I did not set out that day intent on murder, but that is what happened.
I was nineteen, and reveling in the freedom of my first car. The world was an open door, it was summer, and every day was a gift. My mother decided it was time to bring me back to earth. She had me running errands all over town, both before and after my part time job at the aerospace parts warehouse where I sweated out every afternoon from two to eight.
So it was on that fateful day she sent me off to pick my sister up from some activity or day camp. I was not happy. For one, I would barely have enough time to pick her up, drop her at home, and rush to work. Second, the streets surrounding the school would be clogged with traffic, and I hated traffic. However, I was given no choice but to fulfill my obligation.
I raced the streets to the school, double parked, and hit the horn as soon as my sister came out of the gate. She got in the car and I sped away toward my destiny. About six blocks from home, the street slanted downhill in a deceptively steep incline, and I took the opportunity to accelerate. At the bottom of the hill was a flock of pigeons, gurgling over some seeds or bread crumbs. I figured they’d hear my approach, or feel the yellow tornado of my little hatchback on the horizon, and fly off at the last second. They didn’t. In a moment of confusion and panic, the entire gaggle flew into my front grill and I mowed them down. I can still hear my sister’s screams.
I pulled to the curb, shaken, and because of the squeal of my tires and my sister’s cries, several parents behind me pulled over, and at least five or six people came out of the houses. I walked to the carnage in the middle of the street. There was my handiwork for all to see. Pigeons, pieces of pigeons, blood, guts, and feathers littered the asphalt. I was ashamed and devastated. I had killed animals, helpless, defenseless birds, and the only way the situation could have been worse is if I murdered an endangered species or ran over a, gulp, human being.
Right in the center of the mess, strangely undamaged except for a tiny bit of blood near its mouth, was a perfectly snow-white pigeon. I reached down and stroked its downy plumage. The tiny body yielded to my touch, still pliable, but obviously, undoubtedly dead. Suddenly, my sister was at my side, and we stood there in the middle of the street, holding up traffic, the center of the entire neighborhood’s attention.
“Oh my God!!!” she screamed. “You killed the Holy Spirit!!”
To a child who had just made her First Holy Communion, a product of Catholic school, a weekly attendee at Mass, someone who had a picture in her room of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity of sacred mystery, I had indeed killed the Holy Spirit, the entity so often portrayed as a white dove surrounded by a halo of light or fire. And there before us, a breeze ruffling the light feathers, was the Sacred Symbol, dead. Her brother had done the deed.
I tried to ease her back to the car, but this seemed to only fuel her raging fire. She twisted and sobbed and refused my hand. I got her into the car, finally, started the engine, and eased away from the horrific event. “I’m…telling…mom…you…killed…the Holy Spirit,” she sobbed brokenly.
“I didn’t even see them,” I offered weakly.
“Yes…you…did. You did…it…on purpose.”
Well, she had me there. I was not afraid that my mother would be upset over the dead bird. But she would nail me for driving recklessly with my sister in the car, and my sister would put on a good show depicting the life-altering trauma she had experienced. Then my father would get involved, as well as my grandmother, who would be upset that I had killed the Holy Spirit and driven so irresponsibly with my sister in the car. My aunts and uncles would get a good chuckle: “Did you hear? Paul killed the Holy Spirit.”
“Okay, look,” I said to my sister, pulling over to the curb yet again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see the damn bird…”
“Oh my God, you sweared,” she nearly screamed.
“Swore, and so what. I already killed one third of God.”
“What?” I’d lost her there.
“The white bird is only a symbol.”
“No it’s not.”
“There are a lot of white birds.”
“But there is only one Holy Spirit.”
I was getting nowhere. “Okay, why don’t we stop for candy and we’ll talk about it.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“But you do want candy?”
“And you’ll promise to settle down and not tell mom?”
This was the deal-breaker, the point of contention. She hesitated a long moment. “Can I get a Slurpee, too?”
I had five bucks in my wallet. “Sure,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
Tears dried up like magic, and we were off to the local 7-11. “We did finger painting today,” she said cheerfully. “I drew our house. I can bring it home tomorrow.”
The crisis had passed. I had gotten away cheap. How much is it worth to kill God and buy off the witness? Two bags of M&Ms and a Grape Slurpee.
But long after that fateful day, I wondered if all the bad luck in my life was not a product of that day when I ran down the Holy Spirit with my brand-new-to-me used 1978 Chevrolet Chevette on a residential street one hot summer.