Backsliding Ch. 04bybzzzman©
It never seems to fail. Just as life with Sarah had started to return to something that resembled normalcy, change reared its ugly head and we had to fall back and regroup. Not all change is bad, however, and I've come to understand that now. I suppose that had things turned out differently, then we would have probably just continued along as we were... her wrapped up in her church friends and me living a life that she barely understood and certainly couldn't accept. Not that continuing down that path was completely a bad thing. We had sort of come to a truce the last few months and our relationship was stronger because of it. Certainly the sex was a little more frequent and she wasn't quite the prude in bed that I'd married.
Just a few days after Sarah accepted the new job with Salon d' Paris, Sarah had to meet with her pastor to give him the news of her decision to leave the church daycare. He was visibly angry and basically told her that she was on the slippery slope to hell for taking a job outside of the church. Worse yet, he warned, she was taking a job with a company that led women astray and dealt in the spirit of Jezebel. Sarah's meeting with her pastor didn't change her decision to take the secular job, but it did put her in a foul mood for several days. She was having some misgivings about leaving her kids at the daycare and the women she worked with there, but I reasoned with her that she could still see most of them at church several times a week. That seemed to help some, but she remained more withdrawn than normal.
The change in job situation probably would have worked itself out, but something else happened at almost the same time that changed our lives forever. It seemed really inconsequential to me at the time, but my perspectives had really changed from Sarah's since I'd left the church. The catalyst of change came from a very unlikely source: Sarah's best friend, Kelly.
Kelly Wells had been Sarah's best friend since our last year of Bible College. In fact, it was Kelly who told us about the job opening at her church. Not long after the three of us graduated, Kelly called Sarah and told her about the Youth Pastor's job at her church and suggested I should come check it out. We drove down, interviewed, and the rest is history. Sarah was always trying to hook Kelly up with some up and coming young preacher she or I knew, but Kelly would have nothing of it. Unlike us, she had come into this denomination late and still had that independent streak down deep. She ended up meeting a guy at her work who knew nothing about her religion. They started dating and then got married about a year ago.
Sarah came home early from a Wednesday night bible study service. I was in the bedroom on the computer reading some porn stories when she surprised me by walking in. I abruptly closed out the program and tried to play it off. If she realized what I'd been doing, she didn't acknowledge it. I could see that she'd been crying and was still quite upset. I assumed it had something to do with her decision to leave the daycare and the flack she was catching from the other church members. I asked her what was wrong.
"It's Kelly," she said. "She backslid!" She was sobbing now.
"Shhhh, come on now, it's okay. What do you mean, she's backslid? Do you mean she quit going to church or is she just going to another church?" I sat down on the bed beside Sarah and pulled her close to me to comfort her. She leaned in closer and started to cry softly.
"She quit church. She resigned from her Sunday school class last Sunday after church and didn't even tell me. She wasn't at church Sunday night, but I didn't think too much of it. I called her to see if she was sick, but she just said 'no' and sort of left it at that. When she didn't show up tonight, I got worried. I left early and drove over to check on her when she didn't return my call. I knocked on the door and Richard let me in. I found Kelly on the back patio..." she started to sob again.
I didn't say anything. I knew she'd tell me when she composed herself. I didn't have long to wait.
"I found Kelly on the back patio. She's already cut her hair and was wearing pants!"
I exhaled. I knew from my own indoctrination that there was a clear distinction in how women were perceived in her church versus how men were judged. A woman was held to a different standard. They weren't allowed to wear pants, revealing clothing, jewelry, or makeup of any kind. I knew, as Sarah did, that Kelly would never cut her hair or wear jeans unless she had consciously made the decision to quit her church. Once she cut her hair, there was no going back. The ultimate statement of rebellion had been made.
I knew how devastated Sarah must be. She was dealing with the anxiety of changing jobs, her pastor was upset with her and now her best friend had backslidden... just like her husband. I felt so sorry for my wife, but what could I say? Deep down, I secretly applauded Kelly for having the balls to stand up for herself, but I couldn't tell Sarah that.
"Did you talk to Kelly? Did she explain why she decided to quit?" I asked.
"She did apologize for me having to find out like that, but she said it was something that had been coming for a long time. She said she'd been questioning doctrinal issues since she'd joined the church. You know Richard probably didn't help, but she kept saying that he wasn't the blame. She said that he encouraged her to stay in church and especially not to cut her hair, but she did it anyway," she said, then looked up at me with a very serious look on her face. I'd come to dread that look. "She said that some of it was your fault."
"What? How the hell could it be my fault?" I had barely seen Kelly or Richard since I left the church months ago.
"Calm down. She didn't mean you encouraged her to quit. She just said that she'd wanted a change for a long time, but she was scared to. She was scared of the warnings she'd always heard about bad things happening to backsliders. She said she'd been miserable trying to live a lie like she was a good Christian while deep down inside all she wanted to do was be her own woman. She said that when you left and nothing happened, she began to question whether or not anything would happen to her. She said you actually seemed happier since you left."
I didn't say anything, but I knew down deep that Kelly was right. I was happier with myself than I'd been in a very long time. I just kept that to myself and let Sarah continue.
"Anyway, she said that she'd become so miserable that she couldn't take it anymore. Last Friday night when Richard came home from work, she was waiting for him at the door with a pair of jeans on. She even told him that she wanted to go out dancing. He claims he protested that she was moving too fast, but it didn't matter. Her mind was made up. Anyway, she said she wasn't at the church garage sale that Saturday because she was hung over from drinking the night before. I guess she felt guilty because she was in church Sunday, but I guess the guilt didn't last. She said that she started losing interest in church and wanted to quit, but couldn't get up the nerve. She was leading a double life. She finally couldn't be a hypocrite anymore, so she just quit going. Sunday morning she resigned her class and only told Pastor. Maybe that's why he was so upset with me when I told him that I was leaving the daycare. Maybe he thinks I'm leaving the church, too?"
"Seems logical," I said. "I would have thought the same thing. He'll calm down once he realizes that you're only changing jobs."
"I know, but it still hurts. I've literally lost my best friend," she started to cry again.
"Hey, I thought I was your best friend? Have you dumped me for another woman? See, I knew all along that you were a closet rug muncher," I teased; hoping humor would cheer her up. It seemed to help a little.
"Hush! You know better than to talk like that. You might want me to have sex with another woman, but I can promise you that it's not Kelly."
"So, dear, are you telling me that you're leaving the possibility open that I'll one day get to watch you go down on another woman? I'm starting to like this conversation already!" I laughed.
"Oh, sure I will. I'll just run out and go down on every woman I see. You'd really like that, wouldn't you?" she asked sarcastically. I just nodded my head frantically and smiled. She looked at my silliness and laughed out loud. We didn't say much anymore, but my attempt at humor seemed to get her mind off of Kelly.
We got ready for bed and Sarah fell asleep in my arms. I lay awake a long time wondering about Kelly. I thought about her becoming assertive enough to rebel and take her life into her own hands. I thought about her experimenting and trying new things without being encumbered with what other people would say. I bet Richard Wells was in for the ride of his life. I started to get hard just thinking about it. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamed of Kelly Wells. I dreamed of Kelly, but it was Sarah's face that I saw.
Over the next several days, I saw a change in Sarah. She was always a perky, playful sort, but since the meetings with her pastor and Kelly, Sarah was more reserved. I'm not sure depressed is the correct word, but certainly not bubbly or spunky like she sometimes had a tendency to be. She tried to throw herself more deeply into the happenings of the church. However, no matter how deeply she tried to re-connect with her church, I could still tell that things were different. I could only guess that what Sarah saw as an anti-conversion for Kelly and me must have opened a spiritual void in Sarah that she was finding difficult to fill at the moment. I had little doubt, however, that she'd eventually bounce back and find her rhythm again. She always did.
When Friday night rolled around, I found myself back in my old routine. Instead of heading over to the Broken Spoke, I came home straight from work to find Sarah getting ready to head out to Youth Service. She told me that she was going out afterwards with the youth again and not to wait up. I was going to sit around the house and watch some college basketball, but she suggested I call up some friends and go out instead. I was shocked by her suggestion, which was out of character for her, but ultimately I decided to take her up on it. I called up a co-worker and invited him to meet me at a sports bar across town. We met for a few beers and wings and watched a game on the widescreen. I was home when Sarah came in around midnight.
When she came in, I knew she was angry. She walked to the bedroom without saying a word and I wondered what I'd done to piss her off. It was her idea, after all, for me to go meet one of the guys at Players.
"Well, I met Kelly's replacement tonight for the Senior High Sunday school class. You'll never guess who it is," she said, catching me off guard when she didn't take out her anger on me. Without waiting for me to respond, she continued. "It's Sister Baker! "
Marilyn Baker was notorious in the church for her self-righteous attitude and for wagging her tongue about church affairs. She had a penchant for rubbing people the wrong way and until now, she had been kept out of leadership positions in the church hierarchy. Even at that, Sarah and Kelly had often found themselves caught up in one of Sister Baker's gossip sessions. It seemed that no matter how pious or holy my wife tried to be, people like Marilyn Baker found reasons to criticize. Sarah took the church's dress code very literally and she never strayed from their teachings. If her pastor preached against a woman cutting her hair, then Sarah refused to even trim hers an inch. If he frowned on excessive jewelry or makeup, then Sarah would refuse to wear any at all, including her wedding ring. The church preached against women wearing pants, so Sarah didn't even wear pajamas to bed. However, despite all of this, she just never could measure up in Marilyn Baker's eyes. She was the fashion police for the church and now she was going to be working next door to Sarah every Sunday morning.
I just let Sarah rant for the next half-hour. I knew that her tirade against Marilyn Baker was as much an exercise in relieving her own pressure as it was against Marilyn and her attitude. When Sarah finally calmed down, I cuddled with her on the couch, found a good program on TV and sat there until we finally went to bed.
When Sunday morning finally rolled around, I walked Sarah to the door before she left to go prep her Sunday school room. I reminded her that the company barbeque was going to be today around 2 o'clock. When I'd first broken the news to her a week before, she had been very much against going and used every excuse in the book to back out. When she found out that we had rented the Broken Spoke, she really balked. She tried to use the argument that she didn't go to bars and she wasn't going to tolerate being around worldly people drinking and partying. I shrugged off her excuses and reminded her that it was a company picnic, the bar was technically closed. She finally reluctantly agreed to attend.
When she arrived home after church, I surprised her with my best Hollywood biker impression. I had on faded jeans with holes in the knees, a white cotton t-shirt, and a denim jacket with the sleeves cut out. I'd recently cut my hair short again, but I was now sporting a goatee to go with my mustache. When Sarah saw me, she just smiled.
"Why are you dressed like that? I thought this was a business luncheon, not a biker rally," she said.
"It is a business luncheon. We just happen to be in the business of selling motorcycles. You better hurry up and go get changed. I don't want to be late," I said.
"We're taking your bike? For some reason, I thought we'd have taken the car. I won't be but a minute. We do need to leave early though. I've got church tonight." She walked into the house and headed for her bedroom. I went outside and pulled the bike out of the garage. I was looking it over when Sarah walked back outside. I heard her before I saw her. "How do you like my new outfit?"
I turned and looked at my wife and was totally shocked. She was standing there wearing a tight denim skirt that barely went past her knees. She was sporting a black Harley Davidson t-shirt and black knee-high leather go-go boots. Her scarlet hair hung down her back in a single tight braid. How she was dressed was still very conservative by most standards, but for Sarah it was downright provocative. She normally sported loose fitting skirts that brushed her ankles or long sleeve blouses. She never wore t-shirts, much less tight ones, and her hair was always worn in her dowdy conservative church bun when she left the house.
"Well, do you like?" she asked, smiling. She already knew the answer to that. The bulge in my jeans held no secrets. "I decided that it might be better to go to this deal with a slight change of wardrobe. I know I still won't fit in with your friends' wives, but at least I won't totally look like Laura Ingalls."
We had a great time at the company barbeque. I was worried that Sarah would be self-conscious and feel out of place since she really didn't have any friends or associates outside of church, but my fears were misplaced. She seemed to get along with all of the other wives just fine. She especially hit it off with Lizzie. Lizzie, believe it or not, had spent her summers with a grandmother who was as religious as Sarah and they found some common ground.
The beer was flowing freely, but I only had a couple. Sarah didn't bother me about the fact everyone else was getting wasted. In fact, she seemed to be having a great time laughing at everyone's escapades as the alcohol started to liven up the party. It was the most comfortable I'd seen her in days and I was suddenly glad I'd convinced her to come.
The company had spared no expense and the band we'd hired was actually quite good. Of course Sarah didn't dance, but when Lizzie asked me to dance, Sarah encouraged me to dance with her to a fast song. She laughed hysterically at my antics on the dance floor and my lack of rhythm. When the song was over, Lizzie and I walked back to the table we were sharing with Sarah and Tommy, both of whom were laughing so hard that tears were streaming down their faces.
When a slow song came on a few minutes later, I saw Tommy lean in and kiss Lizzie on the lips and smile. She smiled back as he asked her to dance. As they got up from the table, Lizzie looked back at me and said, "Go ahead, dumbass. Ask your wife to dance! No woman can resist a George Strait song."
I knew that Sarah wouldn't dance with me if I asked her. We'd been together for years now and we'd never even broached the subject of dancing. It was prohibited in the church, unless someone was dancing in the spirit. But I'd had a couple of beers and I wondered what it would be like to actually dance with my wife like normal people. I just looked at Sarah and shrugged, tilting my head toward the dancers. She smiled and nodded, taking my hand as she stood up. I nearly drug her to the dance floor and held her tight as I enjoyed another first with my wife. She actually seemed to enjoy the dancing and before the party was over, we'd danced several more times.
I managed to keep my promise and get Sarah out of the gathering just as it was beginning to wind down. We said our goodbyes and walked out to the bike. As she climbed on behind me, she leaned in and whispered in my ear. She thanked me for a wonderful time, saying that she really needed it. As I cranked the hog and pulled out onto the highway, Sarah surprised me again by suggesting that we take the long way home. It wasn't dark yet and it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and she felt like a ride on the Harley. I wasn't one to argue, especially considering the last time we took an extended ride on my bike and what happened in the woods afterwards.
We had a very enjoyable ride through the countryside. She seemed to enjoy the ride as much as last time. I looked back several times in my rear view mirror to see her smiling and looking at the scenery. I glanced down several times and caught glimpses of her soft white thighs where her jean skirt had ridden up. I knew trying to ride a bike in a tight skirt like that must be difficult, but she wasn't complaining and neither was I. Her bare legs were something I seldom got to see outside of the bedroom and rarely even then. I pulled into a roadside park on a state highway a few miles outside of town. The view was on a hilltop overlooking the valley below and the scenery was spectacular. I killed the bike and got off, then walked over to a picnic table to enjoy the view. Sarah was standing beside me with her hand around my waist. I looked down at her with her long flowing hair in the single braid hanging down the back of her tight black t-shirt. She looked up at me when she noticed me looking. I could see her eyes smiling behind her sunglasses.
"What's the matter?" she asked innocently.
"Nothing's the matter. Why do you ask?"
"Because you're looking at me with that weird look in your eye," she said.
"I can't look at my wife?" I asked. "Actually, I'm still trying to take it all in. I'm not used to seeing you dressed like this, especially with your hair down."
"My hair is a mess. If I wasn't in church and I thought I was going to be riding a bike a lot, I'd cut it all off. All of that 'wind in your hair' garbage is obviously just propaganda. My hair would look like a rat's nest as long as it is if I left it down in this wind all of the time. But I do like the clothes, though. I saw you looking at me today. Did you like what you saw? Would you rather me dress like this more often?"
I could feel myself stiffen. I'd never heard her mention cutting her hair before and I expected this to be the first and only time I ever saw her in tighter clothes. She just looked at me again and smiled as we sat there for the next ten or fifteen minutes enjoying the view. The sun was just starting to set beyond the hills across the valley. I looked at my watch and mentioned that if we were going to get her home in time to go to church, we needed to get back on the road.