There’s been a few life questions I regret with the answers I gave at the time, but thankfully not many. The one that lingers to this day happened when I was 19 years old, a life time ago.
Her name was Brodie, her first name ( not her real name but is close enough for this story ). And no idea of her full name these days as she does not appear in this countries electoral roll nor in any death notices. I checked.
Then again, she could be living in Bellagio or Varenna on Lake Como married to an Italian with three children selling ice cream and cakes to the tourists in summer and refurbishing boats in the winter, how would I know.
Back then I was regularly attending on Sundays a middle of the road, middle class evangelical Christian Church. For me at that time, I liked the minister there, who gave interesting talks, such as “Sex and Christianity”. This particular Church ( from my previous encounters with Churches ) existed in a Protestant Christian niche somewhere between unsophisticated but happy Baptists that I had recently come to know and wealthy but unfriendly Presbyterians that I had grown up with. I definitely preferred the Baptist. They were my first real friends and had only really discovered them by accident the year before. My new friends from there would tell me, if their light was on at home, drop in for a friendly chat anytime, no prior arrangement needed to be booked. And they really meant it. Simply amazing !
Like all Protestants since Luther, this Sunday evening Church’s half hour sermons ( which were more like lectures ) revolved in some way or another around “perfection”, where as the Catholics I later came across in life tended to pretty much skip the lectures and focused more on admitting that we weren’t perfect all the time, that we were human. What an idea that was for me. To my young ears though, perfection was an interesting subject. My mother was a Presbyterian and she would tell us terrible stories growing up about “the Catholics”. Though for some unknown reason, thinking back on this, the Church of England was not considered Catholic by her. But I digress slightly, as the guts of this story starts with the popular weekly sermons proudly entitled in those times as “Sex and Christianity”, or perhaps in other words “How far should you go !”. They were well attended by the young people, including me.
This is where I met Brodie on one such Sunday evening. Like me, she was 19. Not like me who worked in a factory, she worked down town on the ground floor in the clerical section of the Land Tax office. Way too smart for that boring job but she didn’t want to go to University, no matter what I suggested. I think both her anxiety and her older and more “sensible” sister got the better of her. I had a younger brother and I suppose this all made for a familiar and comfortable emotional match at some level.
Before meeting Brodie that Sunday evening, I would typically attend the Sunday morning service, which is where I had met another girl previously. I remember her face clearly, but unfortunately, I forget her name. She was only 15 years old at the time and each time we met, she would bounce up and down on seeing me and we would laugh and laugh and laugh. That was until one Sunday morning I turned up holding hands with Brodie. I broke this young girls heart that morning. I remember her stunned look in that moment and I remain very sad about that. I never saw her laugh again and I hope she found someone wiser than me whom she could also laugh with along life’s highway. I was sad too because I started dating Brodie, the one that never laughed. The one that was tough going and hard work, as in the good Presbyterian highlander tradition, to make it perfect. Must be worthwhile being such hard work. I was familiar with this approach to life, growing up as I did. The lightness of continuous laughter I certainly undervalued back then. Nevertheless, Brodie and I would go “parking” Sunday evenings ( as it was called in those days ) on our way home from Church, lying to her parents that we were going to the youth meeting in the hall next door. Telling such a lie was a slippery slope, if not an enjoyable one.
We would find some quiet back street or sometimes, if we could wait that long, further afield in the woods. Unfortunately, I had a very small car. Very uncomfortable leaning over kissing for what could have been hours. The windows would steam up as we travelled to other planets. Hot stuff. Even if we wanted to do something more than kissing, would have been impossible in that tiny car. But I wasn’t complaining. I was glad I actually had a car. One such “evening””, after an hour or so of long very hot kisses, they were interrupted with short breaks where I would notice that another dark blue button on her blue blouse had somehow unbeknownst to me had become undone. I could see more of her white bra holding up what looked to me, to be extremely tempting. The top rim of her bra was slightly lacy and understated. I have a very clear picture of that, still. The side view, under the blouse. Eventually, Brodie leaned back as if none the wiser and said these exact words to me:
“My friends think you do not love me.”
I was shocked that she would say such a thing.
“Of course I do, what makes them say such a thing ?”.
She replied cooly, “Because you won’t make love with me.”.
“But we are not married” I said as a reflex. What was I thinking.
“So”, she replied.
I tried to explain the sermon. Christians waited till they were married.
“Don’t be silly, everyone is doing it”, she persisted.
“All our friends”, she replied.
My mind ran over their faces from the Church service earlier on. My intuition told me she was right, but my mind did not agree. What would I say these days ? I would say “What if you got pregnant” and she would say “Silly, I am on the pill”. “Really ?” I could have said and she would of course say, “Yes, I have been on it for months waiting for you.”. And if I had asked her where could we go, she would have had an answer for that question as well. Oh dear. If only I had said all that. But then again, we never laughed much and it probably would have ended after 7 years of boring marriage, though the kissing I knew was the best, so maybe not.
In that life changing moment, it was me that was more serious and said, “No we can’t do that, that wouldn’t be right.”. I got to be right and lost what I wanted. What a dumb choice. To be right instead of getting what I wanted; to be happy. Years later I found out she really was right, they were all doing it, except silly old perfect me wanting to go to heaven and there it was straight in front of me with a clear invitation.
She promptly dumped me. A couple of days later, probably a Tuesday, her strict father drove across town and delivered to our front door a box of music I had lent Brodie. Luckily I had not answered the door, as I heard how angry he was throwing down the box and storming off. I could only guess why he was angry. Brodie would have been crying, like me. And for some reason in her father’s head, it was all my fault that his lovely daughter was crying. In a way, I suppose it was all my fault, though not in the way I suspect he was thinking. I never told anyone what had gone down and no one ever asked. For all concerned, I was the bad boy who had dumped her for not wanting to “have sex” with me and as a consequence, was ostracised from the Church, no longer the perfect pilgrim. That was when I took up photography instead, but that is another story.
A few years later I was working on a short contract in the head office of the Department of Roads, in the Bridge section to be exact. There were two main departments. One for roads and one for bridges and they hated each other. The roads more so in my experience. There were 3,000 roads and 6,000 bridges, so the bridges won that one and as they would say, it was them that joined up all the roads. However, the bridges always had to be built first as they took longer and the roads built later, so the game persisted with the roads being built at a different height to the bridge which made the bridges look bad when we later come to drive over them, with a bump where the bridge joined the road.
In the process of navigating the departments politics, I met a management consultant there who was caught up in the internal politics fight for funds and we learnt a bit about each others pasts in a joint unacknowledged exercise to find common ground. I discovered that he attended the very same evangelical Church I mentioned. An echo from the past. I told him that I had a girlfriend there once and her name was Brodie. He even knew her and told me she went “very wild” after me and then when her father died, she settled down. In other words, in plain English, she had stopped screwing around. He didn’t ask what happened between us and I never elaborated. All my fault, I suppose, that she went screwing around. Would not have been very nice of me to change an old story. I wish her well. Good for her. It was me that missed out on all that screwing around. Nothing was said after that and I never saw this management consultant again either.
© 2020, James Harry Burton. All rights reserved.