Photo: Patricia Lockwood with her father on her first communion.
About The Book: This memoir by poet Patricia Lockwood chronicles life with her parents as a 30-something, after unexpected medical bills drained her and her husband’s bank account. Oh and by the way, her father is a priest. One who plays loud and horrible guitar, loves guns, and strips down to his underwear as soon as he walks in the door. Patricia uses her observations as an adult to better understand her childhood under the roof of an extremely religious and idiosyncratic household — and her adolescence, spent trying to escape its influence.
Introductory Rites: Patricia (Tricia) takes a few pages to explain that her father Greg, a rebel at heart, found religion while watching the Exorcist on a Navy submarine. Yes, this sounds silly. But then we get this reasoning:
“You’re a drop of blood at the center of the ocean, which plays a terse soundtrack all night long, interspersed with bright blips of radar. Russians are trying to blow up capitalism and you’re surrounded by dolphins who know how to spy and the general atmosphere is one of cinematic suspense. All of a sudden you look up at a screen and see a possessed twelve-year-old with violent bedhead vomiting green chunks and backwards Latin. … You would convert too, I guarantee it.”
So Greg becomes a Lutheran minister, and later converts to Catholicism. As Patricia explains, married ministers of another faith are allowed to become married priests in the Catholic church. Who knew.
Also in the introduction, she marvels at how her father, mother and the rest of the kids passed the church’s so-called “psychopath test.”
Chapter 1: Meeting of the Minds — Just before Tricia leaves for college, her father — while clad in his underwear and sitting in a study filled with expensive vintage guitars — drops a bombshell: The family doesn’t have the money to send her to school. She moves from the rectory into an abandoned convent next door, and discovers THE INTERNET. There, she befriends a boy from Colorado, and they exchange poetry for a time before deciding to meet. Patricia’s parents think he must be a murderer, but Jason comes anyway. Her parents protest violently, but the couple goes back to Colorado together after Jason proposes in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store.
Chapter 2: Low Country — Tricia (who is 21) and Jason are married by her father (who we guess got over his initial rage) and start a transient life together, moving from state to state for the hell of it. Jason works for small newspapers and Tricia works odd jobs while writing poetry. The two settle in Savannah, Ga. for awhile. Tricia develops a following on Twitter, and her fans raise money when Jason when he finds out he has cataracts (at age 30) and needs surgery. But, he has complications and has to resign from his job, and soon the couple’s money runs out. So they move in with Tricia’s parents, who live in a rectory in Missouri.
Chapter 3: Babies in Limbo — Moving in with Tricia’s parents makes her and Jason both feel a weird sense of being transported back into childhood. Soon they fall into a routine, surrounded by her parents’ familiar gallery of art featuring religious relics, sailboats and jungle cats. Her mother emerges as a larger-than-life character herself, consumed with thoughts of ailments and calamity while drinking prosecco and bellowing “OHHH YEAHHHHH,” aka the Kool-Aid man’s catchphrase. She lurks outside Tricia’s door, offering food or some other form of comfort, at all hours of the day.
Chapter 4: R&R Circus — This chapter is titled after Greg’s former band, and is dedicated to describing his uh, unique guitar playing.
Chapter 5: Men of the Cloth — Tricia introduces the rectory’s seminarian, a student who is working toward becoming a priest. Or, as she puts it, “an unborn priest, who floats for nine years in the womb of education, and then is finally born between the bishop’s legs into a set of exquisite robes.” He is a crotchety, young, sheltered Italian man who is forever delighted at Tricia’s descriptions of the secular world, explaining that he must be aware of what the sinners are up to these days.
She reflects on her earliest encounters with similar men living in her father’s rectories, whom she teased mercilessly as a way to ward off the powerlessness she felt in their presence — because in the Catholic church, men make the rules, many of which have to do with women’s bodies. But, she argues through anecdotes, what right do these men, who know nothing of women or sex, have to make these rules? Especially because many of them are screwed up themselves, and are often found to have molested young boys, or helped cover up the act?
Quote: “… When a priest shone his spotlight of attention on you, it was always considered an honor, a sign you had been chosen. They boy had stood in that place, too, and felt the gleam off gold.”
Chapter 6: Dinner With the Bishop — Tricia and her family are guests of honor when the bishop comes to call. And her crazy little sister Mary (also the most successful of the kids), brings her alcohol-induced insanity along. The family enjoys the dinner, drunkenly, and their treatment as celebs by the congregation. At home, Greg beams at them, proud of the debauchery he helped create.
Later, Tricia looks up the bishop and finds that he was charged in 2012 with failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest. She marvels at the power of the Catholic church to, much like a family, protect its own at all costs, and keep a tight-knit circle despite transgressions.
Chapter 7: Put it in Print — An online magazine publishes Tricia’s poem Rape Joke. Her inbox is flooded with responses and even her mother reads the poem. She feels bare, but proud that she finally put on paper the thing she had been avoiding. Later, she gets a note from an editor who wants to publish a collection of her poems. Tricia and Jason dream of moving out, but they also relish recording her family’s antics.
Chapter 8: Touch of Genius — Tricia’s mother hits a man while driving a giant bus that her sister procured for her giant, Irish Catholic family. Hilariously, this bus once belonged to a rap group and still reads “TheGrindup.com” on one side. She then drives Tricia to Savannah (no, not in the aforementioned rap bus) to get some things out of storage, and the two have too much caffeine and talk about Tricia’s creative process while her mother yells at drivers, discusses various dangers, and describes a song as “sexist,” a term Tricia says her mother is “trying out.”
Quote: “My mother’s feminism goes on four wheels. Don’t get me wrong, she would never describe herself as a feminist. Sometimes, after consuming large bars of chocolate, she comes dangerously close to advancing the opinion that women should not be allowed to vote. Here in the rarified space in the car, though, it’s different.”
Chapter 9: The Cum Queens of Hyatt Place — Tricia and her mother stop in Nashville for the night, and her mother discovers what appears to be cum on the bed. Tricia avoids touching the substance for confirmation, stops her mother from calling the police, and the two eventually sleep on towels after spending hours making puns about cum. The next morning, Tricia watches her mother dramatically state — and win — her case for a free night.
Chapter 10: Swimming Hole — Tricia, Jason and her mother take a trip to a semi-dangerous state park with Tricia’s sister Christina, her husband Paul, and their six kids. The priest, who the kids call “Big and Scary,” stays home. Tricia reflects on her father’s swimming lessons, aka the “swim or drown” method. We also learn here that Tricia lost her virginity to a deep end, when her “herman” burst on a forced jump off the high-dive.
Chapter 11: Hart and Hind — Tricia and Jason realize they have saved $4,000, and start to entertain the idea of moving out. Then their car breaks. Then someone leaves poop on their doorstep. Then we read about the day her father took the family hunting, and her brother pooped himself in a tree. Good times.
Chapter 12: Men of the Cloth II: The Clothening — All about The Rag. As in the one Tricia’s father uses to wash his legs.
Chapter 13: Blow, Gabriel, Blow — The family celebrates Christmas, minus their matriarch.
Chapter 14: Voice — Over the next 10 pages, Tricia talks about her singing voice (not great) versus that of her sister’s (angelic). It wasn’t until Tricia discovered Billie Holiday that she “realized a voice could be a collection of compensations for things you couldn’t do. … The great singers were great interpreters.”
We also learn here about Tricia’s suicide attempt at age 16. And that her father has also attempted it. She says her sister “will take fresh breaths of the cathedral as long as she lives, and empty her dead breaths into it … I sang down into myself, because I am a writer.”
Chapter 15: I Am a Priest Forever — The seminarian becomes a priest with an elaborate ceremony at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. During the ceremony, Tricia recognizes a priest that used to visit her father and insist on holding her brother on his lap. Her mother eventually banned him from the house.
Chapter 16: Abortion Barbie — Tricia remembers when she learned how to read well enough to read signs, with messages like “abortion stops a beating heart.” She recounts the first time her mother took her to an anti-abortion rally outside of a clinic, where her father was arrested peacefully.
She delves into the type of Catholic women who have found strength in marianismo (the opposite of machismo), in totally surrendering themselves to womanhood and the traditions that surround it. These women are content, she says, until they are not.
She says everyone who speaks about abortion as a modern horror are parents who are imagining their own children never being born. She talks about being in the midst of the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s, even buying products like pro-life pizzas and silver lapel pins in the shape of baby’s feet. She recounts arguments among women she heard growing up, who said they would keep the child even if they knew if would kill them … “while we, the children who would be left behind, watched from the corners of the room.”
So, then we learn about Barbie: A woman who Greg talked out of an abortion, and took in for a time. Tricia presses her mom for details of what became of Barbie. Her mother tells her that after Barbie had the baby, they moved away and couldn’t let Barbie know where they were. Barbie’s grandmother found their number, and accused them of not fulfilling their promise to help her.
Quote: “A woman’s body always stands on the outskirts of the town, verging on uncivilization. … This is why attempts to govern the female body always have the feeling of a last resort, because the female body is fundamentally ungovernable.”
Chapter 17: Missouri Gothic — We read about when Tricia was 12, and her family relocated to North County, Missouri. Children were being abducted, and the only place she goes outside the home is to a youth group led by a prophet named Billy. Then and there, she basks in her religion.
Quote: “I was saved, set apart, snatched off the streets. … I was on the other side. We held hands and we felt our bones flow, and when there was pain, we offered it up. … Even now I cannot tell you which curves of that circle were harm and which were haven.”
Sure, the kids are strange, but it’s not just because of their awkward adolescent religious zeal. Something is in the water. St. Charles, we learn, was where much of the radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project was dumped after World War II. And it may be the reason why Tricia is childless.
Chapter 18: Power and Light — Tricia introduces us to Darrell, a church handyman who works under a “screaming male tornado,” Chuck, and is always encouraging Tricia and Jason to go dancing in the “Power and Light” district, which they never do. By the time Darrell finds out he has cancer, he is already dying. Tricia reflects on her father’s work, of answering the call to give last rites and address other middle-of-the-night emergencies, and is glad that she, as a writer, falls short in her own task of neatly summing up a life.
Quote: “… all this is an attempt to fit him in the glass box of a good sentence so everyone can see what he means. But it won’t work, the words won’t hold him, and I’m glad.”
Chapter 19: Inferior Castle — Tricia and Jason finally move out, to a home 40 minutes away from Tricia’s parents. She becomes sort of a literary recluse, and likens it to an internal “door” that slammed shut on her carefree, outdoor existence the minute she became a teenager.
Quote: “Suddenly I became female, and it was as if a telescope I had been looking through — with a clear eye, up at an unbounded night of stars — had been been viciously turned on me.”
Chapter 20: Island Time — Tricia, Jason and her mother go to Key West on vacation. They bring Tricia’s mother home to find that Greg has made a mess of the house. And rather than bid them goodbye, Greg starts playing a terrible rendition of Cheap Trick, loudly, from upstairs.
Final Quote: “This is about the moment when I walked into the house, and they were there, as they had always been there, as they would not always be. This is about how happy they were when they saw me, how the sun rose in their faces, how it was another day.”
Need to discuss? Of course you do. Join The Sway on Wednesday, July 25 at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. There’s free wine.