It was Tuesday night and I was hungry. After a thorough search (and a thoroughly frustrating and disappointing, and depressing one it was) I found nothing worth eating. I had mac and cheese the night before last, Ramen noodles the day before that, and the day before that. Okay, okay, it may seem like money is a little tight and sometimes it is, but not lately. I have been a little too tired or just too lazy to go shopping, so I stare at empty cupboards and fridge. Well, I usually only have beer and condiments, and the occasional Chinese leftovers in my fridge anyway, the basic elements of survival for a single man when there is plenty of takeout available, except for when my kids are here for the weekend, then I usually have enough for them.
So I grab a coat and shrug it on, grab my keys and head out the door. I stroll down the sidewalk towards the diner, stretching a five minute walk into six. It’s a nice fall evening, not too cold, just good for walking. I reach the diner door and push it open, hearing that familiar tiny bell. I pull off my coat and hang it on the coat tree, and make my way to the bend in the counter. I swing onto the seat, grab a menu as the waitress is bringing the coffee, mug and fixin’s’ over to me.
I look at the specials and see nothing that catches my eye, or rather more accurately, my belly. I skip over the seafood section (if it comes from water I ain’t eating it, except albacore tuna) and decide on the non-seafood jambalaya. I like chicken and Andouille sausage, and whatever else is mixed in. So I place my order and fix up my cup of coffee. I glance at the TV. The pregame show for the baseball playoffs is on. The local team disappointed us again this year. We can’t complain too much since they won it all a couple of years ago.
The other screen had a news show on, outside some rundown warehouse. I watched it and soon found out what had happened. Apparently New Bedford, State police, and Federal agents had raided the warehouse because it was a suspected place of transition for the trafficking of women from Eastern Europe, due to its proximity to the fishing docks and local highways. The police had been tracking the building for some time, collecting surveillance evidence and such, until they could make a raid on the building. The conditions the girls were forced to stay in were horrific, and depressing.
“What a terrible thing, eh,” Eli said when he caught me looking at the news report.
I nodded in agreement. “I don’t get how they can do it.”
“When the life of a human, any human, is devalued,” he answered, “it’s seems an easy step for those who do this sort of thing to abuse and subjugate women for financial ends.”
“Huh,” was all I could reply to that.
“So you’re here two nights in a row,” he observed offhandedly. “What’s the occasion?”
“Laziness,” I confessed. “I keep finding excuses not to go food shopping. It seems my kids are my only motivation to get to Market Basket.”
Eli moved away and went to help another customer. I was in no hurry so I wasn’t upset that my food took longer than usual.
“Sorry for the wait,” the waitress Sandy said as she placed my plate in front of me. I waved away her apology. “We were in the process of making more rice when you ordered. Dessert will be half price. I will be back with your glass and bread for the jambalaya.” With that she turned and as she walked away, she caught what was on the TV and shook her head. It must be more heartbreaking for a woman than a man when they see that.
I started eating and Eli had come back over, watching as the same story was still running. They didn’t show any of the women, they had been exploited enough already. They did show some of the men they had arrested and they were pretty dirty looking, except for one man, who was probably the shot-caller. He had a nice suit on and was clean, with a tight haircut and shave, with a neatly trimmed goatee, but his eyes had this dead look to them, sinister. He moved past the camera with no emotion save for contempt for the authorities pulling him along. The camera stayed on him as he ducked into the back of the cruiser.
“What a shame,” Eli commented. “Most of the women they kidnap and smuggle into Europe and other countries are usually no older than twenty.”
“How do you know this?”
“I once went on a summer mission trip to an underground medical facility in Prague,” he answered. “Myself and about four others had to be smuggled in. The only people who could go had to be able to speak Russian. My mother was a Russian immigrant and only spoke to me in Russian growing up. In fact, I taught her most of the English she knows.”
“How did your dad meet her?”
He shrugged with a crooked smile, “Ironically enough, he was on a mission trip to what was then Leningrad. Similar situation as my trip as my father was on the “down low” because Russia was then the Soviet Union, and they frowned upon Christianity, and my mother was one of the people he worked with in clinic he was at. She was on the down low as well because she belonged to an underground church in Leningrad. He said it was the most dangerous thing he had ever done. He would’ve been deported or worse if they knew he was passing out Christian literature and bibles written in the Russian language, and my Mom would’ve faced worse.
“Anyway, they both knew something was going on between them,” he continued, “and it was hard when it was time for my father to go. He spent the next few years working and saving as much as he could so he could help my mother emigrate, or rather defect, from the Soviet Union. About five years later he was able to legally bring her to the U.S., and they were married soon after.”
“Wait a minute,” I asked, “how did your father know Russian?”
“He heard a missionary in church during one Sunday evening service,” Eli explained. “He and his wife had been smuggling bibles into parts of the Soviet Union and China for years, and my father felt the tug on his heart to do something similar after he graduated college. He talked to the wife after the service to find out what he needed to do in order to spend a summer helping the same. The next semester he started taking Russian language classes to prepare himself.”
“I’m not sure if I am cut out for that kind of commitment,” I admitted. “It’s difficult enough caring for my kids, never mind putting my life on the line for some type of religious cause.”
“One day you will understand,” Eli said with this look like he knew something I didn’t. I shook it off, thinking he was just being funny or something.
“This must hit close to home for you,” I commented as I saw the emotions playing on his face as he watched the news. “That could’ve been your mother however many years ago.”
A look of anguish followed by one of relief passed over his face. “Fortunately, the communists were only interested in keeping the populace in total depravity and dependency, not in human trafficking. It seems Capitalism of any kind was offensive to them, legitimate and illegitimate, unless they could sell rockets to countries that hated the United States as much as they did.”
“How true,” I agreed. “So, what prompted you to go on your trip to Prague?”
“The situation was very similar to my father’s,” he answered. “I was in a small study group in college that had a person come in who was involved in human trafficking, except he and his organization were rescuing mostly, and some children, from the nasty business of human trafficking. What he had said tugged at me so hard I couldn’t sleep until I contacted him and told him I was interested in helping. Once I gave a brief description of my background he said I would be uniquely helpful in a foreign mission. I talked about it with my then future wife and she told me that if I felt the Lord leading me to do this then she supported my fully. So we prayed about it and we both knew I had to go, and so I went.”
“What did you have to do?”
“The situation with the women after they are initially grabbed and deprogrammed, so to speak, is critical and sensitive,” Eli answered. “Since I spoke Russian with a regional accent I posed as a “john”. My job was to proposition the women and get them into the car. From there I would take them to the basement of a building that was setup to treat them.”
“Why was their situation critical and sensitive,” I asked, my interest piqued.
“They were abused by the men in their lives,” he answered. “They are taken, either by force or by promises of a better life, then kept in horrid conditions, locked in fenced cages with only a bucket to share with up to ten other women, sometimes forced to become addicts, and some became addicts to become numb to it all, rented out to johns, abused by their captors, until they were so demoralized, dependent, scared and numb that they were willing to walk the streets and sell their bodies to support their pimps, of a sort. The fear of a beating or being raped repeatedly is what kept them in line. Some had their families threatened if they didn’t submit. Brutal and sadistic.”
“Of a sort’?”
“Yes. They didn’t dress in the way that you are probably thinking of pimps, crazy colored suits and hats, driving in Caddies or Continentals. They looked like a guy you just pass in a mall or on the street. They were mean, fierce and fearless, and always willing to kill to protect their assets.”
“So what happened to the girls after you had secured them,” I asked.
He paused as he assisted a customer. “The girls I was able to successfully bring to the facility were rehabilitated. They received medical attention to help with their addictions and any possible STD’s they may have had or carried. They also received counseling but not the extensive sessions they were going to need. The nurses who treated them basically got them into a condition where they could travel to a better equipped facility.”
“What was your success rate,” I asked, “I mean, how many of the girls were you able to get to the safehouse of the girls you picked up?”
“Not as high as I had hoped or wanted,” he answered with a note of wistful regret. “But the Lord enabled us to rescue about 30 to 40% of the girls, and they were girls. None were ever over the age of twenty-one. I had to be careful because, although they appeared casual, the watchers were keeping track. I had to keep changing cars, my appearance and the like. I was followed a few times, questioned more than once and received a beating a few times. I was even shot at a few times, got nicked on my arm once, the fleshy part.
His eyes were faraway when he muttered, “I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat.”
I was shocked and perplexed. Who would go through all of that for someone they didn’t three seconds before they approached your car window? These women aren’t related to him or anything, complete strangers. Not only that, they were prostitutes, addicts and disease carriers, the dregs of society, not much better than a bum on the park bench or alley. I pondered these questions and other thoughts as I ate my dinner. Eli had walked away to help serve some other customers, leaving me alone to think about what he told me. I chewed slowly, mostly for something to do while I thought because I oddly could not taste much of my food.
I kept eating and staring at the TV blankly. There was a different story on about a fire in an abandoned house used by crack addicts to tend to their addictions. This just brought me back to what Eli had said and added new questions, like how many of the crack addicts were hookers like the girls Eli helped? How many of the street walkers are actually girls who are being trafficked right now? I think back on how many times I drove through the combat zone, drunken curiosity provoking me to go, and seeing the women there, wearing next to nothing while the temperature is in the 20’s. I was too chicken and too scared of STD’s that I never pulled over when beckoned.
“We never consider those who melt into the landscape of underground urban life,” Eli said, nearly startling me out of my chair. I was so engrossed in my own thoughts that I didn’t notice that he had come back. “Startled you, huh?”
“How do you mean,” I asked after I had recovered my composure.
“When we see prostitutes, or homeless people even, we dismiss them almost as soon as we notice them,” he answered. “We figure that the hookers are some type of trailer trash or from the projects who doesn’t have many options in life, or someone who has a habit to feed. We are always asking ourselves the wrong questions, like why they don’t get a real job, instead of asking the right questions. We either are indifferent or scrunch up our faces in disgust.” He was shaking his own head in disgust while he said this.
I asked the question that had to be asked, “So, what’re the right questions?”
“Well there are several,” he started. “The first is what the circumstances were that brought them there. Most of the girls were sexually abused by some adult male in their childhood, or physically abused, or both. And some are victims of the trafficking I mentioned earlier. They have such a low self-image and self-worth that the life of prostitution is all they believe they are good for. The abuse from the pimps and johns is how they are used to being treated, what they are comfortable with and know how to live with. Courtesy and kindness are foreign to them, like drug paraphernalia is foreign to most priests and pastors, unless they are assisting in some type of recovery program.
“The second question is would they choose another life if one was presented to them. There are two things that are difficult for them to learn, that they can be loved and that they are worthy of that love. I don’t mean a sexual kind of love because all they see is lust, naked and brutal and crushing, and they would not understand genuine sexual love given in the context of selfless, sacrificially giving love. I mean the type of love that helps them, embraces them, and stands next to them in the filth that they have come to know, on your knees if necessary. They are used to being scorned and disregarded unless someone wants to indulge in their services.
“The next question should lead into the last one, which is, would I be any different if I was thrown into the same situation and circumstances they had faced, would I have made the same choices they had made. And if we are honest with ourselves we would answer that we do not know, we don’t know if we would be able to overcome the obstacles they faced and have a different life. That is the type of honesty we avoid because we are either afraid of the answer, or are so self-absorbed that we don’t bother to consider the question in the first place, or a little of both.”
“I guess I don’t think about it much,” I confessed, speaking aloud before I could stop myself. “I mean, I admit that I have been in Chinatown that late at night after a night in a club or hanging out watching a game with some friends. I have seen the hookers, and either I ignored them or oogled them or just looked at them like you said, in disgust. The other day I heard a morning DJ, who frequented strip clubs, made a comment offhandedly. He said he noticed that a lot of the girls seemed to be coming from the Ukraine lately. Not until just now did I make the connection.” I paused for a second before remembering what he was saying, “What’s the last question?”
He sat for a minute (it seemed like five minutes) before he answered. “What do you think the last question is?”
I shrugged as I answered, “I don’t know.”
“The next question has two parts, actually,” answering his own question, “the first is how would I react, if I was in their position and situation, if someone showed me genuine concern, and respected and loved me as a person, enough so they were willing to put aside their needs for me?”
“What’s the second part?”
He pause for effect before answering, “Why am I not that person?”
He walked away to let the question linger in the air before me. I mean, I could almost see the letters and words in front of me, like some Saturday morning cartoon. That one sentence cut straight through the wall of brick and mortar that I had built around my heart and conscience. It kept echoing in my head as I went to the restroom. Why am I not that person, have never been that person, and would I ever be that person? Do I even have it in me to be that person?
I asked for more coffee so I could think more on what we had talked about. Eventually I came back to Eli’s own excursion into Prague to be that person. He had gone into enemy territory, so to speak, and rescued some casualties and prisoners-of-war, forsaking his own safety to bring those suffering out of their own private hell. Apparently Eli was that person.
Eli had made his way back to where I was sitting, I think because he must’ve seen the millions of questions perched on my lips. “So, what happened to the women you were not able to rescue?”
“Some end up on the streets like I mentioned,” he began, “the prettier ones were sold as sex slaves to those who could afford them, huge dollars there, and didn’t have the cultural stigmatisms as the our culture does, and the money to keep them hidden for them to use for their pleasure whenever they wished.”
“And the rest,” I prodded.
“The rest became strippers, like you heard, prostitutes, or sex slaves used for internet porn,” he answered sadly.
Internet porn, I thought. I never even considered the possibility. I have viewed internet porn, and even used the private video chatrooms some sites have, back when I had the means to do so. Reflecting on my experience I guess I never really considered the girls. I mean, I figured they wanted to be there to make money, and I am sure some were. And the next thought I had was would I still use the sites if I could afford it? Sadly, the is answer is probably yes.
“How many girls that are on those sites are victims of sex trafficking,” I asked.
“Around seventy to eighty percent,” he answered. “That’s a guess from those who are more familiar with it. They don’t know for certain but they do know a large portion is there under duress.”
“I’ve used those websites in my past,” I confessed. I watched but Eli’s demeanor did not change one iota. He didn’t take on an attitude of judgment or anything negative, he just waited for me to continue. “It was one of the contributing factors to my divorce, that and the lies I told to hide my secret.”
“What did you think of when you saw the women,” Eli inquired.
I hesitated for a moment as I thought about it. “Well, I guess that I figured they were there because they chose to be. I assumed that they wanted to do it for whatever reason they had. All I could see was a bed with some curtains framing it on the sides, most of the time. I didn’t consider that it may have been a prop like a movie set or something. Quite honestly, I didn’t care all that much. I was only there for one reason, to fulfill a selfish need.”
Eli sighed, “Therein lies the problem. The men who use those sites are so consumed by their lust and their desire to satisfy that lust, that want because it is not a need. It is a want so don’t be fooled.”
He was right, of course. “I always convinced myself that I had to do it, needed to do it to get rid of the need.”
“And did it work?”
“Not really,” I reluctantly admitted. “I was usually back at it the next day. More often than not I kinda binged. I would do it for four or five days in a row and then not do it for a month or two.”
“What was the effect on your marriage,” he asked.
“Devastatingly destructive,” I answered. “Not so much that I fantasized about the women on line when we were trying to be intimate. It had more of an impact on other areas. I started thinking about almost every woman in a sexual way, hoping for one to grab me by the arm and sweep into something like a closet, bathroom, group of trees, anywhere hidden, for some anonymous illicit sex, knowing it would never happen, but I still couldn’t stop myself from thinking that way.”
“And your wife?”
“I don’t know the full impact,” I said quietly. “I am sure it was a horrendous thing to endure, and it would’ve been worse if she could read my mind, the images I had seen, the thoughts I thought. But I didn’t care, I guess. I believed the problem was with her not with me looking at porn. I didn’t think the porn had any effect beyond spending money and lying to cover my tracks, erasing my browser history and the like.”
“What happened with you in regards to her,” he asked.
I spent some time considering my marriage, sipping my coffee as I thought, drinking decaf now since I was on my fourth or fifth cup. After our earlier conversation and the victims of sex trafficking, Eli had me rethinking the events of my marriage and eventual divorce. Upon reflection my decision to indulge in internet porn was not was I assumed, harmless and victimless.
“I always considered my indulgence as harmless, victimless,” I said. “I just figured that when I x’ed out of the website that was the end of it. I never considered the girl on the screen. I only cared about my need, or want, as you put it. Most of those images still haunt me today.”
“It’s not the end of it for them, my friend,” Eli commented. “You’re only one link in a long chain of normal, common men who thought along the same lines as you. To them, ‘It’s just a few minutes of nudity and masturbation, and back to my life.’” He paused before saying, “For the women, it is a neverending nightmare of being abused and abusing themselves for the lust of men and money.”
“Who do you think gets paid when men charge their credit cards?”
“I always thought it was the women, or the company they were working for,” I answered. “At least I thought they were worked for a company, like I do, I guess, and I always figured they were paid well.”
“Sadly, it’s much colder and crueler,” he said. “Before the women are brought to their final destination, at least those who become prostitutes and “models” on porn websites, they are sexually abused, raped if you will, to deaden them and beat them down. They are destroyed as people, and beaten, threatened to instill fear into them of their captors. Sometimes the men, who are connected to one mafia or another, will kill one to send a message to the others, to reinforce their domination over them. All the money goes to the mafia to continue the cycle.”
“What about the drug trade,” I asked. “I thought a lot of them were involved in trafficking drugs?”
“They figured out that more could be made from trafficking sex than drugs,” Eli said. “They still traffic drugs but there are more men, men who do have a habit with doing drugs, addicted to lust, sex and porn than people to drugs. These men have conventional lives in conventional homes but harbor a dark secret that few of their wives even know about. Some wives suspect something but can’t quite put their finger on what it is. I know because I have counseled countless couples where this was an issue in their marriage.
“I don’t mean to say that drug addiction is not a serious problem. They both have the same end result: someone is addicted to something they believe they have under control, and the complete opposite is the truth, and the consequences are devastating. The difference is that once a drug is consumed its potential is depleted, gone. A woman can be used repeatedly for sex, until she is of no use for anything, including sex.”
“Huh, I never thought of it that way.”
“Nobody usually does,” Eli quipped. “When you looked at pornographic pictures, what did you fantasize about?”
“I essentially told myself that this girl wanted me,” I answered. “It seems pathetic now but I believed that the performance she played out was something just for me. Thinking back I almost believed that if we met outside in person that what was done via the internet would happen in real life.”
“You’re not alone,” Eli said. “There are lots of men who are in the same position you were in, assuming you don’t view that stuff anymore?” I shook my head “no”, and I wasn’t lying for Eli’s sake. “They get hooked on the sensation and euphoria that comes at the moment of ejaculation, but it soon turns into emptiness and guilt, only they don’t see the guilt. They ignore it. They become just like drug addicts, waiting for that next fix, looking forward to next time they can indulge themselves.
“Men begin to blur the line between fantasy and reality, getting lost in the false feelings of the fantasy and feeling lost when those same feelings are not present in their reality, or so they don’t believe they are possible in their present reality.”
“How so,” I asked.
He reached for the pot of coffee, the decaf, and refilled our mugs. He went to the fridge to get the creamer and refilled the dispenser on the countertop. I used some for my coffee and handed it to him when he came back from replacing the carton in the fridge. I slowly stirred my coffee to mix the sugar and creamer as I waited for his response.
“After counseling a number of couples,” he observed, “the wife was more than willing to do some of the sex acts their husbands chose to watch, which is the reality they failed to realize and appreciate. Not the crazy stuff but the things that a wife would, probably should, fulfill as her part of the marriage, after a healthy discussion with their husband. Most of the men were not into the depraved sexual activities, like whips and such. After some time the husbands would finally admit they watched things they believed their wives would not even consider doing, so they never asked. I am not saying that a wife has to fulfill every sexual wish but most of the time the desires from their husbands were not unreasonable requests, within the context of marriage.”
“I guess I felt the same way,” I said thoughtfully as I stared into my cup, “but there were times when I just wanted to view the sex, and satisfy myself. And then I would be consumed by guilt which was followed by denial of that guilt or that I was doing anything wrong, anything to feel guilty about. What I reasoned to myself was that the next time I did it would alleviate that guilt.”
“The wives usually went through a rapid progression of emotions at that moment,” Eli said. “First they relieved, then angry and some were disgusted, while others were confused and upset that their husbands never broached the subject, that their husbands assumed they would be rejected, and there is nothing more defeating for a man than feeling rejected. It was this fear of rejection that brought them to the places where they knew they would not be rejected, pornography.”
“That’s true, I guess,” I ventured.
“It is truer than men want to admit,” Eli stated. “Some men admitted, when we were in sessions alone, that they could have sex almost every night, but not with their own wives, with other women who were mostly strangers.”
“I would say that was odd but I understand what they mean,” I said.
“Do you,” Eli replied. “Please explain.”
“Well, I spent most of my day,” I explained, “staring at women, sometimes fantasizing about them and other times just looking and admiring. By the time I got home my desire burned for another woman, and not for my wife.”
“Now this is just an observation on my part,” Eli said, “but my theory is that the reason why men do not manage to last longer than two minutes before ejaculation is because they are so wound up through their fantasizing throughout their day that once they commence to sex with their wives, and they make physical contact, and they can’t handle it, and they are finished before their wife even begins.”
“And there are only so many times that that happens that the wife is willing to forgive,” I added. “After a few times they are sexually frustrated and eventually let their husbands know in a not-so-friendly manner.”
“And something, sex within a marriage, that is supposed to be satisfying and fulfilling for both parties becomes another selfish extension of the husband and his indulgences, really addiction, with pornography,” Eli concurred. “And a majority of other problems within a marriage stems from that one thing. Its infidelity in a way. The husband may not be physically with another woman but their minds, emotions and bodies are still cheating on their wives.”
“What do you mean,” I asked. “It’s not like he has someone he goes to. It’s just on the computer.”
“”Above everything, the heart is most deceptive,’” Eli quoted. “That was a rough paraphrase of the prophet Jeremiah. Lust is often mistaken for love, or dismissed as something it is not. Lust is a powerful emotion, and not just for the opposite sex. Lust and coveting are very close to each other in their intensity. These two emotions probably more than any other except love, derive more passion from a person. The difference between those two and love is the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction is fleeting with the two while with love, a sacrificial, selfless love, is for always and forever. The feeling of completeness received from giving and receiving that type of love cannot be matched.”
“How often does that happen?”
“Not as much as it used to,” Eli answered sadly. “And not nearly as much as it is needed in this world today.”
“Yes, really,” he replied emphatically. “Society would not be as fragile as it is today if more marriages experienced that type of love. Agitation and restlessness from unsatisfying relationships fills people up with angst, and so they need a release. So they turn to coveting and lust, both with an emphasis on wanting something you don’t have. Homosexuals covet what they call equality with heterosexual couples, deceiving themselves into believing that this will somehow give them the same fulfillment as a true married couple has.”
“No they don’t, do they,” I asked not really believing what he was saying.
“Yes,” again, emphatically. “By diminishing the importance of marriage being between a man and woman they obtain a small victory, though not a lasting one, by bringing it down instead of lifting it up to its proper place in society, but we can talk about that another time.”
Eli continued, “Lust and covetousness are empty substitutes for the complete fulfillment of endearing, selfless love between a man and a woman in a marriage. Lust and covetousness are like a foundation made of mashed potatoes, and a marriage built on this foundation will collapse it without much of an effort. With the husband viewing pornography and living out his sex life with his wife in a fantasy, he just keeps trying to patch the foundation with more mashed potatoes. And if he decides, usually on bad advice, to include his wife in his fantasy and in viewing pornography with the idea of bettering their sex together, the foundation is obliterated. It cannot bear the weight of the world that will bear down on a marriage.”
“So, pornography is not any good,” I asked.
“Pornography is never good for anyone in any situation, even those who profit from it. Pornography is a mockery and an offense against the institution of marriage,” Eli answered. “It is everything opposite of God’s purpose of marriage. It is a selfish act in every sense. It also provokes a man to lusting after things he normally wouldn’t do and shouldn’t do, married or unmarried. If a man chases after a fantasy, like I said before, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur. And some men, when that happens, cannot understand why things don’t happen like they see on the porn videos. That’s when the frustration, this angst of being unfulfilled, begins to build, and they don’t even know why it is building.”
“I don’t understand,” I confessed, “you’re saying that men who watch porn are borderline delusional?”
“In a way, yes,” Eli replied. “Some become obsessed and begin to feel the need for porn and to masturbate more often. They begin by just watching at home after work, usually before they go to bed. They believe it is harmless and they are only just watching a few minutes here and there, and that they have it under control. And then it happens more often for longer periods of time. They want to experience that feeling at the moment of release more often, so they begin to watch more and fantasize more, jumping from website to website. It becomes an insatiable hunger.
“That’s when fantasy and reality begin to blur,” he continued. “They start believing that the stuff that happens in the videos could happen to them. A female co-worker bumps into him in the hallway, and all of a sudden drags him into the supply closet for a quickie sex tryst, and other silly scenarios they can dream up. So they walk around anticipating that something like that would happen, waiting for it but it never happens. So they need an outlet because, eventually, the two dimensional porn videos are not enough. They want personal interaction, and that’s when they turn to prostitution, live sex chatrooms or the “escort and massage” ads in the back of some fringe alternative newspapers. Some men don’t mind paying because they rationalize to themselves that it is just a business transaction, like buying milk and bread.”
“And that’s when the trafficking of girls comes into play,” I supplied in response. “Men are obsessed with sex, it becomes a demand and the traffickers are only supplying that demand. Basic economics.”
“Exactly,” Eli concurred. “It’s really sad and heartbreaking for me to see what’s going on. I have seen so many relationships destroyed, so many wives sexually frustrated and unfulfilled, so many husbands as well, nevermind the collateral damage: the girls in the sex trade.”
“So what happens next? How did you counsel them?”
“Well the thing is I had to get to the root cause of it all,” Eli explained, “but before that I usually had to sift through all the bickering, accusations and negative hurtful emotions in order to get to the real issue, and seventy-five percent of the time there was some level of activity with pornography by the husband. And they always had some excuse as to why they watched it.”
“Like what,” I asked.
“Like they had a bad day at work, they had a fight with their wife and there was no way sex was going to happen, it was that time of the month for their wife, she asked him to cut the grass, take the trash out, paint the gutters, or some other lame reason they could come up with. In the end what it really boiled down to was they wanted a sexual encounter with no emotional attachment. The worst of it was that most husbands admitted, at least the ones who realized it was a problem because some didn’t seem to grasp there was an issue, that the feeling they had afterwards was a hundred times worse than the feeling they had before they decided to take that route.”
As Eli talked I remembered all the excuses I had made. I was tired from working third shift and not getting enough sleep during the day was my favorite excuse. “I worked the overnight shift and watched the kids during the day in order to save money on daycare, which we couldn’t afford. My ex had a job that she worked at for about thirty hours a week. She had two days off, which enabled me to sleep more those days but my schedule kept changing so I was always tired.”
I sat there looking into my coffee mug, hoping it could help me form the sentences to explain more. I stared for what seemed a long time and Eli waited patiently, apparently adept at provoking and drawing thoughts out of people, knowing when to ask prodding questions and when to wait for the person (me in this case) to work things out in their head. This is something I had known for some time from witnessing many conversations, but this is the first time I have been on the other end of it. Strangely, it’s a little uncomfortable and relieving at the same time, in that I am reluctant to share my past or what I think (both in this conversation) and that I am actually letting go of something I have kept trapped inside.
“I remember now the pain she had in her eyes when she talked to me sometimes,” I recalled, “especially after she had caught me in one of my lies to cover my tracks. Of course, at the time I did not understand it because I was wound up so tight in the porn and guilt. I didn’t understand what it was until we were talking about it just now. I felt resentment towards her and there was no explanation for it, but now I know it was the habit of the x rated sites that I would view, and I couldn’t understand why she had a problem with it.”
“And it made her feel like less of a woman,” Eli filled in. “Many times I heard that from wives who had husbands hooked on pornography. The husbands felt the same way as you, and it was the selfishness, and in part stubbornness and willful blindness to the issue, that was the problem. In their lust and the need to satisfy it, the selfishness that fueled the habit, and their desire to not be accountable or take responsibility for what they were doing, caused the resentment and anger towards their wives. It was their wife’s fault that pushed them to the sites or it was their fault for not being okay with it, treating it like he was visiting a sports site or something similar.
“The wives feel powerless and not attractive or appealing enough, and they are confused, too. They don’t know what happened to their husbands because by the time they find out about the pornography their husbands are deep into the sinful habit. Now they feel like less of a woman and/or not the kind of woman their husband desires, physically, and that comes out in the times when they get on their husbands about something unrelated. They may not specifically say it but it is there behind the words they are saying, in the way they say it. And they can’t compete with the women in those videos because the women in the videos are surgically changed and enhanced, and the women on the sites are just so willing and complicit in acting out their parts. The wives become torn between the love for their husbands and their anger and hate for their husbands because of the way they are being treated. Some retreat into depression and grief, some into anger and verbal abuse at their husbands, and sometimes children, and others just stop caring about their appearance all together and give up trying to please their husbands.
“The worst of it is that men’s watching of pornography has become a bit of a joke,” Eli continued. “You see it in sitcoms and other primetime shows that have a bit of humor. They make it a big joke and pretend that it has no effect on anyone’s life or relationships. The men are treated as being pathetic, just as at the same time the men have a smirk on their face, and it is presumed that all men have the same problem so it becomes normal. But the seriousness of the effects porn has on relationships and everyday life is laughed off the stage and camera. The only time it is even cited as a potential issue is when some crime show is dealing with some particularly sadistic villain who has pornographic material in their secret room in their house and links to pornographic websites embedded in his web history. But then the root cause of his sadism is blamed on something else in his past, like abusive parents or something. It is never believed that maybe it is possible that he had normal parents and was introduced to pornography by a friend who had a father with a stash of Playboys and Penthouse magazines.”
“Interesting,” I said thoughtfully, “I had a friend growing up and behind his house was an old barn-like building. Underneath there were window slots in the foundation and we used to climb in and crawl around in there, you know something our mothers would’ve killed us for. One time we climbed in and we knocked over a stack of magazines, which turned out to be full of naked women. We spent the next few days flipping through the pages. I was only around eight or nine at the time, but it had its hooks in me from then on. I was fascinated. Then one day we were playing whiffle ball in his back yard and we saw the guy who owned the magazines take them away, and I felt disappointed because a treasure had been taken away, or so I thought at the time. Turns out it was a curse.”
“A curse, indeed,” Eli agreed.
We sat there for a few minutes silent. I was intermittently watching the news or the baseball game as I sat there in my thoughts. I made a lot of mistakes in my life and marriage. I suppose I could’ve saved my marriage but what’s done is done. She has moved on with someone else and that person is fair with my kids as far as I can tell. I got up to use the bathroom (too much coffee) while Eli had gone to check on the kitchen to see if the cook needed any help. An inning later, as I had just settled down on my stool (I had to talk to someone I knew in one of the booths) he came back with a fresh pot of coffee, still decaf.
My curiosity getting the better of me, I asked, “What happened to the people you counseled?”
Eli took a deep breath before he answered, “Most of the marriages feel apart and they got divorced. Some kept going but remained dead. Those usually came to an agreement to stay together until the kids grew up, and then get divorced, because at least they understood that the kids came first. And some were able to overcome the fallout caused by the pornography and have a marriage as their Creator intended it to be. Some of those who decided to stay together for the sake of the kids were able to work out their differences and heal the wounds of their marriages and were recommitted to each other, even renewing their wedding vows, even though that was not what they had intended, but the Lord always has other plans.”
“Why did the others not change or fail?”
“The stubbornness and pride of man,” he answered quickly. “The men did not see a problem, refused to change their ways and give up pornography, and expected their wives to deal with it. And they usually did, with divorce papers.”
“Sounds vaguely familiar,” I muttered. Eli just grunted. I was replaying what he had said earlier, and noticed him throw a head bob to someone behind me as they made their way to the door, while calling out to them to have a good night. “Now, what was it you said about their Creator and his intentions or something or other?”
“Well, the best way to explain it is to give an example,” he began his answer. “I know of a couple who got married a while back. Now, counter to the common practice of their culture, they were virgins when they got married. They started dating during their junior year in high school, circa 1978. They went to a public high school but they resisted the flow of the cultural traffic of those days. They did not engage in sexual intercourse, in fact, the furthest extent of any physical contact between them was holding hands.”
“How is that possible,” I uttered quietly astounded, because I really wanted to shout. I was shocked to say the least. “I remember the days of my high school as in a haze and the pressure to have sex, both from me and my friends, was like a full court press.”
“This couple had parents who feared and loved their Lord, and obeyed his commandments,” Eli replied. “They took what they knew from the bible seriously, what it taught about relationships, with plenty of examples of good relationships and bad ones in the bible itself, and applied it to their lives. They didn’t stop there because they taught their children the same principles they believed and taught them well. I will add that they were not completely successful because some of their kids rebelled against their teaching, but these two took hold of what their parents taught them, and believed and applied it to their lives early on.”
“Again,” I objected, “how is that possible? I knew a lot of kids like that as well, some were even pastor’s kids, and they were not too much different than me. I liked to smoke, drink and the occasional dabbling into drugs, and some were right there next to me, passing me the joint.”
“Not all are able to resist the world initially,” Eli conceded to my point. “Some never come back to what the bible teaching they had growing up and live as if they never went to church, while others turn back to the truth they were taught in their youth. It’s just the way humans are and how free choice works. God did not want our love for Him to be compulsory or robotic, but a conscious choice, just like His is for us. And it is possible when the One you rely on, instead of relying on yourself, is greater, much greater, than you or anyone else you want to pile up against Him.
“But the opposite is also true,” Eli added. “There are those who grew up without ever going to church, never opened a bible or saw their parents open a bible or pray or go to church. The only thing they knew about God and Jesus Christ were the times they heard their parents exclaim, like “Oh my God’ and “Jesus Christ, Martha, your burned dinner again?” That was the extent of their bible lessons. But someone spoke to them, shared with them who belonged to those names, or just simply took them to some church sponsored event or worship service, and they got to know the God and Savior who they had no clue even existed.”
“I suppose that is true,” I conceded. “I know some of them, and I always thought they were on something or just became crazy, lost their mind.”
“Oh, it’s true but back to my story,” he continued. “It is possible, as I said, to keep your virginity intact. This couple did not kiss because they knew it would not stop there. They would have explored the baseball diamond before they knew what happened. Don’t misunderstand, they felt the same emotions, faced the same temptations, fought the same sexual urges as their peers, but their belief in their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit residing within them, they were able to overcome because they chose to do so.”’
“So,” I interrupted, brushing aside the last part he said, “what is the significance of those two being virgins? Why is it such a big deal?”
“If you remember,” Eli reminded me, “we just talked about the significance. In the late ‘60s the counter culture, or sexual revolution, occurred. This lead into the people dropping any kind of pretense about sex, like “free love” and other nonsense, and just having sex. This lead to the rise of the porn industry, which was mostly an underground operation up until then, and a lot things became sexualized. But sex came easy and happened as if there were no consequences. In that climate it was difficult to resist because it was everywhere in school, in the hallways, the parties, school dances and on the school grounds after school.
“Unlike before the “Flower Power” movement, when engaging in sex was more of a covert op, the ‘70s became the real era of the sexual revolution, the antecedent to what we see today but before AIDs and other STDs. Sex became more prevalent and the secular media and Hollywood made it seem like a natural next step in the evolution of man. Some taught that the church was oppressive and regressive for society, slowing down the evolutionary process, by teaching abstinence. Then sexual lust flooded our society, and permeated into the churches, and started to work at the destroying of the fundamental foundation set forth by the Founding Fathers of our country.
“So, the answer to your question is that the fact their virginity was still intact until they were married is very significant. Even today the significance of people remaining virgins is important because everything is sexualized, well almost everything. It is nearly impossible to turn anywhere without seeing something that uses sensuality to push their product. Even in the church it is prevalent. I had to turn some people away who wanted to be part of the worship team at my church because they were cohabitating with someone and were not married. They left the church in a huff of anger and resentment. I still pray for them. There are so many men in the church who struggle with their wandering eyes and most of the women do not help with the way they dress. They dress like the culture around to certain extent. They don’t wear short shorts but the tight shirts and sweaters, the low-cut blouses that show excessive cleavage.
“More than one man complained in my church complained about it,” Eli continued explaining, he was on a roll and I didn’t want to stop him. “One said there was one woman who was well proportioned up top and she always wore the baby doll style blouses that showed off a generous amount of her bosom, like she wanted people to stare at her. In the summer it was worse, with the summer dresses. Once I heard enough men say it was difficult sometimes, I began to notice myself. I didn’t have problems with other women but I could certainly see how other men could. I had to give a series of sermons on the weakness of men and about dressing modestly so as not to provoke sinful thoughts.
He paused in reflection, “I think I got almost as many complaints about that series of sermons as I did when I preached on giving and tithing. The obvious point is that some men, who were less concerned with their spirituality as others, told me or an elder in a polite way that they did not have an issue or the women could wear what they wanted. It was none of my business. They said that because they wanted to keep looking at them, not because they were standing up for their rights.
“Now the women were just as vocal. They did not want the church to tell them how to dress and what they could and could not wear, and that was that, especially when the style of dress today is designed to show the curves of a woman’s body. And those sweatpants with the words across the buttocks are just as bad as the tight shirts. The companies may as well remove their logo or name and write “Look at my Butt” or “Stare Here”.”
“Don’t forget the yoga pants,” I chimed in. He gave me a look.
“Anyway, what was I saying before I got sidetracked,” Eli pondered.
“The virgin couple,” I supplied for him. “You seem to get sidetracked a lot.”
“It’s unavoidable sometimes when I talk about certain topics,” he admitted. “I suppose that’s my biggest weakness.”
“It is better than the one, or few, I have,” I admitted, “but we share one though in regards to sports.”
“True dat,” he agreed.
“What did you just say,” I asked, nearly spitting my coffee out and almost falling off my stool with his use of today’s slang. He winked at me and we both began to laugh. “Unbelievable. Never thought I would ever hear that phrase from you.”
“So, as I was saying,” Eli said picking up where he left off, “God had intended for a man and a woman to sexually pure when they got married. Forget all the nonsense going around today about “test driving your partner before marriage”. The world has only one thing right about sex: it is meant to be an experience of exploration and discovery. But the Father intended it to be within the context of marriage between a man and woman, husband and wife.
“What God wanted was for a husband and wife to do explore each other, learn about each other’s likes and dislikes, pleasure zones, what excited them. The time before the marriage, the courtship if your will, is meant to be a time get to know what their personality, what they like to do, what they enjoy, to explore their Lord’s creation and their future partner’s mind. Nowadays, most courtship consists of learning someone’s name and its’ time for sex.
“We have it so backwards. We are taught to jump in the sack and then learn afterwards if we are compatible with the other person. How incredibly selfish and self-serving. Compatibility must be discovered first through time spent together outside the bedroom. Now you have given a near stranger the most intimate part of you and you cannot get it back. And now you carry part of that person with you as well, and you cannot give it back. It is a shame to see it, and it breaks my heart to see how much destruction has occurred because of it, especially inside the church.”
“That what I noticed about TV shows and movies,” I said, noticing that Eli’s eyes had become misty. “It seems so easy to score with a chick with some clever line or just walking in a restaurant or bar. Or they just sit down, have a few drinks and off they go to someone’s apartment for a romp in the bed. There is nearly always some type of sexual tension between two characters.”
“That is the opposite of what God had designed sex and relationships to be,” Eli returned. “Man has always done the opposite of what the Lord has commanded. It is part of man’s innate desire to rebel against their Creator and be their own god. The knowledge of good and evil was more of a discovery that we capable of choosing for ourselves what we wanted to do, and we chose evil. We lusted after God’s power just like Satan did and we are paying the price ever since. Thank God He sent His Son to give us a way out.
“But lust has been an issue for us from the beginning. We wanted what wasn’t ours to have and it continues today. If Adam and Eve didn’t covet the forbidden knowledge they never would’ve been near that tree. Lust is usually associated with sex but it covers a lot of other areas as well. It is easier to define in terms of sex, and rightly so. A woman’s ability to provide a sexual experience, or a man’s for that matter, is hers, not mine, not yours or any other man’s, it is hers. We do not have the right to expect her to give it to us simply because we ask, using pressure tactics of the culture or some rehearsed sales pitch to convince her that her body needs to, must even, be shared with me.
“The context of marriage is where sex is meant to be confined. The belief that we have broken free from the chains of marriage in the sexual revolution has only shackled us with more chains, dragging us down and impeding our ability to think beyond our immediate self. Lust has blinded and crippled us as a society, as a nation, and we don’t notice it because we just keep on lusting with the enabling of almost everything and everyone around us.”
He watched TV as he leaned against the counter. At some point the waitress had put the tab next to my elbow, so I pulled the money out of my pocket and placed it on top of the slip. I was waiting for him to continue because my brain was being slowed down by all that he said. It’s a lot digest, like his plates of food. I was watching the baseball game and finishing what would be my last cup of coffee. The home team was winning, I finally noticed, and it was the bottom of the eighth inning. Holy smokes, is it really that late?
“I am sorry if I laid it on a little heavy,” Eli apologized. “I have seen the destruction that lust for other women, through pornography and other things, that it saddens me, frustrates me, angers me and causes me to be a passionate in speaking out against it.”
“No need to apologize,” I said reassuringly, “I like these conversations, believe or not. You’re right they are a little heavy sometimes, but I haven’t used my brain like this is far too long.”
“That’s good to know,” Eli approved. “God gave us a brain to use, not to shut down and shuffle along this life deadened to all we see and feel. Just remember, lust is bad, bad bad bad.” He looked at me and asked, “Since you haven’t had the same access to pornography, do you still have a desire to view pornography?”
“Now that you have asked,” I began, “the desire to look at pornography has subsided a lot. I don’t always look at women with thoughts of sex coming to mind first. There are times I consider looking at something but usually don’t bother. It doesn’t excite as it did when I was married.” I reflected on it a little before adding, “After I left I was really obsessed but the impulses soon came less frequently, which I cannot explain why.”
Eli sighed, a sigh full of sadness. “That’s because Satan got the desired result.”
“So,” I began, “my curiosity is telling me to ask if that couple you mentioned is still married?”
“Um, yes they are,” he answered. “My wife and I have been married now for over thirty years, with seven kids.”
“I kinda suspected it was you but you never know,” I said, “and, wow, seven kids? So, how did it work out, the sex part, if you don’t mind me asking? If it’s too personal then that’s fine, too.”
“I will not share intimate details,” he replied with a small smile, “but I will tell you that I have never wanted or needed or will ever want or need another woman. And yes, seven kids, all blessings from God.”
“Good for you, Eli,” I acknowledged. “Well, I need to head home so I can get some sleep for work tomorrow.” I picked up my change, left a good tip, and made my way to the coat tree to grab my coat.
“Have a good one,” Eli called to me as I pulled the door open. I waved back in response, and bell rang as the door closed behind me.
Eli had one again gave me a lot to think about. I walked towards my apartment, staring at the sidewalk as I replayed the conversation in my head. We had talked about a lot from just a little news clip. I was deep in thought when I realized that I had been walking too long. I had walked past the house my apartment was in. I turned around and headed back. I walked pretty far past it. Guess I had a lot to think about. The extra walking is good for my digestion, both of the food and my thoughts.
I made my way up the back stairs, unlocked the door and made my way into my kitchen. I hung my coat on one of the hooks behind the door, kicked off my shoes and put on some sandals. I grabbed a sweatshirt cuz I am too cheap and poor to pay for heat. I grab a beer from the fridge because my mind is racing, and I won’t be able to sleep anytime soon. I fibbed a little to Eli, only because I don’t think my brain was capable to handle anymore thinking. It’s exhilarating but I don’t want the guys at the diner to catch on that I like the discussions we have.
I plop down on the one chair I have (I have a couch so my kids have somewhere to sit) in my two bedroom apartment. Okay, I have a second one next to a window and a couple of campsite chairs on the covered deck the overlooks the street. Sometimes I like to stare out the window or try to look up at the stars. I still remember on occasion that they are there. I have been out there a lot or next to the window because I have done a lot of thinking lately, thinking I haven’t done in quite a while, and I can’t sleep right away.
I sat there sipping from the bottle in my hand. I thought, up until I got married anyway, that I had a lot of good times, lived as fully as I thought I could. I went to a lot of parties, bars, nightclubs, watched lots of bar bands play, smoked some pot and popped the occasional pill when I was younger. I had a lot of laughs and nights I can’t remember, and times I don’t know how I ended up in my apartment. That was where I had met my wife, at one of those parties.
I was drawn by her physical attributes and so we started talking. By this time, though, we had been to a half dozen of the same parties so I was ready to talk to her beyond awkward goofiness. And like Eli had said by the second party I had talked to her extensively we back at her place (mine was a tiny dump but I loved it, it was cheap) messing up her bedroom. I hate to admit now but I always had this hint of guilt every time I spent the night with someone but I always ignored it. After my conversation with Eli I now know that I was feeling it because I knew it was wrong, somewhere deep inside.
The rest is history, as they say. We were married and had two kids. I love my kids, more than anything else (Eli’s food is creeping up the chart of things I love), even sports. I miss them a lot when I have time to sit still. My weekend is coming up and I don’t know what we are doing yet. Maybe we will go to King Richard’s Fair or something. I hope it doesn’t rain. I’ll have to remember to check the weather.
I sat there in the chair and I began to think about Eli’s time in Prague. He walked the razor’s edge. He placed himself in middle of a bad situation, in the center of evil activity. Imagine the adrenaline rush he must’ve felt as pretended to troll for a “date”, picking up a girl and driving away with one eye in the rearview. To me it seems crazy. The potential of being followed, possibly chased if the Mob guys caught on. Imagine the sadness he must’ve felt when he thought it too dangerous to go to the safehouse, and he had to bring the girl back. He had to pay her, I’m sure, because she would be beaten silly if she did not get any payment. And getting shot at? Craziness.
What would cause a man to set aside his own safety, his own life, to put it in the line of fire? He didn’t just gingerly step into the fire. He did a cannonball off the high dive right into the deep end. He went in where I’m sure the police avoided unless it was absolutely necessary. Will I ever understand his motivation and willingness to act on the part of those girls? It is indeed baffling to me. I mean, I am willing to help an old lady with her groceries or something, or help a friend with a project or move into a new place, but nothing as over the top as what Eli did, and his father, too.
I took another sip from the almost forgotten bottle in my hand. I place it on the window sill and go to the kitchen to get the dessert I brought home. It was half price, afterall. Chocolate cream pie, yummy and delicious.
I go back to the window to eat the dessert, still thinking about what we had talked about, lust and sex. I had never thought of them in the way that Eli had put it, in that kind of context. For most of my life, I guess I have been stumbling from object of lust to another when I was bored and finished with the last one. It seems that what would happen is that the lust would burn out and I found myself with another woman, one I had little in common with besides the desire to have sex. I stopped having sex with other women when I was married but the lust never stopped. I thought I was in control and calling the shots but now I realize it was my penis that called most of the shots, and I obeyed like the willing minion I was.
I put the Styrofoam container in the trash, finish my beer and put the bottle in the recycle bin by the back door outside. I head to the bathroom and do my routine. Once again, I was lost in thought and nearly brushed the enamel off my teeth. I rinsed off and turned off the light. Went into my bedroom, removed my pants and placed them on the old kitchen chair in the corner (yes, a third chair, well it’s more of a clothes rack for stuff I want to wear again), and put on a pair of sweats. This weekend it will be my son’s room as I will be sleeping on the couch.
Once again, sleep was a long time in coming, and I noticed that the number of spots on the ceiling still hasn’t changed.