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Wrestling with Angels

Never believe that lust and celibacy don’t mix.  They’re actually the perfect blend, alchemically bonded at the level of atoms and symbols.  Any teenager can tell you that.  Yet we forget it when thinking about adults.  Taking a vow never to make love … whether to anyone at all or to a woman other than your wife or maybe just not to that boy who’s so damn bad for you … doesn’t make a single desire go away.  It puts them front and center, like an angel in the road, demanding to be wrestled with.  It’s a physical contest.  It hurts.  This angel, should he win, can break your bones and snap your neck.

Father Zumbardo never laid a hand on me.  I’d say he never touched me, but that’s not quite true.  He’s innocent, though:  innocent as a man can be.  I say that believing in original sin.  I say that with the understanding, you must understand this, that I set out to seduce him.   After my husband died there was something irresistible about an unattainable man.  Perhaps fucking a priest would be like reaching beyond the grave, somehow, to bring David back to life.  Or maybe I just sensed his lust.  Maybe I could tell that even after 35 years of chastity, Monsignor Gregory Zumbardo was beginning to lose the war with his body.  That as it fell apart with old age his blood and bones could no longer resist the urges of his skin.  Maybe.  That’s how it happens, sometimes:  you see someone looking at you, and you know.  You just know.  Even if it’s impossible. Especially because it’s impossible.

I sought his counsel.  A widow’s grief.  We were alone together.  A lot.  And if you think he’s deviant I can tell you that he’s no more so than anyone in this room.  He stared where I drew his eyes;  his lips spoke of the redemptive power of suffering but his body was yearning when I crossed my legs.

How many times do you think a man like that has wondered, in his life, about what might have been?  About whether the grace of God would drop someone like me in his lap?  It seems to me they must fantasize about it all the time:  there’s something inhuman about the idea that they can really put it past them.  Really move on to the kingdom and the glory.  That’s the angel’s job.  Your job is to wrestle.  Every day.  To feel every muscle break in the effort to be a better man.  And then you get old.

I stayed in grief counseling for four months, carefully selecting what to wear every time, noting his body language and his preferences.  Toying with him.  Wondering if I was doing the devil’s work.  I don’t believe in the devil, but I do believe you know when you’re walking in his shoes.  I did.

But I felt better.  David had always been … well … David had always been in charge of our sex life.  Now I was in charge.  It made me feel closer to him, oddly.  It … and I don’t understand this … but it brought me a measure of piece.

At the end of four months, I made my intentions plain.  I got up and shut the door to his study.  I held his hands in his lap, I leaned forward.  I said “Father.”  I said “Gregory.”  I said “Let me console you.”

David would have fallen on his knees.  David would have been reduced to a pile of jelly.  David would have begged me to do it again.

But my David was a weak man.  I heard Father Zumbardo’s bones snap as he stood up.  I heard his knees groan as he got out of the chair, and his fingers break one at a time as he pushed my hands away.

“You’re ready to face the world again,” he told me, and kissed me on my forehead, and walked out of his own study, trembling.

I wondered, suddenly, if I was the angel, then:  if I had been wrestling this man and breaking his bones as a sacrifice to my own healing.  But he was right, and I have never been afraid of anything since then.  The kiss on my forehead burns whenever danger is near, and I face it head on.  I still love David, but he never really let me grow.

And Father Gregory Zumbardo walks with a limp now, which is the penalty you pay for being holy one day more.