Friday, March 8, 2013

Everyone Needs to Hear this Story...

"Everyone needs to hear this story," is what she told me. I was not so sure. I knew it had confirmed my personal beliefs and given due process to a constant struggle, but I was not so sure why she thought I should share it with the world. "Because," she pressed, "people need to know that the military lets you do that."

"I don't think they publicize that for a reason, sweetie." I was convinced she was missing the point. I had told her the story because there is not much I can hide from my best friend and because I value her opinion and input on the decisions I weigh in my life, especially in regards to future jobs in the military as opposed to graduate school back in Denver, where she is. She is also one of two ladies I count as a sister.

I suppose, in true scope, she would be an older sister, despite the fact she is barely four months my senior, but she has been married for almost a year now and I am as single as M.C. Hammer's one hit wonder, Can't Touch This. The girl I count as my younger sister could actually be my younger sister, two years authentically, but wired to play soccer like few I have seen. I remember her family called her Smiley when we were younger. I do not believe that has changed.

"Sheridan, honestly, you have to tell people. It is the best story." Red can sure be persistent, fiery and protective as her hair color might suggest. Something people chalk up to personalities of a true red head, only her in-laws were devastated to learn her hair color came from a salon and not genetics. I believe a sadness over no red-haired children was an immediate point of discussion.

"What should I tell them, exactly? Broaching the topic of my complete and utter virgin status is not something that comes up in everyday conversation."

"You still have to tell everyone."

I have thought about it at length and decided, on the side of discretion, that this story may offer encouragement to other girls out there who find themselves in a similar position: twenty-two, virgin, single, with friends around them dropping like flies into marriage and parenthood. At least, that is how it feels to me. But perhaps my plethora of married friends makes me feel more secluded and at odds with the group ratio than I actually am.

Let me explain and perhaps then you will understand why my best girlfriend just about died laughing on the phone Monday evening. I am in what could be my last full-time semester as an undergraduate. I am slated to only be taking two classes in the fall, but may take four, just so my student loans do not kick in until next July--an ability to pay student loans is important and six months of saving will ensure that. Yet, as many college students who find themselves holding worthless degrees without advanced accreditation as I do, even from a university as well respected nationally as Pittsburgh, panic as graduation in December rolls progressively closer sets in and our mind, or mine, went into overdrive last month. I did something probably certifiable and almost downright insane: I contacted a military recruiter about their officer programs.

My father is retired military and is quite proud of his education at the best military university in the nation, in his Class of '76 opinion, and I thought of all the branches, having been raised by a captain, his branch would be my branch. There are things the military can teach me that I can no longer learn at home or would have to work extremely hard to achieve independently and the job security seems very promising. However, I am not as sold on it as I was two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I was ready to sign on the dotted line and be completely done with it and not have to worry about what I was doing when finals finished in December, it would be sorted. Now, chasing down my options, I am not sure the military is where I am best suited, despite the fact that I would do well in a military structure.

However, for the sake of making you laugh and feel uncomfortable at the same time, I would like to convey this one jewel in my two hour conversation with the officer recruiter, who I would guess is in his middle thirties. When you go and speak with the recruiter for the first time, you fill out all the medical history forms, sign a waiver swearing you won't get a tattoo between now and when you are assigned to a fleet, amongst other things. One of the last things we discussed was when I handed him one of the final papers and he noticed my ring, left hand, fourth finger in. It is the ring I refer to lovingly as my placeholder, because the ring finger, left hand, fourth finger is where an engagement ring and then a wedding band goes and my silver band finally comes off, signifying that I am free to sleep with the man who said, I do, as often as I want. Sounds liberating to me, and slightly foolish to most others, but I am okay with this. A purity ring, or a promise ring as I called it growing up, signified a promise and I am not intent on breaking it.

Despite the best intentions presented by the ring, whether is scares men from speaking to me fearing a lurking husband or fiancé, or mystifying to others, it almost never leaves my finger, except when I am doing dishes, and sometimes not even then. This ring, though, has a knack for drawing attention to itself, which is fascinating in the fact that it is a plain sterling silver band, there is nothing attention seeking about it. It is simple, understated, and classic and excellent quality for how it it cost. Somehow, though, upon seeing this band, the first question that escapes anyones' mouth is, "Are you married?" To which the answer is, "No." Some people move on, most to do not, they puzzle over it, and other immediately get to the point and ask, "Why the ring, then?" And from there I get to explain that it means that the only person I will ever share a bed with is the man I marry, after we are married. The usual response is derision at such an austere goal, often dismissing it as an impossible feat. Sorry, someone told me that five years ago and here I am, status intact. This time, however, it prompted a different discussion all together, and one of the most confirming moments I have had in the past four years.

"I am now going to ask you a very awkward question, Sheridan, but since there are other sailors present it won't be quite as bad as it could be." I nodded. I transferred from a small Christian college in the Denver suburbs, I doubted there was anything he could say that I would construe as awkward. I spent one semester last year living with my engagement-wedding-child obsessed roommate, who took Human Sexuality as one of her fall courses and gave us answers to questions I never would have asked to in the beginning--there is very little he could surprise me with. "Have you ever had a PAP smear?"

And instantly, he proved me wrong. I never had discussed anything about visiting OB/GYNs, ever. I shook my head. The thought that men and women do that for a living makes my stomach twist, you should know that, but also because all my girlfriends, most of them never saw such a doctor until they were engaged. Shoot, military medical exams, apparently I am not to be so lucky. "The reason I ask is because, it takes a while to get those results back, which make them a pain to wait for and they tend to slow down the application process. I am telling you this because of what you are saying that ring means, that you can sign a form swearing you have never engaged in sexual intercourse and therefore waive the application requirement of having that particular procedure done. It speeds up your application exponentially."

I could not help but smile and tell him I would sign whatever form he wanted. I am prepared swear to the United States government that my promise of purity is legitimate. As if choosing this for myself, in full devotion to the expectations laid out by our Lord and Savior, with my parents' full support, was not affirming enough, the United States military was now saying that I was swearing to them that I was not lying. Perjure yourself to the military and you might as well kiss that career path goodbye.

That is what Red meant when she laughed and yelled, "Everyone needs to hear this story!" She was blown away by the fact that the military had a form where virgins could sign their name, swearing their purity. I was more surprised by my recruiter saying that I was the first person he had ever been able to say that to. Affirmation, right there. Living proof that I have gumption.

So, now you know what the story is, and I hope the part you take away is not that the military has a form that allows you to circumvent medical procedures, however convenient that may be, but the fact that such a form exists means there is faith held within humanity something so special is worth waiting for and that, in the years my recruiter has served, I am the only person he has ever been able to say that to. I am telling you this so that it might feel like he has said it to all of you, who waiting for the white dress, and the anxiety and nervousness that comes from knowing you have never been with anyone else, but also the anticipation that exists in conjunction with that.

Whether you have never been with anyone or multiple someones, though, you should never made to feel belittled for that. Humanity cannot determine grace, that is up to the LORD alone. Take heart sisters, for although we may not see it, there are brothers in Christ struggling alongside us.