Monday, February 24, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 3

Continued from Part 2

From Oklahoma City to Indianapolis, Halloween 1998

On my birthday, Michael and Dan brought me donuts. I celebrated turning 23 by going to Olive Garden for lunch with four of my girlfriends, in a car we borrowed from the training center. Friends on staff presented me with a booklet recognizing my contribution to life at the OTC. Things like my cooking, my piano accompaniment at our hymn-sings, my spunk, my goofy sense of humor. This line illustrates the feminine ideal prized in both the IBLP and broader Quiverfull communities:
"Your constant example of quietly doing just exactly what you're supposed to is a shining inspiration!"
The birthday was bittersweet, because after a year of carving out a niche where I fit and was appreciated, the rug was being pulled out from under me. In twelve more days, I would vanish. The only trace of my former existence would be my pancake recipe in the box on the kitchen shelf. I stayed late at the office and ate my Italian leftovers, skipping dinner and the obligatory "Happy Birthday" song in my honor.

The orders from Headquarters called for Chris and I to come to Indianapolis first and help set up the new offices. Lisa, Michael and Dan would remain for a few weeks to continue answering customer calls until the phones started ringing in Indiana. For Chris, this was a return to familiar turf, his old stomping-grounds. He had no ties to Oklahoma. It had merely been an interesting chapter in a long series of IBLP adventures.

But my Oklahoma experience had been the dawning of a new world. Strange to say, I had never felt so bold, so free, so vibrantly alive as I had that summer. At home there five little girls under nine years old--so many diapers, so many dishes. Here, I never changed a diaper and girls weren't even allowed to wash the dishes. (We did scrub an awful lot of toilets, though.) I had a double bed to myself, a bathroom shared with just my roommate, unlimited hot water, a job, private email access, and even a paycheck! 

I was surrounded by my peer group. My girlfriends had encouraged me to embrace my feminine side. They'd introduced me to delightful movie soundtracks and nail polish and flipping through fashion catalogs for fun. I'd practiced driving on the freeway. For the first time since childhood, I had a church that I loved. Michael and I had explored nearly every inch of downtown on foot, walking as far as the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, the hospitals both east and west of downtown, and even the 45th Infantry Museum on 36th Street—a six-mile trek from the training center and another six miles back! I felt bonded with the red dirt, the city skyline, the immense sky. Now all that was coming to a close. 

Our travel plans were made for us. Someone was driving a van of equipment up to the Indianapolis Training Center (ITC) on the last Saturday in October. Chris and I, with our luggage, would ride along. We said our goodbyes and hit the road. I was dimly aware of it being Halloween (not a day we acknowledged in any way whatsoever!).

Road trips are innately exciting, but I recall feeling more pensive than thrilled that day. Sharing a bench seat with my closest non-sibling male friend, I wondered I ought to be shy--but we knew each other too well for that. Our driver was a young local ATI guy, and his mom was riding along up front. For much of the ride, Chris and I sat quietly behind them and whispered to each other when we weren't listening to their vintage radio dramas from Cracker Barrel.

Late in the afternoon, we stopped at a hotel just off the interstate and left Mrs. H. there "to shop for Amish furniture". It was all a bit mysterious to Chris and me, but our driver disappeared into the hotel lobby to help his mom check in. Leaving us alone--together--in the parking lot. Glad to stretch our legs, we strolled together down the walk in front of the building, then followed it around to the back where we both became ridiculously conscious being unchaperoned, in the middle of nowhere. Like the Marine and the nun in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Shouldn't I be afraid of something? Losing my virginity, perhaps?

IBLP culture kept sexual tension ratcheted up to a level just short of panic (ironically, as it turns out). Back in Oklahoma City, Lisa wasn't even allowed to be in the CharacterLink offices alone with Michael. Now that I was gone, they had to borrow someone else from the training center to chaperone (babysit?). So Chris and I really had never been alone together before. After a few moments of conversation to dispel any awkward nervousness, we walked back around to the van.

Hitting the road again minus Mrs. H., we were all a little more talkative. When we stopped at Arby's for dinner, I ordered my favorite sandwich, and casually shared Chris's fries. But in some ways it felt like a last supper. I dreaded being caged at 2820 N. Meridian St. in Indianapolis. I missed Jess*, the world's best roommate, who had also become my closest friend. Chris, on the other hand, was returning to familiar territory. Having spent years at the ITC, he understood how things worked and still had numerous friends there.

I found the ITC atmosphere both overwhelming and suffocating. Just walking past the well-dressed ladies who staffed the reception desk, with their lovely hair and fancy make-up, made me self-conscious and insecure. Here, appearance was everything. Even with all the rules and dress codes, Oklahoma had been so much more laid-back.  The devotionals at breakfast seemed confrontational, and I mistrusted many of the adults in leadership. (At 23 and unmarried, I dared not yet consider myself an adult.) Since the ITC was also a kind of juvenile detention facility, the exits were secured. We had to be buzzed out by the front desk every time we went outside, and we had to get a signed permission form to venture beyond the parking lot.

My goal was to survive for the two weeks until Michael arrived. Chris and I had been thrown together, so I would make the most of our friendship. I followed him around like a puppy, relying on his knowledge of the ITC environment, drafting on his confidence. Ignoring the social norms, I dared to sit with him and his friends at lunch. I'd spent hours helping them run phone lines, after all! Mostly Chris was amused by this reversal of our roles, but he was moody, too.

We had been in Indy at least a week when Chris learned that his parents' home in Wichita had flooded over Halloween weekend. His basement bedroom had been ruined, most of his belongings destroyed. His stamp collection was gone. His parents were swamped with the massive task of clean-up while continuing to provide full-time care for Chris's invalid grandfather in a damp house. And he was back at this training center he'd finally escaped less than a year earlier.

On days when I felt more optimistic or self-regulated, Chris would inevitably be grumpy or depressed. A social researcher could scarcely have designed a more perfect incubator for mutual dependence. Like children playing on a seesaw, we took turns boosting each other's spirits, becoming increasingly familiar and at ease with each other in spite of the atmosphere that discouraged heterosexual friendships.

Continue reading...

*Names are pseudonyms.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my friend, I didn't know you were sent to Indy. :-( That place was hell to me, claustrophobic to body and spirit. I feel your anxiety and stress and loneliness and fish out of water-ness. I'm so glad you had Chris. So glad you weren't utterly alone. XO