It became official while closing on a house. As it turns out, you can’t buy a house unless your spouse signs the title. Jessica Christensen, the loan officer, was the first person we told that we were separating.
In 2012 Claire and I made to decision to buy a 1966 26′ Airstream Overlander. It was a pretty romantic concept, but it was also our religion.
The tracts on Jesus Christ have had just as much weight in my mind as the ones on self sustained and debt free living. Physical fears and famines even held a greater urgency than the spiritual ones.
For a long time I had wanted to live in a Silver Bullet. This probably had more to do with MTV than it did with prophetic counsel, still the trailer was teaching me how to be prepared without having over-abundance. The trailer was helping me to understand God.
So at 23 years old, we moved from our great and spacious basement apartment in the low income part of Provo to embark on our holy quest of stripping ourselves of commercialism. I earnestly believed that doing so would help me understand why I felt like an outsider among my people, and would bring me peace.
We sold our clothes, paints and canvases, musical instruments, recording equipment, and leftover wedding gift crock pots. It was hard, but there was a little consolation in getting one step closer to that peace I felt owed. And a decent baptism it was into the community of minimalism. I felt a little proud, and it was hard not to ostracize those who were not baptized as I was. My wayward grandmother pressed us, “what will you do with your wedding gifts?”
Girls would often give Claire uncomfortable looks when she showed them her clay engagement ring (valued at about twenty dollars). We weren’t traditional in a lot of ways, but we were fully there where we thought it counted. But you don’t have to be on the outside to feel like an outsider. Not so deep down, this caused a discomfort that made understanding spiritual and community signals confusing. Many messages felt mixed, and things were beginning to feel a lot more gray.
Around that time we visited some family friends to announce our engagement. They had met Claire many times, but I probably wouldn’t say they were comfortable with each other. Still, when she held out her hand, I vividly remember the way the father tilted his head while dropping his tone to mutter, “interesting.”
After a year of restoring and repairing, finally graduating from BYU, and quitting our jobs, we hit the road for Portland. I had been offered an internship there, so there was much to be excited about. We felt truly free for the first time in our lives.
Still at the time Claire was suffering with extreme depression. Despite many low moments it felt like if we were faithful in holding our arms wide the fruit of our labor would fix many things.
About 30 miles before arriving in Portland we pulled off the freeway, near the Columbia River, to sleep for the night. In the process Claire found herself up a dead end without the space for our forty-seven foot rig to turn around.
She jumped from the truck and sat on the ground, just feet from the open door, running her hands through her hair. Earlier in the day a storm had torn our roof vent, a window, and an aluminum panel from the trailer. And although this type of anxiety was not unexpected, it was becoming more and more common (the opposite of our prediction). The look in her eyes matched how she looked each day after work, each night before school, and each Sunday before church. They screamed. They screamed that I should put the truck in reverse and not stop until we were back in Utah.
After the sun had set Claire climbed back into the truck. I put my hand on her leg and gently tightened my grasp as I said to her softly, “you got this. You’ll figure this out.”
She didn’t speak, but her ten mile stare suggested, “this isn’t what I signed up for.”
Charles was the sixty-year-old obese, gay, machismo manager of a trailer park on Killingsworth street, just six miles from my internship. He was sitting across from us in the front room of his double wide trailer while helping us fill out the necessary paperwork to live in his poverty stricken macro city. His perfectly parted pompadour stood heroically against the three rotary fans that surrounded him.
“So you want to move in. You and your,” he paused from filling out paperwork, pointing to me with his elbow.
“Husband,” Claire said quickly.
“Husband? You’re really married, for real?” Charles frowned through his questions.
“Well. Lots-a kids roaming round the park, but your spot’ll be hitched on a solid slab of concrete. No grass, gets pretty hot and isn’t much fun for little ones.”
“We don’t have any kids.”
“How old are you?”
He turned to me.
“You’re twenty-god-damn-years-old and you didn’t get married because you got pregnant? Well. You are a rare breed here.”
And although I have a hard shell from a lifetime of peculiarity, I couldn’t help but feel sad that perhaps this would be another place where we would be outsiders.
In that brief interview he told us his only rule: go about your business as you please, just don’t bring it outside. “I don’t care if you knock your husband around, just keep it in the trailer.”
Though, nobody really ever did keep it in the trailer. Certainly not the man directly behind us, whose 2am shouting at a prostitute seemed to go relatively unnoticed against the backdrop of the woman to our left whose turrets (we could only pray) caused her to scream unmentionables like clockwork from 11PM to 3AM. And though strange those people were, Claire and I found home in dropping our reservations and fighting the pains we were feeling in being far from home, poor, lonely, and stuck living in a perpetually broken trailer.
I hastily backed our truck into a fire hydrant during one particularly memorable fight.
I can only imagine this is why Mormonism thrives in the sprawl-ed suburbs of the West where there are a great many rooms and spacious fields whereby we can all the easier “keep it in the trailer”.
Even with the crime—the drug deals and the thefts, the three strip clubs across the street, and the mangy homeless dogs—that neighborhood became my home. I got to see the subtle beauties of a community in depression. They were good people who cared about us—and let us know we belonged.
They were the glimmer of gold on my road to El Dorado. They were humble, and they didn’t have the ability to let possessions burden them. Still they didn’t have peace.
Our journey continued across the country. A year later, we stumbled back to Utah. I was certain that the experiment had failed, and was pretty vocal about needing space. The two year long marathon in 120 sq/ft had left me gasping for space. But Claire, the long distance runner that she is, wanted to keep running.
I bought a small house on a large lot with 10 large fruit trees, high ceilings, and a garage the size of four Airstreams. This was when Claire left. If you don’t count brief interactions about taxes, we haven’t talked since then. And although I know her better than anyone else, in a way we’ve become outsiders to each other. We had started a religion, and I had abandoned the fold.
So I to my great and spacious, and her to even simpler living. Each walking in opposite directions, in search of the gospel we’d been promised.