Back in 1996, when Melody LaLuz turned 16, she'd already seen it all: friends gettin' busy, gettin' sick and gettin' pregnant, and she wasn't having any of it.
When she learned that 2,000 teenage girls get pregnant everyday and 52,000 cases of sexually transmitted diseases are diagnosed daily (10,000 in teenagers) at a True Love Waits assembly at Lane Technical High School, she vowed to stay a virgin until she got married. What Melody didn't expect was that no one, not even her family, would think this was a good idea.
"I went home and I said, 'Mami -- I'm going to wait until I get married to have sex' and she was skeptical," a now 28-year-old Melody told me four days before her wedding this Saturday. "She said 'How is this possible? Oh my god you're not going to be able to get a man! And what if you married and you're not compatible?'"
And so, four days before their wedding night, Melody the 28-year-old virgin and Claudaniel Fabien her 30-year-old "renewed-virgin" fiancé who's been abstinent for the past seven years -- who have never even tongue-kissed!!! -- addressed the question of ... compatibility.
"Well, if we don't get it right the first time we're going to do it again, and, again and again!" laughed Claudaniel, better known to his friends as CD.
Uhhhhhh...but seriously, what if it's a flop? I mean, geez, not even any kissing?!?!
"I told her if we date I don't even want to kiss until we get married -- I'm not going to start something we can't finish!" CD said. "There is such a sexual tension between us, we have to keep physical boundaries ... no we don't have any fears or concerns that physically anyone's going to be inept."
Melody and CD met in July 2006 in a New York airport as they were waiting for a plane to Uganda, where they were headed on an abstinence mission trip to teach young people in the AIDS-ravaged countryside the value of blood-testing, commitment and faithfulness. As they visited orphanages bursting with over 2,000 children who were orphaned by AIDS-stricken parents, the couple sparked a friendship which will culminate on Saturday with their first kiss -- after they're pronounced man and wife.
So what's it like being pure in the 21st century?
"People would always tell me I was crazy, they'd say 'Girrrrrl you do not know what you're missing!' I'd say 'What am I missing, baby-mama-drama, getting herpes?'" Melody said. "The young woman who came to talk to us at school was gorgeous and so I thought, 'See? I can be fine and abstinent.' Today I go around talking to other young women and being that living role model." Melody is now a program director for the What's Good abstinence program which operates out of the Lydia Home on the Northwest side of Chicago.
CD, who sowed his wild oats as a freshman at college then made the commitment to value and respect himself and others on a way-deeper-than-surface level, responded to my pointed inquiry about whether their respective pledges were an expression of a freakishly deep religious faith.
"When we're in the schools we intentionally don't talk too much about our faith because this message is for those who walk with the faith and for those who do not," CD, now also an abstinence educator and a news editor for the Confederation of Spanish-American Families said. "The religion -- that's a completely different talk, that's not the be-all-and-end-all of the abstinence message. This movement is for everyone, it's to have a healthy lifestyle regardless. I don't ever want people to feel like they got Jesus after talking to us, no."
"We're both Christians," Melody chimed in, "but it's more to do with our spirituality because your belief system affects your values. The principles that are behind this -- self-control, delay of self-gratification, a vision and goal for a future -- are just useful in life."
And how well does their example go over in the Latino community where teen girls get pregnant at a rate of twice the national average every year?
"We're both from broken homes and both felt the repercussions but it's still hard," Melody said. "We've both had those moments where people aren't havin' it. Being a Latina livin' in the 'hood near Logan Square I hear a lot of 'I don't want it, don't need it!' but I'm surrounded by people already on their second marriage, having had one or two abortions ... there's a mentality in the 'hood that that's just the way it is. No! It doesn't have to be that way."
But, even Melody and CD will readily admit that their chosen path hasn't been easy. Frankly, during the course of our conversation I intuited (while blushing profusely) that while they've savored their journey together, they're realllllly ready for it to be over.
I won't go into specifics, but if there are news reports of a mild earthquake in the Chicagoland area Saturday night, you'll know why!
"There is such a desire -- but it's rooted in deep friendship, love, and respect. Our desire for each other is based on love and concern for the other person." CD gushed as he visualized their wedding night. "There's nothing like knowing someone loves you 100%. We're not afraid. We're looking forward to it like crazy."