I hadn’t seen Dial glycerin soap since I was in grade school, so when I did I could almost taste the imitation raspberry flavor. I grinned, remembering being eight years old and holding onto this little secret: it didn’t taste all that bad. My mother said I had to sit on her toilet think about mouthing off and cussing at my older sister. Instead of thinking about losing my temper or using bad language, I compared the soaps I’d tasted over my cursing career. Glycerin soap didn’t have that harsh, basic taste. It slipped around in my mouth more, but I wasn’t afraid of it. I pretended to be in pain in order to avoid prolonged punishment. More than punished, I felt offended by this arbitrary admonition. I heard people swear all the time to express themselves. They were older, and I was younger, which seemed to be the problem. I was too young to cuss and I was being reprimanded for talking like a grown up.

As I sat on that mint green toilet, I thought about the first time I could remember being caught using dirty words. I was pretty advanced, and at four or five, I used a creative compound four-letter-word insult to address one of my siblings. Mom had me sit in the shower that time, and the soap tasted worse. Just like in A Christmas Story, when Mom removed the bar from my mouth, she asked me where I’d heard that.

“Church,” I said.

This is an excerpt from an essay about church, dirty words, and what it means to be clean.