Friday, October 19, 2012

My Life Story: The Cold Grip of Pride About the Neck



 
To tell the next part of my story is like sorting out pieces strewn about after a whirlwind. I suppose I’ll be picking up the unidentifiable pieces for a lifetime, asking which emotion went with what action. At what point was my sanity ripped out of my soul and sucked into the dramatic dervish of my life?

Before reaching home from Quebec we heard news that my dear friend (and former boyfriend) had passed away in a tragic automobile accident. Nearing the end of my mission I would think of him home skipping about in his sunshiney spirit. This image always made me hopeful for a happy missionary-to-non-missionary transition. I looked forward to a reunion with him. Instead, I had to deal with his death like it was packaged in with coming home. All of it was a shock.

I came home at the end of October 1999.

My parents sent me straight away to a personal trainer. Could I attract a mate (there was no time to lose) with those extra pounds placed lovingly on my body from fine Italian meals in St. Leonard? No. My mother knew just the man, Tom Cruise’s own stunt double, a fantastic specimen who had turned LDS and moved his personal gym to Provo. I went there almost every day, tired and lethargic, apathetic and hopeless about all of the sets and reps and things I did with a huge ball in front of mirrors. I felt guilty my body wasn’t budging on weight or shape because I knew how expensive the whole practice was and my parents were footing the bill.

In the first part of January I met with my ex-boyfriend for the first time. He had come home from his mission to the east coast and I was in Utah—a country away. We had talked on the phone, awkward, misogynist phone calls, controlled by his smugness. He was clear there were many women who could see him as an eternal partner (now that he was cleaned up and a returned missionary) and perhaps he’d let me into the dating pool, it went. There was also a revelation that he had fallen for a sister missionary he had met in the Missionary Training Center at the beginning of his mission. His writing me off had much to do with her, but she eventually wrote him off, prompting that phone call on the last day of his mission. The man had to make sure his ducks—or at least one duck—were in a row before he returned home.

Our first meeting took place in his aunt’s house, I was waiting for him in a hallway and when he turned the corner we didn’t look at each other, we hugged. In the process of hugging, my body said a million NOs, a million THIS IS ALL WRONGs, a million LEAVE NOW AND DON’T LOOK BACK.

The tempest blew and blew and boy did it blow.

So why didn’t I hear it? Why didn’t I understand? Why didn’t I obey?

Pride.

I was so awfully, terribly full of pride. I was selfish, small-minded, insecure. I clung to unhealthy beliefs about the worth of souls. After so many months praying and fasting to understand the people I served in Quebec, myself included, I came home and all those damaging pieces of belief came flying back to me. I picked them up and held them to my chest: my worth would never be satisfied until a man loved me.

But also, I was scared.

In the duration of winter-to-spring I tried many times to break up with the boy. I tried to say my final goodbyes, almost weekly. I dated others and encouraged him to do the same. I moved out with my best friend, Wendy. She was a strong, protective friend I had known my entire life. I hoped she could help me, instead, I put us both in danger. My frustrations with him would make him angry, we’d find him on our back porch after dark, sometimes screaming, kicking our doors, punching our windows. He would call incessantly in the night and hang up when we would answer. He would watch me walk to my car after school and I’d find notes on my windshield. One time I was at the computer lab in the evening and he sent me email after email (pre-chat world) detailing what I was wearing, how I was sitting, relishing in his voyeuristic achievements. I felt entirely vulnerable thinking he could see me and I couldn’t see him.

By May I had reached a truce with myself. I knew that even if I moved on with my life, in finality, he would continue to haunt me. Perhaps even hurt people I loved. I decided it was safest for everyone if I made the decision to marry him. If I married him I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about sleepless nights, scared to move in my home, because he would be sleeping next to me, appeased and secured. And I wouldn’t have to continue to battle with my self-worth, I could move on with my life knowing I had achieved the great achievement: I would be a married woman.

Prevailing all perhaps was the feeling that I was so tired. Too tired to fight or flight. Too tired to do anything but lay down and give up.

So on one romantic night we set off to Park City for dinner and an engagement. For one night I let myself flow into an alternate reality, a lovely spot of denial where I could foresee my happiness in the hands of this man. I soaked in it, swam in the warmth of my own ignorance. By the end of the night, I came home to wake up Wendy and tell her the news.

She looked like death itself had shaken her out of sleep.

“I’ll support you, if this is what you want. But I don’t think it’s what you want. And I don’t think it’s safe.”

I curled up in bed next to her and we both cried until we fell asleep.

In the morning I came to see the romance and engagement of the night before was nothing more than the elusive, balmy, hypnotic paradise they call the eye of the storm.