Arriving back in the United States took the wind out of everything. I was certainly convinced that this was all over, the dream was dead and now I’d live through my self made hell while I waited for the real one. (On the plus side, the Adventist belief that hell was instantaneous rather than eternal was of some comfort). God and I had broken up and this was a storm our relationship had simply not weathered. All that I had taken from all of these adventures was a dog. I had brought back Puppy, paid a huge percentage of my savings in order to have the company of the first Marshallese dog ever to leave the country. A vet had come a few days before we were due to arrive, I’d been able to come up with a kennel and had her come back with me. I know she was the first dog ever to leave because government procedures had to be created for it to happen. This dog went from never having seen anything except oceans and lived through eighty five degree weather to now being in freezing temperatures. She also arrived pregnant and withing a day or two of arriving we got an abortion and had her fixed. For the first several weeks though she was unleashed that dog never left my side, perhaps because I was all that was familiar.
Anyway, I was picked up by some relatives. It was two cousins who are irreligious at best if not downright amoral at times. Ironically or appropriately enough, they were the ones who decided to take us out on our first night back. I had never watched porn or gone to a strip club or anything risqué despite the fact of what I had been involved in. That playboy was still the only thing that was mildly risqué I’d ever done and these two cousins of mine felt the need to take Shannon and I to Hooters on our first night back. They had an image of me as a pastor type and didn’t know about all that had happened so it gave them some adolescent glee to “pollute” us. Since the most common meal in the Marshall Islands was chicken and rice I’d long given up being a vegetarian. They also tried to get us to get drunk but I figured Hooters was enough for one night.
We had arrived into Arlington Tx and got an apartment there for no other reason than that was where the plane landed. We intended to return to California to settle where I had always said God lived but there was a pause in the plan. Shannon had applied to various schools throughout the country for her MSW, masters in social work and had not heard back from most of them. She figured she would do so the second semester of the Marshall Islands but since we’d been sent home a few days before the first ended, we didn’t know where to go. We had flown back into Texas because that’s where all our stuff was, spread out between Shannon’s parents and my own. We got a short term lease that would allow a dog and settled into a cold winter. We had no furniture and very little stuff. The Marshallese washing machines were so rusted that we got rid of nearly all the clothes we had taken because of the huge stains. My mother gave us a twin mattress which served as our bed. I bought two camping chairs which were our couches and my mom also gave us a piano bench which served as our tables. There were no decorations and all of our belongings at that point would have fit on the back of pick up easily. It was intensely liberating while trying to shake off so much of this emotional baggage to not have any actual baggage.
Shannon and I both started to look for jobs and both found some rather quickly. My job hired me but wouldn’t start until early January so I would have almost a month before beginning employment. Shannon’s took a little longer but she would start immediately; it was a job that would have her traveling throughout the country 3-7 days at a time. This meant that for those first couple of trips I was sitting at home with only my dog friend during the entire day. Once I started working, the evenings were pretty much the same. That dog saved my sanity I’m sure because it was the only distraction I had from realizing that my choices had in many ways left me utterly lonely even if not entirely alone.
I would take one last speaking engagement, a weekend of prayer at my mother’s church. I had given my first sermon in front of her and it appeared fitting that I would give my last there. I never told her about the second scandal, in fact I didn’t do so to many of even my closest friends. I lied to them about it and made it seem that the dismissal from the Marshall Islands had all been about Clark complaining about me. Some of the staff back in Majuro also thought this was true. (The truth was that Clark was always complaining to the principal and annoyed many people in doing so. In puerile fashion, I had custom shirts printed up that said “If anything I have said or done offends you, I apologize in advance. Please don’t call your mom, the principal or GMM” (the Guam Micronesia Mission). While this may well reflect how bitter I was, the fact that several of the staff sent me money to have a copy made for them showed how much Clark had annoyed others. With me gone, he would eventually win some of these people back. He wasn’t a bad guy really; he just had a sense of how he thought it should be done. My main problem with him was the way he would try to implement that, by immediately going to authorities rather than ever having a one on one conversation. Still, it was juvenile to have those shirts made.)
Anyway, with the scandal being virtually unknown in Texas, I took this speaking engagement. I prepared for it like few things and gave some of the most sincere and heartfelt sermons of my life. For a few minutes and moments that weekend, I remembered the dream and I poured all my memories of my affection for God into it and I think it moved people. I added stories from the Marshall Islands and talked about the various hitchhikers I picked up. I even told about how in doing good, we may even end up picking up Jesus Christ himself. The previous summer, with Melanie actually, I picked up a hitchhiker and having learned my lesson the first thing I asked was for his name. He replied “Jesus.” I pronounced it in Spanish as this is not an uncommon name in my culture but he pronounced in English, a phenomenon I’d never seen. Out of curiosity, I asked what his last name and it was Christ, Jesus Christ. He told me that he had a near death experience in which God had told him to change his name to Jesus Christ. I asked him if he now promoted Christianity and he responded that he did not because God had told him that all religions were equal. He was clearly a little off but relatively harmless and after some interesting conversation I dropped him off where he needed to go.Now in the sermon version, it was much shorter and mostly about how maybe just maybe we end up meeting Jesus Christ himself in our travels unaware. I said that with full belief while simultaneously believing that perhaps the belief was just as mentally ill as the hitchhiker had been.
I preached with all my heart, determined to make my mom proud one last time. She was and so were many of the church members that remembered that awkward kid who while he had learned to play the game was and still is probably an awkward adult. Some in the audience were moved, others impressed. I prayed with full conviction knowing that it well may be the last time. In my mind, it was like one last conversation and make out session with the woman you were divorcing. The divorce had been filed and you had waited the appropriate time and tomorrow was the day it became finalized. You both knew the connection had been strong but the relationship faulty. One hated to see it go but both knew that it was for the best.