Why I learned the Lord's Prayer is not because I survived some harrowing near-death experience like, say, surviving a gunshot a quarter-inch from my heart, or narrowly missing being smashed by a bus; rather I learned it so I wouldn't be embarrassed by not knowing it again on the second day of 8th grade football practice during team prayer. If you will recall, one of the worst things you can do as a teenager is to stand out.
To conclude the first day of practice, Coach H___ton, at one end of the litmus blue sky, said, "Let us bow our heads."
Our Father, began the voice with fifty throats.
Startled, my eyes darted from face to face. Every mouth was moving but mine. The sound that September, like Doom.
I grew small.
Weeds and briars, like bony fingers, crept in through the chain-link fence. The woods, more dark than green, grew taller and taller in the fading summer light. Four walls of pines leaned in with covetous branches, each to reclaim me, the unholiest of the dandelions, from the weed-infested field-
What is this? And when did they all learn it? My God! Was that thunder?
I'm sorry, now I've taken Your name in vain.
What will they think if they see I don't know the words? What will You think? Does this make me a heathen, Lord? Please, oh please, just don't let anyone open their eyes!
Already damp from end-of-practice suicide sprints, my palms tingled; my sticky back ran with sweat.
As they recited in unison, I tried to mentally record the prayer, Hallowed be thy name. Yet the cadence - thy kingdom come... thy will be done... - seemed vaguely familiar.
Is that... Yes! Yes! It's "Controversy" from Prince! All that's missing is the electronic synthesizer. God, if You just let me make it through to Amen, I promise I'll go straight home, find the record, and learn this prayer. Tonight!*
After dinner, before even showering, I leapt eight steps in a single bound, up to my room, to search my skimpy album collection for the Prince cut that would be my saving grace.
(Why didn't I look in the Bible? Because, Tammy, I didn't even know what the prayer was called!)
Unfortunately, my obesession with Prince began in 1984 with Purple Rain. That would be three years after the Controversy album. Which, it turned out, I did not have.
Next, I rummaged through the hand-scribbled titles in my collection of gray Maxxell cassettes - T'pau's "Heart & Soul," Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's "Head to Toe," Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey," MC Shy D's "Got to Be Tough." I know I have this song somewhere. God, why are you doing this to me! If I show up tomorrow without knowing the words, it'll be worse than having my mom show up at school in hair rollers - worse even than wearing highwater pants!
The Prince song was nowhere to be found. I was running out of time. Besides, I had Geometry homework to do.
To take my mind off of my unbearable 13-year-old stress, I bisected some obtuse angles. Then, I showered.
The preceding nights, the Sleep Fairy had skipped over my bed. Today, I was beat-down from the first day of practice. Which is to say I was tired. I prepared for bed.
Before I learned the art of self-pleasure, I got my nighttime kicks from horror. At 13, my obessession was Stephen King.
I'd already consumed Pet Sematary [sic], The Dark Half, and The Dark Tower that summer. My reading that night happened to be the vampire tale, Salem's Lot.As the minute-hand neared 2:30, I rose to shut the moon out of my window.
But vampires continued to multiply throughout the night, rattling burglar bars, scratching at shutters, whispering at the foot of the stairs. As I descended deeper and deeper into the chapters, every creak - every silence - made me jump.
My heart raced uncontrollably as Father Callahan stood over the bloodless body of the young Danny Glick in a graveyard. The darkness was consuming.
Which is when, buried among the pages of Stephen King, no less, I stumbled on this:
Our Father, who art in Heaven...
No way! I read on.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is...
My God! Could it be? But does it end the same way coach ended it in practice?
...the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
I stayed up till nearly 4 that morning reciting the Lord's Prayer, as one ghoul after another peeped through my pane.
But with the prayer securely in memory, I fell fast asleep for a full two hours. Better than I'd slept in days.
I was fully prepared for whatever tomorrow might bring.