The one thing that was particularly tough that year was that Shannon and I were once again apart. She was only a few hours north but I still missed her immensely. It was far less dramatic by that point as I was able to call her almost at will with a cell phone (this was still in the relatively early days of cell phone and they were more expensive). I quickly went over the minutes the first two or four months running up my bill by quite a bit.
Nonetheless, very shortly after arriving at South Bay, I decided that Shannon really was the one. She was coming to visit about once a month and usually she came on the days that I spoke she sang the special music. Almost always she got “talked into” doing the praise team. She has a great singing voice and I think that it was her way of supporting my ministry. Ultimately though, it was about how we clicked; how she seemed to be able to roll her eyes at my ego and realize that it was a smaller part of me than almost anyone realize. It was the fact that she laughed at me and cleaned up after me. In the years since we’ve been married, one person dryly observed that I couldn’t possibly be as bad of a person as I come across because someone as nice as Shannon had stayed with me so long.
She had her own way of clicking with people. She was only 18 years old then so when she came she connected better with the teenagers and the kids than she did with the adults but she smiled politely at the adults and they interpreted that to be a kind sweet girl. I had decided to propose and went back and forth on where and how to do it. Whether or not I would use an engagement ring was up in the air as Adventists have a problem with jewelry (some have even established a counter culture tradition of using an engagement watch since a watch is okay because it serves a purpose; my argument that engagements and wedding bands serve a purpose rarely convinced anyone. It was adornment and we should stay away from it). I finally decided to get one and then it was time to figure out where; I had originally wanted to propose in church but Steve Moran talked me out of that, which I was very angry with. While not proposing in church, I decided to go ahead with the engagement ring.
I was still a relatively poor kid, only making $400 a month but I kept the rule of two months salary to buy her ring (I’ve offered to upgrade it a few times since then but she’s passed on the opportunity). It was a ring that has a slight bend to it and that’s why it appealed to me because I just felt the slight bend was the way our life and relationship had been, always a little different. I was a broke kid with nothing to my name but I could give her mine.
I finally decided to do it up at a beach north of PUC with several of her friends, trying to tie to when I had asked her to be my girlfriend several years past on the beach. Jon Jenson had gone to the South Pacific and had brought me back a beautiful small shell (both sides) which I had lined with blue velvet. I spent the weekend at PUC hanging out with her and her friends the Ludwigs. Sunday they “spontaneously decided” that they wanted to go to the beach. I begrudgingly went along with it and by one of those great coincidences almost immediately upon walking to the beach Shannon found this hideous brown shell. The only reason she had noticed it was because it was the only time before or since then that she had found a shell with both sides of it attached. I told her that I would find her a better one and while her friends distracted her, I put the ring in the velvet lined shell, put it down in the sand and then went and got her. We were walking down the beach holding hands when I “noticed” this shell, got down on one knee to look at it and then looked up and proposed. Like I had in high school, I had this grand speech prepared about the road we’d been on together for over years and the memories and promise of it, living dreams together until death separated us but again I choked and all I could manage was the old fashion, “Shannon, will you marry me?”. Stunned, she sat there with no response and the silence turned uncomfortable for me. Eventually she said yes and we were engaged. I was wearing a shirt that I never wear anymore but I haven’t gotten rid of it because I proposed wearing it. The friends that were with us were mostly friends of Shannon. It was a pair of sisters, the Ludwigs, quirky yet charming girls who had a good commitment to faith. They had a very relaxed attitude about life letting events happen on their own time. My own commitment to making everything happen right now was consistently a personality conflict with them. However, they were good people and good friends to both Shannon and I.
I wish I could tell you that I did it all right, that this 20 year old and his 18 year old fiancée waited to do everything till their nuptials. But the truth is that far too early we started engaging in what may be coyly described as marital relations but because we weren’t doing it with preparation or with foresight, we were doing what society so blithely calls safe sex. Because of no use of birth control whatsoever, Shannon got pregnant and called to tell me that. How I handled it can be legitimately called shamefully. Over the next two weeks we had many conversations about it. I even called to talk to Warren Ashworth, one of, if not the theology department’s most conservative voice to talk to him about it. I made up a scenario about it being someone else. Eventually, in it all, Shannon and I decided that starting parenthood at this stage, possibly risking expulsion, and perhaps most importantly in my convoluted head facing being sanctioned out of the theology department and facing the end of my life hood dream of being a pastor was too high of a price to pay to have a kid. We decided to have an abortion; we scheduled it pretty darn fast because in my tortured mind life didn’t begin until the fetus starts pumping out its own heartbeat since the Bible said that life is in the blood.
I don’t remember whether or not Shannon told the Ludwigs or whether because of the high stress mode she was in they figured it out but eventually they found out. They tried to talk Shannon out of it and were unsuccessful. Their next attempt was to try to shame me out of it but my pride let me believe that there would be far greater shame in admitting it than in living with it. In a desperate attempt to stop what they saw as murder, they decided to talk to one of the theology teachers to have him try to talk to me. Appropriately enough, they chose Warren Ashworth. He almost instantaneously called me and also talked to me. He said he appreciated that I had sought his advice even if it had been under a rouse. He tried to talk me out of it and tried to talk Shannon out of it but eventually gave us enough room to make our own decision.To his credit, he always kept this to himself.
In the end, when Shannon went to get the procedure done, she had already gone through a miscarriage and there was no fetus there any longer. I’ve always assumed the stress of dealing with my idiotness was a contributor to this. The fact that the procedure was no longer necessary was of very little comfort to me because I’d been willing to have it done to protect my precious career. (Several years later, a friend of mine had an abortion. Because she was really struggling financially, she asked me to pay for it. I wish she had just asked me to help her pay her rent or her bills and had not told me what it was for. I struggled for days and finally did help her pay for it. I think paying for it was tough enough but it reopened up the scars from this time. For weeks if not months I had nightmares about myself killing a child).
Sophia was actually the friend who took Shannon that day to the clinic and I never re-established my friendship with her. She was incredibly angry at me for not continuing to talk to her after she had been there at such a crucial time but the truth was that I couldn’t face her because I couldn’t face myself about this. Almost as bad, I was so angry at the Ludwigs for having outed me to Warren Ashworth that I essentially banished them from the wedding when they more than likely would have been bridesmaids. I made the situation so ugly that it essentially ended the friendship between Shannon and I and that family. It wasn’t that I didn’t blame myself but I condemned myself heavily for this and when looking at them I couldn’t tune it out.
I can count on one hand the number of people I have told this story until now and I don’t know how many people or who I owe my sincerest apologies for that point in my life but I offer it now.