Written by Christian Solomon
The taste of blood reminds me of the day I proposed to my wife. Up until that point, I was an average twenty-year-old young man. One could make the argument that there’s no such thing as normal twenty-year-old men, but I resolutely maintained a paradigm of the strictest normality and mediocrity. I was a white, middle class male, from a rural farming community, with average looks, and sub-average ambitions. The only thing slightly exceptional about me was a stark farmer’s tan and a profound naiveté. That is, until I met my wife. No, this is not a vampire coming of age story, but more the confessions of an unintentional renaissance man.
Nauvoo, Illinois is arguably the historical motherland of modern day Mormonism. While there the would be saints organized, built, and established their way out of obscurity. They built infrastructure and culture with equal eccentricity. In its heyday, Nauvoo was larger than Chicago and St. Louis put together. However, in the face of increased local persecution, “the Mormons” chose to leave their homes (because they had to) and relocated to the Rocky Mountains. On foot and in wagons, thousands of these postcolonial pilgrims filed down Parley Street and out onto the frozen uncertainty of the Mississippi River. Within three months, a booming frontier settlement disintegrated into little more than a ghost town. This is the somewhat appropriate backdrop for my provocation into manhood.
I had known Annalaura for five weeks. She was smart, funny, wildly independent, beautiful, and the first democrat I’d ever met. We got along really well, and we worked together even better. That summer we were both working as EFY summer camp counselors on the Midwest team. These riotous months were filled with traveling from state to state, gallivanting with youth, and the obscure and ubiquitous courting of young adults. I was smitten with this strong willed and earthy woman. I felt like Marco Polo: lost in an unexplored land, submerged in an alien culture, and always two seconds away from being in over my head.
And so I found myself, on the eve of the last week of the summer, madly in love and quite soundly stuck in a state of quandary. At that weeks end, like those saints before me, I would head out west for Utah (school), and she would go home to Michigan (school). God had blessed me with enough self-awareness to be sure of the fact that I was not made for long-distance relationships. After much internal wrestling, five weeks of knowing each other, and nine days of officially dating I came to the naïve conclusion that the only thing to do for the situation was to ask her to marry me. Duh!
On our last full day together, I invited Annalaura to go for a walk with me down Parley Street. As we walked we read plaques that line the half-mile stretch of dirt road that leads into the Mississippi. While reading, I seemed to feel the magnitude of the situation and the fleeting frailty of mortality. I started to cry. We’re not talking discreet tears, we’re talking full on textbook Ugly Cry. Plaque after plaque, no sooner had I pulled myself together, than we would read some new heart wrenching prose and my thin composure would crumble. After a while, Annalaura politely interjected, “Do you need a minute? I could go?”
Finally, upon reaching the “end of the line,” I took Annalaura’s hands in mine, looked her in the eyes, and began my prepared speech. It was a beautiful and well crafted oration that drew upon the history and symbolism of our current location. In not so many words, I invited her to join me on a journey into the unknown, across metaphorical plains, in hopes of finding our “prepared Zion”.
The downfall of my plan lay in the execution thereof. Those who know me are aware that I stutter worse than a broken record. At times, especially in moments of heightened stress and anxiety, my stuttering reaches a point at which I become inaudible. In this particular case, I stuttered so severely that I accidently bit off a chunk of my tongue. I reached the apex of my monolog, with the metallic taste of blood in my mouth and a look of dawning comprehension spreading across Annalaura’s face. I prepared to throw caution to the wind, and ask that one irreversible question. Just then, the ugliest man I have ever seen jumped out of the bushes and began to serenade the two of us with “Kiss the Girl” from the Little Mermaid. With lopsided eyes and ears too big for his tiny round head, he sang all parts and verses.
As I stood there, listening to the cadaverous screeching of the uninvited dwarf, I simultaneously warred with feelings of homicidal rage and suicidal cringing. After an eternity, and as suddenly as he appeared, the man vanished back into the bushes. All I could manage was an uncomfortable laugh, after which, Annalaura tentatively asked “Did you plan that?”. I flatly said, “No.”
What the hell was I supposed to do next? I couldn’t walk away and pretend I wasn’t about to propose, but couldn’t piggy back off the ugly mans dulcet tones into holy matrimony. So I started over. I struggled and stammered through every word of my now redundant speech. With blood coating the inside of my mouth, I dropped to one knee, in that age old ceremony of male supplication.
In such a vulnerable state, a miasma of uncertainty and dread began to crystalize around my thoughts. I had made a mistake. A monumental miscalculation. Time stood still, my heart fractured into a thousand pieces, and I prepared myself for social and emotional annihilation. In the years since, I’ve had occasion to consider the many cultures who view blood as the ultimate price. The blood spilt by willing saints make the stones of Nauvoo holy, nations pay for freedom or tyranny with the blood of their soldiers, even school boys pledge loyalty by sealing pacts as blood brothers. At the rivers edge, I knelt, blood running down the back of my throat, the evidence of my sacrifice. The currency of my right of passage… And to my very great surprise, she said yes.