Continued from Talking to Myself
Back in Kansas, Chris was as frustrated with the slow pace as I was. Scott* would mail Chris a list of [some very personal] questions and Chris would fire off a lengthy response. And then he would wait.
As far as Chris, living in his parents' basement while working full-time, was concerned, this correspondence with my father had top priority. After all, his future happiness was at stake! Looking back, I realize my courtship was just one of many more immediate responsibilities my dad was juggling, He had ten kids at home: there were diapers to change, bathrooms to clean, cars to maintain, children to educate. He had a business to run, schoolwork to grade, lessons to share at church, three college-age kids to advise. It was the coldest, darkest part of winter in Michigan, his wife's father was dying of brain cancer, and now his grown daughter Andraste* wanted to apply for a job that required black pants as a uniform. Yeah, Scott had a lot on his plate.
My dad took the job of evaluating the character of a potential son-in-law very seriously, and as swift decisiveness had never been Scott's strong suit, "negotiations", as I called them, dragged on maddeningly. Chris even dialed Scott's number one night and cried into the phone as he made his plea to be permitted to write to me. But on the other side of the planet, I knew nothing of this.
* * * * * *
Just a week into the new year, Bob and Pearl returned to Canada. I said my goodbyes at the SIL guest house and moved in with another Canadian, a petite and girlish grandma whom I will call Catherine*. Catherine's housemates had been called back to the States unexpectedly, so she offered me a room for the rest of my stay in Nasuli.
|Posing with my travel buddies near Davao City|
The adventure of travel--with its new foods, new vistas, new micro-climates, new bathroom plumbing systems to figure out--made me feel even more alive. We saw the geothermal plant on Mt. Apo and hiked a trail to some of the volcano's famous hot springs. I slept under a mosquito net for the first time, and sat beside a dead body with a grieving family when Tina's translation assistant died during the night.
The change of scenery, while emotionally grueling, was cathartic, too. And when I returned, I was more sure of myself. I changed my work computer's wallpaper to a photo of Chris and began telling people when they asked that he was the guy who wanted to marry me. When they were inevitably confused, I would explain about my dad, and permission, and agreements signed when I was a fifteen. I remember one long conversation about it with my married friends from New Zealand, who promised to pray for Chris and me.
Though I scarcely knew Catherine when I moved into her home, I soon came to value her as the kindest friend and mentor I could have asked for. Simply sharing life with this sunny-faced woman was an unexpected treat for me--watching her plan the menus and grocery lists, drinking hot tea together after lunch, washing the dishes together on Sunday, watching movies on Friday night, working on jigsaw puzzles and eating leftovers.
One weekend as Catherine and I lingered at the table, I confided my resentment. My teenage brother and sister were going to swing dances, yet Chris and I were banned from emailing each other?? In what universe did that make sense? She didn't offer answers, but her sympathy was a balm to my heart.
As the weeks went by, I grew increasingly distracted and it took greater effort to focus on my official tasks. We were working on some hand-drawn health booklets for Tina to share with her village when a page captured my attention. The booklet was offering women the most simplistic information about "natural" birth control, teaching them to identify their most fertile times. Intrigued and curious, I lost little time getting to the Nasuli library for more research.
My sex ed up to that point had been mostly limited to childbirth and menstruation, with a cursory explanation of fertilization. As I paged through old books--likely left behind by former Nasuli residents--on something called "the Billings method", I was amazed at how little I had understood my own body.
Suddenly what I had always thought of as fickle emotional swings made biological sense! So my waxing and waning physical desires were not a function of how "spiritual" I was on a given day, but of a natural and even predictable cyclical chemical sequence. Wow!
Though we'd been careful never to talk about marriage directly, following Gothard's express teaching, I knew from hypothetical situations we'd guardedly discussed that Chris would not sacrifice a wife's health or sanity for any "full quiver" ideal. Still, contraception had always been equated with abortion in my circles, so the notion that I could have some awareness and control of my fertility boosted my optimism. Perhaps there were practical ways to prevent being pregnant for the next fifteen years! Maybe, just maybe, marriage would be less of a self-renunciation than I'd braced myself for.
Stimulated by my new knowledge of my body, I lay in bed and pictured Chris lying beside me, imagined pressing his hand, touching his dark hair.
And I stopped there.
To be continued...