Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2004
I am a
well trained woman.
I am a
well trained woman.
Jen, a tall, clear girl, and I sit in her truck at stop lights, she holds my
hand through leather gloves making it hard to remember the texture and warmth of
our more real fingers. It’s winter
and dark here in this salty city as I talk about my mother’s need to scare me
off sin and predators, as she talks of lovers she’s had in thrift store
changing rooms, as we talk about our loss of language with men.
mother would say we speak in tongues,” I tell her.
points at the windshield. “Fog
needles,” she says as they roll icy down the glass.
are in love, and snow storms are mystical. Every
day for the past month at
we walk toward each other
over frozen, downtown grass to stand behind the junkyard’s cottonwood tree,
our arms warming against each other as we kiss and listen to the bend of frozen
metal. Sometimes the junk man sees
us, his orange coveralls faded to pink, and sometimes he nods hello.
When we stopped being afraid and nodded back, he started talking.
never been in love,” he says sometimes, the cottonwood cracking a little in
the wind. “I seen a lot of people
in love, though. In the movies.”
junk man smiles.
move toward the fence and away from his eyes.
Jen’s fingers press cool against my forehead as I relax toward her.
would think with all this smileyness and touching, with all the bang and pop of
infatuation, with all the hoopla of love, I’d finally, once and for all, be
able to stop thinking of God’s rhetoric.
I live in the City of
a salty city by an inland sea.
heard of it. The golden angel.
The Olympics. The snow.
I was what they call a child of God, and though I stopped being this a year ago,
I am a well trained woman.
work-friend Reina says I’m poisoned.
hija, you just got to let all that shit go,” she says, chewing on her
salad. “You know, like cast some
kind of Wall-Mart spell and be done with it.”
knows I still hear the voices of belief. She
says she used to hear them too.
when I was sixteen I was having sex this guy and I just couldn’t stop thinking
something was wrong.” She points
her fork at me. “It’s just
Catholic guilt shit.”
guilt shit,” I say.
often comes in the form of the following kinds of language:
righteous shall rise up and their multitudes of children will bless them and
this upholding of life will flow like milk and honey,” said Brother Romney
years ago, but I’m hearing it even now, even over beer and salad as if I was
still a child breathing God in daily. Brother
Romney was forty and ancient, a fixer-of-cars during the week, always greasy
fingernails, always blue tennis shoes, but he liked to sound biblical.
Once at church he stopped me in the hallway as I was thinking about
charity, as I was trying to feel every drop of heavenly love a fifteen-year-old
could make herself feel. I was
telling all the old sisters how pretty their dresses were even if I didn’t
think so. And I smiled sweetness at
all the brothers, even if they smelled funny or had hard whiskers in their ears.
Even if their hands were large and
frightening. And my lies, and my
lack of true belief, made me want to shrivel.
The world needs more smiles, a sister had told us earlier, and I wanted
to believe her, and so I smiled at Brother Romney.
going to see an angel someday,” he said. I
looked up at him, then looked away, but I didn’t leave.
I had always wanted to see an angel.
I had always wanted to experience what the prophets did, and see
something unexpected and brilliant. So
I waited for him to say more. He
paused, then closed his eyes, put his hand up, and spoke with Biblical force.
“You will see an angel, sister, and on that day, you will assume your
righteous place as one of my celestial wives.”
stopped smiling. I backed away a
little from his loudness. I looked
down at his tennis shoes covered in car grease.
righteous woman has her destiny,” he said.
He looked down at my neck which was bare and feeling suddenly cold.
then on, I wore turtlenecks. I moved
away any time Brother Romney and his blue tennis shoes started walking toward
me. I could often see them glowing
through all the dark trousers and wingtips, so it was easy to escape.
A year later, boys my age began looking at me.
I noticed their eyes moving up and down me from across the foyer,
eyes rolling over me from behind. I
avoided them and used Godliness as my excuse.
will never have sex,” I told my mother one day.
at least not until you’re married,” she said.
That’s what I meant,” I said.
years later, I’m still trying hard to buck the trend.
car washes, men ask me for my phone number.
I give them the Governor’s personal seven digits gotten from an aide
named Brenda who I kissed in the gubernatorial bathroom.
restaurants as Jen and I touch toes and knees, men wink.
If I’m feeling tired, I try to ignore them.
If I’m feeling vindictive, I wink back, little teaser girl kissing her
dark lips at them. If I’m feeling
the guilt of God for not wanting men, on our way out I slap my hand down hard on
their leering tables and make their eyes pop.
took me a lot of years to be able to do this.
I still always feel bad afterward.
are supposed to be nice, and I am, as I said, well trained.
Sundays, I eat pretzels and drink spicy martinis while critiquing religious
television. The sing song preaching,
the commercials for Christian window cleaner, the teary-eyed testimonies of
people who think they’ve seen His Most Highest Presence all make me laugh
somewhat too harshly.
looks at me funny on Sundays.
try to act secure and calm and cynical, but even after four or five drinks, all
those years of righteous language still echo and pierce me.
is no happiness without Godliness,” says the white-haired television preacher.
He is surrounded by flowers, an easterner’s version of heaven on earth.
“Sinners are just fooling themselves.
God is never a fool.”
audience says, “Amen.”
look over at Jen, then look away, press the mute button.
do you torture yourself, Rhonda?” She
turns off the TV, sits in front of me on the coffee table and begins to kiss my
eyes, but my mind filled with drinks and guilt slips sideways and nothing Jen
does, not her more forceful kissing, not her biting teeth, or even her most
pleasant nakedness can bring me back around.
year ago I was still celibate and singing in church.
that’s my problem.
only been 365 days since I was praying and avoiding sex daily.
I wish I could say I was now reborn in women’s bodies, that merely
touching the under curve of my first woman’s breast burned God right out of
says I shouldn’t expect miracles.
milagro enough you don’t go to that
stupid church any more,” she says during our morning break.
I need an exorcism,” I say. “You
know people who can do that, don’t you?”
try burning something,” she says. “After
my ex left me, I burned all those expensive silk suits of his and felt a lot
picture myself standing naked in front of a bon fire, roasting marsh mallows,
inviting the neighbors over, and because the image is pleasing, that night after
work I look through the shelves of a thrift store for things I could burn.
I grab a few ragged Books of Mormon, a few Miracles of
Forgiveness, and a pair of white shoes because white is delightsome for
Mormons. As I pass the dolls, I grab
a few limbless Barbies, just because. But
in my back yard at home, the pile does not look very impressive, and I feel bad
because the grass will die under the flames, and then there’s that problem of
not having a burning permit, and it’s hard for Mormons to do illegal things.
So I take the pile inside and put it in my kitchen sink.
I try to light one of the doll’s dresses, but they are apparently fire
retardant. I light another match,
hold it against the edge of a Book of
Mormon page. Nothing happens.
I light a candle and put it under the pile, but it goes out.
call Jen and say a little too shrilly, “I need lighter fluid right now.”
As we drive in her truck, I try to focus on her and nothing else.
in winter, her eyes are so dark and small they pull me into her brows and make
me want to drive without speed or movement or need.
Jen seems so new and shiny and lightly smiling all the time.
When we kiss, she does not get interrupted by images of a fiery God or
blue tennis shoes.
tells me she’s had her problems with Jesus, but I guess it’s easier for
Lutherans. Somehow, now, she is
envy her beyond words.
at my house I say to her, “You make me so jealous,” as I squeeze gas onto
the Barbies. I light another match
and this time the pile opens into blue flame.
Jen’s eyes go a bit big as the fire expands up the ceiling turning it
black. A bit of flame leaps out at
my arm, but I don’t move. I want
to feel every cleansing moment.
that night, as I drink a martini, my arm bandaged and raw, I think of Sister
Avery telling us 12-year-old girls to obey, no matter what.
dear, young sisters, know this, that only by obedience to the higher laws and
the priesthood will you ascend.” She
beamed at us. She always beamed at
us. Beaming and obedience were like
gold in a woman.
hear these things enough and even the smallest act of defiance seems grand and
Once when we were at Sister Avery’s house making lacey bible covers, she whispered in my ear.
are a very special angel,” she said. “God
has big plans for you.”
lips vibrated velvet against my head. Her
breath was very warm. I stared at
the soft hairs on her arm and suddenly wanted to touch them.
I had never really wanted to touch anyone before, certainly not the
brethren, and not my friends at school, though, once, at a church sleepover
Susie Davidson crawled into my sleeping bag in only her panties, and we laid
there breathing fear. We didn’t
touch, though. We didn’t even
speak. And we never looked at each
something about Sister Avery’s warm, real-woman’s body so close to my face
made me want to do something like put my fingers against her.
And then I did, just touched her arm for the lightest moment.
I told myself all I wanted was to feel her spirit.
She wore thick glasses, and pink, heavy lipstick, and always smelled like
bread dough, but her mouth was beautiful.
will be a holy mother of missionaries,” she whispered.
wanted was to touch the grease of her lips.
year ago I had never tasted liquor or a woman’s mouth.
year ago I was chewing on sacrament bread passed around by a boy with a short,
fat tie. I looked normal enough in a
peach colored skirt. I sang hymns
from memory. I still smiled at
people. I had been busy at college,
so people didn’t yet fear my lack of attachment to men.
Sister Woodson with her loose dentures was at the podium talking about
the white and delightsome race of God. I
looked over at Brother Aguilar. He
was sleeping. Then the toupee man
stood up and read a poem full of modern saints and peculiar people and
procreation, and he looked right at me and said, “Too many of us take our
wonderful savior for granted by not repenting each and every day.”
As he sat down, I pulled my skirt a little lower over my knees.
I crossed my legs. Susie
Davidson-Smith was playing with her new baby.
She, apparently, had repented. I
pushed my fingernails into the flesh of my palms, and looked into the arc lamp
when the shimmering started.
my eyes opened or closed, I could see beautiful light sparking like water, an
electrical movement spreading down through the air.
a moment I thought maybe I was seeing spirits.
didn’t felt pure or impure.
after a while, my head began to hurt.
Reinita said I had had a migraine, but I didn’t care.
After twenty-five years, I decided this was the vision I needed.
This would be the sign.
I could leave it all behind for good.
next Sunday, I shook hands with the glasses man and the choir lady and the old
women on the back row who often cried when they saw me.
The Bishop smiled and I smiled. I
didn’t look at brother Romney with his greasy shoes and slick hair and
thought that would be it, the end of a perfectly virginal existence, the end of
my pseudo-celestial, guilt-ridden life.
next day I bought a leather jacket and walked into a lesbian bar.
want a martini,” I said. “A blue
one.” I had always liked how
smooth and angular martini glasses looked on television.
The bartender sat it down all frosty in front of me.
Blue glowing coolness against my fingers.
I sipped a little and felt instantly drunk.
A black woman sat next to me. Her
head was mostly shaved, and she was beautiful.
I stared at her stained, juicy lips.
never seen you here,” her mouth said.
I said to her mouth. My new jacket
was a squeaky, stiff skin. I liked
that it had small chains around the cuffs. The
metal of them made me feel something like strength.
Michele,” the beautiful lips said. The
bartender brought her a beer without her having to ask.
She put two cigarettes in her mouth, lit them, then offered me one.
I took the cigarette to distract me from my staring.
I smelled the tobacco, tasted the filter that had just been in her mouth.
I sucked in a bit of smoke and started coughing.
hand was close to mine and so dark, so perfectly shaped, so easily holding the
cigarette all lazy and ashing. The
bar was getting crowded with blonde and brunette and red-headed women, all
shapes of women, all smells and undulations.
turned back to her beer, then looked at me.
I looked at my martini.
jacket,” she said, touching my sleeve.
waited for a minute, looked down and said, “I like your hair.”
laughed. “Thanks,” she said.
wanted her to touch me before I bolted, before God appeared to berate me, just
as I knew He would, on a large LCD screen above her head, direct from his own
personal polygamist planet. When I
saw someone wearing blue tennis shoes, I thought of running, but I had already
sipped the martini. It was too late
to go back.
tried to breathe slowly. “Take me
outside,” I said, and Michele did, and she kissed me in the parking lot, my
lips immobilized from excitement and an absence of air.
Her head was so bald, damp from the heat of us, and sweet to touch.
faintly, very faintly I heard Sister Avery say, “Thou shalt not commit sexual
endeavors of any kind except within the procreative bonds of matrimony,
specifically those bonds that are established within God’s holy of holy
temple.” Her voice seemed to be
coming from the tree behind the bar, but when I looked, there were only leaves
and pigeons. Michele continued to
kiss me, and Sister Avery continued to talk about celestial this and holy that,
and eventually I had to bite my inner cheek.
something wrong?” Michele asked. She
pulled at me, her hands strong on my leathery, wobbling arms. I had that sense
of needing to pray which Mormon’s often do for inner peace, but when I sipped
the martini, I had vowed never to do so again.
feel kind of funny,” I said. I
backed away a little. “That
martini must have been a strong one.” I
kept backing away, backing toward the street, and, yes, I left Michele, a tall,
lippy woman, standing beautiful and uncertain on the asphalt.
is how it is to be poisoned.
I finally had the guts to flirt all winking and sultry with the
a . . . and she’s a . . . and don’t trust . . .and no good . . .” came
murmuring to me through the plywood door.
I took a tour at the Governor’s mansion and Brenda Smith said she liked dark
girls as she pinned me to the wall mirror in the bathroom, even as we started to
rip at each other, I thought I could hear Sister Avery’s voice coming out of
the toilet all garbled and liquidy.
ssssspirit . . .”
sucked at Brenda’s tongue, but couldn’t focus.
The drowned words kept coming until I ran fast, leaving my new leather
now, one year, 720 martinis, and eleven interruptus kissing episodes later,
I’m here trying it again.
met Jen under the cottonwoods behind our offices, and we had sandwiches in our
warm hands, but even as we talked, the pigeons and leaves would rustle their
guilt-voices at me, chasing me back to my office and an empty afternoon.
Still, every day I would go outside and Jen would be there, and she was
calm, and she was secure, and her face would be lightly smiling, and her
sandwich would be lightly melting, and my organs would turn inside-out for her
dark dark hair. After a few weeks,
she came over to me and said, “I guess we like trees,” and I looked right at
her, and she fell on top of me, and we fell on the grass in our skirts, and I
was able to kiss without stopping. Eventually
I let her take me to her house.
was something wholly new to me, the air against my skin, the unapologetic
movement of my flesh, and Jen’s eyes watching me.
just don’t get naked.
night when we were rolling around on her carpet all sweat and nothing, I noticed
how quiet things were.
I said. I looked out the window at
the arc lamp. It was so bright.
So shimmery. Then the
electricity of it pushed deeper into in my irises.
“What beautiful lights,” I said, and I laid back and closed my eyes
as Jen kissed me all over. The air
around us stayed silent.
having a vision,” I said.
laughed. Jen kissed.
my headache started, a large, expanding throb, and I began to wonder if someone
might be looking at us through the window.
just doesn’t last for Mormon girls.
few weeks later Jen drives me to the flat, briny lake north of the city because
she and I think it will be a little kinky, and thus religiously distracting, to
make out in her truck on the edge of a dead lake, this ancient sea where real
desert sunsets go to the lowest horizon line, slightly curved with the earth’s
roundness. The lake looks pink for a
moment, and then Jen begins kissing and biting my ear, and then I’m kissing
and biting her ear. My head is
quiet, the water is glassy, and Jen’s lips are smooth.
Stars begin to show through black clouds, then Jen bites my tongue.
can feel the hair on my neck sensitize.
voice begins to speak behind us.
I say matter-of-factly. “The
Bishop is speaking again.” Jen
kisses me a little more deeply, then coos into my ear.
I try hard to focus on the moment, on Jen’s whispering accent,
Minnesotan, and the scratchiness of her nose, and the way my skin feels like
something newly ocean wet. I try to
think about her earring clicking against my teeth. I
focus on her hand touching my neck, and then that toothpaste kiss of hers
dissolving in my fearful, needy mouth.
try not to think about all the staring eyes of the past as I unbutton her shirt.
I am a well trained woman.
I say, sitting up. I’m breathing
fast. I try to look like I’m
looking at the lake, the calm water, the lack of brine flies.
There seems to be lightening to the northeast, but it’s winter.
baby, we’re all alone out here,” Jen says, touching my cheek.
I say. “Yes,” I say.
“I will relax,” I say.
sit and look at the stars as I breathe and breathe.
She rubs my hand, then my neck, then she’s kissing my ear again, and
I’m rubbing the softness of her belly, and I’m almost completely present
with the depth of her flesh when light flashes somewhere near us.
I duck as I always do when lightening or God are near by.
hear the boom.
was close,” Jen says.
flash, and a huge sound cracks the air.
steering wheel, the dashboard begins to vibrate, and as I look up, I think this
is the end and everything they said to us about Revelations was right,
and soon now we’ll hear the trumpets and see the blood red moon and know our
love of women’s lips has doomed us to always smolder in eternal, boring time.
is my fault,” I whisper. “I’ve
brought this on you.”
a flash of light goes off in front of me, right in my eyes, blinding.
The familiar shimmering starts, and I am full of fast fast breathing.
My head gets light. A large
pulsing hum fills the cab, and my eye sight starts to bend.
going over,” I say.
Jen says, “it’s just a storm.” I
can feel her stroking my arm, my hair, my neck, but she’s a blur.
I want to open my mouth to her and distract myself from the oncoming
hellfire. I form my lips and get
ready to relax into her skin, but that’s when the language comes.
. . . and the nothing . . . and the blue mother virgin . . . and the heart roses
of evil . . . and the crystalline sphere of Adam . . .and the floating planet
Kolob circling with speed and joy . . .”
in front of me is light on water. I
can’t see the truck or the storm or Jen anymore.
. . and fluorescent virgins . . .and post-nuclear ochre mountains . . . and
round songs with notes beyond joy. . .”
are not the voices I’m used to. They
slowly edge into me, slowly gleam through the pores of my skin.
I was young, I had wanted to see angels, but I had expected them to wear white
suits and ties, and speak like Joseph Smith with an
hadn’t expected this.
brain is sparks and purple language.
reach out to touch one of the spiraling words.
When I put it in my mouth it tastes like amethysts.
whether or not this is God sending me a message in rain and language, the
hugeness of the universe begins to open me in a lovely, painful way for the very
first time. Fear begins to burn off
me with each letter, with each vowel, with each cooling, purple word.
guess some people forget to be afraid when they are about to die.
my head begins to hurt. Flecks of
cold, multi-syllabic words cut into my scalp, cut through the thin skin of my
poisoned self, and I see and feel total whiteness.
I wake up in a hospital. Jen tells
me she had opened a window and my head was being pelted with splinters of icy
rain, and then my nose began to bleed, and she tried to talk to me, but I
wouldn’t talk, I wouldn’t move, so she got scared and drove fast to the
closest emergency room. I look up at
her, at the curtained-off walls, and I’m wearing a gown, and my clothes are
piled on a chair, and there’s an IV running into the top of my hand, and I’m
very smiley and cold.
Demerol,” she says.
I say. “It taste’s like grape
juice, or really, really ripe limes, or something egg-like.
Yeah,” I say.
looks into my eyes, takes my hand. “They
say it was just a bad migraine,” she says.
stones, like God, like some kind of mountain.
Yeah, like that,” I say.
going to be ok,” Jen kisses my forehead like I’m a child.
like Demerol,” I say. “Demerol
Later Jen takes me home, and I have long, cool dreams about eating rocks and kissing Sister Avery long and hard for hours, and days later I wake up, and Jen is there with her red tennis shoes and her dark eyes and warm hands, and I’m suddenly horny as hell, and I pull her down to me, I pull at her clothes and make ravenous, nasty love to her, and we are everywhere with it, the couch, the scratchy floor, upside down and turning at angles, and it makes me dizzy, my head still migraine uncertain, and at times Jen looks Midwestern-scared, but we keep going, breathing ragged hard, pushing and pushing against each other until my nose begins to bleed again, staining her carpet, and I laugh at it, and my head throbs righteously in the afternoon light of our salt city winter as I taste the toothpaste of her kiss.
And later, when I look outside, the air is gray, but nothing is moving, not the cars or the trees or the people. The world outside stays completely still.
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2002