Friday, April 4, 2014

Free Souls, Chapter 17

"Sandy," her Design professor said to her one day in March shortly after Spring Break, "I'm happy to let you know that your University Chapel presentation will be displayed in the school gallery at the next change of shows."
She straightened up from her drafting table to face Professor Ruben.  "Thank you very much," she said respectfully.
"No, thank you very much," the teacher said.  "It's a privilege having you in my studio. You showed good promise when you started this semester, and you certainly have surpassed all expectations."
"Thank you," she murmured again.  "Do I need to run another set for the exhibition?"
"Yes, that would be a good idea.  The one I have in my office might be a little crumpled at the edges."  Professor Ruben smiled and said, "I hope you realize, Sandy, that only the best work in this school is displayed in the gallery. We do not select projects simply to be representative of particular studios and years.  It is very rare that a freshman presentation makes it in, so when I say your chapel design is among the best of the best, you may believe it is true."
"Thank you," she said once more, beginning to feel like a broken record.
Professor Ruben assumed a hearty tone.  "Well, your hard work is paying off.  And I hope you will understand me when I say that it reflects credit not only on you, Sandy, but also on me and on this school."
She again returned some polite nothing, and the teacher continued on his rounds among his students.  As she watched him go Sandy could barely suppress a raucous laugh.  "Reflects credit, on you, Professor Ruben?  Oh, no, all the credit belongs to a certain man whose initials are J.C. and he's upstairs with Gabriel!"
For a split second the idea was the funniest thing in the world.  Then she realized the implications and made silent, frantic confession:  "Sorry, Lord, that was bad, I shouldn't say that about Jeff, You're the only Lord, You're my only Lord, really, Lord, I'm sorry, please forgive me!"
But despite her protests of contrition her effective church continued to be the school exhibition space on the first floor, and her primary act of worship was haunting that room, hoping against hope that Jeff would come in and admire her work and accept the offering she had secretly made to his glory. 
One time he was there when she was. He was approaching the place where her chapel design was displayed, he seemed to be slowing down to look at it . . . And then Professor Ruben, curse the man! came up wanting to talk to her about something or other. He took quite a long time about it, and his bulk was between her and her spot on the gallery wall, between her and the object of her adoration. By the time he moved, Jeff was gone.  At that moment she knew what it was like to want to kill with her bare hands.
“Lord help me, what an idolater I was! I worshipped him! I even called him my Apollo . . . ” 
There was no excuse for it. Not for her. She of all people should have known better. 
“And it got worse.” 
She grew tired of weaving fantasies about married life with Jeff. They were always set in the vague future, and they were nothing since they might never come true. What it would be like to actually know him physically now, before they lost their time together here? What would she do if he were to take her in his arms some spring evening here at the school, someplace private, and overwhelm her with his love? Would she say Yes? Would he need to ask her to say Yes, or would her Yes already have been said?
By that time she looked back on her pledge of the previous spring as naive innocence. How silly they had all been! A soft nagging voice in her gut occasionally reminded her that the standards she had committed herself to hadn’t been made up by a gaggle of romanticizing schoolgirls.  The voice was easy to ignore. She hadn’t been to church since she was home for Christmas vacation, and as for reading her Bible, why did she need to do that? She knew what was in it already and with all the demands of Architecture school, she rationalized, she simply didn’t have time.
Besides, God must have meant her to meet Jeff, just as she was sure He meant her to be happy– overwhelmingly, deliriously, divinely-- happy with him.
The roof of the Architecture building, that would be the spot. Up there with the starry night spreading its mantle over them . . . “Jam nox stellata velamina pandit . . . ,” as the words of a poem she’d picked up in high school put it, and Jeff Chesters like a young Caesar taking possession of her body, her heart, her soul . . . “veni, vidi, vinci,” . . . a happy country he had conquered a long time ago.
Back then she never realized what a hypocrite she had become. “There I was, despising and condemning the Christys and Elspeths and Martinas, while in my heart I was just as bad as they were! Maybe worse, because I knew better!  Heaven help me, I was sure my beliefs were Christian as ever, just more enlightened, more mature!”
But they had suffered a revolution. By late winter of her freshman year she was convinced that love, True Committed Love (she had thought of it in all upper case), sanctified sex. Oh, of course, marriage would have to follow. Some day. But there was no hurry. The mutual declaration of true love was what made a marriage, not a public ceremony or a piece of paper. God certainly would understand, even approve. After all, wasn’t God love?
“Yes, blast me, and love was God and Jeff was Love and Jeff was god, and sorry, Jesus, seeya later!” 
She thought she truly loved Jeff Chesters, but in truth she was infatuated with the man, besotted by him, and couldn’t tell the difference. She hardly knew where she ended and her image of him began. Early that spring one of Jeff’s projects won the Senior Design Award and Sandy’s joy and pride knew no bounds. “You would have thought I’d won the damn thing myself,” she thought now. He was her Apollo, her god of the sun, her sustenance, her shield; and though she was only a very minor planet in his orbit, she was convinced the day would come when he would notice her and her work and make her his own.
The day came. Or rather, the night.

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