I lost my virginity in the same Sunday school where, as the minister’s son, I had once been mock-crucified by my classmates during an Easter pageant. As Christ, my death was rehearsed on a cross made out of a couple of two-by-fours. My fellow sixth-graders lashed my ankles and wrists with twine and then carried me around on their shoulders, like pallbearers, before I was ultimately hoisted before the congregation for the entire, protracted five-verse duration of “All Hail King Jesus.” My eleven-year-old ego took this martyrdom in stride, maybe with a certain sense of entitlement, only tainted by my fear, given the feeble insurance of a loincloth, that I would pop wood in front of my dad’s flock.
| My parents hated Katie. Even when we were together, my mother thought she was a pathetic waif; my father treated her as if she had fangs. They admonished me with a worry that bordered on morbid that it was not my responsibility to be this girl’s savior. After the breakup, no more than a few weeks, I was at a Saturday night church potluck with a nice girl from the church fold. There was something comforting and asexual about the way she touched my knee when she laughed at my jokes. And yet, while visiting with her, I became claustrophobic and abruptly ran off to my father’s office to call Katie. Sitting in the dark, I said in a whisper that I wanted her back; she said, fuck curfew, she would sneak out.
By the time I crept out of my father’s office, everyone was gone, the lights were off, the food had been put away. I waited on the front steps, smoking a cigarette, and watched the blue television flicker from a window in my house, remote and small across the town green. I watched her Colt turn down the street, slow slightly as she made out my cigarette, then drive to the end of the street, turn and drive to the drugstore lot. I met her halfway across the town green by the giant birch, and we walked back to the church in silence. Entering through the nursery, we went back to my father’s office where I’d left my coat, and on the couch we undressed each other and made love earnestly, quickly, sadly, like bad French actors. We were seventeen.
Then, famished, we went out to the quiet Fellowship Hall and raided the leftover potluck. We took everything out of the refrigerator; we peeled the cellophane from the casseroles and crocks, we undressed the pies, the chicken salad, the macaroni-and-cheese, and set upon the feast like refugees. We ate everything: ham, meatballs, deviled eggs, cakes, cookies sparkling with colored sugar, obscene Jell-O molds with miniature marshmallows and cubes of rind quivering in lime-green abeyance. I remember looking at her as she tore a piece of chicken with her perfect cat-like teeth and noticing that she had changed her looks since I’d seen her last waxed her eyebrows into two tiny thorns, two little cuneiforms, which pricked me indescribably, or maybe it was the way the chicken caught in her teeth, but before she finished chewing I had her on her stomach over the table where the volunteer ladies had worked all night with steaming arms and I was eating her cunt out from under her while she giggled, half choking on cold chicken. Bloated, we stumbled to the sanctuary, climbed up the altar steps and flopped in the two oversized burgundy carved thrones that flanked the pulpit. There, in lush silence, at opposite ends of the altar like a king and queen, sighing in the dark, we stared at the stained glass, lit molten blue by the moon. In a dreamy voice, she asked me if I could ever kill anybody and I told her no.
When I lost my church key, Katie and I started going to her house after school. Her mother was a teacher and never home before six, and her stepfather was practically invisible, hidden away in his basement workshop, refinishing antique furniture. He was a handsome, hawkish man, usually wearing a dust mask up on his forehead like a miniature codpiece. Katie told me that she hated her stepfather because when she was a little girl he would make her bring firewood up from the basement. Then, when she was trudging upstairs, her stepfather would hide under the cobwebby steps and grab her ankle, or thrust out his hand from the dark, scaring the life out of her. We never saw him when I was there. The house was giant, rambling, full of secret passages and empty rooms. Because her parents kept to the opposite end of the house, we had the privacy of her second floor bedroom. She had a little black-and-white TV that we kept on to mask any sounds from the languid experiments that filled our school-day afternoons. When she was feeling especially dramatic or melancholy, she liked to blind me with a stocking and hold a knife to my throat. Her bed was a slow-moving elevator, a refugee’s life raft, an operating table on a spaceship.
Her walls had four full-length mirrors that enhanced the illusion that there were no dimensions beyond us, that we were alone, and consciousness of us alone existed, for we were young and unblemished and unselfconscious and beautiful to behold. One day, she was goofing around, the flip side to her grim funks, a manic clownish mood, unabashed, easy to adore. She had just given me head, I remember, and when she got up, naked, she pranced around the bedroom, doing these ridiculous squats, and then standing with her hands on her hips pushing her stomach out to look pregnant. Since I was laughing, she went to the mirror at the foot of her bed and, standing profile, pushed out her stomach, letting her arms go slack. Caught up in the hilarity of her own body, she turned around and was trying to peer over her shoulder to regard her own ass. Seeing that the better vantage was between her knees, she bent over and regarded her hind-self so. From the bed, I regarded the birdlike fold of her shoulders, and, as it now beckoned me from the mirror, her asshole, since she was pulling apart her cheeks. I, still naked on the bed and sated and thereby able to regard her without appetite for a few moments, believed that even like this, her face swelled with blood, bent over with her asshole staring at me from out of the mirror, my teen bride was frighteningly lovely.
When she fell with a shriek I took it as a caught-off-balance shriek and laughed. But the way she scrambled back from her reflection, as if it had suddenly decomposed before her eyes, made me go cold. At first I thought that she had just had another unexplained mood collapse. She was screaming and I couldn’t get her to say anything for long enough that I panicked. A sort of hatred always welled up in me toward her sudden mood swings. But then she hurled herself off the floor and at the mirror like a cat on a spider. She clawed the mirror and screamed I’ll kill you I’ll fucking kill you I’ll fucking kill you! She spat on the mirror and then punched her reflection, or, rather, just above the reflection of her crazed face. I heard footsteps on the stairs her mother or stepfather coming to see what was wrong but I realized, oddly, the steps were running down. Then the front door slammed and we heard the truck start and drive away.
Kate ran out of her room to the one next door. I found her there, her hand on the doorknob, trembling. She turned the handle. The room was just a storage space, longer than it was wide, a wedge of room that smelled like attic. Dusty yellow light clung near a bare window that looked out on a fallow pasture. There were a few boxes in storage and nothing else but a broken wicker chair and a small painting that hung on a nail. Katie took down the picture and there was the hole. It was a clean, well-made hole, the size of a quarter. I understood: she had seen a flicker behind the mirror.
Trembling, she stuck her finger in and pulled it out powdered with plaster dust. She stared at her finger for a moment, then calmly backed out of the room. I put my eye to the orifice. Through the plaster and lathe, the scratched backing of the mirror, I could see, as if in reverse, the life I had just left, as I had left it, my shirt by the bed, a cigarette smoking in the ashtray, a wad of tissues on her nightstand, the TV laughing at a joke I’d missed. The angled mirrors captured every corner of the room. I watched Katie, through the hole, now in jeans and a bra, yanking at one of the mirrors till it gave. Then she vanished and a second later I heard her scream a warlike holler followed by the jarring crash of exploding glass. She ripped all four mirrors out of her room and hurled them over the railing where they crashed on the stairs and scattered shards of bright mirror all over the living room.
We drove to a covered bridge. Sitting in the car, parked inside the bridge, the rush of water deafening underneath, she told me everything. She told me how her stepfather had begun molesting her when she was five. It had started with games. She would sit on his lap and he would put his dick between her thighs. He taught her how to kiss his penis, which he had given the amicable name of “Buddy.” He had given her the mirrors just a year earlier, when we first started dating, and he had mounted them himself.
In my shock I didn’t really hear all of what had happened to her when she was five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten, that her stepfather had made her suck Buddy almost every day after school, that she’d tried to tell her mother once but her mother had called her a slut, that one day her stepfather had come to school and hit her because he’d read her diary and found that she had written about their trysts; he wanted to know who else had read it, and she told him the truth, no one had. I could not take it all in, though, because I was thinking about what her stepfather must have seen us doing.
He had been watching us through the hole for a year. What had he watched me do to his stepdaughter and what had he watched her do to me and what had he watched me do to myself and what had he been doing to himself while he watched? It was an odd thing to come to grips with. That, at sixteen, I had this voracious and experienced girlfriend who had this gift, who would do a hundred things no other girl her age would do, or at least not as skillfully, but now I knew the gift had been a poisoned one all along. Her stepfather had been with her from the start. He had invented her, had made her in his image, and no matter how she may have hoped that I would save her, would help take the taste of him out of her mouth, the truth was, her entire life was and would remain one excruciating exorcism. I could not have saved her if I burned her at the stake.
We had never been alone not in the woods, not in the cemetery. And most helplessly, not in my father’s church. Irrationally, I wanted to smash the stained glass windows as Katie had smashed the mirrors. I imagined the heavy colored glass scattered in a million shards across the altar and pews and sanctuary floor, twinkling from the baptism font, sprinkled over the keys of the pipe organ, embedded in the pulpit. Thinking such a thing when I was young made me feel evil and perverted, but now, in retrospect, the connection does not seem that wrong. Not at all blasphemous. n°
©2001 Jay Kirk and Nerve.com