“So, you’re making your first communion soon?” Shane, a fifth grader, said as he approached a group of us second-grade girls one day at recess.
Fifth-grade boys usually didn’t talk to second-grade girls unless they meant to torment them, so we were wary. “Yeah,” said Megan, the boldest among us. “So?”
Shane bounced a basketball slowly and tossed it over to Randy, another fifth grader. “I’m just curious. Have the priests and nuns have told you everything?”
“Of course,” said Megan.
I wasn’t so sure. “What do you mean?” I squawked.
“They didn’t tell us everything before we did it, right, Randy?”
Randy grinned slyly and bounced the ball back to Shane. “They sure didn’t.”
“What are you talking about?” Megan sniffed. She was trying to brush this off, but she was obviously nervous.
“I don’t know if I should say.”
“They’ll find out eventually,” Randy said.
Megan rolled her eyes. “You’re just trying to scare us.”
I couldn’t speak for everyone, but the scare tactics were working on me. I was worried enough about tripping on my way up the aisle and about whether my soul was pure enough to receive Jesus. Adding the thought that the grown-ups were withholding some important detail made me wish I was Jewish.
“Oh, just tell us!” said Mary, another girl in the group.
“Do you think they can handle it?” said Shane.
“Just tell us or leave us alone!” Megan said. She crossed her arms in front of her chest defiantly.
“Okay, I’ll be nice and warn you,” Shane began. “You know during Mass, when the priest says all of that stuff and the bread changes into the body of Christ?”
“Duh,” Megan said.
Shane stuck out his tongue at Megan before continuing. “When you take communion, you’d better not bite or chew.”
Randy snickered. “Not unless you want a mouthful of blood.”
“What are you talking about?” Megan sounded less confident.
“The host will bleed if you do,” Shane said.
“No way!” Megan said, her voice faltering.
“It’s true alright,” said Shane. “I just wanted to warn you. No one warned us, and boy were we surprised!”
I told myself that Shane and Randy must be messing with us. There was no way the grown-ups wouldn’t have warned us. Then again, some churches gave out wine with communion, which was supposed to be Jesus’ blood, so maybe the adults figured it was no biggy. Still, the thought of having something start bleeding in my mouth was enough to make me lose sleep. I didn’t even like hamburgers unless they were well done. Plus, even if I didn’t chew or bit the host, wouldn’t it start bleeding when it got all smooshed up in my stomach? What if I got sick? Everyone would think I was a bad person because Jesus made me sick!
The next time I was in church, I watched closely at communion time. Sure enough, most people didn’t chew. They just held a serious look on their faces and eventually swallowed. But there were a few who walked back to their pews chomping away. Unfortunately, everyone had enough manners to chew with their mouths closed, so I couldn’t tell if there was any blood.
I thought of asking my parents or a teacher about it, but I couldn’t bring myself to. If Shane had been lying, I’d look stupid. If he’d been telling the truth, I didn’t know what I’d do. I couldn’t not go through communion. It was supposed to be all wonderful and holy, but I dreaded it.
At my first communion, I didn’t dare bite or chew, and I managed to choke down the host without retching. It just tasted like stale bread, which gave me hope that Shane had lied. Still, I’d have to take communion at least once a week for the rest of my life. How could I do that unless I knew? I had no idea what I’d do if a bite of host sent blood gushing into my mouth and trickling down my chin. Perhaps I could fake illness until I found a different religion to convert to.
Gradually, I worked up my courage to find out the truth. I chickened out several times and swallowed the host after it got mushy on my tongue. But finally, one day as I walked back to my pew, I bit down tentatively but firmly. No blood squirted. Nothing felt or tasted different. I bit down again. Nothing. To be sure, I feigned a sneeze and spit into my hand. I folded my hands in prayer but discretely peered between them to check. No blood. No gore. No Jesus guts. I quickly wiped my hand on the tissue in my pocket and breathed a sigh of relief.
Originally published in The Journal of Ordinary Thought, Spring 2012