Maybe, by Anonymous
The first time I step into a Mormon church, I am fourteen. I’m not quite sure why I’m there. I’ve been hopping around different faiths for a while now—Jewish shabbat dinners, Baptist youth groups, Methodist Sunday services, Vacation Bible School at a big nondenominational megachurch—but I was still seeking, searching for something just beyond my grasp.
It’s just after Sacrament Meeting. I look around the chapel in panic—what do I do now? A girl walks up to me, bouncing in excitement to the point that I worry that she’ll tip over on her high heels. She’s a few years older than me but a few inches shorter, long black hair, a blue floral dress. She will wear the same dress when speaking at my baptism. “What’s your name? I’m Alyssa! Are you visiting? Did you move here? Our youth program is so small—we need new people.”
She sits with me through Sunday School, then Young Women, gives me her cell number, introduces me to the missionaries, says she’ll come to my lessons. “I’m Laurel Class President. It’s my job to care for all the girls in the ward”, but it feels like more than that.
I fall simultaneously for Alyssa and the Gospel. I find excuses to text her late at night, type out ‘Hey Alyssa, can I ask you something?’ countless times. I spend hours reading about the divine feminine, about Book of Mormon historicity, about the expansiveness of salvation, about redemption and forgiveness and grace and love. She sits in the chair next to me as blue-suited elder after blue-suited elder gives me lessons. Every one ends with a pledge. “Will you promise to come to church next Sunday, to pay tithing, to follow the Word of Wisdom, to keep the Law of Chastity, to be baptized?” I look over towards her, smiling, when responding to every query except the second to last, when I avert my eyes and hope she doesn’t notice the bright red flush filling every part of my body.
I write in my journal carefully. Whenever Alyssa’s name shows up, I pause a second—if someone were to read…would they suspect? I neglect to mention how my stomach seems to shift in her presence, how I feel a little lighter. I’m picky about the adjectives I choose to describe her. I take out all of the beautifuls, replace them with words like kindand gentleand intelligent. God cares more about those things, anyway. Doesn’t He?
Alyssa leaves for BYU my first week of tenth grade. A few days before her last Sunday, I cry myself to sleep in great wracking sobs, the kind where your hands go numb and chest starts to ache. I curl up into a ball, hoping to calm my breathing, but nothing seems to help. Images come to my mind unbidden and I try to force them out. Our fingers intertwined, her dark hair mingling with my blonde, a gentle kiss. Never mind that none of this happened, that I never dared to even linger in her embrace. I try to pray, but the words won’t come out—someone as dirty and unworthy as me has no right to try to talk to God. If nothing unclean can dwell in His presence, then I deserve to be as far away as possible. Another thought comes, maybe even worse than the last. I did this to myself. No one was forcing my relationship with God or Alyssa. If they were connected, I could have stepped back. It’s my fault. I deserve this pain.
I get assigned home teachers upon starting in a college YSA ward. One of mine comes to visit with a plate of cookies. Oh, boy. Caleb’s eyes are blue and his smile is kind and his opinions are thoughtful. He quotes Hamilton and Steinbeck in the same breath and I am smitten. I rejoice, privately, quietly. I feel things for guys. I’m okay. I’m normal. My biggest romantic problem is that every other girl in the ward has a crush on Caleb, too. We grow closer over the semester, eating lunch together and complaining about exams and showing off our new knowledge until whatever spark I pictured between us sputters, then stops.
He and I sit down together in the hallway of our dorm. I stare intensely at his right elbow, too embarrassed to look at his face. He starts, explaining that he thinks I feel things for him that he doesn’t return. I look up. His smile is still kind. At the end, he hugs me goodbye, tells me I’m golden, that he looks forward to hearing my upcoming talk on Sunday.
When I get back to my room I laugh and tell my roommates what happened. I don’t cry. It ended better than I could have imagined. I received more grace than I deserved.
It’s General Conference, and the Prophet is talking. “Exaltation”, he says “is a family matter.” I gulp, then my eyes start to fill. I think of my churchless parents, my little brother. Have I sent them all to Hell? Has the faith I love condemned the people I love? If I don’t get married am I lost eternally to float, unhinged, in a depraved state? But how can I marry? Who can I marry?
I text a few friends. They hold me while I cry until my jaw locks shut, then proceed to weep more, the physical pain in my mouth not touching my spiritual anguish. A punishment, maybe, for all the words left unsaid. A friend reminds me that I have people that I love and love me. That’s what matters.
Caleb and I, close friends now, talk a few days later. I haven’t yet stopped crying—I’ve broken down in the middle of class, in the shower, in the bathroom at work. I tell him my fears about my immediate family, not specifying why marriage seems so impossible.
“Is there a place for me in the Kingdom of God?”
He says nothing, just opens his arms and lets me fall into them. I leave uncertain. I am uncertain still.
A friend invites me to his Institute class. I hesitate—I’ve struggled with Institute in the past, with teachers sharing more opinion than gospel. But I want to spend time with my friend, so I say yes.
A girl is sitting across the room—tall, redhead, green eyes. Porcelain skin, dotted with freckles. A big smile, except for when her brow furrows in concentration over different creation narratives. My breath catches—I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone more beautiful. Next week, my friend asks if I am coming. I tell him I won’t be able to—something came up. A regular thing.
I see the redhead a few months later at a dance. I run the other way.
In June, I am in Caleb’s passenger seat on an empty freeway.
“Hey. Can I ask you something?” I take a deep breath. If he kicks me out of his car now, it’s a long walk back to my house. It’ll be dark long before I would make it home. But he wouldn’t do that. He’s my friend. That has to mean something. Right?
“Of course. What’s up?”
A beat of silence. Another. “Do you think…is it…normal…for people to…question…maybe…their sexuality sometimes not when they’re like really young? Because maybe…I’m not sure. I don’t know.”
He pauses. Holy crap. He knows how bad I am. Corrupt and filthy and wrong. How I manage to betray both the Latter-day Saint and LGBT community.
“I think that’s pretty normal. We’re at that age where we’re figuring stuff out. And…you’re incredible. I love you so much. I’m so lucky to have you as a friend.”
I release the breath I’ve been holding. He keeps going, but I don’t know what he’s saying anymore. Good things—I am loved and enough and it will be okay. I don’t believe these things, necessarily, but I need to hear them.
He drops me off at home, awkwardly reaching over the center console to hug me. He knows about what makes me feel dirty, but still takes me in his arms. It’s a gift.
It’s barely drizzling, but across from my house is a rainbow. It is then that I start to weep.
I don’t know how things will end. I’m bisexual, I think, so maybe I’ll marry a guy, or stay celibate and have solo adventures I’ve only dreamed of, or perhaps my relationship to the church will change drastically in the years to come. I wish I did know. I brought it on myself, I am well aware, but just as it was my church to choose, it’s my ending to choose. And choose I will.