Age: 11, What I was giving up: shoplifting, Days to Sin? 16
I tell the priest I am giving up swearing since my mother says I have a mouth she can’t believe, but I don’t give a shit about that. I want to stop stealing things. I don’t like stealing things. I think stealing things is wrong.
I go more than two weeks with everybody telling me I’m going straight to hell cause I’m using bad words but I know I’m digging out cause I haven’t yanked a model kit, glue, spraypaint, not even baseball cards or gum in more than two weeks.
But on the fifteenth day I run away in the night and in the morning I’ve got ten cents and an empty stomach and I grab those squiggle-top Hostess cupcakes and OJ from the Convenient Mart and run to school where I actually spend the day, silent in the back of the classroom, contemplating damnation.
Age: 17, What I was giving up: drugs other than pot, Days to Sin? 9
I have been high every single day for more than two years. More than two years. And I need to be cleaner. For those final swim meets, for basketball, so I can just think for a few minutes. But I can’t be straight so I say, “nothing but pot,” though when Ms. Tatrow asks a bunch of us what we’re giving up I say “blow jobs,” which causes Jenny’s head to spin around, Exorcist-style til she’s facing me with a blistering look, but then she just smiles and says, “giving them or getting them?”
But it’s a crazy winter and there are too many things going on and nothing in the combination of marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine is generating sleep and people keep telling me to “chill” and Michigan State and North Carolina State are both demanding scholarship answers and so finally, in the first couple of hours of a Wednesday as I start to sneak out of Jenny’s bedroom I stop in the bathroom and heist a bunch of her mom’s valium.
Age: 20, What I was giving up: ambition, Days to Sin? 10
At eighteen, no matter how big a dope I was I still had these fantasies of swimming in the Olympics. Probably not of medalling or anything, but of crossing the ocean and hanging in the Olympic Village and swimming in front of television cameras.
At nineteen I was kind of sure that though swimming was going to end in two years I was going to turn myself into a brilliant artist, and go back to New York and live in one of those SoHo lofts and be so way cool.
Even just at Christmas I was sure I had grown up enough to be a good boyfriend, and actual relationship fantasies had crept into holiday thoughts.
But now it’s February and everything sucks. I’m slower in the pool now than I was a year ago. The art just seems repetitive and boring. The girl has gone. And I just say “fuck it,” upping the drug intake, no easy task actually, and promise myself I’ll expect nothing of myself for forty days, if not forty years, and drop into a silent funk. But then one night I’m developing a roll of film shot back in early January and there are three images that completely thrill me and I spend all the way from eleven at night til six in the morning playing with them until I have these huge prints that I totally love and that afternoon, on no sleep against Iowa, I swim the second fastest 200 of my life. And I climb out of the pool and say to no one in particular, “this Lent shit never works.”
Age: 27, What I was giving up: causing pain, Days to Sin? 4
There are just too many stories now. Already too many. And I’m completely confused as to whether I’m a good guy or a bad guy. If I’m a protector or some sort of brownshirt Nazi. Whatever. This job has twisted me so badly that I go to church on Ash Wednesday and swear that for forty days I’ll inflict no pain, even if that literally kills me.
I have the next three days off and I’m at peace, but on my first night back we try to break up a fight outside the nightclub that’s the old Post Road Theater and, yeah obviously…
I say to Colin later, “I’m going straight to fuckin’ hell.” And he says, “Obviously man, but not for this.”
Age: 33, What I was giving up: sleep, Days to Sin? 8
The nightmares have piled up too deeply and sleep has become more treacherous than exhaustion and so I devise a theological conundrum. If I give up sleep for Lent then if it kills me is it really the mortal sin of suicide?
I actually make it more than a week, spinning virtually out of control, before my brain seizes control and during our meal break leaves me passed out cold on a weight bench in the gym in the station house basement.
Someone wraps me in a blanket and I rest sinfully for nine hours.