I was trying to think of the single worst experience of my life. It can't be a stretch of a few days or weeks, but a single bad moment. No one close to me has died, so I have to dig deeper than most people. I remember a particularly depressing walk home after being cut from the high school baseball team. And there was the time I had to throw a used condom against the wall. Those were bad, yes, but here's what I think is the single worst experience of my life.
I had recently returned from my mission, and I was sincere about my religious beliefs. Despite some growing doubts about the Mormon story, I believed in God. As I was trying to adjust to my new life as a 21-year-old Mormon, I had to deal with the awkward blend of hormones, shyness, and religious devotion. To my eternal shame, I started peeking at covers of Playboy magazine whenever I went into a convenience store, and after a few weeks I even opened a magazine and shuffled through enough pages to become twitterpated. That combination of titillation and guilt stays with me to this day whenever I look at porn, but back then both elements were much more intense -- especially the guilt of betraying my God. This may seem kind of silly now, but in 1983, pornography wasn't nearly as pervasive, especially in my sheltered world.
I used to ride past an adult bookstore in Moreno Valley every day on my way home from lifeguarding. One day, while driving my Dad's yellow pickup, I decided to stop in. I say this casually now, as if I were curious about a pawn shop, but this act of going into a porn shop put me in a state of frenzy, angels battling demons. Walking towards the door made me feel like I was simultaneously dragging someone and being dragged by someone. When I opened the door, I saw things I shouldn't have seen. Remember, my only experience with porn was looking at Playboy pictorials and trying to make sense of scrambled cable channels, so I was alarmed at the nasty display of sexual deviance. What in the hell is THAT?! Why are they . . . oh no, oh no. A man behind the counter asked if I needed any help. I looked at him and was struck by his eyes, which looked like goat eyes. Dead goat eyes. I asked him where the Playboy magazines were. The evil man scoffed.
I left the store feeling nothing but guilt and shame and dread. Never again. Never, ever again. As I climbed in the pickup cab and fumbled with keys, a man standing outside my window startled me. He knocked on the window. What should I do? Lock the door and drive away? I rolled down the window slowly and snarled in a high-pitched voice, "What do you want?" He handed me a born-again Jesus Saves pamphlet. Relieved that he wasn't going to make me squeal like a pig, I actually took the pamphlet. So that's it. Hearing the strange man tap on my window as I sat shame-faced in my pickup truck was my single worst moment.