The world is full of ordinary people, you know the ones I mean, those who never really stand out in a crowd. They are not part of the “Smart Set” or the “Beautiful People” or “Movers and Shakers”. These are the people who merge or blend into the background that you can’t pick them out of a crowd. Every day tends to be like the last and like tomorrow. Outside of flat tires and broken windows nothing much happens, nothing much changes. These are your neighbors where changes are trees growing taller and children growing older. There was one couple in the neighborhood, the Olsons, who were steady, like a rock, as some might say. You could set your watch by them.
We had moved into the neighborhood when their two sons were in high school. Richard and Martha were the first to make us feel welcome, introduced themselves as we were moving the furniture and boxes into the house. “Come on, boys, lend a hand.” Rich was speaking to his two sons. Well, it’s not often you get that kind of reception in today’s world. Martha brought over a hot supper for us later as we were starting to unpack. Very nice people. Not flashy or ostentatious in dress or manner. Their sons were clean cut in their appearance. Their two cars were both late models about four or five years old. Just ordinary people, or so one might think.
Well, we were invited over for a barbeque two weeks later so we could be introduced to a few other neighbors and friends. Seems they were Mormons. Rich worked for a local firm as a production manager. Martha, now that the sons were in high school, had gone to work as a bookkeeper in a large dental practice. The two sons, Rich Jr, and Matt, were honor roll students and decent athletes in basketball and baseball. the family was involved in the church, which meant all the worship services, the auxiliary meetings and activities and the youth organizations. Mormons are very family oriented, perhaps to the point of suffocation. Occasionally Rich and I would sit and talk about the stock market or more academic subjects. Now the usual run of the mill friendship with Mormon families is that one is socialized to the point of conversion into the church. But if there is resistance to converting or even refusal of any appeal to listen to their “truth” then gradually that friendship declines until it no longer exists. I think socializing with outsiders is greatly frowned upon by the church. Still, by the time both boys were off to BYU Rich would still drop by once or twice a month.
One night Rich came by, a sort of surprise visit, and we talked for quite some time. “Bill, ever since the boys went off to college Martha has been spending more and more time away from the house. She has really busied herself with Relief Society and Genealogy work and quilting. I come home in the evening and we eat dinner but then she’s gone for the evening. The house is starting to get lonely.”
I would have been a little shocked at this confession but I’ve always been seen as the father confessor type. Besides, I wasn’t in his church and among that hierarchy of friends and leadership. In such a closed society such as an closely organized religion one must put forward a formal front. Oh, one can confess belief to one’s content, but dissent and complaint are poorly tolerated. “Well, Rich, I can see how that might be. Perhaps you need a hobby, something to take your mind off her absence and occupy your time.”
“You know George, he’s the one who lives two blocks over. I think you met him last year, May barbecue. He’s been saying that I need a hobby. Wants me to come over to his house. Did you know he has a large wood shop attached to his garage? Built it himself. Bill, I just don’t want to get into that manual labor thing. I deal with the guy in the plant all day long, you know. It’d be like going to work.”
“I think it’s more of a man cave with George. Maybe he needs the comfort of another man to talk to. Not to knock your religion, Rich, but sometimes I think your church doesn’t leave enough breathing room for the individual.”
“I don’t know. I just feel I am missing something, that’s all. My whole life has been the church. After high school I went on a mission for two years. Then I went to college. And I got married in my sophomore year. Rich Jr and Matt came along before I graduated. And I’ve been working for the company my whole career. Now Martha’s hardly ever home and we never talk like we used to do when the kids were little. Don’t get me wrong Bill. I’m not losing my faith, I just feel I’m losing my life.”
I really had no advice for Rich. What do you tell a man who has lived that straight and narrow life everyone expects him to follow? To my knowledge, Rich has never had even a traffic ticket. Besides, my own life has not been ordinary. I’ve had my ups and downs in more ways than I care to state. To my mind, a straight and narrow life holds a certain appeal. I just doubt I’d be very good at it. So for the next four months I listened to Rich one and sometimes two nights a week. But where I had once enjoyed our conversations about the world I was starting to dread his confessions. Rich was in danger of losing his status as an ordinary person. That day came sooner than I expected.
Martha came to the door one evening. She has George and another man with her. We hadn’t seen Martha in a year and a half. Since we didn’t become Mormon she saw no reason to continue her offered friendship. I didn’t blame her, we weren’t her type, had little in common. But here she was and it was obvious that she had been crying, the tears had stained her puffy face. “What did you tell my husband?” Her voice was loud and angry. “I know you were up to something. What did you tell him?”
I looked at her and then at George. “I don’t understand, what’s going on?”
“Don’t give me that! Rich has been over here every night for the past month. What did you do? What did you convince him to do?” Her words were stinging my ears with their rage and volume.
“You’re George, right?”
George answered in the affirmative. Then he quietly told me that Rich hadn’t been home for over a week. Martha started to rage again but George cut her off. “Sister Martha! Let’s hear what the man has to say.”
“Please come in and tell me from the beginning, what has happened.” was my reply. the three stepped into the house and I led them into my study. “Please sit down.” was all I said as I sat in my chair.
George looked at me and then at his companions. “I should introduce our bishop, Brother Simmons.” Brother Simmons was silent as he and Martha sat on the couch. George continued to stand. “Brother Rich appears to have left home and we don’t know where to find him. Do you know where he is at the moment?” His voice had that restrained calm.
“No, I was unaware that he had left. And no, I have not seen Rich for the past month.”
“He’s a liar, I know it. Damn you! You’re hiding him, aren’t you?”
“Please, sister Martha. Control yourself. Outbursts like this won’t help.” So Simmons could talk after all. He directed his gaze to me. “Won’t you please help us?”
“If I knew anything I would tell you, but Rich never confided his plans, if he had any, to me.” I tried to sound as sincere as I could. “I take it he has moved out of your house, perhaps taken some clothes.” I directed my question to Martha.
Her anger was still showing but at least she reigned it in for the moment. “Yes, he did take some of his clothes. And he even left his job at the plant. I bet you told him to do it, didn’t you?”
“No” was all I said. I couldn’t tell the whole truth. For one, it would have been far too painful for Martha. And it would have cast doubt among her peers on her ability as a wife. No, for once in their lives these ordinary people would have to deal with an extraordinary event. Their church had never prepared them to do other than pray for guidance. I had no guidance to give.
There’s a large town about forty five minutes north of us and we were heading that way for lunch one Sunday. My wife had read about a restaurant that opened last year there and the cuisine was highly rated. The affair of the runaway husband had been going on for over two years. I had been accused in the neighborhood of instigating his disappearance, so getting out of the area on a Sunday gave us a certain relief. The neighbors had been a little less friendly since that episode. I wonder why? So we put the top down on the Miata and indulged in the nice fall weather. Blue skies and turning leaves makes a nice drive. We found the restaurant and didn’t have to wait long for a table. As I opened the menu I saw a couple several tables over looking at us. Then I realized it was Rich and some woman I didn’t know. As we ate I noticed that they had finished their meal, paid, and left. On our way back home my wife turned to me. “That was Rich, wasn’t it.”
“Yes, that was Rich.”
“He doesn’t look very happy.”
“No, he didn’t” I thought a bit and then I said. “I’m not getting involved.”