I returned for my sophomore year at VGA heartbroken and convinced that I had managed to lose the one. Ironically, Jennifer actually did rather haunt me until I met Shannon but we’ll come back to that. Starting your second year of high school is easier. You know the lions share of people at the beginning because you’re somewhat established and because we had under 200 students.
My sophomore year was a back and forth of two things. I was giving worship talks, leading bible studies and talking to people about Jesus. As I go back through my yearbook signatures today (for the first time since high school actually) its clear that people felt the need to tell me that I touched their lives. I obviously have not changed much despite my fantasy that I have. People tell me that my sarcastic remarks making fun of life helped them get through the day. They describe how I argued with them but appreciated that I had the intellect to do it; that I would admit when I was wrong but rarely believed that I was. I spent much time trying to straighten people out in their faith. In this environment it was highly encouraged and tolerated. I had learned my mother’s skill of booking guilt trips for people.
I had been hired at the school office towards the end of the previous year and they allowed me to continue working there. I was passionate about VGA believing it to be a city on a hill well a school in the valley but nonetheless an example to all.
People mention how they know how I will grow up to be a great pastor. By this time I had been stating that goal for nine years and I was only fifteen. I did spend much time preaching for services around campus and evening services in various churches. In fact I got to give my full first sermon at the end of the year at the local church. I worked on it with more preparation than I may have ever put into anything before and few things afterwards. I don’t remember what it was about…
It might have been to my betterment to have made more male friends but I still continued along the lines of making female friends. Yaritza was a pastor’s daughter and she would mentor me and challenge me to become a deeper thinker about God. She thought we had a connection because we both began our prayers the same, a less formal more conversational style.
Some people mentored me very well that year. The Whitneys continued to shepherd me and faculty and upperclassmen throughout kept pointing out how much potential I had, these unique gifts that God had given me to serve him. The fact that I was born to be a pastor was becoming more and more evident and I could only give him the glory for it.
But then there were the girlfriends. I wish I could tell you that I had been original and had found a new way to find them but I just kept using the referral system. Jesse was dating a girl named Mary Izzo who was in my class. It didn’t last long but shortly afterwards I started dating her. In something that I was profoundly troubled by at the time, our relationship begin in this place the school had designated as the prayer garden. It was an area behind the office, enclosed by a fence that had a small pond in it and lots of flowers. The idea was that the nature and apartness would be used by students to spend some time in spirituality. I often had but then I took Mary there to show it to her.
Mary had been given a hard lot in life. She came from a mother who was less than subpar in almost every way imaginable and had been adopted by a lady from the church, Sheryl Selivanoff. Her name wasn’t just Mary, her mother had actually named her Mary Magdalene. Things didn’t go much uphill from there. She spoke very openly to me in that prayer garden about how she was confused about her identity because of the adoption, because of her upbringing, because a girl had kissed her once. It was one of, if not, the frankest conversation anyone had ever given me. She was completely vulnerable at that moment and looked up with tears in her eyes to me and I said, “maybe we can figure it out.” When she asked how, I answered “I don’t … together.” She kissed me then and then she was my girlfriend.
She was the definition of intense. She spoke her mind and seemed to enjoy or be impervious to the fact that she was making the room uncomfortable. I really cared about her but at the same time didn’t know what to do with it all. Within a couple of weeks of us starting to date, a tragedy struck. Her younger sister Sara was hit by a car and passed away. She was a village student as well. She told me over the phone and the next day she was on her way to San Marcos to go to the funeral. Adrian Pena, one of the village juniors, told me how I should also head up there. I had no way or money or permission to get there so I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Adrian asked me to get the address of the church where the funeral was. I did so and he sent a very large bouquet of flowers to the church in my name. Both Mary and Sheryl would notice them and thank me for them later. Adrian had made me promise that I would never tell anyone that he had paid for the flowers. And until now I never had but credit should be given when due.
Mary came back from the funeral deflated. Everyone had kind words for her and comments about the afterlife and Jesus etc etc etc. When she spoke with me, she fell apart and just let a lot of stuff out. I didn’t know what to say so mostly I sat and held her and let her yell and cry at me. Months later she thanked me for being the only one who let her “spill her guts all over them and didn’t mind the mess.” That statement is true but I didn’t say much because even then I didn’t think there was much to say. Telling someone with a broken leg that it will heal doesn’t get them walking that day. Even if Jesus is coming back and this is our temporary home and all of the great tenants of the faith are true, when we lose someone, they are gone in our reality and our reality is all that we know for sure and perhaps silence and presence is the best thing we’ve got going. Job’s friends were much better friends when they sat around for a week with him than when they started sermonizing. Sorry, I got distracted there by my sermonizing.
A few weeks later she would break up with me. I don’t remember why but it was relatively easy. It was shortly before one of the school banquets and she said she still wanted to go with me. She did but ended up dancing rather provocatively against several people much to the chagrin of many school officials.
A few weeks later we got back together, this would happen two or three more times that year. She was a village student and my mom allowed me to go to their house. I ended up becoming relatively close to Sheryl Selivanoff, Mary’s adopted mother. She was incredibly religious but had one of those faiths that doesn’t need to question things. Even then, the idea that God allowed things like 1/3 of children in Africa to be born with aids or the genocide or the many social injustices bothered me greatly. The fact that we majored with minors was starting to dig at me. I didn’t want to give up the minors because when Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for having tithed their spices he says, you should have focused on justice and grace and love without neglecting those other things. It was the neglect of the big things not the doing of the small things that was the problem. I pushed Sheryl with these things a lot. She tried to respond but sometimes could say nothing more than God will answer you when we get to heaven. I accepted this at some level then and for years because when we love someone we accept their quirks and the parts of them we don’t understand whether this be our parents, our significant other, or in my case God. Sheryl and I are still friends and she worries about my lost soul these days but she is confident God will hear her prayers about me.
Sheryl trusted us and would let us be in Mary’s room without any supervision. Mary was more religious and more conservative than Jennifer so she also felt guilty when we went too far (again this was nothing that would have shocked most people to find teenagers do and it didn’t include sex; that didn’t arrive until later in life). So sometimes our hormones got the best of us but with the guilt being in both of our minds, we were far better but in the end I couldn’t provide what Mary needed and we broke up a final time.
Mary after me ended up dating a good friend of mine, Jeremy Friesen. The inherent tension in this set up caused our friendship to rift a little, a rift that we now find other excuses to maintain though I would still describe us as friends. They broke up and she also would not be returning to school our junior year. So she was there for one year and then left. But she made me promise that when I graduated from high school, we would meet in the prayer garden after my graduation. She came to my graduation and I forgot about this promise but she didn’t. She waited there for a while and then came and found me. We went back there two years after we had dated and didn’t have much to say other than thank you for the memories from that sophomore year.
Mary would years later decide/discover that she was a lesbian. She moved in with a woman and was asking around for a man to donate sperm so that she could have a kid. She asked me but I passed. She does have a beautiful child now. A few years after that she decided/discovered that God had cured her of all lesbianism and that she had now not even an inkling of attraction for women. She also decided that this was a momentous enough occasion to where she needed to change her name to Grace Selah (a Hebrew praise term). I still stay in contact with her on rare occasion and I believe that she at this stage in her life believes with passion and conviction how she lives.
Still I can’t but reflect on the fact that the first two girlfriends I had both did not return to the school the next year and both had felt the need to change their names to reflect the new passion they had found in their faith and their God. My batting average continued to be solid.