Loretta, Unbound


Pamela York Klainer

Coming from a close knit Irish family Loretta always felt like a daughter, and since she had brothers her identity as a sister was clear. Her anguish over Katie’s departure reminded her of her role as friend. But it wasn’t until she was dealing directly with Regina and Claire and Dermott that Loretta felt like a woman, and a sexual one at that.

The feelings took her completely by surprise, because she always thought that for your body to awaken you had to fall in love with a man.

She sat in her office, familiar things all around, and felt as if she had tripped across some sort of threshold. The office was the same but she, Sister Loretta, was not.

Loretta didn’t call Dermott to return right away, or Claire either, assuming that letting them suffer uncertainty over her course of action was the right thing to do.

Loretta was uncertain, not only about her newly awakened feelings but about her wayward students. She wanted Dermott to take responsibility for instigating sex with not one but several girls, yet she knew Mother Superior would not back her in a confrontation that involved a number of the school’s families. Claire, Loretta felt, was being all too cavalier about exploring sex. And Regina was simply a lost child, a pregnant one at that, with a father off having an affair and a very angry mother.

Katie and Father Stephen, in a way, seemed simpler.

Loretta would never do that, she told herself, fall in love with a man while being a nun, much less have an affair.

Loretta’s mind went back to Sister Joan, and sitting by the hospital bedside. Sister Joan didn’t ask anything of her then, not that Loretta stay a nun, not anything. If Loretta changed her mind, wanted a husband and children, Sister Joan would have accepted her decision, supported it even.

Loretta wondered if Sister Joan had sexual feelings. She wondered, if Sister Joan were here now, if they could talk about it. She wasn’t sure, as open and honest as Sister Joan always seemed to be. Thinking it over for several minutes, Loretta decided probably not. She and Sister Joan talked poetry. They talked convent life. They talked about the classroom. Never, not even circuitously, not even when talking about a sensual poem, did they talk about sex.

Loretta couldn’t ask anyone else, not even Father Leon. She couldn’t imagine how she would even bring the topic up.

She tried to force herself to focus. What should she do about Dermott?

And Claire?

And Regina?

What should she, Loretta, do about herself?

If she wanted to explore her sexual feelings she would leave, do so on the outside.

As a nun she had something to offer these young girls, and Dermott too. Moral clarity, perhaps. Perspective. Wisdom. The discipline of faith.

The words sounded hollow and officious, even as she thought them. Claire and Dermott didn’t want a moral voice. They wanted sex. And Regina wanted Dermott to want her. Regina’s mother wanted her husband to come home. Regina’s father wanted his new mistress. Mother Superior wanted a calm and orderly school. And the Bishop wanted donations from wealthy people like Dermott’s parents.

God’s voice in the world, that’s what the spiritual director said was the special mission of those called to religious life. When she heard those words Loretta imagined teaching a complex poem, with her students at rapt attention as she helped them move deeper in understanding, layer by layer.

Dermott and Claire would not be at rapt attention. They would listen enough to get an A, but their passion would lie in thinking about the drive-in movie on Saturday night, groping each other in the back seat of the car.

Loretta wondered what she was doing. Was it a precious gift if no one wanted to listen?

The word “doubt” entered her mind. Was this what it meant to doubt yourself, doubt the value of what you were doing, doubt the importance of your faith?

Loretta would get up in the morning, open her book of prayer, attend early Mass, breakfast with her Sisters, walk from the Convent to her office in the high school, teach, return to the Convent for the evening meal and night prayers, grade papers, tweak her plan for the next day’s lesson, read for a bit, go to sleep.

The prospect of living that day over and over seemed pointlessly boring.

Loretta got up and went to the window of her office, looking into space and frowning at nothing in particular. Her usual self-confidence seemed to have leached away. She tried to think the matter through. Was she in over her head, trying to deal with this mini-explosion of student sexuality on her own? Was she simply overtired? Was she coming down with something, an illness perhaps that was sapping her strength and vitality?

In religious life Loretta was bound to the Lord, and she felt that every day as she put on the heavy layers of her religious habit. Looking out at the inviting fall day she felt herself wanting to be unbound, to be the Loretta of old in jeans and Keds and a cotton pullover, her hair loose and free, with no claim on time but her own. She might hop the bus and go into the city to hear a concert in the park. There she would, by pure happenstance, set her blanket next to a curiously handsome man, not handsome in the usual way but in a way that intrigued her. Having brought a bottle of wine, he would offer her some. They would talk, and slowly the sound of the music would fade and they would hear only each other. He would lean toward her, and they would kiss.

The loud clatter of a cart rolling down the hallway startled Loretta, interrupting her reverie. She blushed. Her fantasy was something out of a romance novel, girlish and immature. Here she was, at twenty six, sounding even to herself like a middle schooler.

The janitor knocked on her door. “Hey, Sister Loretta, OK if I empty your trash? If you’re busy I can come back.”

“Of course Manuel. Come in.” Loretta looked up, suddenly aware of Manuel’s boyish handsomeness, his strong forearms with his work shirt rolled up to the elbows.

Sex on the brain, Loretta thought to herself as she smiled with deceptive calm. I have sex on the brain. God help me.

“Thanks Sister.” Manuel grinned. “Only fourteen more offices to go.”

Left alone, Loretta decided to take charge. All of this mooning around was silly, and she had work to do. She picked up her note pad and wrote a brief note to Dermott, telling him to report to her office immediately after tomorrow’s last class.

4 thoughts on “Loretta, Unbound

  1. for Nedra: The great exodus from religious orders began just after I left the College of St Elizabeth in 1967. They went out in droves. I knew some of the faculty reasonably well, and was able to talk with them about it. For most, it wasn’t one big thing, but a sense that the world had opened up in new ways for women and that they were living an artificially constricted life. I think most who left were happy with the decision. Not saying that’s what Loretta will do … you’ll have to wait a week or two to find out. But your vote is registered. 🙂

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