Chapter 23: Sealed with a Giggle


Fortunately, the president hadn't caught any part of my strip show. He only wanted to discuss some procedural matters with me—and when that was done he had a couple of surprises to spring on me.

"President Harvey has been working hard on getting things expedited, Elder," Tuttle told me. "Your trial is going to start tomorrow."

Well, knock me over with an oxygen molecule. Talk about swift justice!

But that wasn't the half of it. "I've already talked to your parents about the situation," Tuttle went on, "and I'm wondering if it might not be a good idea to have one or both of them here during the trial."

Now, that blindsided me. One of the rules of mission life is that friends and family from home can never come to visit you in the field. Such visits are a good way to make a missionary trunky and ruin his effectiveness.

I assured the president that I thought it was a good idea.

Now, I have to admit here that I'm not terribly close to either of my parents. I've always regretted that, and I'm a good deal closer to my mother than to my father, but it's been years and years since things were really good—since years and years before my mission. But if I was going to go through something like this, there really wasn't anyone besides my parents whose presence could project some illusory veneer of comfort and hope over the whole proceedings. (Well, maybe Katrina—but it was a sure bet the Church would never fly my girlfriend to Canada to be with me!) Thus my ready agreement.

President Tuttle called my father and explained his proposal while I listened in on an extension. My father agreed to fly up to Calgary that night, but he thought it would be best if my mother remained at home. "She's distraught enough as it is," he said. "Trying to last through an entire trial would be way too much strain on her."

Well, that was decided. With the phone conversation concluded, there remained the matter of figuring out what to do with me until my father arrived—in other words, what lucky fellow was going to have me for a companion for the rest of the day?

The problem was, my work visa was suspended due to my arrest. It was illegal for me to do any proselytizing. This meant that whomever I was partnered with would be unable to proselytize either. The solution was to partner me with the apes, who spent all day long working on administrative chores in the mission office. That way my presence wouldn't force some poor elder—or pair thereof—into an unproductive period of downtime.

So it was that I spent the rest of that afternoon toiling away at clerical tasks. At around five-thirty, I returned with the apes to their apartment for dinner. (And on a first date, too!)

After dinner, however, the three of us went out proselytizing. Okay, so technically I was breaking the law, but the apes are expected to proselytize during the evening hours, and they had a teaching appointment that night that they couldn't in good conscience break. (Here we go with that "higher law" thing again—but I suppose this infraction was pretty minor compared to the one I'd perpetrated the day before.)

The three of us drove over to the home of a couple that I judged to be in their late fifties or early sixties. I don't recall their names—are you surprised?—so I'll refer to them here as Brother and Sister Y. Sister Y was a member of the Church. Brother Y was not, but he was going through the discussions for what was apparently the fifth or sixth time in the past ten or so years.

Brother Y was what missionaries call an "eternal investigator." Often, eternal investigators are more interested in socializing than they are in learning—and that night was no exception. All Brother Y wanted to talk about was "that poor missionary on the news who got himself in trouble." Meaning me, of course.

But the apes and I didn't let on to my secret criminal identity. I had been told by President Tuttle to keep a low profile. If I were out and about drawing a lot of attention to myself, his reasoning went, it would take the focus of our work away from the Restored Gospel and place it in on me—something that would be quite counterproductive from a proselytizing standpoint.

So while Brother Y snapped his fingers and looked at the ceiling and said, "What was that young fellow's name? I heard it on the news. I know I did"—why, Elder Fearing and Elder Hardy and I did nothing to help jog his memory.

It wasn't quite the same as lying . . .

But Brother Y peered suddenly at my name tag and said, "Elder Shunn! That was it, wasn't it? I'm sure it was!"

"No, that wasn't it," said Elder Fearing.

"Are you sure?" Brother Y asked.

"Of course," said Elder Fearing.

It was pretty hard to keep a straight face, but I did. Couldn't blow my cover.

With that bit of dishonesty out of the way, the discussion went fairly smoothly. The apes drove me over to the mission home when we were finished. Sister Tuttle was there alone. She told us that President Tuttle had gone to the airport to pick up my father. The apes stayed at the house and to wait with me. I played the glossy black baby grand in the living room to pass the time.

I was a little on edge waiting for my father. I suppose it was back when I began the glidepath into my teenage years that he and I had started growing apart, and neither one of us had really understood the other in the time intervening. (Still don't.) I mean, I guess loved my father—or rather, I loved the occasionally visible father of my early childhood—but I didn't care to be around him very much. He was always overly critical of me—didn't openly approve of anything I did, no matter how well I did it—and in return I was overly critical of him. Two entirely different wavelengths, broadcasting signals that interfered without ever harmonizing.

When he arrived at the mission home, however, it was actually good to see him—though we didn't make much conversation. The Tuttles put us in the guest rooms in the basement. Before we retired to bed, my father dug a sealed envelope from out of his luggage. I recognized the handwriting on the front, and my heart rate started in on an upward spiral.

"Katrina brought this over before I left for the airport," he said, in that abrupt manner of his that meant he was uncomfortable with the subject he had been forced to bring up.

"Thanks," I said, trying not to prolong his discomfort.

"I don't think she's taking all this very seriously," he said without looking at me.

I shrugged, we said goodnight, and I went to my room.

My parents, you see, did not approve of Katrina. My father actively disliked her. Part of it had to do with a "feeling" of his that a marriage between her and me would never last. Part of it, I'm sure, had to do with jealousy.

Allow me to explain.

The previous September, my family had come to see me off at the Salt Lake International Airport when my fellow greenies and I were leaving the M.T.C. to fly to Canada. Katrina also came. Now, an obscure rule in the White Bible states that families coming to the airport to visit their departing loved ones can only do so up until thirty minutes before takeoff. (Why this rule exists, I have no idea. Maybe because lingering goodbyes have caused some elders to miss their flights?) Anyway, I told my family they had to leave at thirty minutes to flight time—which of course they did, since they wanted to help me keep the rules—and when they were gone, Katrina sneaked back to spend the remaining time before the flight alone with me.

I don't feel terribly bad about having done that. What I feel bad about is having told my parents about it later.

But I digress.

I took Katrina's letter to my room and got ready for bed. (I always savored the idea of her letters for a while before reading them.) When I was nice and comfortable, I slit the envelope and found, predictably, a Boynton greeting card within. In the note penned inside, Katrina told me how funny she thought the whole situation was, and how she didn't understand why my father was so stressed out about it. After all, she said, God doesn't let bad things happen to missionaries. She told me that she knew I'd be safe, and she repeated a couple of times that only someone like me could have gotten himself into such a crazy situation. She said she loved me and signed her name.

In point of fact, Katrina was wrong. Not about loving me, but about bad things happening to missionaries. In real life, bad things happen to missionaries all the time. I heard of a Mormon missionary in Spain who was accidentally shot and killed by a security guard. I heard of a missionary in England was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a deranged woman. (I guess this was a bad thing.) A missionary I knew in British Columbia, through no fault of his own, lost control of his car on an icy road at only twenty miles per hour and struck and killed an old woman. A companion of mine, much later in my mission, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and sent home. My sister Seletha was shot at and kidnapped on separate occasions on her mission in the Dominican Republic. Two missionaries in the Midwest were killed in a car accident a couple of years ago. More than one Mormon missionary has been murdered by (genuine) terrorists in South America. Sometimes missionaries stay safe. Sometimes they don't.

But hey, I don't blame her for thinking that way. She was trying very hard to be a good Mormon girl and think positive Mormon thoughts. And later she would come to the realization (far sooner than I did, in fact) that those positive Mormon thoughts were nothing but a cloud of aromatic smoke.

But again I digress.

For that night, I was glad to know that Katrina was so confident of my safety. I went to sleep with a head full of romantic imaginings, clutching the little plush Opus doll that Katrina had given me as a parting gift that bygone September day at the airport—scented with the Anaïs Anaïs she used to wear.

If I imagined hard enough, the fragrance made it almost seem as if she were there.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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