Somehow I got the idea as a child, that there was always someone watching over me. Watching what I did, right or wrong. First, it was the notion of God. And he was a man. Older than Jesus, of course–but faceless. No one had ever seen him. But, clearly, he was a man. The Sunday school teacher  referred to God as “He” or “Him” and I got the feeling that no harm would come to me a long as I was “good”.

And then there was Santa Claus, another God-like figure. Now, there were tangible rewards for good behavior. When I didn’t receive much of what I asked for at Christmas I started to doubt this Santa Claus character was really listening. Of course, before long the myth was busted anyway when I stumbled upon my mother’s stash of wrapped presents for the little ones.

“Shhhh…don’t you say a word!” she warned. Once I understood that the whole Christmas thing was tied to the household income I gave up on being “good” for Santa. Now, I tried to be good for Mom.

Mom had her secrets. One of them being exactly what she was up to behind the bedroom door late at night with my stepfather. I knew it involved two bodies moving together, producing sounds I had never heard before. Exertion, exuberance–something wavering in the space between pleasure and pain. An intriguing mystery I felt compelled to unravel, mostly because I hated him so much. How could such a mean man cast this spell over her? And all the next day, she seemed enchanted–cheerfully affectionate, so different than her usual frazzled, impatient demeanor with us kids.

God, my internal monitor, was still a voice in my head, integrated with my thoughts–my conscience. Even so, I still felt compelled to do “bad” things, things I knew I shouldn’t–rifle through drawers and closets, peek through the tiny gaps between the wooden slats of the bedroom door– for answers to the tantalizing question of sex.

My great-grandmother died when I was ten. My mom told me she was watching over me from heaven now. I felt guilty at my relief that she was gone. A stern woman, she was often my babysitter when I was very young and I held only memories of menace. It seemed she was always after me for some infraction. My inability to sit still or be quiet–the main attributes of a good girl. I don’t recall a tender side at all.

I felt great shame that she might be looking down from heaven as I got older and discovered how to make myself feel good. I would close my eyes or pull the shower curtain across and try not to think about her looking–but eventually, because I knew I wasn’t going to stop–I started to feel spiteful, even rebellious about it. “Ha! What are you going to do about it, anyway? You are stuck in heaven now. You can’t get me with the strap, now!” I would taunt her in my head.

I thought, if I was doing something wrong, God would make something bad happen to me, and he never did. Feeling like I had the go-ahead from this benign force, that always protected me, never punished me–made all the difference in my adolescence. We had an understanding.

Although I heard the warnings and the cautionary tales telling me that sex is bad and you shouldn’t do it, my experiences showed me it wasn’t bad. It was the most intense, sensual pleasure I had ever felt. And it was free.

This becomes my salvation. The sweet, abundant reward, whether I am good or bad. It’s mine for the taking. I begin to seek this secret knowledge in the eyes of men. Do they know the secret, too? I’ve rarely met a man who didn’t know the secret. And if by chance they didn’t–they would learn it soon enough.