Monday, July 31, 2006

the shrine.

in the summer of my sophomore year in college, a 16 year old girl named molly bish vanished from her lifeguarding job at a pond in warren, massachusetts. that summer, i was spending my time working odd summer jobs and driving up to kennebunk, maine to see my boyfriend on many of the weekends. i liked kennebunk a lot – still do – it’s a beautiful coastal town with a lot of charm and local, out-of-the-way places to uncover. one such place that had caught my eye months before was a spot just off the road into kennebunk center on the way from route one – if you weren’t looking for it, you’d probably never even notice it. it was a religious facility of sorts, a monastery i think. there were two fairly non-descript buildings on the property, but what attracted my notice was an odd quality of light that shone from the grounds in the evening.

upon further inspection, the light came from a large stone shrine at the back of the grounds, with a statue of the virgin mary protected by a huge awning. it was beautiful, and unique. i found myself drawn to it – i would drive onto the grounds and peer at it through the car window. once, i actually ambled down to take a closer look, afraid someone would stop me, tell me i couldn’t be there. they didn’t.

i didn’t know what to do with my curiosity about the shrine, really. it was residue from my catholic upbringing, which had been hit with a battering ram by life, death, and everything in between in the years prior. what remained was in tatters, and i circled religion warily, unsure of how to lay down in it again and still be comfortable. so i approached the shrine with an affected air of detachment, but i couldn’t deny that something inside me responded to it, wanted it to matter.

then, we all heard about molly bish.

i don’t know how long it was after she disappeared that i pulled off the road and down the gravel path, and i don’t know what it was that i hoped to accomplish. i just recollect being overcome with a sense of powerlessness, with a growing sense of dread that this was life – an empty lifeguard chair, an eerie quiet, and no answers.

i parked the car and ventured down the incline, down the concrete path through the grass that led to the shrine. there was no one around. i knelt in front of it, laced my fingers together and placed them in front of me. i searched the face of the statue in front of me, the folds of her dress, the shadows in the concrete concave that surrounded her. i began, silently, to pray.

hail mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee.
blessed art thou amongst women, and sacred is the fruit of thy womb jesus.
pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen.

and it felt good. it felt good to put the words together in my mind, to order them and send them outward in an even, measured tone. because what else could i do? what else could i offer molly, a girl just like me – a girl who, in my sleepless nightmares, was me? this was the only way that i could try to help, the only thing i could start and then finish and present, whole, in the hopes that it might have some power. so i said a hail mary, and then i said one again.

hail mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee.
blessed art thou amongst women, and sacred is the fruit of thy womb jesus.
pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen.

and again. and again. and again. over and over the words rolled in my head, a stream of proclamation buoyed along by a desperate and incoherent hope. but how many was enough? ten? twenty? an hour’s worth? once i had started, i didn’t know how to stop – i didn’t know when it would be was enough.

a deep, distant roll of thunder spread across the sky over my head.

i couldn’t stop. the concrete under my knees was achingly cold, and the muscles in the backs of my legs began to cramp, but i kept praying. i felt the gaping space behind me, spreading backwards past the grass, and the car, and the thick line of pine trees at the property’s edge, and the highway past that. i felt the impenetrable wall in front of me. a cracked, crooked pathway had led me to this point, and there was nowhere left to go. i saw, in a surge, a thick flash of lightning overhead.

i knew it wouldn’t last. i knew that i couldn’t say enough hail marys to change anything. i knew that there was no sense in any of it. and at some point, my eyes still searching frantically for somewhere to focus, the words stopped flowing, and it was over. as i stood, the first fat drops of rain darkened the stone around me. i turned and ran for the car, through the dimming twilight, away from the outstretched palms of the backlit statue. i remember the hurried slam of the car door, the way the rain sounded as it pounded on the roof, the way the roar drowned out the turning of the ignition. but i don’t remember what i was thinking about as i drove away. molly? myself? probably both.

it would be years before they found her body, or what was left of it – a blue bathing suit, and some earth-covered bones.


FINY said...

I remember that summer, it was all anyone was talking about for a while.

That was a beautifully written post, kate.

educand said...

I second the above. Molly Bish's was a scary story, too. One of my good friends in high school was a lifeguard, and it's silly, in a way, but I worried a lot about her right about then.

east side girl said...

I remember Molly Bish. I moved to Mass after she disappeared, but everyone talked about it. When I learned the story, I thought about her a lot. I thought about how she is all of us, right?

Thanks for writing this.