The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 3


September 12, 1980


A tiny, red paper heart was glued to the side of my suitcase. Carol must have pasted it there before I left Halifax. She always thought little gestures like that were more important than sex. It was half torn off, exactly half. I tore off the remaining half and went for a walk.

The road was empty and quiet, with a full moon hiding behind dark, scudding clouds. I shivered, pinched to the bone by loss. Every way I had known myself—friend, lover, husband, father—had been canceled out by betrayal. I stopped to look at the lines on my hands, creases of shadow in the dimness. I wondered if they'd foretold Ariel. My palms suddenly glowed with light. I looked up. The brazen moon had taken off her clouds. I looked back at my hands and suddenly knew the answer: If my body had been attached to Carol with the same intensity as I had been, it would now be as dead as the rest of me. My body lived; therefore, it knew the difference between a choice for life and a choice for death. But I’d always thought my body was an impediment to spirit, that physical pain was a sign I was on the correct spiritual path. Even as a small child, I knew Jesus loved me best when I was suffering. Dark clouds covered the moon again, and I knew that if I didn’t change, I would soon be physically dead as well. A homicidal drunk driver felt minutes away. But what if my body chose sex? I might never be free of the tyranny of desire. After a long, tense minute I faced the miserable glow of the chastened moon, and surrendered my free will to my body. What it wanted, I would want. I turned and walked back. The moon stayed cloaked.

The Bancroft School of Massage in Worcester looked like a set from a 1940s black-and-white movie. There were stainless steel tables, steam rooms, and balding men standing around with white towels wrapped tightly around thick waists. Some were lying on tables and getting their backs pounded by big, beefy masseurs. The three-hour class was more entertainment than instruction, but I didn’t mind. I could get my certificate in one year by going two evenings a week, as long as I passed a course in anatomy and physiology, which they didn’t offer.

The School for Body-Mind Centering in Amherst did, although they called it “experiential anatomy.” The woman on the phone assured me it would meet massage school requirements. I opened the door to a large dance studio and looked out over a sea of about 50 women, most in their twenties. I had never seen so many women in one place before, or heard the high, deafening sound of so many female voices all talking at once. Hardly any of the women wore a bra. I looked away from one jiggling bosom only to find another one swaying in front of me. The only solution was to sit on the floor, but there I found myself in the middle of a forest of female legs. Most of the women were wearing dance tights of different colors that clung to calf and thigh then flared out into alluring hips that towered above my embarrassed eyes. Looking for safety, I moved next to Bonnie Cohen, the founder of the school. Her graying, wiry hair looked like an insomniac's nerves, and her heavy-lidded eyes had the middle-of-the-night look I was so familiar with on my own face. Twenty minutes after class was supposed to start, silence fell. Once she had everyone’s attention she waited a long, silent moment, then said, “The first exercise is separating our sit-bones.” After a two-hour class of weird exercises, my pelvis felt like a beehive. I didn't know how pelvic buzzings would satisfy the anatomy requirement for massage school. The hippy name of the school bothered me as well. I decided to give it a week.

Three separate times the next morning I typed from Teach Yourself Typing to the edge of screaming, and still my finger was blind to the location of the letter “c.” After lunch I picked up The World According to Garp, scorning yet another successful dirty paperback. I opened it at random, kind of looking for a dirty part, and read: “He was having witless fun with his children, fitting her image of what a cuckold was, while his wife was getting planked.” I gagged. I flung down the book. I shivered violently. My jaw went into spasms. I jerked to my feet muttering garbled words, holding back from screaming until my throat hurt. I paced the room, scheming grisly plots of revenge and murder. I saw Carol's dead body then thought of the boys and how if I hurt her I hurt them and fiery pain burned anger to ashes. I remembered how I’d ritually forgiven both Carol and Amin in a way I couldn’t take back. Pain drowned in despair, and I collapsed onto the carpet. Rage found me wallowing on the floor and shocked me upright to plot revenge, starting the cycle all over again. Hours passed. By nightfall I was still mumbling chopped-up words and throwing myself around the room in fits. Exhaustion set in, but I couldn’t sleep. I sat down heavily at the desk. I needed to curse Carol, for real. But any idiot knows curses work both ways, and I was accursed enough as it was. Filled with rage and frustration, I picked up poor trampled Garp—and suddenly knew what to do: I would curse her with the curse of being me. I’d be protected because that curse had already worked backward. My body shivered all over with pleasure. That meant it was the right thing to do, since I was following my body. I typed Carol a letter. It took a long time because my fingers were trembling so violently, and I still couldn’t find the letter “c,” probably because it was the first letter of her name. I ended a letter of almost incoherent rage with, “May you know full well what it’s like to be me. My name is Daniel. Your Danny is dead.” It was nearly midnight. My face was feverish and my fingers like icicles. I put the curse inside an envelope and addressed it to Carol, then slipped it into my knapsack like a loaded gun.

In the first developmental movement class I placed my forehead on the floor like a Muslim in prayer then rolled forward vertebra by vertebra from my tail until the weight of my body was resting on the crown of my head and my chin was touching my chest. I gagged and sat up fast. “Could you come help me on this?” I asked tall, pale, red-headed Sara, the teacher. “I almost vomited.”

“Do it smaller,” she said, sitting on the floor next to me. “Use less muscle.” I put my brow on the floor and tucked my butt. “No, that's not it. You're using your pelvis. Just use your tail.” I tried again, focusing on a deep tail twitch. “You're stopping the movement at your throat. That's probably why you feel like vomiting.”

I did the movement one more time—a shock of fire blazed up my spine from tail to head then flashed out my crown. I did the movement in reverse, but it was too late: My spine was a hollow tube for lightning. “This is not anatomy,” I said, my voice trembling. “This is mysticism.”

“Welcome to the pineal roll,” she said, and moved on to someone else.

At the end of class she summed up the principles of infant development that we'd learned through movement, and I understood experiential anatomy: My body learned first, forcing my mind to make sense of my experience after it had occurred. That was the same as following my body, which meant the School for Body-Mind Centering was where I belonged, even if the curriculum was too weird to be of much use in my career as a massage therapist.

I was standing in line at the post office when glittering bits of black, incandescent blue, and shining silver began dancing jerkily in front of my eyes like lunatic cowboy shirts: a migraine. I mailed the curse, then went home to bed, where I lay awake and in pain for the rest of the day. The loss of Carol penetrated my blood.

A week later I called her to see if she would ever speak to me again. She hadn't gotten the curse yet, and chattered on as if everything was the same—until I corrected her when she called me Danny. “I really don't like the tone in your voice!” she said stiffly. “I've been calling you that for 11 years and I'm not going to be able to change overnight!”

“That's all right. I'll correct you when you do.”

“Please don't!” We breathed into the phone for a minute, then politely said goodbye and hung up. Saying a firm “please don’t” used to be our only way of getting angry at each other, until one day I heard myself say, “Please don’t say ‘please don’t!’” After that I refused to say it anymore, on grounds of idiocy. She went on saying “please don’t” whenever she felt like it, which drove me crazy, because without “please don’t,” I had nothing to say when I was mad.

“Lie down on your backs and move asymmetrically,” Sara said, “but don't cross the midline with your limbs.” We all did the strange movement for several minutes. “Now cross the midline with your limbs.” I tried, but my arms and legs meandered about as if they each had a mind of their own. The harder I tried, the more my limbs refused to obey. Frightened, I applied enormous effort—and something broke deep in the center of my brain, a pinging noise reverberated around my head, and my arms and legs wandered erratically across the midline, each on their own time—suddenly pictures of a newborn baby flashed in front of my eyes and I was tightly curled in a fetal position. My belly roared with burning need that rose up my body like lava, set my chest aglow, and moved into my mouth. My lips gained so much weight and sensation I worried they'd fall off my face. Dazed, I snuck my thumb into my mouth and sucked the hell out of it.

“Now,” Sara said—I sat up like an explosion, quickly hiding my wet, swollen thumb. “We're going to do the head-lift while lying prone.” With her freckled, long-¬fingered hands, she guided me to extend my neck with a movement so slight it was more of a thought than an action. “Now turn your head from your lips and initiate the movement from your sense of taste, from your oral desire.” I lifted my head abruptly. “Too high. Try it again.” This time, I turned my head slowly, following my buzzing lips, then lifted it up like a baby, leading with my whole mouth. My body swelled to bursting with the need to cry. “That's it!” Sara said, and moved on to someone else. I quietly crawled over to the wall and quivered. I was alone in a room overflowing with no bras. I did not cry.

After class I walked Sybil home to downtown Amherst. She was from Atlanta, and at 5’10” about two inches taller than I was, with long, wavy, walnut brown hair and green eyes that changed implications every minute. We sat on a bench beneath a maple tree that was flaring like a head in flames, and talked about marriage and divorce for hours.

“My apartment is next door,” she said as she stood up to leave. “Come on over sometime. You know, there's lots of nice ladies in Amherst.”

My full cup of coffee flew out of my hands. Sybil exploded in laughter, then handed me her napkin and left. There was coffee on my face, shirt, pants, shoes and all through my curly brown hair, as well as in little puddles around my feet.

“I got that letter you told me about,” Carol said, her voice shaking with indignation. “It was so hateful, I returned it to sender. But it came back three days later because I'd opened it! Please don't send me anything else like that!”

She hung up. I stared at the receiver in shock. She hadn’t said goodbye.

“Lie down on your stomachs,” Sara said the next week in class. “Lift your tail directly up into the air like babies do before they know how to crawl. Then thrust down from your tail through the center of your body. It should send you down and then up into the push-up position.” She watched while we all attempted the odd movement, then said, “Come watch Daniel do it, everybody.”

The women gathered around me. I performed. One woman said, “He’s so strong, all he does is use his muscles instead of initiating from the inside.”

“You’re right,” Sara said. “Now let’s see you do it.”

The class moved to sit in a circle around her, leaving me on the edge feeling like a leftover. My head went hollow, the lights dimmed, and I started to wobble. Right before I fainted I leaped to my feet and ran out the door and down the stairs to the parking lot, where I desperately lit up a Marlboro for protection from the truth: I muscled my way through life in order to avoid my insides because that’s where my disgusting needs and desires were. It started to rain. I crouched under a bush and chain-smoked. Fat dollops of water dripped off the leaves onto my head. I refused to budge until I changed, even if I had to stay there all night. Only then did I understand how. I announced to the parking lot, “I will follow my needs and desires, because that’s the same thing as following my body.” I felt I’d signed a legally binding document, with the rain as my witness. I was soaking wet by then. I went back inside. The room was empty. Class was over.

One Saturday night in October, after a few hours of frenzied dancing, I went outside to the parking lot with Sybil for some fresh air and kissed her hard on the lips without asking first. She broke away, walked over to her car, and got in the back seat. I got in on the other side. She squirmed. Her silky blue dress rustled, sliding up her long, smooth legs. “I'm having a weak moment,” she said, and yanked her dress down.

“No, a strong moment.”

“Oh, you leprechaun! You keep popping up and making me want you! Listen, the kind of man I want is older and rich, and will take care of me and surround me with beautiful things. You're 31 and I'm 38. You're too young, you're not rich, and you're trouble.”

“Sounds like your father.”

“My father's a fine man, and available, too.”

“Sybil, if I was any more available I'd be hospitalized.”

She crossed and uncrossed her long American legs, and forgot to pull her slippery blue dress down. “I'm jealous and hurt you say you can't be monogamous! All my lovers wanted other women. I want monogamy!”

“Sybil, we’ve been over this before. It’s highly unlikely there will ever be—” She leaped out of the car, slammed the door, and stalked away. I couldn’t dance after that.

A week later she invited me over after class. “I have my own timing with this, you know,” she said as I walked in.

“Or course! Could you fix me some coffee?” I thought it might clear my sinuses and maybe my poor swollen prostate as well. I had a strict hands-off policy because masturbating made me want sex.

She started to, but in her tiny kitchen we kept bumping into each other. Finally we gave in and kissed like refugees reunited. My sinuses cleared instantly. After several breathless minutes she pulled away and walked into the living room. I followed, dazed. We kneeled on the floor next to the day bed, our knees touching each other, and kissed so deeply I felt my face melting into hers.

“This is wonderful!” she said, 10 minutes later. “This is real tantric sex!”

“I guess I'm meeting my karma,” I said, painfully shifting my legs. “I practiced tantra for years, trying to turn sex into spirit.”

She stood up and left the room. A long time later, she came back dressed in a severe gray suit like a businesswoman. She sat in front of me on her knees and said, “Maybe tantra was bad for you because Carol didn't like sex. I do. I'm just choosing to use the energy for something else.”

“That's what I told myself for years.”

She stood up and left. After several minutes, I concluded she wanted me to go. I hung around thinking she would come back to say goodbye. Twenty minutes later, she walked into the room wearing a filmy blue negligee over underwear. “Let’s sleep now,” she said, and got under the covers. Confused, I undressed and got in next to her, careful not to touch her. She rolled over to face the wall. My erection throbbed away in its little tent. Hours later, I was still awake and still erect when without warning she pulled me on top of her and with a painful chafing jammed me inside her then moved like an earthquake beneath me. Within minutes the swelling in my prostate condensed into a hard-boiled egg that exploded out of me with a great deal of pain. Tears rose to my eyes from a place that had never wept, then wet my cheeks with sleep.

I opened my eyes at dawn to feel Sybil's full, rich lips on mine as she climbed on top of me with her magnificent marble-pillar thighs and engulfed the morning erection that had no right to be there after the night before. A powerful peace radiated from our joining and saturated the room with the sacred. I'd only felt that before in churches. She sat up and rode me like a horse. Carol never did that. “God wants you to come,” Sybil said, riding up and down in my saddle, “He wants you to come lots and lots.” I was offended to hear such talk of God. The sacred feeling faded away along with my erection.

Late that night I gave up on the typewriter and went outside for a smoke beneath the newly naked trees. All day long I'd been worrying about having too much sex. All the spiritual disciplines I’d heard of said loss of sperm led to weakness of body, mind, and spirit: dissipation. Some said ejaculating drained the body of the power to have lucid dreams. A brooding wind threw careless bits of rain at the dead leaves with a dry, crackling sound. I looked at my cigarette turning to ash. The only thing spiritual disciplines had ever given me was self-delusion. In defiance of God I wrote poetry about sex and Sybil until long after midnight.

Dusk was overtaking the day with danger as I started walking the three miles to Sybil’s apartment and the oblivion of sex. As I crossed Amherst Common, the air filled with the unearthly beauty of a huge male chorus chanting praises to God under the silvery full moon of October. Mesmerized, I followed the sound of God down the street, up a stone stairway, onto the Amherst College campus, and over to a classical New England brick building. The Kyrie Eleison was pouring out of a second story window from a stereo on top volume. A woman in blue jeans burst out the door and ran laughing up to me, thinking I was an old friend. I wasn't. She left the door wide open behind her. Students with feet on the furniture shouted at each other over the blaring of a large-screen TV. Two people wrapped in sheets stumbled down a hallway strewn with toilet paper. A car jerked to a halt next to me, leaving raw tire gashes in the grass. Yelling students poured out of the car along with the stink of spilled beer. The heavenly music was abruptly turned off with a loud scrape of the needle, leaving the night filled with the sounds of drunken revelry and verbal abuse. There was no one at church but me. The message was loud and clear: celibacy was my debauchery; sex was my salvation.

Sybil got up to let me in, then went back to bed. I quickly undressed and got in next to her. I lay tense in the dark, painfully erect. “I'm very tired,” she said, her face turned away. “I must sleep.” Greatly relieved, I went right to sleep. My erection stayed awake. Sometime in the night she mounted me like a soft white-skinned creature from the female deep. Wracking sobs tore out of my throat when I came and I wept copious, ancient tears that should have been released when Christ was crucified, but were held back.

I avoided Sybil for many days. Then one day her car pulled up beside me. I got in and felt too close to her. I shut the door and felt imprisoned.

“Guess what? I got my period! I know it's because of you and your male juices. I've had no period for a year! I thought I was in menopause! I feel like a woman again! Even the cramps make me happy!” We drove to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate. When we stood up to leave, we stuck to each other like Saran Wrap. With difficulty, we separated to get in the car. Every movement she made was unbearably erotic, every green-eyed glance a kitten crawling under my clothes.

“We're going to make love in your bed.”

I slammed my foot down on an imaginary brake. “No! We can't!”

“Why not?”

“Because of my housemates, Beth and Sully. They'd be real upset to hear us.” She eyed me suspiciously. I broke into high-pitched giggles.

“…Really?”

“Yes, honest! I just can't. Let's get together tomorrow night.”

She stopped the car. I flung open the door—“Wait!” My eyes flickered like a trapped animal's. “Daniel. Listen to me. I am an angel. God sent me to you, to have you come in me. I need your male juices.” Giggling hysterically, I leaped out of the car. I could not stand it when she talked about God like that.

“I can tell from your socks you should stay home today,” Sully said when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast. I looked at my feet. One sock was falling down over the shoe, the other had the pants leg stuffed inside it.

The phone rang. I picked it up. “This Halifax iron is too hot,” Carol said. “Everybody suspects we're breaking up and I don't know what to tell them. I have to get away from the heat for a while. I called to ask your permission to take the boys to my mother's in California for five months right after you visit at Christmas.”

“Well…seems okay to me.” She was silent. I waited, tensing.

“Listen, reading your poems demolishes me for two days straight.”

“I needed to feel my negativity. Although now that I have a lover— “

“I'm hurt and angry you sent any of them!”

We both paused for breath. We were careful to say goodbye before hanging up.

That night Sybil wouldn't let go of her teddy bear and heating pad, and pulled away from me when I tried to hug her. I gave up on her the way I always used to give up on Carol, and sat up in bed to meditate. Several minutes later I heard her say, “I can feel you leaving me. Your spirit just receded.” I opened my eyes. Every object in the room glowed with a magical peace and purity. My body was an envelope I could discard at will, and I was the letter returning to God, the sender. Physical sensation was so far beneath me I could hardly lift my arm—Sybil bit my ear. Feeling rippled through my body like a spring thaw. She nibbled on down my cheek. With a massive effort, I lifted a numb hand and touched her face, feeling her love for me in her voluptuous lips. An erection rose like the miracle of life, its phallic eye open to a vision of truth that Empty Mind could never see.

“The eyeball is the highest ball-and-socket joint in the body,” Bonnie said, “and vision begins at the tail.” I tested her theory by imagining my eyes as the top joint of my tail as I moved at random around the room. I felt “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.” Bonnie was right: my wonderful eye was rooted behind my stinky anus. I was so offended I stopped moving. No wonder the Holy Inquisitor wanted to burn Copernicus at the stake. In Catholicism the heavens rotated around mankind. By seeing the solar system from an imaginary point of view in outer space, Copernicus invalidated a religion and its entire system of thought. Bonnie had done the same thing to me. She’d hauled my eye down from that all-seeing Copernican point into the darkest, lowest, smelliest place in my body. I was suddenly so dizzy I felt like throwing up.

After class, without knowing why, I phoned Nancy, my driving partner to massage school in Worcester. “My period almost came then it didn't. I'm all bloated, chaotic and full of gloom.” I ran all the way there, thrilled to be needed after what Bonnie had done to my eye.

Nancy’s apartment was dark and strewn with clothing and dirty dishes. She stripped off her clothes and lay face up on her portable massage table. Under her leonine mane of coarse yellow hair, she had the taut, muscled body and small breasts of a marathon runner. I gently rubbed her belly. “God, Nancy, you're like a pile of bricks down here.” After two hours of a full-body massage, I rubbed it again. “I'm done. Your belly's nice and soft now.” Without thinking, I brushed my hand across her nipples.

“Ow!” I yelled.

“Ow?”

“Yeah, my penis sparked with pain when I touched your nipples. As if that completed a circuit or something. Let me try it again—Ow! That really hurts!”

“My period started! Right now!” She gave a huge sigh of relief, and the room filled up with a deep religious air. Overcome by the feeling of being on sacred ground, I laid my head on her chest and was instantly asleep, even though I was still standing up next to the massage table. I awoke a few minutes later, deeply refreshed. The religious feeling was still pure and thick around us, despite the messy apartment, which confused me. I knew about cleanliness and Godliness. But the sacred feeling was too powerful to deny. We slid into bed and stroked each other into flames. I reached a peak for both of us and came all over the sheet.

“I made a mess,” I said, and tried to worry.

“Hey, that's okay,” she said, laughing low. Her blue eyes were chunks of sky. Dark came like forgiveness, and then sleep.

In the last class before Thanksgiving break, the teacher had us do contact improv, a dance form that consisted of moving while touching another person. Sometimes the whole group ended up in a moving lump on the floor. After a while I got hot, so I took off my shirt. Soon at least three women were rolling over and under me as we moved around the room. With a shock I realized I was sexy, and froze in fear and shame: This was the taste of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I slowly worked it out, while women like serpents coiled and climbed all over me. I followed my body, and my body liked the taste of this fruit. By the end of class my vision was swimming with curving waists and bouncing breasts, their nipples little moving bumps under cloth. I felt distinctly odd at the travel agent's a few minutes later. Being sexy and going to Halifax had nothing in common.

I stood at Sybil's window and looked out over the first snow of the winter, remembering in a snowy blur all the Canadian winters of my life. Worries snowed down on top of me: my children, my not-yet divorce, my future career. Sperm was frozen by that blizzard. Sybil may as well have tried to milk a rock.

Right as I drifted off, I fell into a long tunnel of blackness, down, spinning, down… I am wearing a coarse brown woolen robe and kneeling on the cold stone floor of a 12th-century English monastery. I bow my head in front of the altar and say in a hard voice, “I vow to God I will never ejaculate again.” I bolted upright, covered in sweat. I woke up Sybil. “That vow wasn't about masturbating or having sex. It was about wet dreams.”

“You're still keeping that vow, aren't you?”

“No. It's broken!” But I could hear the panic in my voice. I had to get up and put the breaking of the vow in writing, in words that stayed. When I went back to bed I noticed a crystallized piece of vaginal fluid clinging to the end of my penis. I left it there like a talisman, to protect my penis from Jesus.

…I am looking into the face of a medieval Japanese warrior who has seen his children butchered before his eyes. I leapt into my clothes and ran to catch the bus to the Boston airport. Beneath dreary clouds, a lurid strip of orange flared like demonic neon.

There was heavy cloud cover all the way to Halifax.