I went back to the Marshall Islands in a dark frame of mind, bitter, angry, and broken. Out of the few staff that had continued, one commented on the difference- both physically because of the weight change and psychologically because I was more dismissive of a lot of things. I worked hard at making sure the students were still never the recipient of this but I never gave a chance to the new staff to even get their feet wet before I was criticizing them too. One of them, Samuel John, even exploded at me very shortly after we met and said I was just a “big bully.” I sat down and listened to him about what he didn’t like about me, tried to excuse, justify and explain myself but finally made progress when I simply apologized. It may be telling that I’m still friends with several people from that first year but he’s really the only one I speak to on a regular basis from the second year. Everyone else didn’t get apologies from me just a lot of incessant nagging.
Part of the problem that year was that about a half dozen of the missionaries were all from the same school, Walla Walla if I remember right. They were instantly cliquish and they were all rich white kids who I took a disliking too. One of them in particular, Clark, was constantly complaining to the new principal about things he didn’t like and she would then hassle me about it. I can’t honestly remember what it was about me that constantly offended him, but he began an email campaign criticizing everything I was doing to his parents and the Guam Micronesia Mission.
In all fairness, many of his criticisms were accurate as I was again off balance. God and I were breaking up and it felt like the end of the world if not the universe. I’ve never been divorced but it was worse than when Shannon and I appeared headed there. It was definitely far worse than all my actual break ups combined and I hadn’t handled any of those gracefully. I knew I was watching our relationship die and felt that we had both failed each other. While several years removed with the luxury of hindsight, I can acknowledge- if not fully take responsibility for- having not noticed many points of grace and for having missed opportunities. However even this far away, the pain of some people being mean and God seeming so deafeningly silent is a haunting memory. It hurt that God had come across as so mute and distant and while I don’t want to minimize the fact that I had failed Him, His church and His People, in my mind they had been kind enough to return the favor.
That second year all the ruckus I was making raised my profile. With Clark and the Walla Walla crowd consistently complaining about me to the new principal, it made for a tense campus and the simple reality was that I was the obstacle to things being better there at least for the staff. Perhaps what I was pushing them to become(being more active members of the community), was a decent goal but my approach made a bull in a pottery shop look graceful. I was fine with the kids and treated them with incredibly generosity and worked hard at their education. Sometimes this is still my tendency that I think if I do the “job description” part of my work well that my relationships with coworkers should be ignored. This is naïve and not reality because people who pay attention to the politics of their jobs are incredibly successful even if they aren’t actually good at their jobs.
Nonetheless, the complaints were getting back to PUC and the supervising organization, the Guam Micronesia Mission. It didn’t make sense to some of the local influential people because I always was polite to them. This has always been my MO; if I have high expectations for you, I will keep expecting them. If I have lower or no expectations, I am incredibly kind. I don’t necessarily believe that this is a good or a bad thing inherently but the older I get the more I’ve had to learn to consider this with the type of relationship I have with people. It’s best to have expectations and communication balanced by whatever links you have with the person.
Anyway, GMM and PUC were receiving complaints about me which made me seem exactly what I was (even if I didn’t recognize it): ungrateful for the opportunity that they had provided to myself, my wife and my career. If that wasn’t bad enough, something else was coming to light. In the first few weeks after the school year started, Melanie and I had changed emails a few times and she had told me how things were starting at PUC. For the most part, she appeared to be fitting in well and enjoying the new campus. We even talked on the phone a couple of times. The references to the threesomes between her and us were rare and almost always jokingly. In my mind, it reflected that we had achieved a generally casual approach and had managed to stay friends afterwards without any major consequences. At first our emails were every other day or so. Invariably, we both got caught up in our new respective school year and the contact became more like once a week and then every other week.
Apparently something happened as the contact got less frequent. I’m still not fully aware of what happened, but this is the way some mutual friends described it to me. This is all second hand because I wasn’t there and got very little feedback from the principal players. Apparently, I had left some emails up on a computer which spoke about what happened with Melanie and that person felt the need to address it with the appropriate authorities. Melanie also had been in the middle of some week of prayer or sermon that address sexual purity and felt guilty about her activities as she heard it. She talked to a friend who was shocked and who also knew about the entire Natalie event. She was around people who felt that she had done a great harm to herself but who were also convinced that it was mostly if not entirely my fault. Eventually someone was kind enough to arrange Natalie talking to her. Melanie and she had a long conversation. Because I had taken them to some of the same restaurants and places around Napa Valley, they decided that this was my MO of seduction. While this may make for a good story line, I must confess it’s the same places I had taken my mother and many male friend visitors. Those were just the places I liked and so I shared them with people I liked. Nonetheless, Natalie sold Melanie on that Shannon and I were some type of perverts that preyed on people and thus both Natalie and Melanie should be relatively absolved. Hearing this story at the time was infuriating because it denied the fact that they were very active participants and no one had tricked them into anything. Melanie especially knew what she was signing up for before she ever showed up our door. The one mutual friend we had who knew about it, who incidentally was related to her, was shocked to hear the about face that she was taking on just to absolve her conscience. The interim time has allowed me let some of the steam blow off and realize that we all have to find a way to deal with our mistakes. My own way herein described was perhaps as pathetic in focusing on what people had done wrong in reaction to my mistakes rather than focusing on the mistakes themselves.
A very common way among all people I’ve discovered is to find someone else to blame someone else for it. This may blame our parents for our choices decades after the fact, or the classic “I make him so mad he hits me.” All of these examples are copouts and cowardly but we all have to find a way to get through the day; it may be possible that dealing with it this way is better than living with dark shadows on us for entirely too long; I don’t know. Nonetheless, let me state it here without any equivocation or excuse, I take full responsibility for the things that I did. They were wrong and I’m sorry for any and all damage that they caused Shannon, Natalie, and Melanie. Had I known what the consequences were or had I been more mature, I would not have done them but I did and all I can offer is my most sincere apology. I wish I could share it with the other two girls but it became clear they would rather have silence and that may well be for the best. I have spent several years and I hope the rest of my life showing Shannon that I mean her good and not harm.
Still, the anger I had for God, for the other staff, at myself and Shannon was overwhelming and exhausting and when they let me know that I would be leaving the island because of all of this drama, I was somewhat annoyed but at some level also relieved. The story couldn’t end quite that simply. The new principal was an older lady, very traditional and conservative. My aggressive approach about the school being a more influential force in the community and she herself being more active had made it to where we never got along well. I believe she must have been relieved to find out that I was getting sent home. The school had a tradition of throwing a going away party for all staff at the end of the year (one was also held for any staff who had to leave early as some had for logistical reasons). The principal made it clear that the school would not be allowing one for Shannon and I. Still, the students decided to throw one anyway and did so at their own organization.
At that party, I realized how much I had thrown away but perhaps how much there was to recover. Perhaps, there was a way to still help people and make progress the way I had with many of these kids without having to throw God in the middle of it all. However, it was easy to argue with God it was a lot better as it was all inclusive and more thorough down to the very soul of them. I cried at that party, not unlike I had cried the first time I threw away being a minister but that would be the last time. A day or two later when I got on that plane back to the United States with no plan and no future, I was stoic and ready to move on. At least that’s what I was telling myself.