Jessi and I first met on the evening of October 4th, 1998. I’d just moved into a new place that day as part of my safe housing arrangement following my completion of a year-long residential treatment program in Minneapolis. I was eighteen years old at the time. The house was a sort of hub for the kids in the youth group at a local church where a few of the guys I’d been in the program with had started attending.
I had been taught (nay, trained) to treat the opposite sex with extreme mistrust, as they could lure my attention away from God and cause me to lose focus, and thus potentially send me into a tailspin of debauchery and sin, ending, no doubt, in chemical relapse and the utter shipwreck of my faith. Thus was the mentality, anyway. As such, even though I thought Jessi was cute right away, and was drawn to her fiery personality, I reacted to these sentiments as I would a threat, and treated her coldly, keeping her at arm’s length.
It was only a few days before this resistance started to crumble. We were standing in the kitchen of the house I was living in at the time, and she was going on and on about something, and I was thinking, “Man, the way this girl talks is just adorable,” and then she said something about hoping that it didn’t annoy me that she was “talking incessantly.”
And that did it. Resistance was futile. Everything about this girl was cute beyond words, and I was now completely captivated. There was no getting away from it.
I started mentioning to my friends that I though she was really cool, trying to fish for a clue as to whether or not the feeling might be mutual. Everyone said basically the exact same thing. “I’m pretty sure she thinks you’re really cool, too. You should talk to her more.”
We used to get together and just talk for hours. We’d go places and do things all the time, and I remember the first time she reached over and held my hand. We were just pulling out of the driveway in her blue Honda Prelude that she loved so much, and when she did it, my hand felt like it was reaching through a rip in the fabric of space and time, right into heaven, and being washed in angel tears.
At the time, she used to wear these very baggy pants, or long skirts, and always had a hoodie or jacket on, so I had never really noticed her body before. She was short, and I liked that, and she had a face like a movie star. Her eyes were hypnotic. But the culture we were in at the time was all about over-the-top modesty, so she never wore anything that revealed so much as a curve.
One night, though, we were going somewhere together, and when she came over to the house she was wearing this form-fitting sweater that was just…it was so hot. She asked me how she looked and I told her that I was basically drooling. I don’t remember if it was that night or a different one, but there was a point where we were at a Five Iron Frenzy show and she took off a ball bearing chain that she used to wear and put it around my neck and fastened it under my hair (I had long hair back then.)
Being that close to her, with her arms around my neck, the entire universe seemed to crystallize, and suddenly everything in life made perfect sense as I became like jello and my mind melted and ran down through my ears and onto the floor. My heart basically stopped. We’d only known each other a few months, but there was nothing further to decide. This was the girl I was going to marry.
All of this was taking place, however, under some very psychologically hazardous circumstances. Let me explain.
I mentioned that I’d moved into a new place. It was a townhouse in Crystal, MN, a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, several hundreds of miles away from my friends and family in Michigan. So I was out on my own. The guy who owned the townhouse was named Brad, and he was something of a self-proclaimed prophet in the church that I’d started going to with my new friends from treatment. Basically what that means is that he would tell people things as though he were hearing them straight from God. Sometimes he would actually say that he was literally reciting words that God was speaking to him that He wanted the person to hear. The premise was that the person couldn’t hear these words himself because he hadn’t prayed enough or fasted enough or read the Bible enough. With this came the assertion (sometimes implied, sometimes stated outright) that to accept his words and obey them was to be in line with the will of God, while to reject them was like directly disobeying God Himself, and would inevitably result in the person’s imminent failure, and ultimate ruin.
This is actually considered a completely legitimate way to view reality in some circles, and I just happened to have had the misfortune of stumbling into an environment like this after having spent my adolescence doing as much acid as I could get my hands on, and then being immersively indoctrinated in charismatic Christian culture for a year. These things combined to prime the pump really well for a guy to get sucked into a cult in its embryonic stages, which was exactly what was happening to me at the time.