Echoing Father Leon


Pamela York Klainer

Loretta heard the echo of Father Leon’s voice when she gently asked the sobbing girl whether she and the boy used any protection.

“We did,” the girl said eagerly through her tears. “His mother is taking pills to keep from getting pregnant, and he brought me one. I took it right before, there at the drive in, with my soda. He said if I took the pill nothing bad would happen.”

Where to begin. At Loretta’s high school the faculty were fighting an epidemic of pill-popping, parties among the cool kids where the price of being invited was to bring a random handful of pills from a home medicine cabinet. The pills were thrown into a big bowl, and everyone was expected to grab several and down them with cheap beer or whiskey as if they were a snack like potato chips. Several students, just this fall alone, were rushed to the local hospital emergency room with difficult to diagnose overdoses. No one could say what they’d taken. The teachers started a quiet education campaign, wanting to stay below the radar of the Bishop and the local paper but deeply worried about the risk that one of the kids would die.

Taking one birth control pill was a new twist. The girl before her, Loretta knew, was not one of the cool kids. She must have been thrilled and proud in front of the other girls to be asked out on a date by a popular boy.

If she was so easily persuaded that a single pill would keep her from getting pregnant, Loretta supposed other girls were acting on the same story – probably lots of them.

Birth control was not part of the discussion in health classes at the high school, only abstinence. The sinfulness of pre-marital sex was reinforced in theology class, obligatory for four years for all students. Loretta suspected strongly that the formal teaching didn’t make a dent in the number of students becoming sexually active, or those experimenting with pills. Teachers could be severely sanctioned for talking openly about such matters in ways not approved by the Bishop.

The young man, Loretta assumed, knew the futility of taking a single birth control pill. The year before he’d been named as the culprit in getting a classmate pregnant, but the incident was handled quietly. The high school, with this boy on the basketball team, became state champions for the first time in decades. He was given a stern warning about his behavior with girls only days before the basketball banquet, at which he took center stage to be cheered while lofting the impressive trophy up and down to the manic screams of the crowd.

The high school was named for the Bishop, who’d raised the millions of dollars that led to the new athletic facilities, the hiring of top notch coaches, and finally the championship at the end of the fall basketball season. The Bishop was at the celebratory banquet, his arm draped around this boy.

Father Stephen was there too.

“Regina,” Loretta asked softly, “can you tell me what happened? I didn’t know that Dermott was your boyfriend. I haven’t seen the two of you together around school.”

Regina hiccuped through her tears. “Dermott wasn’t my boyfriend. He and Claire were dating for a long time, and he even gave her a ring. But he told me she got mad and gave it back to him, and that he wasn’t going to see her any more. He asked me to go to the movies with him on Saturday night. My mother didn’t want to let me go because Dermott is a senior and he has a car. But I begged her and begged her, and finally she said yes if Dermott would come in and meet her before we left. He said he would.”

“And your father? What did your father say?”

Regina’s face turned crimson. “I’m not supposed to tell anyone and my mother will be really mad at me if anyone finds out. My father isn’t living with us right now. He fell in love with a lady at work and he’s living in an apartment and she comes to see him there. My mother doesn’t want anyone to know. She said my father is being foolish and he’ll get over it and come back. Please, Sister, don’t tell my mother I told you. If anyone finds out it will be my fault and then maybe my father will be too embarrassed to come home.”

Loretta simply sighed, and made no response to the request. “What happened at the movies? Why did you go to a drive-in?”

“Dermott wanted to go there. He said he likes to stretch out his legs and you can’t do that in the regular movies and besides …” Regina paused and looked down. “He wanted to bring beer.”

“Regina, did you drink beer?”

“I did Sister, but only a little. Dermott said you don’t really get drunk on beer, just if you drink whiskey or something strong like that. And he bought me a soda, because I said the beer tasted bitter.”

“What happened then?”

Regina resumed sobbing. “Please don’t make me say.” But she continued without further prompting, her voice muffled through the hands she pressed tight to her face. “He said if I was going to be his girl I had to do it, and that it would feel nice and once I did it he and I would be boyfriend and girlfriend forever. He said he would give me a ring and that sometimes I could borrow his basketball sweater with the letter on it and that everyone in school would know I was his girl.”

“But it didn’t feel nice, it hurt. And right away, the same week we went back to school he and Claire made up and she had the sweater and whenever Dermott saw me in the hall he just laughed.”

“Did you tell your mother or father what happened?”

“No Sister, I can’t. My father isn’t seeing us until he gets over his foolishness, that’s what my mother said, and she doesn’t want my brother and me to be around his whore. And my mother is angry all the time, because my father isn’t giving us money and if she goes to court to make him everyone will know.”

“I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to just forget it ever happened. But I haven’t had my period in a long time and I don’t know what to do.”

Loretta was surprised, a bit, to find Regina in her office. Regina was a quiet member of Loretta’s class, not a girl who hung around any of the Sisters or one who seemed to want to reveal confidences. Loretta was also groaning inwardly at the mere thought of a young pregnant student. After Katie, Loretta wanted nothing to do with getting pregnant and not knowing what to do.

But Loretta was a teacher at heart, and Regina was her student. As she kept a calm demeanor and a neutral expression, Loretta’s mind was racing. Regina’s situation was very different from Katie’s. Regina was a high school freshman. Her mother would have to be involved, and soon. Father Leon, Loretta knew, would not smooth the pathway to an abortion for a fourteen year old.

But should Father Leon be involved? Could he be a help in this situation anyway, provide wise advice to Loretta? To her surprise, Loretta was aware she didn’t want to ask him. Whatever conversation she opened with Regina and her mother, Loretta wanted to do on her own.

She paused to wonder why, without really knowing the answer, as she asked Regina to take her hands away from her face and look up.

“Regina, I promise to help you. But whatever we do next, we have to call your mother.”

2 thoughts on “Echoing Father Leon

  1. Loretta appears to really struggle with her own sense of right & wrong and the church’s “protocol” for lack of a better description. I also love how Regina’s mother is characterizing her husband’s behavior during his affair!

  2. for Nedra: That’s exactly the reason for Loretta’s reluctance to involved Father Leon, at least immediately. She wants the chance to work through what she thinks, and to test her own skills at getting this student through her crisis. Loretta is coming into her own! Glad you like the characterization of the philandering husband. I think I’m getting better at creating realistic-sounding conversation.

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