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Blaspheme

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS

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.
     It was several years later, in high school, when my girlfriend, Katie, and I snuck into the church with the key that my dad had given me to use his typewriter. She grew up in a godless home so I gave her a private tour of the sanctuary, choir loft and nursery — where, delighting in each other’s sick humor, we abused the dolls, forcing Barbie to perform obscenities upon Babar and clamping Raggedy Anne’s nipple area with clothespins. It was this penchant for perversity that had attracted me to Katie in the first place, along with her Faye Dunaway looks. We met as lab partners over the body of a dead frog. Despite the reek of formaldehyde, I remember being vaguely turned on when, as I slit open its belly, Katie suggestively stroked the frog between its legs, cooing “nice boy.” Our misfit fortunes fused immediately. At the church, I showed her the pastor’s office where my dad hid a bottle of whisky, which we took liberty of before I showed off my cacophonous talent on the two-hundred-year-old pipe organ. I remember she did a little spinning dance on the altar in bare feet. On our way up to the steeple, we stopped off at the second-floor Sunday school, where, under a picture of Jesus surrounded by fluffy doe-eyed sheep, she unzipped my pants and gave me my first blowjob.
     It was only a matter of weeks before Katie and I finally fucked, in the passenger seat of her stepfather’s blue Colt. The driver’s side door had a faulty latch and was kept shut by a rope that crossed behind the driver’s seat, wound around the emergency brake lever, and tied off on the passenger’s seat head rest. The rear left-hand window had been punched out and replaced with plastic, so anything over fifteen mph sounded like we were in a schooner under full gale. When we fucked, parked in the cemetery, Katie clung to the rope and twisted against it like a patient in traction.
     In Vermont, there are plenty of places for concupiscent teens to writhe. Given good weather, we fucked in the woods, in dales, in leaf piles, on rotted logs, on mountain crags, against trees smooth enough to lean against, in the cold marmoreal shade of ivy-covered mausoleums in the cemetery. Once, along the bank of a stream where I went fly-fishing with my dad, I fucked her with an empty wine bottle. We thought we were far enough off the road until a truck going over the bridge slowed and a couple of rednecks hooted and yipped appreciatively. I don’t know if they saw the bottle or just the nebulae of naked bodies in the weeds. Another time, with no place else to go, I borrowed the key to the restroom at the Texaco and we fucked on the cold fetid tile, cramped by the ceramic bowl.
     But we were mostly drawn to the church where our bodies were dyed by the stained glass like mood gems. We would drive by and if the church looked empty we would park the Colt in the lot of the drugstore two blocks away. Then we’d walk the long way around, through the cemetery, avoiding the front of the church and thereby the risk of being seen by my parents, since my home, the parsonage, was just across the town green. We entered through the back, through the nursery, and tiptoed upstairs through the banquet hall where worshippers met for coffee hour after service and for potluck suppers on Saturday nights. Normally, the church was empty six days a week, and if we were certain we were safe, we’d go to the upstairs school room (our cloistered nook), take off our clothes and lie on the orange shag carpet, surrounded by macaroni-and-toothpick handicrafts.
     Being a pantheist, and therefore believing that I (and by extension, my penis) was no less holy than an altar candle, I had no more compunction about having sex in church than in a gas station rest room. I had a key, it was convenient, not to mention atmospheric in a Goth sort of way. Besides, Katie and I were unashamed, our bodies were holy, Edenic, our consciences unmolested. The thought that God would be bored enough to peep in on us and judge our youthful indiscretions simply never crossed my mind. That we occasionally had to dodge my father, God’s agent, was just an extra thrill.
     Once, mid-coitus, we heard the door downstairs. I had Katie bent over one of the plastic kiddy chairs that circled the dwarf-sized worktable. We were naked except for a blanket I’d borrowed from the nursery and kept stashed on a top shelf in the supply closet with all the other craft junk. My first instinct was to flee down the fire escape, a route that passed the window to my father’s office. I crept down the metal stairs, cautiously, and peeked. Sure enough, there was the Reverend at his desk, looking over a sermon, twiddling a pencil. But before I could worry about how to get past him, Katie — now dressed — signaled that someone else was coming up the stairs. Knowing we were trapped, I grabbed her and we ducked into the supply closet. From the dark, we could hear metal chairs being set up and we could smell the tinny brewed coffee from the church kitchen. We had just escaped exposure by the church planning committee. Settling into the closet and the grim reality that we were going to be trapped by an hour or more of budgetary talk, I started getting hard. She hiked up her skirt and we wriggled into the only feasible position: my cock in her ass. And so, slightly intoxicated by the smell of Elmer’s glue and the murmur of fund raising proposals, we sacrificed yet another virginity on the altar of the Methodist church.
     When we weren’t having sex, we were fighting. I remember one night, parked in a cow pasture, long after she’d missed her Friday ten o’clock curfew, she started panicking about her bastard stepfather and what he was going to do to her for being late. I argued that if she was going to be late, then what was an extra hour? Truthfully, I just wanted to have sex, and my obvious motives made her angry, but she also looked beside herself with terror. She thought that she was going to die. She wanted to escape. She wanted everything to change, she said, or she would kill herself, but she could not say what that change would be. There was something airless about that night, and I remember feeling vaguely threatened by the stillness of a nearby cornfield, as if we were being watched from the outer dark. She told me that she wanted me to save her, to be her escape, to come to her rescue. As a teenager, I wanted escape too: it was my existential constant, yet her frenzy made me feel impatient and dull for not having a way out. I accused her of being over-dramatic and then, cruelly, of being childish for wanting to live in a fairy tale. She ran off into the pasture. I chased after her and we ended up wrestling on the ground, each of us getting in at least two slaps, for which I felt both guilt and cold satisfaction. After we made up, instead of having sex, she lay with her head on my lap and I told her an embellished version of Hansel and Gretel. I told her that I wanted her to imagine leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs when she went home, so if she became lost I would be able to find her. Still, she was too scared to go home. I took her to my house and somehow talked my parents into letting her sleep in the guest room. When she tried to sneak up to my room, she was caught halfway up the stairs by the good Reverend who’d woken to take a leak. My dad, buck naked, shouted at her from the top of the stairs as if she were a stray dog. She mumbled that she just needed a toothbrush and then slunk back downstairs. When I heard her cower under my father’s wrath, I hated myself for not coming to her defense.
     Before we’d been together a year, I broke up with Katie. She was too much, unpredictable; she was too tortured, too gloomy. Her violent mood swings tangled us in senseless arguments that as often as not ended by Katie spreading her legs and demanding, in tears, that I fuck her. After her sobs were stifled and I apologized awkwardly — for I thought I had taken advantage of her — she ridiculed my priggish guilt until I felt I was the one being taken advantage of, that my cock was a pacifier, and then I was the one who wanted to lie in the dark and murmur in quiet code about bread crumbs and dark woods and cannibal witches.

     

  

 PERSONAL ESSAYS



     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.
 

  

     

©2001 Jay Kirk and Nerve.com