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Downtown Sister Brown and the Department of Defense

By Courtney Kendrick

THE PHONE RANG AWFULLY EARLY for a summer morning. “Ms. Kendrick?” a man’s voice summoned me from my sleep. “This is George Eckles from the Department of Defense. I have some questions to ask you regarding a former mission companion of yours.” Now this is extraordinarily cliché to say, but that is a statement I never thought I would hear. “When and where can we meet?”
Years of my husband Christopher making me watch Alias had taught me well that you always meet a person from the Department of Defense in a dark alleyway at night. Chances are that you fall in love with that person, only to find out later that that person is really an alien from some dark corner of the galaxy, and whose mother was a sexy spy from Russia with really toned arms. Anyway . . .

I chose my house as the location, the following day, at 900 hours. I spent the morning making a mental list of the possibilities. Which companion was running an underground terrorist cell? A quick glance at my mission scrapbook lead me to three likely suspects.

Suspect One: Sister Nixon—Very Sneaky

You call them dork dots. The red sticker a sweet lady lovingly presses against your new name tag as she welcomes you, and your luggage, to the Missionary Training Center. It seems that there is a whole chain gang of these women that you meet as you leave your family—for good—in the Weeping and Wailing Room. One checks to make sure you have the correct papers, another checks your mental stability, another one (with gloves) checks your head for lice. Then you are sent to your dorm and told to wait there until another person with a similar dork dot shows up in your room. This means that you are companions.

In my case two sisters with red dots showed up. This meant that we were a threesome. One of the two, Sister Nixon, wore those eyeglasses that tint in the sun. When she showed up in the room, hauling in her luggage, her glasses were dark, which to me, made her look a bit mysterious. Mostly because I didn’t remember sunglasses being a part of the sister missionary ensemble. I started to worry . . . should I have brought my Jackie O glasses? Would that make me more approachable?

As it turned out Sister Nixon and I became like sisters. Actually, I’d like to think that I took her under my wing. She was as smart as a cricket (am I mixing up my similes?), but not especially cool. One night before evening study I asked if I could give her a quick sister missionary makeover, to which she obliged. I taught her how to use mascara and a slight wisp of blush. I tamed her otherwise nappy hair and last of all gave her free reign over my closet. I still remember that she picked out my yellow silk jacket, and against her olive skin it made her look radiant. Typically, I would never use such a word, but in this case, it was true. The elders were stunned and graciously remarked on the transformation.

After that night everything changed. Some mornings I would awake to find Sister Nixon sleeping at the foot of my bed. She’d steal my name tags, hide them, and then help me search the room high and low—all the while supporting me through my bouts of self-questioning, which were peppered with phrases such as “I am losing my mind!”

Later, I’d find her wearing my tags when she didn’t think I was looking. Her closet raiding became more frequent. Makeup was missing. She started writing my family. Sister Nixon was slowly and surreptitiously becoming . . . me.

It was eerie, really—she even gave up eating grits for breakfast! That’s when I started getting worried. Our other comp noticed it as well, and we decided that as weird as it was, we’d let it go. Truly, as long as I could at least keep my loyal boyfriend off-limits, as well as my own underwear drawer, I didn’t mind sharing identities with my confused companion. I considered it an honor, really.

When our two-month sojourn in the MTC finally ended, Sister Nixon and I parted for good. She was off to Africa, to a place far away where it was rumored that people ate monkeys for dessert. I hope that Sister Nixon found someone else to become when she arrived on that continent—because if she were me, there would be some real issues with monkey eating.

Is it just a coincidence that sneaky Sister Nixon also shared the last name of a famous American crook? Could she be stealing identities, perhaps dork dots, for questionable countries?

Suspect Two: Sister Dean—Questionable Background

It wasn’t long before I was wrangled into another threesome out in the field. Having been in two threesomes within three months, I feel a certain expertise on the dynamics of such a group. My confident conclusion: they’re a disaster. Yes, necessary at times, I realize, because sisters go home sick a lot. (And I feel like I can say that with equal confidence. They just do). However, necessary doesn’t mean ideal.

In my second threesome there was Sister Dean, who wore low-cut dresses to impress the elders, and had a family picture that (how do I put this kindly?) looked just like the Addam’s Family—complete with Cousin It. Always anxious and easily upset, Sister Dean wanted to be a good missionary; she just felt she couldn’t be one with me around. She had it pretty good before I came along, too. She was companions with the fun sister in the mission who sang opera in the shower and made the most excellent apricot chicken dish. The less-active families loved to take care of Sister Dean’s emotional needs and the district leader felt useful when he called every night to resolve her concerns. She was most skilled in getting people to eat out of her hands.

My transfer into the area was no favor for Sister Dean. I still wonder what I did exactly to upset the balance of her orbits, but she didn’t like me for it nonetheless. When I asked, she avoided questions about her family, Cousin It, and her past in general. As time passed she became quiet and sullen. A month after my arrival Sister Dean was transferred. I saw her in passing at mission conferences every few months. It seemed like she tried to busy herself in conversation when she saw me coming. I think sometimes we just have companions who will eternally baffle us.

It was rumored that a former sister went to see Sister Dean after the mission and she would only open the door a crack. She seemed none-too-pleased to have visitors.

Did I push Sister Dean into criminal activity? A mafia family with Cousin It?

Suspect Three: Sister O’Brien—Irish Thunder

Sister O’Brien, from California, made me a mother. In mission president’s terminology that means that I was her trainer. I couldn’t have been more proud, either. Sister O’Brien was a semi-professional figure skater. On P-days we would go skating with the zone, and she’d put those hotshot elders in their places.

“Sorry, what, Elder Hoskins? Were you asking me about goals? I was just watching my daughter do a triple axel!”

This was especially cool because we were in Canada. In Canada there is nothing to do on P-days unless it has to do with ice. Or hockey.

Sister O’Brien was the real deal. Her Irish background had graced her with the gift of gab, and she’d keep me awake at nights telling me colorful stories about her family. She never needed a coat and insisted on drinking only lemon water. Also, to my advantage, was the fact that she was a graduate of hair school. I have some fancy pictures of me with cornrows (it really was too bad that I didn’t have my Jackie O sunglasses). Come to think of it, I don’t remember cornrows being a part of the sister missionary ensemble either, but it made great fodder for the elders.

Sister O’Brien’s mission was cut short when her real mother became terminally ill with heart complications. She arrived home in time to say good-bye. I felt a loss when I heard the news. After all her storytelling, I felt like I was part of the family.

However, as it pertains to why the Department of Defense was calling, I concluded that perhaps Sister O’Brien could have ties to that whole Russian figure-skating bribe scheme. But why would the Department of Defense care to launch an investigation? I dare say we Americans won fair and square in 2002 with that perky Keri Strug. Rather, I think Keri was the gymnast. Who was that wisp of a girl that won in Salt Lake City?

But I digress . . .

All night long I had nightmares of what was to unfold the next day. I woke up several times throughout the night. I kept telling myself, “It’s only 200 hours, go back to sleep” or “I have a couple more hours to sleep, as it is only 400 hours.” Admittedly, I had never actually used military time, but it only seemed appropriate.

When 800 hours came around I was awake and alert. My husband offered to sit with me during the interrogation, but I was willing to take one for the country. What did I have to hide? (Well, besides the big black spot on the carpet where Mr. Eckles was to sit during the questioning.) When he finally arrived he first flashed me his badge, “Ms. Kendrick, my credentials.” Then he handed it to me. Flustered I took the badge and looked it over as if I did this sort of thing all the time. I remember seeing a picture, an official-looking seal, and some blue writing. “Looks good,” I said in a semi-approving tone (I didn’t want him to feel too comfortable). “Please come in.”

The Department of Defense sure looked funny sitting on my yellow couch with floral pillows. “You had a companion, Wendy Brown, (and let me interject here that of course I have changed all the names; I can’t take any chances) who has applied for a security position with the United States Government that requires top-level security clearance.” Well, of course, Sister Brown. She who had a photographic memory, learned Hebrew and Arabic in her spare time, and went to Syria occasionally for fun. (I was actually scheduled to spend a summer with her in the Mediterranean but at the last moment got married instead.) My own comp, a member of the “big brother” team. I was so proud.

I acknowledged that I knew Wendy and loved her as a friend as well as a companion (hopefully that would help her get the job.) He asked me things like, “Did she work at this place?” and “Did she go to school at this LDS higher educational institution?” It amazed me how much I knew. Good thing I really listen when she occasionally calls.

After a while he started asking me more detailed questions. “Does she keep secrets?” I couldn’t recall sharing secrets with her as a missionary. Although I did remember the time I dumped my bowl of tofu soup back into the pot when our dinner appointment answered the phone in the next room. She didn’t tell anyone, but boy was she disappointed with me—and let me know it on the car ride home.

“Does she adjust easily to a variety of situations?” A less-active sister used to let us wear her wigs. Sister Brown looked fabulous both as a blonde and a glossy chestnut brunette. She even let me dye her hair fire-engine red on her birthday. I knew she could adjust to hair color!

“Has she done anything in her past that would embarrass the United States Government?” A pre-mission picture she shared with me of her before a Mötley Crüe concert in London came to mind.

“Does she associate with upstanding citizens?” You mean besides the time that Trent Reznor asked her out?

Last of all there were questions like, “Does she like to snow or water ski?” Then I imagined my comp skiing down the Alps while locating a secret Al Qaida Swiss bank account tucked away in a discreet cave.

“No,” I said. “I don’t believe she likes either.”

Mr. Eckles was impressed with my honesty and he told me so. “It sounds like your friend here has lived a very interesting life.” And the cool thing is, I got to be part of that interesting life, at least for five months. At the time I thought five months was a long time with a companion, but perhaps she’ll think of me when she’s undercover wearing a wig while eating tofu soup in some far away place. I just hope for her sake that it’s not that place in Africa where they eat monkeys for dessert.

About Courtney Kendrick

(Emerita)

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