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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Asymptomatic Intelligence - The Sensual Life Of A Young, Sweet Lolita

Betty Burwood had always been at the bottom of her class not because of indifference or a lackadaisical attitude, but because she was simply not very smart.  No matter how everyone – parents, teachers, and especially Father Murphy – tried to game it, there was no getting around the fact a report card brimming with D’s was accurate.  She did not complain for she knew that no matter how she struggled with numbers they never added up, paragraphs never made any sense no matter how many times she read them  or read them out loud, or had her baby brother recite them to her.  Her Uncle Harry thought that perhaps reading the Bible might jump her out of this strange imbecility – if the Word of God had no power to shine a light into the dimness of her brain, then there was truly no hope.  When she stumbled over the simplest verses, the most childlike parables, and the most obvious prayers, he knew that the poor child was lost.

Betty did not consider herself dumb.  She loved flowers and pretty music and the smell of bread baking in the oven, the tall sycamore on the front lawn, the purr of the neighbor’s cat, and the taste of hominy and gravy; and if she could make sense out of the world, then there was no point in textbooks or mathematical mumbo-jumbo.  In fact the special education teacher confirmed this every day of the week.  Betty was ‘other-intelligenced’ she told Betty’s parents, so not to worry.  

Some children were gifted with mathematical ability, others with remarkable reading skills, and others with musical or artistic talent.  Although embers of one group always seemed to be befuddled by the achievements of the others.  Hiram Vibberts could color between the lines, draw great, white puffy clouds in an azure sky, but 1+1=2 always escaped him.  Randall Brogan could sing like a trained Irish tenor but bumbled his way through geography and still couldn’t identify Ireland on the map.  This was all the more surprising because his parents, although born in America were Irish nationalists; and  Randall got his singing talent from his father who, when morosely drunk, sang Irish songs of independence and lost love.

What Betty had going for her was a precocious, Lolita-like sexuality.  She had reached puberty long before any of the other girls in her class, and by some ironic twist of the genes, was by the age of 12 a seductively soft, pliant, and desirable young woman.  Ironic because her mother was a tight, fidgety, sparrow-like woman who took no pleasure in anything let alone men.  Mrs. Brogan wore black lace gloves to Mass, twittered to herself about Jesus and the saints at the Stations of the Cross, held the Holy Eucharist tightly in her mouth until she left the church when it had dissolved on its own, and sat down alone to tea in the parlor.

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Boys buzzed around Betty Burwood like bees around a honeypot.  Most of them were too young to know what’s what, but were old enough that there was something hot and sweet there.  The older boys talked about her in ways that gave the younger boys little boners, and at recess when the girls were all out playing kickball, they would sneak into the girls room and sit where they imagined Betty Burwood sat. 

In her dimness Betty could not understand what all the fuss was about.  Being naturally sexy didn’t mean that you knew you were sexy or even what sexiness was, so she simply went up the stairs followed by a pack of boys who hoped to get a look under her dress or a peek down her blouse.  Even when Frankie Lampo touched her ‘there’, she wasn’t quite sure what was happening to her, but let him do it anyway, and before long she let him really do ‘it’ and rocked and rolled around the forest floor, yelling out and listening to her echoes come back from the other side of Bantam Lake.

Word got around of course, and Mr. and Mrs. Burwood knew that there was only one thing to do with their daughter – send to her to the Convent of the Oblates of Saint Margaret, a strict religious order who were cloistered, observed vows of silence, and offered penitential suffering for their sins every day.   Although they welcomed all novitiates even those sent to them by parents with little spiritual reserve, they were careful to vet the girls to be under their charge for propriety, respect, and cleanliness of body and spirit.

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Betty had no idea who the Oblates were or why she was now under their care, but she found the cold, austere convent not inhospitable, particularly because of the sweetness and beauty of her sister novitiates.  It was no particular surprise that Betty and her sisters were all of the same soft, pliant, feminine, desirably sexual character; and most of them had been sent to the Oblates for the same reason – a harsh discipline which would shake loose their faulty adolescent notions and be rid of them.   The oblates, anxious for any comers now that the Sisterhood was declining in numbers and the donations from the parishes of the diocese getting more and more paltry and indifferent, were certainly aware who they were admitting but demurred. 

In fact the girls, who quickly found the sexual sodality of the convent – that lovely, delicious, precocious shared sexuality of fifty Lolitas – pleasing to say the least.  The nuns were only concerned with silence, prayer, devotion, and respect; and the girls fit easily into the part of dutiful maidens.  They loved their demure, childlike dresses, white socks, and simple black shoes.  They loved putting up their hair before evening prayers because they could let it down after dinner, soft and silky, and feel it like a halo around their heads as they slipped together into bed.

The convent required no thought, no parsing of texts, no exegesis, no calculations.  It was a place of devotion and disciplined obedience to Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that was all.  Betty never had to read the hymns or the doxology, just recite them by rote in harmony and synchrony with the girls around her.  She never had to answer even the simple catechetical questions of her youth – Who made the world? (God made the world). Who is God? (God is the Creator of all things).  Recitation, devotion, hymns, and prayers only. The delightful, libertine existence were made all the more exciting because of the spare, cold spaces, indomitable discipline, and stark inspirational icons outside the dormitory.  The contrast was so dramatic, such a counterpoint to the lambent life within, that it was arousing.  The girls felt they were in the Decameron, a Passion Play, and the most erotic fairy tales ever written. 

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After two happy years in the convent, her parents decided to take her out and retry the real world.  From what the good nuns had said, Betty had been an ideal, patient, well-behaved girl, and while they realized that she did not have a vocation, that she would make a difference to others in a lay, Catholic life.

Yet Betty, because of her ‘limitations’ never deconstructed the ironies of the convent, the nature of her relationships with her sisters or the nuns, nor the place of the convent in the community of New Brighton.  It just was, and life after it would just be.

Either by luck, serendipity, or maturity, she never became the tart she was becoming before the convent.  In fact she became the ideal complaisant lover – never demanding, never irritable, never frustrated or insolent.  Boys and girls were simply wonderful to be with for a time; but eventually she became a simple-hearted, loving, and devoted wife.  Her sensuality became sensuousness, and her home a place of very physical affection, caring, and attention.  The pre-pubescent love of pretty things,  birds, and small animals – the delights of a girl with no ability to think about them or to think them through – returned.  She was a good mother and good wife.

‘Asymptomatic intelligence’ was coined to describe the politically clueless, those who might have some intellectual fiber within their vanity but who never showed it.  Those who never really understood Betty, used it in the cloakroom, but never to her face. In fact there was nothing asymptomatic about Betty’s intelligence at all.  She simply had none to speak of. 

How she managed so well, able to navigate her own eccentric passions and the complexities of the world around her was a mystery to everyone.  Pretty is as pretty does, said her aunt who never really understood what the aphorism meant but was meant for pretty, sweet girls who needed nothing more than an ability to cross the street.  Unfair, of course, although without her prettiness Betty would have been a totally lost soul.  Anyone without looks, sex appeal, or intelligence is bound for a potter’s field.  Thank goodness, Aunt Beatrice was right, and in Betty’s case pretty was as pretty did and she had a remarkably happy life even though she was never able to really appreciate her luck and good fortune.

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