Fiction — June 15, 2015 11:21 — 0 Comments


“…But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”

Samuel II: Chapter 11 – Verse 27

Summer, 1985, I read the Bible, smoked pot, and discovered the tale of David. I also committed adultery. Love trumped the letter of the law.

I finished high school that June. After a celebration, trashed on hard liquor and pot, I drove my parents’ 1977 Ford LTD station wagon into the trunk of a hemlock at the top of a cliff. Either the Lord or the tree saved my life. The damages: a broken arm, severe concussion, and a deep crimson scar that clawed from below my ear to the corner of my lip, nicking carotid; flesh ripped from my face.

I had always been Christian. My parents raised me in church; I prayed and believed in God, feared hell and aspired to heaven, but remained curious about sin. I had a few good friends, but very little fortune with women. In my senior year I began to experiment with alcohol and marijuana. My popularity increased (or so I thought), my insecurity diminished, and I discovered the thrill of recklessness. Until the accident.

I recovered at Whidbey Island General Hospital and every day my parents visited. They cried and embraced, and revered the almighty for sparing their only son. Friends, family and teachers deposited cards and flowers. They told me my future looked good; my face would heal. But I? After recovery I served consecutive weekends of community service for ‘minor in possession’ of alcohol. I committed to abstinence.

“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

Leviticus: Chapter 20 – Verse 10

My parents had a King James Bible, and as their loving but strict curfew eased I became consumed with the brittle pages. I had sinned, but I’d also been saved. Rather than hang out with my friends at night I started bussing tables at The Captain Whidbey, a restaurant that catered to the local military. My urge for intoxicants suppressed, yet my desire to fornicate powerful. I had made out with girls, but was still a virgin. My pinnacle moment had been ineptly fondling the breasts of a girl who had probably long since forgotten my name. My confidence, more so than my body, felt the scars. I insulated myself in meditation and work.

Whidbey Island is home to over five thousand officers, enlisted men, and their families. That summer one woman, her husband away on cruise, started an affair with a friend of his. When the husband returned, he caught the two in the act and shot them. He left his friend’s corpse at the scene, but stuffed his wife into a suitcase and threw her off Deception Pass Bridge at the north end of Whidbey Island. The US Navy hushed the crime and sent the killer to Fort Leavenworth. I tempered this tragedy with Old Testament doctrine, for the sailor had followed Biblical law and, with a cartridge full of stone, punished those who had disobeyed the seventh commandment.

“…David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.”

Samuels II: Chapter 11 – Verse 2

I worked full time at the restaurant, took long walks on beaches or in parks, and read the Bible. I spent less and less time with friends.

Julia Mendoza worked at The Captain Whidbey as a waitress. She grew up in El Paso, Texas, married out of high school, and her husband joined the Navy. One night at closing Vincent the chef offered dessert. I helped myself to a piece of cheesecake as Julia entered the kitchen.

“Cheesecake on the house,” I told her.

“No thanks. Not good for my figure.”


She only smiled and disappeared.

Later she said, “Sorry I couldn’t join you. I wanted to.”

But aside from this she didn’t seem conscious of being heavy. She had just turned twenty-one, almost three years older than I was. I found her beautiful, and the extra weight that might have made some girls insecure gave her confidence. I thought her luscious.

At the end of the night she counted tips. Often Julia and I would have a moment to chat. She asked about my scars, and listened as I told of my accident, “I wasn’t a movie star to begin with, but now I’m a monster.”

“No,” she said, “The scars are hardly noticeable. They give you character.”

“Great. I always wanted character.”

Julia told me I was lucky. I asked why.

She said, “You can recover. You can be free.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are still free to love.”

“Isn’t everybody?”

“Not if you mistake sex for love.

I asked, “How do you mistake sex for love?”

“You do. Trust me, you do.”

“I’ve never been in love.”

“I have,” she said, “And my husband’s a good man, I suppose. But he told me ‘Don’t get fat’ because he’d no longer be attracted to me. So if I really love him I better watch my weight. Right?”

“Vince left German chocolate cake.”

She smiled. “I’ll have a piece.”

Feelings became overt. She walked by, put her hand underneath my shirt and fingered the small of my back. I could feel the tingle all night. Ministers and preachers had certainty on matters of the flesh. I did not. On arousal my thoughts went to her, the fantasies could be so intense. I’d spend my late night with the Bible, waiting until I got erect, thinking about Julia. But my scars reminded me that drugs and alcohol led to ruin, as might, I feared, satisfying lust. I sought parables.

I found parables.

King David saw Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. He called, lay with her, and later Bathsheba told David she was with child. David sent for Uriah, and bade him return home to sleep in his own bed. Uriah, loyal to his men, refused. And so David arranged Uriah’s placement in the forefront of battle, and commanded that Uriah’s men retreat and abandon Uriah so that he would be slain. Uriah lost his life. Aside from God’s wrath, however, David emerged unscathed.

Who was King David? He rose from obscurity, received God’s favor at an early age, challenged Goliath in the name of this Lord of Hosts, slew the giant, cut off his head and carried the trophy across the Holy Land. From here he married Abigail, took another, Ahinoam of Jezreel, became King of all Judas, consummated relations with more concubines and wives, conquered the Syrians, smote Shoback, and maintained favor in the eyes of the Lord. He committed adultery and murder in the aftermath of two and twenty thousand men killed in the land of Damascus, blood underneath desert sun from Moab to Betah to Berothai, conversion upon conversion as he garrisoned all of Edom. From his wives he bore many sons, and they became the ruling chiefs of the Cherethites and the Pelethites. Thousands of years later men still followed his ways.

With eloquence and lyricism the Old Testament gouged out my naïve eye and thrust into my socket an orb seared. Ancient and just wars turned into just more war, honorable bloodshed into gore, seven fat cows and seven stalks of grain blighted by the east winds became myth.

“And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go into her…”

Deuteronomy: Chapter 21 – Verse 13

Late after work Julia and I talked outside in the parking lot by my car, hidden from the traffic of Penn Cove Way by red-barked madrona trees. She told me, again, not to worry about my scars, even though with her I never did.

She said, “It’s better to have scars on the outside.”


“Hurt on the inside hurts more. I married the wrong man. We both wanted a baby, but when I told him I was going to stop taking contraception, he told me not to because I’m fat. Having a baby will just make me fatter. Not that it matters, anyway, because we never have sex.”

“You’re not fat at all.”

“I am. I know I am. But that’s sweet.”

She leaned over and kissed me once on the cheek. The entire exchange took less than two minutes, but how long did I sift over these words, and for how long did I feel that kiss?

At the end of August Julia’s husband departed for a six-week cruise. I had enrolled in college in Seattle beginning late September. The Bible was now a curiosity, my apostasy near complete. In moments of solitude the pages complemented pipe and herb. If my faith had already been lacking, reading the Bible erased doubt. The tome represented the tree trunk that broke the camel’s back. Killings without contrition, acceptance of slavery, capital punishment for blasphemies; the mandate concerning female war bounty.

Julia and I grew closer. She asked if I smoked pot, if I liked wine, and I did and I did. Could we go somewhere after work and chat?

We parked at Cape Heart’s Landing and looked out at the harbor. Confidences grew, she told me of unhappiness. Mine seemed temporary and foolish in comparison. She had nothing but a job as a waitress and a guy she did not love. I asked why she married and she said, “He was my first.”


“We were fourteen. No one thought we’d stay together. But we were madly in love all through high school. I thought I’d be happy forever, not lonely and depressed.”

“You don’t seem depressed.”

“He’s arrogant, serious, and boring.”

We shared the bottle; smoked a bowl. We stopped talking and stared in silence. I faced angry husbands with guns and no love of anything but possession. They could go to metaphorical hell. I started to put my arms around her and hesitated, more out of protocol than any scruple. She kissed me on the lips and her tongue slipped in my mouth momentarily. Then she whispered, “Let’s do it here.”

We would be together until the end of the month. I traded mythical innocence for an ephemeral but possibly true love. “Love” may sound foolish, for our relation lacked eternity, and had foundations in her dissatisfactions and my hunger for release. But I wanted to please her and diminish sadness; she accepted. Questions of permissible adultery, real or imagined romance, self-gratification, all remain for philosophers and poets. And Julia? She chose and she had been chosen, free to sin and free to give. Not my captive nor a slave, nor sold by her family into marriage, she received with grace and reciprocated tenfold without compunction, all in accordance with the spirit of the law.


Caleb Powell is a writer and stay-at-home father. His debate with David Shields, I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel (Knopf), is now a film starring Shields, Powell, and James Franco.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney