I wrote a post a few months ago about my experience with free BMW brochures and how I used the glossy pages to cover nearly every inch of wall on my half and sometimes Alex's half of the room.
Today I spent a couple hours carefully taking them down. I tucked each picture into the envelopes BMW sent to me those months ago. I scraped the tack off the walls and the thin paper, eventually amassing a good fistful of old grey tack.
Then there was just one. The first picture I put up- an M Coupe- blue, gorgeous. Written next to it were the words, "You'd swear it just asked, 'What are you looking at?'"
What was I looking at? The remnants of a twelve-hour custom wallpaper project, yes, but I couldn't resist the chance to let my wall speak to me. "What are you looking at?" it said quietly.
I was looking at the last BMW on the wall, at the end of my Sistine car collage. I was looking at the bags strewn across the floor, devouring the things that proved I still belonged in that dorm in Provo. I was peeking through the blinds to see the signs that April had arrived, and that life was changing again.
Alex was unconscious in an afternoon nap. The sun trickled in through the closed blinds. The gentle April air smelled fresh.
I gutted my room. It's left with only what I'll need until Thursday. Then it isn't mine anymore.
Now I'm looking at the empty walls, yellowing and dull. I'm looking at the ceiling. All year I'd look up to the dashboard of an M6 coupe when I lay in bed. Now there's only drywall and a light bulb...the absence of the true place where I lived out so many of my freshman days.
I couldn't recognize the place without the walls covered... like a man without a face. But even the faceless have personalities...even the faceless can speak. My walls can't speak anymore. They can't spark my memory. Every cue to their existence save traces of tack here and there is gone.
I wish they had left a ghost, but the walls' silence almost convinces me there was never any life there at all, and that perhaps I dreamed it... that perhaps I dreamed a long, beautiful dream and met people and learned things and pursued ends that seemed so important but will quickly fade now that I've awakened.
But I believe they will linger. I even have a slight feeling that they will become real in time- these people, these memories, thoughts, and purposes. Did I say goodbye to figments of an unconscious mind today? Was the glare of the M coupe that asked, "What are you looking at?" a random interpretation of electrical brain activity in my sleep? Did I spend the last eight months behind the wheel of the M6 coupe above my bed? Yes.
For life's a dream the walls did speak And consciousness will fade to grey The reminiscer keen to seek The evidence of former days Will only find the memories Of dreams or facts?
In March I watch the brief, bleak winter days grow into undying summer solstices. I fill out a bracket and cheer for underdogs. I celebrate my father’s birthday. I lose an hour of sleep for the sake of sunny nights.
Nine years ago this March I joined my family as we boarded a plane bound for the United States. My family was sad to leave our beautiful home in Brazil, but when I look back on that day, I'm just happy that we were all together.
With my family here in Utah for spring break, I savor the time I spend staving off the inevitable apart-ness that looms as I plan to leave on a mission.
Last March our family was only partially together. My older sisters being victims of BYU’s vacation-less winter semester, my parents, Jake, Ellen and I set out for our spring break vacation in D.C. as a family of five.
We drove together through the thawing forests and hazy clouds of the East, on highways blasted out of the brown hillsides. Hours passed under an empty grey sky. But after a day in the car, we arrived at a place we once called home—beautiful Virginia, with no billboards to clog the humid blue air and enough trees to satisfy any Midwesterner.
But far better than the beautiful scenery and peace I find in that first state are the friends I have there. By a strange twist of fate I’ll always be grateful for, I ended up moving into the same BYU dorm hallway as a childhood friend from Virginia. We had no memories of our time together as two-year-olds, but now we are friends just the same. And he has introduced me to a handful of people I have little doubt would have been my closest friends had I not left the state in '94.
March for me has always been a time of reunion. Reunion with this wonderful country, reunion with those I love, and reunion of long-lost friends.
Now the memory of that chilly March drive to Virginia warms my heart with the joy of friends reunited…the foreboding March cold in the nation’s capital replaced with searing springtime sun. The vapid winter dies and life promises to abound for many days to come.
In March I turn on the TV and see young athletes full of dreams. I retire late and wake to a cool, bright, and alive world. The earth of the mountains begins to shift slowly to greener hues. I laugh and idle away the hours with people I love.
At this crossroads of the seasons, I look ahead with hope. In this March of 2009, I received a call to serve as a missionary in California. My mother pointed out that the call came on the fourth. “March fourth,” she said. “And that’s what you’ll do. March forth.” March is so bitter and so beautiful. But in a time where I taste such a multiplicity of emotions, I can only press on with the hope of springtime. I can only march forth, for I know now that winter pain is soon replaced with peace, grey emptiness with friendship, and that the equinox of loneliness will give way to the rising brightness of love.
I know it's possible that the mail takes a little longer and I don't get my mission call today, but here I am at 2 am on Wednesday and I'd just like to say a couple things before it comes in case I get a very special envelope tomorrow. When I look back at things I've wanted in my life, the list gets pretty crazy. Since about last year, I've wanted to be a dominant basketball player. Since 7th grade, I've wanted to be a professional skateboarder. And since kindergarten, I've known that I want to be married for eternity. I'm ok at basketball. I was truly humbled at the skatepark today (first time in six years). And the woman thing- that's on its way in about two years. But looking back at everything I've dreamed of in my life, there's something I've wanted longer than all those I just mentioned. The first thing that I ever really wanted in my life was to be a missionary. When I was three-years-old, my Dad filmed me singing "Called to Serve" with all the zeal one can have when he loves to sing it, but only knows the "Onward, ever onward" part of the song. But I yelled that with all that I had. I've grown a foot or two (different song, I know), and I'm as ready as a nineteen-year-old is to become a workhorse. Very soon, I'll know when and where the Lord wants me. I've never been more excited for something in my life. Until the call comes I'll be struggling to sleep, listening to Tom Petty yell "the waiting is the hardest part!" And I'll be smiling- like a three-year-old whose first dream is about to come true.
You know the times when you see an old photo album and discover that your Dad took crazy risks and did dangerous things when he was a 20something? Always shaken by nervousness, I never saw myself becoming a foolhardy one who delights in putting his life in peril. Now I find myself battling bouts of depression, bouts which promise to end only when I go to Park City and go off some big ski jumps and cross my skis and become a human helicopter: RAAR! choppa choppa choppa choppa choppa choppa choppa... or an albatross with quite a gastric inclination.
It was only a dream. Actually, it was a plan I had going for over 2 months when winter semester began. I would have all of my classes on two days of the week. So here I am 3 weeks into this second semester of my freshman year and I've been to classes on all of five days (no school on MLK day= 6 day weekend or 1 day out of 11 with classes.) I've got perfect attendance, too. I can ski and sleep on off days.
In my mind's blueprints for this whole schedule revolution I put as an afterthought that, "oh yeah, I'll get a little more sleep, too." I was completely wrong. I get a LOT more sleep. I get too much sleep. I. get. too. much. sleep. And when I don't, I make up for it by going Euro with my body clock, sleeping until, as my father might say, "All hours of the (afternoon)." I should note that instead of "afternoon," he usually says "morning." This is what I remember about the times I slept this week, but I could be wrong on some since I've been so un-sleep-deprived.
Sunday- Woke up at 8:30 a.m. Took nap from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Went to bed at 3:00 a.m.
Monday- woke up at noon. Took a 2 hour nap. Went to bed at 5:00 a.m..
Tuesday- woke up at 4:00 p.m. Went to bed at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Wednesday- got up at 10:30 a.m. Went to bed at 3:00 a.m.
Thursday- got up at 2:00 p.m. Went to bed at 7:00 a.m. on Friday.
Friday- got up at noon. Went to bed at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday.
Saturday- got up at 3:30 p.m. Still awake typing on blog at 3:30 a.m.
Lest I stir up my parents to anger, I would that they might look and see that upon calculation, it must needs be that I did obtain an average of 8 hours of sleep per day, which is the very same number of hours which are given daily unto the missionaries to sleep therein. Amen.
This past week I said goodbye to my good friend, Alex Theobald. He checked into the MTC at 1:00 p.m., so he stopped by Stover Hall Wednesday morning to chill with the brethren one last time. He's not the first friend I've lost to a mission. I watched Michael Hoopes make the long walk down 1200 hallway on December 17th. I played video games with Trevor Wolthius late into the last nights of finals week. And Nathaniel Wall, Thane Boyce, Brad Beeston -- they all slipped out before I said adieu.
I don't mean to sound as though I lament missions. Rather, If one is able and the Lord wills it, I think there is nothing better for one to do at the age of 19- serve others. And really serve- the way good missionaries do.
The only bitterness I carry is mostly fleeting. Sure, these few months were part of "the best years of my life." But they were the classic BYU pre-mission-freshman months- when girls felt it appropriate to approach me like a volatile explosive and when I spent most of my days staying up so late that everyone over at the MTC was already awake eating Marshmallow Mateys.
But these were also days when I came into the acquaintance of the greatest men I've ever met- the men of the Stover Hall 1200 wing. Many have left for or plan on leaving for missions. This often turns women away, despite the severest attraction (which is the case for us 1200 men.)
Don't get me wrong- we men of the Stover 1200 wing have many women friends, and are in good social health. But we've become a group of brothers (mostly) unfettered by (flaky) women. There have been late nights of watching "Flea Market Montgomery" and other ridiculous youtube films, late nights of studying en masse (which of course was less productive but more bearable than solitary reading), late night (I hope you've realized by now that we are a late-night bunch) vending machine trips, and random afternoons at the Cannon Center cafeteria.
We knew that if we joined together we could overcome the inattention of women. Most Latter-day Saints are aware that having a girlfriend when one leaves for a mission can be a distraction and, when the infamous "Dear John" letter arrives, a heartbreaker. Don't be misguided, though. We didn't completely avoid women or anything like that for fear of this. All of us met some great girls that were willing to associate with pre-missionaries and we have formed some great relationships. But I've come to see that our hall has taught us how to come together as men in the Church, to shoulder responsibilities, embrace every individual, and work together- in the face of ridiculous assignments from Mrs. Paulsen or sleep-disturbing laughter (which, to be accurate, we all love, Charlie).
I wouldn't have taken freshman year any other way. To make an odd analogy- it's kind of like a bucket of chicken. I thought I wanted a drumstick, but I got a rib or breast or something (I don't know what the other parts are called but we all know they're not as good as drumsticks). So yeah, I got one of the square pieces with about fifty bones and I was thinking "Eh, it's chicken, but I wanted the drumstick..." But now I've realized that my piece was WAY BIGGER than the drumstick and it was better. That's how I'd put this whole hall's time together into a chicken analogy.
But anyways, even this great piece of chicken I got instead of a drumstick is getting down to the bones, and watching Elders Wall, Boyce, Wolthius, Hoopes, and Theobald leave has reminded me of how little of it there is left.
Wednesday morning with Theobald reminded me of how good the times really have been. We shared some old jokes and laughed about some great memories. He's on his way to do great things for the Lord. I'm honored to know him and all the missionaries I've met here.
At 1:00 on Wednesday, January 13, 2009, Elder Alex Theobald walked through the doors of the MTC. Meanwhile, I sat down in my Book of Mormon class and just like any other day, I started singing the opening hymn with the other 150 people in the room. A couple lines into the song, I realized what time it was, and I realized that I was singing, "Called to Serve." So I sang it loud. Really loud- just like a missionary would.
I've lived a few places in my life. And I'm happy to say that I haven't reached that age where they all begin to run together. Although my memories aren't always marked by the factual precision with which my sister seems to remember quotes from "Even Stevens," I am always sure of where I was in my memories.
I remember the sun setting on my driveway in Virginia as the moving van roared away. I remember the morning my sister Ellen was born and that my sister Anne woke me up so early to tell me the news that I had time to play with Legos before I went to school. I remember when my mother's friend Carmen took me and my brother Jake to fly kites in Regent's Park. I thought is was so low-tech. I was in second grade. I remember driving from the airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to my new house and seeing more mist and plants and poverty in one car ride than I ever have since. I remember getting on a plane bound for the United States on March 25, 2000 and only a few hours later listening to a station on the rental car radio with a vigorous preacher talking about the "arrow of sin" and laughing at how animated the sermon was with Jake and Dad. I remember watching my roommate, Alex Dushku give a presentation in 9th grade English about Tabasco sauce in the same Utah town where I'd always known I could find my Grandma Mary Ann and Grandpa Dave. I remember the smell of the desert sweeping into my face every time I stepped out onto the front porch of my Grandpa Glen and Grandma Ruth's house in California. I remember the night in Ohio when I dunked three times in a pick-up basketball game at the health club. I remember matches of ping-pong with Jake every day after school in Ohio that I invariably lost. I remember playing "Ultimate Jenga" with Uncle Steve and cousin Terra on Christmas Eve using the cardboard blocks in my Grandma Mary Ann's basement that must have come with the house.
I have memories from every period of time in my life barring the first two years. As far as those first two years are concerned, I don't remember where I was born.
But later in life, for two periods of a few years, I lived again in the state of my nativity, the place where I met the first people I remember outside of my family. For the years that I lived there, we grew up together. We played kickball and parachute. We went swinging at recess. We ran the mile, took spelling tests, ate in the cafeteria, forgot to put our names on homework, did book reports, prayed for snow all winter and went swimming all summer.
In college I am often asked a question that I feel I may continue to encounter in my life- 'Where are you from?' Often I say "Ohio," because it's where I lived most recently. Other times I say "everywhere" and go on to elaborate. But sometimes I slip and I say something else. "I'm from Kansas." Is it glamorous? No. But I'm not thinking about that. I'm not thinking about the fact that someone did the math and proved that Kansas really is flatter than a pancake. I'm thinking about the neighborhood kids, my backyard full of fireflies, my first basketball hoop, my first-grade teacher, my first love and the yell of cicadas at night.
But life doesn't stop for my nostalgia.
I've seen other sunsets since that one in Virginia 1994, I've built more legos, continued to be terrible at flying kites, driven home from many airports, tasted the arrow of sin, fallen in love with tabasco, smelled the air of other deserts, had more slam dunks at the health club, lost more ping-pong games, and made more memories with my family.
But still, when the "where are you from?" question comes, and I answer "Kansas," not realizing what I've said until I hear myself say it, I stop. For a time smaller than a sigh, in a pindling pause, I think about that Kansas sky, the tree-shaded roads, the Skevingtons, skateboarding summers, tremendous humidity, ice-covered trees, riding my bike around the block, and fireflies.
Then I'm back- to wherever I live and whatever I'm doing. Back to textbooks, papers, long days, good times, bad times, and life as usual. But then I fill out a form- 'Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth.' Or I open the paper and notice a score for the Chiefs or the Royals. Or I step outside and look at the mountains surrounding me and feel closed-in, and long for that open sky that stretches "ad astra per aspera," where I can see forever. Then I remember where I was born.
Here's something I wrote on facebook at a friend's invitation. The idea is for people to write 19 things about themselves and forward the list to 19 people with a request to take part in the endless cycle.
1. I hate exercising to the point of being nervous if I have to run for an extended period of time (excepting chasing a basketball.) 2. I obsess over hobbies and rarely excel in any of them. 3. If I could have $100 a week for waking up at 5 am on weekdays I’d say, “lol no.” 4. I really hope my niece doesn’t become afraid of everyone who isn’t her mom or dad. 5. When I grow up I want to live in Switzerland and commute to work in central Germany on the autobahn. 6. If I was forced to learn a foreign language I’d be so excited I would somehow be able to wake up early every day. 7. I don’t read. 8. I think sweating is overrated. 9. I love golden retrievers because they’ll be your friend even if you’re a loser. 10. I love giant cities, but wish I could go into the buildings and find cool things instead of cubicles- or at least cubicles with stories to tell. If these cubicles could talk… 11. I would be a pilot if it was free and I wouldn’t die and I could do barrel rolls. 12. Olives are a lousy decoration and a lousier food. 13. The term “pet peeve” is my biggest pet peeve. Gross, I wrote it. 14. I’m afraid I won’t ever keep a job because I’ll sleep in on purpose. 15. I’d like to be chased around the globe (not counting the women who’ve already tried.) 16. I am a mountain man and want to ski off of big cliffs someday and build a mountain hut. 17. Going somewhere new is the closest I can get to going back in time to somewhere old. 18. I don’t like voids between people. 19. I turn 19 in April and then I’m going on a mission. I’m excited/scared/worried/sad