(Day 11 - Sunday, November 18, 1984)
The morning had gone by in a blur for Willow. It was her second Sunday morning in the cafeteria at the MTC. She observed that it was a bit hushed before Sacrament. She and the other two sisters were being deferentially quiet.
Willow glanced around. There were hundreds of missionaries around her.
She looked down at the remnants of her food. An oblong greasy area on her plate marked where the sausage had been. The eggs were bugging her. They were a pathetic shade of yellow and flavorless - the way buffet eggs sometimes get. She wondered if the cook even had to crack them, or if they'd come in some kind of pre-packaged carton for mass production. Just add water and stir. She poked at them with her fork. She'd barely touched her pancakes. They were all mushy; the syrup had completely soaked through them. She picked up a bite and it fell apart. It landed back on the plate in a silent thud. Willow stared at it - a lifeless, saturated, spongy lump.
Willow was just beginning to understand her position there at the MTC.
Willow realized she had and would continue to have little control over her life while she was on her mission. No wonder Tara was such a welcome distraction for her. She looked for her, but didn't see her anywhere. Even if the other Shimai came in, there was no room for the three girls to sit near them. She was completely surrounded.
They had all settled into a routine: up, class, eat, class, eat, class, eat, class, personal time and then sleep. The classes didn't seem to matter much; it was mostly the same. The only appreciable difference was on Sunday the sessions were less language and more gospel. There was a modest amount of time for personal study in there somewhere. However, it seemed to go by so fast, she hardly had time to learn her vocabulary or new grammar rules for the next day. Monday was a little better. They could plan their own morning activities, but mission rules limited what they could actually do.
She watched some of the elders wolfing down their meals; they always seemed so hungry when they ate. It was sort of disturbing. She could see why so many missionaries gained weight while they were in the MTC. Eating was one of the few things they had control over.
There were so many temptations - pancakes, eggs, donuts sausage, and bacon for breakfast and even pie, cake, and pudding for desserts. Lunch and dinner had wonderful starchy foods, and meat with gravies, and the best chicken and then more pie, cake and other yummy things for dessert again. She'd been there a little more than a week and all the food was starting to look the same.
At half past eight, Willow and the others had headed to sacrament meeting. Now, it was nearly nine. Willow tapped her pencil erratically against the page in her notebook. While she reminisced on her morning musing, her legs bounced uncontrollably. She glanced at the missionaries around her. Her focus shifted to the scene in the large hall. She felt awe for a moment: It's like an ocean. It's a sea of blue blazers.
She wrote a reminder for herself on a page in her notebook:
She decorated the letters while she was considering her thoughts. Willow was desperate for a distraction. She started doodling. She drew some fish and added other marine life. She looked up again.
Willow observed the backs of the Elder's necks in the area around their collars. Hmmm. New do's... Short hair is a requirement for male missionaries. On some, tan skin peaked out from under their shirts and brighter white areas extended up to their hairlines; the disparity in color accentuated their recently shortened hair. On others, she wondered just how long their hair had been before they came into the MTC. She couldn't discern even a slight tan. Some had severely sunburned necks that clearly had never seen the light of day before they were called into service. It wasn't as bad as military boot camp; they didn't all go off together for ritualistic hair shaving sessions upon entry or anything. As far as she could tell though, their hairlines were all within mission standards.
They're all the same. It was as though a quiet and persistent cadence started in her mind. Over and over, and over again, she heard her inner voice chanting: All the same.
She shook her head to try to clear the inner mantra then looked back down at her notebook. She continued with her marine life doodle. She sketched some hair on her fish. Willow thought the starfish was particularly cute. She drew another, and gave it a Mohawk. There are no Mohawks in the MTC. She smiled. Next, she made a little seahorse. She added a saddle for fun. She considered putting a corral around the horse, then thought better of it. After that, she made a small school of fish. She added a podium and a teacher fish standing in front of the class. Willow giggled quietly. She added some little glasses. Mr. Limpet. Willow giggled inside. She drew another group of fish. After staring at it a moment, she added big gaping mouths and lots of teeth. Heh, piranhas. She tried to put fluffy hair on one of them. It didn't work out.... Her 'Smith' piranha wasn't nearly as cute as the hairy starfish.
Willow moved her toes in her shoes. They hurt. Comfortable shoes would be good. Willow shifted her legs, crossed her ankles, and tried to put her feet beneath the chair. She felt the annoying friction of her nylons as they rubbed together. She sighed. I don't see how we really walk without creating electro-static charges... Maybe we could market it. She knew it wouldn't be long before her toes started tingling from the loss of circulation.
Turning back to her notebook, she sketched a small figure swimming along in the water and a larger shark coming after him. She hummed the Jaws music in her head. She added a beach to her art and some people heading toward the water.
Willow felt guilty for being irreverent, but the diversion was good for the moment.
She took a little breath and stretched out her legs. They were getting sore already and it hadn't even been that long.
Willow spotted Elder Hamm down in the row in front of her and some of the other Elders from her group. She smirked as she added a tiny tie and little nametag on her shark-bait figure just for kicks. Hamm chum.
She looked toward the open door for the umpteenth time. She saw more and more blazers and all the male missionaries seemed to have some type of red "power" tie. Just how many shades of General Authority red are there?
They just keep coming and coming.
Her mind raced through several movie images until she settled on one she liked. She started to amend the theme of her drawing. She began with a few sketches of stiff-looking people. She made one armless and another eating what appeared to be the missing limb. She shaded them with her pencil so they appeared grey. She put some nametags on a few of those too.
"Feeling a little stressed?" Willow was mortified. Kitchen Shimai had observed her artwork.
"A bit," she said quickly. "Sister's class," Willow said as if that was explanation enough. She looked down at her notebook. She felt self-conscious and closed it so no one else would see what she'd drawn.
Of all the classes in the MTC, 'Reflecting the proper image of a sister missionary' was Willow's least favorite. It had been a week since the last class. She was trying to keep a positive attitude about it, but she felt betrayed in a sense, as though The Church wanted her to be someone that she was not.
It's all fake.
Willow just wanted to throw off her shoes and sit comfortably on the floor for a minute as she used to do as a kid - no nylons, no pumps, and no worries about being perfectly presented.
We are fake.
She considered the implication. And they want us to be like that, with perfectly manicured, Aqua-netted, Blair Warner "Facts of Life" hair, and freckle hiding Covergirl made-up plasticky faces, and, and, foot-binding, calf-stretching, uncomfortable shoes, and itchy, hot, expensively run-prone control top panty hose, with suitably colored, ensembled, non-breathable blouses, and these ... Willow looked down at her outfit. She nearly hissed out the last thought ... skirts. Willow frowned. No one is "natural" looking anymore. We can't be Barbie Dolls; we're not built that way. And why does everyone have to be so "Footloose" High School senior prom-perfect? Willow flashed back for a moment on her Ghostbusters fantasy with Sister Smith and her Sigourney Weaver hair. See! She nearly said aloud as she confirmed her own internal banter. It's a conspiracy and I'm in the middle of it.
Okay, I think I'm done.
Willow let out a deep breath. Just get me through the day. Sacrament was about to begin and the Sister's class was just an hour away. She hung her head. At least I appear reverent. She smiled at the thought. She didn't look up when someone sat beside her. She knew who instinctively who it was.
She softly opened the conversation, "I hear Conley Shimai had "Easy Bake Oven" issues as a child."
Tara raised an eyebrow and replied quietly, "What?"
"I got a message from Kitchen Shimai last night." Willow wasn't offended in the slightest.
Tara was still confused. "Huh?"
"Conley Shimai told Kitchen Shimai to tell me that my cake was fine."
"Oh?" She furrowed her brow and took a deep breath after she realized to what Willow was referring, "Oh." She felt bad for discussing their private conversation with Conley Shimai. She ducked her head.
"No, it's okay. I thought it was nice of her to send a message." Willow looked over, "I was worried."
Tara kept her head down. "Gomen, ne." [Sorry.]
"Did you maybe wanna talk later?" Willow whispered. She knew Tara was using her Japanese to set a tone.
Tara responded gently, "Hanasu, ii desu." [Talk is good.]
Willow beamed her toothiest grin in reply.
Tara looked over and saw Willow's face. She smiled back sweetly. "Daijobu, ato de hanashimasho." [Okay, later let's talk.]
"Good-o desu." Willow tried to keep it light. "I still need my Japenglish though."
"Heh, okay." Tara couldn't help but feel better after talking to Willow. "Demo, oyasumi ni juji." [But, 'good night' at 10 o'clock.]
Willow saw they were preparing to start the meeting. "Yeah, p-day is tomorrow, no oyasumi, no wakey wakey. [No good night no "wakey wakey."] Soshite watakushitachi wa.... hmmm, como se dise "zombie" in Nihongo?" [(Jaspanglish) And we...how do you say zombie in Japanese?]
Tara chuckled. "Hai, wakarimasu. Watakushitachi wa shinden ni ikimasu." [Yes, I understand. We are going to the temple.] Tara wondered for a moment, "Zombie...wakarimasen." [Don't know 'zombie'.]
The piano music signaled the start of the service. Both girls instantly grabbed for their songbooks and joined in the hymn. It was going to be another long day for Willow.
Willow inhaled deeply before she stepped through the door to sister's class. Positive thinking is key. This is important to my development as a missionary. Willow's stomach churned. The greasy sausage at breakfast had not been a good idea. Well, at least if I get a pimple, they might have good suggestions on how to make it go away. Freckles and pimples are never a good look. Willow sighed. Okay that wasn't so positive.
Kitchen Shimai and Smith Shimai selected a row for them and sat down first. Willow followed them in. There was room for others to her left. Willow took her seat and sat mutely.
Positive thinking about sister's class is going to be very difficult today. Oh, who am I kidding, it's difficult every day.
Oh fine; I've got nothing.
A sister and her companion sat down next to her. She put her books down with a solid thump. Willow glanced over and saw her nametag was in English. She didn't bother reading her name. The girl smiled cheerfully as she glanced at Willow's badge.
"Oh, Japan. That should be very exciting for you." The sister beamed.
Willow considered her options. She decided she was glum and wanted to stay that way for the moment. This cheerful girl should have to work for it if she wanted Willow to display happy for her. "Hai." She nodded her head sharply and left it down for a moment. That was Willow's rendition of a "seated bow."
"I bet you just can't wait to get there." The sister was overly chipper. Willow decided at that moment that her enthusiasm was not going to be contagious.
Willow smiled politely. This girl had no idea she was completely petrified about going. Nor could she grasp the amount of pressure they were under going to a foreign country. Some missionaries had to get special shots and things to go to certain third-world countries.
Willow hated the idea of naming a country "third world" - as if they were on a different planet or something, or that some countries were better than others were in some abstract way - as defined by the labeling country. She knew some countries were more advantaged than others were. What gives one country the right to look down at another just because they had a larger gross national product? That's gross. Willow smiled. She wondered if other people amused themselves in their heads just to appear happy.
The sister prattled on, "There are some really beautiful things there: castles, Japanese gardens, shrines and temples. I hear they have neat celebrations during their holidays too. Oh, do you think you'll get to go to the temple while you're there?"
People act like it is some grand vacation. "The temple is in Tokyo, it's doubtful." Willow remained pleasant yet aloof.
"Oh really, there's only one?" The sister was relentless. "What part of Japan are you going to?"
Willow wondered if she had any clue about the geography of the island, decided she didn't and replied, "Kobe, it's in the middle, the temple is nearer to the top." Willow hoped she wouldn't ask how far away it was.
"Is that where that beef comes from, Kobe beef?" The girl just kept grinning at her.
Willow shrugged, "Wakarimasen."
The girl took a short breath before she started in again, "I heard that they give beer to the cows and massage them every day so they taste better."
"The beer probably helps them deal better with their immanent slaughter." Willow blinked and forced another smile and watched the sister furrow her brow. Willow chuckled inside. Sarcasm is good!
The sister's smile quickly returned.
"Oh, are you vegetarian?" Her raised eyebrows and innocent face indicated this sister might win the unspoken anti-happy contest Willow decided she'd engaged in.
Willow prayed; give me strength. Her stomach turned over again. She tried to come up with a snappy retort. Nope, just Mormon. Only when I don't eat meat. No, more abstract. Soylent Green is people! That would shut her up. She decided she didn't have time to come up with the perfect reply she hoped taciturn would work, "The cows are."
The sister was not deterred. Willow wondered if she had a mission of her own. "Heh, you're funny. Where are you from?"
Willow used her most sincere face. "Second floor, how about you?" After she said it, she wondered if that had been a mistake. This girl might come looking for her.
"No silly, I meant, where's your home town?"
Why do people always want to know that? "California."
"Oh, land of earthquakes." The girl shuttered a little. "Don't those scare you?"
"Shaken, not stirred." Willow wondered if she'd get it. Willow could tell the last comment was finally slowing down the bubbly girl. Maybe her short responses would finally make the girl stop trying so hard to get her mood up
After a few moments the girl continued, "I'm on the third floor."
Willow's mind raced. She remembered her conversation with Tara about the "others" from the third floor. If she were one of the girls... the odds would be incalculable - well, it could be calculated, just not in my head without more information. I might need a pencil too. Could this annoyingly cheerful girl be one of the gay girls on the third floor who had been seen? How can I find out? Do I want to find out? If I knew, then what? Maybe it's better not to know. This is the critical response - I can shut her down now or keep her talking - then I could find out. Oh, I hate this! Why does it have to matter so much? She's just a perky sister trying to get me to smile before sister's class.
"Is it pretty crowded up there?" Oh, now you've done it.
"I guess it is relative." The girl was deliberate in her response. "I mean, you can feel crowded when you're alone with your companion or you can feel alone in a crowd."
"I guess the trick is to figure out that you're in the situation you're in for a reason and just appreciate it for what it is."
Willow was thoughtful. She was not expecting that answer. She asked pointedly, "You're the kind of person who thinks there's a reason for everything, aren't you?"
"I guess. I don't over-evaluate things like why this particular rock instead of that one made me trip, but there seems to be reasons for things."
"So I guess there's some divine reason you decided to sit here?" Willow wasn't sure if she believed that or not.
"Well maybe not divine, but a reason." The girl was circumspect and continued slowly, "We both had to come to this class and there was a chair with room for two next to you. That's a reason."
"That's not a very profound reason - that's just coincidence." Willow realized she wasn't playing her little anti-glee game anymore. This girl actually seemed interesting.
"Well you left space next to you, there may have been a reason you did that. Maybe you were hoping someone else would sit there, maybe you didn't think through that someone might sit by you - either way, because you did, someone had the opportunity to sit by you. You didn't object to me sitting there, so you may not have felt strongly enough that someone different should sit there or you were afraid to tell me not to sit down."
"Go on." She had Willow's attention.
"Some might say that one of us may have a divine message for the other - or we for each other. Who knows for sure? The point is we have an opportunity to enrich each other's lives if we choose to - even if it's just finding our solidarity for hating sister's class." The girl took the opportunity to grin widely at Willow.
Willow conceded the victory and smiled genuinely. "Or you could have heard me talking to one of my companions about how much I hate this class and you looked for me because we share the same opinion about it."
The girl's grin widened even more and her eyes sparkled with delight, "Well it could be that."
"You are so busted." Willow laughed.
It didn't really matter anymore if this was the gay girl or not. She was just a girl who shared a moment. Sister's class might not be so bad today after all.
"We could pass notes." Willow offered.
In reply, her new friend grabbed for her notebook. Willow glanced at her nametag again. This time she memorized it.