Kevin DeMello Schutt
“This is my body which is for you.”
-Excerpt from First Corinthians 11:24
“Masturbation is a grave sin.” She referred to sperm as my “seed” and said that, “spilling one’s seed in an act of masturbation was not only a form of homosexuality unto the self, but also the spilled seed contained incomplete offspring that die outside of the womb, and the souls of said offspring are recruited by the armies of Satan to combat God in the last battle of Armageddon.” She told me this by the peace garden outside our fifth-grade classroom.
The day before, we planted sunflowers for Cassie Bernall, a girl at Columbine High School, who was shot for saying she believed in Jesus. A few weeks before spring break, Mrs. Blake told us all about her and told us we’d be planting flowers for her. We went to the peace garden. Mrs. Blake was shocked that someone wrote Marilyn Manson in white-out on the trunk of one of the palm trees in the garden. She talked to us about it afterward, but while we were waiting for the other kids to stick their fingertips in the dirt, and then put the sunflower seed in the hole, and then push it in deeper and cover it with more dirt, I told Chris-M, that Matt-C told me he liked to jack off to the girl Bugs Bunny from Space Jam.
Matt-C never said that. My brother Charles’ friend Kyle said that as a joke once, but I knew how much Matt-C liked Space Jam and I knew all the things that Matt-C said behind my back, so I told Chris-M. Then he told Dani, and Dani told all her friends, and I ended up outside with Mrs. Blake while the other kids in class read silently from the gospel of Luke because Matt-C sucker punched me in the gut during recess and told her why.
I was pretty sure she would tell my mom and dad and I had to deal with that while also dealing with knowing I was staking the odds against God on the final show down of Judgement Day. I estimated, like my dad taught me to do with big numbers, and felt awful realizing I probably recruited more soldiers for Satan’s army than all the arms of the military throughout its history and also that of The Union and the Confederacy combined. I thought of Hell and it scared me.
I didn’t understand why God would do that. Why he would create us and The Devil just to fight and have it all end in a fiery punishment for those on the wrong side? Why he comes to Earth as a man, preaches peace, and then comes back with a vengeance. I knew I was on the wrong side, but masturbation just felt so good, and warm milk wasn’t nearly as good at getting me to sleep than busting a nut was.
Mrs. Blake said if I asked for forgiveness, I would be forgiven. She said that “knowledge of the deed, joking or otherwise, brought with it temptation, and that if sin came of temptation forgiveness was forfeited if the sin continued to occur.” I prayed with her. She put her hand on my shoulder. I didn’t ask for forgiveness for masturbating, but I asked for forgiveness for lying about Matt-C, and I asked Jesus to protect me from temptation. She was a Pentecostal, which is some kind of Baptist I think, because whenever I ended a sentence or took a breath between conjunctions, she would moan, say amen, or whisper “yes Jesus.”
Sex to me was a subject that came with having an older brother. My mom thought it was best to just kill two birds with one stone when it came to those talks. So, whenever Charles learned something about sex, so did I. We were living in Pompano at the time. My grandparents let my Dad buy their house from them so Grandpa wouldn’t have to work on the yard anymore and we could stop living in apartments. They moved close to the beach. Grandma still watched us in the summers and would pick us up from school in the afternoon. Whenever school let out, she would be waiting in her little red Toyota with a cooler that had two caffeine free Check Cola’s in it and a pack of Bubblicious in the ashtray.
She picked us up from school that day. We got in the car and I asked her if she had talked to my mom at all. I was trying to find out if the school called, but she said no and asked, “Why?”
“Nothing, just wondering.”
“How was school?”
“It was alright, a kid punched me at recess.” I told her I didn’t fight back.
“That's good, but why did he punch you?”
“Because he’s a jerk. Because he’s jealous of me because I’m funnier than him.” Although I wasn’t being honest, there was some truth to what I was saying.
Matt-C and I butted heads from day one. He used to be the funny fat kid before I got to Fort Lauderdale Christian, but I brought with me a whole butt-load of secular humor. Matt-C’s Granddad was a preacher. He couldn’t watch Chris Farley movies and he couldn’t talk about cool movies like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman’s Double Team. He did some South Park impressions, but only the ones he heard from folks around him, because his mom and dad wouldn’t let him watch South Park.
He liked to point out my secularism. He let the class know that my parents let me celebrate Halloween and that we went to church only on Sundays but not Wednesday too. He said that I liked pro wrestling, and that was gay because it was men with barely any clothes on rubbing up against each other. He made fun of me because my mom and dad wouldn’t let me read the Left Behind series. I told Chris-M what I did because Matt-C told Dani to stay away from me because I was bad news, and really hadn’t fully committed to Christianity since I hadn’t yet spoken in tongues.
Grandma told me she was proud of me for not fighting back. She said, “It takes a lot of grace and kindness to not meet violence with violence.” And said that’s why I was her little man, and that she was proud of what a good Christian I was becoming.
I felt sad hearing that. I felt like I was being a hypocrite, and I knew the only things Jesus hated in the gospel were The Devil and Hypocrites. I told her, Mrs. Blake said that being a Christian is hard work. That we are sinners, but we have to believe in Jesus and work on being good every day.
Grandma said, “That's nice.”
I was learning that there were lots of different kinds of Christians. My grandma was Lutheran like my dad, and although my mom and us became Lutheran when she married my dad, we were Catholic before we met him. Lutherans were different than Pentecostals and Baptists. and Catholics were way different than all of them. Mom got mad when I told her that Mrs. Blake said that praying to Mary was a form of idol worship. Dad said what he always said when the school’s version of Christianity seemed different than our own, and that was, “Does it say that’s wrong in the 10 commandments?”
And I said, “Yes. That’s actually the second one.”
My dad told me that although he’s Lutheran and may not pray to Mary, he understands why sometimes Mom and Charles and I did. He said that Mary is Jesus’ mom and Jesus, loving his mom, did what she told him to do. That made more sense to me. My dad and mom helped all the different kinds of Christianity and religions make sense to me.
My mom taught me that my Jewish friend Ivan and my Muslim friend Paulini would go to heaven. She said they just went to their heaven and we would go to ours, but school said that they were sure to burn in the river of fire if they didn’t accept Jesus into their hearts. Mom only told me this though, after Ivan’s mom called her and told her I scared Ivan after I told him he had to stop being Jewish if he didn’t want to burn forever in Hell. Paulini just stopped being my friend.
At dinner that night, nobody seemed to know about what happened at school. I told them the same story that I told Grandma. Mom said that if Matt-C tried to fight me again, I should hit him back. She told Charles that he should put the fear of God in him. Although Catholics and Baptists and Lutherans share the same bible, Mom didn’t really believe in the whole turning the other cheek thing.
After dinner, I went to bed. I said the Lord’s Prayer. I felt relieved that no one knew the full extent of what happened at school. I thought about what Mrs. Blake told me. I could feel temptation beckon. I thought of Jesus. The way he was in the painting above the blackboard in our classroom. Him, with his blue eyes and his blonde-brown hair and beard, looking down as if behind some window or fake painting that the eyes moved like in Scooby-Doo. He looked down from his spot between the American Flag and the classroom clock. I tried to focus on him, but I thought of Mrs. Blake. She was a college girl before she was our teacher. I thought about the day earlier in the year when she leaned over my desk to help me with a math problem, and I saw down her shirt. I thought of the blue vein that trailed down her breast and snuck off to its hiding place behind her skin-colored bra. Before I knew it, I was jerking off; was spilling my seed and, although it felt good, I was sure that The Devil had claimed his stake of my mortal soul and I told Jesus I was so sorry once more, and then dozed off to sleep.
The next day at school, our fifth-grade class was invited to upper-school chapel. Mrs. Blake said there was going to be a special sermon from a very special guest, and the fifth grade was invited since we all received communion already. On the way there, we guessed who the guest could be. I was hoping it was Dan Marino. Chris-M and Chris-J said that they thought it was going to be Kirk Camron. They said that Kirk Camron talked to the summer camp that them and Matt-C went to in Georgia. Chris-J said it sucked Matt-C wasn’t at school because he missed out on seeing Camron at camp because he caught diarrhea. We laughed about Matt-C getting diarrhea.
When our class got to chapel, Dan Marino wasn’t there. Neither was Kirk Camron. Instead it was Mr. Webb, my brother’s religion teacher. My mom and dad tried really hard to take my brother out of his class. Mr. Webb was a religion teacher, but he taught my brother that evolution was the Devil’s science. He taught my brother that AIDS was a disease that punished fornicators and homosexuals, and it would never be cured because the only person who could cure it was a baby that got aborted.
My brother was very easily bothered by things. We’d watch horror movies or movies where someone dies young and he’d be bothered by them for months. He’d have bad thoughts about losing me or my mom and dad, or that terrible things would happen to someone he loved. He had to go see a doctor every month because of these bad thoughts and Mr. Webb’s class only made those thoughts worse. All year long, he taught from the book of Revelations. My dad didn’t like that so he tried to get him out, but Mr. Webb was the only 7th grade religion teacher, and you needed to pass his class to pass on to the 8th grade. My dad told my brother not to listen to him. Told him to do his work in the class and just get a passing grade, but don’t listen to him because he’s a crazy person. I liked Mr. Webb though. He gave us cool things like fake hundred dollar bills with parts of scripture written on the back of them.
After my brother and I got our first communion, we weren’t allowed to go to the kid’s room for kid’s church on Sundays. My dad made us sit through the sermons and would ask us what they were about. If we couldn’t answer, we couldn’t stay up an extra half hour Sunday nights to catch wrestling or parts of the Dolphins’ game. So, I listened to the sermons, even in chapel. Mr. Webb’s sermon was about the shooting at Columbine.
He talked about how we’d reached a point in time where the Devil was hard at work. He was hard at work trying to make people stray from the flock. He was hard at work turning people outside of the flock into persecutors. He said that people were beginning to turn away from Christ and turning against Christians. Said that people wanted to hurt other people who only wanted to live good lives and love Jesus. He said the prophecy was coming true and asked us all to reaffirm our faith in Christ. In doing so, we would be saying “yes” just like Cassie did.
He told the room of us not to come up if we were going to continue to participate in secular culture. And not to do so if we were going to continue to deface the school with Korn and Marilyn Manson graffiti. He promised to give a Jesus Freaks CD and WWJD bracelets for folks willing to drop those secular kinds of CDs into his classroom wastebasket.
He quoted from scripture, the bit where Jesus says, “A man cannot serve two masters.” Then he went into a story about an atheist college professor from Harvard who got in a bad car accident and died and was resuscitated. That while he was dead, he went to Hell. That Hell is a dark place, where demons tear at your flesh like animals, and your body burns all over inside and out. He ended his sermon with the part from the gospel where Jesus says, “One must be born again” and offered all those who hadn’t yet committed to Christ to do so.
I felt scared. I remember my Dad telling my brother not to listen to this guy, but in Mrs. Blake’s class we learned that Jesus said it himself, “That anyone who doesn’t love him more than his father or mother, could not be his disciple.” And the same went for parents and their children. When I asked my mom about this, she said, “Maybe I’m a bad Christian, because I can’t say I love God more than my children.” I started to think that maybe my mom and dad were going to go to Hell. That they let themselves be that way because they weren’t really willing to serve one master. Maybe Matt-C was right all along and I really wasn’t committed to Christ.
The sinners lined up to take communion and when they did, they were told to take the communion and say, “Lord say the word and I will be healed,” to profess to being born again. I lined up with them. In line, I started to think about how I burnt myself on a bag of popcorn over the summer, and it really hurt. I imagined how that would feel inside and outside of the body, then I thought of a National Geographic show where a lion tore apart a gazelle, and I thought what it must have felt like to the gazelle. I couldn’t imagine how that would feel like forever, and if it was me. Maybe these were bad thoughts. The kind that Charles had to go see a doctor for. I was scared. I was guilty. I was on the wrong side.
My lips parted, and Mr. Webb placed the wine-dipped communion wafer on my eager tongue. I took the communion wafer into my mouth. The wafer turned into the jelly-like texture of the flesh of Christ and stuck to the roof of my mouth. I scraped it off and swallowed it.
I affirmed my faith and my desire to be born again. I was born again from the knowledge that every time I masturbated I was making bets with my eternal soul. I knew that being born again meant holding the truth within your heart of hearts that busting one’s nut felt good, but not as good as not burning or not being ripped apart for eternity would feel. I was ashamed for spanking my monkey the night before and I was forgiven, but this was my chance to make it right. To start on a new page. To stop jerking it and to fully commit to a Christ-like life.
I walked back with all the sinners a newborn in Christ. My eternity wasn’t aborted by my sinful and lesser nature. I was certain that no matter what happened in my life, from the age of 10 till the day I died, I would not only never spill my seed, but I would proudly state that I was a Christian even in the face of death, because if I risked not doing so, Hell was a fate far worse than death.
Kevin DeMello Schutt is a Brazilian-American poet and writer from Tampa, Florida. He is completing his MFA at Emerson College in Boston. His work has appeared on Poets.org, Driftwood Press, Emerge Literary Journal, and Split Rock Review. He is a recipient of The Academy Of American Poets College Prize.