The next day, I was out walking with my landlord’s tween son, Terrance. He was a budding magician, and loved doing magic tricks for passersby. He reminded me of my little brother, and so I liked hanging out with him. As we approached the bottom of the hill that our house sat on, I saw those two missionary boys knocking on the door.
“Oh shit!” I spewed, “Let’s hide!”
Terrance was confused, but he went along with it. “This is fun,” he exclaimed.
“What, hiding from them?” I asked, assuming he thought this was a game.
“No, seeing how scared you are.”
Well then. Erica, put in her place. I huffed and puffed and blew my ass up the gravel hill. When we reached the front door, I saw Linda speaking with the missionaries on the couch.
“Hi Erica!” one exclaimed. He, we’ll call Elder Utah, was tall, white, skinny … and from the LDS homeland of Salt Lake City. The quintessential Mormon son. The other one, we will call Elder Fiji, was a tan Fijian, who spoke very bad English. He was my favorite, because we never understood each other. It would become a long-running theme of getting really pissed off at each other, while still trying to remain polite.
Elder Utah stood and dusted off his crisp, ironed pants. I think he was scared of catching a “commoner” disease in our living room. “We just thought we would stop by and see if you would be interested in this book,” he said, as he pulled out a Book of Mormon from his man-purse. He handed it to me, and I embraced it confusingly.
“Is this your bible?” I asked.
“Well, we read from the Bible, but we also read from the Book of Mormon. It is like a testimony to the scriptures the Bible. It was published by Joseph Smith, the prophet who founded the LDS church,” Elder Utah replied.
Elder Fiji didn’t say much of anything at all.
“No one is here to force you to believe,” Elder Utah said, “We just ask that, if you are interested, you begin reading and asking The Holy Spirit to guide you in finding the answers you seek. If this book is true for you, you will receive testimony.”
I nodded. “Okay, I will try it out.”
With that, Elder Utah walked toward the door and Elder Fiji followed. They both smiled and waved goodbye. As I watched them hop onto their bikes and ride away, I noticed the golden hue of the sunset. This is a good time to start reading, I thought.
I hopped into bed and started on the first page. Instantly, I was in a trance. I pulled out a highlighter and began tracing over lines that spoke to me on a very deep, emotional level. Wow, this shit was written for me! By midnight, I had read half of the book, and half of that was highlighted. I cried a little, and got my first taste of the ‘Joseph Smith Tears’ syndrome (which I mentioned in Pt 1). I really did feel like I had come home. It was cheesy and corny and absurd and cliche… but it was real for me. I felt comforted. I felt peaceful. And I felt like maybe someone up there loved me.
The next day, the missionaries came back. June, my landlady, didn’t much care for the religious bullshit … but she let us congregate in her living room nonetheless.
“How did your reading go last night?” Elder Utah asked.
“Well,” I started to reply, as I pulled out the book, “I read half and felt something really funny.”
The Elder’s smiled. “That is how works,” Elder Fiji blurted. Wow. He spoke! I giggled a little.
“Do you want to begin lessons with us?” Elder Utah asked, “We can meet a few times a week, help you with your questions and readings, and assist you in your investigation.” I later learned that my new title in the church was “Investigator.” I felt cool. Like a cop. Oh yeah, bible crime scenes, here I come.
“Sure, yes, that would be great.”
We spoke a little more, made an appointment for our next meeting, and they left. Linda and I went down to the corner store and bought another 12 pack of beer. Which we mixed with her Seroquel. Which made us sleep for days.
A few nights later, we had our first offical meeting. Linda and I drove over to the Emiger family’s house. They were a nice old couple that welcomed me with open arms. Don Emiger was like a father figure to me for a short time. His wife served us lemonade and cardboard crackers. When the Elder’s arrived, we read a little and I asked a lot of questions.
“Do you practice polygamy?”
“No,” Elder Utah answered, “That is the FLDS, and they are not a part of our church. We stepped away from that a long time ago.”
Oh. Kind of like how African Americans were only granted entrance into the church in the 70’s. Picking and choosing which parts of the book to follow, and which parts not to. Sounded like typical religion to me.
“What about all of my past … deviant actions?” I was truly curious. I didn’t know how much God would like my no-no’s.
“If you choose to be baptized, all will be forgiven.”
I cried. That was cool. Fresh start, I could roll with that.
For many weeks, we met. I went to church regularly, and got to know the members there. One lady even invited me to her mansion, where the attic was transformed into a fucking Mary Kay heaven. Seriously. It was pink, and fluffy, and sparkly. She tried really hard to recruit me into her Mary Kay kingdom … but when I told her I didn’t have the $100 to join (seriously, I had just quit my job due to severe mental issues and was two months behind in my rent), she looked really pissed off. I started feeling a tiny tingle that I didn’t really belong. That feeling would grow and grow … but that part comes later.
Eventually, I got three months behind in my rent and decided to move out without telling June. I waited until she went to work and packed all of my things. I was moving back in with mommy and daddy. When she came home, she texted me, “Um, did you leave?” No. I just emptied out my room because I want to become a minimalist.
“Sorry,” I replied. It wasn’t an odd thing for me to run off like that. In fact, I made a habit of it. I hated confrontation, it made me ill. I hated letting people down. And I was on a pharmacy of drugs due to my mental issues … I was drinking and popping pills and I was unhappy. I wasn’t reliable. And I was an Investigator of the LDS church. I was quite a sight to behold.
Feeling pretty shitty about moving back in with my parent’s, but feeling pretty great that God loved me, I decided that it was time to be baptized. I had to complete an interview, which basically made me swear to save my bod for the dude I would eventually marry. Some other stuff too, but that was the main thing. I had to be submissive, and join the quilting club. Oh, and I had to pay 10% of my income to the church. 10% of an income I didn’t have.
Sure. I signed my name on the dotted line. I chose Elder Utah as the one who would dunk me in the water. The date was set. I bought white undergarments. And on the day of my “second birth,” I styled my hair in french braids and put on a big white prairie dress.
I really wanted to look the part.
I crept down some tile stairs into a tiny pool filled with cold water. On the other side of the glass were a dozen or so onlookers, there to witness my baptism. I stood beside Elder Utah. He placed my arms in some awkward position, with one of my hands preparing to plug my nose. He spoke some words, which I regretfully do not remember, and he dunked me backwards into the water.
I do not know how else to explain what I felt coming up out of the water, other than … spiritual. I began to cry, softly at first. It was a bit hypnotic, and a lot overwhelming. Elder Utah was crying too, as he guided me up out of the water. I went into the back room to change, where my soft cries turned into bawls. It was quite a moment, to be sure. And one that I will try not to ever forget, for whatever it is worth.
Afterward, the group of onlookers wrote me notes, and the Bishop made a beautiful speech. I got a binder full of those thoughtful notes, along with pictures of me in my prairie dress fabulousness.
The next day, I was standing on the street corner, with two garbage-bags full of my belongings. Homeless.
But that is a story for tomorrow.