From the glacial terrain of Bear Creek, Idaho, to the lush landscape of Deep South, Florida, Elder Cather, a Mormon missionary, meets Sister Wiley, a three-time divorcee, current temple wife, and mother of a teenage daughter. At the risk of being caught with their temple garments down, facing excommunication by the Church and shunned from the only life they know, they fight against the rules imposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by living life on their terms. However, Elder Cather will learn a heartbreaking, coming-of-age lesson from the fickle one who accepted his greatest gift. The Book of Jeff: Another Testament of Mindy Wiley is a hypnogogic trip with a heavy hit of magical realism and a dose of spiritual occultism. It is a Southern Gothic horror with shades of Shirley Jackson, laced with the absurdity of extreme religiosity prevalent in the American Deep South. It is the story of the sexual fever that grips young men who must think only of God, the sexual frozenness that grips middle-aged women who must think only of their husbands and the dire consequences that can result when these two forces meet.
Loving Brad in my way had been so easy.
I would never have that kind of uncomplicated friendship
with another man again.
I had already decided to move on to a life without him—
just as I had to a life without Elder Roberts.
The only exception was that I had loved Brad
& had lost him,
because he had chosen me,
even as Elder Roberts had chosen against me.
The night of the Johnny Lingo luau
was a sea of modest swimsuits,
an expanse of Mardi Gras bead grass skirts,
& an ocean of plastic palm trees—
a wholesome activity
to keep us out of the lake of fire & brimstone.
The tableau was like a movie set
where everyone was ad-libbing.
We weren’t on the beach
but in the cultural hall,
where we would not possibly see
any scantily clad females,
for we were responsible for helping men
control their desires
by covering the flesh
that draped our lovely bones.
A 1969 BYU short film that reminded me
of The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields—
minus the cinematography
or Brooke Shields—
at its soul,
was not about a girl who fought against the system
of being bought
but who bought into it,
given away by her father as property
to be loved, honored, & cherished
as someone else’s.
Though I had always seen Mother as a kept woman,
thinking my ugly thoughts about what that meant,
I was a hypocrite,
for I felt that David
belonged to me.
Like many ugly duckling stories,
magically became beautiful—
with just a smile.
She hadn’t had to lose weight
or get plastic surgery;
there were no birthmarks,
to blemish the already perfect specimen,
& the knowledge that she was not worth more
but had been paid more for
than any other woman on the island
had turned her into a dark swan.
There was a certain irony that,
unlike the adage about buying the cow,
Johnny Lingo had paid for his
with 10 of them.
The pink lei I had been given at the door
which hung over my chest made me appear
bigger than a B-cup—
a symbol (or two) of fertility,
which was highly prized in the Church,
& I wondered if,
by having 10 children,
& smiling all through it,
could be a 10-cow wife.
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.
Our home on Harrington Court was like an aging Southern belle,
& the greenery that concealed it from the sun rays grew like wild ferns,
so all that grew near this cracked, white-washed belle could only thrive in the dark.
Whereas most of our neighbors had an American flag hanging from their porches,
we proudly hailed our absence of allegiance to any institution,
public or private,
for David considered shows of such patriotism—
which he equated to nationalism—
a bit cliché.
Their home was what black-and-white TV sitcoms were made of—
with the hedges surrounding the front porch sporting a crew cut,
the sidewalks leading up to the red front door looking freshly poured,
& even a pressure-washed white picket fence that was not meant
to keep anyone out
but suck them in.
When Mother & David forgot I was there,
I felt invisible,
for everything I was,
in relation to them.
Mother used to lie—
little white lies
that fit her like a little black dress,
her pearls of wisdom cast before swine—
but not anymore,
for honesty was the only policy
when it came to the Mormons.
But what of the lies
they told themselves?
The new elders weren’t the friends we had known in Elders Johnson & Roberts,
& Sisters Corbin & Kyle had moved on with just one piece of correspondence
as physical proof that we had ever known one another.
I longed for those days—
for those friends—
for they not only represented what I wished I could be,
but they had presented to us what I believed had been the best versions of themselves.
They were the grown-up children Mother would’ve loved,
but so many of them passed through our strange little town like Good Samaritans—
who didn’t need our help but had come to help us—
with their unending kindness that produced not only prayer but service,
only to be gone as if they had been a guest star for one episode of our lives.
Christmas had come and gone, and the New Millennium had begun. At Maxwell Manor, burgundies, navy blues, and hunter greens had been replaced with shades of cream, ecru, and chartreuse. Modern art had been replaced with several of Greg Olsen’s paintings, and the place began to more resemble a Mormon temple than a museum.
“Though the husband is the head of the home,” the elders of the Church had often said, “the wife is the heart.”
It was my house, too, even though I was old enough to move out , but Mother was changing everything. The house on Harrington Court was mine now, but I would always have a place at Maxwell Manor—a room in one of David’s many mansions, and the one room, besides David’s study, that Mother would not touch. Did that make it a shrine unto myself?
I would keep the house at Harrington Court as one would a museum, for Mother had changed nothing in it since the Mormons had come, flooding our house with their holy water and setting fire to our lives as we had known them.
He told me that I’d become as she once was, even as he believed who Mother was now, she would always be. She would never change her mind about the Church, for the Church had changed her.
Mother had put off the natural woman to put on the spiritual, for in her eyes, the two entities could not coexist, for one would always rule over the other. It was perhaps the first time in my life I acknowledged with defeat that a Force greater than the influences of those who loved her, led my mother now. As she drew closer to God, she withdrew from us, even as David and I grew closer than ever. A part of me still feared losing him, if he completely lost Mother.
David thanked God for my will that I would never allow the Church to change me. I had never heard David thank God for anything before, save that night in the hospital, and I wondered, if, in his own way, he was changing, too.
He had been there to see him leave the earth
but not to see him put into it,
& I was angry at the world
that had not magically changed
because someone was no longer in it.
In burying my father,
she had buried, it seemed,
the last facet of her old self.
She had gone from a grieving widow
to a blushing bride-to-be
in the matter of an hour,
& no one from the LDS Church knew
of the quickening of Patrick Nolan’s soul
to the Spirit World.
The first ceremony would be a civil one,
followed by a spiritual one.
Just like everything else,
the marriages of other churches
were the preparatory marriages,
& Mormon marriages,
Because my father had died,
my mother would live as she pleased,
but hadn’t she always?
For if one had already enjoyed the intimacy of marriage
without taking the vows,
then how special could making it legal be?
For what was marriage but a representation
of being subject to one entity
till the death of oneself or the death
of the other.
I was a hollow vessel
where Mother’s empty words echoed,
taking no delight in what I had dreamt of
for as long as my eyes had beheld
the glory of David Dalton.
Mother & David had once been young lovers.
They had walked at twilight on the beach,
went to plays & the symphony,
& then it became a convenience,
but that must have been when they didn’t know
if Patrick would live or die.
They had floated in a Purgatory of sorts—
his life, her life, their lives,
The glory of God was intelligence,
& such shone in David,
I’d thought him my own personal god—
a father without a daughter,
a son, raised by humble ones,
& a heavenly spirit who edified all
he came in contact with.
Mother would surely go to the celestial kingdom,
where she would be exalted & placed
on the path to eternal progression.
David would remain in the terrestrial kingdom—
in the presence of the Man
whose torn flesh & spilt blood
had saved us.
God had been the fundraiser,
but Jesus had ponied up the ransom.
yet she had never known him.
Mother, who had known him intimately,
was stoic & had,
in her own way,
given birth to his grief.
I was like a ghost whisperer,
asking my father to accept the gospel in the next life
so that Mother would have to be sealed to him,
thus unsealing her from David.
The foundation of our existence shook, the pillars & posts of transparency tumbled around me. I picked up a brick, wanting to hurl it like a weapon, only to find that it had turned to sand.
I knew it was required that she seek my forgiveness before God’s. I also knew God would forgive whosoever He chose to forgive, but that I was required to forgive all.
David’s money had kept my father alive, tethering my mother to the man who stood in their way, or rather, hovered between them.
My mother had lived a life of convenience, of self-flagellation by denying herself the sanctity of marriage but not of the marriage bed. Just as she had wanted to do away with Caitlin, she was now going to do away with my father.
She had never annulled the marriage, for she could not make her children bastards as legitimate children were considered status symbols–just as Mother had chosen the label of widow over adulteress.
She’d convinced herself that because he was brain-dead, his soul had gone on, just as she’d taught her girls that unChristian women, to soothe their consciences, had convinced themselves that unborn babies were nothing but a clump of cells when wasn’t that what we all were–just many more of them.
I grieved for the father who had never been lost to me at all—the father I was just now finding, only to lose him all over again.
I grieved for all those years
of going to his grave–
when all along Mother had known
of the machines keeping his body alive–
machines that had more life in their batteries
than he had left in his years.
David was my idol,
in the way Tab Hunter & Troy Donahue
had been for teen girls in the sixties,
but he was more my Mary,
my sacred masculine,
my intercessor to the better life.
Mother was like a blanched almond,
the Catholic holy water & Mormon fairy dust
boiling away, rubbing away the hull,
exposing & releasing something akin to cyanide.
David would do Patrick’s temple work.
It was atonement–
not through his blood
but through the water & the spirit.
With one article from The Ensign,
my mother was able to set her body free
by setting my father’s spirit free.
My father’s life had been artificially prolonged, trapping my mother in marriage, so that what God had joined together, science had solidified.
Mother hadn’t divorced my father nor annulled the marriage, for she hadn’t wanted to make her children bastards.
My father’s death would legitimize everything, including my mother’s relationship with David. My father had been hovering in the wings, while David had been waiting in them.
Mother sought my absolution in one night, for a lifetime of lies. David had already granted her this thing, even as she continued to perpetuate the lie.
Mother had wanted him to live so he wouldn’t die spiritually–for the sake of her own conscience.
She had bled from every pore, for I knew she had believed that to let Patrick die after a suicide attempt would be to send his soul straight to Hell–an unpardonable sin in the Catholic Church.
How could any mortal be responsible for the destination of an individual’s soul, for wouldn’t that put them on par with God?
Mother had become as God, or Goddess, in a way, for even as she had resurrected Patrick from the dead, at least in my eyes, she was now taking away his last breath of life.
The plan was for David to do Patrick’s work in the temple, turning his enemy into his savior.
Mother believed Patrick would go to middle heaven, the terrestrial, where he would be one of the angels, never to have sex again.
The terrestrial kingdom was Protestant heaven,
the celestial, Mormon heaven,
but even the telestial surpassed all understanding.
While my father had hovered in earthly purgatory,
I had been living in a heaven on earth,
my mother, in the hell she had created for herself.
My childhood had been one of opaqueness,
my adulthood, of startling transparency.
If God had wanted Patrick to live,
he would live without a machine,
but by that rationale,
if God had wanted him to die,
no machine on earth should have kept him in limbo.
When I’d believed my father dead,
I’d never wept,
but when I saw him alive & dying,
it was then that I finally grieved,
for his death finally became real to me.