I saw Sherry Anderson my first Sunday at church, and I thought, “She would be perfect.” But not perfect how you think I mean it.
She was an eye-catcher, though, and that’s part of what made her perfect for what I wanted. But again, not for what you’re thinking. She was early twenties, the daughter of a white engineer working for Exxon and a Mexican American mother from the Valley. She had dark hair but blue eyes, creamy tan skin, and sunglasses that rested on the top of her head even while inside.
We didn’t speak till later that week when the elders brought her over for our third lesson. She had done two years at Delmar College, then moved on to Texas A&M Corpus Christi where she was finishing up a degree in nursing.
Bingham introduced her. “This is Sherry Anderson from the ward. She served a mission a couple years back, and we thought she could help teach.”
“No singles ward in Corpus Christi?” I asked.
She eased back into my beat up couch while sprawled comfortably in the easy chair.
“The meat market?” she said. “Not interested.”
I laughed. “You just don’t like meat?”
“It’s all stale and old around here,” she said. “Except for you. You’re fresh meat, and look at you. You’re not at the singles ward.”
“I would go if you went,” I said.
“No way,” said Burgos. “We found you. You stay with our ward.”
“Do the missionaries fight over who saves the souls?” I said, looking at him with a smile.
“Of course not,” said Bingham.
I laughed out loud now. “Careful there, Bingham. Wo unto the liar for he shall be thrust down to hell. That’s what the Book says, right?”
“You know your stuff,” said Sherry.
“Used to go to seminary with some member friends,” I said.
“Yeah? Where at?”
“Really? What city? I served in California,” she said.
This is where I had to be careful. “No kidding? What mission?”
“San Francisco,” she said, taking the bait.
“Ah, no kidding. Too bad. You could have saved me back then. I was south. Whittier and East LA.”
“You’re a long way from home, then,” she said.
I shrugged. “You go where the money is, right? The oil business . . . it’s Texas, North Dakota, places like that.”
“So why not North Dakota?” she said.
“A boy from southern California?” I said.
“Good point,” she said.
That’s how it began with us. That night, the missionaries invited me to be baptized. Javier Lopez said yes, of course. Are you a Mormon? You think that’s terrible? One Lord, one faith, one baptism, right? Did you read the one in the Book of Mormon where Alma baptized himself? He was a priest, too, right? So he had already been baptized before he became a priest. Know why he did that? Me? I think it’s because of all the terrible stuff he did for King Noah and how Noah and the priests put the prophet Abinadi to death. I think he felt pretty guilty, and when he baptized himself (he baptized himself!), I’ll bet he felt pretty good again. Like it was all gone. You still feel like judging me? See, all I wanted inside was to feel like that again. So yeah, Javier Lopez said yes. And didn’t Paul say you were crucifying your old man of sin in the water? Brian Mendoza . . . that esse, I wanted that dude to die.
Two nights later, me and Sherry went on our first date. I asked her to pick the places since she was from Corpus. She picked the Crazy Cajun out in Portland. Woah. That’s a forty-minute drive. So that leaves a ton of time to talk. Which we did. A lot. And she was easier to talk to than anyone I had ever met, and I knew that she was going to be a better friend to me than my mom or my cousins or anyone I had known except for maybe Adam. And maybe, possibly, Barry.
Three weeks later, there were about fifty people at my baptismal service. Sherry sat up front, and she was a witness. Burgos led me down into the water, and I can hear every word of his Venezuelan accent in my mind:
“Javier Antonio Lopez de Jesus, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” I sat back, and he lowered me into the water, and I felt all that warmth wash over me, and I thought how Brian Mendoza was dead, and Javier Lopez rose up from the water a new man, clean from all of Brian’s mistakes and all of Brian’s ungodly desires and all of Brian’s habits. Javier Lopez was moving forward and not looking back at Brian. Sherry beamed from ear to ear. When I finished changing back to my church clothes, I sat next to her, and she held my hand.