On Sunday I am speaking in church. My preparation has had me thinking about my time as a missionary in Australia. And while most of my memories from those months are amazing, there are others that, at the time, were downright scary. In retrospect, however, these memories are just plain funny. As my last several posts have been all issue-y, I decided it was time for one that was not.
A bit of background on LDS missionaries for those who may not know--women generally serve missions in their early 20's (no younger than 21); missionaries live a fairly strict set of rules, both for safety and to help them focus on the task at hand; female missionaries are called "sister" in front of your last name, but we aren't nuns and celibacy (thank goodness) is a condition with a time limit.
I'm not sure how Kent's obsession with the sister missionaries started, nor can I remember exactly why he started studying the Church anyway. This disclaimer might help explain why some details are a bit fuzzy.
In my memory, Kent looks like Will Farrell. From the Saturday Night Live Cowbell Skit. I could never really decide what his personality was like. Perhaps the word "multiple" would be most appropriate here.
Kent was studying with the elders (the boy missionaries) which was totally appropriate, but I think it was the sisters he had met first. Anyway, after some time working with the elders, he complained that they weren't sincere enough, nor patient enough. He would only continue studying the Church if he met with the sisters, so we taught him after our church meetings one day. I was immediately creeped out and had serious doubts about how interested he was in what we were teaching. He seemed mostly content to sidetrack our discussions, share his own agenda and use a lot of tired arguments to convince us of the futility of how we had chosen to spend our lives. And he stared. A lot.
My misgivings were strong enough that after just one meeting, we told him that we weren't really comfortable teaching him and if he was still interested in learning about the Church, the elders would do just fine, thank you very much.
This is about the time that the creepiness appeared. He agreed to go back to the elders, perhaps a little too readily, and then a few days later, through them, he passed on a referral to us. Sweet guy, he'd even gone to the pains to schedule an appointment with them. Because this person, "Goldie," he referred us to lived on the opposite side of the train tracks from us, she was actually in an area where some different sisters worked. Not wanting to sic someone of Kent's acquaintance onto the other sisters (one of whom was probably the prettiest woman I've ever met), we decided to go see Goldie first and if it was all on the up-and-up we would let the other sisters know.
We followed the address, knocked on the door, and guess what?
Yep. Kent answered the door. It was his mother's house. No, she was not at home; no, she wasn't interested in learning more. Kent was quite proud of himself for having found a way to circumvent those "silly boys" so that we could still teach him. Nobody had to know. And yes, by the way, he told us with a sly gleam in his freaky eyes, his nickname was "Goldie."
I know, I was thinking exactly the same thing, what kind of man has the nickname Goldie unless he is a James Bond villian or a mob boss?
Kent continued coming to church, trying to catch us unawares; which he frequently did. For a big, chubby guy he sure had some mad ninja skills. His favorite thing to do was present us with frangipani flowers, as some children often did. These lovely flowers (often called "plumeria" where they actually grow in the states) fit perfectly in the clip of our name tags and stayed fresh all day. Their smell is divine and it was kind of an Aussie-sister-missionary-thing. Refusal was awkward because then we just looked rude. Accepting them was, obviously, even worse.
Some weeks after the first "referral" he sent another to us. This time, it was actually in our area, information we probably let slip to Kent as he asked for details about where we worked, no doubt to get details about where we lived. Again, Kent had set the appointment time. We conveniently asked the neighboring elders to come and work with us that day, and decided to knock on doors on the street where Kent's appointment was scheduled. We explained the situation to the elders, who thought our spy-work was all great fun and they took the side of the street that would lead them to the appointment-house, though a day early.
No, this was not another address for Kent this time. It was, however, the address of Kent's Baptist minister who had more anti-Mormon literature on his shelf than he had books about all other subjects combined. He gave the elders an earful and then loaded them up with about 85 pamphlets apiece. "You kept them???" I said to the Elders when we met them for lunch.
Our district leader just smiled as he dumped them in the trash, "At least he can't give them to anyone else."
Needless to say, we did not keep our appointment with Kent and his minister. We did, however, have to see Kent at church again and listen to him rant about how we had violated his trust by sending the elders ahead. (Right . . . . because he hadn't ever violated our trust . . . ) We also got a package a few days later. From Kent. Or, I should say, I got a package. That's right, he stopped pretending to be wanting to study with the sisters for the sake of the church and moved straight ahead to his full intentions.
Before opening the package, I was already pretty freaked out. You see, in Australia, you have really tiny post boxes (especially in an apartment), and if a package comes that is too big to fit in the box, then you get a card telling you to come to the post office at your earliest convenience to pick it up. Yet, here was this enormous package on our doorstep. And inside the package was . . . wait for it . . .
A teal green, off the shoulder, full skirted, tight-bodiced, formal dress, circa 1987.
That is when the screaming started.
As the package showed up on the doorstep, we assumed that Kent knew where we lived and had lovingly dropped it off himself. We called the Elders, who, bless their boy-hearts, came over immediately and checked out the apartment, only to find two windows in the house that had not been secured and could easily be opened from outside. They helped us tack up sheets on the windows and then sat with us that evening. It was decided that they would frequently check in with us over the next couple of days, and that on Sunday, we would talk to the bishop to get some advice.
On Sunday, we met with Kent, the elders, and the bishopbric. Bishop Purcell was a huge Maori man with soft brown eyes and a heart of gold; one of his counselors was a Tongan who looked like he could have bench-pressed Bishop Purcell. I've never been so grateful in my life to have two Polynesians at my back.
Trying to impress upon Kent the inappropriateness of the gift, he explained our rules to Kent who became very belligerent about him not having to follow our rules, and that he had tried to anyway. He insisted that he had sent the package to our general mission address in Sydney and that he had no idea where we lived. All eyes turned to me. Could this be true--that the package hadn't been addressed in Kent's hand to our apartment at all? I suddenly felt very stupid and over-reactionary. Here we were in this room holding a meeting that would basically bar Kent from ever attending church there again, and it might have been a big misunderstanding. I admitted that it might be entirely possible that the package had been sent through our mission office, but I was also quick to point out that it wasn't appropriate for him to be corresponding with me at all nor for him to send me something that was such an affront to my sense of of fashion.
Then emerged the tender-Kent personality. He became very apologetic and sincere, but something about his manner was raising red flags all over in me. I could see that all of the men in the room were starting to think that while Kent might be a little bit over the top, he was nothing compared to the near-hysterical sister missionary in their midst. And then dear Kent made his fatal mistake.
He took a step nearer to me and called me Princess.
I suddenly felt vicious and took a step closer in return summoning all of the anger in my massive 5'2" frame, all 115 pounds of me (there is more now) poised to attack, no doubt looking like a cat whose hair suddenly stands on end and begins spitting, "Don't you DARE call me that!" I shouted, right in the bishop's office. His completely inappropriate and freaky endearment finally swayed the argument in my direction. My companion held me back in my desire to scratch Kent's eyes out of his hairy face and the bishop said very calmly, "You are welcome to leave the premises of your own volition, or we can escort you."
Ken was at least six feet tall, but he was soft and slow. He cowered in the face of my two Lamanitish protectors and agreed to leave, though he spouted out curses on each of us in turn and the Church in general as he walked down the street toward the bus stop. The bishop and his cohort followed him to the edge of the property, just to be safe.
When my claws retracted, I felt sufficiently embarrassed (hysterics not being my typical modus operandi), but also deeply relieved.
I did not see my charming suitor again, but it didn't stop him from writing to me once in each of the areas I lived after that place. The letters were each sent through the mission office, as was probably the package that broke the camel's back. I never wrote back, even to acknowledge receipt of these letters that read more like manifestos. His first one or two expressed some disgusting, tender expressions that my companions and I would have a great laugh over. The last few of these were rants, more of the variety he expressed when leaving the church that day.
In fact, a letter from Kent was one of the last I received as a missionary. Scheduled to leave the country in just a few days, mail had gotten irregular at best (but then, was it ever anything else?) and I was surprised to receive any missive at all until I noticed the sender's tiny, cramped handwriting in the upper left corner. It had been a long month, my companion and I were both nearly finished with our service, we weren't working with anybody very seriously, it was hot, we were working in a ward (and city) where the main requirement for membership was that you have kangaroos loose in the paddock. (Aussie term meaning, "crazy as a loon.") Our main missionary work in four weeks had consisted of knocking on hundreds of doors for ten hours each day. I was tired; I thought Kent's letter would be worth a laugh.
My companion knew the story and we settled in to the ratty, old couch to have cold cereal for dinner and entertainment. I opened the letter and read the first line aloud in which (the exact words fail me) Kent told me that I was going to hell for my lack of charity, my general misunderstanding of God and my cruel nature. Tears pricked my eyes and I ripped the letter in shreds, feeling that anger inside me again. "I don't have to read this!" I told my surprised companion. "I've been a damn good missionary!" If the "damn" tells you otherwise, well, just note that I didn't say I'd been a perfect missionary. And it was Australia--they have a very loose standard of what constitutes a swear word there.
If my re-telling of this convinces you that Kent was right, and that I lack charity, well, maybe you have a point. Still, I have to write my own story in the way that pleases me best and honestly reflects my feelings. As long as I'm feeling deeply unmerciful to one who caused me to watch my back for two months in Adamstown, Australia in 1997, why don't you share your own stalker stories? Here if they are brief-ish, and on your own blog if it is in the details you find your laughter or catharsis.