Sweet Little Nothings

In the end we only regret the chances we didn't take chocolate

Because she believed
that she wasn’t smart enough for college,
she’d quit,
toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work,
soaking up life experience,
which was often greasy.
When a little bun was placed in her oven,
she found it in herself
to believe in herself
again,
or maybe even for the first time,
for being little more than the miller’s daughter
who turned words into gold.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Life was marked with holidays & celebrations,
with weddings & funerals,
& the seemingly endless baby showers
that happened in the Green Haven Ward.
In early October,
there was Trunk or Treat,
when all the members would line up their cars
in the Church parking lot
& pop open their trunks filled with goodies.
These weren’t our neighbors
but the same people we saw every Sunday.
In this modern era,
we knew those who lived across town
better than those who lived beside us,
for Mormons surrounded themselves with those
who understood their lingo,
their culture,
& their way of life.

Leann Sweeney,
the smiley-faced girl
with the Shirley Temple curls
couldn’t bear to say no to anyone,
whereas Kath Wakefield,
the black albino girl,
was brought up to say no
& to say it often,
& then there was I,
who’d simply wanted Mother to say yes once
after a lifetime of saying no.

I rarely thought of my high school days,
which were like a Gaussian blur.
I had befriended the sheltered, studious girls there—
the ones who ate from brown paper bags
& hung out with their parents on the weekends.
They had invited me to Mass
but never to their house,
& it had never occurred to me to invite them to mine,
for I hadn’t ever felt I needed a friend beyond the hours
I spent at Green Haven Catholic High School.
Commencement was the last time I saw any of them,
but now I craved the type of friends who knew me
as I knew myself at home.

We appeared as the perfect nuclear family:
mom, dad, 2.0 kids,
all of us well-groomed & well-mannered.
It had meant so much to Mother
that we attend Church as a family.
Mother went for herself,
David went for her,
I went for Elder Roberts,
& Caitlin went for Elder Carmichael.

Though I had known David’s aunt & uncle,
Mother’s family was still largely a mystery.
All I knew was that she had been an only, lonely child,
whose father was Irish & whose mother was Russian.
On the top shelf of a bookcase,
that held all of Mother’s crystal figurines,
their picture was as familiar to me as my mother’s face,
& years would pass before,
by chance,
I would take it down to dust it,
only to drop it.
When I removed the picture from the broken frame,
I looked at the back,
hoping for a date,
only to see the names Clayton & Marjorie Maynard
instead of George Francis McCarrick & Katerina Kasparkova.
Through researching my family history,
I would learn that these people were strangers;
when I looked up my grandparents’ names,
it was as if they had never existed,
& I knew that Mother had joined a Church
where family history was prized,
only to have made hers a lie.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Sweet Little Nothings

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations chocolate

Life had gotten hard
when her husband had gotten sick,
& their gender roles had,
out of necessity,
reversed.
There were the days
that he felt like he was
withering away in isolation,
becoming Mr. Mom & Mr. Dad;
there were the days
she felt like she was stuck somewhere between
Office Space & Groundhog Day.
But when they saw how far they had come
from almost becoming
cardboard-carrying members
of the cardboard box brigade,
saved only because they were not
alone in the world,
they knew they were each doing
what they had to do
to have the life they wanted—
not just for themselves
but for the daughter who walked between them.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

I was plunged into the water & arose anew.
I looked at my hands, which were still,
& that was when I realized the trembling was inside.

I had expected a sprinkling of water on the head,
not the immersion process I had just gone through.
Had one hair on my head come up out of the water,
I would have had to do it again.
I smiled at Elder Roberts,
for how wonderful was it that my future husband
had led me down the path?

He hesitated before baptizing David,
but my chaste young love knew it was the only way
to get Mother sealed in the temple
& on her way back to her divine origin.
It occurred to me then that
David had never loved God enough,
or even himself enough,
to give Him his soul,
but he loved Mother enough
to forsake everything
he had never believed in.
To get Mother to finally marry him,
he had to do it on her terms,
but when had she ever done anything on his?

David’s sparkling water glass was empty.
He held it, twirling it by the stem,
looking at it as though the answers
to all of life’s quandaries were there,
as crystal clear as the glass.
Caitlin was not with us,
for Mother, David, & I were connected in a way
that she would never be.
Her “otherness” set her apart,
& when I went to bed that night,
I realized had she never been born,
our lives,
as they were now,
wouldn’t be much different.

“To peace and love,” I said instead,
raising my tumbler in a toast.
“To love,” Mother said, smiling again.
“To peace,” David said,
& we lifted our glasses,
clinking them together,
the sound seeming to ripple through
the room in endless echoes,
signaling the beginning of the life to come.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Our souls had not been created
but simply given earthly vessels
for these diaphanous substances to be poured into.
We had existed before this life.
Because I had not joined the ranks of Lucifer
but of God during the great war in heaven
in the pre-mortal life,
I had been given a body—
only to have to prove myself a second time
that I was worthy enough to be reunited with it
in the afterlife.
It was alleged that memories of this premortal life
were forgotten when we passed through the veil,
with that first breath of life,
& it seemed like the Mormons were the recoverers
of repressed memories,
for how could I deny something
that I was told
I would not remember anyway?

Sister Kyle was floating on a cloud in Kolob,
she was so joy-filled.
When had the Baptists or the Pentecostals
or any of the other churches in town
ever reached out to me like this,
much less cared about me?
My eyes fell on many of the members,
all of whom were smiling & encouraging—
all except Sister Wiley,
whose expression was dark & cunning.
I believed then that it was because
she saw through me,
but only a faker could recognize another one.
She knew that I knew what she was,
even as I knew that she knew what I wasn’t.

A look of realization,
of incredible awe,
came over Elder Roberts.
“I—I think I love—,” he said,
but just then,
the double doors before us opened,
& the rest of his sentiment went unspoken.
I could only guess what he had meant to say then,
wondering had he finished it,
if things would’ve turned out differently between us.

Caitlin was holding her rosary,
the last vestige of our former faith,
as Mother had taken down all the crucifixes in our house,
for Mormons preferred to focus on the resurrection
rather than the crucifixion.
Mother didn’t seem to see me,
but David—
David looked at me as he always did—
with a love that changed not.

My eye was single to the glory of Elder Roberts—
to the promise of celestial glory.
Just as Elder Johnson had said our husbands
would call up their wives from the grave
to ascend into the celestial kingdom alongside them,
so would Elder Roberts,
in the name of Jesus,
call my name
& raise me up from my watery grave,
to prepare me for life as a future Mormon wife.

An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

She Is

Girls

Raised on God & with the 2-parent privilege,
she recognized that she was who she was,
not just because of the choices she had made
but because of the choices those before her had made—
a birthright she sought to pass down to her children:
a stable home in an unstable world.
She had been given a set of rules,
of precious metals,
that became more polished with every use.
She was limited not by her integuments,
varying in color & texture,
nor had she profited from them,
for the grades she had gotten,
the stories she had written,
& the job she had been offered,
she had earned.
In a world that was surviving a natural disaster,
only to be thrust into a man-made one,
where order & change could not coexist,
living in 1984 36 years hence,
& in a world that sought to gaslight her
into hating how God had made her,
demanding that she atone for other people’s sins,
she looked inside herself & saw it was possible
to be neither the oppressed
nor the oppressor.

Baptism in Birmingham

Two magnolias

You enter the doors of the temple—the kingdom of God on Earth. You know you’re unworthy, for you just had a shot of espresso before you rode the bus to Birmingham, which is why your breath smells like peppermint. Don’t you know that your breath only smells like coffee and peppermint? You know they’ve heard of a peppermint mocha, right? Of course, none will claim to know what that even tastes like, and they will hurriedly let you know if you happen to catch them at a Starbucks (especially on a Sunday), they will say they’re getting a hot chocolate, even though Joseph Smith said no to hot drinks. What about soda that’s been left in the car too long?

You are with the group of other Mormon church members from the Fox Run and Pine Forest wards (whatever possessed them to call churches “wards” and youth groups “institutes”?) who are there to do baptisms for the dead. How aggrieved you became when you had to explain such a practice to the Gentiles (what the LDS call non-members) for the umpteenth time. “We do not dig up dead people and dunk them in water. We do it by proxy,” you would say, only to discover that most people don’t even know what the word proxy means.

You discovered that no one hardly knows anything about Mormons but polygamy, even though they stopped that practice over a hundred years ago, but it hangs on them like the wet white jumpsuit will hang on you after you’ve been dunked for the fifteenth time for people you don’t even know—names that may as well be out of a phone book. Even though you think you have possibly just saved fifteen people who didn’t get the chance to hear the Mormon gospel (“the plan of happiness”) in this life, you can’t help but think that you look like a fatty in this jumpsuit.

However, you know when you step into the warm water of the baptismal font after having been barefoot, watching the same thing happen over and over, your feet will feel like they’re on fire, for they are always like ice in this castle, which will lull you into a state of what feels like suspended animation. Something is hypnotizing about repetition.

You’re supposed to be thinking about God in here but instead, you’re thinking about what you want to eat when you leave and how praying over fast food never hurt anyone. You’re thinking about all your tithing money going into these buildings that not even all Mormons can enter because they’re usually breaking the law of chastity or tithing. You’re thinking that this seems like a boring way to spend eternity, but it’s still better than the alternative. You like that the Mormons have three heavens, but if you want to have sex in heaven, you have to do temple work. Of course, men can have more than one wife up there, and you find yourself admitting that that’s pretty clever—what is against the law here, the government can’t control up there.

What happens with widows who loved both husbands? You think this is why families can’t work in heaven. You just want to be an angel, like Cary Grant (except still a girl) in The Bishop’s Wife, but maybe human-turned-angels are gender-neutral. That’s what would happen if you went to the terrestrial or the telestial kingdom. Your sexuality is taken away.

But if you are honest with yourself, you know you don’t believe in this Church—you just ended up dating that boy who broke up with you because you wore a sleeveless blouse; by the time that happened, you were sucked in. They are nice to you, unlike the people who don’t care about your soul—who like you for you.

It is your turn now, and you are thinking about how you can’t wait till it’s all over and you can dry off, and then they put their hands on your head and confirm those same names as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

You want to believe in all this so much, but it’s not happening; however, you won’t leave it all for another seven years, because one day, you went to Utah, seeking a husband, where there is every cut of white meat imaginable—Scandinavian, British, German, and a blend of many others—only to find something else.

You found your way out.

All these people who are with you today, you won’t even know ten years from now. When they see you in town, some will be polite enough to smile and say hello, but others—those who you were closest to—will act like they don’t know you, except you won’t care, for your experience with it all will make a great book.

I could come down and tell you all this, but you won’t believe me. You will have to find all this out for yourself, and because of all this, you will never really go to church again, except on Christmas and Easter. You will be a Christian without a church, like a man without a country, but you will be just fine.

You will marry a man who will not expect more from you than even God Himself does. You will be free to just be.

You will have one child, not five—at least that’s how it is in the year 2020. You still have a few childbearing years left.

However, when you find out that your child has special needs, you will remember something that you learned from these people: that the devil cannot touch such children, for they are innocent forever.

You will remember many good things and will be grateful that you were once one but are now no longer—that you are better for having come into it, just as you are even better for having left it. 

 

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

My agreement to an interview,
which I suspected would be an audition
to become a member of this Church family,
began my vow of being true to the Church in this life,
only to be shackled to in the next.

My baptismal outfit
was neither a costume
nor a uniform,
but a sackcloth of humility,
for it shielded the world
from my femininity.

To the boy I loved,
I confessed my lack of sin,
finding it ironic that being a good Catholic girl
had prepared me to become an even better Mormon one.
When it was over,
he gave me a weak smile,
& I felt I had not only passed
the pre-baptismal test,
I had passed his marriage qualifications test as well.

I had been brought up to wait for marriage,
just as my Mother had often said she’d waited
for my father,
but it was different for widows,
for their virginity had already been claimed.
Though she had often said that she & David
were in a committed relationship,
I believed there was no greater honor
than to be called wife,
for the covenant had not only been bound
by the state,
but by God.

Elder Roberts looked at me in a way
I realized just then
that David had,
at times,
looked at me.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Sweet Little Nothings

Things have to fall apart for them to fall together

At the age of 5 & 30,
she married the 1 who didn’t make her life easier
but made her better—
a man who called himself not the black sheep
but the stray sheep—
a man who had a place at every card table
because he believed that was the only way
he could ever surpass their circumstances.
He lost as much money as he had jobs,
but when he met her,
he felt he’d won the lottery—
only to continuously pay taxes on her by
doing everything in his power to keep her.
And she saw beyond their limitations
to their possibilities—
with him giving things up
& she,
taking things on.
She thought she’d found that in STEM,
but it turned to be the A in STEAM.

It’s Still a Wonderful Life

BLOGBADGE_0320GRA

I miss the days of quiet libraries rather than media centers and The Baby-Sitters Club series before they became graphic novels; I miss the B. Dalton bookstores in the mall, sitting on the floor in the corner, reading the Berenstain Bears until my parents finished their shopping.  

I miss the days when that could be done without worry.

I miss browsing Blockbuster with the non-confrontational request to “Be Kind. Rewind,” of waking up to Bob Ross and Mr. Wizard, of talking on the telephone with my best friend, Jessica, watching T.G.I.F. together on ABC.

I miss writing book reports at the kitchen table and thinking all I had to do was work hard and be good and everything would come to me.  

I miss handwritten letters and birthday cards in the mail with a 10-dollar bill inside and the tactile experience of ripping the paper off a gift rather than reaching inside a gift bag.

I miss simple math and spelling bees and Pig Latin.

I miss the compartmentalized cafeteria food, where to taste it was to (perhaps) solve the mystery.

I miss the days of wearing pinafores with black patent leather shoes, of glittery jellies and bows made of neon shoelaces, of Barbie bubble baths with the bubble gum pink bottles of Salon Selectives shampoo.

I miss the park when it didn’t seem so hot; I miss the stand-up merry-go-rounds that made me think of a pinwheel trolley.

I miss the early mornings when I’d be half-asleep, helping my dad deliver newspapers.  

I miss walking across the street to the filling station with my mom, where we’d buy Nestle Alpine White candy bars and dark Milky Ways.

I miss the grandparents who are no longer here and my mom who is here no longer. I miss the aunt and uncle I knew as a child, when I didn’t know there was a difference in being related by blood or marriage because, to me, they were both family.

I miss eating homemade pecan divinity and red pistachios.

I miss running down the driveway in bare feet to fetch the local newspaper, looking through the TV Guide insert to see what science fiction movies were coming on.

I miss the news that was so blessedly short—when life seemed so much longer than it was. I miss the days before reality TV when dialogue was memorable. I miss when photos were a surprise. 

I miss the days when adulthood seemed like this thing that could never possibly happen to me, even as I saw the baby pictures of myself in old photo albums.

I like to think I was born in the perfect time—without social media or cell phones, only being granted these marvels when I was old enough to handle an instant audience, eventually finding my voice in the blogosphere, my shyness having matured to introversion.

And matured I have.  

I have seen the inside of a soup kitchen and the outside of a coffin. I have experienced a person being born and seen a person die—the first, a great big shout out into mortal life, the other, a whisper into life eternal. I have lost my faith in church and found it in the God who is everywhere.  

Now I’m the mother, the wife, the writer who has proven herself to herself, and, in small measure, to others. I am the baker, the homemaker. I am the scholar who went back to college after the time for living the college life had passed; I come home not to roommates but to the family who waits up for me.  

Now I’m the one snapping shots of my child in various stages and poses, reading the nursery rhymes that are darker than I remembered, playing board games without reading the rules. I am the parent who was able to give my daughter a dollhouse—the one thing I always wanted but never got—only to find that she, like me, like us, love our electronic devices.  

So many evenings, I am in my office, she, her bedroom, and my husband, the living room. It is at times like these that the sound of my typing, the music from her Kindle, and the noise from the television come together and let us know that we are still here—just off the hallway that connects us all.

Written July 2019 and published in the March/April/May 2020 issue of Bella Grace magazine.