Ohio Portrait no. 202
In health class we were visited by a pro-abstinence performance art troupe. They did little skits about salvation and STD’s. They passed around a plastic water cup and had us all contribute to its void with droplets of food coloring, passing it around the room until the cup (which represented a woman), was murky and rainbow-brown.
We were shown images of herpes pustules, big and yellow-white against roadkill-colored skin. There was talk of resisting pressure. The actor-teacher-Christians performed a late night date in a car on a hill, and pretended to be coming off of furtive makeouts in the back room of a party. The woman sometimes gave in, in the skits, but if she did she became pregnant or ill, or she was physically abused. Her soul was shucked from her body with the very first touch and like that, she was plunged into hell.
There were piles of plastic chests and plastic CD cases with the words Operation Keepsake printed on them. That was the performing troupe’s name. Because the sacred virginity of each of us was a precious keepsake, to be cherished and maintained, or else we were irredeemable, tainted, garbage.
A girl asked what happens if you have already given your keepsake up. The performers stumbled through their answers, cutting one another off. They also spoke very slowly, unsure where their words were going, where their theology lead, not knowing when to stop.
“Well, that’s why it’s so important not to give your purity up..,” a man in a tight, bright orange Operation Keepsake t-shirt said.
“But what if you already have?” the girl pushed. “What do you do if it’s already gone?” She looked around the room, bewildered and outraged. “Well that can’t just be it, can it?”
In the back of the room a few boys were laughing. It was funny to them that she’d so obviously mark herself as a slut. Others laughed because she was being confrontational and it made them uncomfortable. Still others traded glances and smiled, glad to see the ripples of discomfort on the performer’s faces, but equally disdainful of the slutty girl who’d made them feel that way. Okay, I confess, I was laughing and smirking too.
It’s weird how the memory is sliced up into nearly contiguous images; funny where my mind has decided to place cuts and gaps. I remember the troupe coming in, their bright t-shirts and smiles, the way I rolled my eyes and whispered to my friend Emma; I can picture the bags of plastic tchotckes, and that they were highlighter yellow, and that when we were asked to sign the virginity pledge, each of us was given a trinket to hold and protect. It was supposed to symbolize our virginity, this thin, sharp-cornered, twenty cent piece of plastic with a shitty logo on it. I recall refusing to sign the pledge. I remember a girl refused to sign it because she had been raped, but that I was the only one in the room who knew that was why. I remember the put-upon look of our tired health teacher, whom we trusted so much, until she brought this upon us.
But I can’t recall how the girl’s questions and worries were put to rest. I don’t think they had reassuring words for her. But I do remember how the desks parted for her to make her way to the front of the room, to the line, so she could take a pen in hand and sign the virginity pledge that was no longer relevant for her, but which she wanted, so badly, so badly she was willing to be disrespected.
Months later people mocked her in American Government because of the massive crop of herpes pustules on her face. Her chin was covered in red and sloughing skin, atop which continents of white sickness floated. I remember she kept raising her hand and asking questions. Drew attention to herself, but that wasn’t why she was doing it. She just had a lot of questions. And no shame.
And I confess that I laughed at her then, too.
Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.