Our living room smells like a high school locker room. You know the smell I’m talking about. That oniony stink teen boys get when it’s been too long since they’ve showered, and they still haven’t quite discovered the magic of deodorant.
It’s a smell I’m all-too familiar with, my high school career having only come to an end this past year. It’s going to take a lot longer than ten months to wipe the horrors I saw and smelled in the boys’ locker room out of my brain.
Even as I sit on the bar stool in the center of the room, visions of Roosevelt High come flashing to my mind, and I half-expect to see Jeff come strolling through the door, twisted wet towel in hand, just waiting for the perfect moment to snap it against an unsuspecting victim’s bare ass.
Butt. I mean, butt.
Cussing was never allowed when I was growing up. But, now that this has arrived, I need to be more diligent about watching my language.
Because cussing will not be tolerated where I’m going.
I look down at the white envelope in my hands, my fingers trembling ever-so slightly, as I read over my name and address printed on the front.
Elder Jaden Barker.
Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Perfect missionary name. Exactly like my parents envisioned.
Flipping the envelope over, I gently finger the flap, watching the pristine paper slide against my skin. How ironic would it be if the one thing that’s supposed to be the biggest blessing in my life thus far sliced through my flesh, red drops of blood seeping through my pores and marring the lily-white paper beneath?
Wouldn’t be the first time the church cut you, a familiar voice in the back of my mind utters.
Yes, but they’ve always been there to stitch you back up. You just need to have faith, his ever-present counterpart retorts.
I know what you’re thinking. This dude is crazy. I’m not. I don’t actually hear voices. They’re only little versions of my subconscious—punks who like to rear up and cause problems in my life at the most inopportune times. Ever since I turned in my mission papers, they seem to have taken permanent residence in my head—like those old cartoons I used to watch, the ones with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The church would refer to them as the Holy Ghost and Satan.
Or, as I like to call them, Jiminy and Jafar. Growing up, I had a thing for Disney.
Shrugging off their unwelcome intrusion, I turn my attention back to the task at hand, the all-too-familiar pang of nervousness welling deep within my gut. My stomach has been in knots all afternoon.
My family has been expecting this any day now. As soon as I pulled it out of the mailbox and saw the distinct logo in the top-left corner, I was tempted to rip into it right there, near the gutter, needing the torment of where I’d be spending the next two years of my life to end.
My mother, of course, had different plans. The moment she realized I’d received it, she plucked it from my fingers, whisking it away into the kitchen and telling me we had to wait for my father to get home from work. Then, like the good little housewife she is, she set about making a scrumptious chicken noodle soup. My grandmother’s recipe and her mother’s before that. Also, my favorite meal on the planet.
That brings us to the reason I’m now sitting on a kitchen stool in the middle of the living room with three smiling faces shining back at me from the sofa, the normally delicious smell of the soup now making me nauseous and forcing me to think of sweaty teenagers.
I’ve been preparing for this day for as long as I can remember. Since I was just a kid, I knew my life was leading to this very moment. And, after years of singing songs in primary and learning lesson after lesson in priesthood meetings, it’s finally here.
I’m going to be a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I’m ready for this.
I’ve been groomed for this.
I’m going to share the truth with the people of wherever this letter sends me.
My fingers tremble as I tear into the envelope, my family sitting across from me on the edge of the couch. My mother’s hand flies to her mouth as she watches the stark white paper slide from its temporary shelter. I know, within a week, it will be framed and hanging proudly in the hallway, right next to my brother, Taylor’s, mission call.
“Dear Brother Barker,” I read aloud, my voice shaky as my heart hammers against my chest.
My dad leans forward, wringing his hands in anticipation, while my mother leans her face into his shoulder as she stifles a sob. To an outsider, it might appear my parents are nervous, as if the thought of sending their nineteen-year-old son out into the world with minimal contact for two years were a terrifying idea they weren’t entirely on board with.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case at all. My parents are waiting with bated breath, their anticipation for me to leave eclipsed only by the joy they feel about me going in the first place. Not because they don’t love me, but because doing the Lord’s work is far more important.
“You are hereby called to serve as a missionary at…” My words trail off, my eyes scanning the page until the bold words leap out at me. “California Los Angeles Mission.”
I must have said the words aloud because, within seconds I’m enveloped in my mother’s arms. My dad moves to join her, his broad arms circling the two of us as he whispers how happy he is for me. My little sister, Jenny, clears her throat behind me, and my mother swings her arm wide to pull her into the hug with us.
“I’m so, so proud of you, Jaden. You’re going to receive so many blessings because of this. And you’ll bless so many people in return,” my mother says as she squeezes me tight.
Her arms drop suddenly, and she pulls away from me, her eyes shining, as she says, “I need to go call Taylor. He was so sad he couldn’t be here today. Poor little Maddy has another ear infection, and they didn’t want to ruin your special day with a crying infant. But he made me promise to call as soon as we knew where you were going. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few phone calls to make.”
She practically dances out of the room, my dad close on her heels as he reminds her of a few other people who need to hear the good news.
Left alone with only my little sister, I glance down at Jenny, her ten-year-old face beaming up at me.
“I can’t wait until I’m old enough to go on a mission! Are you excited?” Her squeaky voice breaks on the last word.
I smile at her, nodding my head in the most self-assured way I can manage.
This should be the most exciting day of my life. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, and every detail of this day has gone exactly according to plan. My mom’s happy tears, my dad’s joyous words. Heck, I don’t even have to learn another language at the training center. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of.
So, why does it feel like I’m living a lie?