Two weeks after my 16th birthday my family moved to North Africa. This was not my idea of fun, and I suspected my parents of plotting the entire thing just to make me miserable. The driving age in Morocco is 18, so I wouldn’t be getting a driver’s license, and the school I would be attending had no newspaper or track team—the two things I enjoyed doing. Worst of all, in my junior class at the international school, there were 11 girls and only 3 boys. It was going to be a long year.
At home I had a big group of friends. We went to church and acted like we were doing what was right. But on the weekends we went to parties together, and we sometimes did things I knew weren’t right. I felt torn apart, wanting to keep myself clean, but also wanting to prove that I could do what I wanted. That feeling hadn’t gone away when we moved.
After we’d been in Morocco about a week, I started to make a few friends. My new friend Amy wasn’t a member of the Church, but she was different. She didn’t just pretend to do what was right; she did it. She didn’t seem to have anything to prove. Angie and Lisa, on the other hand, didn’t even try to hide the wrong things that they did. There is no legal drinking age in Morocco, and they took advantage of it. They were having a party at Lisa’s house that weekend, and I was invited.
After my first day of class at my new school, I met the cutest guy I’ve ever seen.
“Are you Rebecca?” he asked as he walked toward me. My heart was beating loud and fast, but I managed to say yes.
“I’m Tony. I hear you’re a Mormon.”
I nodded, wondering what this was all about.
“Are you a real Mormon?” he asked, “or do you just go to church because your parents make you?”
I fumbled with my backpack and said, “I don’t know.”
“Well, when you figure it out, let me know,” he said. Then he left.
I didn’t go to the party at Lisa’s house that weekend. My mom said she needed help unpacking, so I stayed home opening boxes and hanging up clothes.
After I had worked for a while, I stopped my chores and told my mom that I needed a break. I went outside to think.
I walked outside the wall around our house where there was a dusty dirt road that shepherds walked down every morning and evening, taking their sheep and goats to pasture. I soon came to a field where garbage had been burned. A tangerine peel lay in the road, and I angrily kicked it into the grass. Why do I have to be here? I wondered. Why does anything ever have to change? Why does life have to be so hard?
I thought about Tony and his question. What did he want me to say? Am I a real Mormon? Who do I want to be? Would he ever think about dating me if I said I was a real Mormon?
As I turned the corner to go back home, I saw something that made me stop. Across the street, in the middle of an empty field, stood a beautiful little tree. It was not much taller than I was, and its leaves and branches were thin and delicate.
I looked at that tree for a long time. I thought about the parties I had gone to in the States and the things I had done. I thought about the choices I needed to make and about who I wanted to be. I thought about standing alone, sort of like that tree.
It was two weeks before I talked to Tony again. He found me serving refreshments in the school gym on parents’ night. Because parents were invited, wine was being served along with soda and punch.
“So, Rebecca, I brought you a drink,” Tony said. “A toast to a new school year.” He held out a plastic cup half filled with wine.
My heart started pounding again.
“No thanks, Tony. How about a doughnut?”
“No thanks? I bring you a drink, and you don’t want it? Why? Are you afraid your parents will find out?”
“Are you afraid you won’t be a real Mormon? Don’t worry, no one in your church will find out.”
I looked down at the table and then up at Tony. “I am a real Mormon. This doesn’t have anything to do with my parents. I just don’t want to.”
Tony looked disgusted. “Well, that’s too bad,” he said. “We could have had fun together.” He dropped the cup into the trash can and walked off. I watched him go and then leaned back against the wall and let out a sigh.
I didn’t have many dates that year, although Tony let me know that if I changed my mind he’d be happy to take me out. But I had a great year anyway. Amy and I got to know some of our Moroccan neighbors, and although we didn’t speak French or Arabic very well, we had a good time laughing together. I went to the prom that year with my brother (he turned out to be a great dancer).
It’s not easy feeling left out, but I felt so good about my decision to be a “real Mormon.” I felt more happy and peaceful than I had in a long time.
I was learning to stand alone.