When introducing ourselves in front of a group, my favorite opener was, “Hi! My name is Joy, my husband’s name is Troy, and my Father’s name is Roy.” By then everyone would be laughing, and Troy would pipe in, “And my father’s name is… Fred!” It was a perfect icebreaker and one we used for many years. With rhyming names and similar passions for ministry, it seemed that our relationship was an obvious match made in Heaven. We started at Trinity on the same day in 1980 and graduated together four years later. Troy was the only guy I ever kissed and my virginity was the gift I gave him on our wedding day. By the Bible’s standards we had done everything right. We were a model couple, ordained by God to “go into all the world and make disciples,” and we beautifully represented Trinity’s alumni with our Christ–centered focus and vision for ministry. (If you need a minute to rinse the barf out of your mouth, I can wait.)
I had never officially dated. I was terrified and suspicious of men in general, and saw most as being shallow, and only attracted to women based on their looks, a standard with which I didn’t believe I could compete. I hated jocks who objectified women and selfishly sifted lustfully, through one relationship after another to satisfy their sexual fantasies. My self-esteem was too precarious to endure being rejected in this way and so I gravitated toward the more gentle and effeminate guys whom I deemed safe. I would bet my bottom dollar that my best friends in the music department were closeted gays, but, coming out, in the 1980’s would’ve have been unthinkable, especially in a fundamentalist Bible College in the Midwest. This revelation comes in hindsight, as, at the time, I was too naïve to recognize the signs. Even when one of them tragically died from AIDS a few years later, in New York, I was still in complete denial.
Troy wasn’t necessarily effeminate but he wasn’t a jock either. He was the guy who still wore a suit and tie even after the dress code had relaxed and would sign the songs during worship, in our morning chapel services, not for the benefit of the deaf, but just for his own personal edification, as a form of choreographed worship. The main thing that made him less threatening, besides his “Napoleon Dynamite” affinity for sign language, was the fact that he wasn’t dating anyone. In fact, I had never seen him with a girl, the entire two years we had been at school. As far as I knew, he hadn’t broken any hearts and I felt like maybe he wouldn’t break mine either. When we started hanging out together, everyone, including our professors, was rooting for us. Not only did our names rhyme, but we even kind of looked alike, which was another confirmation, duly noted by the spiritually discerning. Troy met every criteria for being an eligible candidate for marriage i.e. he loved Jesus and he had a penis, the latter detail, taken on faith. So whatever red flags I noticed in terms of character, were readily dismissed as my god-goggles had a special way of softening the rough edges. One day, for example, Troy was in need of a new pair of glasses and the optometrist in town gave him a free eye exam, knowing that he was a poor college student. In return for his generosity, it was expected that Troy would purchase his new glasses from the doctor, making it a win-win situation for both. But when it came to selecting the frames, Troy tactlessly informed the optometrist, that all of his styles were ugly and he was going to look someplace else, an unmistakable breach of small town etiquette. The man was visibly offended, and gently said, “Troy, I just gave you a free exam. Are you sure you can’t find a frame here that would work?” Troy responded, “I didn’t ask you to do me any favors and I’m under no obligation to buy your hideous glasses.” He said hideous. I was horrified. Never in my life had I ever heard someone blatantly insult another person while showing absolutely no remorse. As he and I left, the doctor and I made eye contact. I tried to convey my sympathy, by mouthing the words, “Sorry,” and he seemed to reciprocate the sentiments by nodding his head. I had told Mama about the incident, and she warned, “The very way that he treats others is exactly how he will treat you, once the honeymoon is over.” I didn’t believe her. She obviously didn’t see what I could see, with my rose colored glasses. With filters, Troy was practically perfect. Sure he had some jagged edges, that needed polishing, but the important thing was that he was a believer and that’s all that truly mattered.
Our relationship was confusing at best, even from the beginning. I honestly never knew what his true feelings were because his actions would constantly keep me guessing. For example, he would ask me out on weekends but then routinely ignore me in the school cafeteria at dinner. Sometimes he would sit with me in chapel and other times, he would walk past without so much as a hello. We held hands, once in a while and even kissed occasionally, but that was the extent of our “physical” relationship. Like me, I knew he wanted to remain sexually pure, and so I attributed his prudish restraint as a sign of his commitment to obeying Jesus. If our relationship could be personified, it was “Pat” the androgynous character, Julia Sweeney played on Saturday Night Live. The tip of the iceberg was when he came home with me one Christmas to meet my family, but then ignored me the whole time he was there, refusing even to sit next to me on the couch. I felt like a damn fool in front of my nieces, nephews, parents and siblings. On the road trip back to college, I decided I just needed to know where we stood because the constant mixed messages were making me crazy. So I asked, “What do you think of me? Are we just friends or are we dating? Do you like me? Do you love me? Do you have feelings for me? Please just help me understand, because I can’t figure you out. “His immediate reaction was anger that I had the gall to ask him to clarify the relationship. I mean, how dare I challenge his obtuse communication skills? He responded by putting two words together that no girl, seeking reassurance, wants to hear in the same sentence. He sarcastically claimed he loved me alright-- about as much as a nagging mother! At least he didn’t use, hideous.
That should’ve been the deal breaker and it was for a while. We mutually decided to part ways, but I couldn’t get over him. I truly believed we were still “meant” to be together, despite the evidence to the contrary. But religious superstition has a way of fucking with reality and I was still latching onto the notion that our rhyming names had something to do with our destiny! I’m not even joking! On a deeper level, I knew I wanted to be married and my prospects were slim. To have gone through four years of high school and now four years of college, without any serious suitors, (because I was too busy trying to save the world and prepare for the rapture) I didn’t want to let go of the one chance, though imperfect, that I had. I was sure that if I made no demands of Troy and if I simply loved and served him and fed his ego, asking nothing in return, he could love me and discover the loyal gift that I would be to him. Despite my prayers and wishful thinking, I didn’t see any immediate signs that we were going to get back together, even though he didn’t date anyone else while we were broken up, nor did I. Still, my plan to get my degree, and ride off into the sunset with my new husband, needed to be adjusted. I decided after graduation, I would pick up some extra music and art classes at Evangel College, a larger school, also affiliated with the Assemblies of God, located in Springfield, Mo. “Coincidentally,” Troy too, made plans to move to Springfield to attend the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. What were the odds? Of course, I interpreted this news as a crystal clear beacon from Heaven! In my mind, the clouds had parted and the cherubim and seraphim were belting out their angelic symphony, “Together forever! Hallelujah, hallelujah, hal-le-e-lu-u-ja!” While, through my god-glasses, the clues seemed to scream of our pre-ordained union, somehow Troy wasn’t paying attention and was, in fact, downright oblivious to the angelic love ballad being written in the sky. Perhaps some good old fashion manipulation, in the name of Jesus, was in order. So with mutual friends and teachers, telling him what a “perfect” couple we would be, and reminding him that he needed to find a wife, Troy succumbed to the peer pressure and decided to give “us” another shot. Of course, my rose colored glasses, sanitized the entire ordeal by erasing all traces of coercion and “behind the scenes” plotting, so I could proclaim to the world how we “miraculously” got back together at the end of our senior year and how, before classes started up in Missouri, in the fall, he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hal-le-e-lu-u-ja.