Every Sunday, I sit in the same pew with my family. In the summer, the church is abominably hot, and my cotton dress sticks to my skin. In the winter, the wind tears through the bell tower, right through my many layers of wool. Whatever the season, my burning shame in that church never changes, never ceases.
I am fourteen and I am in love with my preacher.
Father Reed is a fine, imposing man, with his black robes and dark flashing eyes and thunderous Commandments of God. "Christ died for our sins," is the popular refrain these days. Not my sins, I am sure. I have not yet confessed them, so how could He know? Christ was too pure, too good and humble to do as I have done. To touch himself under the blankets after his sisters have fallen asleep. He knew nothing of the want in the tips of his fingers, the heat lingering in the pulse at his throat. He has never wanted what I wanted. I have never confessed, but I can truly be silent no longer. I must do something, or else I am sure I will go mad.
This Sunday, I am in my best dress, the one with the daringly low bodice and lace at the cuffs and hem. I button my coat up to my chin so mother does not see and demand I put on a more appropriate garment. I sit through the entire sermon, unable to focus on the Word of God, only on trying not to fidget on the uncomfortable bench next to Father.
After the service is over, I tell my sisters not to wait for me. I approach Father Reed and he invites me into his office so we may converse openly. His voice is still at sermon volume. My legs tremble. He does not know I am wearing my best dress, my best garters, my smallest corset, that my hair is curled beneath my bonnet. I do not know how to tell him. He will surely not want me. God will surely think me wicked.
But I do tell him. I tell him, kneeling at his feet because I can not bear to look him in the eye. I unchain my gold cross from around my neck and hold it up to him, an offering of all that I am. The church is silent.
Father Reed reaches down and raises me to my feet. He tells me gently that I am just a child. He says not to be ashamed of womanly desires, but here is not the place for them, he is not the place for them. My fingers close back round my cross, the metal biting into my palm as I flee from the church. Hot, shameful tears stumble from my eyes and trickle burning paths down my cheeks. Foolish girl, I tell myself, of course you are only a child.
At home, Father asks if Father Reed had any guidance for me. I murmur that he did. Mother wishes to know what it was. "To keep God in my heart for always," is my answer. I can't bear to tell them the truth. I excuse myself to the outhouse and lock myself in and cry. I am sure this is what a broken heart is like. I can never show up in that church again.
But next Sunday, I am back in that very same pew. Father Reed wishes to talk to me after the service again. He says not to fret. He is sorry I feel this way, particularly of him, and he knows what it is to desire, to feel like it will never end. "At least," he adds, "you don't feel as if it's ended until after it has." He asks if there are any other gentlemen in town my age to occupy my time. I bow my head, tears needling my eyes again, and say Yes, Father, perhaps there are. He tells me to go home and read the select passages from the Bible he has marked for me. I flip through them. They are about patience and wisdom coming with age, mostly.
They say men of God never lie. Father Reed has lied. He said he understood how I feel. He does not. No one does. I fear I shall feel this desire, this sinful shame forever.