To return to Angwin was not a good thing in the big scheme of things. While it was arguably the place of many of my best accomplishment and some of my happiest times, all the recollections while I was there that summer reminded me that I had failed at what I was born to do. I was not sleeping well at all that summer all of a sudden, reliving the nightmare, remembering the Natalie episodes. I started to gain weight again and became aware then just how much of an emotional eater I can be.
I tried to use it as a quiet summer of life by focusing on how I had gotten here and whether or not I really was supposed to be a pastor. I started to remember things from my childhood, the boy pastor. I remembered the first time I had tried to speak in public and how at six years of age, when I fell apart, I ran and literally cried into my mother’s skirt. I remembered how one day in fourth grade the librarian had gone around the room and asked us all what we wanted to become; everyone announced this or that and when it came around to me, I mumbled that it was personal and I didn’t want to share. Why had I been embarrassed about wanting to be a pastor when I was only nine years old? I remembered the ironies of life: the time that for some reason in a skit in high school, Leandro had been cast as the Pharisee and I had been cast as Jesus. He was the most Christlike person I was becoming aware of how faulted I was. I became aware of the fact that, while everyone had always lectured me on the importance of having the right wife if I really wanted to be a pastor, by and large the girls I dated did not have their religion be very important to them. I remembered what I had dismissed as Freudian psychobabble that the main reason I wanted to be pastor was to make my mother proud since she was religious.
At times, I allowed myself to imagine life being perfect before Natalie at times and at other times I remembered it honestly. I remembered Shannon and I having a great time on our honeymoon but also remembered that we’d had too much fun on our honeymoon. Nothing inappropriate really nor anything worth mentioning but just silly things that made me uncomfortable with the memory of doing it as a pastor. The moments where I felt the worse was when I started remembering the people who I had disappointed, those who I’d worked so hard to help. The people who loved having me at their house to feed me and have me with them, the dean of USC who took me out suit shopping because I had tutored his son, the lady who had decided not to sue because she thought that my advice of grace was the voice of God through me. I would sit at night and just let these ideas flow through my head. Not infrequently I would do it at the rock where I once felt so clearly connected to my calling.
I let the thoughts get even more recent. I would remember the missionaries I had just spent the last year with. I recalled Autumn who had stopped taking her anti-seizure medication because since she’d been taking it she had stopped having seizures. The principal who had allowed me to come out to Majuro even after my continued screw ups, Mr. Dunbar, was a great administrator but not much of a person. He came across as rather lonely and doing so much out of obligation. He had married a woman who was so warm and giving, but who at times came across as using that kindness as the crutch with which she held herself up. They had some type of family emergency come up and would not be returning to Majuro. I felt rather abandoned by that and after I found that out, I criticized them along with everyone else, ignoring the grace they had so humanely let me have. There’s an old saying that if you take in a starving dog and feed him and house him, he will never bite you. That, they say, is the primary difference between a dog and a man.
Speaking of a dog, Shannon had continued to keep bringing a dog into the house in the Marshall Islands. There was a stray on campus that had given birth to a litter. The Marshallese had all taken the males and Shannon kept bringing in one of the female dogs to the house “to get her used to it.” I would immediately remove it but eventually she won me over. However, I had so often yelled “get the puppy out of the house” that we named the dog Puppy.
Invariably, however, the thoughts that would come back were the ones where people had been so grossly mean to me. My bitterness went back to its previous level and I ground my heels in and decided that the best kind of grace was just simply where humans extended it to one another and kept God out of it. I worked at New Horizons that summer and while I now had an option, I again took the shift that would make sure I was working on the Sabbath so that I would not have to go to church. I was polite to people I saw from the past but was dismissive and avoidant. This applied as well when I looked in the mirror.
In the middle of all this, I stayed in contact with several people who I had met on the island. One of them was Melanie, a young girl, with all kinds of insecurities and apparently a rather large crush on me. While it may sound awfully convenient to say this years later, the truth is I was so self absorbed in the Marshall Islands that I hadn’t noticed. She had become one of my favorites because she became one of the missionaries who, with a little nudging, would work harder at getting to know the culture. She was trying to get a new start from her old school and, despite all that had happened, I endorsed PUC as an option. I encouraged her to visit and facilitated the visit with the Enrollment office where I had previously worked.
In the few weeks between when it was decided she would come and until she actually arrived, we spent a fair share of time chatting on the internet. She was always one of the gossipy ones and kept prying and trying to find out what had been the big controversial thing she had heard rumors about it. This came across as something mostly out of curiosity and not any type of malice. At this point, I had spent so much time trying to avoid it that I continued but she didn’t relent. Eventually I told her and she was very amazed. The next thing she typed was surprising it wasn’t condemning or judgmental but a simple statement that she had been curious about that herself. I was taken aback and the chat turned flirtational. It was a bizarre development after what felt like a confession. However, the confession was poor because it suggested that we had engaged in this sexual experiment and then moved on, not letting her know all of the drama that occurred afterwards since to this day that’s what I’m far more embarrassed and guilty about.
We kept chatting over the internet and in the flirtation and the talk of curiosity; she asked if Shannon and I were interested in ever doing that again. It wasn’t something I’d spent time thinking about or that Shannon and I had spent time talking about, but it would be lying to say that the idea didn’t have some appeal to me. You can diagnose it however you want and I don’t have a great answer about why I hadn’t learned my lesson at that point and didn’t say “No, this was way more hassle than it was worth.” Yet my thought on it was that it wasn’t so much the act of sex itself that had been the problem but the fact that there were so many emotions involved. I had none towards Melanie other than friendship and at the time didn’t think she had any others towards me. I talked to Shannon about it and I am uncertain as to why she went along with it again. Over several conversations over a couple of weeks, all of us went back and forth on whether or not we wanted to engage in what we all said was going to be a completely casual experiment during her few day visit. Should I have known better? Of course but it would be beyond dishonest to tell you that there isn’t something both physiologically and psychologically rewarding about having sex with two women at the same time. People don’t drink or use cocaine or eat greasy food for no reason. Things that are bad for us don’t typically present themselves that way.
Eventually, I actually said it might be fun but if Melanie was unsure that she should not proceed but when she arrived, she said she thought about it and essentially took an attitude of you only live once and why not since she thought it would be interesting to try. So when she arrived for her five or six day visit, that’s what we did most nights including the first and last one there.
During the day, I took her to some of my favorite restaurants and museums and showed her campus. The week left such an impression on her that she was sold and when the fall came around, she was enrolled at PUC. A week or two after she left, we got on a plane ticket and were headed back to the Marshall Islands to mostly new staff with the realization that once the second year was done, we were also done with our connection to the church. Hope was no longer part of my motivation out there. I was only going back to finish paying penance.