The sun was brilliant, temperatures in the 80’s, and everyone who came to the open house/swimming party sported something new: Marla had a new bathing suit; Theresa was dropped off in a new Cadillac, and even Sister Mary Joseph had a new semi-habit she had designed herself for these non-convent events, arriving by taxi with a beautiful bouquet of expensive flowers. A dozen other people, acquaintances, school mates and people from the complex, all looked new and exotic in and out of the water.
I hadn’t seen Theresa in months.
"And the Cadillac? I asked.
“My cousin Brahim, a UCLA PHD candidate, has moved in to help us after Uncle's passing. It's his car. Neat, ugh?”
“Oh? How long is he staying with you guys?”
“Until he’s finished, I guess.”
“When did your uncle...?”
“Last fall. I called your house and they told me you had left and had no idea where to...”
“I wanted to call you.”
“I thought you disappeared completely; went back to Italy. When you called about this party, I wanted so much to ignore you the way you ignored me. How could you just disappear?”
“I had a real tough time in the last couple of months. If it had not been for my obligation at Conaty, I would have.... If I knew how, that is.Yes, if I had know how to kill myself, I would have done it." By the time I finished those sentences, I was tearing, remembering the fights, the accusations, the feeling of being trapped and choking.
“I told you, you could have moved in with us. My aunt would have had no objections.”
“Yeah. I know.” I hugged her, and it felt great having her back with me. She had been my best friend for all those years.
“So, now, what’s the plan?” She said, calmly.
“I’m going back in June. I just paid my last installment to St. Anthony.”
“What is that?”
“The society that is arranging the trip. The ticket is a real bargain. What do you say you buy a ticket and join me for a few weeks? It'll be fun. You'll love my family."
“Not a chance. My aunt needs me now more than ever. Besides...”
“I met someone at the funeral. My aunt and his mother have been friends forever. Anyhow, the families had been estranged for years until the funeral. Now, we are seeing them all the time; we are even going to Disneyland together.”
People kept coming in and out of the pool, some would start dancing, most of them found their way to our table where we were distributing freshly-baked pizza and cold cokes. Nobody bothered to say thanks or ask how the pizza was made.
“I’m glad you liked it.” I remarked to no one in particular. People rushed back to their companions before meeting my eyes.
“Did you use a kit?” The voice belonged to a skinny tall boy sitting in a corner. I had not noticed him, but he had been playing a harmonica a few feet away.
“A kit? I don't know about any kit? I used plain flour, water, oil, yeast and salt for the bread. The toppings are easy too.
“You ought to go in business! This is very good!" He remarked.
“You think so?”
“You ought to start charging. We could use this kind of pizza at our office party or here, at our get-together.”
“We have monthly pot-lucks, people furnish snacks and beer. It would be great to have this wonderful pizza."
"I shall think about it."I said, satisfied that somebody had finally thanked the cook.
Even when it became cool and dark, people continued to pick up pizza. When I ran out of ingredients, we went indoors and collapsed to watch a movie on television. Later, I offered to drive Sister and Theresa back to their places, and started talking about the movie, one thing leading to another, how people went to bed without any guilt or thought of what they were doing. Sister interrupted.
“I hope you and your friends know about birth control.” She declared,casually.
I knew too little to formulate the simplest question. I was uncomfortable, but it didn’t stop her from continuing on the same vein.
“When we were newlyweds, the rhythm would not have worked for us. At the clinic, wives came in wanting to know what to do to avoid getting pregnant. They refused to discuss it with their priests or husbands. I had no qualms telling them about how to practice birth control.”
“Sex is just another function of our bodies that gives us pleasure. That intimacy allows another life to be formed. Your doctor should be able to guide you. Ultimately, though, you have to make these decisions.”
I thought being a doctor had changed her a great deal. Her knowledge had rubbed her religion off a bit. And it didn’t seem that convent life was re-establishing a good balance, either.
“Sister, why students are so eager to use make-up and lipstick the minute they leave school? I see them as they wait for their bus, rolling up their skirts, dabbing lipsticks on.”
I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear Sister's explanation.
“In Mexico, at fifteen, a girl is ready to be presented to the world, to be free to flirt, to attract males. Most countries have some sort of coming out ceremony. If we want our women to wait, they need to understand the power of their bodies, to understand the many chemicals that impact their senses. It’s a comfort for parents to know that their children are kept in a protected environment as long as possible. Parents want to make all decisions when in fact, to grow independent and successful with decisions, we need to feel the consequences.”
When I dropped Theresa off and she invited me in to meet her cousin, I told her I was way too tired. Maybe I should have visited a while. I didn't want to offend her again.
We stayed in touch, talked often on the phone, about how lives were changing, how each of us had to absorb so many new things.
“We will always feel a little bit guilty. We were raised catholic! Anything we desire feels immoral.” Theresa knew how to be reassuring.
I wondered if all Christians felt as we did. Maybe the rest of Christianity evolved, like the Protestants, the other religions, but our branch of Christianity seemed stuck. Stubborn. Uneasy with anything new.
One day, we might have a good laugh at all the guilt we covered ourselves with.
One day, we'll feel comfortable in and out of the water.