My father was a somniloquist; he only talked to me in his sleep. Lured at night by his one-sided conversation one room over, I would escape the cot I’d grown out of, gaze at my sleeping mothe ... [+]
I spent my days healing the planet. Except on rainy or overcast days, when I mostly read and napped. Otherwise, I picked up trash on the beach: plastic bottles and bags, bottle caps, cigarette butts, strips of cellophane, and deflated balloons.
My vision is to be canonized Saint Lewis, Patron Saint of the Environment. I don't think there's a saint for that, yet.
I invoked Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta), whose signature look, the blue-striped white sari, is trademarked, so my mother gladly paid for my holy costume. I decided on a lime green T-shirt, white linen shorts, trendy Jesus sandals (pricey ones), and a smart straw fedora (also pricey). I carried a litter pickup stick in one hand and a compostable trash bag in the other. As it turns out, the town crew working the beaches also wore lime-colored shirts, and I took a lot of harassment intended for them.
Despite the outfit confusion, I became a unique fixture on the beach—making friends, explaining my mission to clean the beaches, preaching about overconsumption and the impact of plastic litter on the oceans. My hashtag, #lewisthepicker, is emblazoned on my shirts. Social media has, of course, been a Godsend in helping me spread the word.
My brother Kyle, who's another problem, confirmed my saint plan was clever. "You're building a case for sainthood while you're alive. Manufacturing all the evidence for the future. You're a marketing genius, Lewis the Picker. And best of all, you've got Mom conned."
"It's good marketing, isn't it? My selfless deeds will be well-documented before I die. And because nothing disappears on the Internet, sainthood should be a cinch," I told him. "Did you know Saint Rita died in 1450 or something. Took 500 years for her to be canonized. I expect to be fast-tracked and a saint in under 150."
Kyle rolled his eyes. "You'll be something Lewis. But the only one who comes close to sainthood here is Mom."
By midsummer, my basement-pale skin was miraculously bronzed. I was a glowing Adonis. The girls liked it. Spending my weekends at bars and clubs, spreading the word about my work, was not the unintended consequence of my work that my mother believed it was.
"Of course, you must go where your people are Lewis, even if it is a bar," she said.
She gave me a little going-out money every weekend. I'm not telling Kyle about that.
I met a girl and we're together now. Sara works for the EPA and attends climate change events. She might be the one.
Early October, Kyle stopped by. He cornered me in the kitchen, wanting to know what I'd be doing now that the cold weather was coming.
"Keep working my sainthood plan." I filled my plate with spaghetti and meatballs Mom had left on the stove for me.
"Your scheme's going to fall apart. Can't spend the winter picking trash on the beach."
"Don't plan to. I'll probably protest a little. Blog. Organize people. Grassroots stuff. You know, God's work." I sucked up a noodle; he hates when I do that.
"Look. Mom's going to get wise to you someday. If Dad were alive, he'd have kicked you out long ago. You need a paying job. Work the saint thing on the side."
"God works in mysterious ways, bro. Not to worry." I elbow bumped him as I made my move to leave the kitchen.
"I think we all better pray to Saint Cajetan for an intercession."
"He's patron saint of the unemployed."
"Kind of you. But don't bother. I've got a job. A really good job." I winked at him and took my dinner down to my room.
A couple of Friday nights later, Sara came over for our standing movie night. She usually stayed over, but after the credits rolled, so did she. She said she was applying to law school for next year and wouldn't have time for a boyfriend. Turns out we were on different pages about hanging together indefinitely. I told her I'd help her through school. She shook her head. Her parting shot was I was fun for the summer, but collecting garbage and basement living wasn't for her.
She kissed me, wished me luck with my saintly aspirations, and ran up the basement stairs.
I turned off the TV and sat in the dark. I even said a prayer.
Since the breakup, I haven't done much or left the house except to attend Mass. On All Saint's Day, the priest said in his homily that saints, while certainly special, were often imperfect people. I could live with that. I sat there and realized that without the beach, my summer glow, the parties, and a girlfriend, I'd lost my motivation. After Mass, my mom wanted me to stop by the sacristy with her to say hi to Father Donovan.
Kyle was already there.
"Ahhh Lewis," Father Donovan shook my hand. His eyes were kind and sparkly. "Your mother's told me about your environmental work. I'm impressed by your dedication to the planet and the community."
My mother beamed.
"Thank you, Father." I dreaded he'd ask about my Saint Lewis the Picker plan, which now seemed idiotic in his presence.
"I hear you're interested in a holy path."
I lowered my eyes and looked at his shiny black shoes sticking out from under his vestment. He cleared his throat and I looked up. He held out a thick folder to me.
I read its cover.
I glanced at my smiling mother.
Kyle elbowed me and grinned. "You were right, bro. God does work in mysterious ways."
I knew an ambush when I saw it.
The cover read, The Priesthood: Am I Being Called?
I doubted it, but you never know. I took the folder.