I remember they separated the girls from the boys.
We were not happy about that.
I mostly remember my friend Jane and I thinking that this was a bonding moment and we needed to reveal our deepest, darkest secrets and become one with God, and each other, in some strange "best friend pact" kind of way.
We were sitting on the floor of the dusty and quaint Chapel talking quietly so no one would find us. We kept asking each other if we felt the presence of God.
I swore that I did, and even added a shiver, and an eye roll, as a special effect to make it seem like God was inhabiting my body.
Jane said she felt it too, but she just sat there not moving a muscle.
It made me believe her.
I don't think either of us really did feel anything at that time, but I didn't have the guts to say it. We spoke about the Holy Ghost and some of the Saints. Jane swore she was getting signs from the Virgin Mary statue in the corner. She swore that she saw her hand move. It was creeping me out, but at the same time I didn't have the guts to tell her that things like that terrified me more than she would ever know. I did not want to be a sissy, so I agreed with her and told her that I saw Jesus wiggle his foot on the cross. Jane said she saw it too. It freaked me out. What if Jane was really seeing this? I was such a gullible and impressionable kid that I almost believed her. I spoke up and told her we shouldn't talk about that kind of stuff in the Chapel because I thought it was against our religion. I made up some Bible passage and hoped she wasn't any more knowledgeable than I was. I stated that, Ecclesians 7:16 says, "Thou shalt not see statues move in church if you stare at them too long."
We sat silently for a few minutes and then Jane whispered that she wanted to share a secret with me if I would share a secret with her.
I agreed, a little too quickly. You see, I didn't have any secrets to share, but I could certainly make one up in a pinch.
Jane told me to go first because she needed time to reflect on just how she was going to tell me her deepest - darkest - secret, and she needed to work up the courage.
I sighed, and willed my mind to come up with something good.
I sighed again, and shut my eyes tightly.
I was trying to squeeze out a secret.
I was also trying to buy some time.
I thought of a couple of really good made-up secrets in those few short minutes and blurted out what I thought was my best one. "My father smokes cigarettes. Sometimes. Not always. Mostly never." As I told my secret, my whisper became harder and harder to hear until it was barely audible. I only wanted Jane to hear the first part and not the qualifiers at the end. I sat there for a moment, letting her take it in, hoping she would believe me, and think that my secret was good enough to want to share hers. In the eerie silence of the Chapel my conscience broke through and I thought I might need more than a weekend retreat to save my blackened soul.
I looked over at her to gage her reaction. Jane's eyes grew wide. So did mine.
I thought the Holy Ghost had suddenly appeared behind me to spirit me away to Limbo, because God had had just about enough of my half-truths and tall tales and Jane was there to witness it.
"What?" I managed to choke out, as I anticipated the righteous hand of the Holy Ghost reaching out to grasp me by the back of my neck.
"That's not fair," she said. "It's supposed to be a secret about you."
I saw no chance for recovery, so I quickly asked her to reveal her secret to take the pressure off of me. I expected her to reveal something really juicy and life altering. I didn't expect her to say, "My secret is, that I still play with dolls."
I just sold my Dad down the river, and Jane thinks playing with dolls is a secret.
A minute after she spilled her deepest - darkest secret, and while I was wondering if Jane was talking Barbie dolls or baby dolls, a few girls from our group who had quietly sneaked into the Chapel, leaned over the pew and said, "What are you guys doing here?"
Both Jane and I came unglued. Jane because she was certain that the cool girls had just heard her tell me that she still played with dolls, and me because I had worked myself up into a semi-hysterical state of fear and panic over the Holy Ghost and his child snatching capabilities.
Fortunately for all of us one of the Nun's came running when she heard all the commotion coming from the Chapel. She marched us back to our rooms, admonishing us for playing in God's house. Jane still had a stricken look on her face. I wanted to make her feel better so I said, "Don't worry Barbie, your secret's safe with me."