Saturday, September 13, 2014

A scarlet letter

If I had not gone to visit him that day, if I had not decided, to hell with caution, to hell with my studies, to hell with propriety, I would not have lost my virginity.  

I would not have entered into the world of sexual experience that marked me, in my own mind at least, as an adult woman, no longer virginal, no longer innocent.

And, although it did not show on the outside, I feared it could radiate outwards and everyone would know that I had fallen from grace. 

The clich├ęs run thick and fast. 

I was nineteen years old.  The following Sunday I went to Mass at St Patricks in Mentone.  I sat, stood or knelt in line with the priest’s words, and chanted my responses to his droning.  I listened to his sermon without taking in a single word of what he had said and wondered why it was that cracks had not appeared in the brick walls of the church, or why a voice had not roared from on high to say that I had sinned so badly I deserved to be punished for evermore. 

Even my mother who sat beside me on the hard pew did not seem to notice.  She, whom I once thought could read my mind, did not detect the telltale signs of my sinfulness. 

As the time for Communion drew near, I panicked.  I could not take Holy Communion given my sinful state but if I did not line up with everyone else come Communion time, my sin would be obvious – the nature of it not, perhaps – but its severity, as plain as the Scarlet Letter around Hester Prynne's neck. 

The memory of this dilemma stays with me, but its resolution does not. 

Did I stay in my seat, my sinfulness on display for all, or did I manage to sneak up and pretend to take Communion, only to skulk back to my seat without the host in my mouth.  Or worst of all, did I take Communion as if I were without sin to escape detection and so commit the greatest sin of all, the blasphemy of receiving the body of Christ in a state of mortal sin?

First Holy Communion Day, before the sin.  

Every memory has to matter.  It’s not good enough to tell a story, to offer an anecdote, to introduce an image without some understanding of its significance, or so my daughter, who has started a class in creative writing at university, tells me.  

I have enrolled in a poetry class for beginners.  In the beginning it is easier to learn before the expectations of knowledge set in.  

I fear my poems will be simple things, unable to transcend the ordinary, unable to offer resonance or layers of meaning.  

I will clunk around in average words with my narrow vocabulary and the small girl inside of me, who as a ten year old fancied herself as a poet, will get in the way. 

She will say to me, you have to sound smart.  You have to use big and clever words.  It does not matter what they mean, it only matters that they look good on the page and that the grown ups who read your poems will be gobsmacked and in awe of the cleverness of a ten year old who can write such things. 

And I will scold myself for my clumsiness.  My blood will quicken and my gut churn because underneath I will know, it is all a falsehood. 

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