Home > Called Out of Darkness(12)

Called Out of Darkness(12)
Author: Anne Rice

Finally someone gave us a television, a monstrous table model of a wooden box with a tiny six-inch screen. At last we discovered what the rest of the world already took for granted. What a revelation it was to see Liberace, after hearing about him at school for years, and to find out who Sid Caesar really was.

We sat on straight-back chairs in the dining room to watch television. Old foreign films came on at night, passable English fare, it seemed. And my father watched the boxing matches, and I enjoyed watching them with him. All my life I've been a boxing fan.

My mother who had patiently endured all the clamor against television for many years pronounced it as the most wonderful entertainment one could bring into one's home.

But we all knew our mother loved film, and sometimes it was said that up until she married, she'd seen every film ever made.

Television certainly didn't change our values.

Frequently in my house, people were denounced as "rank materialists" and there was ongoing discussion about the real dangers of Communism and how Communism might and could take over the United States. Families who limited the number of their children were spoken of as ruining America.

Conformity was ruining America. But Communism was the greatest of all threats.

Senator Joe McCarthy was a hero to Catholics I knew.

The only magazine ever delivered to our house was the American Legion magazine.

But I didn't care much about any of this. I didn't read the papers, any more than I read anything else. I knew nothing at all about recent history, and I had no interest in politics whatsoever. I moved in and out of enchanting periods of history in my passions and hobbies. I dreamed of being a bohemian; I dreamed of traveling to all the countries of the world.

Television certainly didn't make a mindless slave of me.

Even the new suburbs of Dallas, Texas, where I found myself for the last year of high school, did not make me a conformist, though it was rather dazzling to be in the America I had glimpsed on TV.

I headed towards college, filled with a sense of personal power. I could become a great writer. And we had a multitude of great Catholic writers. Their books had been all over our house as I grew up.

Yet within a short time, it was the modern world wanting to know the great incidents and heroes and he**ines of the world - more than sexuality - that eventually caused me to leave the church.

Chapter Six

As I have mentioned , I came out of childhood with no sense of being a particular gender, and no sense of being handicapped by being a woman because I didn't believe I was a woman or a man.

Let me say briefly, because it's too painful to relate in any detail, that I learned all about gender in adolescence, even as I moved against gender distinctions and refused to accept gender limitations.

Plunged into a coeducational high school at fourteen, I soon caught on that there were tremendous liabilities to being a girl. There was no such thing as gender equality. No one had yet spoken the word "feminism," and my view of life soon involved negotiating my way through a minefield in which "good girls" could be destroyed. A raft of activities could result in one losing one's reputation, and at the very worst, one could get pregnant, have to give up the baby for adoption, or one's entire life might be destroyed.

In this rigid Catholic world, "going steady" with one boyfriend was a mortal sin. It was a case of deliberately putting oneself into the occasion of sin, and that was sin. My mind revolted against this, but I couldn't come up with satisfactory or enduring principles. Any kissing was a mortal sin.

One might play something of a game with a boy involving only venial sin, but this was dangerous, as well as being socially necessary if one was to have any boyfriend at all.

Rock-and-roll music took this little world by storm, and it was tolerated at our Catholic school dances, but much frowned upon by the priests and the nuns. Elvis Presley was regarded with rank suspicion, and it did seem finally that to be a successful American teenager, one had to walk a moral tightrope, with Hellfire beneath it, and no net.

I didn't like all this. I didn't like being a teenager any more than I liked being a child. I deeply resented that "a girl" could get a bad reputation because of the way she dressed. I thought this was inane and unjust. Just about all the rules that pertained to gender struck confusion in me, and none really converted me to any view that penalized a woman at the expense of a man in a pure moral sense.

In sum, the society seemed confused. I didn't become confused.

The teenage state was, if anything, less desirable than that of a child. There was an even greater criminal taint attached to it apparently in the eyes of adults. And it seemed to me that most of what I heard about "youth" from adults was entirely negative, and to a large extent unconvincing and hypocritical.

I was told repeatedly, for example, that "youth was wasted on the young," but I retained the obdurate conclusion that my youth was not wasted on me at all, but was wasted on older people around me. I still believe this.

I passed through these adolescent years, with considerable misery, and with some happy experiences, but the lessons -

that girls were responsible for keeping boys in line sexually, that good girls never gave in until the marriage night, that brides, pure as lilies, ought to want husbands who had acquired a little experience, that housework was noble and important, that marriage was to be desired over the single state, that one should have as many children as God chose to send to one - these lessons made little or no lasting impression on me. I remained a person in rebellion, and continued to gravitate to subjects beyond my immediate milieu.

I needn't linger on the blunders or trials of this period, except to say that religion became mixed up with it.

I think I lost my intimate conversation with God during this period. I think I stopped talking to Him and looking to Him to help me - long before I lost my faith.

It became almost impossibly difficult to disentangle the moral teachings of my church from all the "teachings" of the blue-collar class in which I was brought up as to what a

"good girl" represented. I spent far too much mental energy trying to distinguish class values from core Catholic values, class traditions from genuine Christian truths. And I didn't achieve any success.

But never in my mind did God Himself become connected with gender, or the gender morass in which I found myself.

Never was I convinced that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, wanted me to be a certain kind of good blue-collar-class girl. My deepest convictions transcended gender. The God in whom I believed transcended gender. Reason and conscience and heart told me these things. Yes, God was He, but He was infinitely bigger than a man. God belonged to the wild and rambunctious female saints as surely as He belonged to the male saints. God's Blessed Mother was more important perhaps than any other person after God. And she was a woman, and a uniquely powerful woman. Not only was she uniquely powerful, she was uncompromised. In sum, power and blameless-ness coexisted in her. God was immediate and absolute. Mass and Holy Communion were for everyone, old and young.

Yet life as an American teenager was penitential and excruciating. This was another half existence, rather like that of childhood. I wanted full existence. I dreamed of marrying young so as to be an adult; I dreamed of having a child young so as to be an adult. I dreamed of any sort of escape from the control of the adults around me who seemed to have contempt for all of us young people a priori, as if we were an offense to them for having been born.

I was just too confused, however, to make much of the whole struggle.

By my senior year in high school, I had a full-time job that kept me working school nights till 10:00 p.m., and all day on weekends, including Sunday. This made me happy. It seemed to have some value. I don't recall how I passed my classes. I think it was the same old formula: listen, seek to follow the spoken words, and write well on the exams. There certainly wasn't much time to read.

By the time I entered Texas Woman's University, I had earned and banked money for the entire first year's room and board and fees. I welcomed the genderless world of TWU, not because I knew it was genderless but because it was a serious place.

I wanted a meaningful and significant life.

I was already deeply in love with a high school boy named Stan Rice, but as he had his senior year to complete in Richardson, Texas, and did not seem to be in love with me, I was on my own. It's worth noting that my militant Catholicism had discouraged him. I couldn't engage in kissing and hugging because it was a mortal sin. I had committed a mortal sin in kissing and hugging him quite a lot, but I think the grief and the sense of catastrophe on my part, my misery over all of it, understandably put him off.

Of course the atmosphere of the university attracted me mightily. Over the years, I've found it impossible to explain to people who never went to college that college is too different from high school for the two to be compared.

In college, one is an adult, expected to select one's classes, and get to them, at various times, and in different buildings, on one's own. Different university departments immediately bring one into contact with scores of new people.

The prison of high school is indeed blasted to pieces, and one wanders in a "brave new world."

Perhaps it's worth noting in passing that an aunt who visited before I went to college strongly advised me to major in something much more realistic than journalism. She suggested secondary education so that I might be a teacher, as the idea of working for a newspaper and being a reporter or a writer was far-fetched. She made quite a case for normality, averring that highly intelligent people weren't happy. Her thinking was not unlike that of nuns who had urged me to be good in all subjects, rather than to try to excel in any one subject. I simply didn't agree with these people. And college was the place where I left all such thinking behind.

More than thirty years later, this aunt came to a jam-packed book-signing party for me in Kentucky, with an arm-load of my published novels for me to sign. I didn't remind her of that old conversation, in which she had so strenuously urged me to curb my ambition. But I think of it every time I see her. My life went a different way.

Let me return to the year 1959.

I landed at a secular campus in a Protestant part of the country, and among my many classmates and teachers there were no Catholics, and I soon found myself confronted with barriers to understanding the modern world that I felt I had to overcome.

The Index of Forbidden Books loomed over my head.

More insidious than the Index itself, which contained many venerable classics, including all the works of Dumas except for The Count of Monte Cristo, was the concept of the "general index" which governed any book which was likely to lead a Catholic into the occasion of sin. In other words, you didn't have to find Albert Camus on a written index to know that you couldn't read Albert Camus. All you had to know was that he was an atheist and an existentialist. That made his work forbidden under pain of mortal sin.

In the world I'd left behind there had been much talk of the dangers of secular colleges. One teaching sister had told us in class that it was better for a Catholic not to go to college at all than to go to a non-Catholic college. My father had dismissed that notion out of hand.

So had I.

I needed a college education. My father and mother had not had college educations. I needed to work to become somebody. And there were no Catholic universities that I could conceivably afford.

There was also much talk in my late childhood of people

"reading themselves out of the church." If you asked too much, read too much, questioned too much, you would wind up outside the church and it would be your own damned fault. I took that to heart, as I took everything I'd been taught as a Catholic. But I was hungry for knowledge, hungry for information, hungry for facts.

As I roamed in the library and the bookstore at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, I began to lose heart.

Sexually, I was in an agony of strong desire and impossible curiosity. It was a mortal sin to have solitary sex; to kiss; to do anything basically except to have conjugal relations in marriage which were entirely open to procreation. So this was an undercurrent of constant pressure and pain.

But the question of the modern world became bigger and bigger to me with every passing day. The old world of New Orleans was gone beyond reprieve, along with all its protective accoutrements, and I was no longer interested in it.

I wanted to read all the books I saw in Voertman's Bookstore, near the campus. I gazed at big thick trade paperbacks, with rich interesting covers, and names on them like Kierke-gaard and Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Immanuel Kant, and Aldous Huxley, and I wanted to know what was in those books. I wanted to read Nabokov's Lolita, even if it was a scandal. I wanted to see tantalizing and condemned foreign films.

My education, which had left off to some extent with my mother's death, resumed in earnest in college classrooms, as ideas poured forth from my professors on various topics ranging from sociological studies of American class structure to the preeminence of the style of the great writer Ernest Hemingway, who in our Catholic schools had been completely dismissed and ignored.

I was around students who knew much more of contemporary literature than I did, and who discussed subjects I'd never thought to discuss. They were hungry for learning, and there was no barrier to their learning. And they were good and wholesome people.

My faith began to crack apart.

All around me I saw not only interesting people, but essentially good people, people with ethics, direction, goals, values - and these people weren't Catholic. They negotiated their moral decisions with considerable thought but without the guidance, it seemed, of any established church. I liked them. I was learning from them, learning from fellow classmates as well as teachers, something which had not happened to me earlier in the purgatory of childhood where it seemed other children were monsters with precious little to teach.

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Drawn into Love (Fluke My Life #4)
» Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
» Right Where I Want You
» Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
» Be the Girl
» Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)
» If I Only Knew
» Vengeance Road (Torpedo Ink #2)
» 99 Percent Mine
» Free (Chaos #6)
» Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3
» Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)