I stared at the ceiling in the Reverend’s study as I felt his fingers encircling my neck and wondered if there was any possibility that God had ever existed.
This is how it began.
I first heard the word "whore" alongside my name inside the ladies bathroom on a humid Sunday afternoon at church the summer before I turned eight. There were whispers about my family and some shitty predictions for my future. They said I already looked like a 'fast one' and in my innocence, I thought they were talking about running. Sad, right?
A few years later, Reverend Carter asked to see me after school. I’d reluctantly agreed to stop by his office and got there late. My head was buzzing with the feeling that only mediocre high-school weed can give you. His uneven eyebrows fascinated me from across the desk and I stared at the four wrinkles on his forehead as he “expressed his concerns” about some things he’d heard from some respected members of the church. He counted out my infractions one by one on his hand.
‘They’ve noticed you hanging around questionable people.’
(Fine, maybe I had been. I shrugged)
‘You caused a distraction with the low cut blouse you wore last Tuesday to youth group.’
(Ugh, I hate the word ‘blouse’)
‘Parents are threatening to pull their children from the choir if you’re allowed to stay in it.’
(I noticed he was starting to sweat a bit on his forehead.)
In that moment I knew.
I held his gaze and lowered my eyelids just a little. After years of practice, I was a master at ever-so-slightly biting my lower lip.
He cleared his throat. He cleared it a second time and then loosened his collar (of course).
Flustered, he spun around in his squeaky desk chair to switch the air conditioner to HIGH. The AC was high, but I was higher (and I could still taste the blunt on my lips).
I flicked my eyes toward his belly button for just a second and could see hair under his wrinkled white shirt. I worried about what the stubble of his beard would feel like against my cheek.
I uncrossed my legs and leaned forward a millimeter more in his direction just as he too leaned forward onto the ink-stained blotter covering his desk.
The choir was practicing downstairs and as the sound echoed through the rafters I thought for a second that I could see the music floating up to the sky.
His hands folded and unfolded as he stuttered and stammered through a half-assed lecture about modesty and abstinence and purity. He droned on about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the weaknesses of the flesh.
The weaknesses of our flesh.
As he licked his lips nervously I knew my time was up.
After all these years I could read the signs. He started staring more openly and fidgeting less.
I took advantage of a moment of awkward silence and looked down at the floor and smiled.
When I looked up again through my eyelashes he was starting to stand up. As predictable as clockwork, he declared in a booming voice that we should hold hands and pray.
Giving in has always been so much easier than fighting.
His sweaty palms gripped my hands and one thumb started to rub slowly back and forth across mine. I heard the anticipation in his voice as he put on his preacher's voice and asked God to watch over me on my path to righteousness.
It cracked as he got to the next part and tried to lower his voice.
’May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’
His hairy pot belly moved an inch closer to me just before he squeezed my hands at the end and said Amen (as they always do).
A few long seconds passed before he opened his eyes and looked directly into mine.
I started the countdown in my head.
The first veiny hand wrapped around my bare neck
The second hand wrapped around the first, almost tenderly.
I didn't even bother with a silent prayer for help.
By the time I heard the primal moan escaping his throat, I was already a million miles away.