The nice Mormon people sat in the church pews, surreptitiously glancing over their left shoulders as the doors into the chapel opened; breaking the air pressure in the big room, alerting the members of possibly a new investigator or an old crib Mormon coming to worship, and wondering even more so “Why’re they late to church?”
I was a little apprehensive to say the least as I peered thru the doors; the numerous heads turning my way, and the exploring, questioning, judging eyes.
Like walking into a room full of scary baby dolls….at your great grandma’s…
There were some smiles of course; or was the baring of the teeth an act of territorial bravado?
There were mostly frowns and straight, clinched, undecided lips.
A baby cried…
I also noticed that there were some indignance, impatience and irony scattered here and there among the congregant faces.
“Guilt” I think to myself “I feel guilty for getting here late”
That’s a good sign, I guess.
After all, I’d been gone for a long time; from church, I mean.
Definitely lending credibility to the phrase of “Better late than never”
Of course this all took place in the blink of an eye and a simultaneous breath, like most death-defying acts of bravery occur.
I passed thru the door into the chapel, heart thumping.
There was no lightning or burst of hellfire.
No thundering voice yelling “Depart heathen!” or a hissing, demonic “Get. OUT.”
The echoes of my sliding steps across the carpeted floor were mind numbing to me; ringing off every hard surface like insane church bells being jerked up and down by a crazed hunchback!…. I believe I could actually see people wincing as their ear drums busted!
Young mothers screamed, holding their infants up as human shields; old men grabbed their chest and fell to the floor; old women rifled the old mens pockets and the young husbands grunted, opened their eyes, looked around sleepily, dug some Cheerios and Apple Jacks out of a Ziploc bag and munched on them all the while putting the binky back in the baby’s mouth; the preacher leaps over the pulpit, swinging a blinding crucifix around his head, pumping righteous death at me from the barrels of 2 golden revolvers, spitting Gods justice in molten hot lead!!!
Well, it coulda happened…No, wait….
That’s just my imagination. We ain’t got crucifixes in our chapels….or preachers; technically speaking.
The door shut behind me as I slid clumsily into the last seat in the last pew, closest to the aisle.
Peoples heads turned succedently, obediently, back towards the front of the chapel; the room pressure returning back to an optimal church worshipping level.
My ears were buzzing and I realized I had to pee.
“Welcome, Elder Clarke, been a while” came a voice from above…
I looked around the room, scanning various faces that were looking at me again..
I’ve got food on my face, don’t I?
I wipe it off.
Is there an Elder Clarke in here? Weird…
“I’m talking to you, Brother Clarke” said the same all around me voice, followed by a slight microphone squeal.
I’m a Brother Clarke….(I’m still looking around during this time freeze)
Microphone means speakers, speakers mean microphone, microphone MEANS PERSON TALKING TO ME!
Well, technically in the LDS faith, I am an elder but, I don’t consider myself worthy of the title.
I wouldn’t even say I’m a Jack Mormon. I’m more of a…..Doug.
“Yep, Wolf amongst the sheep” I mumble to myself; man, have I gotta pee.
I throw my hand up in a “Howdy y’all” half wave; the kind of greeting you give to a crowd of people when you are late to a meeting or event and gratefully accept the sentence of death pronounced upon you by the goodly town folk.
But, in a nice, Jesus loving way….
“It’s good to have you join us today; welcome back” said the person at the microphone.
He smiled at me and winked.
So, this is how it’s gonna be, huh?
Dirty pool, Bishop.
Note: (That’s what we Mormons call our dirty, rotten, lying, good for nothing, treacherous ward leader)
No, not really. He’s an excellent human being. Ugly kids though….
He promised me yesterday that he wouldn’t call me out in front of the whole ward (that’s what we call our….wait….I don’t know why they call us “ward’s”. You look it up. I’m writing, here)
I threw him a curve ball.
Making a wide, sweeping glance around the chapel, I pronounced “I just got back from my mission, Bishop”
He still smiled but, I saw a look quickly pass over his face.
What was that….intrepidation, fear? Nooo….
The dirty bugger can’t wait to hear what I’m gonna say.
Touché mon ami….
How’d he know…… Dang!
I hate it when people talk to Jesus behind my back and figure me out….
“A mission?” I hear a voice ask; somewhere off to my right, slightly behind me.
I follow the trailing echo of the voice and locate the source.
A teenaged girl. Cute, brown hair, invisi-braces….those questioning, Doubting Thomas green eyes.
Not, the Bishops kid, I surmised.
“You’re too old to go on a mission” the highly astute young girl stated.
I said “You’re never too old to go on a mission” I smiled, sarcastically but, in a loving Jesus way….
She flipped her hair, turned her smug little, snotty face towards the front of the chapel, denouncing my presence in her sphere of supremacy and pronounced the obvious..
“I see you around all of the time, Mr Trey (that’s my name) How can you be on a mission when you never left?”
I hate smart kids; used to beat them up.
**Back and forth banter (I hate having to put ” ” after each quote; bugs me)
“Well, dear, I was on a mission of sorts”
“Did the church call you for your mission?”
“How can they “kinda” call you on a mission?” *snort laugh * Where’d you go on your “mission?” *12-year-olds faint laugh of derision*
……..silence for a few seconds.
Everyone is looking at me.
I feel tears coming.
My face feels hot all of a sudden….
I hear the Bishops voice; not on speakers….right next to me.
I look at him.
He puts his arm around my shoulders and winks at me again.
“Elder…Clarke (he grins) told me this yesterday”
I hear the low rustle of people in church pews paying closer attention. Y’all know that sound.
“Tell them where you served your mission, “Mr Trey”.
Everyone is looking at us, I can tell.
I turn to face them.
Deep breath…. Funny, I was breathing just fine a second ago.
“I went to Hell” I said
…….quiet from the cheap seats.
I think the crying baby was even listening now.
Baby’s are smart.
They talk to angels until they get older and learn how to forget Angel stuff.
Bless his heart…
I know this little boy was sitting somewhere across the aisle, invisible to me; lost among all the big people surrounding him.
“Did you baptize anybody in…you know; where you was at?”
*low snicker* *mom quietly hushing little boy* *grunt, rustle of Ziploc and Apple Jacks*
“Just me” I said
This was too good for all the tweens in my new audience; the missionary scholars…
“You can’t baptize yourself!”
*louder snickers* *quiet slap of a low five*
“You’d be surprised” I said.
My gaze wandered to the front of the chapel, a picture of Christ hung there….
It was the Jesus picture that stares at you, follows you around the room.
I stared back, got dizzy.
How does he DO that?
Once again, hushingly “I was in Hell for 20 years….
I felt the Bishops hand squeeze a little harder on my shoulder; I looked back at the curious people in my ward.
They looked back at me, noticing that my voice had changed, my eyes, my face….
I heard “Mommy, Mr Trey is sad”
“No he’s not, baby….” hushed Mommy. “He’s happy”
I smiled at her.
My voice is husky now….
“I was in Hell for 20 years, here…..and here” I first pointed to my head, then my chest.
*Small voice from cheap seats*
“Is Hell bad?” it said
I sat there for a few seconds before I leaned forward; grabbing onto the top of the pew in front of me; knuckles turning pink, red then white, from my grip….
“Yes….” I said.