Cathedral ceiling

There's always more than one way to let the light in.

I'd close my blinds, but my laziness outweighs my confidence that there are actually people outside interested in my half-nakedness. I actually believe they wouldn't really see me without looking twice anyway, and by the time they did their second take I would be somewhere else, skirting around at another vantage, ducking and dodging.

Because when it comes to laziness, I am inept. It takes a lot more energy to hop from hiding spot to hiding spot as I scurry to get dressed than it does to simply walk over to the window and twist that little stick that comes with all the cheap-ass brands of plastic blinds you buy at Lowe's. But if I did that, then this place, which is already small, would be small and dark, and I am under the illusion that the more light you let in, the larger the place looks. In fact, I should knock out my ceiling and install skylights, because I believe there's always more than one way to let the light in.

My mother taught me this trick when we were about to move again and looking for our 11th residence. I was 9 and had never noticed skylights before, then one day we walked into a house for rent, and not only did it have skylights but a "cathedral ceiling." Let me say it was rare when I saw my mother excited about anything. Usually when I saw her, she was trying to wind down from a day at work, sucking on her seventh menthol and turning the pages of a Mario Puzo novel, but here she was in this tiny empty house, so excited that every time she talked about the ceiling it was in capital letters, as in, "Look at this CATHEDRAL CEILING! I always wanted a CATHEDRAL CEILING!"

This was news, since my mother was an atheist. So that day in the potential rental house, I had no idea what my mother meant by "cathedral ceiling," because until then I had only been to church a total of maybe four times, and the church was square and squat and made of cinder block, like a public toilet. This church did not have a "cathedral ceiling," but it did have a podium from which the preacher called forth sinners who were eager to accept Jesus into their hearts — "Open up and let the light in!" he'd holler — but perhaps more important is that the church had a bus that picked up the kids in our apartment complex every Sunday.

My atheist mother figured maybe a little religion wouldn't hurt us kids, and it certainly wouldn't hurt her to get us out of the house for a few hours so she could smoke her menthols and read her crime novels in peace, could it? But then one Sunday, the church secretary went and kept me from heading to the preacher podium to get my soul saved for the fourth time that month ("You were saved last week, dear, and the week before that"), and when my mother heard about it she took issue. Because make no mistake, my mother may have been an atheist, but her sense of thrift outweighed her sense of conviction, and no one was gonna gyp her kids out of saved souls if saved souls were being handed out that day.

"You should be able to get your soul saved as many damn times as you want," she grumbled. "Stingy bastards."

We moved after that, and my father joked that it was due to the fact that the church bus would still come and wait for us every Sunday, and my mother was too lazy to wave it off with her lit cigarette from our second-floor window anymore. But if that were the case, then my mother was inept when it came to laziness, because it took a lot more effort to pack up all our asses and leave.

By then I had become a fearful Christian, and my mother was still an atheist, but between the two of us she was the only one who knew what a cathedral ceiling looked like. We never did rent that particular house, because it turns out skylights and cathedral ceilings are expensive amenities, but I'll always remember my mother standing in the center of the tiny living room of that strange house, exclaiming with a sweep of her arm, "Look how the light opens this place up."

I always figured the day would come when my mother feared hell enough to finally accept Jesus into her heart, but she was as inept at being fearful as she was at being lazy, and she stayed an atheist until the day she died. Historically there had not been a lot of things my mother and I held in agreement, but by then there were at least two beliefs we had in common: one, that light always opens a place up, and two, that there is always more than one way to let it in.

Hollis hosts the Shocking Real-Life Writing Workshops and is now on tour with her third book, Trailer Trashed. Check to see when her trailer trashes near you.


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