When Culture Shocked Her Back

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The so-called culture of the big city,
with all its restaurants, museums, & theatres
weren’t worth the price to live near them,
for eventually,
they, too,
would be destroyed.
Rather,
this girl from Poplar Bluff,
who found felicity in simplicity,
could be found under a peach tree,
reading books,
not burning them,
painting scenes,
not spray painting obscenities,
building things,
not destroying them.
She had the freedom to believe,
& express belief,
in order & reform simultaneously—
living not in The Twilight Zone
but The Outer Limits
in a part of the world
that hadn’t been beaten all black & blue
with red all over.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Sister Kyle pressed her palms together
& gazed at the ceiling rapturously,
seeing Mother & David as a Greek god & his goddess.
Sister Corbin rolled her eyes at her companion,
but even she seemed affected
by the new chapter that was being written
in the love story of Laurie Nolan & David Dalton.

My gaze fell on Sister Wiley,
whose eyes were on the elders,
seemingly oblivious to the two new souls
joined in happy reunion
& sweetest communion with God the Father.
She caught me watching her,
giving me look that chilled me
as much as it charred me.
I was no longer an observer
but a participant
in analyzing the seemingly perfect specimen
named Sister Wiley,
having already formed the hypothesis
that elder missionaries were what made her tick.
The real mystery was why?

A onesie served as my baptismal suit,
which was fitting,
for I was being spiritually reborn.
It was a white jumper, that,
because of my God-given endowments,
made me look twice my normal size.
Objects in mirror are larger than they appear.
The material was stiff,
with an elastic waistband,
so unlike the comfort & beauty of my christening dress.
If feeling like a frump made one feel humble,
then perhaps that was why so many women
hid their assets,
if not their talents,
under bushels of cloth.

For the Saints,
conversion was a process,
not an event,
where baptism was part of the process.
For the Others,
also known as non-members—
which made the Church sound like
some exclusive country club—
salvation was a lifetime membership;
for the Saints,
salvation was not a lump sum
but a lifetime annuity
you had to continuously earn
by paying into it.
Perhaps this was because The Others
believed they had the whole truth
& nothing but the truth,
whereas the Saints believed
that revelation from God did not cease.

Choosing God over family
made me wonder what God had meant
by honoring thy father & thy mother,
for what about when Father & Mother were wrong?
For Sister Corbin,
she honored hers not by blind obedience
but by honoring them in such a way
that she made them look like stellar parents.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

As Kath, Leann, & I shared a plate of chili cheese fries,
the legend of Johnny Lingo was the star of the conversation,
& I realized how different I had been raised to see the world,
for where they saw a sweet story about true love,
I saw a story that reeked of sexism,
colonialism,
& antiquated ways of thinking,
for Mahana had allowed the first man in her life,
her father,
to diminish her,
even as she allowed another man,
her husband,
who had a hypothesis in which she was the experiment,
to restore her.
For me, a woman’s worth was unrelated
to how a mortal man measured it
but how the immortal One,
a warlock whose spell had cast a wide net
& made fishers of men,
measured it.
But when I examined this thinking further,
I realized that Jesus,
genderless or not,
had come in the form of a man.
The patriarchy was alive & well.

Kath’s grandmother was of the Pentecostal Holiness faith
& spent all day watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
When her Bibi beheld my bare shoulders,
I could see,
reflected in the eyes that were like limpid pools,
the stones that had been raised to Mary Magdalene
for letting her shoulders be touched,
even as I was letting mine be seen.

The sister missionaries had convinced us
that because Tony was allowed in Church
wearing his loud Rush Limbaugh ties,
I could show up with the braided hair
that made me look like a white-faced Cleopatra.
Sister Kyle loved the idea of the Mission President
flipping his wig (or toupée),
when he learned that Leann & I had attended church
in matching dos.
How ironic it was that the Church would celebrate Kath
wearing her hair like mine,
when it was more natural for me to wear it like hers,
without the chemical straighteners
that flattened the curves that comprised her integumentary identity.

As I gazed at myself in the hand mirror,
feeling like a movie star
& a bit like the Wicked Queen,
I knew this what it was like to have girlfriends—
except instead of a slumber party,
it was a sleepover;
instead of Truth or Dare,
it was Truth only;
& instead of romantic comedies,
it was unromantic dramas
produced by the Church.

Mother & David were getting baptized;
David & I with the water,
Mother with the Spirit.
“My greatest wish was that you would be baptized, David,”
& Mother mouthed the last word:
believing.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

As spring was a time for renewal,
summer was a time for exhausting that renewal;
expectations, if not passions, were high
at the LDS Singles Conference—
where the meat market consisted of
cows, pigs, & chickens,
a few wolves in modest clothing,
& even fewer closeted cougars,
who couldn’t wait
to procreate.

Even tankinis,
when arms were raised,
could expose the womb’s
sacred flesh,
& immodesty led to the sin
that was second only to murder
but then,
100 years ago,
what women were allowed to wear now
would have been considered indecent then,
so Church rules changed with the times,
& it was only a matter of time
before they would change again.

The smells of hot dogs & popcorn
lingered in the humid, putrid air—
smells of humanity
that brought back that last day with Brad.
The flea market reeked like a wet dog—
this marketplace of cheap goods & cheap eats.
Just as antiques were old junk,
this was new junk.
Mother would say I was slumming,
shopping at a place where watermelons,
poorly-executed knockoff handbags,
& hematite jewelry with pendants the shapes
of unicorns, flip-flops, & yin-yang symbols
were the hot items.
Mother still preferred everything fresh & new—
straight from the factory & sanitized—
just like her new religion.

A gaggle of barefoot children with red faces
& dirty knees ran circles around me,
while a woman I assumed to be their pregnant mother
scolded them from her stall.
Her table was scattered
with butterfly bookmarks made of paper clips
& bows made of smiley-faced shoelaces.
In seeing how much this mother did,
I saw how little mine had done.

Life was an open-ended question,
for which I didn’t have any answers,
& a rhetorical one,
for which there was no answer.

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.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

He should have been
upstairs with Mother,
not downstairs with me,
but her sleepwear was
a barrier to intimacy—
& surely, David,
being a virile man,
yearned for sex.
Yet here was I,
a poor substitute for companionship,
for it wasn’t just sex he wanted—
it was sex with her he wanted.

The greater
the number
of children
the King & Queen brought
into their little piece
of temporal Christendom—
the richer they were,
for they weren’t just bringing
God’s spirit children into the world
but future missionaries—
little earthly saviors,
who were indoctrinated
from Day One.
Happy was the woman
whose womb was an orchard,
& the man
from whose basket his fruit
did not roll far.

I did not want David to sire a child,
for Mother was already his queen,
& I, his princess.
I did not wish to be dethroned,
becoming not a modern-day Cinderella
but a latter-day stepdaughter—
I, who had never claimed his flesh
& who could never claim his blood.
Mother held all the cards,
for she could claim the first,
her child,
the last.

David knelt before me,
his gaze worshipful,
his affect absent of guile;
the diffused light smoothed
the lines in his face
that were as familiar to me
as the lines in my hands.
He did not need a child,
for he had his child in me.
When I asked about my little sister,
he looked over to where she lay—
like a snow angel up north
or a starfish down south—
& said he felt the same for her.
but I did not believe him.

Despite my joining the Church,
Caitlin remained Mother’s favorite,
for they had always had their Catholicism to share—
that magical world of patron saints,
Mary sightings,
& the unseen man in the box
who listened to everyone’s problems
& made God remember them no more—
turning the Creator into a selective amnesiac.
Mother blamed herself for raising her in it,
even as she believed David was to blame for my non-belief,
for the sins of the children were visited on the parents.
Mother had taken upon herself the sins of her children,
even as Jesus had,
thereby equating herself with God the Father Himself.
It was,
in a way,
nothing short of sacrilege.

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.

He is

Rose

He is the Bread of Life,
impervious to mold.
He is the Living Water,
who needs no filter.
He is the Light of the World,
whose power comes not from the grid
but rather,
He is the power.
He is the Good Shepherd,
who gathers wool,
even as He is the Lamb of God.
He is the True Vine,
who grew not from Jack’s magic beans
but whose leaves are plentiful
& whose fruit is like honey,
for it spoils not.
He is the Bridegroom who will never stray.
He is a King, a Prince, a Servant,
a Carpenter, a Physician, a Philosopher,
for He transcends all.
He is the part of God
who humbled Himself
to connect with His people
& who laid down His life for His friends.
I am who I am—
not just because I believe in Him
but because those who came before me
believed in Him, too.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

A priest in love with a mortal
could not be a good priest—
just as a missionary in love
could not be a good missionary.
Both were choices made by men,
who chose a Man over a woman,
& for those who said that God
was neither male nor female
had no answer to how anything but a man
could have fathered a child in a woman.

David was my lifeguard,
pulling me from the ocean of grief I had been floundering in
for being one of Brad’s sleeping apostles.
Perhaps Brad had gotten caught in a riptide
and hadn’t called for me
because he’d known I’d have come after him.
Perhaps he had saved my life
by not letting me try to save his.

Like a woman,
I didn’t know coordinates—
that which I could not see;
but I knew landmarks—
which I could.
Perhaps I had no sense of direction—
no sense of myself—
except in relation to my surroundings.
I hadn’t paid attention on the way to the beach—
just as I hadn’t paid attention most of my life
to what was happening around me
& to the people around me.
I had lived my life unaware & unafraid.

I often think about how different
our lives would have been
had I not been downstairs
at that moment—
closest to the door.
David would’ve defeated them
with some intellectual sparring
& sent them on their way;
Caitlin would’ve flirted with them,
scaring them away;
but with Mother,
I would never know.
Would she have been distracted
& told them, “Another time, perhaps,”
not meaning it,
or would she have done what I did?
Let them in out of careless curiosity?

David’s arms comforted rather than chastened,
& there was no rebuke in his voice,
only regret.
“I’ll take care of everything,” he said,
& I let him,
for he always had.

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.

 

Fiction Friday: Novelines from the Book

mormoni

Sometimes, I felt as if I would leave David, who had always taken such loving care of me, only to place myself into the hands of another man, and it was in that way I was like my mother.

I didn’t present another Katryn to Brad but simply another side of me.  He was the one who understood that moment of ecstasy I had experienced at St. Mary’s when I had shared it with him.  Kath and Leann had looked at me as if I had said I’d had sex with the ghost of Joseph Smith, for my spiritual experience didn’t fit the narrative of a typical Mormon.

“I’ll miss you, too, Katryn but as believers in something greater than us—good-bye is never forever.”

I’d never been attracted to the blue-collar type worker, though I admired what they did.  I liked my men more urbane—men who saved people from ignorance—even as men like these saved lives.  

I had no picture of Elder Roberts to remember him by, no proof that we had ever met, except in the memories of the unreliable narrators of my life.

Brad had wanted to be a firefighter, but he saw the priesthood as putting out a different type of fire—the type of fire that Mormons didn’t believe in, for eternal separation from God the Father burned enough.  Being a firefighter was what Brad had wanted but being a priest, he was convinced, was what God wanted, and He wanted what God wanted.

That day at the fire station and afternoon on the beach would be the last date Brad and I would ever have, for it wouldn’t do for him to dance his last with a girl who would fall in love with him, except it was him who was falling in love with 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.

Escape from Zion: My experience with leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Tree of life

*The names of the individuals mentioned and the Church have been changed for privacy reasons.

Having been a former Mormon for over fifteen years, I’ve tried to remember just what it was — what little piece of doctrine — swayed me to believe everything else that had come with it, and it came to me the other night during a conversation with my husband, in which I was adamant that unbaptized babies and young children who didn’t have believing parents went straight to Heaven; my rugged half wasn’t so sure because the Bible said you must be baptized to be reunited with God. (The Bible says a lot of things.) As with my husband, I found myself at odds with every Christian denomination in some way, but it was that belief alone — that children were not punished for their parents’ deeds (or lack thereof), for dying young, or even not being born — that showed me the kind of God Mormons believed in. 

It was the same kind I did.

However, I would come to learn that they believed in a great many things I did not. I could never believe that God was limited to a body of flesh and bones and could not be everywhere at once (though, according to them, His influence was) — for the God I believed in couldn’t be explained away by theories but was Awe and Wonder not quite personified — that when He spoke of His image, He wasn’t referring to the physical sense but a cognitive one.

Though I could have remained a cultural Mormon, I had to be true to myself, and so I walked out, burning that bridge behind me. Though there were times I missed the Church, I have no desire to ever go back, even though I still read LDS fiction every once in a while, even though I sometimes catch myself singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in the car, and even though I find myself drawn to shows like Big Love.

I had prayed for God to tell me whether or not the Church was true (an admonition from the missionaries), as their Prophet Joseph Smith had quoted from the Bible in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” They’d told me I would feel a burning in the bosom, which would be the Spirit telling me that the Church was true. I should have known not to expect a manifestation, for faith was believing in something absent a manifestation.

My time in the Church was rife with internal conflict, for my feelings often conflicted with what I was being taught; I was told that the Prophets spoke for God, and who was I to question Him?

I try to think back to the first time something didn’t seem quite right, which would be when I got my patriarchal blessing — a personal blessing inspired by the Lord to help guide LDS members in their lives, modeled after the blessing given by Jacob to each of his sons prior to his death. I don’t even remember the man’s name or face — it’s all a blur to me now — but I do remember, in hindsight, it was like the time I went to an LDS hypnotherapist to help me deal with my Utah Mormon life.

The patriarch interviewed me prior to, and I’d felt, even then, that he was fishing for information to help him give a better reading, and so my blessing sounded like a positive rewording of the personal feelings I had just divulged. My eyes were closed the entire time his hands were feather-light on my hair, his wife transcribing it all. 

It was one of the strangest days I had ever spent. 

I remember leaving, feeling as it had all been a farce, but it was a feeling I would bury. I was told I belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. (It was generally either that or Manasseh.) I remember one of the sister missionaries who had given me the discussions had shown me hers, but I wasn’t supposed to read it or compare mine to anyone else’s, which sounded like the admonition from bosses to their employees never to discuss their salaries.

I eventually destroyed that patriarchal blessing, even as I would give away everything that had anything to do with the Church. When I removed the Church from my life, I removed a source of conflict from it, as well, as a desire for my family to join me (my mom did, briefly) sometimes caused friction, but then, did not Jesus say He would divide families?

I learned through my experience beyond the Mormon curtain that sometimes you just have to lose yourself before you can find yourself. 

~

Had it not been for the Mormon Church in Montana, where I was a live-in nanny in 2004, I would’ve been terribly homesick. That’s the thing with the LDS Church — wherever there were fellow Mormons, there was always an instant camaraderie. Perhaps that was why tithing had come so easy for me, for I felt I always got back far more than I ever gave. Perhaps that was why I’d never felt the Spirit in any other Church, but now, looking back, I think that spirit I felt was of fellowship and friendship, which can feel an awful lot like the love of God.

I’d joined the Church right out of high school, after ordering a copy of the Book of Mormon. I can still remember the television commercial advertising it — a lady with a soft voice and hair that blew in the wind, walking on a beach past a lighthouse. It had touched me, and so I’d requested a copy be delivered to me personally by the missionaries, as I was curious about what Mormons looked like.

Here I lived in Pensacola, Florida — the buckle of the Bible belt (also known as Lower Alabama). I’d attended many churches, yet I’d never felt as welcome as I had when I chose to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I’d felt a belonging, fulfilling a longing I hadn’t realized was there. I’d never been a partier, I didn’t use profanity, I didn’t drink or smoke — my idea of fun was their idea of fun.

However, I fell away not long after I was baptized. I’d stopped attending services after the sister missionaries mentioned tithing, for my parents had always taught me to beware of churches that asked for money. Nine months passed during which I joined the College Republicans at the University of West Florida, where I met my first boyfriend, “Tony,” who happened to be in the same ward (what Mormons call their meetinghouses) I had been in. (He was a returned missionary, and RMs were considered the cream of the crop, the salt of the earth.) He dated me back into the Church, so I guess you could say I’d have never gone back had it not been for him; this time around, I gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the everlasting gospel, the restoration of Christ’s Church on Earth, or rather, I wanted to believe in it so much, I thought I did. It seemed too wonderful not to be true, with all their talk about families being together forever. Anything I didn’t like, I accepted. After all, there were parts of the Bible I didn’t necessarily like, but I was still a Christian.

The sister missionaries had planted the seed, but with Tony’s friendship, it grew. I had more reason than ever then to want to be an active Mormon.

My best friend at the time was a girl named “Dasha” (one of the few black members of Pine Hollow Ward). I became part of a church family for the first time in my life. I attended every Sunday, every meeting, every social I could, and after Tony and I broke up (we had chemistry but nothing else), my family and I often had the missionaries over for dinner. The elder missionaries (the young men people often see in white shirts and ties, wheeling around town on their bicycles) were the first fruits — the extra virgin olive oil. They were the best of what the Church had to offer, or so I thought, in terms of husband material. I had crushes on a few of them, though they had been admonished to lock their hearts before their mission — to live as Catholic priests — so that they would not stray from their real purpose for being there.

So, no matter how they might have felt about me, it would’ve been unseemly for them to give me any encouragement.

It is fair to say that the Church became my whole life. I stopped drinking sweet tea, and I never was much of a coffee drinker. (This was before I discovered the iced gingerbread latte at Starbucks, which, much to my chagrin, has been discontinued.) I dressed even more modestly, I didn’t shop (or eat out) on Sunday, I marked up my Book of Mormon — finally becoming worthy enough to enter the temple. I even gave a few talks, all of which I wrote myself and helped me overcome my paralyzing shyness. I accepted every calling given me by my Bishop, which included working with young children — something I’d never been crazy about. I knew many of the hymns by heart, memorizing them during the passing of the Sacrament. It was my world in a mustard seed, for so immersed in the culture had I become. All my friends were Mormon, and I found, at times, unable to identify with those who weren’t. I’d never been strong in any other church, and the concept of “once saved, always saved” had always seemed flawed. 

I was a true believer.

So, I guess you could say meeting Tony wasn’t so much a turning point in my life, but rather, it led to a boiling point.

With every bearing of my testimony and with every good work, my faith strengthened. I was at the height of my faith in Montana, like the golden angel Moroni that’s on all the Mormon temples — closest to God and His Church.

And then I went to Utah.

I’d always been somewhat of a perfectionist, and this was stressed in the Church. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as I am.” Jesus’s words. The women struggled with this counsel, I believe, far more than the men did. They were supposed to stay attractive for their husbands while having lots of children and preparing wonderful meals and keeping a clean house, while being told that the desire not to have children was rooted in selfishness and vanity. I even remember our Institute teacher (who most churches would call a youth pastor) told our class that his family fell apart when his mom worked outside the home.

If only I could’ve taken these words in stride, but I took them to heart.

When my time in Montana was up, I was ready for a new adventure. I was ready to meet someone, though now I know I wasn’t anywhere near ready. I hadn’t become who I was going to be for the rest of my life. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids anymore, for I wasn’t sure I was unselfish enough to have them. I wanted to be a rich and famous writer, but that was long before my daughter was a blue-eyed gleam in her daddy’s green eye.

I went on hiatus back home (I was ready for some real seafood) between Montana and Utah. I’ll never forget the night that Tony’s mother and father came over for a Family Home Evening (or FHE, which is one night a week that is designated for LDS families to fellowship together) at my parents’ house. Though Tony and I were no longer together, I still kept in touch with his parents. I told Tony’s father I was going to Utah, and how excited I was. I knew most of the members there had been members all their lives, whereas most of the members in Pensacola were converts. I’d heard Utah Mormons were different, and I figured that was why; they knew nothing else. I can’t recall his exact words, but he admonished me not to go — that all would not be as wonderful as I imagined, that it wasn’t Zion. He’d looked so grave, as if my eyes were little crystal balls. 

How naïve I was then.

I can’t say I wish I’d listened to him, for I’m glad I went, even though it led to my leaving the Church in a blaze of glorious anger.

I went to Provo. The couple I was going to nanny for turned out to be a nightmare, so I ended up calling a friend — an elder missionary my family and I had often had over for dinner appointments — who came and got me. I was a true damsel in distress. He got me set up with some girl friends of his in an apartment close to the BYU campus. They were all kind and sympathetic to my plight, opening their temporary home to me; we became good friends, at least during the time I was there.

However, I felt my life begin to unravel. I was living amongst people who were going to college, who seemed to have it all together and knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives while I worked jobs that didn’t require any skills. Though I’d worked the same kinds of jobs back home, it had always felt like enough. I still had my writing — I always had my writing (though I found that my trying to stay true to the Church stifled it, for I tried so hard not to offend) — but the depression that came about because I was losing my faith held me back. It had gotten to where I didn’t want to do anything, because it never felt good enough.

And then all the uncertainties began to trickle like water through cracks in a vase. I remembered reading Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, who was a general authority (a member of the Church hierarchy); there was one entry that struck me, especially in light of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping that was still big news: “Loss of virtue is too great a price to pay even for the preservation of one’s life — better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful the Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: ‘I would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.’” (124). I knew if I ever had a daughter (now I do), I would never want her to believe that if she ever made a mistake, it would render her worthless. I would teach her that her worth was inherent, and that nothing or no one could ever take that away, whether it was by choice or circumstance.

After my time (but not my welcome) had run out in the other apartment, I moved into a different complex, where I would come home from work to an apartment full of people, when I’d just want to decompress. Because I chose the privacy of my room, I was considered anti-social. I felt like I had nothing that belonged to me anymore.

I bounced around from job to job until I couldn’t deal with the pressure I know that I, not God, had placed upon myself.

I was floundering.

My Bishop at home was a kind and good man, never judgmental, but the Bishop there was offended that I preferred to attend the ward where my white knight attended, for he reminded me of the good times I used to have; he reminded me of home. A bad experience with a bishop had driven one of my friends away from the Church back home, and it was happening to me now. “The Church is perfect, but the people aren’t” didn’t cut it anymore.

One of my friends from Pensacola, who’d hastily married into the Church (and divorced after ten months) had lived there at the time, was a godsend. Though we are no longer friends, I realize she was there for me, at that time and place, when I needed her. We were both having doubts about the Church — she understood me when no one else did. It was different being a Mormon in Utah, and it was almost impossible to make lasting friendships. I didn’t fit in there like I had in the wards in Florida and Montana.

I asked my roommates questions I already knew the answers to, and though everyone pretended to understand, they really didn’t; I don’t think they could. I began to understand why they called it Happy Valley.

There was a big misunderstanding, and the Bishop there called my parents, alarming them unnecessarily. He seemed to think I either came from a broken home (not true) or broken the law of chastity (also not true), because I should be happy if I was keeping the commandments. He even told my parents after he came over the next day that I must be feeling a lot better, because I was wearing make-up, which my mother took as a sexist comment. 

I knew I wouldn’t get well while I was a member of the Church, where people either seemed perfect or were striving for perfection, and it took time, but I gradually turned my troubles over to the God I had known as a Protestant. It took months back home to get to that point; I had to detox (but not deprogram, for it had never gotten that far). I didn’t even bother to contact my friends from the Church at home during that time. As far as they knew, I was still in Utah. I didn’t want anyone to know I had fallen away.

I did some Internet research and found a website called Concerned Christians (who are just as dogmatic about their beliefs as the Mormons) and used their resignation letter template to have my name removed from the Church records in Salt Lake City.

I couldn’t believe how much my relationship with the Church had changed. My friend, who rescued me from that crazy new family I was supposed to nanny for, became defensive when I tried to make him see why I could no longer believe, and so I simply let him go. 

I went back to Pine Hollow Ward a few years later, but my heart (and soul) just wasn’t in it. I think perhaps I just had to be convinced that I had made the right decision in leaving. I attended a ward social a few years later (by invitation from a member who happened to see me working in Albertson’s). Tony’s father had come up to me, looking so sad, and said, “We lost you.”

I had simply nodded.

My faith had been shattered — like a mirror thrown against a wall. I was fragmented, and it took months before I became whole again. Those fragments were never mended, but rather I was made anew.

There has never been another church that had ever brought me into its folds like that, so I just live by faith without boundaries. I’m pretty much a “Creaster,” and it works for me, but more importantly, I try to live a goodly life (I would say godly, but I think God might shake His head at some of the stuff I write). I am a Christian who respects not only His name but the sanctity of innocent life, and I am the best wife, mother, daughter, and friend I know how to be.

The Church did help me become a more spiritual person, and it built me up, even as it tore me down. I am who I am today because of it, and in spite of it.

My kinship with Mary Ann (Tony’s wife, who I always liked more than Tony) was briefly rekindled, but a couple of years or so ago, I ran into her and a couple other Pine Hollow girls on a Girl’s Night Out when my husband and I were on a date. I hadn’t been invited. At first, I was hurt, but then I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t a part of their world anymore, but neither were they a part of mine (and I liked mine better).

From my experience, Mormons had friends and they had “non-member friends.”

When Mary Ann moved to another part of town, we became acquaintances, then strangers. She even admitted (via instant message) that she hadn’t been a very good friend, she, who had been with me during two of the best times of my life (when I married and had my daughter), but I had moved on and made lots of new friends — friends with whom I connected on a deeper level, who had been there for me through two of the worst times of my life (when my family and I became homeless, and I lost my mom). 

It’s those worst of times friends that matter.

And do you know something wild? My life is far more perfect now that I don’t try to be perfect; I’m also a lot happier. I live by the spirit of the law and not the letter. I can write what I want, drink what I want, and wear what I want, and I thank God every day that I went to Utah and lost my religion, only to find a new spirituality with an old friend, who had waited patiently for my return.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

With any other youth group,
the idea of dating a lot of different people
seemed like cheating,
but in Mormonism,
until one felt ready to marry,
it was better not to get fixated on any one person,
for that might lead to falling in love
& that just might lead to sin.

Tony had been willing to give up his reputation for Kath
but not Elder Roberts.
Tony had sealed his fate with his beloved by impregnating her,
whereas Elder Roberts had denied himself
by denying me.

It was a jubilee of sorts—
the tinkling of our fluted stems
signaling the beginning of the New Year
& the best years of our lives to come.

A cool gust, a warm breeze,
stirred me from my slumber
like a ghostly lover beckoning me.
I just stood back and watched him,
enjoying him,
& when he spoke to the sky,
it was then that I realized that he was speaking to the God
I thought he didn’t believe in.

I would never know if David lied to himself,
so he could lie to Mother,
but they would have a year before the temple
for her to fall in love with him
without all the trappings of Mormonism,
before she would expect him to take her to the temple
& promise things that he would never do,
not even for her,
even if she were me.