Field Work


Field Work

The empty sound of the ringing on the other end of the telephone line repeated itself over and over, and I puffed out a small breath of air—half sigh, half-confused laugh. So what do I expect Sister Randolf to do—sit home waiting for a call from me? She has better things to do with her life.

I rubbed my hand over my face and turned because the digital clock on my radio had just clicked a number change. It was 8:16 now. Rick would be over in less than 15 minutes, and the panicky feeling swept through me again. “She’s just got to be home,” I said aloud. But the ringing persisted, and after three more rings I pushed the disconnect button.

“Nobody is ever there when I need them,” I mumbled to myself. “Nobody cares about me.” But even as I said the words, I knew they just weren’t valid. Sister Randolf did care about me, and there were others who met in the old brown chapel just a few blocks from my home who cared about me too.

The quietness of the house seemed strange, and I wandered into the living room where at least the ticking of the grandfather clock could keep me company. The steady ticking had often comforted me as a child when I was upset about something. But even listening to the quiet rhythm didn’t subdue my present turmoil.

Slipping into the recliner where dad liked to relax and smoke his pipe didn’t help my confusion either. It just reminded me of what dad had said as he and mom were leaving. “Well, you and Rick will have the house all to yourselves, huh?” he had said with a chuckle. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Dad expected Rick and me to take advantage of being alone in the house!

Mom had just laughed and had scolded him with mock concern. “Honestly, Stuart.” But she hadn’t mentioned the matter later, and when I thought about it, she had never really said how she felt about a lot of things. But then, neither of my parents had ever been religious and they had always believed in letting my brother, Tom, and me do our own thing. Well, now Tom was in California, mom and dad were at their convention in Chicago, and I was alone—all alone in our three-bedroom rambler. But I wouldn’t be alone long. Rick was coming, and that was just the problem.

I reached for the living room phone next to me on the end table and placed it on the armrest of dad’s chair. Again I dialed the number—the number that I had called so often because I had needed to talk to Sister Randolf about so many things. She was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. She and, of course, Rick. But they wanted such different things for me.

“Rick.” I said his name aloud, sighed, and started tingling inside as I thought of him—the way he looked, his light brown hair, his gentle smile, and the way he acted, his cute sense of humor, and the pleasant way he treated people. When I thought of him, I always felt warm inside, and when I was with him—oh, the feelings! But hadn’t Sister Randolf told us that?

“Girls,” she had said, “don’t think you won’t have those feelings because you will. They’re natural. They’re a part of your physical and emotional makeup, and they’re important to have because they’re part of the beautiful plan. It’s what we do with those precious feelings that makes the difference, because if we don’t control them, they will control us.”

She had held up two rings then—one a diamond, the other a rhinestone. “Don’t ever let the spurious or artificial get mixed up with the real thing,” she had added. “Please don’t settle for the counterfeit. Don’t sell yourselves short.” And she had written the word spurious on the board and then the word genuine. Then she had told us about the beautiful life that she knew was ahead for each one of us. “It’s out there,” she said. “It’s just ahead of you, and that life is meant to be yours. If you could see into the future, you wouldn’t settle for anything less because you wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less. I have tasted a little of that life,” she continued. “It’s filled with love and with children. Oh, sure, there are frustrations sometimes, and my children can be little characters, but …” Tears came into her eyes. “There is nothing,” she had said with emphasis, “nothing sweeter or more beautiful than knowing your love is an eternal commitment. There is such security and peace in knowing that you are living life our Heavenly Father’s way and that your love is something special and sacred between you and your partner. Something so special and sacred that you waited for it because you didn’t want to cheapen it.”

I couldn’t remember the rest of what she said, but she had made it sound so beautiful and so right. I had wanted that kind of life more than anything.

Then Sister Randolf had added with a chuckle, “I know that here in the building in our Young Women classroom it sounds easy. ‘It’s a cinch,’ you’re thinking. ‘Of course that’s what I want. I want the genuine.’

“But out in the field,” she said, “well, fieldwork is often more challenging than classroom work, isn’t it?” We had laughed. Then she turned serious again. “It may be difficult for you at times. But you can do it. And I want you to know that if you need to call me at any time, I’ll be anxious to talk to you and help you.”

I swallowed as I finished dialing the number, and I glanced at the clock again. It was 8:20 now. “I’ll be over at 8:30,” Rick had said.

“Why are you doing this to me, Rick?” I whispered as the telephone rang again. “Why are you making me feel all mixed up?” Fieldwork difficult? It was difficult all right. That’s putting it mildly, Sister Randolf, I thought. Very mildly.

“Now where are you?” I called out in exasperation as if she could hear me. “Help me, Sister Randolf! Answer your phone!” But I wondered what I would say if she did answer. I wondered how I would put into words what I was feeling. How could I explain to her that life isn’t simple. That the feelings I had for Rick were genuine and not artificial. That he needed me. And that that was why I was so mixed up now. My present turmoil was symbolic of the tug-of-war of my entire last year. One side of me thirsted for and pulled me toward the gospel’s eternal values. The other side of me pulled toward the world and its “anything goes” attitude.

I remembered how Rick had reacted when I had told him that mom and dad had gone to Chicago. “Sarah, why didn’t you tell me?” he had whispered. “Just think, the house all to ourselves! No one to bother us.” His breath brushed my cheek, and there was a tenseness in his voice unusual for Rick. I began getting nervous about what he was thinking. “We love each other,” he had said then.

“Yes, but, Rick …”

He laughed a little, and the old Rick returned as he lifted my chin. “Hey don’t look so horrified. What am I, some kind of an ogre?”

I laughed. “Believe me,” I said, gulping, “you’re hardly an ogre. You’re, well, you’re … That’s just it. If you come over, I’m just afraid of what …”

He put his hand over my mouth. “Everything will be okay,” he said, his voice cracking slightly with tenseness again. “Hey, I know what’s best for us, don’t I?”

Do you, Rick? I thought. Do you? Rick was a member of the Church and had attended until his mother died of leukemia when he was only ten. After he moved in with inactive relatives, his life had changed drastically. But now Rick wasn’t ten anymore. He was a college man, and he liked to pretend he was tough and wise, but I knew better. I had seen his vulnerable side—the side of him that he rarely lets others see. We were close, and I knew Rick had been deeply hurt by what life had meted out to him. More than anything I wanted to make him happy because I loved him. I didn’t ever want him to be hurt again. Rick needed me. He loved me and needed me.

Thinking of Rick made me pull myself to the edge of dad’s chair. Maybe I was silly to worry about my feelings. On television the networks showed bed scenes now, and the movies—well even Superman, the great hero, hadn’t been so perfect. According to the screen, making love out of wedlock was expected and accepted in today’s world. And hadn’t Rick said it would be okay? He loved me and I loved him. We’d get married in a year or two after he had a little more schooling behind him. I wasn’t worried that he would be a good husband because he was a good person—better than he knew. We’d have kids and he would make a good father. It would be all right because we’d make it all right. We would!

I put my head in my hands and pressed them hard against my face because I knew it wasn’t all right and it was 8:25.

Oh, Sister Randolf, please come home immediately! I need to hear your voice right now! I decided to try her number one last time. This is it, I thought. If she isn’t home this time well … It rang 14 times before I slammed down the receiver. The phone slipped with a thud to the floor, and I hit the armrest where it had been. “Well, I tried!” I said. But a hollowness filled the pit of my stomach, my lips twisted, and the roof of my mouth felt dry.

“I tried, Sister Randolf,” I said. “I wish you had been home, but you weren’t, and I can’t help that.” But I sighed as I thought of Rick’s arms around me and how I always felt whenever he held me close. Maybe I’m glad you weren’t home, Sister Randolf, I thought. My breathing became jerky as the grandfather clock’s hand hit the six mark. It was 8:30. I stood up quickly, stretched my neck, and took a deep breath as I walked to my room to brush my hair. I looked into the gold-framed mirror at the girl in the reflection. I pulled my hair back and then let it fall around my face. There was no emotion in my eyes, and I felt like an empty form.

“I said I tried,” I repeated again to myself. “Can I help it if she wasn’t home?”

Pushing my mascara wand against my lashes, I concentrated on my eyes. At first they were just eyes, and then I looked closer. Rick always said he liked my eyes. I looked even closer, as if I were trying to look inside myself, but all I could see were the little gold flecks and my own reflection in the dark pupils. “Hey, you in there,” I whispered, “who are you?”

I pushed the wand against my lashes again. “It’s too bad Sister Randolf wasn’t home to tell me what I believe, but that’s just the way it is,” I said. “It’s not my fault.” The words seemed to echo through the room. “It’s too bad Sister Randolf wasn’t home to tell me what I believe?” The person I was looking at in the mirror was me. Those were my arms, my torso, my hair, and my face. And behind the face, behind the eyes, was a mind—my mind. Nobody else’s—mine. “To tell me what I believe?”

I thought of what my dad always said. “You’ve got to stand on your own two feet in this world.” Sister Randolf had said something similar in a lesson on free agency. I had to admit to myself that whatever I decided would be my decision. My choice. Nobody else’s. And I knew. I knew very well what the right choice was. I had felt the Spirit of truth before, and I was only kidding myself if I tried to pretend I didn’t know. But that was not the problem really. That was not why I was kidding myself. The problem was whether I could be strong enough. Could I be firm with Rick when he had a way of melting my bones just by looking at me?

Could I?

I looked back into my eyes and tried to remember the quote that always made me feel strong inside. “Choose you this day.” Oh, yes, that was it. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). I stood straighter and did feel stronger. “Choose you this day, Sarah Beckstead!”

“Rick will just have to realize that I’m my own person and make my own decisions and that I have to be accountable for those decisions and actions and … well, he’ll just have to understand.” I picked up my brush again and began brushing my hair with firm, swift strokes. But suddenly the strokes weakened, and I looked back into my pupils with panic because I had heard a car drive up and a car door shut.

Rick. My stomach hurt and I put down the brush. But what about Rick? Rick’s footsteps were sounding on our driveway. I could picture him climbing our steps. I pictured the way he held his head when he smiled at me. I thought of how hurt he had been in his life. He’ll think I don’t love him and I do, so much, I thought.

The doorbell rang and I began trembling. What am I going to do? I changed my plea to a prayer. “Oh, Father in Heaven, I love Rick. I care about him, and I don’t—” I stopped talking. “I care about him,” I repeated. I guess it struck me then. I tried to continue my prayer, but I had my answer. “I care about him.” I opened my eyes. You silly girl, I said to myself, don’t you see? If you care about Rick, you want the best for him. Of course, I thought. Of course! I don’t just want what’s best for me; I want what’s best for him too. I don’t want him to blow it. I want to help him. It was so clear now that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Rick needed me all right.

Then something else struck me. I had never shared with Rick the feelings about the gospel that I had had in the old brown chapel. I had never told him, the person I love most, about the kind of life that is possible for him—for us. I had never told him how important he is in our Father in Heaven’s eyes—that we are both too important, too precious, to cheapen ourselves. That our love is genuine, something sacred and worth waiting for. I had never told him that I believe—that I know—that we can share that love forever. As close as we were, I had never ever even told him.

I began trembling again, but this time I was trembling with a desire to tell Rick.

Hurrying to the door, I grabbed my jacket just as Rick was beginning to tap loudly, probably wondering what was wrong with the bell. “Rick,” I said, slipping through the doorway and closing the door behind me, “I’ve got so much to tell you. We need to have a talk right now.”

“Where are we going?” he asked with confusion as I pulled him down the steps.

“For a walk!”

“Oh, great! Right now?” Rick looked back at our front door. “I was thinking—”

“I know what you were thinking, but you don’t want to be thinking that right now.”

“I don’t?”

“No. Come on.” I pulled him down the driveway to where it meets the sidewalk.

“Hey, whoa!” He pulled me to a halt, turned me around, and placed his hands gently on my shoulders. “Now,” he said, “what’s the hurry? Is it that important?” His soft blue eyes looked into mine, but I returned his gaze without flinching.

“It is, Rick,” I answered firmly. “It really is.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’m sure,” I said.

Rick continued looking into my eyes until at last he sighed. “Well, if you’re that sure.” He looked up at the sky, sighed, and looked down at me again. This time he had a small smile on his face, and as he began chuckling, he lifted my chin. “You’re really something, Beckstead. You know that, don’t you?” To my surprise, there was admiration in his voice. And I was almost sure there was something else—relief. Rick was relieved! Deep down he knew.

“So, which way do we go?” he asked with mock disgruntlement as he looked up and down the sidewalk.

I grinned happily, welling over inside, feeling as if I would burst as I slipped my hand in his and turned in the direction of the old brown chapel. “How about this way?” I said softly.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh