COMMENTS: This was an essay that I wrote my very first semester at BYU, sometime between February 2001 and April 2001, as one of the requirements for my Honors 200 writing class. My teacher loved it and suggested that I enter it in the Honors 200 writing contest, and so I did. And apparently the judges loved it as well, because it took first place. I believe the prize was $200.
I remember that at the time I set out to write it, I wanted it to NOT sound like a freshman essay. And in retrospect, it sounds a lot like a freshman essay. But at least it was worth $200 more than most freshman essays are.
This version is actually missing a few sentences. I pulled it from my old personal web site, and when I originally posted it there, I removed some small bits I had written about a boy from my church whom I’d had a crush on for fear he would see it. I no longer fear him seeing it, so if I can find an original copy of the essay I’ll post it. Those parts mostly just added comic relief.
Real names of other people were of course changed for the essay.
Away From Pygmalion
Bridget Jack Jeffries
Craig’s shouting falls on irate ears. I have spent the day being hustled from house to church, from church to airport, from airport to humid, crowded van, from humid, crowded van to dirty campground. In between each destination I have been left waiting with either nothing to do or too much to do. Half an hour ago, my pastor announced a surprise pre-ministry visit to Morales Dos, the village we attend to each year, which meant, to my dismay, changing into a skirt and piling back into one of the vans. I am one of the last people to leave the camp: a slow, tired, hot, filthy girl trudging through the incessant, bronze dust.
In short, I am in no mood to put up with Craig’s nonsense.
Craig shoves me without warning. I nearly topple over. I can tell from the force of the blow that he’s had a running start. “Craig, don’t push me!” I snap, whirling around.
I see his face for the first time. I feel my heart drop into my stomach.
“Bees! Do you think I’m kidding?!”
The black, swarming mass on the horizon behind him and the girlie scream which has just burst from my throat further confirms to me that he’s not. I turn and run, dust rising in my trail like the tail of a comet.
Later I apologize to Craig.
I don’t think anyone can tell that I’m walking around campus with one leg—that a part of me is missing. My other leg is called the Sumner Presbyterian youth group. I couldn’t take it with me when I came to BYU. It’s still in Washington, waiting for my return.
I know what people would say if I told them how I feel: “You’re a freshman. You’re homesick. You’ll get over it. Stop being so dramatic.” I insist on being dramatic. I am not talking about friends that I miss in the usual sappy, freshman way. Sumner Presbyterian was my Gapetto, my Pygmalion. If I am Athena, Sumner is Zeus, and I sprang full-grown from a group of collective imaginations.
My dorm is decked with memories of Sumner, clinging to my walls like ghosts who have had too much sugar. The necklaces, posters, and pictures all remind me of the insanity we shared, and I want to return to that insanity. It helps to think that somewhere, they are looking at things that remind them of me and feeling just the same.
I see the Jennifer Knapp poster Craig gave me, and the pictures of her I took before I lost consciousness in front of her at her concert. “She’s so stinkin’ good at the guitar,” Craig would say, slipping his own guitar back into its case. By the time I am her age, I should be every bit as stinkin’ good at the guitar as she is now. When this comes to pass, I will be able to throw my entire college education to hell and take up Christian folk rock professionally. Then I will give Craig a poster of me.
Then there’s the Newsboys concert poster Steve gave me—Steve, who is quite possibly the world’s most brilliant practical joker. He is the one who taught me how to put Easter egg dye in shower caps and shampoo on toilet seats. And the ghosts are in the steel promise ring necklace Tessa gave me when she was my youth leader. I still wear it and run my fingers over the inscription, which reads “True Love Waits,” and I remember how Tessa and Steve betrayed us all by marrying each other and moving away. Now Steve is a youth pastor and has his own youth group in Oregon, and I am forever searching for new ways to give Tessa a hard time for getting married. Next time I see her, I am going to tell her that the Hebrew word for husband means “owner.”
And there’s the Five Iron Frenzy poster on my closet door, which reads, “ALL THE HYPE THAT MONEY CAN BUY,” the title of their latest album. Five Iron Frenzy—the greatest Christian punk-ska band in the world. And I think of how I alone consist of about 8% of the evangelical Christian population on campus, and how I will teach elephants to jump before I get Mormons to appreciate the genius of the Christian punk-ska movement.
“Hey, Jack, reach down into my pocket. There’s a really cool shell in there. You can have it if you want.”
I take another breath of salty air and squint at Corey for a moment. I am trying to perceive whether this is a trick or not. Maybe if I give him the lazy eye, I’ll intimidate him into telling me the truth.
It doesn’t work. I decide to try interrogation. “It’s not a hermit crab, is it?”
He assures me it isn’t.
Of course it isn’t. It’s a sand crab, which I disclose as I pull it out by the pinchers and shriek. The pink, snapping creature drops to the white sand with a soft plop and feebly attempts to scurry away with its sideways stride.
Corey laughs and scoops the crab back up, returning it to his pocket. His shorts are teeming with tiny, pinching prisoners. I walk with him and Tom, the three of us scouring the beach for more.
“We’re going to put them in Jonathan’s sleeping bag,” Tom explains to me.
Aside from the fact that I’m in need of some kind of revenge because Corey tricked me into almost getting pinched by one of his little beasts, I have no problem with this.
Tom makes me promise not to tell Jonathan about the crabs, so I never say a word to him about the crabs. But I do tell him to check his sleeping bag before he goes to bed.
Every time I see them, my friends from Sumner Presbyterian tell me how worried they are, and I wonder if they are as sleep-deprived as I am. They don’t want me to go to Brigham Young University. They have been praying that God will stop me. I have been denied admission to the university. Now they are more certain than ever that this is not God’s will for me.
I tell my pastor that I’m going to apply again, this time for winter semester. He sighs and shakes his head. “Jack, you can’t force God’s will.”
It’s the same thing everyone else in my church, in my youth group, in my life, has been telling me.
You can’t make God dance, Jack.
Of course not. God doesn’t dance. He’s Baptist.
It’s not their fault that they love me. It’s not their fault. They saved my life. They pulled me back from suicide when I was broken, insecure, unloved Bridget. Now I’m plucky, funny Jack, and they’re afraid that if I go to a college that’s 98.6% Mormon in a town that’s 94% Mormon, I’ll convert and they’ll lose me. Gapetto couldn’t bear to watch “the life that he created run away.” Neither can they.
And I have one leg in Washington and one leg in Utah, and I know that one of them will have to be amputated eventually. And I am not looking forward to the surgery.
Everywhere I go I see my old youth group. In the WWJD bracelets I wear that they wear that no one else on this campus wears. In the Jars of Clay songs I play that Kris plays so well because he’s a true talent at the guitar and I will never be as good as him. In the C.S. Lewis books I read that all my friends and I would be having such a good discussion about if they were here or I was there.
Being one of the only evangelical Christians on campus doesn’t hurt. I have always been the odd one out. I love it here. I love learning Hebrew and going to Hebrew parties and learning how to sing “I Want to Kiss You Under the Sun” in Hebrew. I love telling everyone who ventures into my dorm about every one of the Christian band posters I have on my wall, and how I passed out in front of Jennifer Knapp at her concert. I love asking Mormons what they call their coffee tables.
But not a day of my life goes by that I don’t look forward to my return.
I see myself walking into the church and collapsing on the couch—the same couch we broke trying to carry into the youth room with Karen Brownhail still laying on it—and they come in. Not all at once, but one by one, eventually, I’m reunited with every person from my youth group. And now I can sing songs in Hebrew about kissing and play them on the guitar, and everyone laughs when I tell them what it means. And later on we take another mission trip to Mexico, and this time if Craig says there’s bees, I’ll believe him.
And I tell everyone how I just couldn’t get any of the Mormons to appreciate the genius of the Christian punk-ska movement.
“Whoa! It’s still falling!”
Federal Way, Washington
We’re strapped into the harness. Corey is on my left and Zelda is on my right. The air is cold. We can see our exhalations disappearing below us as the crane takes us higher and higher. I have just spit in a very unladylike manner, and we’re all awestruck at the length of time it takes for the lugie to hit the ground.
Craig is watching from below. Zelda wanted Craig to come with us because he’s her boyfriend, but Craig says he’s a big chicken. Corey was brave enough to come, but he wasn’t brave enough to be on the right and pull the release lever, so Zelda adopts that role. I have to be in the center because I’m the tallest; otherwise, I would have done it.
We reach the top and halt, suspended in the air. We can see the entire amusement park. We can see people from the youth group looking up at us from below. Zelda pulls the lever, and we fall.
And we swing. And I scream. And the sky is studded with stars and the amusement park is studded with lights, and it’s beautiful. We fall and swing, back and forth, forth and back. And I want to stay forever here, with someone who loves me on my left and someone who loves me on my right and someone who loves me below and someone who loves me above. But I know I’ll have to come down someday.