We wrote letters for a summer. Dated for roughly three years. We loved each other much longer than that, but, ultimately, he was meant to be a priest and I, to be a writer and meet Jon.
I love Jon.
So, no. This post isn’t about childhood sweethearts and love ever after. Rather, it’s about that 14-year-old and her reputation for being a “goodie-goodie” — a name that has stuck with her for many years.
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I went to a tiny Christian school from kindergarten through 12th grade. At the time of my high school graduation, my class was the school’s largest graduating class to date. My class had sixteen students. From my tiny private school, I went to a private Christian university — Southern Adventist University — located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Southern had roughly 2,000 students and was known for being conservative. Rules included things like: dorm curfew at 10 p.m., drinking and smoking and wearing jewelry were not allowed, and attendance at church and worship services was required.
Did I mention it was “conservative”?
It was a very safe environment — one parents could feel very comfortable sending their children to. And, overall, it was a great school. My favorite professor of all time was the English chair there for many years.
But . . .
It was after a work Christmas party — my first job was as a copywriter for a publishing company in Chattanooga — when it became very apparent just how sheltered I’d been. No. I didn’t wake up with a hangover next to a stranger. Rather, I had no idea what to order in the first place. A group of us were at a restaurant, and, while my coworkers were ordering their favorite beverage, I stared at the menu, bewildered. A cosmopolitan? What was that? A lager? An ale? Maybe I should try a martini?
My friends were agog when they realized I’d never tasted much alcohol.
I’d also never been out clubbing or partying.
Never learned to dance.
Never eaten much meat.
Never had sex.
I was a “goodie-goodie.”
Over the years, I have both appreciated and resented my sheltered upbringing. On the one hand, it was a safe place to learn and grow and create a value system with which to handle the “big bad world”; on the other . . . How can you truly know what you believe and why you believe it until you are confronted with the “big bad world”? Further, how can you “spread the Word,” as I was taught growing up, when you spend your life alienating those who are different from you? There have been multiple times I’ve encountered something I’ve never heard of before — a band name, an incidence in time, a popular term, a slang phrase, and so on — and been like, “Huh?” and felt the fool.
I was a fool.
Because the big bad world is out there. You’re going to to hit it head-on at some point. These days you can’t even sign out of your email without being bombarded with mankind’s latest horrific acts against itself. And is it better to hit this world with a little bit of worldly-wiseness? Or is it better to be like I was? “Five-knuckle shuffle? Twerking? What’s that?!”