I don’t really know why, but I wasn’t baptized until I was five.
Given that both my parents were practicing Catholics at the time of my birth, this is kind of strange.
Most Catholic babies are Christened sometime within the first year of life. But, this just wasn’t the case for my younger sister Lindsey and me.
Maybe it was because my parents were barely into their twenties when they had us. Or that they’d always planned to have another, and thought it best to throw one big party instead of two. Or maybe, it just happened that way.
Whatever the reason, given my advanced age, I have quite a few memories from that day.
I remember is was hot. Really hot. Steamy, tropical storm hot. It was the summer before I entered Kindergarten – and I remember my father being nervous that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate for the big shindig back at Walton Street following the ceremony.
I remember the matching gray dresses my sister and I wore. I remember the drive to St. Bernard’s (we made it every Sunday) and the only people in the church that morning (or was it early afternoon?) being my relatives.
I remember my father’s cousins Barbara and Jackie standing behind me, and his cousins Cathy and Jimmy standing behind Lindsey. I remember being very curious about what it meant to have “godparents” – but I don’t remember asking any questions or understanding any answers.
I remember the white bibs (as I called them) with the red crosses that they tied around our necks. I remember Barbara and Jackie holding me steadily over the baptismal font, and then Cathy and Jimmy doing the same for Lindsey, as the priest prayed and poured holy water over each of our heads.
I remember the water being cold.
But, not as cold as it was yesterday.
At 8:15 yesterday morning, I ushered in the New Year by plunging into the frigid Atlantic off the shores of South Boston.
Like the day of my first baptism, the initial run-up to the event was dark and dreary. But without any of the tropics. Technically, it wasn’t freezing, but when your bare feet hit semi-thawed New England beach sand your internal temperature begins to plummet – quickly.
“Amanda, they’re counting down,” my brave friend Johnny B said. “Let’s just do this.”
Aside from our naked feet, Johnny B and I had decided to keep all of our layers on until the near final moment of entry. In record time we shed our thermals and sweatpants and in our summertime swimsuits made a dash for the salty sea.
We hooped and hollered our way down the beach. Feeding off the adrenaline. Following our pre-planned strategy.
“I think we should just go as fast as we can,” I suggested on the ride into the city.
“Definitely,” Johnny B agreed.
“In, out, back into layers as soon as possible.”
And I was on track to do exactly that – until I plunged under the water for the first time.
“Up, up, up,” I said out loud – or just to myself – I couldn’t tell the difference.
And as I hurriedly tried to catch my breath and turn back toward the beach, my legs gave out and I unwillingly fell back in.
There was no thinking involved this time just a frantic burst of energy to get back up. Out of this ice.
My legs gave out again.
This time, I made a point to breath out into the water.
“Stand up, slowly and taste the salt,” I heard me suggest to myself.
And I did.
I tasted summer. And tears. I tasted the air the first night I got drunk at Hermit Island. And the sweat from the first time I’d done so much more than just had sex.
Then, I was squarely on my feet.
I steadily started making my way back to the promised warmth of a brand new beach towel, a thermal zip-up, and fur lined boots. That’s when I felt the sun shining.
And all that salt, and all those memories, and all that was, and is, and will be, suddenly felt like it had all been washed clean.
And I all I could think about was my first baptism. Coming out of St. Bernard’s having just been accepted into a life of faith, and hearing my father say:
“Would you look at that? Storm’s cleared. It’s a great day for a party.”
“Wow.” Johnny B brought me back into the present, as we shivered getting into our socks and shoes. “That was really…”
“Invigorating,” I said. “That was really invigorating.”