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Act of Contrition

My entire consciousness focused on the soft black hairs covering his forearm, the muscles under the short sleeves of his shirt, and his thigh, in tight black pants, an inch away from my leg.

He was a few inches taller than I and had to lean down to me when we kissed. His eyes were a deep, dark brown, his hair, thick, black and curly. Thick muscles defined every curve of his body. His shirts always looked too tight, stretched over his powerful, broad shoulders. He was the second-string center on our high school football team.

Sometimes when we were winning by a wide margin, the coach sent him in, after a touchdown, to kick the ball through the goal post for the extra point. I screamed his name from the sidelines. I wore a short white corduroy uniform with a twirly skirt and white panties to match. My white boots had purple and gold tassels. I was one of the high school majorettes, a baton twirler and high kicker during the half-time show, and he was my boyfriend.

We’d been going out since the previous spring, when he’d taken me to the Junior Prom. We declared our love for each other late one summer night on my front porch. Now we were seniors, graduation only a few months away. When he kissed me, I was transported to a new and exciting place, yet I felt safe within the warm circle of his arms. We held hands at the movies, our bare arms touching, resting on the upholstered arms between our seats. The heat of his skin distracted me from the screen. My entire consciousness focused on the soft black hairs covering his forearm, the muscles under the short sleeves of his shirt, and his thigh, in tight black pants, an inch away from my leg.

When we could find a place to be alone, we gave each other pleasure without, as we said in the 60’s, “going all the way.” That’s what we were doing on my living room couch on Good Friday, all afternoon.

We were ready to leap to our feet should my parents’ car pull into the driveway, but as it happened we had the house to ourselves for hours. He was the only person in the world who held, touched or kissed me. I eagerly took what he gave and returned it with all the passion of a young, first love.

Two days later, on Easter Sunday, he picked me up for Mass. As we drove to his church, he told me he would have to confess our sin before he could receive Holy Communion. Our Lord, he said, had been dying on the cross for us while we were having a good time on the couch.

He parked the car, and hurried to ask a priest walking outside the church to hear his confession. He didn’t look back as they scurried into a side entrance.

Loving me physically was a sin. We’d been taught before we were old enough to understand that even thinking about it was wrong. But I loved being touched by him, and I wanted to make him happy, too. I thought it was as important to him as it was to me, until he said it made him unworthy to receive the Lord.

I stood there, alone on the sidewalk, confused. Hadn’t I been a good girl all my life? I recalled my own confessions.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I was angry ten times. I talked back to my parents five times.” On my knees in the dark booth, behind a red velvet curtain, I recited the list I’d prepared and memorized.
The priest, a shadow behind a screen, answered mechanically, his voice devoid of feeling.

“Say five Our Fathers and ten Hail Mary’s. Now, say your Act of Contrition.”

But now, I was a young adult, beginning to think for myself. What was so bad about what I had done? Being angry, answering back Mom and Dad, and now, enjoying how my body felt when it was close to the boy I loved?

Did God want me to apologize for this? I just couldn’t do it. In another minute, my boyfriend was back outside, and we walked together into the church. When the communion bell rang, he joined the line moving up the center aisle. I stayed in the pew and watched him walk away, his hands folded in prayer.

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