“Do you want some wine, Joe?” Brian invited.
I looked up at him: “You know what, B? I think I would.”
“Fuck, yeah!” He said with excitement.
I took a small sip of a glass of wine from an $8 bottle of Safeway-brand Shiraz.
“Oh, God!” I said.
“Well?” Brian said.
“That is absolutely terrible,” I said.
“Does all wine taste like that?”
“I thought that you would like it because you don’t taste the alcohol so much.”
I thought that I would retch. Maybe drinking was one part of Non-Mormon life that I would be certain that I was not missing out on. My first time drinking beer was worse. It was this horrid concoction of ungodly bitterness of a Canadian beer called Killian’s. Yuck! My brother invited me to a Bud Light, later, and I was convinced that beer was the worst invention in the world.
Brian and I were studying in the Southwest Shakespeare Conservatory, where I made some lifelong friends as I studied to be an actor. It was while I was there that I came to see that my life was not on the wrong path but on its way to a different path and that I would get to choose the course of that path. Suddenly, not having a script for how the rest of my life was going to go was a truly liberating feeling! It was a good thing! I could just make a decision in the now and keep moving with things that I loved: being in the Theater, talking about Shakespeare or making out with a girl that I barely knew. Long conversations with good friends, photoshop, screenwriting, bad poetry, pornography and masturbation and trying new things.
I had a falling out with my parents while this was happening and as soon as I found a better job, I started working toward getting an apartment big enough for Brian and I to have our own bachelor pad. One came available in nearby Gilbert at a good price from a co-worker who was buying a house and needed someone to take over her lease.
Brian and I painted the apartment with a maroon color called “Wild Manzanita” though Brian’s girlfriend more accurately referred to it as “shit brown”. I pointed out that it had a very reddish sheen and she clarified: “bloody shit-brown”.
It was a pretty accurate description but it was ours.
In the months interceding between my move into the bachelor pad and Brian’s lease expiring, I lived alone. And during that time, I prayed. I tried to invite God to help me understand what I was going through but there was no answer.
“Why?” I prayed. “Why in my darkest hour would you abandon me?”
I didn’t talk to my parents for two years.
I went out and bought a flashy little Honda Civic coupe that wasn’t terribly expensive but it had a little kick to the accelerator and it was the LS edition with nice rims and a fancy radio. I decided to start exercising to get a body that matched my sporty little car and had a chance at helping me to get laid as often as possible.
I found myself at a Wal-Mart near the apartment looking for boxer-shorts to wear at the gym instead of sweating in my Jesus Jammies (which is common among Mormons). I found a pack that looked comfortable and picked it up. Stopping for a moment, I picked up another pack.
As soon as I got back to the apartment, I dropped my bags onto the bare floor (Brian had all the furniture) and went straight to my closet, where I scooped up all of my Garments and took them in-hand to the dumpster downstairs where I threw them away. I never wore G’s, again.
That feeling had no comparison…
That was the time period when I started answering the question “Aren’t you a Mormon?” with “I’m agnostic.”
I pulled open my laptop and started writing a letter, instead:
“Dear President Hinckley,” it began. Then, I typed for pages and pages with all of the details of my life and all of the ways that the Church and her teachings had been responsible for my misery. I revised that letter over and over and every time that I did, I took something away from it and blamed myself for it, instead. As I did that, the ache of my conscience eased more and more.
It had been my decision to go on a mission. No one forced me to do it. It had been my decision to obey all of the rules. It had been my decision to love the people. If I hadn’t agreed with the Church on some level, I should have been courageous enough to object to it, even if it meant humiliating my family or offending God. I should have done it just because it felt like the right thing to do.
If the Church had done something wrong through me on my mission, I was complicit in the act and I had to accept that. As I did, I also gave myself credit for the lives that had been touched by my mission, especially mine.
Finally, I whittled that list down to a small number of grievances: the Church was too hard on women and on gays and lesbians. She was too hard on silly rules. She didn’t do enough to prevent abuse and ran too hard on the reputation of Joseph Smith as a divine prophet when we all knew that he was a man with a very disturbing past and some nasty habits that he used the superstition of his followers to pass off as doctrine.
In the end, I decided that the biggest problem in my life was not so much what the Church did as what my belief in God had made me do. As I considered that maybe it was time to forgive myself for some things, I felt a familiar feeling. Like a hug from an old friend that filled my mind with the words “the Spirit never conflicts with common sense.”
“Because ‘the Spirit’ is common sense,” I said out loud.
I highlighted the letter on my Apple PowerBook’s Finder and I deleted it.
A Mexican-American co-worker of mine named Gerard prodded me about my life in Mormonism and how innocent I still was. I confessed that while I occasionally drank alcohol, I had never been well and truly drunk and that my only sexual relationship only really consisted of handjobs and blowjobs.
He laughed at me. I laughed at myself.
At lunchtime, he grabbed me and took me out the door with him.
“Your lunch is on me, my Mormon friend,” he said.
“Ex-Mormon,” I clarified.
Gerard took me to a strip club called Christie’s Cabaret and we ordered the worst meatball sandwich in the world. But afterward, I had a life-changing experience on a leather loveseat with a very sweet girl who confided in me that this was just a temporary job while she was saving up for nursing school!
“They’re all going to nursing school,” Gerard told me as we dashed back to work as fast as we could. I thought that was a little disenchanting.
“I think that this one really was, though!” I said as we laughed. “You don’t know her like I do, Gerard. We shared something special.”
“I hope you’re very happy together,” he laughed.
On August 23, 2004, all of my trainees at my work decided to take me out for a very Un-Mormon birthday. Gerard was the leader of the Babylonian rabble and he took my cell-phone and asked me who my best friend was. I said that it was Brian and Gerard called him and told him to get his ass to the bar that had been selected for the revelries so that Brian could be my designated driver.
“I told you: I don’t drink nearly enough to get drunk,” I told Gerard.
“We’ll see about that.”
It turns out that there is an amazing and sneaky effect to be expected from a black-licorice-flavored beverage called “Jägermeister”. By itself, it is not unpleasant to drink in small shots. When one of those shots was combined with a tumbler-full of a heavily-caffeinated beverage called “Red Bull”, it is downright delightful! Not only was it “delicious to the taste and most desirable” but I found that it drastically improved my dance moves.
Unfortunately, I did notice after I had about half a dozen of these so-called “Jäger Bombers” that other people couldn’t get their hands off of me. And I don’t mean that they touched me in a sexual way but mostly started to touch my arms very firmly and to say very friendly things like “You okay, buddy?” or “Does this guy have a friend, here?”
To these understanding patrons of the dive bar, I would announce – in a voice that was louder to them than it was to me – that I was doing much better than “Alright” especially because “up until a year ago I was a fucking Mormon!”
That explanation may seem out-of-context but to the people I explained it to, it seemed to settle their curiosity rather well.
Then Gerard introduced me to a delightful combination called a “Three Wise Men” which combined the genius of three great pioneers known as Jimmy Beam, Captain Jack Morgan and one Jack Daniels. I so greatly enjoyed the company of these distinguished gentlemen that while Gerard was in the bathroom, I personally went to the barkeep and reintroduced myself to them some three or four more times.
Brian Morton is a great friend. And on that night I learned that he could lift a lot more with his scrawny limbs than he let on.
Throughout 2004 and 2005, Brian and I enjoyed the bachelor life and I became increasingly convinced that there was no God and that the more that I took personal responsibility for my past and the less that I blamed on the Church or on a non-existent God, the more that my life made sense and I climbed out of freefall.
But there was a price. Many times in my life, when things were tough, it occurred to me to pray and ask God for help. But it would do no good because I knew how to recognize “the shoe trick”. I knew how the long-con worked and suddenly, the placebo effect was lost to me.
Perhaps, dear Reader, because you have gone a ways on this journey with me, you will believe me when I say that I mourned my God. My closest confidant and only support in the deepest and most profound depths of my heart had died on the day that I became agnostic. And I went through the same grieving process that you would endure when losing a dear friend.
I loved my God right up until the moment that He died and then that love lingered still.
In October, I was Brian’s Designated Driver to a Halloween event at a bar that I forgot to get a costume for. Brian was dressed up as a Zombie with complex stage makeup that even included rubber hose protruding from latex to represent compound fractures of bone and severed blood vessels. I knew that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb without any costume at all and so I went into my closet and improvised.
Later, as I sat at the bar nursing a delicious beer that I had discovered called “Guinness”, I was approached by a rather intoxicated young man who confided in me that my costume was “the scariest fucking thing that I have ever seen in my life!”
I winked at him as I reached over and tapped on the glossy black nametag on the breast-pocket of my white dress-shirt and said “I just want you to hear the Good News, my friend!”
“Where did you even get that Mormon shit, man?” he asked.
Turning back to my beer, I said: “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”