Friday, November 6, 2009

The Visit

The Visit

Bob woke early. The smell of coffee wafting up the stairs beckoned him to the kitchen. He loved Saturdays. No work, late up and then a relaxing day.

Bob stopped at the bathroom first and then went down to sit down with the paper and a cup of joe.

“Different day, same shit.” he said out loud after taking the final sip from his cup.

Bob cleaned up and then decided to work in the yard. He had just moved into the condo after a move to Clarence, NY from the intermountain west where he grew up. He was glad for the move as it allowed him to leave a chapter of his life behind. Luckily investments paid off and he could take his time deciding on work, if he decided to go back to work. He had considered simply doing humanitarian work to help those that were in need of spiritual or emotional assistance.

After a few hours of planting an herb garden Bob went in for a beer. He had picked up something called Genesee Cream Ale and hoped it would slake his thirst.

The doorbell interrupted Bob's first sip and he begrudgingly put the can down.

Bob almost absentmindedly opened the door wondering who was selling what today?

What he saw made him catch his breath. Three men in suits; one older and two young, not quite 20.

“How did they find me so quickly?” he thought as he tried to decide what to do. Before Bob could do anything the oldest asked “We're looking for Brother Robert James. Does he happen to live here?”

Bob immediately felt his chest tighten. How did they find me so quickly he thought as he sought for an escape. Years of hidden feelings welled back up as he stood seemingly stoically in the doorway. His thoughts took him back almost 20 years and the panic and the guilt began to almost overwhelm him.

“. . . were told that that he lived here. Are you Robert?” And he could not help but nod in answer. What had they asked? Why did they have to interrupt his peace and solitude?

The older man handed Bob a set of papers. “Here is your home teaching assignment and the Amherst Ward list.”

“Excuse me but where did you get my address?”

“Your records were transferred to the ward by membership records.”

“Listen, I do not want any...”

“You have an obligation Brother James.”

“No, I owe you nothing. Nothing at all.”

Bob felt like a trapped animal. It had to have been his family who had his records sent. They had done it before.

“Get off my property before I call the police.”

“But Brother James...”

“I am not your brother. You are not welcome here. And leave before I call the police to report a stalking.”

Bob ripped up the papers as the older man said “As your Bishop I am responsible for the welfare of your soul.”

“The only one responsible for me is me.” Bob retorted. “Now leave.”

Bob slammed he door in their faces and stood with his back to the wall next to the door. He was covered in sweat. Not the sweat of a good workout of chores done in the garden, but a sweat that stemmed from a high stress situation. Why did he let this happen to himself he thought? What was it that triggered this fright-flight mechanism?

Bob had been raised in the cult. Until he checked out of it mentally it was all he knew. How long was it now since he darkened the doors? Almost 20 years. And they continued to find him despite numerous moves. And even though his family had disowned him. His father had been the Stake President and was on the fast track to become a general authority in the church. He hardly knew the man. His mother was devout too and took on any tasks required of her by the church. His older sister was more of a mother to him than his own mother.

Bob forced himself to take two deep breaths and let them out. He noticed his hands were shaking as he made his way to the kitchen. Picking up his beer and looking at the label he thought to himself. “How can I stop this cycle?”

It all started so long ago. Bob had been in love with one of the young women of the ward he was in. They had engaged in one of the most heinous sins next to murder that could be done. They had been “intimate” but hadn't gone all the way. He was preparing to go on a mission. Had just been ordained an Elder and during an interview the Bishop asked him if he was chaste. The question came up multiple times. He had felt so much guilt and he finally confessed that he had taken part in some improprieties with a young woman from the ward. Her father was a prominent member.

The Bishop cancelled his calling.

Fear had gripped him as he realized that his father would have to find out. That the ward and everyone would find out. The guilt that had been so intense. And for what? Two young people in love and doing what nature intended? . . .

“How could you do this to your family? And how could you let her seduce you?” His father asked. Bob cried as he was interrogated by his father. “Do you have any idea what this will do to our family?”

An anger started to build in Bob as he blurted out “What family? You don't care about our family. You only care about the church!”

That is where it started. Bob realized that they really did not have a family. They looked like the epitome of family at church but his mother was on prozac and his father was rarely there. They were the perfect Mormon family. Large house, multiple cars and a boat. But they were really a hollow shell.

All Bob could remember was his father yelling at him as he got up to leave. He went upstairs and packed a single bag. His father yelling up the stairs for him to come back down and finish the “conversation.” Bob took one last look at his room. Took his wallet and all the cash he had, his bankbook and walked as calmly down the stairs as he was able. His father was still yelling as he walked out the front door. Never to return again.

Bob finished his beer and then went back outside. He needed some release so he took his shovel and just started shoveling. Make a hole. Make a second one. Fill the first in, and on and on. And he thought. . .

How long had the bus ride been? He wasn't sure. He had one year of college under his belt and the only work experience had been construction and working in a grocery store when he was younger. What was he going to do? His mind raced and although he felt freer than ever before, a dread black cloud also hung over him. If he slept on the busses he probably had enough money for perhaps a few months. A meager $2000 was about all he had.

Storm clouds raged as he got off the bus in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was hungry and the closest food was a Jack in the Box. The family had never eaten out much. Hell, what family? Bob checked his phone for the time. It was still working. And there were 14 messages waiting for him. Mother's number, father's number, his sister. He would need to get rid of the phone.

He finished his meal, all off the dollar menu, and then asked where the closest shopping center, Walmart or something was? A Target was down the street. No rain yet so he decided to chance it.

Small notebook. . . write down numbers. . . a travel wallet to hide money in. . . a rain jacket. . . and a pay as you go phone.

“Should I just throw it away?” he thought to himself. But he was too well trained. No waste. The whole being a good steward thing. He also picked up a padded envelope.

There were seats outside and so he sat down. What now? He wrote down the phone numbers from his contacts list. The only family number being his sister Kristy's. He loved Kristy, she was mom. He would miss his younger brothers and sisters but he would miss Kristy most. He called a few close friends and said goodbye quickly. He then texted Kristy. “I'm ok, bye.” was all it said. He powered down the phone and sealed it in the envelope. He'd have to find two things, a shelter and a post office.

Bob learned about shelters in Las Vegas. He had stayed in one a few days as he decided what to do. The food was free too. It was hard finding help. He always had people to tell him what to do. That was the way of the church. Leaders. Bob decided to find downtown. Maybe a shelter was there.

As he walked north he saw many people. Mothers with children. College students? All sorts.

He walked quite a ways. Yes, there was a college. He had passed the entrance at the corner of Milton and Butler. He continued walking and finally found himself downtown. Bob asked someone where the post office was and was able to get directions. No note. Just the phone and he sent it back to his home. Tears welled up in his eyes as he stood outside the building.

“You ok son?”

Bob turned and saw a man looking at him. He had shoulder length hair, greying, and he smiled. Bob shook his head as he wiped a tear away.

“Could you use some help?”

Bob nodded and the man asked “Come with me son, where're you from?”



“No sir.”

The man was quiet for a moment then asked “Where you headed to?”

“Don't rightly know sir.”

“Well doesn't matter. What you need? Eat today?”

“Yes sir. But I don't have a place to stay.”

“I run a shelter son, you're welcome to stay with us for a bit. And I can get you directions to a place to get a free meal.”

Bob stayed for a few days and was able to catch his bearings a little. Everyone at the shelter called the old man Pops. He didn't preach, he just helped. Bob made sure to say goodbye before heading back down to the bus station.

How many cities had he stopped at? How many towns passed? How many miles travelled? A lot. He finally found himself in Florida and picked a place called Sarasota eventually. Nice beaches and a friendly little town. Bob was able to find work and after many months of not knowing what he would do, he finally settled down for a bit.

Construction was hard work, but it was cathartic at the same time. Bob had learned drywall before leaving home. Home? He hoped his brothers and sisters were ok. Every few weeks he texted his sister to let her know he was OK. In his second text to her he told her to never tell his parents where he was. Not that he gave much indication.

No more holes. Tired. Exhausted really. “Time to get cleaned up” he thought. Bob showered quick. It was early summer and the weather was beautiful. Perhaps a walk down to the local diner would be nice.

Bob ordered a big burger and a milkshake. Chocolate malted milkshake. He thought back to what happened earlier in the day. “How can I stop this?” And then he thought back even further.

Life was hard in Florida. He was alone. He had been robbed multiple times and even had to go to the hospital once for a stab wound. Life on the road was hard. But he survived. Bob made friends while on the road too. People in situations similar to his own. Ejected from families for one thing or another. He never asked about religion though. He wanted nothing to do with religion.

Work. More work. And then more. Bob saved almost every penny that he could. A year later and he was finally able to live fully on his own. A meager apartment by the beach near Venice Pier but it was his. He continued working for two more years. All the while he made surreptitious contact with Kristy so at least she would know he was OK.

Bob wanted more. The construction work was getting old. So he worked at getting his transcripts and the hardest was getting copies of his birth certificate and social security card. But he did it and enrolled in Florida State. Four years later and he had a business degree. Bob went to work for a company right out of college and as a hard worker who was liked by his co-workers, he made his way up through the company. He also continued to invest and before long was doing very well.

And then they came.

Bob over the years had sent birthday presents to his siblings. Had he mistakenly put his address on a package. But they had found him. It was a pair of missionaries. He talked to them politely but in the end asked them not to come back. Thoughts of the final confrontation with his father came back.

Bob shook his head and finished the last of his shake. When getting ready to pay his bill, a song caught his ear. The singer's voice was melodic and haunting. And the lyrics to her song resonated with him.

These hand me downs I am wearing
Are worn at the knees, color faded...yeah
All the little children are laughing.
I'm trying to find a reason to keep from cryin'...yeah

I'm just a little girl,
I'm Raggedy Ann
Making Believe I'm happy, hey...Rageddy Ann
Falling apart at the seams.

The tears that I covered with patches
Red yellow patterns left in old matches, yeah
Where I have them sewn with black stitches
are made exposed to be soiled and tattered, hey.

I'm just a little girl
I'm Raggedy Ann
Making believe I'm happy, hey...Raggedy Ann
Falling apart at the seams...

So when did I get so broken?
I wouldn't notice...
Everything just breaks away from me.
Hey! When did I get so broken?
I wouldn't notice...
Everything important leaving me.
Falling apart at the seams.

All the busy people keep walking away
Cause they can't see me...anything...yeah.
Everyday it gets a little harder to believe in magic people, yeah.

I'm just a little girl
I'm Raggedy Ann
Making believe I'm happy, yeah...Rageddy Ann.
Falling apart at the seams.

He left a good tip and slowly walked home. Reveling in the early evening air. He thought on the song. How did he get so broken? How could his perfect Mormon family have been so broken?

Bob sat down at his desk and opened his laptop. He started to search. He typed mormonism into google and was amazed at what he found. MormonAlliance, a place called the Foyer, people by the names of Deconstructor, Packham, Tal Bachman, Steve Benson, Simon Southernton, and many others. And then he found it. A site by someone named Kathy Wut. He couldn't believe his eyes. He could resign from the church and never look back! In was almost daylight by the time he crawled into bed. He was happy.

The next morning after finally crawling out of bed, he started to type up his letter. It was brief and to the point. He was resigning. Yes he realized the implications. No he would no recant. Yes, he did waive his 30 days. He sent it off to Salt Lake with delivery confirmation. It was like a weight was beginning to lift.

A few weeks later he received a letter stating it was an ecclesiastical matter for his local leadership. Bob was furious. He threw the please come back pamphlet in the trash. He typed up another letter and threatened a lawsuit if he was not taken off the rolls immediately. That sent; he waited. Working in the garden, helping in the local homeless shelter and even helping to coach a local youth basketball team.

Weeks passed and one evening there was a knock on the door. Bob opened it to the same older man he had talked to before. Before the man could even open his mouth Bob stated “Yes, I sent in a resignation. I asked for no contact. Why are you here?”

The man stuttered as he said “I need your signature. . .”

“No. I had my letter notarized. I signed my resignation. The moment the letter was received by YOUR church I was no longer a member. By US law. You do believe in US law, right?”

“Well, yes. . .”

“Then get me off the rolls of your church. If you ever, and I mean ever, come onto my property again, I will file a police report about you stalking and harassing me. And that includes anyone from your church. But your name will be at the top of the list. Now, get off my property and take care of my resignation!”

“We'll do as you have asked.”

Bob closed the door calmly as the man left. He turned and then made a little happy dance. He was out. He was free.

The news came as a shock. His mother had died. He didn't have the particulars but she was gone. He did feel some sadness. Kristy had sent him a text and he immediately bought a plane ticket when he found out when the funeral would be held.

Bob entered the ward building he grew up in. It was a strange sensation. So many memories came back. But he knew he was free.

The service was simple but was not about his mother. Plan of salvation, missionary work, etc etc etc. Shouldn't a funeral be about helping the family to cope? About the person who died?

His father sat on the stand. Stoic and all business as usual. The rest of the family sat in the front. His brothers and sisters cried. And he saw Kristy. Always the strong one but she cried too. He hoped no one would recognize him. He wore a beard now and had let his hair grow long. He wore jeans, a tshirt and a sports jacket. He was not ever going to wear the “Mormon approved” again.

Bob drove to the graveyard. His thoughts were on his family, but not on his father. He had gotten bits and pieces of his siblings' accomplishments but was not part of the family anymore.

Grave dedication. Prayers. He stood off to the side. At the end his father looked over at him once, scowled and then walked off. He bowed his head and stood for a moment, wondering what to think, what to do? And then a hand was on his arm. He opened his eyes and it was his sister Kristy. He smiled at her and she hugged him. They both wept.

They stood there for quite a while talking. Catching up. Momma had died from an overdose but that was not being talked about. Kristy had left the church and married a good man who had never been Mormon. The rest of the family still attended and father was as ardent as ever in his beliefs.

Bob was introduced to his nephews. Kristy had two boys. Her husband was there too and they struck up a conversation. Sports. Yes sports. No church.

The plane ride home was a happy time. Despite the death of his mother, Bob was able to start a new relationship with his sister. One that did not include the church and that was based on love. The future looked bright.

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