In Fall 2019, I interned at the Vatican. I was taking classes at Middlebury College in Vermont, so going to the Vatican twice a week was not easy. All expenses were paid, but the wear and tear from the travel was unappreciated. When I met with my guidance counselor junior year, she told me it was pathetic that I had not interned anywhere yet. When asked what I wanted to do, I said, “I don’t know, but probably not a normal internship.” She had a glimmer in her eye. But it wasn’t a good glimmer. It wasn’t an excited friend glimmer, who was about to blow your surprise birthday party. No. It was the glimmer that said: I have a connection to the pope.
Being a geology major, I never met anyone really exciting at networking events. Usually it was a bunch of old, white guys talking to themselves about their rock collections. Networking events always felt gross anyways. I didn’t need a networking event to land the internship I got. Turns out, my counselor was a classmate of the pope in the sixth grade in Buenos Aires. They stayed in touch, and he had been wanting an intern ever since his papacy began.
The first few days I worked at the Vatican, I mainly did paperwork and any sort of chore work. Organizing files, getting the pope coffee, things of that nature. On the third week, the pope finally expressed some interest in me. “What’s your name?” I remember him asking. He invited me to mass, but I told him I was Jewish and preferred to not attend.
Week seven was probably the most stressed I ever was at the Vatican. My girlfriend had dumped me that Monday morning at our favorite diner. I had to get the pancakes to-go. Then on Tuesday, I bombed my Geology 101 midterm and did desomorphine for the first time. Wednesday I flew to the Vatican where the Pope was all in a fuss about his dishes not being cleaned, and I don’t know if it was the desomorphine still in my blood or the constant jet lag or just sheer stupidity, but I dropped and shattered five of his plates. He was fuming, but apparently had to forgive me and whatever.
Thursday, I was back in Vermont and found out that my now ex-girlfriend had died. She apparently surprised her best friend who was going skydiving. She snuck onto the plane and managed to fall out of the plane, plummeting to the earth. I flew back to the Vatican Friday morning, and Saturday, I attended my ex’s funeral. I’ve always hated surprise parties.
By week 12, I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. The flight to the Vatican from Vermont is about twelve hours. I was doing that four times a week. My body was breaking down. The dining hall at Middlebury was awful, but the food at the Vatican was even worse. Wednesdays and Fridays all I had was bread and wine. Fridays they had sourdough, which was nice.
My health was deteriorating mentally, too. My school had suggested I see a therapist, but the only person they could find was in Cincinnati, so I had to fly to Ohio every Sunday for a forty-five minute session.
Yesterday was my last day at the Vatican. I went to shake the Pope’s hand, but I reached too far and grabbed his wrist. The pope mumbled, “Yikes,” and then he rustled my hair. I left a thank you note on the ottoman, but it was not sincere. He gave me a few communion wafers to take home with me.
This spring semester I will not be interning. I am waiting tables at my favorite diner. We get free pancakes everyday. And I am never speaking to my guidance counselor again.
©2022 Jake Schick