper shakers. Mary was salt, the one size fits all pattern of femininity available for the Catholic female. She was dressed in pale blues and virginal whites; she stared submissively at the ground, bearing an expression of vacant, immeasurable sadness that I unconsciously understood to be a prediction of my future. The infant Jesus, small enough to be a baby but proportioned like an adult, perched on her arm like a demanding parrot as He looked out over and past us in the congregation. He held His little hand out away from His body as He smugly pointed upward, taunting us that His real Dad is our Boss.

I could identify with the Joseph, pepper, statue a bit more than Mary’s, and wondered at his personality. No man would marry a woman who was already going to have a baby, as Mom had made clear to me in unrelated conversations. Even if he loved her very much? Joseph gave me hope. Maybe I could find a man like him someday, someone who’d put up with all of my awful traits, my too-big ugliness, my weight problem, my constant sniffling, sneezing, and mouth breathing, clumsiness, shyness and everything else that made me so insufferable. Joseph was Mr. Responsible, uncomplaining in his unimportant role of father, wore washy browns, his soulful eyes, as empty of individuality as those of his wife, weren’t looking at the ground but at an area slightly above it, still submissive and humble, but not as low cast as a woman’s. ‘Boring’ was what came to mind, Joseph looked boring, and as I daydreamed about the future I hoped I could find someone like Joseph someday. A boring man would be a better companion than no man; maybe boring would come to my rescue and I wouldn’t have to be alone my whole life. Nobody’s going to want to marry you. You’re going to end up in a nunnery with all the other ladies no one wants.

The Salt and Pepper set came with the matching Sugar Bowl Jesus on the Cross, but when our church was renovated, we got a new Jesus, much more realistic in style. The All New Dying Bloody Jesus became the pinnacle of our parish’s art collection. Hanging in the vaulted space over the altar like sorrow made manifest, this Jesus was hand carved, hand painted and imported from Italy.

His arrival and installation transformed the space, giving it the more miserable guilt inducing tone that no one had realized was missing. But there was something else about that figure I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Standing, sitting, reciting, and especially kneeling my way through the mass, I was in awe before His nearly naked Body. Feasting my innocent eyes on the dripping blood and the contours of Jesus’ athletic frame, those legs, I wondered if I could move to Italy, if women were allowed to be sculptors in Europe, if the sculptor carved Jesus with correct anatomy and then carved the flap of canvas to cover His… no, no, no, that’s not how marble sculptures work, I know that, but wait, Jesus, the real Guy, had to have a Pecker, or else how did He pee? And was there anything really sinful about wondering what Jesus’s Wiener looked like? My brain was defending itself but I still felt uncomfortable, as it occurred to me once again that the Old Man in the clouds was hearing my thoughts about His Son’s Dink, which would make it His Crusty Old Willie too, and the White Dove Holy Spirit’s Dick on top of it. The thoughts came and I couldn’t stop them. Do boy birds have a peter? Peter was the Rock upon which the church was built, Peter was the first pope, of course! That’s the Holy Spirit’s Peter, right there! Ha, ha, ha, wish I could tell someone that one, good one, huh God? I hope you thought that was funny. Then my brain and I sat awkwardly together while I tried to quit smirking, tried to think about something God would approve of.  And that only made it worse.

But at the beautiful charismatic church, in the big, open modern space, the priest seemed to care about what he was saying. The people seemed to be paying attention. I’d heard it all before though, knew all the stories. These people were nice, but I was kind of bored.