Our shared Catholic blood and bones make your recent thinking about your upbringing very similar in type and depth to something I’d been thinking about for a long time. At what point, exactly, did I end my relationship with the Catholic church. That is, when did I stop allowing “them” tell me the terms of my salvation.
I was 19 when I departed the one, true Catholic Church. It was late at night on a university campus not far from here, with a woman who was as predatory as she was beautiful. The newspaper office was closed for the weekend. We were drunk. Life was good and was soon to get a whole lot better.
The incident was all too much to drink and none too much common sense. We were alone in the office after stopping by a party where weed and alcohol came free and easy. The alcohol–my drug of choice–resulted in my inability to drive, which is why we wound up at the office just five blocks away. The alcohol in my body and the THC in hers resulted in our descent into the body of the big frog-green couch in the office office vestibule.
From there, we were all stifled sighs and careful creaking. A security guard right outside the door. Completely unaware of myself as a person and of the world and how it worked, I found myself there looking into her ecstatic, far-away face–my intro to a vast, unknown, chaotic world so deliciously ugly and beautiful that I was frightened out of my mind.
The woman I was with, of course, had all the confidence in the world. She loved sex. Her Protestant conscience didn’t bother her one bit.
I realized there and then, in the funk and scratch of the ugly couch that Catholicism had hornswoggled me. My first brush with fornication resulted in no ill effects. In fact, polluting my body and mind with fleshly sin made me feel great.
Amazed with my new possibilities, I was only slightly angry that I had been lied to. We had transgressed and it was good. Sure, no one was going to know that we fell into each others’ embrace in a perfectly respectable university office. The security guard that stalked the hallway that night paused for only a brief moment to listen for the something he’s heard as he passed the door that opened to the pukey green couch. At the time, I was astounded he didn’t hear the bonds that held me to the church breaking.
Even more delightful, however, was the affirmation of the fluidity and complexity of this earthly coil, and I liked it that way. Simple separations and exclusions–sexual, moral, culture, gender, and race–had made no sense to me. Now I knew why. Chaos was good. Chaos was comfortable. I floated in the fuzziness between the sacred and the profane–a place where few boundaries were sharp and well-defined, particularly when it came to sex and sexuality, the earthly and the eternal, love and loveliness.
The need for Catholicism had disappeared. But it wasn’t Catholicism, per se. Vanished was my need to depend on any power outside the one inside, a more eternal, mysterious, and human power that was a hell of a lot more divine than the God I grew up with.
Now, you can certainly equate what I’ve written here to what Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, commander of Burpleson Air Force Base, tells RAF Colonel Lionel Mandrake about the nature of the international communist conspiracy. In the movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Ripper tells Mandrake that he first developed his theory about a communist conspiracy to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans, “during the physical act of love. Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue…a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I…I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.”
A person’s first sexual encounter can be powerful. And it was to me. But it wasn’t a loss of essence that change my life. It was the complete snapping of the bonds of Catholicism that had held so tightly through the one thing that a young person knows more and more of than any other–sex. If I had doubts before, the continuation of the world during and after “the physical act of love” exposed the entire essense of my Catholic upbringing as fraudulent. If I was going to hell for something this simple and good, then I could just go to hell. And with that commitment, why the fuck did I need a whole body of church dogma to compound my damnation?
So, while it seems that the trauma of physical congress changed the world as it does with every young person–certainly it was true–something more drastic hinged on the promise of disaster that was supposed to happen (I was going to write “come”) with fornication. When nothing but good followed, what came so naturally, lovingly, and happily crushed the last block in the wall that the church, my family, and, ultimately, I had built over the previous two decades.
It was good to be free, to be able to indulge in excess until I discovered for myself what was good or bad for me, to be, for the first time, my own person.
So, keep digging, my friend. Many of us keep these moments to ourselves. But as a writer, I cannot help but use my moment as a pathway to deeper personal discovery. Unfortunately, or, fortunately, this makes my moment more public property than personal possession.
All my love,