Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Exchange

I think it's time that I share this experience.

In order to understand the trauma I went through the first night of my LDS mission in Everett, Washington, you need to understand a little about who I was in November of 2003.  At the time, my photo could be found next to the word naive in the dictionary.  I was a hoplessly, happily, unknowingly sheltered innocent from Utah County.  I left for my mission oozing anticipation and excitement, with no real understand of what exactly I was in for.  I was a wide-eyed, idealistic puppy.  Any false pretenses I had held about missions in general were ripped away fairly quickly.  And it all started November 23, 2003.

I was dropped onto Whidbey Island about four in the afternoon.  My companion met me and drove the half hour it took to get to our apartment.  We went do dinner afterward and then proceeded to the Church.  "We're going to bring a third missionary along with us tonight," my companion, Elder Shepard, told me.  "He's going home in about four months, and he's pretty trunky.  We'll bring him along and see if there's anything we can do to help him.  It's also good for his companion to have a break too."

What a good district leader my companion is, I thought happily.

There were a number of missionaries at the ward building when we arrived.  I introduced myself to all of them, and met Elder Hilton.  He was obviously a bit older than the other missionaries, and wore a bored, apathetic expression.  He barely shook my hand at all.  "Hey,"  was all he said.

Oak Harbor, Washington is a navy town.  At any given time, there were at least eight or nine men in the ward out on deployment.  As it was, we were going to be visiting the wife of one of those men.  "Sister Western's really cool," Shepard had told me, "but she tends to start going less-active anytime her husband's away on deployment.  We're going to stop by and show her the new Christmas video."  It was a common visit to provide support to the members struggling with the upcoming holiday they'd spend alone.

The three of us showed up on the Western's doorstep about eight at night.  The entire ride over, Elder Hilton had been whining about how he hated this weather, hated the early dark (it was dark by 4 pm in the winter), and couldn't wait to date again.  My impression of him wasn't glowing.  Sister Western invited us in and we made small talk.  She showed me a picture of she and her husband.  The two made a striking couple.  She was young--probably 22 or 23, and very beautiful.  He was handsome and broad-shouldered, very military.  I looked up from the picture, "It must be tough to have him gone so often," I said.

"I manage to have a lot of fun," she said.

What does that mean?

"Hey, I'm going to make some lemonade before we start the movie. You guys want some?"

We all agreed.

"Great!  Um, Elder Hilton, could you come help me in the kitchen?"

Elder Hilton followed her into the kitchen, with more enthusiasm than I knew he was capable of.  The kitchen of the small apartment was separated from the living room where we sat by a wall that extended roughly two thirds the width of both rooms.  The entertainment center sat against the wall that provided the clearest view into the kitchen.  My companion was fiddling with the DVD player, trying to get it to work.  My initial impulse to never leave another missionary alone--especially with a girl--told me to go help in the kitchen as well.  But my companion didn't seem worried.  And he could see into the kitchen enough that things were probably alright.  So I relaxed.

A minute or so later, Shepard turned to me and asked, "Elder Back, could you go help out in the kitchen?" Glad to help out, I began whistling "Ye Elders of Israel" and strolled into the kitchen.

My whistle didn't last.

The following is a record of the subsequent moment upon entering the kitchen, as seen from the refrigerator's perspective:

I froze.  Time stopped.  I didn't know what to do.  I stayed there for what felt like an eternity, the two of them engaged in their carnal ways, seemingly oblivious to my presence, and me paralyzed in shock.  To that point in my life, I had never seen a couple making out--married, missionary, or otherwise--so it was shocking on multiple levels.  I gathered myself enough to walk out to Elder Shepard.  "They're making out in there!!" I whispered fiercely, almost in a panic.

His eyes widened.  "Just sit down, shut up, we'll handle it later," he said quickly.

Just then the guilty parties came walking quietly back into the room.  They were breathing heavily.

Then we watched "Joy to the World."

The movie droned slowly on in the background.  My mind was racing.  Am I going to have to tell the mission president about this?  Is Elder Hilton going to be sent home?  Are the Westerns going to be divorced?  Am I going to have to testify at some church court or something?!  I was mad at myself for letting them go in there alone.  I was mad at Elder Shepard for not thinking to send me in sooner, or go in himself.  I was enraged at Elder Hilton, who obviously didn't understand what it was like being a missionary.  But the deepest, most seething feelings were reserved for Sister Western, sitting so innocently on the couch.

Her husband probably kisses her picture every night, and the second he leaves, she's defiling missionaries!

When the movie finally ended, she said, "Hey, I want to show you guys something."  She left and came back with some pictures.  "This is me and my husband on our one-year anniversary."  She thrust the pictures under my nose.

"Great," I said, barely managing to cover my anger.  What was she getting at?  Did she see me come into the kitchen?  Is she trying to send some sort of message?  She hesitated briefly and grabbed another book from her room.

"This is me and Keith on our wedding day."  She showed me a collage of the two of them standing in front of the San Diego temple.  My indignation boiled to dangerous levels.  What the crap is she doing? "Nice," I said curtly, barely glancing at them.

"No, Elder Back.  Do you recognize the guy in this picture?"

I glanced at the photos and then at the grinning Elder Hilton--also known as Keith Western.

You know, I think I lost my shell pretty much in that one night.