The night hung dark and heavy around us. Gavin and I sat outside my Hale immersed in our usual social and political banter. The air was thick with humidity and our cheeks glowed iridescent in the dusky light of a distant street lamp. The deserted courtyard felt warm and comforting beneath the protective shelter of the gently waving palms. In this protected cocoon, our conversation took on a new tone – exploratory at first, then hesitantly unfolding like an octopus emerging from hiding, carefully extending its tentacles into previously unexplored territory.
This territory bordered on the heretical. I hadn’t spoken openly of my religious doubt at BYUH. There had been times, certainly, when I had broached the subject with Kesa or Cole, but the conversation had been immediately squelched. The church was true. Anything that said otherwise was wrong, broken or evil. End of story. With Gavin, however, nothing was too sacred for examination.
So examine we did and for the first time in my young life I felt less alone, less crazy, less broken. Gavin was religiously committed to the Mormon church, but it was a commitment tempered by an overall acknowledgment of the faith’s successes and failings. He was a safe space, perhaps the first I had ever encountered.
It’s hard to express how rare it was to find a partner for these kinds of conversations. When I had attempted them with LDS friends and family back home, I was told that I misunderstood or that I was just looking at the issue wrong. Or I was exhorted to read my scriptures, pray and live the doctrine until it made sense. Sometimes I was cautioned that thoughts like mine were planted by the devil. When I discussed these things with non-LDS friends, the reaction was embarrassingly placating. Of course the things I was questioning weren’t true, they’d say. End of conversation. The awkward embarrassment reflecting in their eyes that I even had to ask was answer enough. There was no safe sounding board. Until now.
As the conversation picked up speed, I vomited out everything I’d been holding in for the past decade. Gavin responded in kind, agreeing, parrying, expanding. The hours melted away while we exhausted an inexhaustible topic. Eventually, the conversation shifted to our current situation.
We had both come up against a strange new reality at BYUH. One that was filled with joy and wonder and excitement yet contained a subtle lining of something unexpected.
I had always thought that college would be a time for unfettered personal growth. As an ambitious high schooler eager to fly the nest, I had pictured college as a renaissance of free thinking, exploration and new ideas. I thought it would be a haven for those seeking knowledge and enlightenment, for experimenting with various belief systems, for forming and testing identities against the realities of a brave new world. In retrospect, these ideas may have been a bit lofty. Still, as glorious as my new life was, my vision of this time was going unfulfilled in previously unanticipated ways. Gavin felt the same, though we were both afraid to admit it at first.
It should have come as no surprise that free thought was not embraced at BYU-Hawaii. It was, after all, a religious institution. Yet this reality caught me completely off guard. I had launched into my first semester of classes openly vocalizing my ideas on everything from political to cultural issues. I didn’t think these things would be controversial. The backlash I received from my peers, however, left me stunned and stymied. When I ventured that gay marriage should be allowed if for no other reason than social stability, the idea was scorned. When I suggested that the right to abortion should be an individual decision rather than an overall ruling, the vitriol was intense and immediate. It wasn’t that I was wrong. It was that I was evil.
What I soon came to understand was that here, the focus lay not on “free” thought, but on “right” thought. What was right wasn’t determined by study and personal exploration alone. It was determined by study and personal exploration which aligned with doctrine. Thinking outside the lines was unnecessary at best and maybe even dangerous. As a naturally analytical, probing and questioning individual, this reality felt like an ongoing personal attack.
Then there were the rules. I should have understood the extent of these regulations from the beginning, but reading through something in a pamphlet and living within its grasp were shaping up to be two very different things. In a nutshell the rules for students, both on and off campus, were: No drinking, drugs, gambling, sexual activity of any kind, pornography, swearing, entering the living space of a member of the opposite sex, body piercing (oops) and no immodest clothing including tank tops, belly shirts, shorts that don’t reach the knee and bikinis (oops again). Students were required to attend church and religious firesides regularly and take at least one LDS religious course per semester. Many of these regulations were not an issue for me but several felt strangely stifling. Reconciling my expectations with my reality and attempting to determine what that meant for myself and my future had absorbed a considerable amount of mental space in the weeks leading up to Gavin and I’s conversation.
We soon became aware of an additional campus rule, when two security guards materialized out of the darkness before us. The first was an enormous and exceedingly grumpy looking Tongan whose uniform was clinging to his body, anxiously attempting to contain his girth. The other was a diminutive, ivory-skinned kid with tangerine hair. The latter looked like he would have preferred to avoid confrontation at any cost. Clearly, they’d been paired up for a reason.
“What you doing?” The first guard demanded in a gruff accent.
Gavin shrugged, “Talking.”
The guard who was clearly having a bad night (or life) continued boorishly, “What you talking about this late at night?”
Neither of us had an answer for that. It didn’t matter, however, as Campus Cop didn’t pause long enough for a response.
“It’s past midnight. What are you planning to do out here?”
What was this guy’s angle? It took all the self-control that I possessed not to respond, Well, all the crack we just did is starting to kick in so we’re going to vandalize this courtyard then have some sexual activity right here on this stone bench in front of you, Richie Cunningham and God himself … want in?
Deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle, I stood and apologized for my catastrophic sin of being 10 feet outside of the dorms past curfew. “Sorry,” I said. “We thought that as long as I was back to the Hale before midnight it would be ok, even though I wasn’t technically inside the door.”
“You can’t be hang around outside your dorm after midnight,” Pseudo-cop grunted, glowering at me.
I could have turned and walked back inside the Hale. I could have just ended it there. But I was all hopped up from my heretical conversation and I just couldn’t bring myself to be cowed into submission that easily. So, I stepped off the curb and trilled blithely, “Fine. We’ll just finish our conversation off campus.”
Gavin followed my lead (a rare occurrence). He seemed entertained. The Tongan guard stopped us again.
“Hey! You can’t leave together. He has to go home and you have to go inside.” He pointed sternly back toward the Hale. “But first you have to give me your names and ID numbers so I can write your citations.”
This guy looked like he had an overripe coconut for a brain and I was getting fed up fast.
“I’m not going to give you my name,” I scoffed, incredulously.
My unexpected lip made his thick face swell up like a zit, ready to pop. His small eyes bulged with the expanding heat of frustration.
I was undeterred. The heat of my churning blood caused an angry rushing in my ears. “Not only have I not done anything wrong,” I spat,” but you are being intimidating … and an ASS.” My terminology did not help to quell his rage.
The guard picked up his radio and wielded it menacingly. “If you’re going to be difficult, I’ll just call my supervisor and we’ll get your information that way.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, unless your supervisor is telepathic, I’m not sure what good that’s going to do you.”
Gavin chuckled behind me, “Andrea, are you trying to piss this guy off?”
The Guard huffed, “My supervisor may not know who you are but I’m guessing your dorm parents do.”
Fergle nuggets. This guy was clearly an oversized, sexually frustrated Oompa Loompa. But the last thing I wanted was for him to haul my sweet, elderly “dorm parents” out of bed in the middle of the night. I bet they wore matching jammies. I may have been an instigator but I wasn’t a complete puppy killer.
I thought momentarily about running for it but I was pretty sure the guard could catch me and I didn’t want to risk physical harm when he inevitably did. But I wasn’t overly eager to have a citation on my record either. I was still far too much of a nerd for that kind of out-of-control rebellion. I especially didn’t want to acquire a red mark over something so trivial. If I was going to get stuck with a write-up it should really be over something cool like chaining myself to the Dean’s desk in protest. Naked.
The wannabe bouncer had jotted down our descriptions and was now paging his supervisor on the radio. I couldn’t quite make out the words, but I could guess. We have two perpetrators in custody … It’s a code black … Yeah, sitting on a bench after sunset … Better call in the local PD and alert the Chief.
The situation was getting out of control fast. I was starting to realize that if we didn’t turn this train around we’d both end up in trouble. There’s nothing glamorous about being nailed by campus security.
I flashed Gavin a pleading look. He was a notorious smooth talker. Luckily, he took the cue and stepped in employing his best lawyerly, smooth-talking skills.
“Oh, did you say you wanted our names and ID numbers?” Gavin asked, chuckling like it was all a big misunderstanding. “We thought you asked us for our social security numbers! Of course we can’t give those out. That’s so funny! We just didn’t understand what you were asking!” Guffaw guffaw, ha ha ha.
The guard lowered his radio slowly, mesmerized by the speed and eloquence of Gavin’s speech.
“Of course, we’d love to give you our ID numbers,” Gavin continued. “Love to! Thank you so much for your stalwart service to our community by the way.”
The guard looked at him suspiciously. “Stalwart?”
“Um, yes, stalwart,” Gavin paused. “That is to say, valiant. I mean steadfast … resolute … unwavering … er … good. I mean good. You – good.”
Feigning stupidity, we proceeded to pass off a couple of fake names and ID numbers. The guard turned his back for a moment to read our bag of lies into his radio and we grabbed our chance. We bolted for Gavin’s car and peeled out of the lot. His wispy partner could barely muster the energy to call out after us before we were gone. They had our descriptions but we figured there were more than enough brown haired, light skinned kids on campus to cover our trail.
After speeding past another oversized Polynesian guard dozing lazily at the entrance, we spun out onto Kamehameha Highway and breathed a sigh of relief. Out on the open road, the moonlit palm trees flew by as we savored the sweet taste of freedom. The ocean sparkled in the moonlight just beyond the asphalt’s edge. Then we realized we didn’t have anywhere to go.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.