Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our Courtship Story: A Road Trip and the Red Pill

Continued from Breaking Away

October, 1999

The school year had begun at home and it felt strange not to be studying anything myself. It was good to have another road trip to look forward to, though! There were flurries of email in the weeks leading up to our adventure. Lisa* was getting married in her home state, and I was a bridesmaid. She’d invited Michael*, Chris, and Dan* to be ushers and other friends from Oklahoma would be there. Nearly a year after our little office diaspora, the wedding would be a “CLink” reunion!

With a little help from my sister getting the zipper just right, I sewed a modest bridesmaid dress in Lisa’s favorite blue. I’d never been in a wedding before! I was barely acquainted with her fiancĂ©, but her parents had approved their courtship and Lisa seemed excited and happy. I was doubtful that I could be happy with such a man, but it was Lisa’s life and she didn’t let on that she had any reservations. In some ways I envied her, picking out a ring and having her life planned out. I wanted to be a wife and mother, but that life was dependent on a man finding and choosing me, with my dad’s permission.

Many years earlier I had made the “seventeen basic commitments” Bill Gothard asked of attendees at his Basic Life Principles Seminar: "I purpose to honor the Scriptural principle of letting the father of the girl determine whom his daughter should date and marry. I...will refer all interested young men to him."

At the mature age of fourteen, I had swooned over the redheaded young speaker and zealously joined in his pledge to remain single (and singlehearted) to focus on serving Christ for the next two years. And when that time was up and no possible young suitors appeared on the horizon, I upped it again, and again as a futile talisman against those "dangerous crushes" I had been frequently warned against but which seemed to arise independently with alarming regularity each time I conversed with an intelligent male who treated me like a peer. There had only been about half a dozen over the last twelve years and I was finally learning to ride them out, like a two-year wave. My most recent infatuation had been a coworker in Oklahoma. I hadn't seen him for well over a year now and the attraction was finally beginning to wane.

On a weekday afternoon Michael and I drove through the autumn colors to Chicago and turned into the familiar IBLP campus. Memories swept over both of us as he pulled the car into the driveway of one of the men’s houses on Pine Hill Lane. But as soon as we got out and greeted Chris and Dan, everything was cozy and comfortable again. These were our friends.

We loaded our luggage into Dan's car, and took off into the night. Conversation flowed easily as if we had never been apart. Chris had just seen a science fiction movie that blew his mind and, as Dan navigated the crush of semi traffic, he began to tell us about it--apparently in real time. I listened for a while, but the security and relief and exhaustion of the moment lulled me to sleep. When I awoke forty-five minutes later, Chris was still talking. It took him nearly two hours to describe the feature-length movie for us. I teased him about that for years afterward.

The movie was, of course, The Matrix. Though it was still in [forbidden] theaters, Chris had viewed a pirated copy in a 4" window on a friend's laptop while sitting on a bed in a basement bedroom at IBLP Headquarters. To this day, he describes it as "a spiritual experience". Ever since Michael's and my departure, Chris had been asking himself Who am I? And why? That day, he chose the red pill.

Morpheus: The Matrix... is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself... After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember -- all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.

Chris had already begun pulling away from the Institute, but the powerful imagery of The Matrix fired his imagination. (Sometime later, when he entered his house on Pine Hill Lane and came upon a group of guys watching the film on DVD, they froze. Chris had a clean reputation; would he would rat on them for indulging in "unapproved" entertainment? But they soon discovered there was no cause for alarm. "The Matrix? Cool!" said he, and promptly joined in their clandestine insubordination.) It would be years before we discovered the end of that rabbit hole, but the journey had now begun.

As night wore on and we headed south, Chris took the driver's seat. While Dan and Michael snoozed, I kept Chris company from the backseat. Unable to see each other's faces, we conversed in low tones. Despite being awake "alone" with a boy, I felt relaxed. Physically safe (Chris was the best driver I'd ever known), and emotionally safe. Chris knew me, he was my friend. Not only did I feel free to be my self in his presence, I also felt free to discover who that self was.

The only tidbit I can recall from our conversation that night was when we we passed a green road sign for a community called "Hazard". After the headlights had illuminated the sign and it passed into the darkness behind us, Chris wondered aloud what one might find there. And I promptly answered, "Dukes", startling us both. Somehow being on the road far from IBLP and my parents, I had tapped into memories and connections I had never been able to speak aloud before.

We arrived at Lisa's house and met her family. The five of us, along with Lisa's sisters, visited a local children's museum. I remember Chris taking readily to the puppets. Lisa and her dad took us to a state park where we climbed a wooded mountain trail to the rocky top and savored the view. We all helped fix dinner. And, as it worked out, we took Lisa to the airport to meet her groom when he arrived from Oklahoma. To distract her while we waited for his flight, we explored the airport and had such fun on the escalators as only fundamentalist twenty-somethings who are good friends can manage sober. In fact, we were having such a good time whiling away the minutes that we had to scurry back and find Dean* who was waiting at the gate!

Looking back, I wonder that I didn't have more concerns about Dean and Lisa, but none of my close friends were married yet and I had never before seen what a "courtship" looked like up close. I had read accounts and listened to audio recordings about how a Godly relationship should be conducted, but the hypothetical mixed with fantasy in my imagination. Observing reality that weekend, I wondered how Lisa could be content with the arrangement. Neither she nor Dean seemed lost in love with one another. We were all more relaxed with her than Dean appeared to be. But I chalked their awkwardness up to a host of factors: social and practical limitations created by his disability, their commitment to wait for marriage to express their love, their distance from each other over the last several months. Her parent-blessed wedding would be lovely and then everyone could be comfortable. I hoped.

Continued at Fear, Desire, and More Goodbyes

*Names are pseudonyms.

1 comment:

  1. "we explored the airport and had such fun on the escalators as only fundamentalist twenty-somethings who are good friends can manage sober."

    Too funny. But then I'm like, "Is it okay to laugh at that?" Because really it's not funny--at all.

    Can't wait to hear the end!