by Charlotte Dovey
Agnes, like many seventeen-year-old girls, became obsessed with a boy in one of her classes. Also like many teenagers, she did not tell her parents that she was going to go out with him. It was not that her parents would refused to allow her to go , but rather, she knew that they would express concern in a way that embarrassed and demeaned her – they always seemed to insinuate that there was some unwholesome aspect of dating. They seemed to imply a lack of character or inherent weakness on her part; that she ought to be embarrassed. She thought that they worried that she would do something wrong. While she didn’t express this to herself, some part of her knew that the fact that they were concerned in this way meant that they did not trust her or her character; this made her angry, but it also undermined her own faith in her own virtues and self-possession.
Agnes went on her date. She met the boy at a local take-away that also had a couple of small plastic tables for customers to eat in, and he paid for their dinner. They then went to a movie. Agnes was happy to let him choose what they would watch. After the movie, which she didn’t much pay attention to as she was too focused on the boy, she suggested that they go for a drive in his car, that he had only just gotten two weeks before as a present from his parents – it was second-hand, but functional enough.
When they got to the outskirts of town, she suggested, “Why don’t we stop at that dirt road? We could talk for a bit.”
He pulled over at the road. It was a notorious spot for kids to “park.” The boy looked a little uncomfortable and nervous. But Agnes thought she loved him. It was she who initiated something other than “talk.”
It wasn’t long before the teenagers were startled by a sudden impatient tapping on the window. They jumped, and when they saw the face of a man in the window, they hastily gathered their disarrayed clothes around them. They recogized the man, who was a teacher at the school and a friend of Agnes’s parents through the community church. The teacher indicated to her to get out of the boy’s car, and get into his own, which was parked a short walk away. She cried silently as she walked down the track. The teacher stayed behind to have a word with the boy, but she was unable to hear what he said. She climbed into the passenger’s seat of the teacher’s car, then waited for some minutes. The teacher opened the door, climbed in, and started the engine. He was clearly angry. He told Agnes that he was taking her home. She remained silent.
When they got to her house, the teacher knocked on her parents’ front door. Agnes stood behind him, head and shoulders drooped, still crying. Her parents were alarmed when they opened the door but invited the man in. Watching with ashen faces and frightened eyes, her parents let Agnes march up to her room, where she closed the door. She could hear them all talking below.
After about half an hour, someone knocked on her door. Her mother had come up to take her downstairs. The teacher was gone, but her father remained sitting in his chair and he was clearly angry, glaring at her. She sat down and waited.
After some minutes, her father barked, “What do you have to say for yourself?” When she did not reply, or even look at him, he continued, “You’ve disgraced us, and yourself.”
Her mother interjected, “Look. You are old enough to know how boys behave. They will take advantage of girls whenever they can. It is up to girls to be strong, to say no.”
She did not argue with them, nor did she correct their assessment of the situation, that she initiated it. She let them continue with their scolding until they were done and had worn themselves out. Then she went to bed, but she did not sleep.
The following day she told her friend in school, Temperance, about what happened. Temperance was not surprised, except that she was somewhat surprised that Agnes was so upset. Temperance told Agnes that these things happen. Furthermore, she did’t find anything wrong with sex, so long as it was with someone who one cares about and is a good person. Smiling, Temperance then admitted that she’s done the same thing, but didn’t get caught.
Agnes saw the boy in the hallway in school. He avoided eye contact and did not speak to her. She intuitively knew that he wouldn’t see her again. The truth was that he found the whole thing embarrassing.
A month later Agnes found herself pregnant. She did not know how to tell her parents, and she kept hoping that she was wrong. The following month she realized that she must tell her parents.
Her parents were bitterly disappointed with her. Her mother cried and her father hollered. Without consulting Agnes about her own feelings on the matter, they concluded that they would have to raise the child themselves.
Agnes spent much of her time cooped up in her room during that time – she dreaded facing her parents’ admonishments and perpetual disappointment and dismay. A few days after telling them she miscarried the baby. She felt relieved, and she suspected that her parents felt the same, though they said nothing when she told them. She graduated High School without any of her classmates or teachers knowing about her short-lived pregnancy. She did not even tell Temperance.
Shortly after graduating, her mother managed to get Agnes work as a church secretary and encouraged her to volunteer in the soup kitchen. Temperance went away to college and Agnes found herself somewhat envious of her friend’s liberation from the limitations of the small town. Some months passed, and while at first Agnes hoped that her position in her parents’ house would improve, she finally concluded that her parents’ attitude had changed permanently. She found herself feeling as if she was a bad person, and then began to believe it. She rarely laughed.
Several years later, Agnes saw Temperance in the market, who was home to visit her parents. Temperance had since graduated college, married, and was heavily pregnant with her first child. It was clear that she had benefitted from being out in the world and was happy with life. Agnes told herself that at least she had atoned for her sins, unlike Temperance.
See also my interpretation of Giovanni Segantini’s painting, found at:
© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica