Things Could Have Been Different: Hiking, Kissing and the Boy with Two First Names*

*Names and towns have been altered to prevent my granny from reading this up in heaven and calling the grandparents of The Boy with Two First Names who will inevitably speak to his folks. The Youth Minister will get involved. My dad will finally know the entire story. It will be a whole thing.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, I was invited on a make out hike during church camp in Hot-As-Hell, Oklahoma. That year, my boobs burgeoned, and I struggled to conceal the protrusions on my athletic chest. Still wrangling them into a B cup, I knew that the C cup lay in wait at the JCPenney. Though Aunt Flo’s proverbial visit to my sanctuary waited another 4 years, puberty tortured me with a compulsion to wear one of those t-shirts that reads, “Hey Jackass, My Face Is Up Here.” I choose to believe that the Boy with Two First Names invited me on that hike because of my killer wit and religious fervor. However, the day before we were to load the 15 passenger van home, he and his friends devised a plan that my tingling boobs seemed to both desire and fear.  Yet, I escaped the triple digit heat and spent a quiet afternoon reading—the first of many sexual encounters quelled by my intellectual curiosity. When my camp BFFLs returned, their tales of strange wet lips and sweaty hands tempted me to dismay. I, however, learned the art of being elusive that day. My polite but emphatic rejection of the Boy With Two First Names only deepened his urge for summer love.

While we innocently snuggled in the back seat of the van, my dad waited eagerly in the church parking lot for my return. He expected to see his baby girl, inspired by the Word of God and full of tales from single sex swim time. He didn’t anticipate the red-headed senior quarterback to be the source of my inspiration. That’s right, mean girls from high school, the Boy With Two First Names was captain of the football team. For, what I now remember as, months, he called me every day from the small farming community just outside my hometown where he lived. When he finally got up the courage to invite me to his senior homecoming football game and when I finally mustered the courage to tell my dad that I wanted to go, the tension in our house was palpable. “Honey,” my dad began slowly. “I, too, was a senior football player in Nondescript-Farming-Community, Texas. I know what those boys talk about in the locker room. It’s my job to protect you from the one thing on his mind.”

Things could have been different. I could have gone to that football game, enjoyed my first kiss and possibly had my first taste of cheap beer at 14. Instead, it would be another 13 years before I fumbled my way through a sloppy first kiss with a boy I knew to be gay. I never told my dad about how I nobly avoided the make out hike—never defended myself or plead my case. I was terrified of that tingling in my boobs and the obvious worry it caused my dad. I called up the Boy With Two First Names and told him that I had to babysit. Maybe I would have ended up as the pregnant girl in my youth group or been busted by the cops at some farmhouse party. Even now, I doubt it. If the Boy With Two First Names veered from the approved itinerary, I most certainly would have called one of my many family members in Nondescript Farming Town, Texas. On the drive home, my aunt would have called his mother  and blown the entire party to hell. I was a freakishly responsible kid. However, as I have struggled to understand my faith and sexuality, I often ruminate on this story and wonder if things could have been different. And if they were different, would things feel easier now?

Phalic Faith

I realized that I was in over my head when he started unbuttoning his pants. I had seen a penis in health class, and once, I saw a horrifyingly diseased penis in abstinence education at church. But here, now, after I had told him, in no uncertain albeit tipsy terms, that his penis would in no way make it to its desired place in my vagina, I started to get nervous.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I convinced myself that things wouldn’t play out this way.  He was gorgeous and tall and Venezuelan, and it was late and dark, and far away from my friend’s beach house. I just needed a place to crash. And, let’s be honest. This was Fire Island; his sexuality was in question for much of the beginning of our conversation.  Totally harmless, and look! An open Bible next to his bed! This is not complicated at all. When I visit Fire Island with my boys, I usually assume that my feminine assets are of little use to me, but my backward gaze on this liberating and petrifying night tells otherwise. I was newly-27, and this penis before me was very clearly interested in my lady parts.

As I walked home at first light the next morning, I took a detour to the beach. I needed to breathe in the salt air, and to breathe through the all-too-raw mix of relief, horror and ecstasy washing over me like the waves rolling before me. A small town Texas transplant and statistic-defying-virgin, I had learned early in my NYC tenure that a tasteful, yet sexy bedroom story is a valuable asset at a party of young professionals. Now, I thought, as the tide came in, like my rising hangover, I no longer needed to hide behind well-timed potty breaks, and my trove of quaint Texas country living tales. Don’t misunderstand. I was not plotting the debut of my new story, but there was something about that walk of shame that brought comfort that no full bladder ever had.

As far as racy party banter goes, what I had just experienced likely shared little difference to the awkward first sexual encounter stories most of the high schoolers I counseled at work face well before their sixteenth birthdays.  Except, when the time came to finish the deed, I flipped out, closed my legs and pointed to the open Bible. He finished our steamy, but conflicted episode in the expected way. I spent the final hours of the night huddled next to the wall, freezing, but too proud to ask for a sweatshirt–his roomie snoring above us. Now, I didn’t need a new sex talk alibi to be sure, but I also didn’t need this particular story, either. Not at my age, anyway. But that morning by the ocean, I realized for the first time that I needed something even more important, and maybe had all along: To not to feel so lonely in my mix of intentional-celibacy and newfound semi-sexuality.

The Christian faith is mysterious, a very certain reality that I faced on that beach, on that day, after that night. The Bible–a beautiful story of restoration with lots of crazy, and the church’s teachings on sexuality make more sense in a high school abstinence education class than they do when you are facing down the big 3-0 with as much bravery and hope and virginity as you can muster. I realized that summer dawn that I haven’t given up on revering that sacred flesh where my faith and my body kiss. But I felt quite alone in my experience of it. My community of faith –  the church, the physical body of Christ reincarnate, while supportive in my pledge to abstain, had done little to answer my ever-present quandary: How then should I live in this beautiful, sexual, curious body of mine? This is the question that keeps me up at night, and the one I’ll attempt to process here. Join me!

Yours truly,

A Hopeful Abstainer