Christmas break materialized before I knew it. Gabriel and I talked through one last drawing class. He had received his mission call and wouldn’t be returning to school after the break.
“Are you nervous?” I asked.
“Sort of,” he replied.
I was nervous for him. I didn’t have the experience or the understanding to even know what I was worried about, but something fluttered anxiously in the pit of my stomach. Everything felt … bent. Still, Gabriel had reached his goal and I was proud of him. I told him so. I knew his struggle had been hard. I’d seen it reflected in his countenance every day. He had sacrificed so much. Gabriel had earned the right to go more than anyone who had ever donned the trademark Mormon missionary suit. I hoped he would be okay.
Still, Gabriel had reached his goal and I was proud of him. I told him so. I knew his struggle had been hard. I’d seen it reflected in his countenance every day. He had sacrificed so much. Gabriel had earned his place more than anyone who had ever donned that trademark suit. I hoped he would be okay.
As we hugged goodbye, I whispered, “good luck,” into his ear and slipped a piece of drawing paper with my contact information into his hand, just in case he ever needed to talk.
Coming home was an electric shock to my system. I was surprised to find myself suddenly and inexplicably overwhelmed by emotion. There I was, missing my family most just when I was reunited with them. I supposed I had missed them all along but had just been too busy to notice.
Being home also made me miss Dylan. It felt wrong to be there without him. I even entertained the notion of calling him, just to say hi. Fortunately, I was coherent enough to stop myself from torturing us both, for the moment at least.
Luckily there was plenty to distract me. I relished the warm sights and smells of home mingled with Christmas decadence. I sank into it and let go of anxieties I hadn’t even been aware that I was harboring. My homecoming felt like I’d been gone for years rather than months. I reveled in the warmth of my family’s love and ate my way through piles of my Grandma’s world famous goodies. It was good to be home.
Several things had changed since I’d left. My mom had redecorated the house. New neighbors had moved in. My infant niece had doubled in size. The biggest change, however, was my step-sister, Julia.
I had seen Julia that summer when Dylan and I drove to Bozeman for a concert. Julia was just starting her sophomore year in college there and had graciously agreed to put us up for the night. She hadn’t been truly active in the church since she was a kid, having grown up in her mother’s house, rather than ours. So, at the time of our visit, she was living the life of a typical college student. She had a serious non-Mormon boyfriend, a belly button ring and beer in her fridge.
She hadn’t been truly active in the church since childhood, having grown up in her mom’s house, who wasn’t involved in church, rather than ours. So, at the time of our visit, Julia was living the life of a typical college student. She had a serious non-Mormon boyfriend, a belly button ring and beer in her fridge.
Julia and I had been close off and on as kids. Meaning that as her slightly younger, clumsier, chubbier and considerably hairier semi-sibling, I worshiped the ground she walked on. In return, she went through alternating phases of accommodating my sloppy adulation.
In contrast to myself, Julia had always moved through life with a grace and poise befitting of royalty. She was witty, brilliant and adorable from her ski-slope nose to her cherubic dimples. Even in hindsight, it is easy to see why I admired her. I, on the other hand, approached life like a pubescent Saint Bernard. I tried to be cool. I really did. But somehow I always ended up crashing face first into the dining room table and excitedly splattering drool all over the walls.
I knew that Julia had broken up with her boyfriend after I left home but there was a whole lot more waiting to be revealed. I was effervescent with excitement as I waited for her arrival. I couldn’t wait to swap college stories and share secrets.
When I opened the door, tail wagging, ready to smother her in sloppy puppy kisses, I was surprised to see that she wasn’t alone. There was some guy standing next to her. My surprise was flooded by astonishment when she introduced him as her fiancé.
She and Austin had been dating for less than two months and were planning a rapidly approaching temple wedding. Ten seconds earlier I would have thought Julia wouldn’t have entered a temple to dodge a tornado. Now she was getting married there. Voluntarily. Everything had changed.
My mind was a cauldron of questions. How had this happened? What was she doing? Why? She was 19 for statutory’s sake! Who did that? Oh, that’s right, everyone … at least everyone in my world.
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.