When I was a teen-ager, my mother had somewhere gotten the idea that I would make a fine priest. She began subtly pressing the case when I turned fourteen, often saying things to me like, “Shy people make wonderful priests,” and “We don’t have a priest in the family, Edward.”
At first I didn’t see the quiet determination in her intent. I was too busy trying to figure out if there really was such a thing as consensual sex for teen-agers. I was consenting in every way possible. Not so for any of the girls I knew.
One day, during mass at our church, which I was forced to attend if I expected to eat and be sheltered, my mother let slip her little secret: “I have been praying every Sunday to the Virgin for you to realize your ‘holy calling.’ ”
“Ma, I don’t have a holy calling,” I said, “Unless you consider being a third baseman a holy calling.”
“The blessed Lady here believes you will make a beautiful agent of the Lord!”
“Ma, what are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about. The blessed Lady wants you to become a priest.”
“Ma, she never said anything to me about this!”
“You’re too young to understand how these things work. Through the intercession of our Lady, God is calling you.”
“He’s not calling me. Maybe he’s got me mixed up with somebody else! I haven’t heard a word about this from anybody but you!”
It occurred to me that my mother was selling me out to feather her spiritual cap. This was serious business, because my mother had just received news that her insurance agreed to cover the antique bedspread she burned one night when a lighted candle overturned; and only a month earlier, her blood sugar count had come down miraculously after hitting a pathological high. She’d been praying for both for months, and apparently had been heard, despite the fact that her insurance policy had lapsed, and she ate cheap two-packages-for-one cookies all day long. By all the evidence, it appeared that God couldn’t refuse this woman anything.
I was her next mission.
My mother’s prayers intensified when she found my condom (I only had one in those days, expectations being what they were), warning me that God didn’t look favorably on young men who broke His laws.
Knowing the blessedness of the woman, I reckoned that she was pleading for my indefinite celibacy to preserve me, in some ways like the Castrati, for greater things and earn a few spiritual rewards for herself as well. So there I was, a 130-pound innocent facing off against the creator of the universe for the right to make a pig of myself. I fought fire with fire: I went ahead and also prayed with passion and persistence. “God,” I said, “Don’t protect my celibacy. I’m not worth the trouble. Remember that you already gave my mother the insurance money and the low blood sugar count. How much are you going to do for one woman?!” I prayed hard. I searched for sex even harder. I even tried to outflank my mother with requests to God to allow me to show some woman, any woman, how deeply I could love another human being in selfless, humanist terms. But it didn’t work. God saw it for what it was, a cheap trick.
For a very long time, my mother succeeded. I remained a virgin for what seemed like an eternal torment. And so I lost the desperate war of trying to out-pray my mother. But during that insane war, I spent many years in brooding introspection over my failure. I never became a priest, but my brooding over the divinely-sanctioned delays in my sexual initiation turned to aggressive agitation. I decided to write the agitation away. I found writing to be a superb distraction from my hormonal demons. I locked myself into that reading-writing obsessiveness some young people use to sublimate more powerful drives. And I started composing stuff like this. Some might say I’d have been better off with a good sexual playmate.
Well, God finally did give up on me and my “calling” in a small motel within walking distance of my neighborhood. I had finally convinced the Almighty that I just wasn’t the wonderful spiritual agent he was looking for.