I let the door slam behind me. Even though I had put on a false smile for my roommate, I still wanted him to know his presence was unappreciated. This was my time. My time. Not roommate time. Not hangout time. Not shared time. My time. Even though it was our room, he was intruding.
As a freshman living in the dorms, I didn’t get “my time” as much as I felt I needed it. The halls were always bustling, uninvited visitors coming and going. There was no privacy, no personal space. To ensure “my time” happened, I was forced to hammer out a rough schedule when I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted. Thankfully my roommate was in the marching band, so every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I had an hour. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday were more sporadic and therefore more difficult.
“My time” never took that long. I honestly only needed ten minutes, four of which were invested in disposing of the evidence. My efficiency was something I privately took pride in. I was a pro. I had begun developing my ritual in the ninth grade. It was easier at home. The computer was in the study, away from the main traffic of the house. The machine was rarely used by anyone but me. The door locked. Stealing away moments in the evening was simple. Four years of practice made me an expert in finding quick release.
I had been looking forward to “my time” since lunch. I waited on my bed, pretending to read, watching while my roommate fussed around the room gathering his things. Finally, he grabbed his trumpet and left. Immediately, I sprang into action. I locked the door, fired up the computer, and grabbed a box of tissues off his desk. The truth was I no longer needed the digital aid. I often went for the same images. After four years of my routine, many of the pictures were burned into my mind; but to me, the ritual was important. It created anticipation. It heightened the experience.
Just as I sat down at my desk, I heard the door knob rattle. Then he returned, jumped onto his bed, and explained to me that Joey had met him in the hallway and told him practice was canceled because of the rain.
“Huh,” I said faking apathy. I pulled a Word document onto the screen and pretended like I was preparing to write a paper. I was angry.
My roommate spoke, but I didn’t listen. The only thoughts I could form focused on how badly I wanted him to leave. He had ruined everything. This was my time. He was not supposed to be here. He sighed and mumbled something about homework. Then he sat up and fetched his backpack from under his desk.
I rolled my eyes. My shoulders fell. It was becoming clear to me that he wasn’t leaving. I couldn’t stand to be in the room with the invader any longer. I closed the blank Word document, grabbed a heavy book from my shelf, jammed it in my backpack, slung the bag over my shoulder, and walked toward the door.
“Where are you going?” my roommate asked.
“To study,” I grunted.
“Why did he have to come back early?” I grumped to myself as I trudged off to the library. A friend waved at me and called my name from across the street. On another day, I would cross over for a chat, but not today. I had not had “my time” and therefore I was not in the mood. There was a knot in my heart that needed to be untied. Other people only made it hurt more.
As I stepped through the heavy doors of the library, it occurred to me that, with me now out of the room, my roommate was going to have “my time.” I clenched my fists and cussed under my breath at the thought. The knot in my heart tightened two degrees.
Every boy in the dorm had “my time.” We all knew, but we never talked about it. It was not discussed…until one of us got caught. Getting caught made you the center of ridicule. I felt bad about it, but we had to mock those who were revealed. It was necessary to maintain our own denial.
I climbed the library stairs and found a spot at an empty table on the third floor. It was quiet. I removed my book and then began fishing through my backpack for a pen. The search of my elusive instrument made my thirst for satisfaction burn hotter. I cursed under my breath again and pushed my arm farther into the dark backpack. I knew the pen was hiding in the abyss somewhere, but I didn’t have the energy to dig it out. I tossed the bag onto the floor, collapsed into the chair, and rubbed my eyes. A deep sigh of regret leaked from out of my chest. Studying was not what I wanted to be doing.
I looked around the vacuous room. It was mostly empty tables and stacks of books. A few other students scattered here and there. I wondered if anyone would notice if I left to go to the bathroom and have an abbreviated moment there. But then I decided against it. The stalls were old and gross and there was no guarantee someone wouldn’t walk in on me.
I opened my book and began to read, hoping to distract myself from the hunger in my gut. It didn’t work. I couldn’t focus on the words. They flew through my mind like birds fly over a baseball stadium, making no difference to the game in progress on the field. Determined to put distraction aside and focus, I stretched my arms high in the air, cracked my knuckles over my head, and rolled my neck. A yawn escaped.
Then I noticed her. A girl had taken a seat across the room from me. She wore a blue, zip up hoody and black rimmed glasses. Although the girl wasn’t exceptionally pretty, she had curves. The focused expression on her face reminded me of a video I had once seen. I stared in her direction and swam in inappropriate images remembered.
The dip into “my time” made my hunger grow. I thought again about escaping to the bathroom stall again. I looked around the room with suspicious paranoia. A boy from my hall sat a table down the aisle. I would have to pass him to get to the restroom. It was too much of a risk.
Coming to my senses, I rubbed my eyes and went back to my book. The title was “A Pilgrim’s Regress” by C.S. Lewis. My British Literature professor had assigned it. I looked at the words on the page and struggled to remember which paragraph I had skimmed last. It all seemed new. I sighed again and flipped three pages back to the beginning of the chapter.
In the story, Lewis tells of a man named John who is on a journey through allegorical lands. Until that moment, at the table in the library, I hadn’t understood any of the scenes Lewis painted. They were a blur of smart sounding nonsense. I’m not sure what change, but my eyes opened. A switch in my mind flipped and the narrative connected.
There, alone at the table in the library I read…
After this, John looked up and saw that they were approaching a concourse of living creatures beside the road. Their way was so long and desolate (and he was footsore too) that he welcomed any diversion, and he cast his eyes curiously upon this new thing. When he was nearer he saw that the concourse was of men, but they lay about in such attitudes and were so disfigured that he had not recognized them for men: moreover, the place was to the south of the road, and therefore the ground was very soft and some of them were half under water and some hidden in the reeds. All seemed to be suffering from some disease of a crumbling an disintegrating kind. It was doubtful whether all the life that pulsated in their bodies was their own: and soon John was certain, for he saw what seemed to be a growth on a man’s arm slowly detach itself under his eyes and become a fat reddish creature separable from the parent body, though it was in no hurry to separate itself. And once he had seen that, his eyes were opened and he saw the same thing happening all round him, and the whole assembly was but a fountain of writhing and reptilian life quickening as he watched and sprouting out of the human forms. But in each form the anguished eyes were alive, sending to him unutterable messages from the central life which survived, self-conscious, though the self were but a fountain of vermin. One old cripple, whose face was all gone but the mouth and eyes, was sitting up to receive drink from a cup which a woman held to his lips. When he had as much as she thought good, she snatched the cup from his hands and went on to her next patient. She was dark but beautiful.
‘Don’t lag,’ said the Guide, ‘this is a very dangerous place. You had better come away. This is Luxuria.’
But John’s eyes were caught by a young man to whom the witch had just come in her rounds. The disease, by seeming, had hardly begun with him: there was an unpleasant suspicion about his fingers – something a little too supple for joints – a little independent of his other movements – but, on the whole, he was still a well-looking person. And as the witch came to him the hands shot out to the cup, and the man drew them back again: and the hands went crawling out for the cup a second time, and again the man wrenched them back, and turned his face away, and cried out:
‘Quick! The black, sulphurous, never quenched,
Old festering fire begins to play
Once more within. Look! By brute force I have wrenched
Unmercifully my hands other way.
‘Quick Lord! On the rack thus, stretched tight,
Nerves clamouring as at nature’s wrong.
Scorhed to the quick, whipp’d raw – Lord, in this plight
You see, you see no man can suffer long.
‘Quick, Lord! Before new scorpions bring
New venom – ere fiends blow the fire
A second time – quick, show me that sweet thing
Which, ‘spite of all, more deeply I desire.’
And all the while the witch stood saying nothing, but only holding out the cup and smiling kindly on him with her dark eyes and her dark, red mouth. Then, when she saw that he would not drink, she passed on to the next: but at the first step she took, the young man gave a sob and his hands flew out and grabbed the up and he buried his head in it: and when she took it from his lips clung to it as a drowning man to a piece of wood. But at last he sank down in the swamp with a groan. And the worms where there should have been fingers were unmistakable.
They resumed their journey, John lagging a bit. I dreamed that the witch came to him walking softly in the marshy ground by the roadside and an holding out the cup to him also: when he went faster she kept pace with him.
‘I will not deceive you,’ she said, ‘You see there is no pretence. I am not trying to make you believe that this cup will take you to your Island. I am not saying it will quench your thirst for long. But taste it, none the less, for you are very thirsty.’
But John walked forward in silence.
‘It is true,’ said the witch, ‘ that you never can tell when you have reached the point beyond which there is no return. But that cuts both ways. If you can never be certain that one more taste is safe, neither can you be certain that one more tastes is fatal. But you can be certain that you are terrible thirsty.’
But John continued as before.
‘At least,’ said the witch, ‘have one more taste of it, before you abandon it for ever. This is a bad moment to choose resistance, when you are tired and miserable and have already listened to me to long. Taste this once, and I will leave you. I do not promise never to come back: but perhaps when I come again you will be strong and happy and well able to resist me – not as you are now.’
And John continued as before.
‘Come,’ said the witch. ‘You are only wasting time. You know you will give in, in the end. Look ahead at the hard road and the grey sky. What other pleasure is there in sight?’
So she accompanied him for a long way, till the weariness of her importunity tempted him far more than any positive desire. But he forced his mind to other things and kept himself occupied for a mile or so by making the following verses…
And by the time he had reached the word anodyne the witch was gone. But he had never in his life felt more weary, and for a while the purpose of his pilgrimage woke no desire in him.
(Lewis, C.S. The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1996. pp. 143-145)
I sat back in my chair and looked at my hand. I could see the worms. I could feel the mud of the swamp consuming my skin. I imagined my face rotting away. A hard shiver stabbed my spine. My brow broke out in sweat.
I pushed the book away, across the table, and sat up straight. I took a deep breath. My mind raced with realization. I closed my eyes trying to make the revelation stop. Hot tears built behind my eye lids. I took another deep breath. Panic built in my gut. I wanted to run, but couldn’t move. A painful tear of recognition escaped and rushed down my cheek. I grabbed the book, turned back to the beginning of the chapter and read it again. Then again. And then again. With each read I knew, nothing would be the same.
I would like to say that moment in the library was the end to my struggle with pornography, but that would be a lie. I left my study table changed, vowing I would never drink from the witch’s brew again. Unfortunately the witch did not agree to let me go without a fight. What began at that table was a several year struggle with a monster in my soul I did not know I had given birth to and nurtured. I had spent years feeding the beast, giving it power, allowing it to dictate my behavior. Just because I had suddenly realized how destructive it was, didn’t mean the beast was ready to slink away and die. We did battle day after day. Some days I lost, surrendered to the thirst, and drank from the witch’s cup. Other days I fought and won.
Then came a day when I realized I was winning far more battles than I was losing.
Then there was no more fight. I did not want the cup any more. My thirst for its dark sludge was gone.
No longer do I battle against her voice. No longer do I have to fight away her temptation. I am free from the fear of giving into false satisfaction of her disintegrating waters. The witch has been defeated and she will never again hold sway over me.
But even in defeat, she has not left my side. She still follows at a distance. I am ever aware of her lurking in the shadows, stalking, waiting for me to give her a moment of my time. Hoping I will grow too tired, too frustrated, too sad, too lonely to fight her off.
Still, fifteen-years later, I routinely return to Lewis’ words. I know when he wrote the piece he probably did not have my struggle in mind, but that does not make it any less salvific for me. Maybe someday in another place outside of time I will be able to thank him for opening my eyes and setting me free from the swamp of pornography.