AP American Literature
Leaving Sodom Behind
Hope says I should give our faith just one more chance. I say I should have given it up a long time ago, but I know my sister means the best, so I suppose going to this sermon is worth keeping her love with me for just one more day. I'm going to leave for my home with our good cousin Sarah in New Amsterdam on the 10th of July, in two sweetly short days.
I wake up on the 8th with my palms already sweating, and even though I put on my good dress I know it won't change the hateful way all the women look at me when I walk through the door. Hope says I should trust in the providence of our Lord in heaven and that if I say my prayers with enough fervor, maybe one day He will begin to forgive me for what I've done. I say I've done nothing, but I bite my lip and follow her, as always.
There's a huge crowd waiting outside the meetinghouse, smothering each other to get the best seats possible. Hope sits with me near the back, so that I don't cause my father any more humiliation than he has already been put through. Even so, heads turn to glare disapprovingly, and someone whispers, "whore" with enough venom to poison the preacher. Hope holds her fair head high; clasping her hands with the meekness she is so well known for. I can't be as patient and devoted as she is, and I wring my hands together as if I'm cleaning laundry. It doesn't wash me clean.
Our preacher today, the fervent follower of God, Mr. Jonathan Edwards, reaches the pulpit calmly, staring us all down with equal calamity in his calm. Opening his book, he begins his speech. It's hot inside this little room, but I'm blushing from shame. "Their foot shall slide in due time" (Deut. 32:35). My feet are sore from trying not to slide down that path into sin, but most people believe I've already collapsed in the mud.
Thomas is sitting two rows behind me, burning holes into my sweating skin with his piercing blue eyes. Someone is crying silently to my right, taking gasps of air. Vaguely I make out the preachers words, "they deserve to be cast into hell" (Edwards 499). The woman sobbing turns around to glare at me, and makes as if to spit on the floor. Shouldn't she be worrying about her own sins? Shouldn't she be thinking of that early morning she cursed God for giving her a stillborn son, or the hair ribbon she stole from her sister?
I know my tongue is too dry to use but I wish I could scream. Hope takes my hand and squeezes hard, but keeps her ever-faithful eyes trained on Mr. Edwards. "The devil stands ready to… seize them as his own… they belong to him" (Edwards 500). It's like there are chains stretching up my wrists as my devil takes hold once more. Thomas is watching me coolly, smirking as I glance at him in anxious fear.
His eyes are cold, ice, so unlike this hell I've been forced into all because of the heat of his passion; I bite my lip, trying to feel pain, trying to feel anything but disgust; I'm stuck in the repeating memory that plagues me: a dark night when I slipped outside because I'd had trouble sleeping ever since the Lord took my mother to be with Him in heaven a year before; I start as I see someone else on the road and they walk up to my trembling figure: "Let's go to the woods", the hazy voice of a boy says; "I don't think that's a very good idea", I whisper, but his hands are gripping my forearms with unimaginable strength and I can't get out of his grip even when I try; and then he throws me with malice at the foot of an old oak tree, scarred by lightning, "they trust to nothing but a shadow" (Edwards 502); as I lay stunned on the hard ground his shadow stretches over my still form, smiling in conquest; his callused fingers push my nightgown up until my legs are pale in the half-light of the yellow moon and I try to scream but my mouth is dry and my throat feels closed; he's touching my skin and I'm trembling, shaking, trying to move but I'm locked down like I've already sinned and this is the punishment: his lips push into mine and I push my hand into his face but he knocks it away with harsh violence and I can't resist much more; "your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead" (Edwards 503); I sink down into the cool dirt, feeling as his body heat resonates in the quiet air; "Please don't" I whisper with all the strength left in my body, and he laughs out loud, staring me down with ice blue eyes; when he starts it hurts and I want to spit the blood up through my mouth but it's spilling onto the hard dirt; it hurts and it's my "destruction… like a whirlwind" (Edwards 503), he's rough and it hurts and I can feel "the wrath of God like great waters that… increase more and more, and rise higher and higher… the waters are constantly rising" (Edwards 503), and then the devil relaxes and it's over.
When Father finds me on the morning, sleeping at the foot of the dying oak tree with my nightgown around my waist and dried blood on my thighs, he's angry, even though he sees the dark bruises forming on my wrists. He won't speak to me, won't look at me anymore, and by noon the whole town has heard about the whore who seduced one of the most faithful of churchgoers. Thomas has God watching over him, but more than that, he has the whole town behind him. The heat in the room has become intolerable but the only heat I feel is hell, because I'm slipping so far from God. Hope is crying from the preacher's powerful words but my eyes are dry, my lip is bleeding, and I'm completely immobile.
Mr. Edwards asks us in that impossibly calm way of his, "'who knows the power of God's anger?' (Psalms 90:11)." Though I know it was meant to be rhetorical I can't help but mouth helplessly, "I do". Hope says that everyone must be afraid of hell's fire and that no one is saved, but I can't have faith in that principle. If some of us do wrong, and some of us do good, how can we all be the same? If some of us cause shame and others are forced to bear it, how can that be paralleled?
"Let everyone fly out of Sodom: 'Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed'" (Edwards 509, Genesis 19:17). I begin to cry, knowing that my Sodom rests here in this densely packed furnace, and that even my love for Hope can't save me from leaving tomorrow. I can't imagine that any physical harm or danger could be worse than being turned on by those you love, those you trust, even by the God you prayed to for seventeen years, and so I am unafraid. Thomas is watching me as I leave with my head held high, but I refuse to look back. I've got enough strength left for that, and my feet are sure of my path as I start towards my new life.