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My sweet Catholic



The summer of Bob Goodson started slowly: Days felt like the week of your grandmother's funeral; the air dripped honeyed heat. Daddy was gone again and Mama ironed, cooked and made endless pitchers of iced tea, pausing to look up when we hurtled through the house. I spent my days at the VFW pool out on the highway.

Bob Goodson drove a rusted pink station wagon with a missing back window and two door handles that worked. You knew he had arrived when you saw the sooty plume of exhaust rise above the gravel parking lot. The doors opened and a jumble of people spilled out: guys Bob's age with limp cigarettes hanging from their lips; a bevy of little kids with the same sand-colored hair as Bob; and Bob's sister Beth, my partner in diving, holding breath and touching the drain at the bottom of the deep end.

Bob Goodson was golden and compact with dark brown titties and a faded Hawaiian-print swimsuit that drooped below his navel and hung down to his knees. His legs were fuzzy with golden, sun-dyed hair, and his eyes were aquamarine. My love for him was a secret that filled me with fear. Everyone knew he loved Pam Alexander, the captain of the girl's basketball team and would marry her as soon as they graduated high school. But I had just finished eighth grade and graduating high school was as distant to me as old age. Bob Goodson might love Pam, sturdy as a tree and taller than my father, but this summer he was my forbidden love.

Beth and I spent 30 minutes practicing new dives, then did water ballet for 15 minutes, then swam lengths of the pool underwater, our breath held the whole way. Bob hung out in the shallow end with the little Goodsons, throwing them in the air, flipping them backward, letting them crawl up his torso like monkeys. Beth and I joined the throng and Bob flipped us. We paddled back for more and I clung to his back, smelling his sweet coconut skin.

One day the Goodsons took me to their house for lunch. Most days Bob dropped off the little kids midday for an afternoon nap, then returned to the pool with Beth to swim. This day, I was along for the ride.

Their house was large and old with slumping porches, ragged trees, overgrown shrubs and a yard full of toys. Cats rubbed our ankles as we crossed the front porch and the little kids burst inside. The Goodson's mother looked old with curly gray hair and an apron that barely covered her soft, white fat. In the kitchen, loaves of bread lay open on the cabinet with tubs of peanut butter, bowls of sweaty apples, ripe bananas and unwashed dishes. Everyone sat down and ate fast. Bob kissed his mother and started cleaning off the counter. Beth showed me her room -- a rat's nest in the attic with a basketball goal over the door and an open window with no screen.

I thanked Mrs. Goodson for lunch, then wandered into the living room. On the walls were dark pictures of saints and one of Mary and Jesus -- the mother muscular, her grown, dead son draped across her enormous lap. The Goodsons didn't go to the First Baptist or First Methodist where everyone I knew went, but it looked like they sure loved Jesus. I asked Beth where they went to church.

"We're Catholic," she said. "We go to St. Luke's."

I had never met a Catholic and knew only that Catholic girls wore plaid skirts, white blouses and knee socks and Beth Goodson did not. Was being Catholic what made Bob Goodson so nice to his mother, to his little brothers and sisters, even to Beth who often said he sucked? Did being Catholic make Bob Goodson glow with goodness?

Bob drove us back to the VFW and we spent the afternoon floating lazily across the pool. Bob threw out his arms and put his head back, looking just like dead Jesus, sleeping in his mother's arms. I loved him more than Milky Ways, more than my brother, more than Pam Alexander did, I'll bet. I held by breath and swam right under him, back and forth beneath his shadow until finally, I came up for air.


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