The rest of the Fall semester is kind of a blur. Greg was going through the interview process so he could go on a mission, but his was a little rockier trip.
“I had to confess something to the bishop,” he said. “I chewed on a boob. I won’t do it again.”
Somehow, he didn’t sound all that repentant to me, but he said his bishop wanted him to wait a little before going. For the first time in our lives, we wouldn’t be doing something major together.
I had wanted to leave without any attachments, so I had pretty much given up on dating. But I had started jogging with a girl named Marie whom I’d known the year before. We would jog for an hour or so and then sit on her kitchen floor sipping water and talking, sometimes until late. I thought we were just kind of hanging out together until one day she introduced me as her boyfriend. And just that quick I was her boyfriend. But we weren’t really talking about the future, just enjoying each other’s company. She worked in the cafeteria at the MTC, and she said she couldn’t quite picture me as a missionary, but she was sure I would be a good one.
At the end of the semester, I drove home with some friends. I wasn’t focused at all on Christmas, as I had a lot of shopping to do for my mission. My mom and I went to the garment district in downtown Los Angeles to get a suit, some slacks, several ties, and a lot of white shirts.
Christmas was pretty quiet, as most of my family gave me things I would need for my mission: a wind-up alarm clock, warm gloves, and a missionary journal to write in.
Before I was to leave, I needed to give a farewell address at church. In those days this was a pretty big deal when your family got to plan the meeting for the Sunday before you left. My parents decided that my mom would talk about missionary work in general and my dad would talk about me. My father is not one who gets emotional, so mom figured he would be better at the farewell.
My mom managed to get through her talk and cry only a couple of times. What surprised me was how emotional my father was when he spoke. I’d never seen him like that, and it made it difficult for me to give my talk, which incidentally was about how important it was to teach people about Joseph Smith and how he restored the true church to the earth.
After the meeting, my dad said he would be a few minutes late, as he had to talk to the bishop about going to the temple. He wanted to the temple with me just once before I left for the MTC. My father hadn’t been to the temple since the day he had been married 25 years before. It had apparently been a traumatic experience for him, and he had not wanted to go again, until now.
That afternoon we had a little reception at the house, and several people pressed checks into my hand, so I suddenly had money for an extra suit. When it was over, I drove to the stake president’s house to be “set apart” as a missionary. From this moment, I would be a dedicated missionary and would have to live by missionary rules.
The stake president laid his hands on my head and made me an official representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He pronounced blessings on my head, that I would be protected and that my faithful service would bless my family at home. I took great comfort in that, as my family was half in the church and half out. The way he said it, it sounded like I could help my family come back into the church if I was faithful in serving as a missionary. I vowed that I would be.
We came home to a college football game on TV, and I retired to my bedroom to read, knowing that I wasn’t supposed to watch television anymore.
The next day Greg and I went together with our parents to the Los Angeles temple for Greg’s first endowment. I still felt uneasy about the whole thing, but I rested on the emotions I had felt that day in Salt Lake. Greg was more than a little freaked out by the whole thing, as was my father.
“I wish they would take some of that stuff out,” my dad said as we came out of the dressing room.
“It’s just symbolism,” I said. “It’s not a big deal.”
After a lunch of sushi in West LA, we got in the car and headed to Utah, arriving late at night. I slept on a couch in my sister’s apartment. I had given her all my vinyl records, and for some reason, I lay awake in the middle of the night listening to The Police’s “Synchronicity,” but feeling a little guilty about it.
The next morning we got up and did some last-minute shopping. My mother asked my aunt, who lived in Provo, where a good store was to buy a suit. She told her to take me to Mr. Mac, the low-quality store that catered to the unwitting missionary and his family. I pleaded with them not to take me there, but Mom insisted. I ended up with a hideous navy-blue “Swedish knit” suit and a crappy overcoat with a label that read “Made in Czechoslovakia.” I could see the salespeople looking at us like we were sitting ducks.
I went to bed that night wondering what the next day would bring, the day my mission officially began and I entered the Missionary Training Center, where I would live for the next two months.