My seventh grade catechism teacher, Miss Godswrath*, knew what evil was. For forty minutes each day she impressed upon us the evilness of every song, movie, and magazine created since the Bible. She fortified us with stories of saints (virgins like Maria Goretti) who, rather than surrender their virginities, were burned, stoned, or stabbed to death. That was virtue. Evil, she assured us, lurked under every desk: in the hemlines of the girls who wore their skirts above their knees—transforming themselves into occasions to sin; and in the boys who looked with prurient eyes, allowing themselves to become aroused. We were a sordid lot. Satan, she assured us, wasn’t far behind and Death swooped down for the souls of even the healthiest Catholics.
I made the mistake once of raising my hand to ask, “Is French kissing a sin?”
“It can be,” she replied, her left eye a-twitch.
The girls gaped at me, (though they all wondered the same thing.) The boys studied their laps—except for Jay, a boyfriend of mine—who leered at me.
“When is it a sin?” I asked. My soul depended on her answer.
“Are you asking for yourself,” she demanded, her starched collar pinching her carotid. “Are you asking for someone your age? Someone young and not married?”
“At your age it is a sin if it lasts more than a few seconds—or if it’s too passionate.”
I pondered her answer. That should have been the end of it, but I needed more information.
“How do you know if it’s too passionate?”
I wasn’t baiting her. I was the most dedicated student she had. Possibly the only one who might be saved by her teachings. My skirts flowed below my knees. I eschewed nail polish, slouch socks, dangling earrings, and anything else that might mark me as Satan’s pet. I fasted twice a week before receiving communion and on all fasting holidays. I slept on the floor without a pillow as a penance for past and future sins. I wore a rope tied tightly around my waist under my clothes as a mortification, in imitation of Saint Augustine. I confessed my sins every Saturday—unless I committed one before then, in which case I buttonholed any priest I saw and requested the necessary sacrament. I was close to God. I was going to heaven.
But I did kiss boys.
My question afflicted Miss Godswrath. Her large blue eyes tripled in diameter. Her ears bloomed Irish pink. She opened her mouth twice to speak before any sound emerged. On the third try she managed, “The hands should be visible to anyone watching and the clothes should not move from the body.”
That was it. I was going to hell.
*All names have been changed.