The first time I was knocked unconscious, I came to in the baptismal font.
So this is what they mean by seeing stars, I thought. I had visions of childhood cartoons pass through my brain, especially violent Looney Tunes cartoons, where the charming villain characters, like Sylvester the Cat and Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote, would get bashed in the head and then look dazed while yellow stars twirled around their heads comedically. Except this wasn’t so funny.
My vision was black with little sparks and flashes to it as I came to. I knew it was only seconds, but time stood still, and I couldn’t remember what had happened.
It was Sunday morning, and I was in the baptismal font. I could remember that much. Elder Fowler and I, mismatched missionary companions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had a baptism scheduled for this very morning. We had been working an inactive Mormon family who had a 9 year old boy named Wesley, and we were baptizing him after church today. It was kind of a celebration service for me. After four months in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and two particularly trying months with Elder Fowler, who was the single most bizarre person I had ever known, I was being transferred to the big city of Philadelphia soon, and it was wonderful to close out my time with a baptism.
Elder Fowler and I had only had one other baptism, a man named Glenn together, a Pennsylvania Dutch man with a wife and three teenage children, who worked in a hardware store in Shoemakersville, forty miles north of us. Glenn had been a dream to teach, and he had been baptized swiftly, but he had quickly quite coming to church after his baptism, citing family problems and work commitments as excuses for his inattendance, and he had asked us to stop calling him weeks before.
I realized I was on my hands and knees as I started to come to. And then I realized there was something splashing, a dripping sound. I held my hand up to my head, which I suddenly realized was badly aching, and felt something wet there. My vision cleared a bit more as I pulled my hand down and realized it was bright red with thick blood. I was bleeding, my head was bleeding. I rushed to my feet and then was beset with terrible dizziness and fell back to my knees. I almost passed out a second time, and the world spend worse than before. Standing that fast had been a huge mistake. Don’t panic, I thought. Stand slowly.
I breathed evenly. My sense of self started to return as I pushed myself back into a sitting position. Church had started, and the ward congregation would be singing hymns in sacrament meeting right now. In fact, if I tuned in I could hear them. I had come to the other side of the church and into the baptismal font to prepare it for the after-church baptism. Once the faucets were turned on, the font would take a little over two hours to fill with waist-deep water so that Elder Fowler could baptize Wesley. Before turning on the water, I had taken some wet paper towels and had wiped out the bottom of the font, cleaning up small patches of dust and dirt so that the water would be clean. Then I had gone to turn on the faucet. I had dropped a paper towel, had bent to pick it up, and then while standing up again I had hit my head on the sharp jagged edge of the box around the faucet. That was what had knocked me unconscious.
My vision cleared completely and I could see small pools and drops of blood around me, and I looked down to see them on my white shirt and on my blue tie. Blood was trickling down the side of my face, but not profusely, just slowly and steadily. I got to my feet, with my hand on my head, and took several seconds for the dizziness to clear before moving. The font had a small set of stairs on either side of it, each leading to a bathroom where those being baptized could change after they had been submerged. Without thinking I made my way up the closest stairs and entered the room at the top, happening upon the girls’ bathroom.
Amy, a teenage girl in the ward, stood there popping a zit in the mirror when I entered, and she gave a small scream at my reflection behind her, a bloody missionary. She turned to face me.
“Elder, are you okay?”
My head was throbbing and I muttered the only words I could think of. “I–I need a mom.”
Twenty minutes later, with a different shirt on, some T-shirt from the back of someone’s car, and a rag held to my head, I rode in the passenger seat of Brother Miller’s car, sitting on a trash bag in case I bled more. My head was still bleeding, but only lightly now. We made small talk as he drove me thirty minutes into a larger city, where there would be an emergency room. There, I presented them with my missionary medical insurance card, and the doctor took a look at my injury an hour later. Three hours after that, I left the hospital with part of my head shaved and four brand new stitches in my head.
That night, I took some pain meds and laid down as Elder Fowler used his hand puppet, Chihuahua, to tell me about the baptism. He cooked cinnamon rolls to try and help me feel better, and played his favorite music, the soundtrack from Mary Poppins. I wrote letters home and laid there in the apartment thinking of how only a year had passed so far on my mission, and yet it felt like a small eternity. I still had another year to go, and I still had to be knocked unconscious one more time.
I sat there, my head whirling to the sounds of spoonfuls of sugar making medicine go down, and I wondered what God wanted me to learn this time, a thought that had been occurring to me more and more lately.