Either way, I was going to hell: Damned if I avoided her yet sentenced to incineration if I spoke with her just to score with the Almighty. Having recently lost my job and little luck finding a new one, I went for the brownie points. So I allowed eye contact, returned her smile, and we sat next to each other in the church hall as awkwardly as seventh graders, though I’m pushing 40 and religiously skittish and she was about 15 years older and a nun. In grey old-school gear, from her veiled head to her sensible black lace-ups. After introductions, I chatted with Sister Mary Pat and planned escape by excusing myself with a return to the cookie and coffee station.
I wondered if it counted as a lie to respond, “I’m a writer,” when she asked what I do. I spend as much time writing as I do wishing the weenie manager who laid me off gets trampled by the horsemen of the apocalypse. I don’t get paid for either and thought it was too much information for Mary Pat, so when she asked what kind of writer, I just said unemployed. I was confused when she said, “Me, too.” And even more lost when she explained that she wasn’t a writer like me but she, too, was out of a job.
“But you’re a nun!” I said, like maybe she forgot it’s a life-long gig. Or maybe she was feeble minded or lapsed in her faith and I needed to get back to that cookie table now.
“Well of course I am,” Mary Pat giggled, “but I used to direct the religious education program at a parish nearby.” I’d never thought of the nuns and priests in parochial schools as people who could be hired for, or let go from, jobs. I wondered if there was a special place in hell for people who fire nuns and was surprised to learn Mary Pat had been let go by a new pastor who felt her role didn’t fit within his vision for the parish.
I was thinking, “Get the f*** out of here!” but said, “You’re kidding! I was eliminated because my role was ‘strategically misaligned with the company’s objectives’.” And we snorted like preteens with a shared frustration at always being picked last in gym class. Just like me, reduced budgets and available positions had Mary Pat hustling for short-term projects and we griped about too-long commutes from client to client, being your own IT department, and the uncertainty of our situations.
“I’ve been very angry,” Mary Pat said and swished the last bit of thin coffee in her foam cup. “Really?” I said and my surprise must have surprised her because she asked, “Well, don’t you think it’s unfair?”
“Of course,” I said, “but there’s not much I can do. I mean, there’s these daydreams I have but, well, I just have to move on.”
Mary Pat took her last swig, smiled at me, and said, “Yes, but closure makes it easier to let it go.” And she leaned in closer to tell me how hidden within the box of belongings she’d carried out of the school on her last day was the pastor’s favorite mug. She wrote her least favorite phrase of his — “My vision for the parish does not include you” — on the mug with a Sharpie. Mary Pat drove to a local gas station with the mug and a hammer, parked in front of the coin-operated car vacuum, placed the mug on the ground, and whacked it into bits and dust with the hammer.
“Then for 75 cents, I vacuumed it up and drove back home.”
I choked on a cookie from laughing so much but almost fell off the folding chair when she added, “When you’re a nun, people notice you enough not to approach you.”
Under different circumstances, I would have given Mary Pat a you-go-girl slap on the shoulder and ordered us another round. Neither was an option in the church hall but she agreed to save my seat as I got us both more coffee and cookies.