Stephanie wasn’t Mormon like me. Her family was Catholic but they weren’t very religious. Since Arizona was a hotbed of Mormons spilled over from Utah, there was a steady stream of wholesome church youth dances I could drag her to on Saturday nights when there was nothing else to do.

Stephanie’s dad was a detective in the Phoenix police. She and her dad played soccer on Saturday mornings with his cop friends and Stephanie good-naturedly joked with all the officers while I stood on the sidelines, in awe of their private short-hand communication that included things like “You know that 12-14 we picked up last week? Got bounced after 48 in the hole.” I had no idea what they were saying to each other, but I knew it was about the nefarious criminal types that made Phoenix feel dangerous to girls walking alone after dark.

One of Stephanie’s cop buddies suggested she and I do a “drive-along” some weekend night. Stephanie and I agreed and soon enough we were sitting in the back of a police car, pulling the overnight shift. I enjoyed feeling the acceleration of the car as it responded to calls and the stories the officer told us as we cruised the quiet streets. We went out more than once and it was largely uneventful, just as I imagine the day-to-day job was for the cops.

The last time I remember going on a ride-along, my Mormon faith became the issue of the night. Our policeman for the shift was talking to Stephanie about his personal life and he mentioned that he and his long term girlfriend just broke up for good. Being the untactful, nosy kid I was, I piped up and asked why they split. Stephanie shot me a warning look but the damage was done. He gripped the steering wheel tightly as he began telling us a long story about his girlfriend, who he loved desperately. She was Mormon, he was not. They dated for several years and had discussed marriage often. When it came time to make a final commitment to each other, she balked, telling him that although she loved him, she couldn’t possibly marry him because he wasn’t Mormon and she needed to get married in the temple and that couldn’t happen in his unbaptized state. He immediately agreed to join the church and began taking lessons with missionaries. He was fine with it all until they got to the part about it wasn’t enough to just be baptized into the church. To get married in the temple the way his beloved required, it was going to take a year AFTER baptism, plus paying tithing, giving up his beloved coffee and beer and a bunch of other stuff he hadn’t counted on. This was no simple get dunked, take a few premarital classes and get married in the church like the Catholics. When the full extent of what his girlfriend wanted hit him, he said no. He just wanted to get married; he didn’t want to be a Mormon.

Somewhere in his telling his story, I volunteered I was Mormon. I don’t remember exactly when, but at the end of his tale of woe, he looked in the rear-view mirror at me and asked, “What do you think of that?” His face was stormy with anger and hurt and a bunch of emotions I wasn’t mature enough to recognize. All I knew was that I was glad I faithfully attended weekday Seminary classes and church on Sunday so I had the answer he needed.

I launched into an explanation of the eternal blessings of temple marriage and how our family can be forever, our love an eternal union that goes on after physical death. I also clarified that paying tithing means giving 10 percent of your income to the church forever, not just a one-time good will payment. As a teenage missionary, I thought I did pretty good extolling the benefits of joining the Mormon club.

The officer disagreed with me. He asked a few questions that went deeper than my seminary scriptural knowledge and I couldn’t respond. Our conversation ended abruptly when I said with a careless shrug of my shoulder, “Well, it’s simple. If you truly love her and want to marry her, you will have to join the church. She shouldn’t marry you if you can’t take her to the temple.” I can’t recall after all these years if I said the next part aloud or if I just thought it in my mind but I can picture myself saying something like, “I don’t know why she dated you at all. I wouldn’t date anyone who couldn’t take me to the temple.” I’m betting against myself and assuming I said that aloud.

Ouch.

Shortly after that, the officer developed a headache and dumped us off on another cop. The night ended well for me, I got to search a couple of local prostitutes in the parking lot of a bar and found a small bag of marijuana in the front pocket of the tightest and smallest pair of shorts I’d ever seen. I was teased about my Mormon sensibilities being offended by the rough language and appearance of the street women, but I played it cool. I was a Mormon but I could handle real life.

I went home, content that I had done my part to spread the good word about Mormons.
After that night, I don’t remember Stephanie and I doing another ride-along.