Thirty

I awoke the next morning in a pool of dread. My pulse quickened even before I had fully gained consciousness, racing from the fear, the pain, the sorrow. But there was nowhere to run. At first, I couldn’t even recall what was wrong. Perhaps I had suffered from some especially violent and fleeting nightmare? I knew only that the dusky dark of my roomed seemed aggressive and menacing and that my chest felt bound in a vice grip of pain.

The heavy, sinking feeling of overwhelming dread closed in on me slowly, weighing me down, the nauseating fear increasing and compounding until reality came slamming into focus.

The moon hung high in the sky outside my barred window. The phone was ringing. I answered it groggily, miserably.

“Hey, I’m out back. Can you come down?”

I rolled out of bed and sloughed down the stairs. Gavin’s outline stood tall and erect, framed in moonlight on the pitch black sidewalk outside. Spent from my meager effort, I sat down on the curb and he followed suit. I felt numb.

Gavin reached out his hand and laid it hesitantly on my back. “I just wanted to stop by and make sure that you were all right.”

I nodded in response, twisting the edges of my lips skyward in a mechanical approximation of a smile. I didn’t trust myself to speak without bursting into tears all over again.

“Listen,” he continued, “I think you should call and tell your parents what’s going on. You could ask them to pray for you. If you want I can give you a blessing and I’ll pray for you too. It will be ok … no matter what happens ….”

I wanted to believe him. How had I so horribly misjudged this whole, bloody thing? How did I get here? How had I not seen this semi-truck of annihilation coming??!

Was the Bishop right? Was I so corrupted that I deserved to go on trial for my sins? I hadn’t thought that I’d done anything that bad. Not great, certainly, but trial-worthy? Apparently, I hadn’t realized how low I’d slipped. I was unclean and unworthy. I didn’t deserve to be here.

Depression pressed in on me from all sides, taunting me with its degrading words, taking up permanent residence in my mind. My admittedly tenuous perspective had shifted and fractured violently since I first walked into the Bishop’s office. Only a few hours had passed, but I was drowning in a sea of vertigo.

The next day I called my mom and told her what had happened. She took it well, or at least she seemed to. She offered kindness and encouragement in exchange for my terrible news. She assured me that everything would be all right, no matter the outcome.

I accepted Gavin’s offer to give me a priesthood blessing. He and a friend laid their hands on my head and used their God-given priesthood power to bless me. It felt awkward- the three of us, so young, enacting this strange and adult ritual in an empty campus classroom. I felt naked and exposed, accepting this form of help from Gavin and his friend, all my vulnerabilities so obviously on display. I felt weak. I also felt worthless, a feeling magnified by their obvious worthiness. The inequality felt pronounced and the emotion it invoked within me felt bent, broken, wrong, yet completely undecipherable.

Days trudged meekly by as I waited helplessly for my court date. I was emotionally floundering. Then my body went into survival mode. All of my thoughts and energies channeled into fixing what I had broken. I knew there was no way out, but I had to try. I had to do whatever it took to save my sorry self, to stay in school, to save my soul.

I emersed myself in fervent scripture reading, religious study and prayer. I attended every religious service and event. I devoured “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” a behemoth religious book the Bishop recommended I purchase. I threw myself into the faith like a woman engulfed in flame casting herself from a cliff into the sea. Motion felt better than stagnation. My journal became a place to track my repentance rather than document my thoughts. I filled pages upon pages with lists of scripture references interspersed by commentary, not faintly reminiscent of schizophrenic rambling.

I was grasping at straws, doing everything I could to undo the damage I had so willingly inflicted upon myself. I was powerless but I had to walk into that office as prepared as I could possibly be. I attacked my preparation like I was storing up for the apocalypse. I was maniacal in my studies. If self-flagellation had been recommended, I would have happily complied.

I had scheduled the court date with the Bishop’s secretary and been advised to arrive early, alone and in “Sunday Dress.” As the clock ticked down, I dove into my repentance work like a drowning person struggling for air.

I had wanted resolution, and resolution was what I was about to get. But I had no idea what I was walking into, my panicked mind protested. It’s not fair!

It may not have been fair, but it was happening. I was desperate.

I pressed ever deeper, ever more intently into my studies. My thoughts, feelings and opinions changed overnight. I instantly conformed, aligning myself with a culture I had been fighting for years. I convinced myself that this was right and essential and that I had wanted it all.

Surely, I must have wanted this … on some level.

All that really mattered was my salvation, I thought. Even if I was expelled from school, even if I lost my tuition money and my scholarship, my home and my friends, the price would be worth it. It would be worth it to have peace and finally be temple worthy. I hadn’t been particularly concerned with the latter previously, of course, but it mattered deeply to me now. It’s amazing what that kind of pressure, the threat of excommunication and expulsion can do to a person. I was a living, breathing experiment in stress psychology.

As the days progressed, I continued to scramble. I attended every church service, devotional and lesson. I hung on every word, desperate for the internal change that might save me. Depression and desperation were my constant companions, a relationship I did not resist. I knew from all my reading that, in order to be forgiven, I would have to feel true “Godly sorrow” for my sins. I sought it hungrily.

 

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.

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