Free Souls, Chapter 28

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 28

“I hear you saying that strikes you as a problem. Can you tell me how?”

The pale winter sun struggled feebly through the dirty glass of the Tiffany window. The cramped office was cluttered with books, papers, pamphlets, bulletins, spare stoles, and all the varied jetsam of clergy life. On the desk a portable Smith-Corona, not very old, sat nearly buried under a pile of hymnals and liturgical aids, and behind the desk, under the window, in an old leather-covered chair with a squeaking swivel, sat the Rev. Ms. Roberta Watkins.

Her voice was mild and non-committal, her expression neutral, as she regarded Sandy who sat opposite her in a wooden chair furnished inadequately with a squashed cushion.

“It’s just that I, well, I guess I feel I’m taking advantage of him.”

Sandy had at last made up her mind to go talk to someone about what was troubling her. No, not about Jeff. That was over and in the past. But about Werner. On this day in late February, here she was, and already she wondered if it had been a mistake.

“Does he say you are?”

“No, but I feel I am. For one thing, I won’t sleep with him, and I know he wants me to.”

“And why won’t you?”

“Rev. Watkins! I– ”

“Call me Pastor Bobbie. I’m not that much older than you.”

From the woman’s face, Sandy guessed her to be in her late twenties. But in her rectangular wire-rimmed glasses and granny-square vest over an ill-fitting black clergy shirt, Rev. Watkins looked much closer to forty. “OK . . . ‘Pastor Bobbie.’”

“So why won’t you sleep with this, this Werner?”

“Isn’t it obvious? The Bible says we’re supposed to save ourselves for marriage, doesn’t it?” She was surprised that a pastor, of all people, should ask.

“Does it?” Pastor Bobbie inquired. “But aside from that, what do you say?”

Sandy opened her mouth to protest. But was it such a strange question? After all, hadn’t she spent the last four years saying the Bible didn’t really forbid premarital sex? So why should she be so shocked if a pastor seemed to agree?

“I . . . I don’t love him.”

“So I’m hearing you say love is necessary before you have sex with a man.”

“Yes, isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily. Sex is the good gift of God. He gave it to us for all sorts of reasons. Physical release, mutual comfort, recrea– ”

Sandy wouldn’t let her say it. “It is for me!”

“I see.”

Sandy wasn’t sure she did. “It’s just that if I once started sleeping with anybody, whether I loved them or not, I don’t know, where does it stop? Why don’t I just sleep with any guy who’s willing?”

“Oh, I don’t think you’d do that,” the counsellor said heartily. “But even if you did, it might be a beautiful way to find out who you really are.”

“More like a crappy way to find out I’m some kind of a slut,” Sandy retorted to herself. Why didn’t she just excuse herself and leave? Why did she feel she needed to stay and make this woman see light and reason? Isn’t that what the pastor was supposed to be doing for her?

“But what if I got pregnant, and I didn’t know who the father was?” she ventured, hoping she’d found a good argument against the chaos she felt was being urged upon her.

“There’s always the Pill,” Rev. Watkins reminded her. “And if you forget or it fails, you can always get an abortion. It’s been legal the past two years.”

“Abortion!” she exclaimed, shocked to the core. “Isn’t that baby murd– !”

“Sandy,” the other woman interrupted her, “I believe it may be my calling to bring you into the 20th century. This is a new era for women, and I’m proud to say that our church is leading the way in giving us woman the rights we’ve been deprived of for so long. Including the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.”

Sandy didn’t feel like arguing the matter. She was sorry she’d mentioned it.

“Sandy, let me ask you a question,” Rev. Watkins said.

She supposed she didn’t have a choice. The pastor was going to ask it anyway. She nodded.

“Sandy, are you sexually experienced?”

What did she mean? “Does she want to know if I’ve gone all the way with a man? That’s probably what she does want to know . . . But ‘sexually experienced’ . . . Those grope sessions with Marvin, they were sexual, even if I didn’t enjoy the experience all that much . . . and a couple of times with Werner, I should have stopped him sooner, but it felt good to be held . . . sometimes I didn’t want to stop him, even though I don’t feel all that about him . . . She probably already thinks I’m a real nerd, not with-it at all; I don’t want to make it worse . . . ”

Against her better judgment, Sandy nodded again.

“Well, there you are!” said Pastor Bobbie, as if her counsellee had announced she was planning to become a missionary. “Whoever that previous encounter was with, you did it. And did you tell him you loved him? No? So in your current relationship, love shouldn’t be a problem. As long as you’re both consenting adults and respect one another, sexual pleasure can be a wonderful way to grow together, whether love ever comes or not.”

She kept her opinion to herself.  “She isn’t really ‘hearing’ me at all . . . I doubt Werner and I could ever grow together, the way he’s been talking about religion lately . . . I wish I had the nerve to tell her that . . . What if she believes the same thing and agrees with him? Then I’d really look like a fool . . . ”

”Sandy, how would you describe Werner?”

The change in direction startled her, and she responded with no filter to her words. “Oh! Talented– genius, even– brilliant, hard-working, patient, kind, funny, sensitive, generous . . . ”

“And good-looking?”

“Yes, in an artistic sort of way.”

“I hear you saying you have a hard time thinking of him as a physical human being.”

“You hear no such thing,” Sandy responded within herself. “I do. That’s not the most important thing about him, that’s all.”

The pastor went on. “I wonder if you have a hard time thinking of any man in that way.”

Remembering her fantasies about Jeff, Sandy felt her jaw drop in astonishment. Pastor Bobbie noticed the look but apparently didn’t understand the cause, for she said, sympathetically, “But I won’t make you talk about that if you don’t want. What I want you to tell me is, how would you describe yourself?”

“Myself? Uh, well . . . ” She was supposed to say something positive, she was sure, but she was at a loss. Idealistic? But hadn’t she compromised most of her ideals and wasn’t doing such a good job getting them back? Loving? Yeah, the loving daughter who refused to come when her father lay dying (the memory still grieved her)! And when was the last time she’d written or phoned her mom? Generous? Only when others were generous to her first! Smart? Not all that much. She knew a lot of people who knew so much more than she did. Was she hardworking? Some people would say so, but was it really hard work if you enjoyed design as much as she did?

“Uh, well, I guess I could say I like doing architectural design . . . ”

“You ‘like doing architectural design,’” the pastor repeated the words, shaking her head in pity. “Sandy, I really hear you saying you don’t deserve to give your love to a good man.”

Rev. Watkins proceeded to lecture her gently on the merits of self-esteem, but Sandy was too shocked to listen. Not because, once again, the counsellor was wrong, but because for once, she might be right.

“Is that it? Am I afraid to love Werner, because if I did, I’d have to let him know what I’m really like? And what if I open myself up to him like that, and it doesn’t work out? What if he goes back to West Germany and leaves me here, alone?”

An inner voice reminded her, “But it’s not like you secretly love him and you’re afraid to say.” She found it strangely comforting. “True, it’s not that,” she inwardly seconded. “Things– people– my stupid conscience– It’s– I keep feeling push, push, pushed into thinking or saying I do love him that way when I really don’t. Then I’d be giving myself away for a lie.”

“So you see, Sandy,” Pastor Bobbie was saying, “if you would just learn to love yourself, you’d find it easier to love those you come in contact with. I hear you saying you want to love your boyfriend enough to marry him before you’d engage in sex with him. But it really isn’t necessary. There’s all kinds of love. And sometimes God wants us to share the love of the body with another person for awhile, so we can better understand what His love is. Don’t you agree?” The woman smiled encouragingly.

Sandy didn’t agree. She couldn’t agree. She stiffened her backbone and said, “No. I think that kind of love is necessary.”

She felt as she had one time in her toddlerhood when she’d refused to pick up her toys before her parents had guests over. She shrank back in the chair, embarrassed.

“All right. Let’s say for the moment it is. So what is keeping you from giving it to this Werner? It sounds like he deserves it.”

“Because I don’t– ”

“Sandy,” the pastor persisted, “I hear you saying you’ll do anything to keep yourself from experiencing the joy and pleasure God means you to have in this relationship. I wonder, if you told him ‘I love you,’ even if you don’t feel it yet, it might open the door to your feeling it?”

“But I– ”

“‘I love you’ doesn’t always mean forever, you know.” The counsellor’s tone continued soft, but insistent. “Why is it so important to you?

Her response was barely a whisper. “Because ‘I love you’ is about all I have left.”

“What was that? I didn’t hear you.”

“Nothing. It was nothing.”

Pastor Bobbie lowered the wirerims and  peered for a moment into her face, then said, “Well, I’m going to give you some homework. I want you, next time you’re with your boyfriend, any time he does something you like, to say ‘I love you.’ Will you do that for me?”

Sandy couldn’t help it. She gaped at the woman in horror.

“I’m sorry,” said Rev. Watkins. “I should have known that would be too much for you at this stage. All right, then, you can say ‘I love you for that,’ whatever nice thing he’s done. We’ll work up to it.” The chair creaked as she rose and began to rummage on her desk. “And there’s a book I want to give you. It’s somewhere here . . . Yes, here it is.”

From under the typewriter she pulled a large square paperback with a strange design of a disk, white on dark blue, on the cover. At the disk’s top and bottom and right and left the word “REMEMBER” was printed. There were some other words in all upper case inscribed around the perimeter, but before Sandy could decipher them the pastor said, “It’s called Be Here Now, by Ram Dass. I want you to read it, and tell me what you think at our next session.”

Sandy took the book and examined the cover. Within the disk was a chair cross-crossed with lines, and seeing it, Sandy couldn’t help but think of an electric chair and the straps that bound the condemned prisoner in its embrace. She didn’t want to take it. “I really couldn’t– your book– ” she stammered, trying to think of a polite way to refuse.

“Oh, no, it’s yours to keep! I have a book allowance so I can buy these for the students. It’s part of my ministry.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Pay special attention to what Ram Dass says about Christ and Love. I think you will find it enlightening.

“Now, when would you like to come see me next?” Pastor Bobbie found a pencil and her calendar. “I enjoyed our talk.”

“I, uh, I’m not sure,” said Sandy, putting the book in her backpack. “I have deadlines . . . I’ll have to check my schedule and get back to you.”

“All right. Just give me a call.”

Out in the chill February late afternoon, Sandy considered where she should go. There was always work to be done in Studio at the Architecture school, but Werner had hinted at dinner and a study session at his place. But maybe she should just go home. If she had any claim to intellectual honesty she should give this book a fair examination, and do it as soon as possible.

On the bus she found a seat towards the back. This route had frequent stops this time of day, and she could be sure of a good half hour to see what the book was all about.

Pulling it out of her backpack, she laid it on her lap and opened the cover. On one of the first pages it said

THIS ONE IS
DEDICATED
TO
THE ONE EYE
LOVE*

“The One Eye Love!” Maybe she had been wrong to let the author’s Hindu name prejudice her against his book. Didn’t that sound a lot like the Single Eye?

She quickly skimmed over the author’s account of his search for enlightenment. Some term he used took her to the glossary, where under L she read, “Love–say the Word and you will be FREE; we do not HAVE love when we ARE love.”**

“‘Say the Word and you will be free’ . . . ” she repeated to herself, looking out the bus window at the gray streets, the gray buildings, and the gray sky. “Maybe that’s what Rev. Watkins meant by saying I should practice telling Werner I loved him, whether I feel I do or not. I don’t feel free now . . . maybe it would take something like that for me to . . . ”

But what did it say about Jesus? She flipped back the pages, her eye taking in pictures, paragraphs, drawings, and symbols. “That’s not too bad . . . No, you’re only half right there, Mr. Dass . . . Oh, no! Even I know the Bible doesn’t say that about the Lord . . . ” Gradually at first, then more precipitously, her previous openness to the book’s argument, then all tolerance for it, died and was buried under a mountain of necessary, justified rejection.

“No, no, no!” she barely kept herself from shouting aloud. “That isn’t what St. Paul said! You can’t say that he did!”

Finally one drawing, of Christ hanging on the cross, arrested her eye. She tried to keep an open mind, but the way it was drawn and the text around it convinced her she shouldn’t read any more. “Blasphemy” wasn’t a word she often had cause to use, but it was the word she needed now.

But it wasn’t just that one picture, was it? It was the way the whole book twisted love and enlightenment and Christ and Christianity into things they were not. And the Rev. Ms. Watkins, Associate Pastor for Student Life at University Presbyterian Church, apparently agreed with all this! As did the whole church, most likely!

And Werner, too. Werner, too. That’s why she couldn’t love him, she wanted to shout at Pastor Bobbie. “That’s why I can’t risk my heart and life and my whole soul on him! Because he more and more seems to believe the way you do, and it’s all a lie!”

She closed the book and didn’t open it again. When she got off the bus, she found the nearest sidewalk trash can and stuffed the book inside, using a stick she found lying in the parking strip to conceal it under the old newspapers and greasy lunch wrappers. “She said it was mine; I can do with it what I like.”

Once home, Sandy went up to her bedroom and found her Bible. It was lying under the nightstand. She used a corner of the bedspread to dust off the cover, then, sitting as she was on the floor, she opened it to the Gospel According to St. John and began to read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . ”

_________________________________________

*Ram Dass, Be Here Now, Lama Foundation, San Cristobal, New Mexico, 1971, dedicatory page.

** Ibid., page 118

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