Sunday, February 10, 2008

Part II: The Pressure

I am not sure that I have the words to adequately explain the mental and emotional state I was occupying in early 1995. I do not and cannot blame the desperate craving I had to be loved and accepted on any one event or person or thing. It was more like a perfect storm. I took one too many hits and was damaged in a way I did not recognize at the time.

The previous year I had fallen in love for the first time. It was a fast and furious fall that didn't fully resolve itself when it ended on an extremely short time-line. We broke up because things were moving too quickly and because we were home for the summer living 45 minutes apart with neither of us owning a car and long distance phone calls were a pricey item in those pre-cell phone days. So I spent the rest of the summer rebounding with a guy I worked with pining for the one I had lost.

Months later, as I found myself caught up in the whirlwind relationship with Mitch, I could not help but make comparisons and Mitch perpetually came up short on every count. Yet, by then I was starting to wonder whether that first love was really as great as I had made him out to be and whether we were really as compatible as I thought in my heart-sick nostalgia. As Mitch crept his way more fully into my life, I buried the comparisons bit by bit and slowly convinced myself this was as good as I could ever hope for. I was talking myself into settling.

No, really. At 19 when I couldn't have weighed more than 130 pounds, was perpetually tan year round, worked out every day and climbed 2 to 3 days a week and was YOUNG! and SMART! I thought I needed to settle for whomever would have me.

Because I was broken.

Broken from the heart-ache of losing my first love.

Broken from the scars left from losing friendships with an apartment full of girls with whom I still desperately wanted to be friends.

And broken down from the trauma of nearly losing my father.

All of this on top of the self-doubt I had hauled off to college with me from high school. And on top of the pecuniary stress of only managing to pay for school by the miracles of grants and scholarships that a kind professor had helped me find as a freshman.

The night I met Mitch was the culmination of all of these factors pressing me down to the rock bottom stage when I was so overcome with the fear of solitude after so much rejection that I simply ached for someone, anyone to pull me out.

And initially Mitch was the exact person I needed to pull me up. He made me laugh. He boosted my confidence and helped me move forward again. That first week we were dating I had to go back to my old apartment to collect my mail. The idea of walking back into that place where I was no longer welcomed terrified me. I think I had some altercation on the phone with one of them before stopping by and when I arrived I felt as if I was immediately pounced upon. I ran back to the car in tears and Mitch was there waiting for me, completely baffled as to why a 2 minute trip to pick up some bills resulted in the dam opening up. But he comforted me and I felt safe. We then went and played basketball and started a new life. He was my new safe-haven.

Around this same time period another type of force began to exert pressure on me. Again, I want to emphasize this was a cumulative effect and any one of these factors alone would have, I believe, allowed me to press on through college like a normal person and stay blissfully single (or at least single).

I was serious about going back to church. Other than my frequent trips home for the weekend and the occasional Sunday, I hadn't been going since I had left for college. Which was kind of part of my plan to be honest. I wanted to move out, spread my wings and figure things out on my own. But desperate times call for desperate measures so I started going back to church with my new roommate Gretchen. Soon Mitch was tagging along at my side. Before long the bishop noticed and asked to talk to me.

I nervously sat in his office one Sunday after church as he chit-chatted with me and casually asked if I would rather do a musical number in church or speak. I quickly chose musical number and thought our time would soon be up but he kept asking questions and before I knew what had happened he had sent me home with an assignment to write down ten goals and bring them back so we could talk again the following week. My goals, dated February 22, 1995 were fairly generic and consisted primarily of Sunday school answers: "1. daily scripture study/church books; 2. Pray - morning and night; 3. Write journal . . . " and down through the list until at the very bottom I had written "serve a mission" long after "study & learn - concentrate on education" and "avoid temptation". When I proudly returned this list to my bishop I thought I had all the "right" answers for both short and long term goals. However, after studying my list for a while he passed it back across the desk to me and asked if there was anything missing. I inspected my list and tried to figure out what I might have missed.

I started to explain that maybe I should have included "go to the temple" but I thought that was included in "serve a mission" so I hadn't added it separately. He cut me off there with "what about marriage?"

There it was again. Barely a week after Valentine's Day and now my bishop was bringing up that word too. Here I was just trying to focus on graduating from college and he was throwing words like marriage at me.

But he didn't stop there. "You have a boyfriend right now, don't you? Have you talked to him about marriage at all?"

And there it was. The power of suggestion. The tipping of the scale. One more external factor pointing me in a direction I previously hadn't considered. It is hard to second guess your bishop, your spiritual leader. I wondered if he was somehow inspired. How else would he know Mitch was raising this very question? And how could I brush it off as coincidence?

I couldn't and didn't.

From that point forward a seed was planted and it continued to grow over the coming months. Mitch and I spent more and more time together and became increasingly comfortable and familiar to the point where I did not know what life would be like without him. We took an institute class together - the one and only institute class I took in college - and worked on a spiritual relationship as well as the fun, playful side as well. I was helping him apply to college. Thankfully he had at least passed his GED. Honestly, it makes me cringe to write some of this out. Even at that young age I knew I would eventually get an advanced degree of some sort. I was so incredibly motivated to make a career for myself and I thought I could will him to have that same ambition. Instead, he just let me write his application letter and urge him forward as he slowly drifted along living at home working odd jobs.

Did I mention his family? A word of advice. When dating someone - anyone - if the idea of sitting around a dinner table with their family makes your skin crawl and puts you on edge, leave him or her immediately. To a college student a home cooked meal each Sunday should have been something to look forward to. Instead it was something I would dread. His mom made the most bizarre casserole concoctions ever assembled and the family would wolf it all down before a single beverage had been offered to the table. I would be dryly nibbling on a piece of bread desperately casting my eyes around for a sign that someone, anyone would notice the empty glasses and suggest someone retrieve the punch that had been left in the fridge. After enduring mumbled conversations completely parched, someone would finally bring a jug of milk to the table and I would do my best to refrain from gulping my meagerly alloted portion down in one refreshing chug.

As soon as dinner ended the men scattered. Immediately. Another warning sign. His house was
one of strict gender roles. He had 7 brothers and 1 sister but that didn't discourage the idea that "inside chores" (like cooking, dishes and scrubbing toilets) were for girls and "outside chores"
(like washing cars and mowing lawns) were for boys. Having grown up in a home where everyone had to take their turn at pretty much everything I had a difficult time wrapping my head around this division of labor and frequently found myself stuck in the kitchen with my soon-to-be mother-in-law straining to make conversation. Or even worse, I would end up alone with his sister who was in my astronomy class and considered me immodest and probably slutty for wearing tank tops and short shorts. And to her I probably was. I believe the term molly mormon was coined with her in mind.

Undaunted by yet another warning signal I continued to play along as Mitch's entreaties and hints toward marriage and our future became the norm and sunk in deeper and deeper to the point where I was discussing our future together as well.

I remember my attempts to project forward and finding small hiccups and glitches and glossing over them because I both believed and didn't believe this grown-up talk of marriage was real. I mostly considered our relationship to be not just the two of us but to also include my roommate Gretchen and her boyfriend - they were just lucky enough to escape the dreaded Sunday dinners. Living that idealistic life of carefully balanced class time, study time and lots of play time, it was hard to imagine hard times. For the first time, perhaps ever, I felt happy and well-rounded. I had a boyfriend who loved me, a roommate who was my best friend, I was doing exceptionally well in school and spent as much time as possible outdoors and in the mountains. I remember one early spring afternoon deciding the four of us needed to go camping - right. this. minute! So we grabbed my small tent, some sleeping bags, a few extra pillows and blankets and drove up the canyon as far as we could go before we hit snow and pulled off onto a side road and pitched my tent. The four of us woke up to Gretchen complaining that she had to pee but was afraid to go outside because it had snowed. Another time we didn't eat all day, piled into my 1984 Pontiac 6000 with the rusted roof and drove to Las Vegas (about 3-4 hours away) just so we could get our moneys worth out of the $5.99 buffet. On a different Las Vegas trip (when Mitch's older and married brother inexplicably would not allow us to stay at his house!) we camped in the desert, just the two of us and I woke up wanting to always be next to him. The next night, as we drove back to Cedar I saw the most spectacular moon rise of my life - a giant orange globe I thought was rising just for us at 2 am over the desert just south of St George somewhere near the Arizona border. It was breathtakingly beautiful to the point that I am now questioning whether it was real or just imagined. I interpreted it as a celestial blessing and sunk further into love.


Beck said...

That's a hard age for anyone.
I was really heart-broken at 20 - really, really heart-broken - and started on a two year period of really intense promiscuity.
.... I'm finding thise series SO fascinating. i can't wait to read tomorrow!

Emily said...

Another beautifully-written entry. You've got us hooked!

Ma said...

I'm finding this very painful, but I keep reading and I think it's important that you write this down. As you well knew, I NEVER felt good about the relationship. Unfortunately, I knew your state of mind and feared that if I objected too much, you would be even more intent on marrying Mitch, and it might hurt our relationship. I tried to ask you all the important questions and caution you, but you always had an answer.

Right now I really want to just cry when I read this post because I know how painful it is for you.

lizzie said...

wow. brings back some memories for me too. i am still so sorry i was part of that awful roommate crap. and i am so grateful you have such a forgiving heart.

i am anxiously awaiting more...

alison said...

alyssa, this is so beautifully written. i can't imagine how hard this may be to put out there. maybe it is not for you, but i know that time in my life (early college years) was also very difficult. i don;t like to share all the stupid things i said and did. keep on keepin' on. you rock!

Annie said...

I'm glad we only have to be 20 once.

mickey said...

I have to agree with everyone's comments. It breaks my heart to know you were so sad and that your heart was broken.

Thank you again for writing your story.

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