Transitions Part II

I walked into my plain, undecorated bedroom after a long day of school and sat on my dinky twin-sized bed. Dylan, my roommate, sat on the edge of his bed and read his scriptures with a serious expression. When I first moved into my bedroom and started to store away things in my closet I thought Dylan would have been some blonde surfer dude judging from all the pink Hollister polo’s he owned. Instead he was a tall, skinny guy with dark brown hair and a stern look about him.

“How was your day?” I asked as I threw my backpack on the ground.

I met Dylan this morning at 6:30 AM when my alarm had gone off. I’m pretty sure he thought I was psychotic. I mean who wakes up and says to their new roommate, “Morning. I cleared your bed off last night for you so you wouldn’t have to do so much when you got home.” Apparently I do.

“Sucked,” he said flatly.

“Why?”

“I had to work,” he didn’t look up form his scriptures.

I felt like my mother who was and still is the queen of never ending questions as I interrogated my new roomie. A familiar feeling of tension began to make its way into the air as I tried to evaluate how best to get to know Dylan who appeared to not care if we ever spoke again.

“What do you do?” I asked as I opened my laptop and went to check my Facebook.

Dylan’s scriptures slapped closed and he looked up at me. “I work at Opinionology doing political surveys in Spanish.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” I had no idea what I was talking about. “So you speak Spanish? Where did you serve your mission?”

“Yes, and Argentina.” Dylan responded matter-of-factly.

“What about you?” he said as he got up and placed his scriptures on the shelf above his bed.

“Brasil,” I said showing off my Portuguese as I rolled the “r” and made the “il” sound like “ew” as the Brasileiros do.

“Oh,” he raised a brow. “Brazil, huh. How was that?”

My mission was a million dollar experience I wouldn’t pay a dime to repeat.  In my mind the memories of that time are shrouded in an eerie aura of emotion. There’s a terrible majesty in them that haunts my soul to this day.  The things I saw, the people I met, the happiness and grief I experienced, and the lessons I learned transformed me, and now as I sat there being question by Dylan on my feelings about my mission there was a melting pot of emotion.

How does one say that what was supposed to be the best two years of any young LDS man’s life was anything but? Moreover how do you justify it to yourself that your mission was bad when everyone around you, namely your family, says that your perspective on the experience is all wrong? Wherein lies validation?

“It was a mission,” that was the best I could come up with.

Dylan tilted his head to the side in a nod like shrug. “Did you like Brazil?”

“Loved it.”

In my mind there is a very distinct separation between my feelings about my mission and my feelings towards Brazil. I genuinely loved Brazil, and every day since I had come back to the US I had felt like a part of me was missing. The hardest thing about serving a mission outside of your native country is the distance. Every day I served I knew that every hello was also a goodbye, and more than likely a goodbye forever. I understood that I’d never see most of the friends I made in those two years again. I was a dream in transition and eventually I’d wake and the fantasy would be over. And so it was.

But there was a strange humor to it all. I didn’t want to come home; I wanted to stay a missionary forever. I wanted to forget that life after the tag existed. I told myself I loved my mission that I loved doing the Lords work, and so it was. But now as I looked back I realized how I tortured myself as I tried to be perfect. I remember How President would promise us that if we did everything right, and we obeyed with exactness to the rules of the mission and the commandments of the Lord that we would be blessed for our faith with a baptism.  I remember how one night I just gave up the fight and sat on the curb and questioned everything I understood about God and church leaders. I would do everything and yet nothing would happen.

I obsessed over perfection then. I ripped my soul apart in an attempt to be more than my best, and over time “best” become synonymous baptisms and leadership positions. In order to be successful I had to become a Zone Leader and baptize the Hell out of every city I passed through. I lost myself in the fantasy of perfection in my mind for a time. The importance of people took a back seat to the importance of baptisms. Because as most missionaries justified it in the mission, “people need to be baptized and if we care for them like we should we’ll do everything in our power to make sure they are,” which meant we pressure people with fear tactics and warnings of hellfire in order to get them to comply. For a time it seemed that the only thing that mattered was how many got dunked per week, because dunkings equaled souls saved and souls saved meant I was successful.

Only near the end of my mission would I remember that baptism doesn’t save people. True salvation is a choice. One can be baptized in a million faiths but ultimately can always choose to not be saved. A true missionary recognizes this and tries to teach and help the individual to understand that no matter what choices they make in their lives that God will always love them. Only when a person understands that God loves them enough to let them choose salvation will they desire to choose salvation. No one wants to be forced. No one wants to be manipulated. Christ saves people, not the missionaries and not water.

But I think for a lot of missionaries the worth of their two years can only be summed up by a number of splashes.

My heart ached for Brazil, but not my mission. It ached for authentic arroz e feijao flavored to perfection by the pure love of the irmas that prepared it. It throbbed for succo de maracuja, and the ceaseless chirping of thousands of birds. It longed for Maringa and its tree covered avenues. And it hurt for the love of friends I had come to think of as family.

“What about you? Did you like Argentina?”

“Eh. I have mixed feelings,” he said as he took his seat back on the edge of his bed and started to write a text on his phone.

“Difficult mission?” As sad as it may sound I hoped he’d say yes and that we’d have something in common.

“My mission was in the desert-y part of Argentina. It wasn’t very pretty. I loved being a missionary, but I’m happy to be home. So are you anti Argentina like the other Brazilian missionaries?”

I chuckled. “No. Do you hate Brazil?”

“No. Never really got why Brazil and Argentina hated each other in the first place,” he said casually.

“Soccer,” I answered simply.

“Really?” he asked flatly, obviously unimpressed by his own lack of surprise over my answer.

I shrugged. “That’s what I’ve heard. So you like to read?” I asked as I looked up at the row of fantasy novels above Dylan’s bed.

“I do.”

“Well you got good taste. Eragon, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. Big into fantasy huh?” I observed.

“Yep.” He said curtly.

“So where you from?” I asked in an attempt to keep our semi good conversation going.

“California. You?” Dylan had an annoyed expression on his face again and I felt like I was again an inconvenience.

“Spokane, Washington. Northern Cali or Southern?”

“Northern. I’m from Sacramento, Elk Grove area,” he said matter-of-factly.

There was a relief in knowing my new roommate was from California. It’s dumb to say that I tend to classify people as open minded or closed-minded depending on the state they’re from, but I do. Dylan being from California meant that he was at least exposed to homosexuality more than someone from say North Dakota. I didn’t know if he was very understanding, and I wondered what he would think if he knew about me. Would he ask to move rooms?

“Very cool. No idea where that is though. My sister Gwen lives in the Huntington Beach area. That’s about as much of California as I know. I went to San Fran once though.”

Dylan’s phone vibrated.

“Sacramento is maybe two hours inland from San Fran,” he suddenly tossed his phone to the side and stood up.

“Sorry, I’m probably annoying you with all my questions,” I said quickly. I knew I wasn’t the cause, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t fuel to the fire.

“You’re fine,” but by the way he said it I didn’t feel like I was very ‘fine’.

“Alright. Is there anything I can do?”

“I doubt it,” Dylan paced the room.

I watched him as he walked back and forth,  and then sat at his desk only to jump back up and start pacing again.

“You ok?” I asked hesitant to break the silence.

“She just drives me crazy. She doesn’t make any sense,” he blurted out.

I sat there silently.

“She breaks up with me, then begs to get back together and then never wants to see me. Women. They whine and moan about being mistreated, and how they can never find a good man and then a guy like me comes along, a good guy, and they walk all over him,” his face flushed red as he threw himself back down on the edge of his bed. “Keith right?”

I nodded.

“Don’t date girls who wanna serve missions,” he warred with a bitter tone.

Part of me wanted to tell him, “Oh that wont be a problem, I don’t even like girls,” but all that came out was, “Ok.” I knew in my heart I wasn’t going to marry and yet in my mind I didn’t want to accept it. And more so I didn’t want to ruin my chance of friendship with Dylan.

The world is an intimidating place for a gay Mormon, and most days you feel like neither the non-LDS nor the LDS worlds really want you. That if you were to come out you’d lose the only reality wherein you exist, even if that reality is a fantasy. And for me, I just didn’t want my greatest “flaw” to be a tool of my undoing. I didn’t want Dylan to use my homosexuality to hurt me. I didn’t want to be bullied anymore.

I know I come across as a cool, popular-ish kid with a good head on his shoulders and a fun personality, but the truth is I’m a mess. Maybe so much so that that’s why I write for the world to read about it.

We sat there again in awkward silence and I pretended to be interested in the green carpet at my feet.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be burdening you with my problems especially since we’ve known each other since this morning,” Dylan said with a heavy sigh.

“It’s cool. We all have problems. I’m poor and it’ll be a miracle if I find a way to feed myself this semester,” I said casually.

“Do you not have food?” concern rang in his voice.

“I got some rice and beans, but I dunno how I’m gonna cook it,” I looked up at the white ceiling, because for some reason actually having owned up to the problem made me more embarrassed than just stating casually that it was an inconvenience.

Dylan got up and grabbed a box on the top of the dresser. “Here this was my old roommate’s. It’s all his old food.”

“He left this all behind?” I was shocked.

“Uh-huh,” he nodded. “And a bunch of cookware. It’s sitting in a box out on the table. He gave it to me, but I don’t need it. So it’s all yours if you want it.”

“Really?” A goofy smile painted my face now. “But why would he leave so much behind?”

“He got married,” there was a certain distaste in his tone as he said the word ‘married.’ “So he and his wife got all new stuff.”

We walked out into the living room just as there was a knock at the door. I opened the door to see Ann’s little sister Katie standing there. She let out an excited scream and threw herself on me.

“Keith, Keith, Keith!” she shouted in glee.

“Katie!” I exclaimed.

Katie and Ann looked fairly similar. They both had golden blond hair and blue eyes with the same Mediterranean skin tone. Katie looked more like her father though; they both had the same wide set nose and a rounder facial structure, while Ann looked more like her mother with a narrower, longer nose and a more angular face.

“How are you?” I asked as she she pulled back.

“Better now that I’ve seen you,” she said quoting our old high school English teacher Mr. Sully.

I laughed. “So where’re you living?”

“Birch 206. You need to come over and chill, because we’re the best,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Well, now I’ll have to come over wont I?” I smiled.

“What’re you doing tomorrow for Devo?” she asked.

“Devo?” I repeated.

“Devotional. It’s tomorrow at two,” she explained casually.

“Oh, I forgot. Patrick and Payton wanted me to sit with them.” I responded.

“Don’t sit with them. Sit with me. You love me more than them anyways,” Katie fussed.

“True, but I already said I would. Next week?” I bargained.

“Fine,” she said flatly. “Next week. Anyways I better go, Kris wanted to show me something she got.”

“Alright I’ll see you later,” I said as I grabbed hold of the door.

“Oh and hey, my mom gave me some food for you. So you better come get it cuz it’s taking up a lot of space.”

“She gave you food for me?” How lucky could a kid get?

“Yeah so come get it. Anyways see ya Keithard,” she said with a wave and left.

I closed the door and turned around to face Dylan.

“Old friend?” he asked.

“It’s a long story, but yeah I guess you could say that,” I answered vaguely.

“Well here’s that box. You can go through it and take what you need or whatever,” Dylan pointed to a large box on the table overflowing with pots and pans.

“Alright,” I nodded.

Transitions aren’t easy, especially the kind brought on by a coming of age. It isn’t easy to come home from a mission where all you’ve done is eat, sleep and think about others, to suddenly come home and have to think about yourself. It isn’t easy to be an adult when all you’ve ever been is a kid, and it isn’t easy to be accept that you’re gay when you’ve spent your entire life trying to convince yourself and the world that you’re straight. But transitions are really just an old beginning reborn.

Did I have friends at school? Yeah, I did. Katie and Jo were my friends, and now I had Dylan. Our friendship was forged over a box of food and some pots and pans, but it was something. And while I was still afraid of what would happen if Dylan or anyone for that matter knew I was gay I realized it was just another part of my transition from the closet into the world.

 

 

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