part nine

My friends and I traveled south to our assembly hall in December of my senior year. We were volunteering to help prepare food for all the brothers who would be arriving in a couple days for the assembly that was being held over the weekend. It was a good time for us all and we were surrounded by like minded people who loved Jehovah. There were lots of families who did the same thing every year and we got to know alot of young people this way.

While in the kitchen this time, we got to know an older guy and his wife who were always there cooking. They were friendly folks and seemed to really like me. I met their son later that day and we spent alot of time goofing around. I didn’t think too much of it at the time however the next day when I arrived at the assembly hall, the son was waiting for me. It felt really nice to have someone looking for me. We ate breakfast together and arranged to meet for lunch later in the day. It was the beginning of the rest of my life although I had no clue at the time.

This young man would become my husband a mere nine months later.

After the assembly, I returned home to continue my senior year. The months were speeding by and the end of high school was fast approaching. I was getting more scared by the minute but not admitting it to anyone least of all myself. During the five months since meeting the man who would become my husband, we went out with a group several times and got to know each other better. It was assumed already that we were a couple and he would send me the sweetest letters. I was making plans to return to South Carolina to live with the family I’d spent the past summer with and pioneer there. I finally told him that I was leaving after graduation and it was probably a good idea not to see each other anymore. He was a good sport about it. I thought.

As the end of the school year approached, I was the recipient of several awards at my high school. I was ranked fourth in my graduating class and was selected to speak at the ceremony. I was also voted Most Likely to Succeed along with another young woman who was ranked right behind me. Who Knew? and How Weird. I was the editor of the yearbook that year and we got to tally all the votes so I’ve often wondered how that happened but honestly at the time I didn’t care if anyone had cheated to get me there. It was totally cool especially in view of my previous years of school.

Anyway, I spent weeks writing my speech. When I turned it in for approval, it was tossed immediately. I was honestly ok with that because it had been written with the help of a sister in the congregation and was a bit more of a Witness than I was comfortable giving to the entire population of our town. I quickly wrote a new speech and was much more ok with it this time. My English teacher approved it right away and after the ceremony she told me it was the best speech she’d heard anyone give during her tenure there.  I took her words with a rather large grain of salt since I was the regular babysitter for her then 3 year old son, had spent the night often at her home and she knew me fairly well.

Graduation night my brother and I went out for pizza with a group of friends. When we got home, no one was there, which didn’t surprise me at all especially in view of the fact that my mom had been late to the ceremony and missed my speech completely.  My brother left for some school party that I wanted nothing to do with. I sat down at the dinner table and began sobbing hysterically. I knew it was put up or shut up time but I quite literally didn’t know what to do now. I went to bed and the next morning traveled to yet another assembly.

I spent the night in a motel with my friends from across the street and again volunteered preparing food. I was greeted by the young man I’d ‘dumped’ and we began chatting again. His parents were staying at the same motel and we ended up eating dinner together. His father told me “I sure wish I had a son you’d marry” while hugging me as I left the group to get ready for bed.

The young man called me when I got home from the assembly and we made arrangements to see each other with a group of friends a few days later. Witnesses are strongly discouraged from seeing each other alone due to temptations of the flesh that could arise. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter if you’re with a huge group of young people or not. If you are going to engage in ‘conduct unbecoming a christian’ you can do that no matter where you are and how many people you are there with.

I was struggling with my decisions about the future. Now that it was coming down to the wire, I really didn’t want to leave home for South Carolina. I was messed up completely about leaving my parents knowing that I would never be able to speak to them once I did. I tried praying for relief or comfort or whatever but I just couldn’t figure it out. I was only 17 for god’s sake. I look back now (with a daughter who is 17) and feel great sadness and heartbreak at the life decisions I felt forced to make. I cannot imagine my own 17 year old daughter making any of these choices at this point in her life.

I ended up canceling my flight to S.C. It was simply too much for me and I didn’t sign up to pioneer for the month of June either. I just kind of floated along I think, hoping that some decisions would come to me in a moment of clarity. On June 20, 1983, my young man (as the sisters in the congregation had taken to calling him) proposed to me. I was 16 days away from my 18th birthday. By this time I had decided I loved him and that was the reason I didn’t want to go to South Carolina. Looking back, I really did love him. I know I did.

He was good to me. He wanted me. He was a brother. He had a job, took part in the meetings and was all the things I was supposed to be looking for in a mate. I accepted his proposal and we set about announcing it to our family and friends. Oh wait, we didn’t announce it to my family. I announced it to my family. My parents were disfellowshipped and he wasn’t allowed to speak to them. To say my dad was angry would be an understatement. I find that only slightly amusing right this minute because my dad had a few months before told me that he was sure I would get married soon after graduation.

We had so many friends who were planning their weddings. From March of that year until December, I went to at least one wedding a month of people who were our ages. He was 22. I was 18. I spent the next weekend with my new fiance’s parents. It was a fun time for all of us right up until the moment, Sunday afternoon, my soon-to-be-father-in-law walked into the kitchen and began berating my soon-to-be-mother-in-law in one of the loudest voices I had ever heard.

What happened next turned out to be a prophetic glimpse into our relationship over the next 17 years.

to be continued

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Traci, you are a fine writer and a fine thinker. I am not surprised that you gave the commencement speech. Hey, I was Most Likely to Succeed and yearbook editor, too. I don’t know what MLtoS means, to those who voted, but to me it has meant trying to become myself. These chapters are very engrossing reading for the rest of us. I hope and yes, pray, that they are healing for you. I trust you to check your gauges on that; if this isn’t good for you, you don’t owe anyone anything here. Thank you for sharing in this way, but mostly, thank you for doing all the work you do to reclaim yourself. That makes the world a better place.

    Reply

  2. I’m just going to say “ditto” to what Susie said. There she goes, all saying everything first. 😉

    Reply

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