This is a work of fiction.
Go to a Wendy’s in Nazareth, Pennsylvania on Eisenhower Boulevard with your parents. Make sure it’s the Wendy’s on Eisenhower Boulevard, not the one off Route 322.
The one on Eisenhower Boulevard is so much better since you can drive past the Nazareth Steel Mill.
This mill, covering a thousand acres, used to make steel for the entire country, for the world, and now it's decaying, falling apart, crumbling next to a polluted river.
If you have s-x before marriage, this is what will happen to you.
"Well, this is nice," your mom says, as you all get out of your dad's 1986 cream Chevrolet Celebrity in the Wendy's parking lot. "Spending time with you."
But you're together all day. Every day.
You're fucking homeschooled. It's right there in the name.
"Yeah," you say, as you open the Wendy's door for your parents.
"Oh, what a gentleman," your mom says. "Someone must have done a good job raising you. And so handsome."
You smile wide, like someone has just given you the best compliment of your whole life.
Your parent's names are and Melvin and Sharon O'Reilly.
They met a wedding in Utah after they both become born-again Christians. Your mother was the maid of honor. Your father was the best man. They were engaged in three weeks. He proposed to her in a parking lot.
Melvin said to Sharon in that parking lot in Boise: "I believe God is telling me He wants us to get married."
Here's the agenda:
- Order food;
- Eat burgers and fries;
- S-x Talk.
- Eat Frosty in silence.
- Leave Wendy's and don't ever acknowledge what took place.
You order a double cheeseburger, fries, Sprite, and a Frosty from the teenaged cashier with surprisingly clear and glowing skin. You get excited thinking about the Frosty. You love Frosties.
You realize that anticipating eating this Frosty is the happiest you've been all week.
When your father orders, your body anticipates, tightens. You clench your hands.
Your father has a stutter sometimes. No one in the family has ever mentioned or acknowledged the stutter. Whenever the stutters appears, usually when you are out in public, you look away, your face turning red. But you are also mad at yourself for being embarrassed and force yourself to look back.
It's not his fault, you say to yourself. He can't help it.
You go the bathroom. When you wash your hands, you look in the mirror at your oily, pimply skin that you obsessively check and hate.
You say: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
That's the Jesus Prayer.
You're reading the The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century Parisian monk, who wrote that "there is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God."
The Jesus Prayer is how you converse with God.
Someday, maybe hundreds of years from now, someone will write a book about how holy and fucking saintly you were. Look, you're so holy you're praying in the bathroom at a fucking Wendy's.
Before you leave the bathroom, you pull out of your pocket a picture of Sophia Schenk.
You met her at your homeschool group that has classes once a week at a local church. At this homeschool group, you take a biology class together, and you have study sessions on the weekend.
You pass each other silly notes in class. "Your epidermis is showing," you write. She writes: "If we study biology all the time, can we get atrophy?"
You are in love with Sophia and want to marry her.
"Davy, sweetie, your dad and I have talked about this," your mom says one day when you're talking about dating. "We don't believe it's best for teenagers to date. Since the point of dating is to find someone to marry, and you won't be ready to marry someone until you're at the very least twenty, probably much older, there's no point to dating when you're sixteen, there just isn't. Right? Doesn't that make sense?
"Sure," you say.
You are writing a letter to Sophia where you declare your love for her and ask her to run off with you and get married. This letter is at home under your pillow.
You can't run off this weekend though. Your mom makes and sells drop-spindles, which were used historically to spin yarn out of fiber, and you, dressed in a 19th century American costume, help demonstrate when she rents a booth at a fair.
Yes, you are a homeschooled teenager with acne who wears period costumes and drop spindles on the weekend.
You hear the bathroom door open and you shove the photo into your pocket.
"Dear heavenly father," your father says, louder than necessary you think, after you've all sat down and joined hands. "We thank you and praise you for this time we can spend together as a family and we thank you for providing this meal and ask that it nourishes our bodies in His name we pray, amen."
You glance over at the tables near you. At one sits a girl about your age wearing a cheerleading costume. She's eating with her younger brother and parents. She glances over at your table and smiles.
You give a tight smile and look away.
Time to nourish your body with that double cheeseburger and fries.
The s-x talk is coming soon, but you don't know that.
Your parents haven't prepared you. They don't even use the word s-x. They turn off any shows or movies that mention or talk about s-x. They even switched off the Cosby episode where Rudy got her period.
When Toddy and Mary, a young Christian couple that your family knows, got engaged and your mom saw a photo of them kissing at their engagement party, your mom was shocked that they were allowed to kiss before marriage.
This is going to be fun.
Yes, you dream about kissing Sophia. You haven't yet, but you've thought about it. A lot.
You say the Jesus Prayer everytime you fantasize about kissing her or holding her hand.
Not until marriage, you tell yourself. Not until marriage.
Your mom once told you: "If you're ever with Sophia and you start to feel, you know, funny or something, you can just say excuse me and go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face."
Your dad is eating his burger.
He is deep in his own internal world. He doesn't show emotion, except when talking about democrats and how terrible Bill and Hillary Clinton are. He often repeats himself. Does he do that because his parents ignored him, so he always had to repeat himself to be heard? Whenever he is home alone or has some time, he watches Harrison Ford's The Fugitive.
What are you running from, dad?
Your mom also her own secret internal world.
When she isn't weaving, or spinning yarn, or dying wool, or homeschooling your younger brother Ezekiel, she puts some red wine in a thermo and sits alone in the backyard, her back facing the house, staring off into the distance as the sun sets, meditating on some deep sadness that she never explains.
She sits there for hours, until night has fallen.
After you finish your burger and fries, and your parents finish their food, you are about to go for your Frosty.
This Frosty is the highlight of your day, your week, hell, your month. It's the only good thing going on in your life right now.
"So I was talking to Carol Stevens the other day," your moms says. "She was asking if I wanted to come down for the Williamsburg Yarn & Wool Festival. Anyways, she told me some news about Raven Moore. You remember the Moores, right? Sandy Moore, the mother"--you nod--"Raven was the youngest daughter, well she's sixteen now, and she's--I can't believe I'm saying this--she's pregnant."
She shakes her head and purses her lips, as if even saying the word pregnant was distasteful.
"Sandy is just in absolute shock. The whole family is. Sandy caught Raven trying to forge her signature on a medical document so she could get an abortion, but, thankfully, Sandy found out and stopped her, so praise Jesus for that."
Her eyes narrow. "You know, this is why you don't date. Raven's always been a problem child, always very rebellious, she's adopted, you remember, and they had a lot of problems with her. But she went on one date--one date--and she got pregnant."
You nod and say: "Hmmm."
Here it is, get ready.
Your mom looks at you: “You know how everything works, right?”
When she says this, you look down and your face turns red. She is talking about s-x. She can't even say the word. You can't even say the word.
You do know how everything works. But only because you went to the Nazareth Public Library. One day you found the section on human sexuality. You read a book that was probably meant to be read by ten-year-olds to learn about s-x.
You look back up and say: "Yeah."
"I thought so," she says. "I thought you'd probably read about it."
That's the beauty of homeschooling. That's pretty much all you have to do for s-x ed.
Is this how it went with your older brother? Is that he moved so far away and never calls home?
Nothing actually about s-x, puberty, contraception, relationships, body image, gender identity, sexual orientation, consent, STDs, or anything that might be helpful.
Not that you especially want to talk to your parents about s-x. But maybe a book would be helpful. A brochure? A s-x ed video? A class taught by an professional educator?
"We also wanted to give you something," your mom says, reaching into her purse.
Oh, wait, maybe something useful is coming.
She slides a book over the table and on top of that book places a laminated card.
The book is I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. The card on top is a Virginity Pledge.
"We've been praying about this and God really laid it on our hearts to give these to you," your mom says.
You take the book and Virginity Pledge, hoping the cheerleader next to you hasn't seen it. "Thanks."
"Do you want to say this pledge now?" your mom says.
You take the card in your hands and glance around, to see if anyone is overhearing this conversation. The cheerleader is looking over at your table.
If you swore, which you don't because you still believe it's a sin to swear and you'll go to hell if you did, you'd say, "Fuck, no, mom."
But you can tells she wants you to say it, she really wants you to say it, your dad too, and, goddamnit, you are a people pleaser.
"Okay," you say, steadying yourself. Maybe it won't be so bad. It's not that long.
"Believing that true love waits," you say, almost at a whisper, "I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my future partner-"
"What?" your day says.
"What?" you say, confused by his interruption.
"What was that part? I couldn't hear."
"--my future partner--" you say.
"--future partner--" you raise your voice, and the cheerleader looks over again.
You continue, lowering your voice again: "I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my future partner to stay sexually pure-"
"What?" your dad says again.
You raise your voice: "to stay sexually pure until the day I enter marriage."
A few people look over.
Your mom smiles. Your dad smiles. The cheerleader smiles.
They reach out their hands to yours, which you feel is excessive as there has already been the holding of hands.
"Can we pray?" your mother says.
No. Not again.
You want to grab your Frosty and sink into the hard plastic seat. You want to sink into the floor of the Wendy's, full of grease and crushed fries and ketchup splatters.
"Dear Heavenly Father," your father says, a small stutter at first. He's the man so as the spiritual leader of the household he starts the prayers first. "We ask that you pour your blessings onto Davy. He is going to have a lot of impure desires and we ask that he does not give into temptation and that he leads a good and honest life."
Your hands are sweaty. You open one eye. People are mostly eating their meals. You shouldn't care what people think, you tell yourself. Besides, we must be a tremendous witness of faith for all these people to see.
Your mom joins in now, giving your dad a break: "Dear God, we ask that Davy flee fornication. We ask that he flee immorality. We ask that he flee he desires of the flesh and possess his vessel in sanctification and honour."
Wait, what is my vessel? you think. No, not going to ask.
Your mom says: "We ask that he not give into his youthful lusts, but yield himself unto God. We ask that he knows that the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body."
When your mom says fornication, you hear a small giggle from the direction of the cheerleader.
This is totally normal people, everyone can look away.
Your mom says: "Lord Jesus, we know there is a woman out there for him. We know that if he waits, if he is patient, she will appear. She will be a woman of God, and as you say in the Song of Songs, may her breasts please him always."
Dear Jesus Christ. Please rapture us. Now.
"Lord Jesus, as you said on the Sermon on the Mount," your mom says, already ashamed that she mentioned breasts, and trying to get back on course."Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. We ask that Davy be pure in heart."
Your dad: "We ask these things in your name."
As they pray, as they say "handmaiden" and "Song of Songs" and, to your horror, "breasts," you think about what happened the week before.
You were in your bedroom when the phone rang downstairs. At the same time you picked up the extension in the upstairs hallway, your mom picked up the phone downstairs.
"Hi, Sharon, it's Lynn," a voice said.
Lynn is Sophia's mother.
You put your hand over the receiver so they wouldn't hear your breathing. You thought about hanging up but your curiosity was too much.
"Hi Lynn, how are you doing?" your mom said in a cheerful voice.
"Well, okay," Lynn said. "We're okay. Are you okay?"
"We're okay. What's going on?"
"I, uh, don't quite know how to talk about this but I would very much like to discuss something about Davy and Sophia."
Now you can't hang up. Now you had to listen.
"Okay," your mom said, less cheerful.
"I've been having a lot of deep very meaningful talks with Sophia," Lynn said. "And I'm so happy that she can share with me, it's really a blessing that we can talk to each other. Well, she likes Davy very much. In a romantic way, not just as friends. She's likes him very much, and she's wondering if Davy feels the same way about her. She thinks he might."
Wait, you think, it was okay to tell Sophia that you like her?
"If they both like each other, then, well, why don't we help them out a little bit?" Lynn said. "They don't know what to do. Sophia's confused, Davy hasn't really asked her out on a date or anything. I thought we could help things along."
"Oh, I see," your mom says.
This is it. Your heart is beating so fast that you imagine they must hear it on the phone. Your stomach is nauseous now. You might throw up. Maybe your mom will be okay if you date her, if Lynn is okay with it.
Maybe your mom will help.
"Davy hasn't said anything to me," your mom says. "And even if he did, well, it doesn't matter. Lynn, they're too young to be dating. Mel and I don't believe in teenagers dating. Dating is about finding your future spouse, and Davy is too young for that. So we don't see what the point is. There's too much temptation."
"Oh I see. I see. Well, I disagree, Sharon. I think they're old enough to try it out, it doesn't have to be perfect, maybe things won't work out. That's fine. It's fine if things don't work out, that's life."
"Lynn, it's not up for discussion on our part," your mom's voice is sharp. "We don't want him dating. Period. I don't think Davy likes her in a romantic way anyways. He's friends with lots of girls."
"I see," Lynne says, sounding defeated.
"I think we should just help them remain friends. That's the best thing for them at this stage in their lives."
"I see," Lynn says again.
Your Frosty is a sloppy mess. The Virginity Pledge and prayer did it no favors. This is the worse part.
The cheerleader and her family get up and leave. As she walks by your table she gives you a sympathetic look, as if to say sorry.
"We're going to see grandma on Sunday," your mother says, trying to change the topic.
You are confused. You are still thinking about s-x.
What does Grandma have to do with s-x? Why has she linked s-x with Grandma? How could she do that?
Your mom tries again: "And are you still up for the Elizabethtown Fair on Saturday? Can you help demonstrate?"
You look at her and nod. "Sure," you say.
Sure you can dress in a historic costume and drop-spindle for a few years and not get paid. Sounds like a fantastic way to spend a Saturday.
Your mom again: "And there's another thing, Davy, we wanted to talk about."
Are you freaking serious? What else could there possibly be?
Your mom motions for your dad to speak. He is, after all, the nominal head of the household.
"Davy," he says, stuttering a bit. "We found the letter you were writing Sophia."
This is the moment when your heart falls deep into your stomach. No, not your stomach. It leaves your body. Damnit. Damnit. Damnit.
"We know that as a young person, you're going to have strong emotions, strong feelings, but this is getting too serious. It's not healthy. We don't think you should see her anymore, outside of class."
"We just don't think it's right for you," your mom says.
"I see," you say.
Your dad is holding the letter. It's folded up.
You want to shout. You want to rage. You want to rip the letter from your father's hands. That's yours, it belongs to you, not them. But you push that all inside yourself right now. You realize: there's no point. They are not going to help you.
"I'm just going to put this letter in the trash with our food," your mom says. "Don't you think that's for the best, sweetie?"
On the drive home, you listen to Best Contemporary Christian Worship Songs 1994-95.
There's the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Best Contemporary Christian Worship Songs 1994-95.
God is good, all the timeHe put a song of praiseIn this heart of mine
And don't get me started on 1993-94. That year was a real rager for contemporary Christian worship.
It's either that or listen to the autobiography of Ronald Reagan.
When you get home, your mom gives you a hug.
"Love you, kiddo," she says.
Your dad gives you a pat on the back. He doesn't know how to touch people so it comes out a hard thump, sending you lurching forward.
He goes into the living room to watch The Fugitive.
"Are you suggesting that I killed my wife?" Dr. Richard Kimble says. "Are you saying that I crushed her skull and that I shot her?"
In your room, you hear your dad watching The Fugitive, and the thump of beater on your mom's loom. She is making another rug.
"How dare you!" Dr. Richard Kimble goes on. "When I came home, there was a man in my house. I fought with this man. He had a mechanical arm. You find this man. You find this man."
Harrison Ford's voice gives you courage. He fought for what he believed was right, even when other people tried to stop him. He had a mission, courage, and strength.
You take a deep breath and go out into the hall, putting your feet down as silently as possible on the old creaky floor.
You dial Sophia's number.
"Hi," you whisper, when she answers. "It's Davy."
"Hi," she says, unsure.
You haven't spoken to her since Sharon told Lynn that you probably didn't like her.
"Hey," you say. "I don't have long but I want to tell you something. I heard the conservation when your mom called. I was listening on the call. My mom, uh, wasn't right, she wasn't right about something, and I want you to know. I...I like you. I like you a lot. Yeah...that's what I wanted to say."
"You like me?" she says. You can hear the smile in her voice.
"I like you too," she says.
You smile. "My parents don't want me to see you."
"Oh okay," she says.
"Davy!" you hear the sharp tone of your mother.
"I have to go," you say. "Bye. I'll call again when I can."
You hang up the phone.
"Are you talking to someone?" your mom says.
"No," you say. You can't remember the last time you lied to your mom and it's exhilarating. "No. I'm just memorizing some Bible verses. I'm just saying them aloud."
"Oh, okay," she says. Soon you hear the thump of the beater on the loom again.
Your dad is still watching the movie downstairs.
"I don't give a damn which way you go, just don't follow me," Copeland says. He's one of the inmates who escapes with Dr. Kimble when the prison transfer bus crashes. "You got that?
"Yeah," Dr. Kimble says.
"Yeah," you say, smiling. You want to laugh. "Yeah."