Seal of Confession | Kara Kowalski

When I’m lying in my bed with the comforter smushed against my body instead of his skin I dream of the times I was bad. This must not be mistaken for reveling in my bad behavior, it’s not something I consciously do. The dreams come like bugs crawling on my skin. They bite. I scratch and investigate pink bumps on my body. They are the night terrors my mother couldn’t wake me from. Staring at her with vacant eyes, my body was swallowed into my pink paisley bedspread. The plush comforter restricted my movement as I squirmed to rid my body of the small dark shapes moving up my legs. My mother held me close, trying, as mothers do, to create a world without bad dreams. 

To dream sounds like an active thing to do. Some people can even control their dreams. Lucid dreaming, it’s called. As a child, my older sisters talked of tea and training books meant to unlock this power. I thought of the power to fly when I wanted to and to create a world of unbearable happiness. I could recreate my first memory and walk through a field of sunflowers all pointed at me. I could control my mind, as promised in gimmicky handbooks boasting to teach witchcraft or physic ability. However, I never mastered this skill. The tea went cold and the books froze on page five. My dreams remained puffs of pink clouds, sinister with the promise they could change at any moment. As much as I try to control them, my dreams have a mind of their own. Sometimes they are bad.

When I’m lying in my bed with the comforter smushed against my body instead of his skin I dream of living in the space documentary playing in the background. The documentary lives under a different tab on his computer screen. I think of what it would be like to fit so smoothly between those pixels. I could hide in a two-dimensional digital world. The mystery of a black hole is less menacing than old men in low red lighting and promises of a sloppy club kiss. If there are an infinite number of universes at least once the big bang theory occurred without God. That’s not right. I should know this. Given an infinite number of universes, I will learn to forgive myself for things I did that were not wrong. But, in this universe, I’ve sworn off reconciliation.

I understand how religion helps people. Someone told me it helps people make hard decisions. In practice, religion seems to make it easy not to think for yourself. I understand how that might feel better. When I think for myself sometimes my thoughts are bad, too self-indulgent. When I listen to them too much, they become real and chew up emotional space meant for other people. I steal the air about to enter another person’s lips.

I think of the church at my middle school. How it might feel to run my hands along the wooden pews and pick up my game of counting the number of stars on the walls and ceiling. It’s beautiful here, celestial. Yet, my memories are of boredom, watered down blood of Christ and the priest in the background tipping back his head, draining the cup. The blood of Christ cannot be washed down regular city pipes and mingle with sewage water. It goes through a special pipe, straight into the ground. Or, that’s what my religion teacher told me.

When I’m lying in my bed with the comforter smushed against my body instead of his skin I dream of saying Hail Mary nineteen times and being absolved of guilt. I secretly long for a moment with God to be more honest than just confessing I was mean to my mom. Instead, I turn onto my other side and whisper “Are you mad?” into the air.  He turns toward me, the light of his computer screen, space documentary still playing, bounces of his face. I repeat the words, “Are you mad at me?” Their repetition feels like rubbing my red hands together under rushing water. Someone should tell Pontius Pilate his technique is flawed, and fresh water doesn’t offer purity. My cracked and chapped hands look more bloody and raw with every attempt to clean myself.

Kara Kowalski is a student, writer, and blogger based in Chicago. Her work has been featured in the student anthology Write Your Heart Out and multiple 826CHI Chapbooks. She can be found on Instagram, @accordingtokara and on her blog,

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.