This was back during my illustrious undergraduate career, which is a different story for a different day, but the experience still stands out, the cloistered stillness, the dead of night, a crucified Christ standing sentry, watching voyeuristically from the steeple of the ornate church.
We had been flirting all night, and sex was imminent; it was inevitable. I knew it was the case, and she knew it was the case, and I knew she knew it was the case, and there was barely need for an answer when I asked her if she wanted to go for a drive.
She had legs for days.
We drove around with no particular destination in mind, blasting Dark Side of the Moon, cigarette smoke swirling around the interior of the car and out the windows, discussing the finer points of transposing the album against The Wizard of Oz.
The longer we drove, the more the atmosphere changed inside the car. The air grew charged, our sexual tension an invisible current, our bodies like two opposing weather fronts meeting before a storm. It was the moment before a lightning strike; it was something palpable.
“There’s a church coming up on the right,” she said.
“I doubt we’ll be able to get in,” I replied.
“Who needs to go in? It’s not like I’m suggesting we have sex in the sanctuary.”
“Then where?” I asked cluelessly.
“There has to be a cemetery, yeah?”
Two decades of Catholic guilt spoke up, the weight of it sending an involuntary shudder down my spine, and I wondered vaguely how many turns of the rosary it would take to atone for something like this.
You haven’t been to church in years, my inner monologue commented. Do you even want to get laid? it asked.
“Touche,” I muttered aloud, flicking on my high beams to better illuminate the gloomy evening, temperature dropping and fog starting to roll in, my hand drifting to her thigh. We drove without speaking until the husk of a large building, topped with a cross like a birthday candle, loomed on the right.
I killed the lights and the engine as we approached, coasting into the dark parking lot on propulsion. She was out of the door before the car came to a complete stop, stepping gracefully onto the asphalt while I clumsily tried to unbuckle my seatbelt and shift into park at the same time.
The steeple loomed above; the stained glass rested dully, passively, hiding its rainbow of colors. I knew from childhood it would shine like a beacon when sunbeams struck it, like a beacon calling out to God.
We approached the cemetery behind the church, tombstones dark as shadows, her blonde hair a gentle glow in the night. I felt the stirring of something deep in my lizard self, bred into me by millennia of evolution. The reward center in my forebrain, sensing I was about to do something in my own Darwinian self-interest, sent me a blast of neurotransmitters that felt like happiness; felt like power; felt like cocaine.
“Come find me,” I heard. She darted away before I could respond, disappearing into a blackness so absolute it was like a liquid, viscous and rippling. I gave chase, always a second too late, catching the occasional glimpse of her as I staggered around the remnants of Catholic grief, dying flowers and rosaries and concrete hands clasped in prayer.
Eventually, I think, she let herself be caught.
I grabbed her wrist as she scampered by, skirt flying, hair streaming behind her, pulling her to my chest as I sank to the ground. I could see her only dimly, but her hand was on the back of my head and her knee was between my legs and I felt, all of the sudden, that everything was exactly as it should be with the world.
“This was a good I idea,” I whispered, and kissed her.
I took a moment to imprint the memory in my brain, a memory to whip out in times of stress or panic to reassure myself that good things can still exist. Without light, we were just silhouettes in the gloom, pressed together, no discernible body parts. It was too early in the season for crickets and too late in the night for car engines and the silence pressed in on us like a blanket.
And over all of it, over her and I and the gravestones and the cross in the background, was a veil of serenity. It was sex as meditation; sex as therapy; sex as prayer. It felt preordained. It felt holy.
I came in a frenzied burst, purring with pleasure. She wrapped her arms around my neck and pressed her naked body to mine, our sweat mingling like alleles swapping during cell meiosis.
Finally, we dressed in relative silence, got back into the car without incident, drove back to campus, smoking cigarettes like fiends and basking in our afterglow.
“Thanks for that,” she said. “That was really hot,” she said. “Do you have any more cigarettes?” she said.
In retrospect, it was one of the best sexual experiences I’ve ever had, and certainly the most memorable. I left that graveyard with something valuable: the knowledge that anything can be hallowed; that auspice does not exist only within the walls of a church. I left with the knowledge that we all have the potential for sanctity.
You see, that night was something both physical and spiritual, something phenomenological, Escher’s hands drawing one another. It was the location and the act and the dark and the girl; it was the whole as something greater than the sum of its parts. That night taught me that sex can be more than just bodies, and that every experience is layered and multi-faceted, and that pleasure is something transcendent – something that transcends the self.
I’ve had many orgasms in my life. But that one changed me.
Shannon Frost Greenstein is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, a Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine, and a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @mrsgreenstein or her website: shannonfrostgreenstein.com.
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