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This weekend forty years ago changed my life forever. I was a senior in high school and attended an all-girl Catholic school. As part of our personal and spiritual growth there was a retreat program called Search for Christian Maturity that was held three or four times a year. The retreats started on Friday night and ended on Sunday afternoon. Search was/is a peer based program with teenagers being most actively involved in the workshops but there were some adults around to make sure we stayed "in line" and, of course, there was at least one priest involved with each retreat.

At each retreat there was an "inside" team and an "outside" team. The "inside" team led the workshops while the "outside" team helped prepare meals, set up meeting rooms, clean up and etc. To be on either team one had to have already been part of a Search retreat. One could not merely ask to be part of the team. One had to be invited.

As it happened in October 1974 one of the members of the "outside" team had to drop out unexpectedly and at the last minute, like two days before the retreat started, I was asked to be part of the "outside" team. I was thrilled to be part of a Search team although I will admit now that it seriously hurt my feelings that I had never been invited to be part of the "inside" team. I was one of the first in my class invited to attend a Search retreat(you had to be 16)and while I was a "wild thing" I also had been very, very active in the Church, CYO(Catholic Youth Organization), volunteer work and school. I can also assure you that even though I was a "rowdy girl" there were chicks on the inside team who could put me to shame in a New York minute with their less than stellar behavior. The biggest reason I probably was never invited to be on the "inside" team is because although I worked my fanny off for the Church, school and etc. I did not "kiss ass." I would tell you to go to hell so fast it would make your head spin. I didn't take any crap off of anyone including nuns, priests and teachers. I was well liked by most of the adults but everyone knew that I was no doormat and I didn't sneak around about my "colorful" behavior. I was very upfront about it. So, I am sure that I was not invited to be on the "inside" team because I didn't play the games that the "adults" wanted me to play. I was my own person.

Actually, I am surprised that I was even asked to be part of the "outside" team. Father P. must have been desparate at the time.

That Friday night I rode the bus up to Petit Jean for the retreat. As soon as we unloaded our gear, we were given assignments to "get the show on the road." Of course, the "inside" team had gotten their earlier in the day because they all drove up ahead of time but no one would expect them to set up chairs or tables. It just wasn't done. Hmm, does that sound tacky and maybe a little bitter? Yeah, it does but that was the way it was.

As I had just finished helping to set up chairs I was standing for a moment trying to catch my breath when Steve S. came by an kind of patted me with his hand on my tummy. At that moment, yes, that very moment my life changed forever. I had a feeling go through me that can be described as becoming deeply infatuated or the first tinge of falling in love.

Steve and I had met on a few occasions. In the tenth grade we shared a seat on the bus to go to a football game that was out of town.  We spent quite a bit of time talking that night but for the most part we just kind of just saw each other in passing. Steve and I knew a lot of the same people but were not friends with each other and really did not know each other, the aforementioned bus trip not withstanding. Steve was a total nerd and I was a "wild child." We were both two of the smartest people in our classes although I could care less about studying and my grades showed it, while Steve made straight "As." We had no use for each other at all. Steve was at the Search retreat because he was the Search "Dad," meaning that he was the male head of the inside team. Steve was less than thrilled that I was on the "outside" team, mostly because the person who had to drop out of the team was the girl he wanted as a girlfriend. They had dated some but he was looking forward to spending some time with her during breaks at the retreat. It should also be said that I was sort of dating a guy whose parents were chaperones for the retreat. I didn't really want to be dating that guy although he was nice enough and I really didn't want to meet his parents and get all involved with knowing them when I was trying to find a way to get out of dating him.(Sorry Don, you just didn't spark my lights.)

Anyway, so here I was standing in this huge meeting room with these crazy feelings going through me for a guy I didn't particularly care for who had just walked by and patted me on the stomach. I quickly snapped out of it, got busy with some other things and didn't have time to think about it because there was a lot of work to do. Well then came bed time. It seems that someone who was in charge of planning couldn't count. There was one girl too many. That girl ended up being me. There was one bed short in the girls dorms and I had no place to sleep. As fate would have it there was a very small dorm room that three of the "team" guys were sleeping in that had a spare bunk in it. It was decided to have me sleep in there as there really wasn't anywhere else for me to sleep. Do you want to guess who one of the three guys sharing that small dorm room was. That's right, Steve. The last place in the world I wanted to be or sleep was in an area with Steve that night. I had these crazy feelings going on and I needed some space but no one was willing to ask any of the other girls to sleep with these guys. Yeah, the same adults who didn't think I made the cut to be on the "inside" team were willing to stick me in a dorm room with three guys. Thanks ya'll...I a really appreciate it. NOT!

As it turned out one of the guys was a friend of mine, the other guy was the Search photographer who taught me how to develop film and make slides while, of course, door number 3 held Steve. The first night went okay, no probs. I was still having some weird feelings about that "thing" with Steve but I was too busy working my tail end off to worry about that, until later in the day when during a break Steve found me and told me he wanted to talk to me a minute. I was glad for the break so I walked outside with he and he said, "Did you feel something when I slapped you on the stomach last night?" As I tried to regain some modicum of composure or something I said, "I would have called it more of a pat but yes, I did feel you pat me on the stomach." I wanted to be back rolling meatballs and out of this conversation. I didn't care how tiring rolling hundreds of meatballs was. Steve then said, "That is not the kind of "felt" I was talking about." We then looked at each other in the way only two stupid, stupid, stupid teenagers could do and would have probably kissed if someone hadn't come up to ask Steve a question. I felt saved by the bell but we were going to be sleeping in the same dorm that night. We went to "twin schools," he attended the all boy Catholic high school, so our paths were going to cross. This conversation was going to have to be finished. I just didn't know what to say, think or do so I smoked a cigarette, no I was not breaking the rules of the retreat, just my mom's and then I went back to making meatballs.

It was a long day and an even longer evening. In the midst of all of these conflicting feelings I got rooked into having to meet and have dinner with the parents of the guy who I was kind of dating. That was awkward.  Even more problematic was the fact that Steve was entering the seminary and I was looking at which convent I thought I would look at entering. Yeah, that's right. He was going to be a priest and I was planning to be a nun. Our lives were laid out before us. We were entering the religious life and out of nowhere an idle gesture from nowhere was threatening to change all of that. I didn't know what to think. I was 17. Steve was 16. We were young and we were stupid. We didn't really know what to do with these feelings. We didn't really have anyone that we could talk to about them because everyone knew that Steve and I really did NOT like each other. Someone forgot to tell our hearts that because in one brief moment that changed. We talked to each other about how we were feeling. We talked to each other a lot. We started dating. We fell in love, that kind of love that you get stuck in when you are in high school. We started going steady. We made out. We made the mistake of having sex. Once you have sex when you are a teenager who is in "that kind of love" you are in over your head. It is probably too late to rescue yourself after that point. I did try. I tried to break up with Steve at one point. In the fall he went away to school. It was the perfect opportunity to break away from each other but for some reason we didn't. It was like the distance made our "love" stronger. For some reason the next year he did not go away to school but stayed in Little Rock. That was a bad idea. We ended up getting married a little before the Fall semester of 1976 was over with. A little over a year later we were parents. We weren't ready for any of it. We weren't ready for love, going steady, serious dating or sex. We sure as heck weren't ready for marriage and parenthood. By September, 1979 we were divorced and Steve was already living with somebody else. Yep, less than five years after that fateful weekend we had used up our relationship. I wish we'd been smarter. I wish we'd done things differently because I can tell you that it was our son who paid the price for our ignorance. Maybe we did love each other but more likely we were so deeply in love with the idea of being in love that we couldn't tell the difference. Many other things happened in our relationship over the years but if I had not been part of that "outside" team 40 years ago I know that my life would have ended up in a much different manner than they did. It has been a long, strange and painful journey.



Oct. 27th, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
Mer, my son will be 37 in a little over a month. Yep, I was 20 when he was born. I wasn't too smart was I. I did however want to have him with all of my heart. I chose to get pregnant at 19. I don't know what I was thinking except well, I wanted a child, my child to love and nurture with all of my heart. So, that's what I did.

As for being a nun, yes I wanted to be a nun. I had decided to be a cloistered Carmelite. We have a beautiful but quaint little convent not far from where I live. I don't know that I have ever given up that wish. It just isn't a possibility at all any longer and in some ways that makes me sad. I have gone to the convent chapel for mass many times. It helps although mass at 5:30am is quite the commitment.


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