Backsliding Ch. 06bybzzzman©
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I don't remember who was supposed to have said it, but I guess it applies to my situation. When I stepped out of that church office just over a year ago, I never imagined just what kind of journey I was beginning. My own journey from saint to sinner was a life changing experience for me, but Sarah's journey was earth shattering. If you would have told me a year ago that events were about to be set in motion that would transform a meek and innocent Sunday School teacher into a party girl who was drinking, smoking, and going to bars, I'd have accused you of smoking crack. What a difference a year makes.
While my own transformation was somewhat slow as I moved from a clean cut youth pastor to a rough-around-the-edges biker, Sarah's transformation seemed to happen in overdrive. In only a matter of weeks, Sarah went from ultra-conservative to uninhibited. Gone were her long skirts, no makeup, no jewelry and long uncut hair. Those things disappeared right before my eyes at an alarming rate. The platinum blonde goddess with her new piercings, tattoos and tighter clothing bore almost no resemblance to the choir girl I married.
Many of Sarah's changes were cosmetic. Although she changed rapidly on the outside, her internal changes were evolving much more slowly. I knew she was constantly fighting a battle with her conscience and her self-confidence. I knew my wife well enough to know she was carrying a tremendous burden of guilt. I had converted to the church much later than Sarah, who had been born into it. When I left, I quickly shrugged off much of their legalistic teachings as absurd. It was harder for Sarah to disregard what she had always been taught. She may have been fine with damning her own soul, but she really had a problem with leading someone else astray.
The morning after Sarah's wild night at the night club and our first foray into a strip club was pretty rough for Sarah. She had drunk way too much the night before, probably trying to drown her guilt after running into Jennifer Beachum. The woman that night who cursed at a former church mate, drank herself sick, smoked cigarettes and got a lap dance from a stripper was not the woman I married. All of that was completely out of character for Sarah, and I knew I was going to have to bring it up once her hangover wore off.
"So, honey, how's that head?" I asked playfully. She just looked at me with a go-to-hell look and managed a weak smile.
"I'm never drinking again," she whispered, still holding her head in her hands.
"I'm surprised you drank so much. That isn't like you," I replied, trying to move the conversation along.
"I know. I never intended to. I mean, I like to drink a little now to socialize, but I never set out to get drunk. I guess running into Jenny Beachum really hit me."
"Yeah, what's up with that? I was surprised at your reaction," I said.
"Me too. I mean, I knew what I was doing to myself when I quit going to church. I admit that maybe I moved too fast when I went out and got my hair chopped off and all, but damn it, I finally felt free for the first time in my life and I wanted to experiment and try some forbidden pleasures, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. I did the same thing when I left. We all do. But I never thought I'd see you do some of the stuff you've done, especially so soon after leaving."
"Me either," she said, reaching up and touching the small stud on the side of her nose and then pulling her short blonde hair back from her right ear to expose the four rings there. "Look at this. I've always been one to warn my students about how trashy and worldly tattoos and piercings are, but that's one of the first things I ran out and did. I was always the first to argue that pants on women were immodest, but I hardly ever put on a skirt anymore. And look at my 'glory', I cut it all off! And I smoked! Can you believe that? I have always absolutely detested cigarettes, much less marijuana. What has happened to me?"
I saw tears come to her eyes, so I reached out and held her hand. "Come on, Sarah, it's not that big of a deal. There's nothing wrong with living a little. When you've been held back so long, it's natural to step out and get a little crazy. I did."
"But it was different for you. When you left, you didn't influence other people to stumble. If Jenny, Janet, or Heather die tomorrow and go to hell, their blood is going to be on my hands!" She started to sob.
I wanted to argue with her that she was wrong and that those people, like us, had made a conscious decision on their own to do what they did, but I knew Sarah wasn't hearing any of it. She was going to have to fight this on her own. I just held her tight and let her cry.
Ironically, the very next Saturday at work, who should walk into my store but Edward and Janet Beachum? Edward looked the same except for the t-shirt he wore, but I had to do a double take on Janet. Janet was in her late 30s, but she had always carried herself well. Now she carried herself even better. I felt myself get a little stiff when I saw her standing there in a nice brand name t-shirt and a pair of tight jeans. Like Sarah and Jennifer, she hadn't wasted any time getting her hair cut and colored and her ears pierced. When they saw me at my desk, they both smiled and hurried over. I walked out to meet them.
"Hey, guys, great to see you! Janet, you look amazing!" I said, hugging Janet and giving Edward a good handshake. I had always liked the Beachums. "What brings you guys here?"
"You do, James," Edward said, "My wife has been driving me nuts about test driving a motorcycle for months. I blame it on you."
"Me? What did I do?" I said, grinning. "Whatever it was, I hope it was good enough to get you to do more than just test drive one."
"She's been rambling on since you showed up at church one Saturday and took your wife for a ride. She's always had this thing for bikes and bikers," Edward said, pinching his wife playfully. "I used to use her skirts as an excuse, but now I'm out of excuses."
"We've got plenty to choose from, so feel free to look around. If you see something you like, I'll set you up with a sales person. Let's talk some more before you leave. I'll be in my office if you have any questions."
Ed and Janet walked off together to look at some bikes. About fifteen minutes later, Janet came up to my office and knocked on my open door.
"Find something you like?" I asked.
"We found several we liked, actually. But that's not why I'm here. Do you have a minute?"
"Of course, Janet, come in and have a seat. Shut the door if you'd like." She did just that.
"Is Sarah okay?" Janet asked, cutting right to the chase.
"Yeah, she's fine, I guess," I replied, genuinely confused.
"Look, she does understand that she's not responsible for my decision to get out of church, right?"
"Well, Janet, I wish I could tell you yes, but the truth is I do think she feels responsible. She's always had this hang up about being a stumbling block to others. One reason she left when she did was because she was afraid she was leading her students astray. So when we bumped into Jenny at that club and she had quit and said you had too, well..."
"Look, this isn't the first time I've been out of church. I quit several years ago, long before you and Sarah moved here, but I went back when Jennifer was young. I've been unhappy for a long time and had been thinking about leaving, but I didn't want to be a bad influence on Jenny. When Sarah left, well, it sort of gave me the courage I needed to go ahead and go. Jenny had already made up her mind to leave months ago. We had already discussed it and I told her to follow her heart. When Sarah told her the same thing, it just confirmed what she had already decided to do. Jeeze, I never wanted Sarah to think she caused us to stumble. I really need to talk to her."
"I'm sure she'd like that. She's really having a tough time right now, trying to work through guilt issues. It would help her a lot if you told her what you just told me. She's working today, actually."
"I've been thinking about cutting my hair again. Maybe I'll drop by after lunch today. Do you think she'd fit me in with one of their stylists on short notice?"
"Of course she would. She sure would enjoy talking with you. You've always been a great friend to her."
"She's an amazing person in her own right. I see Edward talking to a salesman. Maybe I've created a monster," she said, as we both laughed. "Hmmm, I guess I better start looking for some leather if I'm going to be a biker babe. Thanks, James, for letting me talk to you and being honest with me. I'll do what I can to help Sarah. Oh, and make sure you cut us a deal on a motorcycle!"
I laughed again and nodded my head. "Of course I will, Janet. You'll get the best deal in the house!"
I beat Sarah home from work that afternoon and was sitting on the sofa when she finally came in. I was well into a ball game on TV and heard her open the fridge and take something out. I heard the unmistakable sound of a bottle being opened. She walked into the den carrying a cold Bud Lite.
"I thought you said you were never drinking alcohol again?" I said teasingly.
"I'm not. This is for you," she said, handing me the bottle. "Guess who came by the shop today?"
"Janet Beachum," I replied. "How did you know?"
"Because she and Ed came by the dealership today looking at bikes. She asked about you and mentioned that she needed a haircut. I suggested she go by your salon."
"That was nice. We had a really nice chat. She stayed in my office and talked for the longest even after she got her hair done."
"Was that awkward? I know how you feel about her backsliding and all," I said, obviously fishing for answers.
"It was at first. It was really weird seeing her come into the shop because I had only known her a certain way. It was different when Kelly got out of church. She's my best friend, but Janet was more like my mentor. I never dreamed that she'd leave the church."
"Well, shit happens," I replied.
"Yeah, it does. That's basically what Janet said. She promised me that it wasn't my fault that she left."
"See, I told you that you were feeling guilty for no reason. People make their own decisions, Sarah."
"I know that now. That talk with Janet really helped me out. For the first time ever, I finally feel like I've been able to cut my ties with the church. I honestly don't give a shit anymore what they do or what they think of me. This is who I am now and I plan to enjoy it while I can."
"Preach it, sister!" I said, sounding like the preacher that I used to be. I put my hand on her forehead and pushed her head back as if I were laying hands on her to pray for her. She knocked my hand back and feigned insult, but with a smile on her face.
"Fuck you, asshole," she said, laughing out loud. "Now be a dear and go get your poor deprived sinner wife a beer."
"I thought you quit drinking?"
"That was last week. I saw you drinking and it made me stumble back into my sinful ways."
While I was gone, I heard the phone ring and Sarah answer it. I rummaged around in the kitchen looking for a snack. I could hear Sarah in deep conversation in the den, but I couldn't make out the conversation. When I finally returned to the sofa, she was just hanging up the phone. I handed her the beer and sat down.
"Who was that?"
"You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you," Sarah said. "It was Rachel."
"Your sister, Rachel? I thought you two weren't exactly on speaking terms right now?"
Sarah and I had been in this city for almost two years now. When we first moved here, we regularly made the six hour drive back to our hometown in a neighboring state to visit her family. I didn't have much of a family and just adopted hers when we got married. She had always been really close to her family, especially her older sister Rachel. If anything, Rachel was even more of a conservative tow-the-line Pentecostal than Sarah. When word first made it back home that I had backslidden, it was Rachel that suggested that Sarah leave me. She warned Sarah against the dangers of being "unequally yoked" with a non-believer. When Sarah refused, the relationship with her sister became strained. When word got back to Rachel that Sarah had also quit, they quit speaking at all.
"Yeah, my sister Rachel," Sarah said. "She's coming to visit. I think she's going to stay a few days."
"Rachel is coming here? Wow, that's a miracle."
"She filed for a divorce," Sarah said with a hint of finality to her voice.
"What? Rachel is getting a divorce? You've got to be kidding me!" I could hardly believe my ears.
"I didn't pry into the details on the phone because she's so upset. She needs to get away from everything when the girls go to Mike's for the summer, which won't be for several weeks. She asked if she could come here. What was I supposed to do? She's my sister."
"No, don't worry about it. She's family. You did the only thing you could do. She needs you right now, so help her out."
Sarah got up and hugged me, whispering "Thanks, I love you honey, in my ear" and kissing me on the lips. I couldn't help but think about Rachel and Mike. They had always seemed to have the perfect life. Mike had a successful business downtown and Rachel was the quintessential soccer mom, staying home to raise their two girls. I was really curious about what had brought on the split. The church strictly forbade divorce under any circumstance except adultery.
After a while, Sarah spoke up. "That could have been us, you know."
"Yeah, I know. You had a hard time adjusting when I backslid."
"Yes, I did. It seems so silly now. I feel like our marriage is healthier than it has ever been. I guess things started falling into place when I started to accept the changes and started experimenting for myself. I fought against the urges so hard at first, but after a while, I just lost the will to fight. I started breaking a few rules and the next thing you know, I'm a bigger sinner than you are. But the strange part is, for the first time maybe in my whole life, I feel genuinely happy and satisfied with my choices."
After that, life finally settled into a sense of normalcy for us. Sarah was settling down some and not into experimenting with sinful pleasures quite so much. She found that she had a real knack for marketing and the Parker Corporation was experiencing record sales of its products and salons in Sarah's district. Robert Parker himself purposely drove to the salon where Sarah had an office to notify her of her new bonus. It was pretty sizeable and we were both excited. It was enough for a down payment on a new convertible sports car.
As we moved back into a more familiar married couple routine, we both curtailed our partying somewhat, opting to spend more quality time at home enjoying each other and a quiet evening on the couch. Sarah still stopped off occasionally with the girls for a margarita or daiquiri, but not as often as she did when she first backslid. The same was true for my visits after work to the Broken Spoke. Sarah had completely stopped smoking even the occasional cigarette, even when she was drinking, and she never once mentioned smoking marijuana since she alluded to it after the night at Charades. She even let her hair start to grow out again. All in all, life was good and about as normal as we could make it.
Our sex life hadn't slowed down much, however. Sarah had discovered a new sexuality within herself since she had left the church and I was all too happy to oblige her lust. We didn't make any more trips to Charades during this time, but Sarah had become more open about her fantasies. She regularly looked at porn on the Internet and had become as addicted as I was to a couple of the better erotic literature sites online. She even got me to go into an erotic lingerie store and help her shop for a few adult toys and clothing that she experimented with behind the closed doors of our bedroom.
One Sunday morning in early June I was mowing the lawn when a car I didn't recognize pulled into the drive. I stopped the mower and was somewhat surprised to see Sarah's sister Rachel step out. Rachel McAdams was three years older than her sister, and bore a striking resemblance to her from a distance. When she stepped out of the car, I immediately had a quick flashback to what Sarah had looked like just a few months ago. Rachel had the flowing locks down the middle of her back that Sarah had once favored, but hers was a dusty brown instead of red. She was slightly taller than Sarah, but roughly the same body size.
I killed the mower and walked toward her, smiling. She pulled off her oversized shades and smiled. I noticed the way her blue eyes twinkled in a face that had never known makeup. She grabbed me and gave me a hug with genuine sincerity. We had never been close, but she was my wife's only sister and had once been her closest friend. I couldn't help but feel sympathy for her and her situation. We exchanged pleasantries for a second and I invited her in. Sarah had gone to the Quick Mart down the street to pick me up some beer, so I told Rachel that she should be right back. I went inside, helped her put her luggage in the guest bedroom and fixed her a glass of ice tea, which we took outside to the back patio.
Rachel was in the middle of a conversation catching me up to speed on her young daughters when Sarah walked through the sliding glass doors of the patio. Rachel stopped mid-sentence with her mouth open when she saw her sister. I could see the look of shock and disbelief come over her sister's face, but she masked it quickly and jumped up to run to Sarah. She grabbed her and broke into tears as they hugged. Rachel stepped back and held her sister's shoulders as if to examine her.
"Wow, Sarah, you look amazing!" She said, sounding genuine. She ran her fingers through the fringes of Sarah's hair which she had been allowing to grow out and now brushed the bottom of her shoulders. "You hair looks really good. Short hair fits you."
"Do you like it? I guess it's one of the benefits of working at a salon. I get free haircuts. I never dreamed I'd like short hair, but I honestly don't think I'll ever have long hair again."
"Never is a long time. Who knows, you may want your glory back one of these days."
I cringed when I heard Rachel say it. I had hoped that Rachel would just let the whole church issue drop. It had all but destroyed their relationship and I wanted them to reconcile. Sarah acted like she didn't hear the snide remark about her hair.
"You look really good, sister. How are the girls?"
No more mention was made about our new sinful ways and Rachel and Sarah settled down to some deep conversation about things back home. Rachel filled us in on how the girls were doing, how Sarah's parents were, how the people in the home church were doing and life in general. Sarah finally got around to asking about Mike and the divorce. Rachel hesitated for a moment, and then went into the details about Mike's infidelity with his new secretary. Rachel explained that even though she was bitterly hurt over his cheating, she still tried to make it work for the girls' sake. Mike had quit the church when the affair became public, but Rachel had convinced him to come back and try to make it work. He did and they tried to work through the problems, but in the end Mike couldn't stay faithful and left again with his secretary. Rachel filed for divorce on advice from her pastor.
"So Mike's living with his secretary?" asked Sarah.
"Yeah, do you believe that? He moved in with the little whore and they're living in sin over in Westport. He's not even trying to live for God. I hate to bring my girls around that kind of atmosphere, but what can I do? I don't hate him, I just feel sorry for him, and he's still the girls' dad. They miss him and he needs to be a part of their lives."