I Pray to St. Sebastian About Gym
Class and Thank God I’m Not Named After
the Patron Saint of Snakebites
I gazed up at the familiar boy. A golden aura surrounds his beautiful, muscular body, arrows poking into him from every direction.
Poor saint, I thought to myself. I hope it doesn’t hurt. Sebastian’s stare was piercing, as if he were looking right through me. As if his gaze were another arrow pointed my way.
I closed my eyes but the image stayed. It should. The picture of St. Sebastian had been hanging on the wall in our living room for as long as I could remember, right near the old-fashioned record player my mother listened to when she was dusting all the other saint statues and figurines, her daily tribute to the men and women who watch over us. Occasionally I’d come home from school and Mom would be belting out “That’s Amore” or “Volare” in her just-off-the-boat Italian accent. I had to be careful not to bring anyone up to the apartment when I heard music playing, or they might think she was crazy. She’s a character, my mother.
But then, all Catholics are a weird bunch. Especially the Italian ones.
I opened my eyes and read quietly from my Saint Diary.
Dear St. Sebastian:
O Patron Saint of Athletes, please help me not look stupid tomorrow in gym class when we play soccer even though I am not very fast, kick the ball in the wrong direction occasionally, and sometimes forget which team I’m on. And I promise I won’t sit down out on the field this time if they make me play defense again and I get bored. Ideally, I’d like to play more like Hilary, our star soccer player (even though she is named after the Patron Saint of Snakebites). But if I can’ t be as good as Hilary, I’ll settle for just not getting picked last. And don’t forget about Mrs. Bevalaqua. It would be really great if her arthritis got better so she could walk again. Thank you, St. Sebastian, for your intercession in these matters.
I lit the worn-down pillar candle beneath sexy Sebastian and gave him a longing look, as if I could will him to step out of his frame. It was right about then that my moment alone with the half-naked, holy babe was interrupted.
“Time to get ready for bed, Antonia! It’s getting late and you have school tomorrow,” Mom yelled from the kitchen.
“I’m praying,” I called back, my voice all “Please don’t interrupt my saint time,” aware that the surest way into whatever flexibility my mother could offer was through piety.
“Five more minutes, then!”
I started to close my diary when I noticed that the corner of my St. Anthony mass card was peeling. I smoothed the edge gently, lovingly, as if I were brushing the cheek of Andy Rotellini, the boy I’d been in love with since the summer before ninth grade. A crease was beginning to mark the murky blue sky surrounding Anthony, dark against the gleam of his halo. I dipped my pinkie into the pool of hot wax around the candlewick and placed a tiny drop on the corner of the card, refastening it to the page. Below St. Anthony’s image was a pocket made of thick, red linen paper, stuffed with devotions and prayers, some on random scraps of this and that, others scribbled on colorful Post-its. Anthony’s page had more devotions than any other saint in my diary.
My Saint Diaries were my most sacred possessions.
“I’m praying, Mommy,” said a voice behind me, sing-song and catty, sending a shiver up my spine. Not the scary sort of shiver or even the good kind, but the “blech” kind you felt when you met up with something disgusting. “I’m such a good little holier-than-thou girl, Mommy,” the voice went on, its nasal tone like nails against a chalkboard.
“Veronica,” I said, whirling around to face my cousin— who also starred as the evil nemesis in my life, not to be overly melodramatic or anything, because it is totally true. Veronica is eVil with a capital V. I tucked my Saint Diary behind me, making sure it was hidden.
Veronica was at the apartment trying to learn some of the Italian cookie recipes from my mother because her mother, my aunt Silvia, was determined that at least one of her three daughters would turn out to be a kitchen natural and grow up to usurp my mother at the family store. I’d thought I could successfully avoid Veronica’s visit, but I was wrong. My blood began to boil, but I took comfort in the fact that Veronica’s outfit was way too tight and her hair was so teased and sprayed that she was the caricature of a Rhode Island Mall Rat. “Remember when you used to be a nice person and people like me could actually stand to be around you?” I asked, once I knew my temper was in check.
“Remember when you used to not be such a total baby?” Sarcasm oozed from Veronica’s voice. Something— maybe almond paste?—was smeared down the side of her face. I bet she squeezed it straight from the tube into her mouth like a greedy glutton. “You and your mother think you’re so high and mighty.”
“Veronica . . .” my mother was calling. “Veronica? If you are not here to watch, you are never going to learn how to fold these egg whites into the batter properly . . . Yoohoo! Where are you?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming, Auntie,” she said, rolling her eyes and disappearing back down the hall. Her footsteps thudded against the wood floor. Thud. Thud.
My cousin, the elephant.
As soon as Veronica was gone, the tension disappeared from my body. I grabbed my Saint Diary from where I’d stashed it and sighed with relief.
My Saint Diaries were also my most secret possessions.
Each year on my birthday, February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, I began a new volume, fixing different colored pockets onto the pages of a thick book, compiling a section marked “Notes” for my new saint ideas (like a Patron Saint of Homework or a Patron Saint of Notice—as in “Notice me, please, Andy Rotellini!”). Most important of all, I chose which out of the many thousands of official saints to venerate during the year. Tradition, my tradition, dictated that St. Anthony of Padua, the Patron Saint for Lost Things, got page number one. Always.
Volume 8, the record of my fifteenth year, was rose red, my favorite color.
In the back was a section for the occasional, precious response letter from the Vatican. (Really they were rejection letters, but I liked to think of them as responses because that sounded less depressing.) I held on to these to remind myself that at least they knew I existed. For the hope that one day, I might just get through to them.
You know, The Vatican People.
Any day now, the news would arrive. My Patron Saint of Figs proposal was a winner. I could feel it.
“Antonia! Sbrigati!” my mother yelled, shattering this moment of hope with her I’m-getting-angry voice and an Italian command that loosely translated as “Get your butt off to bed immediately and don’t tell me you’re still praying because I won’t buy it this time.” Early bedtime somehow applied to me but not my cousin.
I faced Sebastian one last time, the heat of the candle flame warm on my chin. “St. Sebastian,” I whispered, gazing into his blue eyes, “if you can help me figure out the saint thing, I’d really appreciate it. It’s already been thirteen days since I sent the last letter.”
“Antonia Lucia Labella!” (That’s “lou-chia,” by the way, like the pet.)
“Okay, one more last thing,” I said, tempting the full force of Mom’s rage, my lips level with Sebastian’s now, as if we were about to kiss. “Even though I know that technically in the Catholic church you have to be dead to be a saint, I really don’t want to die if you can help it. Fifteen is too young to die.”
I blew out the candle. A thin stream of smoke drifted up from the blackened wick, reaching toward heaven, and I wondered if I’d soon follow, joining all those who’d gone before me.
In a manner befitting a saint.
Excerpted from THE POSSIBILITIES OF SAINTHOOD by Donna Freitas.
Copyright © 2008 by Donna Freitas.
Published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.