Revenge of the Nerds

This story is part of a series I’m doing on childhood dreams, nightmares, and distorted perceptions of reality. Some of the stories have autobiographical ties, but they are mostly fiction. And some of the stories reflect fiction I was writing at that age. It might help to see how all the stories fit together.

There was a moment at the slumber party, one of those that they talk about in Church. It was Todd’s slumber party, and he was turning nine. Jeff and five other friends had played soccer in the yard until darkness fell. Todd had aunts and uncles, cousins, and older siblings around. The family had cooked out; the adults had drunk beer and wine coolers while the kids had played soccer.

After dinner, after birthday cake, after presents, it was close to ten, and Todd’s teenage sister put on Revenge of the Nerds. The boys mostly sat on the floor, while the aunts and uncles walked in and out of the room. Jeff sat on the sofa against a wall perpendicular to the wall the TV sat in front of. The movie was the sort of thing they warned about in Primary at Church—dirty jokes, bad words, drug use. They sang in Primary “Choose the right when the choice is placed before you,” and they talked about standing up for truth, leaving a room or asking to change a channel if something dirty was being played. But Todd’s older siblings all sat watching, as did his aunts and uncles and even his mom. The living room had maybe twenty people, and Jeff fidgeted uncomfortably.

And then, the nerds broke into the sorority, and the girls’ tops came off, and the nerds put in cameras so they could watch the girls get naked. At first, Jeff closed his eyes and looked away. His heart pounded, and he could feel his pulse in his head. Some of his friends cheered, and Todd exclaimed, “Dude, she’s hot!” And at the moment when he could have made the right choice, Jeff felt himself whisper, “Might as well join them.”

He did not choose the right. He did not stand for truth and righteousness. He did not look away. He did not ask anyone to change the channel. He sat, in a roomful of teenagers and adults, and watched women take their clothes off . . . and he was fascinated and turned on and horrified at himself and couldn’t stop himself.

He has been told all his life how smart he is, what a good kid he is, how hard he works, how many special things he is going to do. Now, he sits in the pew at Church, and he knows that he is a hypocrite and a fraud. It has been a month, and each night at bedtime has been tormented. He has been so sullen and quiet, so afraid of disappointing his father and angering his mother, so overwhelmed by guilt that he can hardly speak as he gets in bed. It has been so bad that his father, at least once a week, has knelt beside his bed and asked him, “Are you okay, son? You seem to be having a hard time. You know you can tell me anything.”

“I know,” he always tells his dad. “I’m fine.”

He cannot tell his father. Jeff believes, he knows, it will crush his father. Each night, when his father leaves his room, he prays and begs Heavenly Father for forgiveness. They say at Church that some sins are so bad that you have to tell your bishop and that you should tell your parents. Is this one of those sins? He cannot bear the thought. If he has to tell the bishop, then he certainly has to tell his parents. Sins about sex are especially serious. The body is sacred.

And now at Church, the sacrament is being passed. They sit halfway back on the left side of the chapel facing the podium. The deacon takes the bread to the bishop. Soon, he will go to the chorister and the organist and the speakers, and then he will come down to their pews.

Jeff reads the Book of Mormon each night. One part of the Book of Mormon says that whoever takes the sacrament unworthily “eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul.” This is worse than telling his parents. He is lying to God. But if he doesn’t take the sacrament, they will know. They will know that he has done something to make himself unworthy. They will know that he did not stand up to be counted when it mattered.

He is eight and a half. If he had just committed this sin when he was seven, it would have been washed away in the waters of baptism and he wouldn’t have to think about it. But he was baptized ten days after his eighth birthday. So this sin sticks.

His parents and his Church teachers teach all the time that no one is beyond grace, that no sin is unforgivable except denying Jesus. Jeff knows he hasn’t denied Jesus. He just doesn’t know how to make this better. In Primary, they teach the steps of repentance: 1. Recognize the sin, 2. Feel sorrow for it, 3. Confess to Heavenly Father and to the bishop if it is serious, 4. Make restitution, 5. Try never to do the sin again. He has 1, 2, and mostly 3 down. He doesn’t plan to watch naked ladies ever again. He doesn’t know how to make restitution. He didn’t steal anything and can’t give it back. All of Todd’s family is not still at his house—he can’t go back to tell them that he feels bad for watching their movie.

Earlier that week when his dad was tucking him in, Jeff asked, “How do you know when God has forgiven you of a sin?”

His dad kneels beside him and says, “Well, I’ll tell you a story. I had a friend on the high council who committed adultery. He got excommunicated from the Church. He told us all on the high council never to commit adultery. He said, ‘You will cry enough tears to float this building.’ He was out of the Church for seven years, but he came every week and tried his best. He worked with the stake president and prayed all the time. Finally, he was praying one night and asked Heavenly Father if he was ever going to be forgiven, and he heard a voice say, ‘Yes,” and peace came to his mind and heart, and soon after that, he got rebaptized.”

Seven years. Seven years! And that guy got excommunicated! Jeff hasn’t heard any voice tell him he was forgiven. He hasn’t felt peace about it. He is only eight. He hopes he won’t have to wait until he is fifteen to feel better. Maybe what he did isn’t as bad as adultery?

The deacon is now standing at their block of pews waiting for the bread tray to come back from a family in the pew in front of them. At last, he takes it from the mother and hands it to Jeff’s mother. She takes a piece of bread.

Jeff glances left and right. His dad has his eyes closed, so if Jeff doesn’t take it, he won’t notice. His mother eats a piece and takes one for Randi, then hands the tray to Sean. When Sean takes it, she folds her arms and bows her head. But Sean will notice, and Sean will tattle. Sean tattles on everything. Sean eats his piece, then thrusts the tray toward Jeff.

Jeff stares at it for a long moment: eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul. What does that mean? Well, if he takes it now as a hypocrite but can keep the truth from his parents, he can probably repent for this also and get forgiven for taking the sacrament and for watching naked ladies.

He gulps then reaches for a piece of bread, which he then puts in his mouth. The bread is stale and cold, just out of the freezer and bitter to the taste.

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