The 1st time sex was openly mentioned in parochial school was at the beginning of my freshman year at Notre Dame, High School. At the start the year, freshmen were initiated with a 3-day religious retreat in the school chapel. There, in its little elevated pulpit using stories, the Jesuit priest Father Newhall, indoctrinated us against communism and the perils of hell.
He was a good story-teller. He began his tales slowly, in a whisper, gradually increased the tempo and volume and paused when needed for emphasis. We listened to his oratory spellbound. Once the scene was properly set, he’d rush into a roar of incredibility over the evils of communism and sins against God.
After a day to cover the Godless evil of communism he switched it the real danger lurking about us, sex before marriage. Initially I inferred he meant intercourse but it was worse, much worse. Even impure thoughts and kissing a boy for longer than three seconds were mortal sins.
No problem, I’ve never kissed and don’t think impure thoughts.
On the 3rd day, however, he expanded into more serious depravities, girls touching girls and self-abuse. I and sat enthralled on the perils of hell and his expansion of potential sins never imagined until his introduction and moved my hands from my lap to ensure a safe distance.
His final was a vivid story of a girl killed and sent to hell. In his tale of damnation, she visited another girl for a sleep over. In the bedroom at night, their hands touched one another’s private parts for a “moment’s pleasure”. After a pause his tempo and volume picked up as he asked,
“How could it happen, why would girls risk eternal damnation by allowing hands to touch private parts? “
After another pause he related how in the morning, on the way home, the visiting girl’s car was stuck by a speeding train at the local railroad crossing. He switched to a staccato frenzy and graphically described the violent impact, her body crushed in the crumpled car, the firemen struggling to get her out of the twisted wreckage, the blood as it oozed from her popped out eyes. With another pause he then went on a verbal rampage of her offending hand. It was severed by broken glass and laid asunder, splayed on a steel rail track, flattened to squishy mess by the train’s heavy wheels.
As we sat stunned in silence at his next pause he then thundered how the hand corrupted soul, tainted it with self-seeking pleasure and her soul now twirled down into eternal damnation. He then switched his voice and tone to conclude calmly, as matter-of-fact, her screaming while being stuck upside down in a boiling sulfur pot, her punishment not only fair but too good for her transgression.
Wow, I’ve never imagined touching another girl!
The pin drop silence as he stared down from the pulpit at his finish was broken by a wail. In a pew a girl collapsed, thrashed about and sobbed. Nuns rushed over and led her out, obviously guilty of the travesty the priest warned us about.
I knew from 8 years at Saint Clare’s to admit nothing at school but was relieved I was innocent of these new self-abuse and lesbian sins. I also wondered why one girl was sent to eternal damnation upside down in a sulfur pot while the other could get off scot free with a simple confession, an obvious miscarriage of justice. My questioning God’s mysterious ways was becoming a heretical thought occurring more frequently. The retreat resulted not in a recommitment to faith but my questioning it.
Puberty, however, marched on, my breasts grew and hormones coursed through my body in stronger and stronger swirls. Working on a math problem, reading a book, staring out a window, it didn’t matter, my attention would suddenly divert to boys as hormones ended their journey in my brain. There was no thought taboo. They fought for attention despite my attempts to divert them thinking of holy images. If I closed my eyes to convert an impure thought to Jesus, crucified on the cross, the hormones lifted His lion-cloth.
During my sophomore year, my sex education expanded. A few girls at school admitted, "doing it". A wild one even bragged about, "doing it" with different boys. She became an instant authority. We virgins listening intently to any scrap of information she imparted. We learned we bled, it hurt the first time, boys constantly wanted it and there was a "rubber thing" to avoid pregnancy.
Bookish, I returned to the downtown city library as things sexual were absent in the school one. In books I saw again black and white sketched pictorials of female sex anatomy, uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, wandering egg, vagina tunnel and a little bean clitoris. I also checked out male anatomy but having seen younger brothers naked there was not much to learn other than things got a lot bigger at puberty. I did learn when a man ejaculated, millions of sperm rushed from his testicles, spewed out his penis, squiggle raced up a woman’s vaginal tunnel and if she laid an egg on her uterus wall the sperm winner invaded it, closed the door behind him and bam, she was pregnant.
As the hormonal pressure cooker heated up, after two years of puberty, I committed my first mortal sin. To save on water and gas bills at home we turned off the shower once wet and soaped up with one of the little used soap bars Mom brought from work. Admonishments against self-abuse kept me from playing with my private parts but I rationalized, this excluded my breasts. I soaped, lathered, squeezed them, washed them again then rinsed them and rubbed them dry with a towel.
Menstruation justified a through washing of my pubic area. I kept telling myself it needed more soap. It felt good but after a few quick soap strokes I diverted my hand away to a breast, the priest’s admonishments of self-abuse fixated in my mind. Still, my hand would dash down for another quick stroke then move back up to cling to a breast. As my hand flitted about, I fantasized over male TV or movie images. Then it happened. I tripped across the forbidden line. I couldn’t stop stoking, I was Louisa, (Pina Pellicer), the girl who smuggled a gun to Rio (Marlon Brando) in jail, in the movie, "One Eyed Jacks."
We were escaping on a galloping horse. With eyes closed, bent over I stroked to the gait of the bouncing saddle while clasping a breast with the other hand. Just one more stroke, another squeeze, just one more stroke, another, I couldn’t stop. Bent over, one hand squeezing a breast, the other stroking my clitoris in a fury, it happened! A wave of intense pleasure spread from head to toe. I discovered sex, not as discussed or thought of but as felt. It felt great.
Worried others in the house heard, I turned on the water full blast to cleanse away guilt but knew I had committed a mortal sin, a sin the priest lectured about during my freshman retreat. I’d committed, an impure act of self-abuse. The squished hand on the rail road tracks imprinted in my mind stared at me as I dried and dressed. My sin was not with a boy. It was much worse than three seconds of kissing, worse even than intercourse. It was a perversion. I had played with myself, committed self-abuse, an admission no girl, even the “expert”, at school admitted to. I descended into despair knowing I was in mortal sin, that only confession could avoid eternal damnation, being stuck in burning sulfur or in a boiling pot.
I must confess at next Friday’s confession session. How am I going to say it?
I scripted my confession like I did before my first Holy Communion but now it was complicated.
Bless me father, I have, sinned. In the shower, I touched my private parts and experienced an impure act. No, sounds like I’m a pervert. It’s worse than intercourse.
I committed self-abuse, skip the touched my private parts. No, he’ll ask what was my self-abuse, what private parts, what was I thinking, was it the first time, how did I come to commit this act of perversion? The questions could be endless.
I’ll keep it simple. I committed and impure act father. No, he’ll think intercourse, want to know the name of the boy, if we thwarted God's plan and used a "rubber thing", if I was pregnant, where we did it? Better to plea an impure thought. No, you can't lie in confession. It had to be the perversion of self-abuse, then the questions.
There was, however, a glimmer of hope for an easy out. When we were to the nearby Saint Joseph’s church for our weekly Friday confession there were only 3 priests who heard them. One, old Father Frankie, known among the girls as “Father Chomp” because of his loose dentures never asked questions in the confessional. He was the chaplain for San Jose Hospital and could do a Mass under half an hour, the sermon limited a few words of, “Be good until next week”. In the confessional, he waited until you finished enumerating your sins, blessed you clean and sent you out with a 3 Hail Mary penance, end of story. It was also rumored he was a bit deaf. Father Chomp was a get out of hell easy pass.
The other 2 were not easy outs. One knew me personally. He was old and stopped by at our house on occasion to visit and check up on Mom even when we lived in farm houses. I was his little angel. I previously enjoyed going to confession to him because my sins kept me his little angel. To confess to self-abuse would change everything.
The only other was Father Pastoria, nick named by we students Father Pastrami due to his breath. We also tagged him the ferret, one to avoid. When saying Mass, his sermons dragged on and on and pushed the length up to the next hour’s one. In the confessional, he wanted to know every detail, always on the lookout for sins committed unknowingly or omitted. Even a standard, “I disobeyed my parents,” was pursued with which, why and how.
Marched over to Saint Joseph’s for our Friday’s confession session I immediately noticed 2 priests were hearing confessions with neither having a name tag on their door. By chance, when trooped in, I ended up second to the edge of one confessional. As a girl went the rest scooted closer to the pew’s edge placing me immediately up next. For the first time, I faced the confessional curtain with trepidation. My imagination expanded my terror as I awaited my inquisition.
I prayed Hail Mary’s for strength to tell the truth as my mind raced for the best phrase. Mostly, however, I prayed for Father Chomp. As the suspense built up it was apparent the confession for the girl before me was taking to long for a Father Chomp in and out.
Finally, the light above blinked off and the girl exited. I rose from the pew, entered the confessional, pulled the loose draped velvet curtain as closed as possible keep classmates from listening and knelt on the hard wood kneeler. My lips were a couple inches from the screen. The little wood door the priest’s slide open and close for confessions was behind it. A dull sense of doomed fate took hold. My heart pounded. I kept reminding myself to keep my voice low to avoid being overheard by classmates.
Suddenly the door slid open with the priest's ear bent to the screen. Even in the dark I could recognize him and knew he could me. It was Father Pastrami!
"Bless you, what’s your confession?"
"Bless me father, it’s been one week since my last confession. I’ve sinned. I disobeyed my mother by not helping with the dishes. I teased my younger brothers. I argued with my father."
“Why did you argue with your father?”
Relief, a diversion, I lied.
“He won’t let me get a driver’s learning permit.”
A brief lecture ensued on needing to wait to drive and the virtue of patience. Knowing as he rambled on about patience I needed more, I blurted as he finished.
"I cheated on a test"
The latter an offering gasp to offset my failure to mention self-abuse. As I said it, I knew it was another sin, another lie.
I’m lying to a priest! Must I now add my lies to the sin of self-abuse?
"Is there anything else?"
“Which subject did you cheat on?”
With a little further inquiry, my expanded lying and his lecture about studying to make cheating unnecessary I was let go.
As usual, my penance was three Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers, normal venial sins retribution.
Drained, I crossed myself, rose from the hard kneeler, pulled the curtain aside to the light and left the confessional. Instead of feeling clean as the curtain closed behind me ant the next girl approached it worse guilt assailed me than prior to entering. Kneeling before the altar to do my penance, my arms on the cool marble railing, my palms together in supplication I knew I was among the damned. I was in mortal sin, my soul black, doomed to eternal hell if suddenly killed in an atomic attack or by a car. My vile hands would send my soul to perpetual hell of burning sulfur.
As I mentally reviewed my plight I considered doing a bigger penance but knew only a priest could wipe away my transgressions. I was damned unless I fessed up to it all, self-abuse and now lies, which I couldn't.
Sunday, Mom, as usual insisted I attend Mass and take Holy Communion. I tried to eat something in the morning to provide an excuse not to as the Catholic Church required not only a soul cleansed of mortal sins but also a fast from midnight before communion back then. She, however, watched to ensure I didn’t eat.
At Mass, I genuflected and crossed myself as we entered a pew. As the liturgy of the Mass progress my mind raced for an excuse to skip communion. Kneeling in the pew, head bowed, as the altar boy rang bells to announce transubstantiation of the host my quandary found no resolution. With no excuse; I morosely tagged after when Mom rose in the pew and motioned me to follow. At the altar railing, I knelt, stuck out my tongue, and took communion then walked back, head down, to our pew. God, the Trinity was stuck to the roof of my dry mouth, my soul in unredeemed mortal sin.
Back in the pew, kneeling with eyes closed, I accepted I was an obdurate sinner.
God’s in my impure body, there’s no salvation for me. I’m on the dark side.
I tried to behave in the shower but soon sinned again. With mortal sins piling up, unable to wipe the soul slate clean, I repudiated my parochial orthodoxy, removed Saint Teresa's holy picture from my purse, took off the Saint Christopher medal hanging from my neck and converted to unrepentant sinner, never to be a nun.
Accepting my soul was damned; committing other sins no longer mattered. I created an elaborate secret puppet shadow to placate my actions. My disingenuous puppet shadow abetted self-abuse, looked forward to soapy showers, ritualized them and created erotic fantasies and casually took communion in sin. Another me was born, a secret me, known by none but me.
Eventully she led a life of adultery, my adultery.
Author Notes: With mortal sins piling up on her soul assumed to be going to hell a girl loses her religious outlook and develops a hidden life.