Billy William's nuts itched, but he was in church and afraid to scratch them. The fear of doing profane things in the house of the holy had dogged him his whole life, or at least since he had first sat in Sister Blowney's Sunday school class when he was eight years old, and she had told him and the other kids that they were going to burn in hell unless they fell in love with Jesus.
Billy, young and naive at the time, had had the great temerity to ask, "Why? What have I done?"
Sister Blowney's eyes bulged out when she talked and her face turned red, " Original sin, dumbass!"
Well, she really didn't use the word dumbass, but she might as well have as Billy remembered that he had walked into church feeling pretty good that morning but had left feeling somewhat like a dumbass. I say somewhat because, even at the young age, he didn't really buy the message one hundred per cent. However, it deeply influenced his thinking well, always. It was why he wasn't scratching his nuts.
And every time he would get aroused from that point on, (well, not exactly every time) he would think of Sister Blowney's bulging eyes and the concept of original sin. He remembered one time in seventh grade English class while watching Evelyn George walking down the aisle in tight black dress, her hips swaying like a seasoned pro. He was trying to write as essay about what he wanted to be when he grew up, but all he could think about was that he wanted to be somewhere safe with Evelyn discussing the effect that that dress had upon him.
Suddenly, an image of Sister Blowney's bulging eyes interrupted his thoughts. He was really going through a hard patch at the time. The move across town to the new school didn't help things. He was popular and did well at the old neighborhood elementary school that he had attended up until the sixth grade. At Andrew Carnegie Middle School things were different. He had no friends and became a little shy and withdrawn. There were cliques there, the most popular being compose of the richer kids who lived on the North side of town.
Every time he got down on himself, or life got down on him, as was fond of saying under his breath, he become more susceptible to the frightful image of Sister Blowney's bulging eyes, her hateful words, and the saliva shower with which she said them. This particular time, he quickly averted his eyes away from Evelyn George's walk and said a prayer asking Jesus to save him from lustful thinking. Every time she rose, which was often as she couldn't sit five minutes without being overcome with the desire to show every boy in the class how nice she looked in the tight black dress, Billy would close his eyes and pray.
The mixture of limitations that church and school had placed on Billy's thoughts and actions were strong. Once, he had cheated on a math test in sixth grade, and the idea that it made him unworthy plagued him for years.
The schools, he learned, were more about socializing then bringing out the best in an person. For every Johnny Lemaster and Carla Heinz they produced twenty-five kids like Billy. Kids whose personal growth was stunted by weird teachers, power tripping principals, lowest common denominator peer pressure, and lots of self-doubt.
In third grade, Billy peed his pants because he was afraid to raise his hand in Mrs. Glenn's class room. In sixth grade, Mr. Graldeck made him cry when he made fun of the diorama that Billy had made of Californian mission life. Using Barbie and Ken dolls as Mission Indians probably wasn't such a good idea Billy realized afterwards, but that didn't give Graldeck the right to put his head down on his desk and pound upon it because he was laughing so hard he couldn't talk.
Then there was the time that time when Donald Glasky copied Billy's answers on a history test, and the teacher gave Billy an F because they had the similar answers. Billy felt it wasn't really cheating if you knew the answers.
By the time that Billy entered the job market, he was already well indoctrinated into what being a successful American was all about. Work taught him two things. First, you have to do things you don't like doing for money. Secondly, that work days go by quicker when you wish your life away to make it to the week-ends.
Billy got married right before he turned twenty-six. He loved his wife Jenny and his two pretty daughters. He traded all his dreams in for thirty years of domestic bliss. But once he firmly committed to the idea that one day he would retire and then start living the high life, his wife left him for younger guy with a Ron Jeremy porn mustache and a Kawasaki.
After that, Billy spent many an hour on the back patio of his home, watching the palm trees in his neighbor's yard dance as the sun sat in the west and contemplating his lost relationship with the long gone Jenny. There were times when he thought that would be good because he finally had the freedom to get some strange tail and stay out all night at the Indian Casino in Haborville. Trouble was, he was worried if he could even get it up, and he was far too shy to ask his doctor about the little blue pills that placed lead in the old pencil. Drinking beer only hurt his head in the morning and made him think of Sister Blarney's eyes.
Then, that would make him think of the grim future that lie ahead for a man who couldn't even use lustful thoughts to add flavor to his boring life. He read Tolstoy on a whim and Dostoevsky on recommendation of a friend. That was huge mistake because the stories were essentially grim arguments against existentialism which ultimately said that the secret of life is to give your life over to the service of others and have faith that it means something. Billy came out of the experience thinking, "Damn, I don't even care to help myself. How am I supposed to learn to care about others?"
He lacked faith and wanted so desperately for God himself to speak to him and tell him that everything would be okay. He wanted to hear a voice say that the life that Billy had lived up to this point in time was enough to keep him from burning forever in a lake of fire.
One night, he was so moved by the idea that he needed to hear God that he finished off the final beer of the six pack he had bought to watch the palm tree dance, as he called his back yard ritual of watching the sun go down, and went inside his house, took a shower, dressed in pair of slacks and clean white shirt, and drove to church.
He drove across town and parked his pick-up in front of the large building that housed the Temple of the Holy Redeemer, entered the chapel and at once felt calmer and more at peace. He kneeled down in prayer and started to conjure up a question to ask the Lord. His thoughts darted to and fro. Then he started itching.
He had entered church ready to listen and believed that he was emotionally primed for his conversation with God, yet the only think he could think to ask was would it be ok for him to scratch his nuts.