Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Companion

Gary, who I heard about through a mutual friend a few months ago, is a retired electrical engineer living in Montana. By luck, I happened to be passing through the town he lives in while moving and he agreed to have lunch with me. The following is a transcription of the relevant parts of our conversation (recorded on my phone), edited for readability. And, of course, names and details have been altered to protect identities. Gary has a folksy air, an easy laugh, and a modest demeanor. He was fun to talk with.

Me: So, your buddy tells me you once had a . . . well, what would you call it?

Gary: (Laughs) A parasite? I had one or two of those while I was down there, that’s for sure.

Me: You were in Guatemala, right?

Gary: Yeah, back before there was a temple. Back before there was a stake there, really.

Me: You were one of the first missionaries, then?

Gary: No, the mission had been going for maybe fifteen or twenty years by the time I got there. But still, there was a lot of space and not many missionaries. When I was out in the boonies, I could go months without seeing another companionship.

Me: That must have been lonely.

Gary: Yeah, you could feel like you were on the moon sometimes. One village I lived in had one telephone in the post office. And the mail came when it felt like it. We’d try to check in with people at the mission office every few days, but sometimes we’d go a week or two . . .

Me: And how would the mission office communicate with you?

Gary: Well, that’s kinda how this whole thing got going. They’d call and leave a message for us, which might or might not get written down. And we’d only get them when we stopped by. So one day they had a piece of paper there for us. It said that my companion, Elder Wilson, was going to be transferred back to the city the next day, but it didn’t say who my new companion was going to be. We asked the guy at the desk, but he didn’t seem to have any idea what we were talking about. So we called the mission office, and, of course, it was busy.  

Me: Of course.

Gary: So we went home and Elder Wilson packed. Then we were at the bus stop the next day. I kinda figured my new companion would come in on the bus and we’d send Elder Wilson off together, but we didn’t see anyone in a white shirt and tie. So Elder Wilson left, and I was alone, which was kind of scary and exciting at the same time. As far as anyone knew, another bus wouldn’t come through for another day or two. I called the mission office, but . . .

Me: It was busy.

Gary: (Laughs) Right. Transfer day. What could possibly go wrong?

So I walked back to our house, which was just a hut on the edge of town that took a while to get to. I figured I'd get some wash done or something, clean the place up. But when I got there, I saw a missionary standing next to the front door.

The first thing I noticed about him was that he looked like a native, which was pretty rare in that day and age. Most missionaries were white guys from the States like me. The second thing I noticed, when I got close enough, was that he smelled kind of funny. Like ozone, when a light bulb breaks. And I couldn’t even begin to pronounce the name on his tag. I think it started with a Q. So I ended up calling him Elder Q in my mind. Anyway, I ran up to shake his hand, but he backed away from me and said he was sick. He had this flat-inflected voice, like the natives do.

Me: So how'd he get there?

Gary: I asked him that and he said the mission van had brought him and that they'd somehow dropped his luggage at the wrong place. So he just sort of sat on his bed while I did my stuff.

Me: Watching you?

Gary: No. He didn't seem much interested in me. He just seemed to be waiting. So, evening came and I suggested we go do some tracting or something and he just stood up and walked right out. By the time I had gathered my stuff and gotten out the door he was a couple hundred yards away, walking like he knew exactly where he was going.

Me: Strange.

Gary: Yeah. I kept asking him where he was going, but he never answered. And I was thinking, "Boy, what a great companionship this is going to be."

Me: Yeah. A barrel of fun.

Gary: Anyway, as I followed him, I noticed that he was heading in the direction of a house I really wanted to avoid. Elder Wilson and I had been teaching a family there. They were the kind that you knew would actually stick, you know? The golden of the golden. It was Gabriel and his wife Lupita with their four little kids. They were pretty dang poor, but there was just something about them.
But about a month before, Gabriel had come home while we were there and just went crazy. He accused us of trying to seduce his wife and steal his children. He even took a few swings at Elder Wilson. So we high tailed it out of there. We went back again a few days later and he threatened to kill us. So we left them alone after that. It was sad.

Me: So was Elder Q actually heading to their house?

Gary: Yeah, he was. When I caught sight of it, I just about wet my pants, I was so scared. And then he really surprised me by throwing the door open and barging right in. I ran like crazy, and when I got to the door I looked in and saw him and Gabriel glaring at each other. It was a tiny place, so all the kids were there watching what was going on.

I yelled, "Elder!" And Gabriel turned to look at me, at which point Elder Q jumped him.

Me: Seriously?

Gary: Yeah, they were rolling around in the floor punching at each other and trying to get each other in a hold. Eventually, Elder Q pinned Gabriel against the wall, like right up off the ground. He was a strong guy. And while he was struggling there, my companion stared straight into his eyes and yelled, "Bless him, Elder!"

I looked around at everyone and they were all staring at me. So I dumped my back pack and crossed the room, but Gabriel's foot shot out and caught me right in the thigh, knocking me down. But I got up and put my hands on his head.

The next thing I really remember is Gabriel crumpled on the floor and my companion walking out the door. I got down to make sure Gabriel was breathing, which he seemed to be doing. Then I looked around at everyone and said I was sorry about what had happened. Lupita started sobbing, and even though I knew it was against mission rules, I went over and put my arms around her. The littlest daughter, Maria, probably a year old, went over and cuddled up to her dad, who was still laying there on the floor. It was a really strange sight. She had even fallen asleep there by the time he revived.
When he woke up, he looked at me and said he was happy to see me and where was Elder Wilson. I decided that since things had settled down, and since it was way past my bed time, I should really head home. I tell you, I was bone tired.

Me: That's quite a story.

Gary: Well, that's not quite everything. When I got home, Elder Q was asleep and even though I banged around the house as loud as I could, he didn’t wake up. I was kind of mad at him. Then I fell asleep myself and the next thing I knew there was a knock at my door and some white kid in a shirt and tie was standing outside next to some luggage. I turned around to tell Elder Q that his stuff had arrived, but he wasn't there. So I said, "Come on in" and poked around outside to see where he was at.
When I went back in, the new guy was unpacking the bags and making himself at home.

Me: So, Elder Q was ...

Gary: (shrugs) Not my companion. This new guy, Elder Jansen, said the bus he was on had broken down and made him a day late.

Me: How'd he find your place, then?

Gary: (chuckling) Some native-looking guy who smelled like a broken light bulb had showed him the way.

Me: That's nuts.

Gary: That's why I don't tell the story very often.

Me: I didn't mean nuts nuts. I meant ...

Gary: (grinning) I know what you meant. But I'm still not done. When Elder Jansen got put together, we headed over to Gabriel's house where I found out that the previous night none of them had seen anyone but me. It looked like Gabriel had been knocked around and pinned against the wall by an invisible force and that I had come along and saved him.

Me: That's ... wild.

Gary: Yeah. Gabriel actually didn't remember much at all about the previous month when he'd been acting so violent. They got baptized pretty soon after that. Gabriel became branch president after about a year, and Lupita ran the Primary, the Young Women, and the Relief Society. They turned out to be real power houses.

Me: Did you ever tell them about Elder Q?

Gary: Only many years later. It took me quite a while to process that experience.

Me: Did you ever see Elder Q again?

Gary: Nope. And I never really missed him either. (Grins)

After that, Gary and I talked about who Elder Q may have actually been. Since Elder Q had avoided shaking Gary's hand, it would seem that he was likely a spirit according to the three keys for discerning spirits. But he seemed to have physicality as well, throwing Gabriel around as he did.

Gary blushed a little when he suggested that it might have been one of the Three Nephites. But I could see the argument. The Three Nephites were promised immortality when they asked to be allowed to preach the gospel until Jesus's second coming. The three keys may not cover whatever change made them immortal.

We agreed that Gabriel had likely been possessed somehow, and that the possession may have been an attempt to keep him from joining the Church.

In any case, it's always nice to have a happy ending.

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