It all began that first Sunday in March. Or did it? I guess it couldn’t really have had a beginning, because Karen, Emily, and I have been best friends forever. Whether celebrating birthdays and knitting identical purses in Primary as young girls or marching on the drill team and double- or triple-dating in high school, our vastly different personalities somehow seemed to complement each other, and for 15 years we were practically inseparable.
After high school graduation, though, things began changing in our gleesome threesome. Karen and Emily lived at home and attended the university, while I lived three hours away in a small state college dorm with five strangers. After enduring so much together, we wondered what a few miles could possibly do to our great friendship. But we soon knew.
Various experiences were maturing each of us differently, and when we got together on my scattered weekends home, it was like pulling out pressed carnations from the junior prom. All we talked of were memories. Or I would talk for 15 minutes about my weird professors, and they would each talk 15 minutes about theirs. But nothing meshed.
I had always envisioned us as children playing ring-around-the-rosies—each holding hands with the other two in all we did. But now we all played different games. Like Humpty Dumpty we had fallen off that idealistic wall of childhood and could not be put back together again. Even Karen and Emily, who both attended the same school, were distant with each other, and I got the distinct impression that neither of them quite approved of what the other was doing with her life.
Still, we met each time I came home. Even though the old magic was gone, we held onto each other—perhaps for the same reason we still kept those prom carnations drying in our yearbooks.
I realized that our special communication had vanished, but I was still shocked one day to open my mail and find a wedding announcement from Emily. Even more surprising was the absence of the word temple in the announcement.
I rushed home that weekend and headed straight for Emily’s. There we talked—talked in the almost forgotten way we had that eternal year ago. She had only known Ted two months, but he was the most handsome, intelligent, popular guy on campus. They would both finish college, and then Ted would go on to dental school. His folks had already agreed to help them with expenses, so that would be no problem. After he graduated, Emily joked, all they would have to do is sit around and rake up the money.
Once again I had begun to feel close to Emily, when suddenly, I heard myself wondering out loud why there had been no mention of the temple on her announcement. “Well, we can’t,” she said, her flippant attitude not quite covering the concern I sensed. “Ted’s a Baptist in the first place, and besides, we want to be married in his parents’ ski lodge and write our own ceremony. A wedding should be really personal and meaningful, not just the same words for everyone. Ted will join the Church someday. But even if he doesn’t, my dad’s not a member and it hasn’t stopped my mother from being active. It won’t stop me either.”
By the time Emily was through with her well-practiced little spiel, her defiance had built a wall between us once again. What could I say? After a few moments of fumbling chatter to try to ease the discomfort, I said goodbye.
Three weeks later I attended Ted and Emily’s ski lodge wedding. Contrary to my expectations, it was a very striking event—though not religious in any way. They both read poetry to each other for the ceremony, while a flute played lightly in the background. After there was dancing, with punch for us Mormons and champagne for the others. Ted’s parents were super rich, I could tell, and they had just about planned the whole wedding. They were deliriously happy with their new daughter-in-law (and probably a little from the champagne, too). But I noticed Emily’s mom had really red and swollen eyes—like she’d been crying a lot. Mothers are that way—especially when it’s their only child.
Surprisingly enough, Emily did stay active in the Church. With all her school work and married duties, she attended her meetings faithfully and also served as the assistant librarian. She and Ted lived in an apartment in our ward and I saw her quite often. She always gave me glowing reports of marriage and told how great Ted was to her. “What a life,” I thought.
Six months later Karen married a returned missionary who was just completing his master’s degree in education. They were married in the Logan Temple, so I couldn’t go, of course. But I did attend the reception in our cultural hall, and it was really beautiful. After the wedding Karen and David honeymooned on their way to California, where he would teach in a junior college. Not exactly raking in the money, but they seemed very happy, and I had a sense of well-being just talking to them.
Well, that left me—21 and the old maid of the gleesome threesome. I had never dated quite as much as blonde, beauty-queen Emily or smart, vivacious Karen, but I never thought it would come to this. I sometimes felt that Karen and Emily had married rather young and was sure I wasn’t of old maid vintage yet. But then, a lot of my other friends were getting married too, and I began wondering, “Am I right and the rest of the world wrong?” Relatively speaking, I was panicked.
Just after Karen’s wedding I started going with Allen Johnson. He was great! Really everything I’d ever wanted—kind, intelligent, a great conversationalist—and he liked to do really fun things for dates, like candlelight dinners in the canyon and roller skating downtown after the stores were closed. Only one problem—Allen was not a member of the Church. I had never really intended to start dating him, but he kept insisting and was so cute about it, I couldn’t resist.
We’d been dating off and on for nearly a year when, out of the blue, he popped the big question. “I love you,” he said. “I want you to be my wife.” I gave him a flat no at first and explained, as I had many times before, about my religious beliefs. He told me to think about it.
Believe me, when you’re twenty-two and haven’t even had another offer, and you’ve never enjoyed being with anyone so much in your life, and your two best friends have been married over a year and are both expecting babies, and one of them is married to a nonmember and couldn’t be happier, I tell you, you think about it. And I thought about it some more.
I kept seeing Emily now, coming to church radiant and excited about everything she was doing. “No problems at all,” she would say. “He’s really very liberal. ‘You go to your church and I’ll go to mine.’ Only he doesn’t even go to his.” But in the back of my mind I could also see Emily when we were younger: praying her nonmember dad would baptize her, wondering if her dad would take her to the Primary daddy-daughter party, trying to pretend it didn’t matter when he went golfing instead of coming to her seminary graduation. But then childhood is such a small part of life. What difference does it really make in the long run? And so I continued to think about Allen.
Karen and Emily, still doing things together, had baby girls within a week of each other. I took a pink dress to Emily’s little Julie and absolutely fell in love with her. Karen’s mother told me in church one day that Karen, David, and their little Melissa would be coming in March to show off the baby and get her blessed where Grandpa and all three of Karen’s adoring older brothers could stand in the circle.
Then came the first Sunday in March. I’ll never forget that day. Just after Sunday School Bishop Edwards asked me if I could come to his office an hour before fast meeting for a little talk. Well, I know the bishop doesn’t just call people in for a little talk for no reason. I wondered what I had done—or what I was going to do. But I did tell him I would be there.
At three o’clock I found myself stepping on the rich blue carpeting of the bishop’s office and then staring into the eyes of a man who, it seemed, instantly knew everything about me. I had known Bishop Edwards for a long time. He had been my Sunday School teacher when I was in junior high school and had been bishop now for a couple of years. I hadn’t known him as a bishop too well since I spent many Sundays in my student branch at school. But now, as I looked at him, I knew what a wonderful man he was and the great power he represented.
After a few minutes of small talk about school, family, and whatever, he got to the point of this meeting. “Today as I looked over the congregation, my eyes rested on you,” he said intensely, “and as clearly as we have been speaking to each other, a voice said to me, ‘That girl needs to go on a mission.’” I was stunned! That was the last thing I expected him to say. Me? On a mission? His voice interrupted my thoughts.
“I can see by your expression that you didn’t receive the same inspiration. It must come as quite a surprise. But it’s something you don’t have to decide right now. You think about it and be sure to include your parents and the Lord in your decision. Just let me know when you’ve found your answer.”
A few moments later I walked out of the door, and the fluorescent lighting of the hall hit me with the reality of the situation. I figured in two years I’d really be an old maid. But two years might give Allen time to join the Church on his own. It would give me a chance to find myself. And most important, it would be a chance to get closer to the Lord and serve his children more than I had ever done, I found an empty room and knelt in prayer, asking my Heavenly Father to help me make the right decision. When I stood, I felt a certain calm, even though I still didn’t feel that I had a positive answer.
As I made my way down the stairs and into the chapel, I met Emily and her baby in the foyer. It was her first time back to church since Julie’s birth. We talked for a minute and then entered the chapel. Emily and her mother sat in the row in front of me, and just before the meeting, Emily leaned back guiltily and whispered to me, “I forgot this was fast Sunday until I looked at the program. We just finished eating a turkey dinner at Ted’s, so I guess I’ll have to fast twice next month.” I smiled and just then my stomach growled uncomfortably, testifying to the fact that I had remembered.
Through the rows of heads and shoulders that I saw from my position on the fourth row from the back, I caught a glimpse of Karen and the rest of her family taking up an entire center bench. I was glad that she had made it but sorry I’d missed her before the meeting. I’d have to hurry to the front after the closing prayer to talk to her.
After the songs and announcements were over and after we had taken the sacrament, Bishop Edwards stood behind the pulpit and said, “This afternoon we have a special treat. I know many of you have known Karen Evans since she was a little girl.” Emily looked back at me and winked knowingly, but then turned her head sharply forward as the bishop went on. “Well, this afternoon Karen, now Karen Sanders, has brought her own little girl to receive a name and a blessing from her husband. Assisting in the circle will be her father and brothers.”
As I watched David take his little girl from Karen and carry her almost reverently to the front, I could see a side view of Emily. Tears were rapidly filling her deep blue eyes and streaming down her face onto Julie’s downy head. Her shoulders shook violently as she buried her head in her baby’s neck. Emily’s mother tenderly put her arm around her daughter’s throbbing shoulders, and I could see that she, too, was crying. Emily looked up, and I heard her gasp in a desperate whisper, “Oh Mama! Who is going to bless my baby?”
“I bless you, Melissa, with a sound mind and body,” I heard David Sanders say at the front of the room, “and that you will live a righteous life, that when the time comes, you will meet a choice son of our Father in heaven, one who honors his priesthood and who will take you to the temple of the Lord to be sealed to him for eternity.” Through the entire blessing and for the rest of the meeting, Julie’s baby shawl absorbed her tears.
And now, even though a year has passed, and even though the dark-haired women in this once strange country contrast vividly with blonde Emily, whenever my companion and I are out tracting, or we go to a branch meeting and I see a mother and baby alone, something grabs at my heart. For I keep seeing Emily.