They say when you go to the MTC that it is the most spiritual place on earth, but it is also a place with the greatest temptations. For her if was at that moment her worlds collided. The old faced off with the new. Her past hurled back at her like a hurricane force wind; smacked her right in the face and sucked her breath away all at the same time.
Stop it. Don't even think it.
The girls settled in their seats for orientation. She was close enough to the blonde to occasionally glance over and watch her as she listened. Willow was a little too distracted to listen intently to the speakers, but she caught bits of pieces of the speaker's words.
"Follow the rules, do your studies, say your prayers and God will bless you. Stay with your companion. Go to bed on time. "P-day" is the day you may prepare for the week. You get four hours off to do your laundry, attend the temple, write letters to family, and go to the mall or whatever before you will need to be back to your scheduled classes. In your letters and your journal, keep your heart open and bear witness to the truth and share your testimony."
Each testimonial was the same. Follow the rules. They will help you. Be disciplined. What you learn here and on your missions will set the course of the rest of your life.
Ok, this is all in the little white handbook.
As she caught herself glancing over toward the blonde again who sat down the row from them, her mind traveled to her friends back home, her preparation for her mission.
Before joining the Mormon Church a year earlier, Willow had struggled with loneliness and desperation. As a Jewish, and then born again Christian, she struggled with her feelings toward other girls knowing that it was wrong to have those thoughts. At least that was what she had been taught to believe. Those feelings were of the devil. They were wrong. She was cursed. And she truly believed there had to be a way to fix it.
The Mormon faith had given her a new way to look at her orientation issues. It would still be hard to rise above, but it gave her some context for why she felt the way she did. Instead of her sexual preference being a curse, it had been her choice.
The ideology was new and different for her. The Latter Day Saints believed in a pre-earthly existence where as spirit children of God, each person made certain choices before coming to earth. Family, friends, and life situations were part of a grand plan, which she participated in selecting. People she knew there could become family, friends, or associates here. Her choices would lead her to find her best possible spiritual growth during her time on earth.
Being gay was something she could overcome. Those were the teachings she clung to that helped her through each day. The last year, well year and a half actually, had changed her so radically from whom she was to who she thought she might become.
Suddenly the meeting was breaking up. Hundreds of men and women joined in song. Then there was a rush of people toward the doors. As the mass of blue and black suits moved around her, Willow lost track of the Blonde. She fought the urge to stand on a chair and look for her.
Kitchen Shimai and Smith Shimai nodded toward the doors with a quick and silent suggestion to "move" or be trampled. Willow followed behind the other two. Obliviously, it didn't do any good to stand in the way of progress and clearly, these lads knew where to go. Follow the crowd.
When they finally filed out of the meeting room into the hall, the crowd had thinned and Willow took her bearings.
"Hey. There are some sisters!" Smith Shimai suddenly spoke. She took the lead and headed in their direction.
Grossly outnumbered, by like twenty to one, it was a natural instinct to look for other Sisters. They had a special bond. Willow didn't really see where they were going, just followed the other girls. When they stopped, Willow stepped to the side to meet the group to whom Smith and Kitchen had directed her.
Standing in front of her was this gorgeous girl. The light seemed to sparkle right out of her eyes. The contours of her face were barely noticeable against her essence like a spiritual presence. Willow felt like she was looking past all the girl's features directly into her soul.
The feelings surrounding this moment were profound. They alone were inside a bubble charged with the very essence of God. It was powerful. It was an awakening. In the midst of all this unfamiliar and uncertainty Willow suddenly felt a profound sense of peace. She felt like she'd come home.
Glancing down at her nametag Willow saw the familiar characters scrawled in the black and white print: Maclay Shimai.
Willow mustered every ounce of courage, took a small breath, exhaled, and asked, "Which Mission?"
Her voice was like a song, rich and melodic.
"Me too," Oh gosh, did I just squeak? That's so not good.
Maclay Shimai gently lifted her arm in gesture and rolled her wrist toward two other sisters standing nearby. "These are my companions: Conley Shimai she's going to Kobe and Colson Shimai she's going to Tokyo."
"Huh, It's weird they put us in groups of three instead of twosies, not that I mind my companions, they're nice and everything, although I don't really know that much about them since I just met them and all, but it's just weird cause there's usually just twos. That's the way it's just done, isn't it? I mean, not that I'm doubting that it's not the right thing, it's just different I guess, and oh, I'm babbling aren't I and I do that sometimes when I ‘m nervous, not that I'm nervous of you, cause why would I be nervous, you seem so nice and I'll just stop now." She trailed off.
Taking a breath Willow looked up at the amused face before her. Oh, that's so not good. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Conley Shimai came in closer to the two who had seemed to be deep in conversation, "Heywe'reheadedtothecafeteriawannajoinusfordinner?"
"I'm sorry, what?" Willow looked puzzled toward the brunette.
"Cafeteria. Dinner." Maclay explained. "She's from Ohio. Apparently we hear too slowly." She tweaked a conspiratorial grin, grabbed the stunned redhead by the arm, who, in return, nodded toward her companions Smith and Kitchen to come along with them and they headed down the hall toward the dining area.
There was a long line heading out down the hall so the six girls stood together getting to know one another. They tried not to be all clumpy, since there were six of them and the line seemed more snaky then bunchy.
As they waited their turn in line, which was finally moving slowly thank goodness, the girls ended up in groups of two standing together. It seemed each of the pairs were natural fits.
Willow was nervous. She never thought she was any good at small talk. She dreaded the infamous Willow babble and always worried she would say the wrong thing. It was easier to be silent than take the risk.
Just standing there was a little unsettling too and Willow quietly wished she could at least sit and play with her food and look around. She didn't have the luxury of pockets in the skirt she was wearing. That was what she normally would do. Hide her sweaty palms. She could also conceal her nervous fidgets. However, there she was, in line, with this young woman. She took a breath and looked up. Maclay draped her hair a little over her eyes, but she was looking at Willow.
Maclay seemed equally uneasy, although in a different way. Willow had noticed that her movements were graceful yet exaggerated a little, as if she wanted the space around her a bit larger. Willow recognized it for what it was; a way to keep her distance, plus, maybe it was a little excitement. She seemed now to be less animated, more settled.
They stood in comfortable silence for a while and finally made it to the food. After loading up their trays they made their way to one of the long tables so the six could all sit together to enjoy their first of many meals together.
Some of the braver girls grabbed chopsticks and were getting used to the feel of them. Willow, being the overachiever, naturally picked the chopsticks but realized too late that her vegetable selection was going to be problematic: peas and carrots.
Willow had heard that sister missionaries often gained weight in the Missionary Training Center, but now, she was wondering if she'd be able to ever eat again.
"How am I supposed to cut this?" She poked at a slice of her roast beef.
"You have to pick it up and chew it while you hold it." Maclay explained.
"What about this?" she pointed with her chopsticks toward the lump of potatoes and gravy on her plate.
"Scoop and shovel."
"Okay, now you're just making fun of me."
"No, I'm not. Here, let me show you." Maclay took Willow's chopsticks from her. "First, think of the chopsticks like an extension of your first and second fingers. If all you had to eat with were your hands and those were your only clean fingers, what would you do with the potatoes?"
"Scoop and suck on my fingers." Willow felt a bit sheepish, but tried to hide it. "The veggies are too hard. It's like that dumb game with the metal ball, the two rods attached at the one end, and you have to separate the rods and move the ball up toward you and keep the ball from falling. My peas are running away from me and the carrots, they mock me."
She's smiling at me.
"What about the beef? I don't think the beef is mocking you. I think it likes you and wants you to enjoy it. It's just waiting for you to figure out how."
Oh God, I mean gosh.
"Okay Miss Smarty pants. Show me."
Maclay easily showed Willow the secret of holding the chopsticks. "Now, you'll have to practice to get really good at it, and it's gonna take a little time, so give yourself a break, okay? I don't think the carrots are mocking you. They're square so start with them. You might get a little thumb cramp after a while, but you'll get good at it. I promise."
"I can't just stab them?"
"No, then the peas would be upset."
"I wish I could pick up my plate."
"When we get there, you'll be able to, but for now, just practice and no cheating. There will be no poking the meat, no licking the potatoes and no sucking up the peas.
"How do you know all this stuff, you're not really Japanese are you? ‘Cause you don't look Japanese. I don't think Japanese people have beautiful blue eyes like yours." Eeep, don't say that. Oops, too late.
"My brother Donnie had a friend who served his mission in Japan. He was in a RM group after he got home and when I got my calling, they introduced me to some of the people there. One of the girls kinda took me under her wing and told me what to expect and how to eat and stuff."
"First, cool. Second, RM?" Willow was still struggling with her peas chasing them around her plate with the chopsticks.
"Return Missionaries." Maclay quietly watched as Willow struggled with her peas. "You really haven't been a member long. When did you convert?"
"It was just a year ago. I knew some Mormons in High School and when I reconnected after not seeing them for a few years, I felt at the time that it was an answer to prayer. I had been seeking direction and well, it's a long story. I don't want to bore you."
"No, it's okay, I like these stories, It's why we're here, right? To find other people who are searching for something and teach them the truths of the Gospel."
"Yeah, I guess that's right, but right now, I want to hear about you since, well, I'm kinda hungry and it's gonna take me awhile to coax this food in my mouth. Why don't you tell me what made you decide to come here, while I attempt to apply your scoop and shovel method with my potatoes."
The girls continued their banter for the next half hour joking, laughing, and enjoying each other's company.
"You know," Maclay started again after a brief pause between them, "today is the last day we can speak English."
"Yeah, that's what I heard. We have to start using the stuff we learn right away."
Willow furrowed her brow, "But what if we don't know the words and stuff?"
"I guess we'll have to make do," Maclay replied sweetly.
Willow's mind raced ahead, and she wished she had had more time, studied more, and picked up one of those language tapes. There just hadn't been time. She had to go to the temple, get supplies and outfits. She grew quiet as she remembered all the torturous hours of shopping. Then that last week with all the emotional goodbyes: the functions, the farewell service for her, and the open house after where her friends and family came for one last night to say so long. Now she wasn't going to be able to talk to anyone until she learned how to speak Japanese.
A look of horror must have crossed her face as she glanced around at her companions to her left, across the table to the two girls with the blonde, and then right at Maclay. When she gazed into the last pair of eyes, she knew her thoughts had betrayed her fears.
I won't be able to talk to her!
Maclay seemed to read her. Maybe she'd figured out the solution already. She smiled again at Willow.
"We only have to use the words we know.”.” The rest we'll make do with, or there's the tried and true method of pointing and pantomime or "other" forms of language."
Did she just wink at me?
The redhead ducked her head in acknowledgment. She'd over-reacted and the blonde had caught her. But it seemed Okay. There's that calm again. Wow.
This is gonna be a long 60 days.