More California summer adventures:
Mom asked me if I had seen or heard from any of my mission companions lately. I told her I knew about the middle four, but the first and last I had no idea. Then I went on to tell her the story of Elder E., my last companion. His name is being protected because, despite the awful story I'm about to tell, I love this kid like a brother.
Elder E. began his mission in Brazil, speaking Portuguese. Four months into his mission, he decided that he needed to confess to his mission president that after he'd been through the temple, he and his girlfriend had begun having freaky sex (I had to hear WAY too many details). He was sent home immediately, and spent about a year going through the repentance process. He was reassigned to the Tennessee Knoxville Mission, Spanish speaking. It was there that he became my first junior companion.
Elder E. was a difficult companion, and he knows I say that. He was very self-assured. One day he told me he had already done the whole repentance thing and was now on his mission just to put in his time. He confided in me about his pre-mission problems, and told me that his only obstacle he still had to overcome was lust. He just loved butts so much and could not stop thinking about them. I told him that he had plenty of other obstacles to overcome, like his pride. That bowled him over, but he believed me, which was cool.
He didn't speak Spanish. I guess they just expected him to be able to switch from Portuguese. We spent a lot of time going over the language, and he just kept speaking Portuguese to our investigators and I'd have to translate because I knew what he was supposed to be saying.
I found out the kid had been masturbating the whole time we were companions. I was completely agog. I couldn't believe someone could be doing that and trying to have the spirit and teach the gospel at the same time. I told him that either he would call the mission president and tell him, or I would. He did it. A few days later a pamphlet came in the mail that was called something like, "How to Apply the Atonement and Stop Masturbating." Ha! I couldn't believe that was the end of it. We set some goals and I think he did much better after that. Elder E. and I grew to be very close. We could talk about anything, and we usually did. When I got sick (bronchitis), he offered a prayer in the other room while I was languishing in bed.
"Please, don't take Elder Smurf from me. I still need him." He reports that he immediately heard a voice say, "No, you don't." When he told me about it, I was mildly annoyed. "And where am I going?"
We found out the answer to that one a few days later when my doctor had decided it would be necessary to send me home again. That's a story for another time.
When next I saw Elder E., I was at a mission reunion. He was with his new wife of four months. Since we were the only two Spanish speakers there, he said to me, "Todavía no hemos consumado el matrimonio," or, for those of you who don't hablar español, "We still haven't consumated the marriage." Like I really need to hear these things. Apparently his wife had some sort of psychological problem that caused her to feel extreme pain instead of pleasure whenever they tried to have sex.
I must admit that that night I lay on the trampoline looking up at the stars and laughing my head off. Poor Elder E. You couldn't stop with the sex your whole mission, and now here you are married and can't actually get any. The ironies of life were just too much. It seemed just, in a way, or at least appropriate. Anyway, that's the story I told my mother that day in California when she asked about my comps. I ended it thus: "And if I never hear from him again, that's ok, because this story is complete in my mind. I don't ever expect to see him again."
Of course, stories are NEVER complete in my life.
So two days later, we were to have dinner at my mom's best friend's house. Due to the fact that my dad accidentally dropped his telephone in the sink, I was suddenly left without any way to contact anybody to get a ride to the dinner. Dad came home with his cell phone after the dinner had begun, and I called my brother. He said he'd come get me after he scarfed down some food. He also said that Mom wanted me to know that the missionaries had come over to eat with us because of some sort of miscommunication in their dinner schedule. And she wanted me to know that one of them was an Elder E. Yes, folks, it turns out Elder E. has a little brother who is serving a misison in my homeward right now. The missionaries waited around for me to show up, and I regaled them all with mission stories of the two of us. The spiritual and funny ones, that is. When they left, mom freaked out.
"Smurf! Why does this always happen to you? All I could think the whole time we were having dinner was 'Did he wash his hands before he shook mine?'" Ha, sorry, Mom. Never really expected any of that to happen. Especially not two days after the story.
I thought the whole matter was entirely funny, and shared the story with several friends. The a few days ago I got an e-mail from my Elder E. I'll quote the essentials here:
"I believe that I would have a better chance at making a decent living for my family by playing the craps in Las Vegas than in Utah's job market. I have been on an active job hunt for about a year now and it is the most frustrating and humiliating processes one could possibly endure.
"I have been doing a lot of thinking today. I have decided that I am upset because I am unable to enjoy the now because of my worries about the then. I understand intuitively that I should be able to have peace and contentment now and be prepared for the future. But I am having great difficulty letting go of my fear of failure. I can probably trace that back to pride or to expectations (real or perceived) from others or some combination of the two. But I'm still having a really hard time.
"I'm struggling with the emotional and physical roller coaster of a wife during pregnancy. I've lived the majority of the last two years like that and I think I'm done. Right now, I do not want any more kids. It has nothing to do with the kids. It has to do with wanting to stay married.
"Other than that, I have about 6 minutes of free time per week and I don't get any sleep or eat healthy. So my brain will be sharp and the rest of me will give up when I'm 35. What a way to go...
"Sorry to unload on you after four years of almost no contact. But, as I believe I have told you previously, I feel like you understand me better than anyone with whom I have ever spoken. Maybe you just listen better, but it works."
We're meeting on Monday to "do lunch." Can I just say how awful I felt when I got this and realized that I'd made Elder E. almost into a punchline in my head? Here's a kid with real emotional scars, and he really looks up to me. I should have been there for him during those four years. Not that I feel I can magically solve his problems, but he seems to feel I have this great perspective that can help him. And maybe it can. Who knows? Anyway, I don't know why I shared that story just now. I just need to get these things out sometimes. And I hope you caught the moral, which is that other people's trials are never a joke, no matter how hilarious or awkward or ironic they may be.