Dixie had been in Chicago for two weeks before she felt comfortable enough to explore her surroundings outside of her apartment, the hospital and the necessities like the little market up the street where she bought her groceries. Somehow she had come to have a Saturday afternoon off, and she decided it was time to see what else was around her daily walk from her place to County General. For a moment she thought of taking the dogs, but they seemed perfectly content to be laying in balls of silky fur on her bed. So she set out alone, not really sure where she was going, but having this deep urge to go.
Her neighborhood wasn't the best area of the city, but it wasn't the projects or the ghetto, so she felt very fairly confident exploring her neighborhood for the first time. After getting use to the size of the city and walking everywhere instead of driving she'd come to the conclusion she could really start her life over again in this city. As her feet took her down a few sidestreets, she took in the surroundings with an eye ready to see where she'd be settling for the near future.
Two streets down from her own, she came across a Catholic Church. It wasn't as big and fancy as the ones in wealthier neighborhoods, but the sight of it was enough to make her stop in her tracks. A wave of saddness swelled up inside of her, bitter and almost more then she could stand for a few moments. The last time she'd been in a Catholic Church was fifteen years ago, for her father's funeral. When her mother took the kids off the dairy farm in Virginia they'd grown up on and to Georgia to be closer to her family they had also been ripped away from the faith they had grown up in. And when Dixie had expressed she didn't want to follow her stepfather's hellfire and brimstone Baptist beliefs, but go back to the Church she felt at home in, the consequences had been dire.
Now a new emotion welled up in her, defiance. For the first time in her life she was totally on her own, without even her twin brother whom she'd lived with all of her adult life. It was time for her to reclaim her life and be herself. A small sign announced that they daily confession from 4pm to 5pm, and the Saturday Mass was at 5:30pm. Glancing at her watch, she saw it was just a few minutes after four, which gave this all a sense of rightness.
As she slipped inside, she saw a small row of three booths along one side and at the other side, two large wooden doors which she assumed lead into the Church itself. One of the velvet curtains was pulled back in the last booth, a wooden bench beckoning her to come in. She fought back a wave of apprehension and went inside, drawing the curtain behind her, as if seperating the sacred space from rest of the world.
She sat down and slid open the cover on the small wooden screen. Crossing herself, she spoke softly. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned; it's been fifteen years since my last confession."
Hesitating a moment, she knew the Priest was waiting for her to say more. "I've...I've done alot of things that count as sins. Too many to list..." Dixie bit her lip. "I haven't practiced my faith for many years. And I-I want to come back..."
"Why haven't you practiced your faith?" The Priest asked.
"I was raised Catholic, but when my father died and my mother remarried, her new husband wouldn't allow me." She closed her eyes, surprised to find herself in tears. "I know I'm supposed to forgive him, but he did alot of things to me and my brother....."
When she trailed off the Priest gently prodded her on. "Was he abusive, my child?"
"Yes," Dixie admitted in a whisper. "But when I left his house I could've come back to my faith, but I didn't. I'm not really sure why. I guess I was afraid...I didn't think I could forgive him and I didn't want to believe my brother was going to hell for being gay." She swallowed hard. "And maybe I was afraid of rejection..."
"God never rejects his children."
"Even my brother? He...he died a few months ago. He really was a great person...I wish I could be half as good as he was, outside of, you know, the whole gay thing."
"The Lord has inifinite mercy," The Priest replied. "It's not for anyone else to say that your brother is anywhere but with our Lord."
A single tear fell down Dixie's cheek. She hated to cry, especially in front of anyone because she felt like it was a sign of weakness, but right now it felt like a cleansing. As she bowed her head and wiped her tears away, the Priest continued on.
"As for your stepfather, you do have to forgive him. But forgiveness isn't for his benefit, it's for yours. You'll never forget the things he did to you and your brother, but if you continue to hate him, it will weight you down and keep you from moving forward with your life. Do you understand?"
"I do." Dixie nodded slowly, wiping away a few more tears that escaped past her barriers.
"Then go forth and sin no more, my child." The Priest smiled softly. "Twenty Hell Marys, Twenty Our Fathers is your penance. And perhaps you'd like to stay for our evening Mass?"
"I would." Dixie found herself smiling a little. "Thank you, Father."
As she left the confessional, Dixie felt the lightness she remembered from her childhood of unburdening oneself and being able to move on past it. She opened one of the heavy wooden doors and stepped into the dim light of the Church. In front of the altar, the prayer votives flickered softly and the slight scent of incense hung in the air. At the front of the Church, above the altar, was a large Crucifix. She stared at it as she slipped into a back pew and crossed herself. Then she knelt down and folded her hands, resting her forehead on them as she let more tears come as she began to pray. Tears of healing this time, tears from a joy deeper then human understanding.
She had finally come home.