Seeds of doubt
At 16, after careful study of the Bible and much prayer, I took an oath in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning in June. To me it was as serious as joining a convent. I pledged to give my life to the church and save my body for marriage.
In the youth group I became a leader of prayer groups and girls’ retreats, demonstrating an example of purity. Yet my heart acted without permission and longed for something more. Secretly I watched girls in the group openly dating boys. What were they doing together that they couldn’t do in a group? Why date if you can’t marry right now? Was dating touching, kissing, making out? And if it was defined by those things, how did the two stop themselves? And if the two weren’t making out, what was the point? Why, if God wanted total abstinence, didn’t they know that?
I grew obsessed with these questions, turned them over in my mind, pressed on them throughout the day. Boys scared and fascinated me. I fantasized about the ones I couldn’t have and was repulsed by the available ones. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t scare my friends. Didn’t they know that boys only wanted one thing? I judged my friends, found them weak when they dated, and obsessed about what they were doing alone in cars after dances. They were unable to stay pure. My body was a fortress.
This was the war zone that was my emerging self. No one was safe next to me. But beneath my judgement and fear I longed for a boy, almost any boy, to touch me. Desperately seeking a legal kind of intimacy, I set out to make every boy feel like a younger brother. It worked, for a time. I felt powerful, yet lonely. The guys often asked me to talk to girls they liked and openly discussed who was hot in front of me.
Until Gail, a long time member of the youth group and fringe friend, brought her new boyfriend Tom.
This was the war zone that was my emerging self.
Tom was athletic, lean, and charming. It was clear why Gail liked him, but unclear why he liked Gail. She was cute and sweet, but he was something else. Just looking at him made my chest scorch and my hands cold.
She introduced us and I, with my usual bravado, beamed a breezy hello. I remember nothing else about that first encounter. They stayed together, despite the fact that both were outrageous flirts. Often I had no idea who was dating who in their little group of friends. He flirted in circles, I one of many on his route. I didn’t flirt back. All the other guys before him folded. I assumed he would as well and leave me wanting.
I aggressively ignored him, stayed on the other sides of rooms, never hung out with his group. The more I ignored him, the harder he worked. Someone always had a camera. He crossed rooms to pull my body next to his and into frame. In big group photos, he tossed his body in front of mine and posed my arms around his neck. I pretended it was nothing, counted the moments, heart racing, wanting it to last forever, relieved when it didn’t.
We were nothing alike. I didn’t assume we were soul mates. It was his body, his bones, the muscles on his thighs I wanted. And his beautiful face.
At my graduation party he pulled me onto his lap. It was June. I wore a short skirt, his legs were bare. It sent a shock wave through my body, but this time I stayed there a little too long and settled back in enjoying the feel of the hair on his thighs. He pushed me off aggressively.
I felt ashamed. I thought I repulsed him.
We never saw each other after that night. I went to college. He wouldn’t graduate high school for two more years. I was so embarrassed every time I thought about him. Even today, the memory of that moment on his lap is painful. Now that I’m older and sex is just sex, I wonder if what he felt wasn’t revulsion, but an erection. The two of us were drawn to one another by chemistry bigger than we.
This was a shadow moment in the earliest part of my faith, a monster with tentacles I repeatedly pushed back. I never spoke of moments like these, or allowed my conscious mind to accept them. They were scenes from movies. They didn’t happen to me, but other girls with different bodies. I felt nothing. Wanted nothing. Waited on God to fulfill my needs. One day I’d have a husband, a great man, and everything would be made right.