A LITTLE TRUST THAT THINGS DO WORK OUT
By Dian Saderup
GENE MUST HAVE first proposed on campus that I go to England on Study Abroad in 1985, for I had not yet become one of the assorted folk who haunted the house on Andrus Lane. I told him I didn’t have the money. He told me to get a student loan. “For five thousand dollars? For travel? If there was any student loan to be gotten,” I told him, “it will be to take me to Boston the following fall for BU’s one-year M.A. program in creative writing.”
“Do both,” he said.
“Not possible. Study Abroad alone costs $5,000. That’s the maximum loan I could get. Boston will pay my tuition or I won’t go—but I’ve got to have living expenses. Everybody knows $5,000 probably won’t even cover rent for a year, let alone food, etc., etc., in that city.”
“Do both,” he insisted.
“I just told you, I can’t.”
“Sure you can. Get a really cheap airline ticket through the program. You can stay in our flat for a few days—if my daughters hadn’t already invited a friend to come, you could stay there the whole time, but their room is full. You can find a room to let nearby—”
“There are cheap rooms to rent near the BYU Center?”
“Oh sure. Sure. No problem. Then you can sit in on classes. Get discounted tickets with the group to theatres. There’s almost always going to be an extra seat on the coaches when we go on day trips—might as well not waste it. You could come along. You could do the whole thing for less than half the price of the program.”
“Six months in London, including air fare, for $2,500? You really think so? Would the student loan people arrest me if they found out I used the money that way?”
“That’s what these loans are for. Education. Experience. Come on. Come on. Do it.”
“Are you really sure I could find a room to rent? That I could afford? I mean, what if I get there and can’t find a place to live? What if it costs me more than $5,000 just to put myself up?”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll find a place.”
“What if you’re right, but then I can’t for live a year in Boston on $2,500?”
“Those kinds of things work out. They do. Have faith. Get another loan if you need to. Come on. Will you go with us?”
We went back and forth about it for some number of days or weeks. But finally, he convinced me. I applied for the loan—and was amazed at the ease with which it was approved. I paid for my airline ticket. For Christmas, my parents gave me a new suitcase as big as a coffin. But in the back of my mind I kept wondering and worrying about finding that cheap room to rent. Would I discover it listed in the ad section of The London Times? I’d never had to make my way in a place bigger than Provo. But BrotherEngland was so confident. He was my mentor. My hero. He couldn’t possibly lead me into a ditch. Could he? He knew all about London. He must know something about rents and the availability of inexpensive lodgings.
Such were my thoughts as we cruised 35,000 feet above the Atlantic in an enormous, relatively empty plane. Every time we hit turbulence I’d need to talk nervously about how That was normal, right? And grab the arm or hand of whomever happened to have wandered into my vicinity. As often as not, it would be one of the three youngest England daughters who were along for the trip and with whom I had virtually no acquaintance. They uniformly responded to my fear of things aeronautic with laughter: It’s just turbulence, Dian! Haven’t you ever flown before? Hey, maybe a wing’s going to fall off! Ha ha ha ha!. Ha. With glances at the braids wound around my head, the unspoken comment seemed to be, What century do you come from? Or maybe, Where does Dad get these people?
We arrived at Heathrow in the early morning. I was ready to drop with exhaustion, but nobody of my new cohort knew about my rather unusual sleep needs. I was desperate to be horizontal. By the time we got to the flat and I had watched Brother England tell the girls that, sure, my sleeping bag would fit in a two-foot-wide corner of their crowded room—right there, between the foot of that bunk and the window—exhaustion had rendered me mute. When Jennifer and Jane saw that, scarcely past noon, I intended to go to bed, they shrieked that I’d never adjust to the time change—I absolutely had to stay awake. I stared at them, dragged out my bag, laid down, and fell into a coma.
I recall getting up eleven or so hours later, near midnight, for a trip to the bathroom. The flat rang with voices laughing, talking, having the time of their lives. When I was spotted in the hallway, a gaggle of girls yelled, Told you so! You’ll be awake till noon tomorrow! You’ll be sorry you didn’t listen. Then more laughter. What followed, I believe, constitutes my first serious impression on that monolithic klatch of young women—the England daughters: I visited the loo, returned to my corner, and snored soundly until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. With 21 straight hours of sleep, I had bypassed the circadian upset of jetlag entirely.
Thus rested, I was ready to venture out and buy my copy of The Times. My first real day in London. I’d go find that flat—the one just waiting for me across the street or round the corner in one of those lovely white townhouses that reminded me of the bankers’ residences in Mary Poppins. With Jennifer, Becky, Jane, and their friend Debbie, the room I’d been stowed in was obviously full to bursting, and it was clear I had little in common with its inmates. I’d best find my new home promptly. Expeditiously, I met Gene on my way out of the Center and told him my plans for the day.
“Oh no, you don’t want to do that right now. Uh, why don’t you come back upstairs with me for a minute and have a chat with Charlotte.”
“Well, okay. I guess.” I found this proposal a trifle unsettling because I feared—so early in the day—losing my momentum for the task ahead. I dreaded a failure of nerve. Suppose I lapsed into haplessness? But what could I say? He wished me to become better acquainted with his wife: Sorry, but I’ve got more important things to do?
We trudged back upstairs and he suggested I sit in the living room. As promised, Charlotte soon came in for a little conversation. Quite immediately, we heard very loud, angry female voices—the words undistinguishable—emanating from the girls’ bedroom. Charlotte looked mildly concerned, and perhaps a bit embarrassed. We heard the bedroom door open. Gene appeared before us, his face serious but calm, “Um, Sholly, could you talk with me, um, and with the girls? It’ll only take a minute. We’re just having a conversation.” I suggested that perhaps I might head out and find a newspaper, and that Charlotte and I get acquainted at a more convenient time for them all.
“‘No, no. Stay. You and Charlotte are going to have a great talk. We won’t be long.” He was absolutely insistent.
So there I stayed. And stayed. At some point, I became aware that Mark had been hauled into that infernal room to join the “conversation.” For infernal it had become. I was SHOCKED that my idealized, perfect Mormon mentor could have children who screamed, yelled, and—from other things—quite possibly threw stuff in rage when talking with their parents. When I crept into the hallway—wringing my hands, wondering what on earth I should do, for I really did have urgent business and wasn’t it just a little strange to make me wait for hours to chat with Charlotte—I heard those parental voices murmuring gently amidst the general cacophony.
Given Brother England’s insistence, I didn’t dare leave the flat. Yet I hardly dared stay. It seemed, somehow, indecorous to remain in the vicinity of such family travail. I grew restless. Then bored. Finally, hungry. I found a loaf of crusty bread on the counter and four different kinds of butter in the small and otherwise-empty kitchen refrigerator. Four kinds of butter? I felt confusion settling in. My hero appeared to have a family as strange as my own. And wasn’t he, or at least poor Sister England, just a little discomfited to have me lurking about while their children stormed so, well, appallingly? I still could not make out the substance of the argument. But it raged for nigh onto three hours.
The day’s momentum, needless to say, got thoroughly shot. My first real day in London. Oh well. Beggars can’t be choosers, and all that. I remained bravely philosophical and decided to try the Danish Sweet Butter on my next slice of bread.
Then—silence! Brother England caught me standing in the hallway, embarrassingly close to the bedroom door when he emerged. I think he may actually have drawn his forearm across his forehead, like a fighter mopping his brow upon victory. Probably I am imagining that. He smiled at me and immediately announced: “My daughters would like to invite you to share their room with them while we’re in London. There’s not much space, of course, but you could have that one corner.”
I was so dense that it took days for realization to dawn that their battle had began with me, or, more precisely, with where I was going to lay my head for the next six months. It took years for me to realize something even more obvious: Gene knew plenty about London rents and single rooms for let in Kinghtsbridge, and it hadn’t bothered him much to let me imagine such accommodations well within my reach. For in his mind, my spot in the corner of the girls’ bedroom had been accomplished long before we departed Utah—probably before I’d ever said yes and applied for my student loan. He just didn’t let anybody else in on the secret, until, of course, it was too late for anything more than a toilsome bit of argument. But oh well. Opportunities—especially those he was determined to provide for others—had their costs. And how much could the girls actually suffer on account of my presence? Such hardship would doubtless be good for them.
I grew to adore Charlotte and greatly enjoy those raucous young ladies. And they, on their part, found me a never-ending source of hilarity: We actually use to be intimidated by you! We were scared to even be around you. One of my Dad’s great writers! Like you were some major brain or something! Oh my gosh, Dian, you are the funniest, most hopeless person on earth. You sleep, like, fourteen hours a day! And you’re just always so bewildered. And they’d roll onto their beds laughing. It never occurred to me to find their laughter insulting—they laughed at everything, it seemed, and we all laughed together. Laughed and laughed and saw—on foot and by coach—that sceptred isle, that blessed plot, that earth, that realm. . . .
I will never, ever forget those days in England. My cup, so to speak, felt almost-unbearably full with joy and wonder, pressed down and running over. All for less than $2,500. When I got to Boston in September of that year, Gene’s predications about its affordability proved accurate. Free room and board fell into my lap. An extra teaching fellowship landed at my feet. He was right: all I had needed was a little willingness to take a risk. A little trust that things do work out. He’d taught me for the first time in my life how to step from solid ground onto the buoyant substance of a faith as pure and present as air.