Pretend She's Here(15)

But our names? Catholic to the max. My mom had gone to St. Joseph’s College; my dad had gone to Holy Cross. They’d been taught by Sisters of Mercy and Jesuits, and once, when I asked why all us kids had saints’ names, my father had said, “Because life throws so much at us. We want you to remember to be kind, patient, and tolerant. To have empathy for other people, care about them. And to have that extra help, your own saint backing you.”

“But we don’t always go to church,” I’d pointed out.

“Caring about people doesn’t just take place there. It’s how you act out in the world, when no one is looking, where it really counts.”

“I think I get it, Dad.”

Our family volunteered at a soup kitchen in New London once a month. Tommy wanted to become a journalist and cover stories about immigration and refugees, families who had to leave their own countries because of war, violence, and poverty. Anne knit scarves and hats for people at the homeless shelter near her college in Hartford.

Twice, before I was born, my parents had taken in foster children. I never knew the kids, both girls, but my older siblings had told me about them. Arlene had a mother addicted to heroin; Janice had been removed from her home because of abuse.

I tried to imagine what it had been like for those girls. Were they afraid? Did they cry and want to return to their real homes, or did they feel safe, relieved to be in our house? They stayed only a short time, until a more permanent placement could be found. My parents eventually stopped having foster kids. No one said why, but I thought I knew. My mom’s drinking. When it got worse, it was harder for her to take care of her own kids, never mind someone else’s. Had Arlene realized my mother’s addiction was as powerful as her own mother’s?

I didn’t exactly know how I could help others, but I thought someday, when I was older, I might become a therapist kids could talk to about having addictions in their family. That was something I understood.

So, even though we skipped Mass a lot, we did our best. We believed in the sacraments and had all made our first communions and confirmations.

That was one major plus, being a Catholic kid—when you made your confirmation, basically bonding your faith to the Holy Spirit in front of the bishop, the priest, your family, and the whole congregation—you got to choose an extra name. It had to belong to a saint, but it didn’t have to be one of the regular old ones like Joseph or Mary. You were allowed to get creative, and believe me, we did. My siblings and I vied for best, most unusual confirmation names, choosing saints who’d done awesome things.

I ran my family’s names through my mind, just as I had in the highway woods, when I was waiting for my chance to escape the Porters. I said each full name—nickname, first, middle, confirmation, and last—over and over. Doing it was sort of like a prayer. I was invoking what I loved and believed in most: my family.

My father, Thomas Francis Lonergan, had chosen Aquinas for his confirmation name. Thomas Aquinas had been a philosopher, and that was perfect because my father was so smart, a scholar, and down-to-earth as well.

My mom was Mary Elizabeth, and she’d chosen Rose after St. Rose of Lima, a mystic who cared for the poor.

Tommy, my oldest brother, was named for my dad, whom he adored, so when the time came, he chose Aquinas, too. Tommy was half saint, half devil, always so good to us, but known to do things like get the entire track team to climb onto the catwalk beneath the Langdon Bridge and cross a hundred feet above the Connecticut River at night.

Mick’s confirmation name was Aloysius, after Aloysius Gonzaga, an amazing nobleman who gave up his riches and became a Jesuit to work with people dying of the plague in Rome. He was lead singer in the Rabid Squirrels, a band at college—we teased him that he was taking his nickname too seriously, trying to be the next Mick Jagger.

My oldest sister, Anne, chose Agatha Anastasia; St. Agatha was a martyr and St. Anastasia was a healer and exorcist. Anne didn’t have a nickname—she was just Anne. If you knew her, you’d get it. Anne was perfect. Even her choice of saints—she would die for us, heal us, and, if she could, drive the demon of drinking from our mother.

Iggy was, well, Iggy—just the sweetest, funniest, best brother. Always falling in love, getting his heart broken, then being comforted by the next girl with whom he’d fall in love and, in time, would break his heart. His confirmation name was Loyola, after the saint Ignatius Loyola, who patterned his life after the story of Camelot and later founded the Jesuits. Totally Iggy.

Patrick Benedict Leo Lonergan—Patrick. He refused to answer to “Pat” because Tommy and Mick always turned it into “Patty.” We called him Pat anyway. I’m closer to him than my other brothers, probably because he’s just a year and a half older than I am. We have a pact that, when we’re old enough, we’re going to Ireland together to climb Croagh Patrick—St. Patrick’s mountain.

Beatrice Felicity Michael Lonergan—Bea. I love that she chose a boy’s name, “Michael,” for her confirmation, because she totally adores—practically worships—our brother Mick, but also because St. Michael is an archangel—not a saint at all, but an actual angel. That is my Bea. She’s less than a year older than I am—and Patrick ten months older than her. That makes us Irish triplets. Look it up, it’s a real thing.

Then me. Emily Magdalene Bartholomea Lonergan. I took Bartholomea because she was a teacher, and I want to be one, too. My family calls me Emily, Em, Emms, Emelina, but mostly just Emily. I was named for this awesome saint, St. Emily de Vialar, founder of a French order of nuns, Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. I mean, apparition! I’d sometimes talk to Mame about her—because even though Mame wasn’t Catholic, she knew a lot about France.

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