Merry Christmas, Elder Vasquez

(Note: Starting tomorrow, we’ll be taking a break from our regular posting schedule until the new year. We expect to still be around with a few random posts, but the daily posting will be back in January.)

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My thirty-third Christmas will be the first one Melissa and I get to spend together as a married couple, which is partially why we decided it would be fun to have a cozy one in New York.

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This will mark only the third time in my life I haven’t spent Christmas in Utah with my family, the first two being those I spent in Argentina as a missionary.  I arrived in Argentina in October 1996, fresh-faced and full of zeal. I was assigned to be trained by a missionary I will call Elder Vasquez, of Uruguay. In the unlikely event that I am ever elected President of the United States, my first official act will be to launch a full-scale nuclear attack on Uruguay. After a few years, when the radiation clouds have subsided, I will send the Marines to kill any survivors and then sew their fields with salt. Other nations of the world will no doubt characterize these actions as “unprovoked.” But other nations of the world didn’t spend 5 months living and working with Elder Vasquez.

It’s hard to know how to describe Elder Vasquez. Actually, it’s easy. The hard part is trying to do it in language appropriate for a family blog. If I were to write a memoir of my mission but present it as a novel, any astute reader would view the “character” of Elder Vasquez as a mash-up of every “bad missionary companion” cliché: lazy, trunky, covetous of leadership positions, overly familiar with the members, and highly interested in spending as much time as possible around women. And that’s just describing him as a missionary. In order to describe him as a person, I wrote down every adjective that I believe characterizes him, put them in a hat, and randomly drew out the following five:

1. Sadistic
2. Irrational
3. (Is probably a) murderer
4. Self-pitying
5. Terrible person

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“This isn’t going to make much sense now, but in about 15 years, you’re not going to want to live downwind of Uruguay.”

Within a week of my arrival Elder Vasquez told me, in the spirit of full disclosure, that the only American he didn’t hate was Gordon B. Hinckley. Either Presidents Monson and Faust weren’t highly-placed enough to escape his ire, or he just really hated their faces. I don’t know. Regardless, if those two weren’t qualifying for an exemption, I certainly wasn’t going to, either. It was all downhill from there.  In one corner we had the eager, young American who actually wanted to, you know, do missionary work, and in the other we had the lazy, homesick Uruguyan who wanted to spend all day licking ice cream cones while watching girls in the plaza. By the time Christmas rolled around we’d spent two utterly miserable months together consisting of me dragging him out the door to do missionary work, which in turn consisted of me trying to stop people on the street in broken Spanish while he stood 10 feet away with his arms crossed, smirking whenever people refused to stop or when I made a mistake in Spanish.

I should mention here that the way Christmas is celebrated in Latin America is much closer to the way we celebrate New Year’s Eve here, with people getting dressed up, going out dancing and to parties, and lots of noise and fireworks at midnight. And by fireworks I mean fireworks, but also guns and probably some grenades and mortars. It’s incredibly loud and a little dangerous in that fun “It’s not a certainty that someone is going to lose an eye, but there’s a decent chance” Third World kind of way. For this reason our mission president gave us strict orders in no uncertain terms: Be inside your apartment by 6 PM, and don’t leave until the next morning. No exceptions. This rule was mentioned every time we saw the president or a mission leader for about a month in advance, and as Christmas grew closer, it was reiterated more and more frequently and with greater and greater force.

Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. A little before 6 PM we picked up some food to eat in miserable silence and headed back to our apartment. Thankfully, we received a visit from a member friend, Fabian, who agreed to eat with us and hang out for a bit. At some point around 8 or 9 PM Elder Vasquez declared that we needed some soda to celebrate. I told him we weren’t going to get soda, and we argued for a few minutes about the rule, at which point he seemed to back down. A little bit later I stepped into the bathroom, and when I came out neither Elder Vasquez nor Fabian were anywhere to be found. I went to open our front door, which required a key to open from the inside or the outside, and found I’d been locked inside the apartment.

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“No, I’m serious.  The shelter needs to be resistant to radiation.”

Worn out and depleted from this confrontation and the last couple months of near-constant strife, as well as the difficulties of being away from home and trying to learn a new language, I crumpled onto my bed. Before closing my eyes, I looked at my watch and realized that at that moment my family was gathered around the dining room table in my parents’ house, eating turkey, drinking wassail, warmed by the glow of love and tradition. The contrast between the beauty and peace associated with that setting and the misery and conflict of my current one was so great that I briefly wondered whether my former life was simply a figment of my imagination. And then I started to cry.

I don’t mean that I got some tears in my eyes. I mean that I cried really, really hard. To the point that I was doing the fast suck-in thing that people do when they cry really, really hard. I cried like this for a few minutes, and then went to the bathroom to try to get rid of my “cry face.” After being gone who knows where for an hour or so, Elder Vasquez and Fabian returned. Fabian left a short while after, abandoning us to our mutual contempt.

Well, I wish I could tell you this story has a happy ending. I mean, it does, in the sense that I didn’t beat Elder Vazquez to death with a baseball bat. But it doesn’t in the sense that we never really came to like one another. I suppose there are a few redemptive nuggets to be gleaned from my story. The first is that I was able to feel less guilty for waiting for Elder Vazquez to get in the shower before opening and gobbling down the Christmas treats my Mom had been sending me. The second is that my second Christmas in Argentina was much, much happier than my first. I had a companion I liked, we were working hard, and we had a really enjoyable Christmas. The third and final one is that even if Lyla somehow burns down our apartment, my third Christmas away from family and Utah won’t be as bad as my first.

(Ed note: I should specify that neither of the missionaries pictured with me is Elder Vasquez. I’ve burned any pictures that he’s in. And yes, these pictures are evidence that I wasn’t always a big guy.)

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This entry was posted in Argentina, Christmas, Lyla, Melissa, Missions, New York, Third World. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Merry Christmas, Elder Vasquez

  1. Ryan says:

    Why is Davis out of his missionary uniform in that last picture? Trunky.

    I like your description of how people in the third world sort of implicitly accept a higher level of danger in their lives, and just keep celebrating dangerously without rethinking how they do things. In that way, the third world has always reminded me of Hogwarts.

  2. Eliza says:

    oh, that is the saddest thing i’ve heard. and a little bit funny about the uraguay thing. Every Christmas from then on can only get better, right?

  3. Macy says:

    wow! What a horrible story. So sad and sweet to picture you crying in your bed in Argentina. Was it any consolation that Ryan was also not sitting around the dinner table for Christmas? Missions are rough.

  4. neil adams says:

    I remember that Christmas in Rosario Oeste, weren’t you in Funes?
    I think I recall you telling me what a jerk he was at the Conference that year.

  5. Slade says:

    It’s good to know the kind of benchmark we are up against this Christmas. Sounds like if I make you decorate the apartment, make all the meals, and do all the dishes, I’ll still come out ahead. Awesome.

  6. Ben Pratt says:

    Great story, Davis. Does this mean you’re not friends with Elder Vasquez on Orkut?

    I love the description of South American Christmas. My first Christmas in Brazil I was with my most challenging companion (though he was no E. Vasquez), and our member landlords invited us upstairs for the midnight feast. There was a gigantic spread of food on the table, and Sister Pipa was just finishing things up when David, the 20-year-old son, exclaimed that it was a minute after midnight. “Perdemos Natal!” We missed Christmas!

  7. Jim Hirst says:

    Needless to say, you haven’t kept in touch with him like our parents have.

    If you truly do reach the Oval Office, you may need Elder Vasquez to serve as an expendable mercenary/assassin. Or better, send him cave to cave in Afghanistan to look for Bin Laden. That should make up for that tracting h never did.

  8. Melissa says:

    just another reason i’m gad i didn’t have to go on a mission

  9. Davis says:

    Ryan, I realize that as a missionary in Portugal you’re probably unfamiliar with why a missionary would be dressed entirely in white, so I’ll let that one go.

    Eliza, yes, it definitely set the lower limit against which all other Christmases can be favorably compared.

    Macy, it kind of was a consolation and it kind of wasn’t, mainly because I knew he was at the point where he was enjoying his mission and that was clearly a ways off for me.

    Elder Adams! How are you man? Yes, I was in Funes. Good memory. Didn’t you end up there later?

    Slade, the only way this Christmas could be worse than that one is if you’re allowed to pick the movie we go see.

    Ben, no, we are not friends on Orkut, or anywhere else. The whole midnight thing was so weird to me at first. Never thought of Christmas like that.

    Jim, no, there will be no study group barbeques with the Vasquez family. And you’re right, if I were President, I could probably do a lot better than a nuclear war.

    Melissa, just because you didn’t have to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have.

  10. Rebecca says:

    i only had one Christmas in the field (oh, the posh life of a sister missionary) and it was in the only mildly temperate place in the Philippines, so it was actually kinda cold which made it a bit more bearable. also, my normally wacko companion decided that maybe she owed it to me that day to be nice to me. she was back to kicking rocks at me while we tracted the next day (note: this was mostly done in fun but sometimes went on a little too long and i had the bruises to prove it). it should also be noted that while we really disliked each other most of the time and even threatened each other with going to the pres. to ask for an immediate transfer, she ended up being my most dear companion. so, maybe, if you would have just given E. Vasquez another shot, you guys could’ve been great friends and maybe even made the list with Pres. H..

  11. Landon says:

    I liked the 5 words you randomly pulled out of the “elder vazquez hate hat”, but i wish you would have pulled out, “scum sucking pig” or “son of a motherless goat, Im sure they were in there.

  12. Troy says:

    Christmas in ‘Tina accurately described, Davis. My comp and I climbed up on our roof to watch and listen to the fireworks and dodge bullets. He revealed a 2-liter of Coca Cola for a Christmas celebration toast and it might as well have been a fifth of vodka. Coke was contraban in La MAM. What the heck, it was Christmas. Bottoms up.

  13. Andrea W. says:

    This made me soooooo sad. I’m so sorry you had such a miserable Christmas all curled up on your bed crying, so tragic! I’m so happy you have such a nice, beautiful companion for this Christmas!!

  14. Matt says:

    Man, you had me nervous for a bit. I was worried that I was the crappy missionary that made Christmas miserable. Merry Christmas man

  15. Katie says:

    I am still trying to figure out what this blog is all about…regardless, I love this post. Davis, why have you not written a book?

  16. Greg says:

    Oh so poignant, Davis. Heartwrenching. You are a sweet and tender man. What we do for the gospel!!!

  17. Davis says:

    Rebecca, I gave him lots of shots for 5 months. No dice. I don’t maintain that I handled him perfectly, but I did try pretty hard.

    Landon, those phrases were #6 and #7.

    Troy, you’re lucky. When you drank that Coke the protective missionary shield was withdrawn, and you easily could have lost an eye.

    Ang, me too. Me too.

    Elder Gertge! How are you man? I’m sure you recognized that you were the companion in the second Christmas, the one I really enjoyed. It was made even better because we had the landlord’s son, Hugo, poking his head in our window.

    Katie, we don’t really know what this blog is all about, either. But I’m glad you stopped by. We still want to go to dinner with you guys sometime.

    Pop, true. I feel like I’ve earned go-directly-to-the-celestial-kingdom ticket for those five months.

  18. Trevor says:

    Great story, Davis. I had a lazy, anti-American, Argie trainer too, but luckily was transfered after only 1.5 months, just in time to have an American, and my favorite companion, for my first Christmas in Argentina. Ah the fun battles with the Argie trainer that my nationality was “American” and not “Yankee” and being American didn’t entail believing we own the entire North and South continent – but of course we really do.

  19. kik~ says:

    Love it!

    And people (and by people I mean LDS men who lke to think they were *such* good missionaries) say that Sister Missionaries cause trouble. Yea, right.

  20. Dave Brand says: says:

    The worst missionaries in the southern hemisphere are from Southern California. Not from Uruguay.
    Never in the history of the missionary effort has a single missionary come out of SoCal with even a smidgen of effort in the “work”. All three of my So Cal companions were nothing more than rich, surfin’ play boys who never should have aggreed to submit to an interview with their Stake President.
    As for Elder Vasquez, he’s typically uneducated and appearently without tesitmony or tracts. I met many like him in Montevideo as well as in the interior of Uruguay.
    Actually these guys may actually be from So Cal. Transplanted to So. America to give the working Elders challenges to overcome.

    Not to worry tho. Eventually they all will be found by immigration and deported back to California and the Pacific that they sooo love.

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