The first time I faced the confessional, I sat before the priest, face-to-face. He had gestured to the kneeler, but I knew better than to hide behind the aluminum screen. I was to face the consequences of my actions. This was a fraction of my penance.
The priest, who’d watched me attend mass with my mother every day the summer my father was kidnapped, greeted me with a slight, warm smile. I breathed deeply and placed my hand to my face, tracing the sign of the cross against my forehead. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” I said.
Silence grew dense, sprinkling a mist of regret over the room.
“This is my first confession,” I admitted. His smile grew wider and warmer. “Is it okay if I do it in Spanish? I don’t know how to confess in English.”
“Yes, of course,” he affirmed.
I unfolded the notecard from my back pocket and stared at the ink scribbled across the blue lines. The words crawled toward me and pierced their claws through my tongue—an iron taste tangling itself across the roof of my mouth. I wondered if this even compared to what the priest said hell would be like.
My words found a way to speak through the pain, morphing into hymns of forgiveness for almighty God. Each note brought a lightness to the suffocating air. I was satisfied with my efforts to recite all that I had remembered to write down on that note card.
“Y por todos los pecados que no recuerde, le pido perdón a Dios,” I muttered, tilting my head down.
“My child, you are about to receive the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time,” the priest explained “As sinners, it is important we are aware of our flaws and limitations, as well as God’s unconditional love for us. God loves us and forgives each and every one of us when we’ve done Him wrong. And we are brought into harmony with Him through this blessed sacrament.”
He continued his sermon, and I clung to every word, like sugar in between my fingers after a day of eating cotton candy.
I was ready to be renewed, to live His will. I declaimed the Act of Contrition and went in peace after the Father’s Blessing. I wanted to be high off the saccharine baptism of forgiveness, but a sin so pungent still sat at the edge of my consciousness, pleading to never be revealed.
And I listened.
I did exactly what my mom warned me those weak to the devil’s temptation did. So I didn’t discuss sin that burdened me with crippling remorse until the winter I turned thirteen.
My mother and I stood in a line Saturday afternoon, waiting for one of the two confessionals to open up at the church. I took my notecard from my pocket and rehearsed the lines I prepared for myself.
I was an actress, ready to audition for the role of The Atoned, one of the lucky and undeserving ones who’d be lifted up to heaven. The door, however, opened halfway through my inner rehearsal. I was to be cured of a guilty conscience now.
The room I walked into was bathed in incense, and I hoped the smell would drown out my fear. But it spread everywhere—to the sterilized white walls, to my stomach and throat. I could not sit in front of the priest that day. My knees rooted me to the cushion of the kneeler, and my hands trembled as they reached my face. I couldn’t tell if my heartbeat or the silence grew louder. They both raced to surpass the other.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” I whispered.
“My child, I can’t hear you. I need you to speak up.”
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” I said louder. “It has been six months since my last confession.”
My mother always pushed me to confess every two or three months to be ready to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I was off to a great start.
“Very well,” the priest remarked.
My shaking hands managed to unfold the notecard smothered between them, and I uttered every bullet point. My sand-paper tongue gritted the roof of my mouth raw with each sin it spat. The bullet point I dreaded most was the last. Perhaps it would be easier if I gave myself time to have the courage to say it aloud.
“I ask God forgiveness for,” I said, bracing myself for the words that were about to leave my mouth. “I ask God for forgiveness…” I repeated.
A pair of lips came to mind. Tender lips, landing clumsily on each other like bees too eager to turn nectar into honey. A hand. The curve of a hip. Glossy brunette hair.
“I ask God forgiveness for… kissing… a girl,” I blurted. “..and for all the sins I may not remember.”
The priest offered me kind words, attempting to embrace me with the guarantee God had forgiven me for each and every one of my sins. He went on, but the urge to vomit only grew stronger. My eyelids heavied. Was saliva supposed to scald my mouth this much? What I needed was to leave.
But the voice of the priest ceased. The confession wasn’t over.
“The act of contrition,” the priest insisted.
“Right. My God, I am sorry for my sins,” I said. “…with…all my heart…”
A grim silence followed.
“It’s next to the screen in English and Spanish.”
“Dios mío, me arrepiento de todo corazón de todo lo malo que he hecho y de lo bueno que he dejado de hacer; porque pecando te he ofendido a ti, que eres el sumo bien,” The words were thick in my mouth, folding in like a linen napkin stuffed inside my throat. “Y digno de ser amado sobre todas las cosas. Propongo firmemente, con tu gracia, cumplir la penitencia, no volver a pecar y evitar las ocasiones de pecado. Perdóname, Señor, por los méritos de la Pasión de nuestro Salvador Jesucristo. Amén,” I read, hoping the singeing heat of my mother tongue would be enough to scorch my heart into submission.
The next thing I remember is walking into the chapel of the church and sitting right in front of the Virgin Mary statue next to the Blessed Sacrament.
I stared into Her eyes, just like I’d done every sleepless night after the kiss. My eyes were drenched with tears. When I imagined the moment of my confession, I pictured feeling a sack of rocks had been lifted from my lungs. I expected forgiveness for the secret I swore to take to my grave would liberate me from the pressure on my shoulders. But I felt nothing of the sort. I was Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, kissing my Truth farewell on the cheek, turning my sacred Rabbi into the hands of Demise.
Only years later did my Truth overcome death after its afflicting crucifixion. “Peace be unto you,” it said. “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I, myself—for a spirit does not have flesh and bones.”
Giddy lips did not bitter my memory anymore. I sanctified my happiness and love and prayed for those who were yet to find it.
This was my true confession.
Renata Perez is a Mexican American multimedia creative with a passion for sparking conversations and empowering others to use their voice. As Digital Media Coordinator for Subscriptions for Authors by Ream, they have created content that helps authors connect with their audience and develop strategies for growing their platforms. Renata is also a student copywriter for the Boston University Marketing & Communications Department and has explored various formats of storytelling, such as advertising, rebranding, copywriting, photography, editorial writing, and short documentary-style projects—increasing audience engagement by up to twenty percent of audience engagement. In addition to her work in marketing, Renata is also an editorial intern and creative writer contributing to the Hey! Young Writer Organization. They are currently pursuing a B.A. in English literature with a minor in advertising at Boston University, and her ultimate goal is to capture stories that bring representation to those seeking to be heard.