We live in a culture where virtually no subject is off-limits: people casually reveal their SAT scores, the word underpants is bandied about is if it were light bulb. A few days ago I was standing in the shampoo aisle at a department store and behind me two women (obviously strangers to one another) were chatting. One said, “I tried that one, but it’s not the same color as on the box.” I turned, and they were discussing which hair color most thoroughly hides “the gray”. They might as well have said:
GRAY WOMAN #1: Yes, my uterus is thoroughly atrophied.
GW#2: Mine as well. And I’ve become frigid. I just decided, “Enough is enough.”
GW#1: I told my husband: thirty years, thirty years. Get yourself a little street chippie if it’s so important to you.
Naturally I fled the store without my purchases. Given such delicate sensibilities, I know it will seem incongruous that I would now wish to tell my own sordid tale: that of having been reared in a polygamous cult. But to my dismay, nothing is being written about this most secretive and shameful element of the religious life. Stand in the new releases/non-fiction section of any major bookshop and there won’t be four or five memoirs lined up side-by-side on the subject. Read the news and it’s just not being discussed every day. My goal is to bring what is hidden into the light. I would like to do the same for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but like most people, I believe what happened (and happens) to me is the only way for me to understand what is happening at all. If I don’t know myself, love myself, and pity myself, how will I know, love, and pity people thousands of miles away, doing God knows what with sand and goats?
I grew up believing that the only way into the Celestial Kingdom was through the taking of many spouses and the making of many children. In our branch of the KQRW, we were married very young, so we would have other children to play with while our parents played Canasta. We weren’t expected to reproduce until twelve or thirteen, because it took us that long to figure out what ‘reproduce’ meant. The leader of our church was the Prophet Ezekial Yoder, whom God had decreed to lead us all into the Kingdom of Heaven, and not just through marriage but also through laboring on his farm without compensation. There was no greater gift than to be humbled in this way.
The Prophet declared that he had had a vision, and I was to be spiritually married to a boy named Leroy Glipenheimer. The preparations were made, and here is a photograph of me with my dad on my wedding day:
However, Leroy, at ten, was not prepared to enter the Kingdom (although I appear quite happy in this photograph, and I was: my IQ is what is called ‘borderline high-functioning’). Leroy absconded on his little sister’s bicycle, which he managed to ride all the way to Gary, Indiana. His maternal grandparents, believing their daughter to be clinically insane, adopted Leroy and thus was my first marriage thwarted.
The Prophet then decided my sister and I were to marry at the same time, I to a young man named Jedediah Jackson, and she to . . . I forget his name. Absalom? Titus? Philemon? Here we are on our wedding day. [Aside: the KQRW believed tricycles should only have one wheel in the back as a form of spiritual discipline. My father removed my second wheel, and I am ashamed to say I sometimes put it back on so I could ride faster. As you can see here, I was in the process of putting it back on when my nuptial preparations interfered.]
My grandmother joined us for the happy, spiritual occasion. Lin and I loved her very much. Oh, we sure did love her. We loved us some Grandmother. Melinda’s face is such a portrait of love I could cry.
Alas, my betrothed Jedediah stole his father’s favorite Arab horse and rode off into Kentucky. He and his family eventually reconciled, but by then he preferred to be called Bill, and he had ‘married’ outside the faith. She was a woman called Amber Dawn and I understand she is much enamored of the racing cars. They have been shunned, but are sometimes unshunned for holidays.
At this point the Prophet prayed heavily and with a sincerity of praying that revealed unto him that I should not be married until I was thirteen. I was disappointed, because playing with boys was often more fun than with girls, as boys loved baseball and running and shooting BB guns, three of my favorite activities. At thirteen I was given my first husband, Tim, and we were hand-joined, wrist-bound, broom-jumped, swatted with empty paper towel rolls, and then we took the ceremonial walk around the block. Tim was quite a bit older – eighteen to my thirteen – so he introduced me to really good music, but he refused to touch me because it would have immoral. So we listened to Steve Martin records instead [STRICTLY APOSTATE AND WOULD HAVE RESULTED IN US BEING TARRED, FEATHERED, PLUCKED, UNTARRED, AND MADE TO GO TO SCHOOL], and he was a good husband to me.
Shortly after, the Prophet announced he had found my second husband, Fox. Fox was very different than Tim in that he slept outside, ate only what he hunted, and ran trap lines along the river. He was persistently gamey. He made extra income by working in a fertilizer plant, and I confess to having very unholy thoughts about Fox, as he was fit from outdoor work, he had long, brown wavy hair, and the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Even his teeth were beautiful. Alas, Fox was 23 to my thirteen, so he too refused to consummate our relationship. Here is a photograph of Fox and me walking down the road from a KQRW Fellowship convention. I am inappropriately dressed, having just performed in a skit. Fox is wearing his customary bison head. It’s clear that he was a good husband, as he is carrying the heavier pelt.
Husband #3, Job, could run long distances; Husband #4, Israel, was extremely tall. All were strong in their faith. Husband #5, Stacey, was homosexual, and that was one of the few times the others became jealous, because he and I used to stay up late at night, looking at my one secular book, 1,001 Uses For A Dead Cat, which caused us both to cry with laughter. When it was His Night with me we used to hide under the blankets to read it, but the others could still hear us giggling. The Prophet had a false leading with Husband #6, He Of Whom The Less Said The Better, and I finally had to go the Leader himself and say that if he did not undo the ankle-fast betwixt me and the Dark One, I would be forced to tell the church The Prophet Ezekiel’s secret: he himself had broken his vow against the secular world, and knew all the words (even the ones that weren’t actually words) to every Flock of Seagulls song. Husband #6 was removed from the compound and shunned, and the Prophet was visioned that even though #6 will live a long life, he will spend eternity circling the Lake of Fire on a tricycle missing a back wheel.
I now spend my days with Husband 8, Jonah, as the Prophet has moved the others around to other women who need children. The women are the head of the household, the men are the body, and they must go where they are needed.
I appreciate this opportunity to share my truth. Growing up polygamous was very nice for me, and I met many good men that way. Thus I am crippled by shame and self-pity, and I recommend it for any woman who just doesn’t have that special something that allows her to be monogamous. I was a victim, and am grateful for the experience.