Date: April 11, 2018 04:21PM
This Friday, April 13th, will be the 39th anniversary of the day I came home from my mission.
Every year I celebrate April 13 as a personal holiday. A day that brought me so much happiness and joy, I still cannot find the perfect words to describe the feelings of joy and happiness I felt knowing my mission prison sentence was over.
What say you my fellow RMs? How do you remember the last day of your mission? Can you still remember the intensity of relief of knowing that your days of having to get up and go tracting again for the umpteenth time were done? Do you remember the relief of knowing that you could start being a real person again, have time alone again, be with your girlfriend again, listen to music of your choice again, eat good food again, and to be called by your first name again?
I invite you to celebrate with me on this 13th day of April, with the story of my release, 39 years ago, from the hellhole known as the Virginia Roanoke Mission. Below is the account of my last day. It’s a little long and some of you may have seen this before, so forgive my repetition. For those who have not read it, grab a beer, sit back, and enjoy.
RELEASED FROM THE MISSION PRISON
At long last the happiest day I have ever known came. It was the last day I had to spend in the Virginia Roanoke Mission. That day was Friday, April 13, 1979 and for me, it is a date that lives in infamy. My sentence in this mission cesspool was over. Friday the 13th was my lucky day and to this day, I have celebrated every April 13th as a personal holiday. I clearly remember how that wonderful Friday the 13th started.
I woke up at the usual time of 6:30AM, had my shower, dressed, and sat down to a bowl of "Captain Crunch" while my companion showered. Sitting there alone, looking around, seeing my bags packed and lying on my bed, it finally hit me with full force that I would never have to sleep on that lumpy bed or wake up to another morning in this or any other Virginia cockroach infested dump of an apartment again, only to go mindlessly tracting all day. With each spoonful of Captain Crunch, a mental list formed in my mind of things I would never have to do again. The list included the following…
1. I would never have to go out and knock on another door and try to convince another person, that they could become happier if they alienate themselves from family and friends, gave up 10% of their paycheck, sacrificed their free time from being with their families to perform smothering religious duties and endless callings, and eventually, earn the opportunity to pantomime disemboweling themselves while dressed up as the Pillsbury Dough Boy inside a building that looks like a bowling trophy. (Talk about a tough sell.)
2. I would never again have to ride a bicycle in a suite sweating like a pig in the Virginia summer heat and humidity or suffer frostbite out in the bone chilling Virginia winter weather. (I now hate bicycles and can never bring myself to get on one again.)
3. I would never again have to eat starchy pasta as my main food source because of no money to buy proper food. (Pasta dishes of any kind are no longer a block in my food pyramid.)
4. I would never again have to endure undeserved ridicule and reaming from any mission leader and especially from a pinhead GA-wannabe insurance salesman mission president named Frank A. Moscon. (I am so glad he is dead now and I could not be less sad. I hope his death was agonizingly slow coupled with unbearable searing pain. One day I will go and piss on his grave.)
5. I would never again place myself in an environment that produces overwhelming suicidal depression and loneliness. (so far so good.)
6. I would never again have to spend another lonely Christmas away from loved ones. (I only worship Santa now with my loved ones around me.)
7. I would never again be shackled to someone 24/7 that I did not want to be with.
8. I would never again be deprived of the enjoyment of music. (I have music on most of the time and I have never played Mormon Tab songs again)
9. I would never again follow a set of idiotic and double-bind rules while trying to perform a smothering life-sucking set of religious duties.
10. I would never again allow anyone to deprive me of the love, the touch, or affections of a woman.
11. I would never again respond to anyone calling me "Elder" or just my last name.
12. I would never again go tracting. (To this day, I don’t even like to knock on my neighbors door.)
13. I will never have to………..
You can fill in the rest, my fellow RM's. You know that this list can be almost endless.
Oh, what joy and happiness I felt as I thought about the things I would not have to do ever again. I sat there just relishing the thoughts of being home again, being with Kathy again, restarting my life again, being called by my first name again, and being able to be alone again. I was so happy that I poured myself another bowl of "Captain Crunch". I poured so fast that half of the cereal ended up on the table and the floor. As I kicked the cereal on the floor under the refrigerator, I thought, “…Oh well, I might as well let the kitchen's cockroaches celebrate with me…” Throwing the empty bowl into the sink after I finished my 2nd helping, I thought to myself, “…let the next sucker Elder clean it. I’m outta here…", as the bowl and spoon bounced around in the sink.
This particular morning seemed so fresh and I felt so alive. I had not experienced such a wonderful morning for two years and I almost forgot what it was like to live again. There was a nice cool breeze and birds were singing. I still could not believe that my escape from the Virginia Roanoke Mission was beginning today. As I carried my 2 bags down to the car, I started singing to myself that song by "The Guess Who", "....No time left you…on my way to better things...I found myself some wings...."
MY LAST BUS RIDE IN VIRGINIA
I had to go to the mission home to get my plane tickets, so we drove to the other Elders apartment to bring them with us to the bus terminal where I booked a seat on the local Greyhound mini-van bus from Martinsville to Roanoke.
Just before the mini-van bus was to leave, I said my goodbyes to my companion and the other two Elders in our district. They wished me well and then I got into the mini-van bus.
I remember the looks of envy and jealousy on their faces. I knew they were wishing so hard to be in my place because their Friday would be another lonely day of mind-numbing tracting, but not my Friday. I would never have to knock on another door again. Shutting the door, I looked out the window at my fellow Elders for one last time, waved at them, turned away, and never looked back. A huge wave of relief rolled over me and I let out an audible sigh as the van started on its journey. My escape had begun.
The early morning ride to Roanoke would take about an hour. Passing through and out of the Martinsville/Collinsville area and on to the main 220 highway, I mumbled to myself a quiet “good riddance” to that cesspool as I gazed on all the houses that I had knocked on fruitlessly for eight months. I also mumbled a “good riddance” to some particular members of the branch there that had caused me so much unnecessary pain. Never again would I have to see them or put up with their nonsense.
Once on the main highway, I spent the journey relaxing and just watching the countryside go by. For the first time in two years, I got to enjoy all of the green foliage of Virginia without that black cloud of dread hanging over me of having to start tracting in another area once the journey was through. Every transfer, I always dreaded starting over again with knocking on doors that Elders had knocked on before, only to be told to get lost. I also dreaded moving into yet another cockroach infested dump of a place.
This bus ride was special as this was my last bus ride in Virginia, and the beginning of a long journey that would end with me at home and free from this mission hellhole for good. I felt giddy inside. I felt like a little boy going to Disneyland for the first time.
I tried starting a light conversation with the driver to end the silence and this was proving difficult. The bus driver knew I was a Mormon missionary by the way I was dressed and the tell-tale name tag. At first, he was reluctant to talk to me, probably from fear that I would start talking Mormonism to him. Sensing this, I told him that I was going home today and had no intention of discussing any aspect of religion or Mormonism. I said this as he watched me take off my name tag and put it in my pocket. I told him that he can call me by my first name, and not Elder Flash. Hearing this, he visibly relaxed and began to open up.
We had a fun conversation all the way to Roanoke. We talked about his job and the unusual cargos he had carried and about his poor experiences with other missionaries he had bussed around. We finally rolled into the Roanoke bus station around 8:30am. Before I got out, the driver commented to me that I was not like any of the other Elders he met before. He said I was genuine in my demeanor and well-mannered. I told him that I was from California, and was not one of the “Utah-Idaho factory” Elders like those two over there on the platform, as I pointed to a couple of mission home office Elders waiting to drive me to the mission home. My comment made him laugh. I grabbed my bags from the van and the AP elders drove me to the mission home a few miles away.
IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST FOR A BLESSED LAST TIME
My itinerary schedule indicated that my plane to Washington DC from Roanoke would leave at 11:30AM. The next day I would hop on another plane at Dulles International and fly home to California. A couple of months prior, I had made arrangements for an acquaintance of one of the branch members to pick me up in Washington DC and give me a condensed tour of the Washington DC mall.
In order to create this itinerary, I made up a story to the mission home saying that I wanted to go through the Washington DC temple before departing home, and for them to create an itinerary for me to do this. Little did they know that my real goal was only to see the nation’s capital on the Church's dime since I was at this end of the country anyway. Because I was able to fool them so easily, it proved to me once again, that the mission leadership had the inspiration and discernment of a fence post.
While I waited around in the mission home for my departure hour, I realized how nice it was to just sit knowing that I did not have to do any sort of missionary work. I did not have answer to anyone, not to a District Leader, or to a Zone Leader, or to the mission home office elders, and best of all, to that GA-wannabe pinhead mission president. I now only answered to me.
I found myself a nice La-Z-boy chair in the common area to pass the time until I had to depart for the Roanoke airport. I gazed out the big picture windows at the nearby woods remembering how I looked out the window at these same woods two years earlier wanting to run into them and escape. How fun it was to know, that now, I was escaping, but I would be walking out the front door instead of running into these woods.
I started reading several magazines that were on the end-table next to me such as NewsWeek, Time, and National Geographic. I was two years behind on news and events and I found it refreshing to read something other than some dumb-downed church publication or book. I was so fed up with church literature that I took two of the Ensign magazines lying on the end-table and stuffed them into the depths of the La-Z-boy chair, never to be seen again.
After about a half hour of reading and enjoying the view of the woods, I noticed that six new elders had arrived from an earlier flight fresh from the Mission Training Center. They were a mess. They looked so depressed, downcast, and sleep deprived. They reminded me of how depressed I felt when I first showed up at this miserable mission home two years earlier.
Seeing them, I felt a wave of bitter sorrow and pity wash over me knowing that their hell holes were just beginning. However, those bitter feelings were washed away by a delightful rush of knowing that I was finished with it all and I WAS LEAVING IN JUST 20 MINUTES!! I had fewer minutes than they had months to endure this mission cesspool.
These new elders saw me reading "missionary-unapproved" material and one asked me, with a “holier-than-thou” Utah-twanged voice, why I was there by myself and not with my companion. I looked up and smiled and told him that my mission ended today and I was on my way home, and before tomorrow ends, I will be kissing my beautiful Japanese girlfriend. And I asked him back, smiling smugly, “What will you be doing tomorrow?”
Hearing this, a few of them looked like they were going to breakdown on the spot judging from the glassy look of their eyes. Two of them looked at me with such jealousy it was palpable. It reminded me how jealous I felt when I first arrived here two years previous and saw two sister missionaries who were about to depart for home.
If somehow, these new elders could know of the bitter dregs of depression, loneliness, and isolated hellish living that awaited them for the next two years, I think they would have gone into the restroom and sliced their wrists. To think that they would have to put up with that pinhead President Frank A. Moscon and his idiocy made me smile knowingly at them. But I did not taunt them further about going home. I had at least that much civility left.
I politely brushed them off with another smug smile and went back to my reading of the Time magazine. They went off somewhere else in the common area. I did notice that one lagged behind, and was staring longingly at the woods outside the common room window. Maybe he wanted to escape into these woods like I did two years ago, I thought.
I rebuffed every request from any office elder to go and have the customary last interview with the mission president. Because of the falling out that I had with him four months prior, nothing anyone said would change my mind about not talking one last time to that bastard. Any communication with him had been fatally terminated, and while I was there in the mission home, I did not even acknowledge his presence.
His clueless wife, Loya, tried to goad me into talking with her husband but I was immune to her tactics by now. Frank & Loya’s chance to be any kind of surrogate parents to me had long since passed. Frank’s never-ending harassments and Loya’s condescending speeches were more than I could take. If my parents were like that, I would have put myself up for adoption long ago.
Looking up from my Newsweek magazine, I gave Loya a look that would have shriveled a rock, said nothing, and went back to my reading. She huffed off and was probably thinking "…how dare this lowly elder brush me off..." But I didn't care anymore what she or her pin-head husband thought. To me, they were now person’s non-grata. I just wanted out of there as soon as possible. My skin was beginning to crawl from being around so many Utah-Idaho-Arizona factory elders.
ONE LAST ROUND OF OFFICE ELDER ARROGANCE
Time was getting close for me to be at the Roanoke airport so I asked one of the office elders for my plane tickets. A convert family from my last area had come to drive me to the airport and see me off plus I no longer wanted to spend any more time in that mission home. Being there was serving no purpose and I would rather be elsewhere. Besides, I finished reading all their “missionary-unapproved” magazines. This Idaho-prick office elder spouted off to me that only the mission president could give me my tickets (that he held in his hand) and that I did not have his or the MP's permission to leave the mission home yet.
Oh, so arrogant to the end, I thought. But I, being of much larger stature, pulled him aside into an empty hallway, and in a still small voice, told him that if he did not give me my plane tickets, this would be his last moment as a fully functional human being and he would be harvesting potatoes from a wheelchair. I told him this as I was "helping him” tighten the knot of his tie by pulling it above his head. Needless to say, he loosened his grip on my tickets and I pulled them from his hand.
With plane tickets in hand, I grabbed my bags and walked out of that mission home with the family who came to see me off. We loaded my bags into the trunk of their car, and after taking one last picture with them, we drove away toward the Roanoke airport.
The ride to the airport only took about 15 minutes so I sat back and just enjoyed being driven away from that mission home and relishing the thought that I would never have to set foot in that place again. I would not have to deal with a pinhead Mission President, or deal with double-bind rules, or idiotic companions, or Zone leaders, or office elders that censor my every move or word. I started to feel really free. The first feelings of being a normal person again started to grab hold and they felt good. When the Roanoke airport came into view, a rush of adrenalin surged through me. I couldn’t wait to get inside the terminal and get myself checked in.
When the car stopped at the departure curb, I quietly, I reached over and slipped my name tag into my coat pocket marking the end of the existence of Elder Jenkins. I was finally done being a missionary.
THE FLIGHT OUT OF THE VIRGINIA ROANOKE HELLHOLE
At the Roanoke airport drop-off curb, I gave hugs and said my goodbyes to the family that brought me there. After they drove away, I went into the terminal and checked in my one large bag, keeping with me my carry-on.
At the check-in counter, the woman behind the counter called me by my first name to ask if I wanted a window seat. At first, I didn’t respond to her as no one ever called me by my first name for two years. She asked again. I was shocked a little realizing I did have a first name. Funny how the little things you have been starved of for a long period of time are now such joys. I finally responded. Yes, I would like a window seat but not over the wing so I could see the ground as we flew.
I collected my boarding pass and walked to the gate boarding area. Once there, reality really hit me that I was finally alone. Even having the airport crowd walking around me, I felt the thrill of just being alone and of being permanently separated from the mission collective. Looking around the terminal, no other elder was in sight. I could do as I please without being irritated by some judgmental prick elder reminding me of the mission rules for this or that.
It may seem hard to imagine why being alone was such a glorious experience. But when you have someone around you 24/7, for two years, watching where you are, who you talk to, what you are reading, what you are saying, what you eat, and what you are wearing; being able to be alone again, and accountable to no one, is so refreshing. It’s beyond words to describe how good that feels.
I always cherished my alone-time as I have always needed it to recharge myself. Having it stripped from me for two years proved to be very draining. Only Mormon missionaries or people in prison can understand the unspeakable joy of just finally being alone.
I had about an hour before the scheduled boarding time. I decided to use that time to purge myself of any missionary look or accoutrements. I no longer wanted anyone to assume that I was a Mormon missionary. So I collected together my name tag, the missionary white handbook, and a big heavy envelope of useless mission papers I was given at the mission home. Looking around for the nearest trash bin, I saw one, walked over to it, and tossed it all in creating a noticeable thud as it hit the bottom of the nearly empty bin.
Watching that crap disappear into that bin brought another wave of relief. I stood there by the bin for a few moments letting it sink in that I was finally done with it all. No more reports to fill out, no more fantasy goals to record, no more tell-tale name tag, no more white handbook of smothering rules to follow, and no more of anything to remind me of being a missionary. The only papers I had left were my tickets. I jokingly amused myself thinking how these tickets were the "papers" I needed for my escape from this iron curtain country called the Virginia Roanoke Mission.
To complete the purging process and eliminate any look of a missionary, I went into the restroom, which was deserted for the moment, and found an empty stall. Once inside, I took out of my bag a nice blue colored dress shirt that I had been saving for over a year for going home. I unwrapped the blue dress shirt and hung it on the door hook. I removed my suite coat, vest, and tie, stuffing them into my carry-on bag. Then grabbing my worn out white shirt with both hands, I literally ripped it off my body popping off most of the buttons in the process.
It felt so satisfying to rip off that old, worn out, white shirt and to watch the dislodged buttons ricochet between the walls of the stall then to dance all over the floor. From that moment, April 13, 1979 at about 10:50AM, and to this day, I have never worn a white shirt again. Even today, the thought of putting on a white shirt disgusts me. I cannot even wear a white T-shirt.
After putting on my new blue dress shirt, I took a moment to admire myself in the restroom’s mirror. No one could now view me as a Mormon missionary. I loved how I looked. I considered flushing the old white shirt down the toilet but had to refrain myself from such amusement because someone else came in to use the restroom. So I just threw it into the restroom’s garbage bin as I walked out, smiling as I did so.
With my non-missionary look, I found myself a seat in the gate area and happily noticed that the people, who sat near me, did not even notice me, or look at me funny, or care who I was. I was just another fellow flyer. It was so liberating and refreshing to have the look of a normal person again. I quietly celebrated my new transformation by imbibing in an "evil" can of Dr. Pepper that I got from a vending machine and began to read an abandoned Sports Illustrated magazine I found on the seat next to me. Oh, that Dr. Pepper tasted so good and was so refreshingly ice-cold. As I read the Sports Illustrated, I never found that stupid phrase, “And it came to pass” anywhere. Life was getting better by the minute.
About 30 minutes later, the call to board was announced. I made my way to the outside boarding area to the stairs leading up to the Piedmont plane door, got onto the plane, and I found my window seat. Soon everyone was boarded, the hatch was shut, and the plane began pulling away from the gate.
The flight attendants began scrambling to get everyone the drink of their choice. It seemed like it took forever for that plane to taxi down the runway to get ready to take off. As it did so, I mumbled to myself, "Oh please, let there be no mechanical problems." I could not bear the prospect of returning to the gate. I wanted to be out of Virginia so badly and as far away from Roanoke and that stupid mission home as I could get. The plane taxied to the end of the runway, lined up, and the 2 jet engines came to life.
The plane roared down the runway and began lifting off. When its wheels no longer touched Virginia soil, I felt this feeling inside like poison was draining out of my body. Two years of amassed missionary poison that had cankered my soul was draining away. The faster and higher the plane went, the faster the poison seemed to drain out of me. What a relief it was being whisked away from that god-awful place.
As the plane continued climbing higher and higher, I thought how, for two miserable years, I longed for this day to come. I had dreams of this day. I thought about escaping all the time, but now, I was flying away at last. To make sure I was not in some lucid dream, I pushed on the side of the plane and squeezed the armrest convincing myself that they were substantial objects. I was not dreaming about this escape. I was really on my way home. "It is really true?" I thought, over and over again. Yes, it was all true. I was free! I almost cried.
From my window seat, I looked down at the ever shrinking Virginia countryside and thought about how two precious years of my young life were forfeited and wasted there. Two whole years, where instead, I could have been in college getting my electrical engineering degree, enjoying time with Kathy, and just living happily.
I thought about the missed Christmases, the missed birthdays, my brother's wedding I missed, and about the long separation from Kathy. Sitting on that airplane and trying to comprehend and sort through all the feelings of relief, joy, and happiness, that I was on my way home, and that I did not have to do or think about missionary work ever again, was beyond words. The flight attendant then came by and gave me my complimentary can of Coke.
As I sipped the blessedly ice-cold caffeinated drink, I amused myself with a thought that, below my feet, some poor depressed elder was looking up at my plane, wishing with all his heart to be where I sat, as he tracted in the hot sun, going door to door endlessly, with each door being slammed in his face. I thought how I was mocking him by staring out the window where he could see that I was the one here and not him. I was the one soaring higher and higher and escaping the drudgery of missionary life. I was the one flying away leaving only a contrail behind for him to see, as he walked to the next door, only to be told again to “GET THE F**K OUT OF HERE!” I thought how his wishes were in vain, because today, was my day to taste freedom’s sweetness, and not his.
My thoughts then drifted back to the last time a flight attendant, offered me a soda, out of pity, two years ago, when I was so depressed and sobbing, as I left California for that bad boys reform school nightmare, the Salt Lake Mission home. Such a contrast, I thought.
THE WASHINGTON DC MINI-TOUR
In less than an hour my plane landed at National Airport in Washington DC and I found the person who I had previously arranged to meet. My plane to California would leave Dullus International the next day. So following our plans, he provided me a mini-tour of the Washington DC mall area. He drove me around in his TR7 showing me the White House, the Washington memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and other mall monuments. I really enjoyed seeing all the monuments.
He was very gracious and kind to me and treated me to a McDonald’s dinner. We got along great and he said that he knew how I felt being released from the “mission prison system” as he called it. He also served as a missionary several years before me and he said he could see the relief all over my face. He told me he understood how I was feeling inside and related to me the day he came home from his mission and how happy he felt.
What he did not know is that privately, I was also reveling in the joy of knowing that I was successful in pulling the wool over the office elder’s & Mission President's eyes to set up my itinerary to allow for this mini-tour, while they thought I wanted to go through the Washington DC temple. I got the last laugh on those clowns.
After the Washington DC Mall mini-tour, we got on the I-495 DC beltway to go to his place for the night. When the Washington DC temple came into view, I felt nothing inside seeing it. It had no significance to me as it was just another symbol of this ungrateful church. He asked if I wanted to see it up close but I politely said no. Puzzled by my reaction he passed by the exit and I did not give the place a second glance. Soon we arrived at his place where he let me use of one of the spare bedrooms of his luxury condo.
That night, before retiring to bed, I had a nice long hot shower where I proceeded to scrub off two years of missionary dirt and disgust. I soaped myself up several times just to watch the water rinse the symbolic disgust away over and over again. I even shampooed my hair 3 times. I did not know it at the time, but I later learned that victims of rape frequently do this. I must have stayed in there for over an hour, but when I was done, I felt cleansed from all the missionary disgust that had built up.
Crawling into bed, I realized that I no longer had to pretend to say a personal nightly prayer anymore so as to not raise suspicion in a companion that I had no testimony of Joe Smith and his silly church anymore. I also realized that I no longer had any rigid schedule of sleep & wake up times to adhere to. Another wave of relief rushed over me knowing that I did not have to go tracting in the morning and receive my daily dose of “GET THE F**K OUTTA HERE” followed by a slamming door. I felt so happy.
In bed, I laid there pondering over the day's experiences. What a day, I thought. I woke up in a hot & humid, cockroach infested dump for the last time, brushed off the Mission President and his clueless wife, physically threatened an office elder for my plane tickets, transformed from Elder Flash into just me, flew away from the Virginia Roanoke Mission hellhole for good, toured the Washington DC mall, and ended up in this wonderful, air conditioned place for the night.
His spare bedroom had a TV and a clock radio. That night was the first time in two years, that I got to stay up late and watch “The Tonight Show” and then have a radio sing me to sleep. Gone forever was the nightly ritual of trying to find sleep in the silent & relentlessly hot and humid air of Virginia. “Life was so good now” I thought, as I drifted off to sleep. The air-conditioner droned quietly in the background keeping me cool and dry all night as I slept. Best sleep I had in 2 years.
THE FLIGHT TO CALIFORNIA AND HOME
Early the next morning, I arose with great anticipation of being home at the end of the day. Again, there was no need for a phony morning personal prayer to attend to for a tattle-tale companion’s sake. And WHOOOOPEEEEEEEE!! No tracting to do!! No life sucking miserable missionary duties of ANY KIND to do! My only focus was getting home. My host had made me waffles and scrambled eggs to “welcome me back to civilian life and to get me home” as he put it.
I dressed myself in "normal" clothes as I was not about to sit for 6+ hours dressed in a suite. I was driven to the Dulles International airport to catch my flight to California. I thanked my host and tour guide graciously at the drop off curb for all he had done for me. Once inside the terminal, I checked in my bags, found my gate, and sat down to wait for the boarding call.
Again, it felt so wonderful not wearing the telltale name tag or the clothes that screams Mormon Missionary. No uncomfortable suite and vest, & no tie, just comfortable clothes to wear to enjoy the flight home. Nobody called me "Elder" or avoided sitting next to me. Nobody knew me and I saw no familiar faces. The only one who called me “Randy” was the TWA check-in counter lady. I was just another anonymous traveler, and again it felt soooooooooo good to just be alone!
I purchased myself a Dr. Pepper and a newspaper, found an empty seat, and just sat and read the daily news. How refreshing it was to just sit and read the paper and not spend another morning reading the same boring scriptures and church publications over and over again. Drinking that ice-cold blessedly caffeinated Dr. Pepper lifted my already sky high spirits even more.
About an hour later, the boarding call was announced and I made my way to the gate to board the plane to California. It was a large four engine TWA jet with spacious economy class seating. Way better than the cramped Piedmont Airlines plane from Roanoke to Washington DC. I found my window seat and settled myself in for a nice long relaxing journey.
The plane was only half full so I had two empty seats next to me where I could stretch out my legs and sleep if I wanted to. I glanced over at the cabin door as they closed it and thought that when it opens again, I would be in California breathing the dry air of home and not this humid locker room stuffy air of the east coast.
The plane pulled away from the gate, slowly taxied to the end of the runway, straightened out, and then its four engines came to life. Faster & faster did we roll down the runway and near the very end the plane slowly lifted off, folded its wheels, and began the 6 hour journey west toward California. “What a wonderful way day this is turning out to be”, I thought.
I gazed at the countryside passing underneath the plane for hours while music flooded my head from the in-flight music selections of "The Bee Gees" to "Bread” to Classical. The soft music had a way of flowing throughout my brain scrubbing away two years of missionary gooey that had gummed it up. I also watched a wonderful “evil” movie. How refreshing it was to watch a non-church movie. I was so fed up with church movies that if the airline had started playing “Mans Search for Happiness”, I would have gotten up and broken the projector.
The food served on the flight tasted great. Airline food is never all that great but it was so much better than the crap I had been eating for so long as a missionary. I finished both meals completely plus four cans of various sodas and whatever cookies I could persuade the flight attendant to steal for me.
Oh, how happy I was, and how relieved I was, knowing I would be home in a few hours. I made it a point to reassure myself again, twice, that I was really there on that plane. I pushed on the side of the plane and grabbed the seat armrests and again they turned out to be substantial objects. I was not in a lucid dream that would end with an alarm clock waking me up in Martinsville, Virginia, to go out tracting again. Those thoughts made me shuddered from a cold chill and I almost puked.
As the flight continued on, the plane eventually flew over Utah where I could look down on Salt Lake City. I briefly thought about that "Bad Boy's Reform School nightmare" week I spent in that Salt Lake Mission Home two years previous. During my mission is when the church started up the Mission Training Center (MTC) for the domestic Elders to spend one month there before going to their state side missions. How lucky I was to avoid that. I could not imagine spending a month in that nightmare.
Once again I amused myself with imagining that there was an elder out in an MTC courtyard looking up at the contrail my plane was leaving behind, and wishing with all his heart to be where I was. But it was not to be for him. It was my day to escape, not his. And unless he had the courage to leave the MTC, he had two hellhole years to go through wherever he was assigned to go. I shuddered from a cold chill again just thinking about this.
I also thought of those poor elders back in Virginia just starting out. How was their 2nd day in the Virginia Roanoke Mission Hell hole? What dark, unholy, and impure thoughts of “the Lord’s anointed” pinhead GA-wannabe mission president do they have now? I also wondered if anyone asked where the two Ensign magazines I stuffed in the La-Z-Boy went.
For one last time, a small wave of pity for those elders occupied my mind for about two seconds. But those thoughts were washed away for good with a GIANT TSUNAMI of happy thoughts of being home, where I would be wanted, and with the girl that I loved so much. Those poor new elders and the hell of the Virginia Roanoke Mission felt so far away now and of no importance, and the relentless roar of the jet engines seemed to magnify these feelings.
As I sipped on another blessedly caffeinated can of Coke, I looked out the window and saw the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the California/Nevada state line is. The plane began to slowly descend. Oh God, is it really true? Am I really almost home? Twenty minutes later, I heard the wheel bay doors open. My home airport is in view now. I wondered how many people would be there to welcome me home. I hope Kathy was able to make it. I am so closer to the ground now. THUMP…THUMP…THUMP... I am finally on my home soil again. The plane went into reverse thrust slowing us down rapidly and then we were taxiing toward the terminal.
FINALLY HOME AGAIN
When I walked out of the jet way, all my family was there to meet me. I cried seeing them and hugged them more than I ever had done before. It was the first time I ever cried because I was happy. I could not believe I was with them again. The two year nightmare was over.
Kathy was also there to meet me. And seeing her standing there after two long years brought another rush of tears to my eyes. Was this real? Is it really her? How much more beautiful she was in person. And at twenty one now. Wow, she is a very pretty Asian woman. I rushed over to her and we gave each other a very-very long hug and a deep kiss. I did not want to let go of her. I missed her so much for so long. I kissed off (pun intended) the bullshit that I was still a missionary until being released by the Stake President. I was threw being a missionary the moment I left that goddamn mission home and nothing was going to keep me from Kathy any longer.
The hugs and kisses I received from Kathy, after missing her for two miserable lonely years, poured peace into my soul in such a way that I cannot find adequate words to do justice in describing how I felt. Only those who have experienced this can understand what I am talking about.
The English language is just too inadequate to paint a proper frame of reference for someone who has not gone through the trauma of a Mormon mission and returned. For those of you who had the courage and emotional strength to not succumb to the social pressures to serve a mission; coming home was not like coming back from college or summer camp. It was like coming back from the dead.
No event in my life has ever produced such an intensity of relief and happiness as the day I came home from my mission. The joy and relief of knowing that I was done with it all almost overwhelmed me.
That night, at home, after my family retired to bed, I sat on my bed and looked around my room marveling that I was there again. I then began to cry so hard that I had to bury my face into a pillow so no one would hear me. My tears were of joy and anger and sadness mixed together.
Tears of joy, because I was back at home where I was wanted, loved, and where I could restart my life again and be with Kathy again.
Tears of anger, as I thought of the enormous amount of time wasted from knocking on doors, all day ,every day, for two years, and receiving so much undeserved pain and ridicule from the mission leaders and church members.
Tears of sadness for the many days I was unable to be with Kathy, the lost opportunities in my education, and for the unrecoverable time stolen from me from just living a normal happy life.
Before turning off the light, I checked one last time that I was really there and not dreaming. Everything appeared real and solid. That night I slept for 14 hours and did not wake up until 1pm the next day. Happiness flooded my soul when I opened my eyes in the morning to find myself in my bed in my room at home. Yes! Yes! I was really home!
WHAT THIS MISSION EXPERIENCE DID TO ME
Allowing myself to be coerced into serving a mission turned out to be the most damning decision I had ever made. Looking back, I saw how serving a mission short-circuited my dreams and aspirations. I had lost two precious unrecoverable years of my youth by being a door to door salesman for Joe Smith and I was now 21 and two years behind in college.
I did not come home a "saturated sponge" dripping with spiritual knowledge and “wisdom beyond my years” for a dedicated life to the Mormon collective. Instead, I came home feeling like an old dried out chamois. I was fatally wounded spiritually and now the church was nothing more than a nuisance to me.
For those two years, I wilted in every area of my life.
I did not grow financially because I was not paid.
I did not grow socially because I was not allowed social interactions.
I did not grow academically because I just read the same four books.
I did not grow spiritually because of the emotional rape from being humiliated, ridiculed, and condemned constantly by the mission leadership, and in some cases by the local leadership, for trivial imperfections, phantom sins, or random bad luck.
The whole missionary experience left me extremely bitter, and convinced that the Mormon Church is the only church on Earth that persecutes its own missionaries.
NO MORE GHOSTS IN VIRGINIA
For those of you living in Virginia who may think that I am trashing your home, I am not. Virginia is a very pretty place and, as they say, “Virginia is for Lovers”. I did go back to Virginia 15 years after my mission as part of a cross-country vacation with my wife.
What a wonderful feeling it was to be there as an Exmo and to be able to do the things I wanted to do that I could never do as a missionary because of having no time or money or freedom. When I went back, it was in the fall when all the leaves were turning color and my pretty Asian wife was in awe. For the first time, I was able to enjoy the beauty of autumn in Virginia.
Visiting one of the areas where I was a missionary, it felt strange to be in that area again. For a few moments, I felt those familiar missionary depression and hopelessness feelings start to well up inside me of having to go tracting all day. It surprised me that those feelings could still rise up after so many years.
But when my wife put her arms around me, those depressing feelings were quickly crushed and swept away as reality came rushing back and I knew that I did not have to go and start knocking on the doors of the surrounding houses to try and sell them Joe Smith and his silly church. I could leave at any time. I could eat at any time. I was not confined to a certain area. I had no weekly reports to fill out and I did not need the permission of some pinhead Zone Leader or Mission President to leave.
As my wife and I drove away, I knew I was forever free from the toxic religion of Mormonism. It was so very satisfying being in those places as an exmo because I never felt more free of the Mormon Church, than being in a place where it had chained me so tightly.
A SAD NOTE TO MY STORY AFTER 2013
My wife, mentioned in my story, passed away in 2013 at the age of only 58 from a fatal heart attack. There were no warning signs, or symptoms. Just collapsed to the floor. In life, there are sometimes freight trains that come out of nowhere and smack us down. Each night, I try to tell myself I’m strong because I have gone one more day without her.