Missionaries are considered equals in the mission field. They wear uniform attire, have similar haircuts and bear no indicators of their economic status back home. Their focus is on the glow in their countenance, not the gold in their watch; the light in their eyes, not the brand of their suits.
And then there are the mission reunions.
Officially, they are gatherings where people can reminisce and catch up. Unofficially, for many they are about whom you bring, the car you show up in and your post-mission, in-the-world status.
I'm sure the stakes get higher the longer someone has been home. But those first two or three reunions have to be the most pressure-filled, with sales pitches to discuss and hot, heavenly women to introduce.
So imagine facing a mission reunion when you're 23, not dating anyone and only 30 credits (half of which are from CLEP-ing out of Spanish) into a yet-to-be-determined undergraduate degree. For many, this isn't much of a stretch, and it's just about where my friend Don found himself two years ago this month.
Despite his seemingly dismal accomplishments after returning home from Argentina, Don wanted to make a splash at his reunion.
So he asked me to go with him under the guise of his fiancee. Not a bad choice if I do say so myself.
I was a bit nervous when he popped the question, unsure if I could convincingly put on in front of so many people. It's not that I'm a bad liar. It's that I don't even know if I'm a bad liar I'm just that inexperienced. When I've so much as thought about keeping something from someone, I get instantly flushed and so guilt-ridden I end up blurting out statements like, "I ate the last piece," or "I borrowed your shirt while you were out of town."
But I warmed up to the idea once I had a captive audience that was ever-so pleased to meet me after Don's rehearsed announcement that we were to be married. Immediately, people I'd never met nor heard of wanted to know how, when, why, where, etc., and I got into the swing of playing the proud role of the future Mrs. Don to unsuspecting strangers.
I took cues from the other women (girls?) there, adding high-pitched voice inflection and great excitement to our half-true, run-of-the-mill meeting story.
I took the lead. "It's actually really funny" (not true).
"He lived catty-corner to me in our apartment complex at Utah State" (true). "Two of his roommates were dating two of my roommates and ..." Don cut me off, smiling as he put his arm around me and gave me a squeeze. "And then I started dating her other roommate!" (Predictable, but true.)
I jumped in. "Crazy, right! And then we just really hit it off!" (not true). "I stole his heart from my roommate and it's been totally great ever since! ... Poor JaNae, though," I said, looking down.
I vividly recall the look on one girl's face when I showed her my ring (which Don purchased for $12.95 at Fred Meyer a few blocks away from the shindig). "It's ... cute," she assured with a "poor thing" tone in her voice. I've never been engaged and even I know "cute" is not what a blushing, soon-to be-bride wants to hear about her diamond, no matter how fake or small it is.
He told his close "mission buddies" it was a hoax at the end of the night, after most of the people had left none the wiser, and we all had a good chuckle. I had hoped to get a few numbers from his former companions out of the deal, considering my charming performance, but it turns out all their fiancees and wives were legitimate.
It wasn't a total loss, though. Don (now married) and I had a good time, and I got to keep the ring. It came in handy last October when I slipped it on while running out the door to a ward Halloween party.
"What are you?" a ward member at my table asked one girl in taped-up glasses and pig tales. "I'm a nerd," she said.
"What are you," he asked the boy next to me.
"And you?" he asked me, noting my seeming lack of costume.
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