Wanda Clevenger – The Sin of Willful Thinking


The Sin of Willful Thinking


Eighteen remains an aching awareness. I won’t use the word stupid just yet as I find it harsh and bandied about too freely. Out of respect for my former self and the times, such as they were, I’ll polish the skeletons in my closet to a high gloss by labeling myself misguided. Devout and overtaxed in the responsibility of single parenting, my mother brought me up exposed to a rather narrow slice of the big, bad world. She knew of this world, the portion she had experienced, and much was left undecipherable.

You don’t do anything before you marry, so you don’t need to know anything before you marry,” Mom said. And my personal favorite: “Men are only after one thing.” The no-nonsense look on her face when exposing this nemesis made clear she wasn’t just whistling dixie. There was clear and present danger to be avoided at all costs. And I don’t wish to persecute her convictions at this late date, only seek to reassure myself she was some mistaken.

While other girls my age looked forward to college plans with wide-eyed anticipation, I vainly searched for an indiscernible path, blankly stumbling toward nothingness. Free will previously stifled, no sure steps were reasonably taken. And reason was quickly scorned in lieu of everything deemed wantonly wrong. Possessing no map except for that which the doctrine advocated “the way” suffocated every unrehearsed decision with guilt. I was running hard and fast from everything to everything else, a devil hound nipping at my heels.

I worked routine after-school jobs, landing in one of the diners our small town had to offer. The dinky dive had been around awhile; my oldest sister worked there six years earlier while in high school. The torch was gratefully passed to me and “waitress” officially became my tour-of-duty. The new management renamed the restaurant The Hub. I thought it a jerky name befitting a diddly joint stuck in a dinky town. And I genuinely feared it was my future.

A quarter tip per person, per table, was standard and I didn’t know different from dirt. Though, I did know if I wore my long hair in braids I’d get a slightly larger tip from a handsome regular. It began just like that too.One day I didn’t know squat and the next I knew too much.

The day I wore my hair in a ponytail instead of the usual braids, he asked me point-blank where my braids were. No other words had passed between us except for his food order, the “can I get you anything else” question, followed by an obligatory thank you. But I was slowly catching on. I found if my apron was cinched extra tight it pulled the uniform up shorter by another inch. More legs―along with the braids―would catch me a few more quarters per male customer. Yeah, I was starting to get the picture. When you please a man, even if it’s for a waitress tip in a greasy spoon, it puts you in the game. My eyes were opening. There was no turning back.

A first real paycheck came soon enough after earning my embossed high school diploma―a position with the Secretary of State attached to an hour’s commute. I flubbed an interview at a local law firm on purpose, upset my mother pushed me into it. Whether aware or not, like all loving mothers she choreographed: what to do, when to do it, how to do it, what to wear while doing it. And to a degree, what to think. She had it in mind to decide the future for me, and I was having none of it.

I told the suit I’d absolutely leave his employment if an opportunity in the commercial art field presented itself. What a farce. An opportunity in the commercial art field in small Carlinville was as ludicrous a notion as Hugh Hefner setting up shop adjacent the Baptist Church. An art teacher had praised my talent senior year and I still held tight to the notion I might be an artist, given half an opportunity. To this day I can’t believe my own audacity. But I accomplished what I set out to do, I blew that interview sky high. The course of my adult life was set by pure defiance. This counts as first in a long line of mistakes self-inflicted out of rash disregard, desperation, and reckless stupidity.

Destiny was set in motion. Life came roaring up the tracks full-steam―slammed right into me―and I was derailed more times than I care to admit. The government jobs held were one mind-numbing drudge after another, proceeded by countless carpools brimming with the most dreaded of humanity: the State Worker. I landed in the middle of a freak-fest. The forfeited desk in that long gone law office looked awfully darn good.

I rose at five o’clock every weekday to primp, coif, and catch my ride so I could pretend to sleep through the commute, so I didn’t have to talk to the freaks, so I could get to jobs that could only be described as torture. The agony was further aggravated by loneliness, disappointment, and acute horniness. If anything at all could turn the tide, I thought it had to be sex. It was past time I became acquainted with my mother’s nemesis. Early fall meant the local college was in full session; the most logical place to start, plenty of centrally located potential partying. I lied to my mother―what was one more sin atop another―said I was meeting a friend at her job and catching a ride home. The biggest solo decision of my life thus far, bad career choice aside, breathed life because I was unhappy and horny.

Set on getting laid, although hoping for someone in particular, I enlisted fate to provide a partner. I’d waited too long and had come too far to be picky. Someone surely wanted me, just for me. An unfulfilled need beyond physical propelled me into the night, alone and on foot, to the college road. But even that paled in comparison to the pounding in my chest. The act itself didn’t scare me. Nor the night. Nor the sin. My biggest fear was that of omission. If rejected while willing to give up all I believed I had to offer, it would finish me. The leap I was taking was far more than just losing my virginity. I had to know once and for all if I was part of the equation.

The first car to come up from behind in the dusk carried a familiar face, a guy who pumped gas at the Texaco on North Broad. We had met briefly one Saturday afternoon. I was with an older sister who stopped to flirt with him. Polite but uninterested in her, he seemed friendly and was easy to look at. Afternoon sun melted into his strawberry-blond hair as he smiled in my general vicinity. He was smiling then as he recognized me, asked what I was doing, and without waiting for a response said to get in. It was that easy. It didn’t matter that I was winging it, only that I was winging it. The whole flippin’ universe fell into my lap and I grabbed for what the scandalous moment offered. Free choice.

The college was a few blocks away. We must have talked to each other, but I don’t remember a single word.  After drinking from a six-pack inside his car, we went to his dorm room. Some guys in another room yelled something, laughed, as the door closed. I hadn’t drank before, was a little off-balance, and couldn’t make out what they said. We unceremoniously fell onto his small bed and onto each other. I swear I’d give up details if I could remember any. My best description is a hit and run, except that it was no accident. I wanted it. He wanted it. Hell, every person on that campus wanted it.

I woke the next day safe and sound in my own bed, enormously changed. There was absolutely no shame in what we did. I didn’t turn into a pillar of salt and Hell didn’t open up and swallow me. The devil hound no longer nipped at my heels. My first time happened. I had sex. Dorm-room sex, no less. And be it by part or the sum total of hormones, loneliness, and determination, I made it happen.

When I wander back into the unhappy years that surrounded this time, I can push most of the muck aside just by thinking the name Blackburn College. By remembering how I found my own way.


The Sin of Willful Thinking was first published in The Right Eyed Deer, Issue 6, 2011.




Wanda Morrow Clevenger is the author of the collection This Same Small Town in Each of Us (2011). She has been widely published, and have added up 222 publishing credits in 86 print and electronic literary journals and anthologies.  Amazon reviews can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/author/wandaclevenger

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