Eden Part II

It had been two weeks since I had come back to the US from Brazil. I was still living with my father in our musty, museum of a home and was working forty-hour weeks in a shop in Spokane Valley making airplane parts. Now, to give you an accurate picture of where I lived, my parents owned a beige colored split-level home. All the walls, except for two in my room and two in Jet’s, were white. There was a lingering stink of emotional decay about the house that reminded me of old macaroni and black grease splotches dotted the cream colored carpet.

My father kept a house that was never meant for children. Why would I say this? Because my father was a mechanic who worked all his life in black filth and tried to live in a white house without ever dirtying it. He tried to create what he deemed to be perfection, and instead made a downward spiral of lost battles. It was a pattern that repeated in everything my father tried to perfect.

Bad things rarely change. That house was as much a testament to that fact as my father’s unhealthy habits. An awful feeling of looming failure reeked from the walls of our home. It was as if the house itself was a Dementor, sucking all the happiness out of all who lived there. That sensation was all the more powerful now in Mom’s absence.

I remember when I’d wake up and walk up stairs and not see her how sad I’d get. Growing up every morning she’d come out in her blue bathrobe, half asleep as she tied it shut, and say:

“Good morning Keithy.”

I still woke up in a heart of darkness, but now I woke up without a mother to comfort me in it.

Mom hadn’t seen me since the day I had gotten home and I was adamant that I wouldn’t talk to her until she came to me. I felt betrayed, and more so justified to force her to meet my demands. My father insisted that she wouldn’t contact me, because as he so eloquently put it:

“Your mom doesn’t care about you Keith. She only cares about herself and her life now.  You just watch, she won’t call. The best thing you can do is just move on.”

Those words shouldn’t have ever made as much sense as they did.

Mom had always been more of a best friend. She was the only one who had written me more than once on my mission. Max, my youngest brother, had sent me a letter, and Gwen sent me holiday cards and a package of hygiene stuff, but Jet and Dad never said a word to me over those two years. So for my mom to just up and abandon me felt like what I could only imagine being stabbed in the heart with an icicle would feel like: cold pain and hot blood throbbing and numbing the soul as the life inside gradually melts away.

Since I had returned home, I had been forced to watch the place I had once revered as my own slice of perfection wither away and crumble beneath my feet. Spokane was not as it was when I had first found the Gang. The Spokane I had known was gone and in its place was what felt like a hollow shell and all the dreams I had had about coming home to a better life after a gruelingly difficult mission had disappeared with the divorce. In their place now was but nightmares.

In the two weeks that had passed since my homecoming my mind had become haunted by fears of the future and a bitter sense of reality had settled in my soul. It was on this particular day in February that the rose colored lenses over my eyes came off for a moment and I understood I wasn’t ever going to marry. I understood in that moment that the longer I went without tying the knot the more people would begin to question, and eventually they’d know about me.

Terror is a strong word, but I was terrified in that moment at the thought of how the people I held closest would react. In seconds I had convinced myself that they would all turn their backs towards me once my sexuality came out of the closet and into the light.

So you may be wondering now, “did the Gang know about your sexuality?” I had told most of them with the exception of Kent and Frank. Why had I not told Kent and Frank? As contrary as this may sound in comparison to how I’ve described the bonds that connected our little group of friends, I feared that telling Kent or Frank would either seriously injure our friendships or terminate them entirely.

I love the Gang, but even in Arthur’s court secrets were kept. Nonetheless they’re the family I chose for myself, and the family that has been there for me when my own was nowhere to be seen. You see, for any LGBT youth true friends are a precious thing, and for gay LDS youth true friends are like trying to capture a shiny Pokémon in the wild. Meaning it happens mostly on dumb luck. Yes, I just went there. Don’t judge me.

In all seriousness though, true friends are the only people most LGBT youth have. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to come out to a friend and lose them, rather than come out to a parent and risk being disowned or having to live with the consequences of a now severely estranged relationship. Whatever the cause, all I know is that for me my friends were the only people who I had told I was gay, and they had been the ones who had saved me time and time again, not my parents.

So with all this information you can now get an idea of the torture one’s soul goes through when dealing with a problem of such immense consequences as this. People in my situation can’t go around like some poorly written movie character wearing their life’s problems on their faces for everyone to read into. They can’t live openly, they have to pretend life is alright when it may be anything but, and if they tell anyone it’s only a select few and in complete privacy. In all honesty it’s reminiscent of Winston’s fear of the Thought Police in 1984.

So there I sat, on the edge of my bed like Winston in his flat hiding from the telescreen. I listened for a moment in an attempt to see if anyone was nearby. No one else was in the basement; I was safe. I grabbed the phone and called Todd.

“Hey!” He said gleefully.

“Todd, I need to talk to you.”

“What’s wrong?” concern grew in his voice.

It was like something inside gave way and all the emotions and stresses I had been holding in for the last two years just came barreling out in salty tears and sobs.

“I’m sacred. I’m never going to get married, and eventually everyone is going to know why and they’ll hate me. Why can’t God take this away? I’ve done everything I know how to be a good person and live a good life. I even served a mission. So why won’t God take this away from me? All I want to do is get married and have a family, and I can’t.”

My best friend was silent as I continued to spill my soul out to him.

I realize that I tend to throw the term “best friend” around loosely when I talk about the Gang, so it may be more accurate to say that Todd is more of a brother than a friend. It was him who introduced me to the “gospel”—that’s a synonymous term for “faith” within the LDS Church—and in large part I am the person I am because of him.

“I don’t know how you feel, but there is someone who does. Just remember that,” sincerity hung in each word he spoke. “The Lord loves you. I don’t know why he doesn’t always take away our trails, but I think He wants us to learn something from them that we couldn’t learn any other way.”

“I know you’re probably right, but I’m just tired Todd. And I don’t wanna be alone forever.”

“Keith, you’re one of the best people I know. If anyone can get through this you can. You’ll find someone and you’ll be happy. It’ll all work out just have faith.”

I appreciated Todd’s attempt to revitalize my hope, but in my mind things should have already worked out.

Near the end of my mission I had a very candid chit chat with my Mission President in which he asked me about my struggles with what members of the Mormon Church will commonly refer to as, “Same Gender Attraction.” I told him about my fears of never getting married and then he asked me if I wanted a blessing. I agreed and he gave me a blessing in which he told me that I would be healed of my affliction so as to find a wife.

That pronouncement hadn’t left my mind. It gave me hope that even though the road from paradise was treacherous or at the very least daunting, it wasn’t impossible. I could partake of the Tree of Life and again discover Eden.

But what did that mean to me? Humanity spends its entire existence in mortal devotion to reclaiming perfection, and yet civilizations have risen and fallen and humanity is no closer to that ideal state than the day Adam and Eve left the Garden. At the time my envisioned version of paradise consisted of me having a wife and children sealed for time and all eternity in the temple. My Eden was that same garden sought after by every righteous Mormon.

Under the black veil of my eyelids I imagined my current holy sanctum as the hum of computers filled the otherwise silent classroom.

“Alright, open your eyes. So who wants to share their take on the Garden of Eden?” Brother Jackson asked raising his eyebrows in excitement.

No one raised a hand.

“Alright, how about,” he continued as he grabbed the class roster. “Collette?”

A young twenty-something-year-old girl with thick straw-like red hair perked up in her chair. “Um…Well I imagine flowers everywhere and a forest of trees.”

“Anything else?”

“Well I imagine there’s a waterfall and lots of animals,” she continued.

“Very nice. Now notice how she talked about water, trees, animals and flowers. The Garden of Eden was a paradise that appealed to every need Adam and Eve had or would have,” he turned to the board and drew four non-intersecting lines that made a thick ‘+’. “In ancient garden designs this t-shaped symbol is commonly seen in water features. Symbolically it represents the four rivers that watered the Garden, one coming from each direction. Four is also a symbolic number in and of itself, representing the four corners of the earth or mortality,” he clicked the remote in his hand and a picture of a lush, wondrous garden flashed on the whiteboard over the symbol. “When we improve any aspect of our lives, whether that be our homes, workspaces, or cars, what we’re really doing is trying to create our very own slice of Eden.”

My mind buzzed like the two-dozen computers around me as I pondered what Eden truly meant to me.

“And that’s what we’ll be learning to do this semester, how to create our very own Eden’s,” he smiled. “And there’s no better time of year to make a paradise than in spring!” a large toothy smile painted his face. “I don’t know about all of you, but I’m excited to see what perfection means to you individually,” he looked around the class as if expectant to see overjoyed expressions in return. “Well, that’s all I got for ya today, so if there’s no questions you’re all free to go. Have a wonderful rest of the day.”

I got up from my chair and grabbed up my lucky old orange and black Jansport. My mind was heavy with thoughts about paradise. And I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What was my Eden?”

I was so sure of myself and my convictions back then. I knew what I wanted, a wife and children. I knew the Church was true, and I knew I had gone around preaching that for two years. I knew a lot of things about Adam and Eve, and yet, I knew nothing about what any of it meant to me aside from being something that would one day make me happy.

Somewhere down in the depths of my soul something began to stir. I hadn’t fully realized it, but I had changed ever so slightly. I suppose I’m no different from the rest of my species. I too am afflicted with the obsession to grasp onto the reigns of perfection.  But this time I wasn’t out to create Eden, I was out to out to discover its meaning, and I could no longer pacify myself into contentment any more by saying one day I’d be happy.

I would discover the meaning of perfection and it would change me.

 

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