My new college experience is much more the way I imagined college to be. My roommates are all beginners to college, the way I feel, and they are full of energy and gusto. They instigate collaborative dinners, movie marathons, and midnight Denny’s runs. They lure boys with food. They tease me because I’m in love with Keanu Reeves. They decorate for the holidays. At random times they do the Macarena in the living room. We rent a little, old house and we’ve even barbequed out on the deck. One of my roomies has a stolen road sign, cows crossing, and it’s hanging on the wall above our kitchen table.
In front of our house, near the street, there’s an old wooden post with a mailbox sitting atop it. What it contains on a weekly basis has a lot to do with my frame of mind. Sometimes when the weekly letter is late, I go for a drive, park somewhere quiet, hike to a place with a beautiful view and try to see the future. If I could see it, I wouldn’t live in this confusion. I don’t want to hurt anybody, and I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to make anyone a fool, and I don’t want to be a fool. Two years. TWO YEARS! Who keeps in touch that long with only letters, and an exactly five minute long conversation on select holidays? Do we even know each other anymore? Is there a chance we might know each other even better?
“Amieeee,” my roommate calls out in a sing-song voice, “A letter from a certain Elder Leonhardt just got here!” I’m reaching to take it out of her hand in seconds.
The envelope is different. It’s long. Usually they’re the standard 4X6ish, but this one is longer and thick. His letters, like his notes in high school are always one page long. One page, with one or two “P.S.”s, memories, the part I look forward to most. But this envelope is much too thick to only contain one page. I immediately get nervous. The feeling drapes over my face like a bad omen, and my roommates and the boys that are visiting, once jovial and hyper, grow quiet and concerned. I take the letter without saying anything and I walk to my room. I leave the door open, sit against a wall in the corner and open the unusual envelope. The letter is five pages long, five pages filled with his handwriting. I start to shake.
First of all I want you to know how scared I am to write you this letter. Don’t get scared by that sentence because I think you have been waiting for this, and more importantly, you deserve this.
Don’t get scared? Don’t get scared?!?! Is he kidding me right now???
I read the letter. It attempts to summarize our entire relationship. What he’s sorry for and how he’s changed. How he’s determined that we’ll re-build our relationship on true ground. He’ll need to date other girls, but he wants to date me and treat me like I should be treated. He doesn’t want to kiss me, not for a long time, he wants to know who I truly am, wants to think about that, not about kissing. All of that, all of those things that are going to happen and aren’t going to happen, it’s all for when he gets home. Until then… until then… he has a job to do. He has to throw himself into the work he’s doing. He has people to teach. He has to be focused or he might not say the right things to them when they need it most. He won’t be able to write every week anymore. He’ll try to write every other week. He hopes I understand. He’s sure I will. I’ve been so supportive, and he knows I understand the reasons he’s out there. He knows I have the same beliefs that he does. He quotes my letters. He uses my words like proof against this selfish girl who is now clutching this letter with tears streaming down her face. I don’t see this letter through all of my beliefs and my selflessness. I’m a girl living in the world, dating, kissing, luring boys with food! Counting down the days. He’s holding onto the days, praying that they don’t go too fast. Praying he can do all of the work that he needs to do.
One of my wonderful, funny, sweet, crazy roommates peeks around the corner of my doorway and sees me crying. She gasps. “What is it, Amie? There is no way he broke up with you!”
“No. No…” I say, through sobs, it isn’t that. He just…” How do you summarize five pages, five stupid pages of ink on paper? No voice behind them. No reassurance. No, “Amie, you silly girl, don’t you know what I meant? That when I said I didn’t want to kiss you right away, I meant it as a compliment. I meant to tell you that I want to care about your mind and your heart because the idiotic boy that I was before cared more about your lips. I don’t want to be like that anymore.”
I have to read it the only way that I can read it. “I don’t want to kiss you right away. I’ll date other girls when I get home. I won’t be able to write every week anymore.”My roommate pulls me up by the arm and leads me to the support of the group. I frantically wipe tears off of my cheeks. The other roommates stand up at the sight of me and flock around. The boys that are there shake their heads and smirk. I still clutch the five pages in my fingers. There’s a chorus of “What is it Amie? What’s wrong? What did he say? Surely there’s an explanation!”
I sniff, get a word out here and there, the sound of concern grows and swells. Then a good friend of everyone in our apartment, a returned missionary, a boy named R who is sitting back on our sofa wondering at the chatter of the lesser understood sex yells out, “Hell’s bells!”
I’ve never heard the expression before, but it describes the setting with such perfection and hilarity that I start laughing. I’m laughing this somewhat hysterical laugh through my previous sobs. Everyone else clamps their mouths shut and the room gets quiet.
“What did you say?” I ask R.
“I said, ‘Hell’s bells’. It’s an expression, and it’s never described anything so well up until now!” he says. “What is all of the commotion about?”
I have one sentence to try and explain. One sentence to try and do what Elder Leonhardt couldn’t do in five pages. “He says he can’t write every week anymore because he needs to concentrate on his mission.”
A new chorus of reassurance starts up amongst my beloved roommates, but I’m still looking at R. He’s someone who has been out there; he’s the closest thing I have to understanding this letter.
“It’s perfectly normal,” he says, flippantly. “How long has he been out now?”
“Just over a year,” I say.
“Totally normal,” R says. “He’s trying to be the best missionary he can be. You think he can do that and be thinking about you every day? Not likely. Don’t take it personally. If you want his mission to be effective, accept it.”
My breaths are coming slower, deeper. This makes some sense to the selfless, believing girl who wrote those quotes from Ryan’s letter. She’s in here somewhere.”
“Amie, you silly girl. Don’t you know I’m trying to be a good man so I’ll deserve you one day? Don’t you know the best way I can commit to the rest of my life is to commit to this now?”
Ryan, don’t you know that I’m dating people here who can be with me right now? Who want to kiss me right now? Who want to commit to me and not ‘date other girls’, blah, blah, blah. What if I’m not the girl you’re trying to deserve? What if I’m a girl who reads your five page, heartfelt, thought out letter and can’t understand it, can’t accept it?
I remember a letter Ryan wrote to me about a man they taught once. His little brother had been killed when he was young. He was angry about it. He had so many questions and not any answers that he could live with. Ryan got to tell him that we believe that he’ll be with his little brother again one day. I don’t know if he accepted that or not, and if he didn’t that’s okay. We’re all free to believe what we want to believe, but if there are people out there searching for what Ryan is worthy to teach them, then it’s bigger than me.
Hell’s bells. I’m about to face another year of staring into an empty mailbox, of staring into a future full of question marks, of staring into a mirror and wondering if I’m really the girl Elder Leonhardt thinks I am.