"So they drew near to the village to which they were going.
He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying,
'Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.' "
Right after high school, I spent almost a year at a fundamentalist Christian college in upstate New York, where I seduced my English professor and got C's in all the courses not in my major, which was psychology. My papers in John's classes were all weeks late, which explains the C's, if you believe in explanations.
I wasn't dumb. I left before we were caught. They didn't have anything on me, or on him, but they were on the scent. I could tell. John was hopeless in the area of deception, and they had ways of finding things out, a whole legal machinery of sin detection, complete with informants. Leaving was something I could do for him, at least. I never got to say goodbye, which was the way I thought I wanted it at the time. Just check out, like a rehab gone bad. Failed fundamentalist. Don't look back. Lead him not into temptation. Deliver him from evil.
I know what people think when they hear all this, and it's OK -- maybe I think some of that too. But the thing is, it's been six years since I left, and I still don't know what any of it means, or even how to make this sentence keep going until it made sense to anyone who wasn't there. Or to anyone who was.
Like GarboWinter is my favorite season. I've always known this. It seems wrong to speak of other seasons, as though they exist. I liked it there in winter. The sky was low like a snowy roof and in the brilliant woods adjoining campus a furious wind was blowing, always. The lake was frozen three straight months. Sometimes John would walk me across it, laughing and moving in a half-skate. We danced, a kind of tortured mock tango there on the lake, remembering bits from old movies that John had seen in videos that he rented and played late at night in his cabin, where I'd go late at night, breaking curfew with the help of my roommate Kit, another fugitive from fundamentalism, who'd let me in the locked dormitory door at six the next morning.
When we stumbled and fell we'd lie in a heap on the ice, kissing. After, I'd pull away and stare at him, my face lit by moonlight, immobile, like Garbo. Like that, yes. I knew what he saw when he looked at me, his conflicted desire.
It hurt to look at him then, seeing the shape of his care reflected in his cloudy eyes. Poor boy. It was then that I knew he was as lost as me. At these times and no others I'd let myself think, "he loves me," but then I'd remember that to him, as a fundamentalist Christian, love and rescue meant the same thing. He's big on salvation, I would think. Then: It's not his fault; it's all he knows.
JohnJohn did his best to impersonate a normal fundamentalist college professor, but it was an unconvincing performance to me. He'd tell me that he didn't belong there at Redeemer College, that he took the job only because he was desperate for work in his field, that he got the job because the Dean knew his father (a pastor), that he'd leave when he finished his dissertation, that something better would come along. And I'd say "What?," sweeping my hand in a dramatic gesture that took in the eight-by-eight square of his office with the droopy tile overhead and the blinking fluorescent lights. "And leave all this?"
John believed that leaving would be the best thing, after what had happened between us, but I observed that belief was precisely his problem, that he was excessive in his need for belief. Besides, I'd tell him, you're needed here. You're a missionary.
Mr. DarcyWhen I was small, the single missionaries would stay with us at the parsonage, and my sister and I always dreaded it. The women, with faint moustaches and impeccable grammar in their fund-raising newsletters, always seemed to have the most terrible physical problems; they limped, they gave off a vague medicinal smell, they used no makeup, they wore K-Mart shoes and hose with seams. I changed the sheets when they left, holding them at arm's length as I threw them into the washer.
It's possible that the single men, however, were worse. Once, in sixth grade, a man named John Darcy stayed a week with us, and I never saw him come out of his room -- that is to say, my room; I had to stay with my sister -- until the last night, just before dinner, when he appeared before me and Cassie and our girlfriends and started doing calisthenics with an unholy enthusiasm. Amazed, we watched as he stood on his head in the living room, his glasses awry, his spastic mouth twitching with exertion. I was twelve, and horrified. I wondered what he had done all that time alone in my room. I grew up deathly afraid that I would become a single missionary and do calisthenics in the houses of strangers.
Class NotesWhat I remember comes in pieces, like the soft doughy squares of bread my father served at communion in the Baptist church, the crust carefully cut away by deaconesses. I reach inside and seem to pick up a piece of Wonder Bread memory. This do. In remembrance of me. This is my body. Broken for you.
I remember John lecturing on the history of romance. It was a morning in early January, missions week at Redeemer. Slouched in my seat against the pale green wall, notebook in my lap, I sleepily took notes. Tall titled columns of them. But when I look, my notebook now looks like the haphazard ramblings of a bright but disorganized deity:
happy love has no history
Tristan lands in Ireland
Iseult the Fair love has always been nourished by obstacles
romance only comes into existence
when love is fatal, frowned upon doomed by life.
what draws us is the story?
It surprised me that a fundamentalist college would offer courses on Shakespeare and the age of Romanticism, lots of Keats, Byron, Shelley, but I've learned that fundamentalists are very big on love and romance. They're suckers for tales of conquest and heroism, evil dragons slain, fair damsels rescued from distress. They don't really believe in happy endings, at least not in this life. They want to believe that all are sinners, all are lost (they're right, there!), that everyone and everything can be saved through a personal relationship with Jesus.
I'd say: Jesus saves. Moses invests. Lead us not into Penn Station. Deliver us from Evel Knieval.
This was not what John wanted to hear.
Mother, MilkyI had sex for the first time at fourteen, and by the time I was sixteen I had had four lovers, a drinking problem, and an abortion. My parents were oblivious to what was going on in the house. They were never home, always at church, organizing, or practicing the cure of souls, and Cassie and I quietly became famous in the Grand Rapids underground, a loosely knit criminal network of mostly pastor's kids. It was fun, until Cassie fell off the back of a motorcycle, and my parents remembered me, and started to use my name in sentences in a way that seemed to me excessive, and began asking to spend time with me, their cadaverous eyes haunted, their skin stretched tightly over remaining flesh.
Late one night I got up for some milk. My mother, drawn like a moth to the light of the refrigerator, silently sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor, naked. I dropped the milk. I laid down next to her, my head in her lap, and kicked the carton away, then drew my milky legs up until they were under my chin.
There was no money for college, but Redeemer offered free tuition the first year for the children of pastors, so there I was. I figured I'd do one year, then transfer some place. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was what I could manage at the time. My parents said they'd find a way to help pay for a secular school later if I gave them that one year at Redeemer. They'd say it just that way, like a prayer: "Give us this year."
Like it was a gift.
To them, I guess it was.
To me it was a life. Or half a life. A half-life.
I was eighteen years old.
ChapelThe first week of winter quarter was missionary week at Redeemer. Did I say this? We were required to attend chapel twice a day during missionary week, in the morning and again at night. The missionaries that came to the conference were the real item, all the way from Chad and Brazil, Zaire, Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, England, France, you name it. And "Home Missions" people too, from Grand Rapids and Atlanta.
I found it odd that they would have missionaries in a lot of these places, especially England and France and Grand Rapids, where there's a church on every corner. Kit said the evening sessions were a great time to catch up on your homework. We'd sit in the back of the chapel in the part we called "The Zoo." We'd pass notes, giggle, set off the occasional alarm clock, and make fun of the nerd boys they had there, who carried gargantuan designer Bibles with their names printed in gold block letters on the cover. (They prayed over ice cream cones when they'd venture out on dates, which was rare.)
One night I asked to look at one of these Bibles. A nerd boy had come in late and had to sit in The Zoo, so I reached over and opened it to the inside cover, looking for the inscription Kit said was always there, in the five line space Zondervan made for this purpose. Sure enough, there it was: "To Travis, in the hope that this book will keep you from sin. Remember, son, This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book. For prayerful study at Redeemer, where we trust you will get a safe education, by the grace of God. Your loving parents." I gave the Bible back to Travis and squeezed his sweaty hand, dragging it into my lap. I pecked him on the cheek. I put my tongue in his left ear and smiled sweetly. I did not ask him how safe his education felt then.
SexI didn't tell anyone about us, except for Kit, but I knew that we were being watched. At Redeemer points could be scored for bringing someone down; a sexual fall was a biggie. Sex was preached against on a daily basis in chapel, but the really funny thing is, all that did was call attention to it, heightening anxiety and, of course, curiosity. Lust was everywhere. The place was a hothouse of love, love, love; everyone was a possible victim, anyone could fall. It was the most sexually democratic place on earth. I'm saying there was an obsession there about sex. Even Hugh Hefner got tired of it, for Christ's sake, but at Redeemer they just didn't know when to stop.
John, IISomewhere in here I concluded that John belonged there. I say this because I watched him pray (while safely disguised as a good-attitude coed in a navy blazer and plaid skirt). John sat up front on the right side of the College Chapel, with the other faculty. His head cradled in his beautiful hands, the long slim fingers threaded through his wavy hair, when he prayed he seemed to be lifting off the pew, as if elevated by an invisible wire. Afterwards, students and colleagues would gather around him to ask what he thought of the sermon. Even if it was a disaster -- say the preacher had gotten off one-liners on abortion, the ACLU, how God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, liberal apostate theologians, all in a commentary on the first chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans -- John would look each of these petitioners in the eye and speak carefully, without condescension, giving his careful critique. Evenhanded. He must have known that it was killing him to be there, that he should leave, but I began to feel that this was because of me, not because he had outgrown the place. How could I take him away from all this when I didn't even know what it was, the life he had there?
I'd think: If anyone finds out about me and John, we're fucked. I felt bad about this, because as I said, John was so hopeless in the area of deception. He wanted to turn himself in. He was unprepared to live in the world, that was pretty clear.
One day we went to the post office in Albany. He wanted to mail a package to his grandparents. We were in the downtown office, it was crowded, and he drifted from counter to counter, unable to settle anywhere, until finally he found the right one. But then he realized he didn't have the right zip code. He stood there, turned to stone. He was ashen. I asked what was wrong and he said it was impossible, we'd have to return home and look up the address. I told him that was ridiculous, it was a thirty minute drive back, and besides, one of the clerks at the window could look up the zip code. He stared at me as though I were a Martian, as though this were news from another planet. Finally, he got in line, the clerk addressed the package complete with zip code, and John paid him. But when he counted the change, he saw that he had one dollar too many, so he gave it back to the clerk. Then he walked away slowly, counting again, and in the middle of the staircase he realized that the missing dollar belonged to him after all.
I stood next to him, at a loss, while he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, wondering what to do. Going back would be difficult; a crowd upstairs was pushing and shoving in line.
"Just let it go," I said. He looked at me, baffled.
"How can I let it go?" he said.
Not that he's sorry about the dollar, money in itself is of no consequence to him. But it is the fact that there is one dollar missing. How can he just forget about something like that? He spoke about it for a long time, and was very unhappy with me. And this repeated itself with different variations, in every shop and restaurant. Once he gave a homeless person a five dollar bill. The man had stopped him and asked for a dollar so he could eat. Five was all he had, so John asked the man to change the five, but the man claimed he had no change. We stood there for a full two minutes trying to decide what to do. Then it occurred to him that he could let the beggar have the five. But we hadn't gone ten steps when he began getting angry. This is the same man who would have been eager and extremely happy to give the poor man five hundred dollars with no questions asked. But if he had asked for five hundred and one we would have spent the day trying to find a place to make change, he would have worried himself over one dollar.
His anxiety in the face of money was almost the same as his anxiety over women. Or his fear of things official. Once I called his office in the morning, begging him to take me away from there that day. I was beside myself, I needed to get away, just for half a day, somewhere, anywhere. I cursed him when he said he couldn't. Afterward, he didn't sleep for nights, he tormented himself, wrote me letters full of self-destruction and despair. Why didn't he come? He couldn't ask for leave. He was unable to bring himself to ask the Department chair for release from his one remaining class that day, the same Department Chair he admired in the depths of his soul -- I'm not kidding -- because of the Chair's skill with computers. How could he lie? he'd say. To the Chair? Impossible.
Lying is possible for most of us because it gives us a safe place, at least momentarily, a refuge from some situation which would otherwise be intolerable. At one time or another all of us have taken refuge in a lie, in blindness, in confusion, in enthusiasm or despair, or something.
But John had no refuge, nothing at all. He was absolutely incapable of lying, just as he was incapable of getting drunk or high. He lacked even the smallest refuge; he had no shelter in the world. He was exposed to everything that most people are protected from. He was like a naked man in a world where everyone is clothed.
This is why he could not continue seeing me, and also why he could not continue teaching there. He knew this, but was unable to leave either me or Redeemer. Like at the Post Office, I thought: He will move from counter to counter, trying to find a space to work it out, a place from where he can see through to tomorrow. He couldn't leave because of me, but he couldn't stay either. But what would be his reasons for leaving? He loved what he did there; he felt he was needed by his students. And of course he was. If he were to leave, where would they go? Had he left last year, he would have never met me, and then my suffering would have been greater. I know that he thought about this, but for him it was more than a practical problem, it was also a theological issue: How could God do this to him?
I told him: lying is inescapable. If he stayed there he lied, because he couldn't remain and be the type of person that he was. But if he left that was a lie too, because there was part of him that very much belonged there, that would be misplaced anywhere else.
I told myself: Maybe we are all searching for places where we can stay the longest without lying.
Later, I thought, who knows? Maybe he reached his place of optimum truth there.
Cabin StoriesWhen we met Fall Quarter, John was a virgin. He told me there was a girl once when he was in high school, but they broke up before it ever got to that. One had to know how to listen with John. He tended to leave things out.
One night I followed him home to his house on the north end of College Street. The street was lined with run-down shacks, with broken down cars on the dirt driveways and little kids playing tackle football in the street. No faculty lived on this side of town. As we walked our shoes clacked on the concrete pavement, then afterwards crunched on the long cinder path that led up to his little cabin at the edge of a dark wood. Dry leaves rustled. It was Thanksgiving break. I'm sure, to him, I was a waif, lost and errant. It's true that I had nowhere to go. Everyone else had gone home, most to their parents' houses. For many reasons, my parents' house was out of the question. I called and told them I was staying with a friend. They sounded relieved.
Over wine at dinner I got the rest of the story out of John. It turns out that he had never even kissed this girl, whom he had met at a dance when he was fifteen. She was the great love of his life, there had never been another, and he hadn't so much as kissed her.
There was a black coal stove in the center of the main room, but the bin next to it was empty. The tiny bedroom was in the west corner of the cabin. The bed was covered with animal skins. It was funny to see John's white hands shooting out of those dark skins at dawn, like some prehistoric creature with good reflexes. We'd laugh and squirm around to get warm, grinding ourselves into the cotton sheets while John re-positioned the skins above us. I'd ask him to tell me a story, and he'd tell me how he used to tug his little brothers on a sled up a snowy hill in Peekskill, or about the time when he was four and his older brother's dog bit him, and his parents made Matt destroy the dog in the back yard, in front of him.
Right here was when I told him about Cassie. I mentioned her wavy dark hair and did her laugh for him and made him get up to get my jacket, which had been hers, for her scent, and we both put our noses into the collar and rutted around, and when he cried I knew I wanted a different story. After that he began telling stories about God and I got less and less interested, and finally I just told him to stop and then there were no more stories.
We stayed in that cabin almost a week. John found some coal for the stove, and it was a good thing, because on the second day it snowed. The windows frosted over, and snow blew in through small gaps between the logs in the northwest corner. When we talked we could see our breath. John said it looked like something out of Dr. Zhivago. I took his word for it.
We got into a routine: wake up, cook breakfast, back into bed, up for lunch and long walks in the woods, drive into Albany for dinner at a different restaurant each night, bed again. There was no talk of Redeemer College.
The day before classes resumed we were lying in bed. We talked past noon. I took a deep breath.
"John, how did you get into this whole fundamentalism thing? Why are you here? I mean, you can't really believe all this stuff?"
" 'Jesus made as though he would go further.' "
"That's it. That's why I believe."
"What are you talking about?"
"Luke 24. After his resurrection, Jesus is on the road to Emmaeus and he meets up with two of his disciples, but they don't recognize him. They think he's just another guy and they're amazed that he hasn't heard about this Jesus person, so they say, 'Haven't you heard? You must be the only one in town who hasn't! He's risen from the dead!' Then Jesus finally reveals himself to them, going back through the Old Testament and showing them how all this was speaking of him, how he really is the messiah. The first time I read this story, Zoe, I thought to myself, this is sad, this is really so sad. I mean, to have to explain yourself like that. After all the great things he did, all the miracles and the healings and to top it off Jesus rises from the dead, and here these guys that claim to be his followers don't even recognize him. He was traveling through the world incognito. Even the ones who claimed to know him best didn't recognize him, or denied him, they all somehow missed him, or betrayed him with a kiss. After three years they still didn't know who he was, they still didn't get it."
"But what is this, Jesus made-as-if-he-would-go-further stuff?"
"After Jesus goes through this whole routine with them, and now they recognize him, and believe again, it's dinner time, and the disciples were going to spend the night somewhere. But the text says that Jesus made as though he was going further, and they had to persuade him to stay with them. I think that's why I love him. I think that's why I'm here. He was just so incredibly polite, he didn't force himself on anybody, he had the most incredible manners. He didn't want to offend. He wanted to help them to see. Jesus -- "
"Wait a minute. That's why you're here? Because Jesus made as though he was going further, because he had good manners? That's a reason? You're saying that you came to teach at a fundamentalist college with weirdo rules and a pervert for a President, and you choose to stay here, the whole thing, because Jesus was polite to these bozos?"
"Because Jesus goes unrecognized in the world, Zoe. Because we've been in the presence of grace and we didn't even know it. Because the greatest mysteries in the universe have been revealed to us and we've forgotten or overlooked them or somehow screwed things up but he's too polite to embarrass us again. Because he travels through the world, travels through us, incognito. We keep pushing him away, out of the world, out of our lives, and he lets us! Because he's been right there with us, hell, he's carried us and we didn't even notice."
He sighed, and looked into his hands.
Outside, the wind was picking up. Voices of children could be heard at play in the street, and farther off, the low rumbling of a train. I watched the grimy curtains move toward us, disturbed by the wind, then lie limp against the window pane, suddenly still.
John got up and threw some more coals on the fire, then came up behind me and waited. I didn't say anything.
Then he said, "I know I'm not saying this very well, Zoe. I just think I can help here, that's all."
KitOne day during missions week a Vice President of one of the big missions boards used maps and charts to share with us missionary possibilities all over the world, particularly in the former Communist bloc, and could it be that God would like to use us in Russia for His glory? Five hundred students raised their hands and come forward down the aisle to go to Russia. That's one third of the student population. I thought, What are all these people going to do in Russia? I felt sorry for the place. I pictured all those Bible thumping classmates tearing up the countryside, knocking on doors and handing out tracts in poorly translated Russian. I thought, if I were in the Kremlin I would pass laws immediately to stem the tide of evangelistically minded American students with large Bibles. The way I looked at it, the country had enough problems.
But then, Kit and I figured that 498 of them would change their minds. They'd get married, get a mortgage, have kids. Most of the students I knew would rather die than think of themselves in a country without shopping malls. And what would these students wear? Kit and I tried to imagine the Redeemer girls with their blazers and pearls, trying to talk to vodka-smirched Russian women waiting in line for brown bread. We cracked up.
Besides me and Kit, there were our trainees, Alix and Jennifer and Sara. After the missionary conference ended at 9:30, we'd sit around complaining about how we were expected to get any work done when they had us going to meetings all night. We'd trade favorite missionary stories. Sara thought she had the best one, about this missionary from Brazil who used to tell repeatedly, every time he spoke, about how this giant bug was in his skull for three weeks, how they eventually prayed that bug right into oblivion, and Alix recalled a missionary who somehow failed to tie up the livestock on a plane and wound up with goats chewing things up and raising hell in the cockpit, but we all sat there in amazement when Kit told us about her mother.
"I grew up in West Virginia, right, and down there we take our religion seriously. No room to fuck up, I mean you've got to toe the line, sister, or whump, they'll toss your sorry ass out the church. So my mom tries, right, really tries, to please my dad -- who incidentally is the pastor of the church -- you know, to be the total woman. She even wears only Saran wrap when he gets home from work, kinky sex to the Song of Solomon, the whole fundy thing. But she knows that she's going nowhere in that small town and she's itching to get out and back to school so she can get herself a life before she's too old."
Jennifer stopped looking at Kit, and stared at the wall, a vacant look in her eyes. I put my arm around her.
"So one Sunday night at church my mother shows up with three roses, each in a Dixie cup of dirt. One rose is completely closed, the other is partially open, and the third is in full bloom."
"What was she doing with three roses?" Alix asked.
"They were her props, see. She was about to give us an object lesson, just like she might have done in junior church or something, but that congregation was about to hear something it never heard before, I promise you. Us kids are sitting quietly in the pew, we've got our coloring books, our Barbies, the whole thing, like a normal Sunday night. But nothing was normal that night.
"So now my dad, who remember, is the pastor, says it's testimony time, and the minute he says that my mother stands to her feet and in her hands she's holding her three roses, and she starts in on her testimony.
" 'My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, I want to share my heart with you. You see these three roses? They represent my life. As you can see, the first rose is unopened. It signifies my life as it has been for the first 33 years. All this potential, all of my possibilities, going to waste. Do you know what it is like to have a good mind, a sound mind, that the Lord God has given you, but you are unable to use it? Well, that has been my life. This is the old me, a beautiful rosebud, unopened, yearning to burst out into bloom.
" 'And this second rose you can see is in bloom. Its petals have opened, all the world can see its beauty, but it is still a veiled beauty, isn't it?' My mom held the second rose aloft in her hands. I could see old Mrs. Bartle sitting on the edge of her seat, following that rose with her eyes. 'But something is still wrong,' mom said. 'This rose is not all it can be. It has yet to become all the rose that God intended it to be.' Now she had her head bowed. She was weeping. 'This is my life now, this rose. I've opened up to the Lord, I'm willing for the world to see me now, but not all of me, just a part. I'm still only half a person.
" 'But this rose.' She waved the third rose in the air now, triumphantly. 'This rose is in all its glory! It is the rose in full bloom. Nothing can be more beautiful than a rose that has completely opened to its possibilities. And this rose is what I want to be. What I shall become, by the grace of God.' "
"God, Kit, that is so beautiful," Jennifer said.
"Yeah, they all thought so. Mrs. Bartle was bawling so loud you could hear her across town. But what no one knew is that I had heard my parents earlier. They had a huge fight. They thought I was outside playing with my sister. My father was pleading with mom to stop having the affair, to stay with us, and she kept screaming, over and over, 'Leave me alone, you're smothering me!' That woman was heading for the door long before the trinity of roses speech, I'm telling you. It was a great performance, and it bought her some time and a lot of sympathy afterwards, when she left town. Masterpiece Theatre."
"God, Kit," Jennifer says. How did you stand it? Did you tell her that you knew?"
"I've never told anyone," Kit said, "till now."
On The WardKit was the rebel. I didn't have the energy for rebellion. For that, you had to care. I was just there for observation. I told myself constantly, "You're on the ward, pay attention." But it was weird, since they all thought the same thing, they were observing you. After all the services at home, all those Redeemer chapel messages, all the Bible classes, I had internalized a fundamentalist voice. It talked back to the other voice, my voice. I heard these conversations all the time.
--It's wrong to have sex. The Bible says so. Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
--That's ridiculous. Sex is the most natural thing in the world. You see a gorgeous guy, you think you're going to live forever. God gave us sex. He made us this way.
--You must learn to overcome these lustful thoughts. God will judge.
--Then God's judging himself, since he gave us these bodies in the first place.
--Your God's perverted. Do you really think he's hanging around the Ramada Inn, checking out what's going on in Room 208? Shouldn't he be more interested in Northern Ireland, or Lebanon, Bosnia, something more worthy of his time?
--He's working on that. Besides, God knows everything about everybody. He is not only omniscient, He is omnipresent.
--So he's got the Holiday Inn covered too.
--You have a bad attitude.
--You're headed for hell.
It's like fundamentalism is a double-voiced sickness, but the ones who observe it are themselves observed, so no one knows how to chart it. It's a standoff.
Chapel, III did some math: if you stayed at redeemer for four years, and went to chapel and the special bible and missionary conferences at the beginning of the semesters, and to church twice on Sunday and Wednesday night prayer meetings you would have heard 255 sermons per year, for a total of 1,020 in four years.
Redeemer was in session for thirty weeks a year, fifteen weeks per semester. This means that a student could hear 255 sermons in 210 days in one year; graduating seniors will have heard 1,020 sermons in only 840 days. If you want the prayer figure, take the sermon number and double it: 2,040 public prayers, minimum, not counting required dorm bible studies and prayer meetings.
Many of these were about sex. Not having it was the idea. There was no mention of child abuse, homelessness, racism, or sexual harassment. Math was not my strong point, but I checked my figures three times. I thought these figures were not widely known. When I told John he suggested I write a letter to the school newspaper. When I told Jennifer, she said that's not counting the summers, when you attend church and prayer meeting at home with your parents. She went off to calculate the number of times that worked out to in terms of hosiery bought and put on. When I told Kit, she said, "What'd you expect, that they'd leave anything to chance?"
The PresidentThe president of the college frightened me. His name was Jack Sampson. Since Redeemer was so small, we all got to see him way more than we'd want. When he looked at me it sent shivers down my spine. One day, waiting for John after Chapel, he looked at me; well, not at me, he looked at my body. At my legs and butt. It was a "degree day" today, meaning it was below zero and the girls got to wear pants. Pants on girls were so unusual that when we got to wear them, we'd flaunt it, whatever we had. So I had on Jennifer's too-tight striped pants and he looked at me in this really ugly way, and I knew he wanted to undress me. I wanted to take John's hand and run out of the building.
That night's topic of dorm conversation was President Sampson: Was he a pervert? Kit thought so. "Think about it. This guy comes right out and says he is a friend of Jimmy Swaggart, I mean this guy knows that weirdo! He has Swaggart's home phone number, can you believe it?"
"Did you see the news when Swaggart asked forgiveness from his congregation? Wasn't that nauseating? His poor wife."
"I saw the interview they did with the prostitute Swaggart was with. She has a kid. She said the stuff he asked her to do, it was sick."
"I don't know, Zoe. I don't think Sampson's a pervert. The president asked for prayer for him, is all. And besides, we're different from Swaggart in doctrine, right? So Swaggart doesn't really represent the Christian community. I mean, Swaggart is a charismatic, right? We don't believe that stuff about tongues and all."
This was Jennifer. She was somewhat in awe of us.
"Right, Jennifer." Kit said, "Sampson doesn't speak in tongues so he can't possibly be a pervert."
John, IIII worried about John constantly. It was unbearable. He was wracked with guilt. I didn't believe in guilt. I thought it was a false emotion that we manufactured to torment ourselves. I watched my parents manipulate each other and my sister with guilt. Fundamentalists are expert at guilt, but this is a cliché. What's not widely known is how much they suffer.
I looked at it this way: I'd been around fundamentalism enough to have received an inoculation. I think I'm immune to it now, that enough distance has been created, but it's still in my blood, traveling in me, silent and potent.
Saved SexJohn sometimes wondered if he was still saved, what with all that we had done together. I'd tell him we need saving from something every day, what makes this day any different? And take his hand and place it on my breast.
Kit and MeOne of the weirder rules at redeemer was that if two girls were on a bed, they both had to have both feet on the floor.
I ask you.
So one night Kit and I were lying in bed in our underwear with the door locked. Kit was admiring my panties, which were white, with red hearts. My mom sent them to me for Valentine's day, but they were too big. I knew Kit didn't have much money. After her mom ran off her dad lost his church. He got another one but it was a small congregation and couldn't afford to pay him much. I said what the hell. I took the panties off and gave them to her. My bra too.
Kit gave her professors fits. That day in New Testament she had embarrassed her prof by asking him if he had sex before marrying his wife. He deserved it, he kept going on and on about the biblical view of sexuality and Kit just couldn't take it anymore. I had to put my head on my desk to keep from laughing out loud. The prof asked if he could see her after class. He questioned her attitude. She had an appointment with the Dean the next morning at eight.
Anyway, we're lying in bed, me naked now, regretting my decision to stop seeing John outside of class, when Kit jumps me. We wrestle till we're panting with exhaustion, our sides splitting with laughter, but she has a good twenty pounds on me, and it's clear I'm going to get pinned, so I decide to just lay back and enjoy it. Kit pins me, then counts slowly to three in a referee's voice, and calls me a wimp. She lip synched to the illegal tape I had playing: "Got it bad, got it bad, got it bad, I'm hot for teacher." Then she kissed me on the lips, and asked me out to dinner.
I got back to the room the next day after classes and found a note on my bed. From Kit. They'd kicked her out. I ran down the hall crying. I found the Residence Hall Advisor and asked her what happened to Kit. She looked at me like I'd dropped in for the day from Jupiter. Then she said out of the side of her mouth, "Kit had an attitude problem. As you know. She's gone."
It's been six years. I made my escape the day Jennifer was kicked out for attitude in The Zoo. I piled all my Redeemer clothes in the middle of the floor with a note saying "Help Yourself!" and caught the next bus out of town. I didn't say goodbye to anyone. I called my parents from the bus station and they freaked. But they didn't ask me to come home, I'll give them that.
I stayed with Kit in Ithaca until I got a job cutting hair and an apartment. I took some night classes and tried to get into a degree program at Cornell, but I couldn't get my Redeemer credits to transfer. Whenever I said that word, Redeemer, I'd get this look, like I was bad meat. There were fights with the Registrar, and scenes in the Admissions office. Finally I just gave up.
That was years ago.
I am twenty-four.
Last year I got married to this guitarist. We're on the road a lot. It's OK at night, when there's so much set-up work to do and then the band is playing and everything is moving by so fast, the lights winking at the dancers on the crowded floor and the crashing wall of sound that seems to flatten the room, picks us up and throws us down again. But the days are slow. Sometimes, after dinner with the guitarist and his friends, I stand up and walk outdoors, and keep on walking till I'm in sight of a church.
I just found out that I'm pregnant. I haven't told the guitarist. I haven't told anyone, yet. I've given a lot of thought to what I'm going to call the baby if it's a girl. Katherine Anne, after Kit and my grandmother. And if it's a boy? That's easy.
There's this song playing at work. I hear it all day long. The one about God on the bus, trying to make his way home.
I think: What if God was one of us?
I don't know what happened to John. For a while Kit was getting Redeemer newsletters at her house but she called and told them to fuck off. I never got any. I guess to them I never existed.
I still think about him sometimes, and yeah, about our conversation that last day in his cabin. And I see John's point in the Luke story. But I think Jesus made as though he would go further because he just wanted to get away from those two guys. Maybe that's the difference between believers and non-believers when you get right down to it: the believers think it all comes down to this one person, and they know how to hang on to what they have.
And then I remember: We were in bed when he told me that funny story about Jesus walking on the road. John's hands were there on my belly, like mine are now, soft and warm, and he was sobbing, shaking so hard I thought he would fall apart, and he kept saying my name, over and over, Zoe, Zoe, Zoe, Zoe.
I tell myself I may be remembering this all wrong, that things change and your life plays tricks on you, but I mean, there we were, in that little cabin at the end of the road, and I was in his presence and I never knew what it was, what he meant, what was mine.
Gary Percesepe (email@example.com) is a former fiction editor at the Antioch Review. A native New Yorker, he is the author of four books in philosophy. His fiction, essays, and poems have appeared in the Mississippi Review Web Edition, Enterzone, and other places. He teaches at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 7, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1997 Gary Percesepe.