Deep within Mount Timpanogos, we enter a cavern larger than any we’ve seen so far. “The Big Room,” Other Andrew tells us.
There are steps carved into the stone ground that lead up into what looks like an amphitheater above. Other Andrew points out various colors along the walls, something like Father Time’s Jewel Box on a larger scale.
“It’s so beautiful,” I tell Jed, lifting my camera.
“Let me do that,” he says with a smile. “You just look. You need to write about this.”
I squeeze his hand and walk to the wall. There are orange splatters where rust has grown and yellowish aragonite that spikes like ice crystals against the right side. Jed points to more tiny gems sticking out from the wall. More crystals. More long processes of creation.
I still want to drink in more of the surrounding world when Other Andrew calls us back down the steps to another iron door. When our small group stops, Other Andrew announces, “Okay guys, this is my favorite part of the tour.” He tells us to turn off all our phones and cameras and anything that makes light because “We’re going to do a little experiment called Total Darkness.”
My stomach catches. Other Andrew walks over to the device where the press of a red button will plunge us into darkness. I move a little closer to Jed, and he takes my hand. I’ve always been afraid of the dark. I don’t want Other Andrew to do it, yet some small part of me feels excited.
“Help me count down!” Other Andrew says, though I don’t make a peep as I prepare myself for the oncoming darkness, for the emptiness of space.
After a Category 5 Hurricane passes, there is not much left behind. The storm has stripped the world of everything material, everything recognizable. Houses are gone. Windows are shattered. Trees are broken. There is nothing left for the people who have withstood the storms, and yet, they’re alive. They made it through. The storm did not beat them, but maybe surviving isn’t enough.
So, many people move away, leave the homes they once loved and cherished. They relocate to somewhere easier—somewhere that hadn’t been destroyed.
But others stay. They rebuild. They dig into whatever solid ground is left and piece their lives back together. Things can’t the same. What was once their home is now gone, but maybe what they’re building will be even better.
I peer through photographs of decimated Florida and wonder if something new could ever be erected there. In a wasteland of broken wood and trees and lives, I can’t imagine how any creation could be formed—how anything could last. Yet, with every picture of that hopelessness I find, I see another showcasing the immortality of human strength.
Pat Warren, a survivor of Hurricane Andrew, stated, “It changed me completely. I’m not the same person. There has been a pre-Andrew, and now there is a post-Andrew… I never expected anything like that.”
I made the choice. I told my mission president to send me back. He booked a flight home, and within a week, I started therapy at the LDS Family Services: Missionary Department. I had a hope that maybe, once I figured out all my issues, I could go back out into the mission field. I believe, at that point, I wanted it to be true. I hoped, with time, I could find a space for God inside me and return to do his work.
I truly wanted to believe.
There came a day, three months after returning home from Germany, that my psychiatrist leaned over from his chair beside the desk—a desk placed against the wall so there was nothing between him and me but pure and empty space.
His eyes were soft and steady when he asked, “Andrew, there’s something I need to ask you because the answer may give us all the answers we’ve been searching for.” He paused. “Why do you hate yourself?”
I shook my head and stuttered. “I—I don’t hate myself.”
“Yes you do,” he whispered. “Why do you hate yourself?”
Over the course of the following days, that question never left me. His quiet voice rang through my ears. Why do you hate yourself? Why do you hate yourself?
The truth was, I knew I hated myself. I hated myself for coming home early from my mission—for giving up when it seemed like everyone else could do it. I hated that I doubted God, that I didn’t believe as strongly as I once did. I hated that I told my mission president I was gay.
At two in the morning, some days after I was asked that question, I sat in my bed, surfing Facebook as if I could find some meaning there. My eyes lingered over a video titled “It Gets Better at Brigham Young University.” Having no idea what it meant, I clicked PLAY.
Stories appeared before me. Students my age at BYU. Some were gay, some were lesbian, some were bisexual or allies. They told their stories—childhood curiosity, growing up in a religion that wouldn’t talk about it, returning home from missions for the same reasons I did. As I watched and listened in the confines of my dark bedroom, tears pooled on my eyelids. My breathing came quick and hard. The screen of my laptop vibrated atop my shaking knees. My stomach twisted, and I slammed my laptop shut.
I ran to the bathroom and threw the door closed. I collapsed in front of the toilet, my knees cracking against the checkerboard tile. I retched. Tears streamed down my eyes and I coughed on the foul taste on my tongue. I shivered so violently that I slipped from the sides of the toilet. I dry-heaved a few more times before standing to face the mirror.
The glass, plastered with toothpaste and dried drops of water, showed a boy looking back at me—a foreign, puffy-eyed stranger. Lost. Scared. I shook my head, attempting to rid my thoughts from poisonous suspicions snaking their way in. It couldn’t be. I wouldn’t. It wouldn’t happen to me. I refused to accept it.
“You’re…” the reflection spoke to me, but his voice faltered from the first word. I had learned long ago that God would not tolerate it. That it was not okay.
It was not okay.
I crumpled to the tiled floor, held my knees close, felt the cold white wall against my back, heaved shallow breaths. He had been right. I hated myself. I’d hated myself from the day I started loving men. A burning built within me, and all the chaos made sense. The storm that had surged through my life had an origin I had chosen not to see.
And the tears that fell to the white tiles below somehow weren’t painful anymore. They weren’t hard. They fell heavy from my eyelids, and something deep within me opened. With every sob, my body drained of what had been there before. All the hatred, all the anger, all the knowledge I believed I had about God and myself seeped from my body, creating space.
In the midst of it all, I found myself smiling. There, in the darkness of a bathroom, a newness opened up within me—a pure emptiness ready to be filled.