Your Mother Did
The “Morality Check” abstinence rally was silent, everyone waiting for me to finish my pledge, but somehow I had forgotten the words. I had practiced for weeks these three simple sentences, but now, squinting in the spotlight at the crowded gymnasium, the last one escaped me. Something about intimacy and God. I improvised.
“And in pledging my purity, I promise to be intimate with no one but God.”
Silence. And then applause. Pastor Lyle ushered me away from the microphone and to the side of the stage. Squinting out into the audience, I tried to locate my parents, but it was impossible to see individuals. These hundreds of people blended together into a vague gray mass that reminded me of a sleeping animal— a twitch somewhere, a noise every now and then, but still a single entity.
I stood in the shadows of the stage, watching Tessa Goodman make her pledge. She said it flawlessly, and she annunciated the last sentence like the punch line of some joke: “And in pledging my purity, I promise to be intimate with no one until I am joined with my husband in holy matrimony by God.”
She took Pastor Lyle’s arm, and I watched them walk over to me. She was smiling and her eyes were set about an inch to the left of my head. Bitch, I said to myself, but immediately repented. Pastor Lyle gave me a disappointed look as if he’d heard my thoughts. Why, I wondered, did that word pop into my head just now? I repented again, biting the inside of my cheek until it bled, to show God I meant it.
I had no idea how I had forgotten that last sentence, but I figured I got it close enough. I just forgot the marriage part, but everyone knew that anyway. Still, I was baffled. My memory was impeccable. I was the county Bible Quiz Champion. I could recite entire chapters of the Bible on command. And Tessa Goodman was no better than an idiot.
I watched all eleven of the girls recite their pledges. I had been first, for some reason that Pastor Lyle never made clear, although I had a good guess. He knew I was special, that I, above all these silly girls, would take a pledge to God seriously. When I was a baby, Pastor Lyle had prophesied over me, had told my parents that I was destined to do great works for God. These other girls just wanted to prance around onstage in pretty dresses.
They all looked elegant in the spotlight, and I watched Pastor Lyle escort each of them to a line next to me. It was like a beauty pageant, watching them in their new dresses. But I knew I didn’t look like this. I was wearing a dress that was too big in the chest, that fell at an awkward length above my ankles. I ended up in one of my sister’s old dresses, which had been white and puffy on her years ago, but on me was dingy and deflated, like old curtains. I looked down at myself, realizing for the first time that abstinence for me was not a choice but my destiny.
After we were all lined up, the spotlight found Pastor Lyle, leaving us in darkness. He was standing behind the podium, looking out at the audience. I could see the back of his body and his profile. Millions of dust particles swirled through the light that surrounded him, as if his intention to speak were enough to disrupt the tranquillity of things. He didn’t even clear his throat before he started.
“Our nation’s youth are under attack,” he said in a somber voice that was just loud enough to reach the people in the back. “Our youth”— he thrust an accusing finger backwards at us girls without looking— “are precious to God. God has a plan for them. And I can tell you that plan does not involve AIDS, pregnancy, sterility, poverty, alcohol abuse, cervical cancer, and death.” The audience jumped to life, clapping and yelling as Pastor Lyle put his hands out, as if to say he was just getting started. “Satan has infiltrated our culture and overtaken the media.” He stopped to let this one sink in.
“Before a child in this country turns eighteen, she will have seen ninety thousand instances of premarital relations without consequences. This,” he yelled, banging a fist on the podium, “this is what I mean when I say our youth are under attack.”
There was more cheering. I was fourteen years old. How much premarital sex had I been exposed to already? The math quickly jumbled in my head. I tried to recall the last instance of premarital sex I had seen on television. Last week at my best friend Beth’s house, I had seen a movie where two unmarried real-estate agents had sex. They were horizontal and rolling around in someone else’s bed, yelling each other’s names like curse words. Then he bit her shoulder. Afterward they lay there, the sheets pulled up to their armpits, talking about the tricks they used to sell houses. Essential oils on the lightbulbs, a baseball mitt left on the porch. There were no consequences at all. They seemed pretty pleased with themselves. I stared at the back of Pastor Lyle, watching his knees bobbing in excitement as he wound himself up for whatever he was going to say next. It was incredible to watch the Spirit move through him— his legs were working like crazy, but the upper half of him didn’t move.
“God’s plan for our children does not involve suicide and abortion. God’s plan involves a man and woman, brought together under Him, to be made into one flesh. God made sex,” he said, letting that word come out of his mouth like a puff of smoke. He paused to savor it, and I thought I would fall over right there onstage. I had never heard Pastor Lyle say that word before, and now it lingered there, in the air in front of me, just asking me to breathe. I resisted the urge and began picking at a hangnail that I had worked almost all the way down to my knuckle.
“Man and woman were created by God to complement each other. They were made to be together. Men need sexual fulfillment, recreation, physical attraction, admiration, and domestic support. Women need affection, conversation, honesty, financial support, and family commitment. Men and women,” he said again, “are meant to be together.” He scanned the audience, as if daring anyone to oppose him. “And so God created sex, but He created it with boundaries. When it occurs within these boundaries, sex is”— he paused to choose his word— “awesome.”
I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and let it out with a small sigh as I tried to imagine Pastor Lyle having awesome sex with his wife. They were horizontal, wrapped up in sheets, biting each other’s shoulders. I wondered if it was a sin to picture married people having sex. I repeated my pledge over in my head, just to make sure God knew I was sincere.
“But sex outside the boundary of marriage is terribly, terribly destructive.”
I imagined the roof falling in on those sexy TV real-estate agents, their feet sticking out from under the rubble on the bed.
“But these girls,” he said, pointing again at us. “These girls have been educated in resisting temptation. They have learned that the only way to resist the attack of the enemy is through Bible study, participating in the Church, and reading wholesome books that strengthen their faith.” The crowd loved this one. As they clapped, I thought about Wuthering Heights, if Pastor Lyle would consider that one wholesome.
“These girls have made a commitment to preserve their bodies in the name of Christ. They have signed a contract with Him.”
Copyright © 2006 by Kelly Kerney
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