Speaking My Truth: My Life in a Polygamist Cult

           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.

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Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm  Comments (38)  

Readers, Help Me

            I have many curious problems.  I am phobic of telephones; I would go to great lengths to avoid mailing a package; I’m so terrified of mustard that even typing the word gives me an infarction.  But today I have a new problem, and I am writing this entry to ask for your help. 

            I’m currently writing a book, a non-fiction collection of essays called Outlaw Quaker Girl.  I would be the outlaw, in case you were confused by my earnestness and commitment to fair trade.  I’m doing a great deal of research, both original writing and secondary, and there are a few first-rate Quaker historians.  One of my professors in seminary, John Punshon, wrote what was considered, for many years, the definitive history of Quakerism.  But there’s a new man in the corral, and his books are critical to my research.  As far as I can tell he owns Quaker scholarship, both in England and in America.  In my introductory chapter he is mentioned almost immediately, and this is where my problem arises.

            His name is . . . . I can’t do it.  SEE?  SEE HOW DIFFICULT THIS IS?  His name is Pink Dandelion.  If I remember correctly from the time he spent at the Earlham School of Religion while I was in seminary, that was his given name.  However, when I knew him he was called “Ben” Pink Dandelion – the quotation marks were part of the name, so at least when one ran in to him in the common room one could say, “Hey, ‘Ben’.”  But all of his books are now published under the name Pink, so he dropped the “Ben.”  Imagine that.  You decide to drop one of those three names and you choose the one that is not only normal, attractive, and manly, but comes with its own quotation marks, as if his name is really quoting someone else’s name.  It’s a puzzle.

            For the record, this is a pink dandelion:

            What a pretty little thing.

            Now, I am going to describe my dilemma and then I would like for you to vote on how best to handle it.  In the introduction, when I first mention his name, one of two things will happen:

            1.  People will assume I am making a joke (even though I am a deadly serious person), and so to prevent that I will have to offer SOME aside, explaining that Pink Dandelion is really his name, and he is a man with immaculate credentials and the best Quaker scholar currently at work, and so please to let us get on with the book and no giggling about Pink Dandelion.  Do you see the problem with this?  I am drawing attention to the name and suggesting that OF COURSE people are going to be deeply confused, will giggle, and perhaps will even begin having symptoms of the ague.

            2.  I mention his name for the first time and say nothing.  Ergo, everyone will assume I am making him up, like he is my imaginary Quaker historian friend who lives in the wall of the barn and tells me secrets about the Restoration period in British history.

            3.  I say SOMETHING, but it is humble and respectful.  But little Jebus, what would that be?

            4.  I contact Pink Dandelion and ask his advice as to how best deal with the introduction of his name in what is sure to be an absurd book anyway; have mercy I’m just an awful Quaker.  Lazy, uninvolved, only convinced about half the time, secretly critical of the testimony of some other Quakers because I feel superior to them and think what they’re saying is self-evident or facile – you get it.  And from ME, an IDIOT, he receives a question that PRESUPPOSES there is something heinously wrong with his name and he must help me so my book isn’t ruined.

            And there you have it.  That’s all I’ve got.  I insult him, or I insult him, or I insult him, or finally, I insult him.  Someone else – a good person, someone totally unlike me – fix this and tell me what to do.  I will owe you a small token of gratitude (I haven’t gotten as far as what it would be) and it’s also possible you’d never receive it, so thank you DOUBLY for your generosity.

 

Published in: on June 6, 2008 at 11:42 pm  Comments (38)  

Moorelandia, The Part Three

I should mention that there is some stunning outdoor art in Mooreland, my beloved hometown.  I took the first of the two following photographs from inside my car, because there were a couple of pickup trucks driving slowly past me, giving me some eyeball I can only assume indicated ‘admiration,’ and I couldn’t get my camera to focus because of the light glinting off the gun racks in the trucks’ rear windows.  They were rugged men, of a sort I admired as a young teenager.  Their type has been well-documented in three of the most important novels of the 20th century, Carolyn Chute’s trilogy:  The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts, and Merry Men.  ORDER THEM NOW.  Please don’t pretend you’re reading something more important because you and I both know that’s crap.  Unless you are midway through Volume Seven of In Search of Lost Time, you have no excuse for not going to www.regulatorbookshop.com immediately.  You may mention my name, although that shan’t earn you any discounts.

At first I didn’t understand the subtext of this particular artifact, if you will.

Then I remembered an interview I’d heard with Peder Zane:

  

J. Peder Zane has been the News & Observer’s Ideas Columnist since 2007. Before that he served for 10 years as the paper’s book review editor and books columnist. His writing has won several national awards, including the Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He has edited two books published by W.W. Norton, “The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books” (2007), and “Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading” (2004).

You’ll note that I merely lifted this description of Peder directly from the News & Observer website, which I hope is legal.  [Editor’s note:  Haven appears in both of the books Peder edited, but that is most assuredly not the reason she is quoting Peder now.  Ack.  That would be venal.]  Peder was being interviewed by the lovely D. G. Martin on North Carolina Bookwatch – it’s like I WANT something from these people, but I really do not – and he was asked a very important question about the inclusion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in The Top Ten:  Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.  Peder asked 125 writers to list their ten favorite works of literature OF ALL TIME, which – Jesus Take The Wheel, as Augusten would have me say – is just bloody difficult.  After I agreed to participate I carried around a little notebook in my pocket at all times and I had pages and pages of notes.  TEN.  FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WRITTEN WORD UNTIL NOW.  Peder finally had to start sending me e-mails pleading with me to cease with the notebook and make your list, thanks so much, seriously this time Haven, Yours Truly, Peder.

[Editor’s full disclosure:  Haven’s list is as follows:

1.  The Gospel of Mark

2.  The Aeneid by Virgil

3.  Hamlet by William Shakespeare

4.  The Dead by James Joyce

5.  To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

6.  Selected Tales and Sketches by Nathaniel Hawthorne

7.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

8.  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

9.  Beloved by Toni Morrison

10.  Little, Big by John Crowley

As is evidenced here, she is one of the 125 who included the book in her top ten.]

D. G. asked Peder if anyone had written to him or expressed discomfort with the book, given that it has become a novel many African-Americans find distasteful and it has been banned in many school libraries, because of Twain’s use of dialect and of a timely (his time) lexicon.  Finn was indeed #5 in the Top Top Ten List, and was chosen by a whopping 25 authors as one of the greatest works of literature of ever.  Peder said some very smart things about the narrative itself and then described a book he had recently read about the ‘hypercanonization’ of Finn, which didn’t begin until after the Second World War, when thoughtful and humane people began to feel very unsettled about America’s treatment of African-Americans and began to want to personally identify with the heroism of the novel.  [Note:  One wonders why there wasn’t more discomfort one hundred, if not two hundred years earlier, by thoughtful people.  The Quakers certainly were, shall we say, displeased, as was Twain himself.]  [Editor’s disclosure:  Haven is a lifelong Quaker.] 

Now I, like Peder, could say a great deal about the hilarity of the book; Twain’s astonishing use of language; the deep and abiding humanity of the authorial intelligence.  I might even argue that from William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation up until Samuel Clemens began to publish, the question being posed in our literature was “What does it mean to be an American?”  But with Twain the question became, “What does it mean to write an American literature?”  I am quite certain this is something I learned in graduate school, so thank you, NC State University English department.  Finn is ultimately an American novel in a way that another book I adore, Lolita, most assuredly is not.  The two books share a great playfulness of thought and language, inside a disturbing, tragi-comical plot.  (I should point out that Lolita was written in English by Nabokov and later translated by him into Russian, something that boggles the mind.  The narrator is Parisian but the novel takes place in New England.  It’s a novel set in America, written in English, and again:  it is not an American novel.)

Back in Mooreland there was a lot on my mind as I waited for the trucks to stop circling me so I could get out of the car and get a closer look at the lawn ornament in question.  My first assumption, naturally, was that I was looking at one, if not the only, Obama supporter in what appeared to be the entire county of Henry, if not the entire state of Indiana (save for my family – thank you, Mom, thanks, Melinda).  Here in Durham my neighborhood – and I mean for what appears to be at least a square mile – is virtually wallpapered with Obama signs in yards.  Nearly every car seems to have one of his Shepherd Fairly designed bumper stickers declaring HOPE.  There are banners in windows.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tattoo here or there.  In the primaries he won in my county by 74%.  That’s . . . you know.  That’s definitive.  But I never saw a single political sign – not for any candidate – while I was traveling widely in Mooreland, to borrow a phrase from Thoreau.  Or Emerson, one of those two.  [Ed. note:  Thoreau.]

Here is a closer look:

As a clever viewer will spot right away, this is a poor representation of Obama.  It really looks nothing like him.  And that American flag, which did actually move in the breeze, is another giveaway.  Here is a statement Obama made to an ABC-affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the subject of why he refused to wear an American flag lapel pin, something I personally did not realize was necessary for serving as President of These United States:  “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.

“Instead,” he said, “I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism.”   Later, after being attacked on Fox News, he added, “I’m less concerned with what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart,” Obama said while campaigning in Independence, Iowa.  “You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those who serve. And you show your patriotism by being true to your values and ideals. And that’s what we have to lead with, our values and ideals.”

And, I don’t know.  The hat’s wrong.  I believe it is safe to say that wrongness prevails here; wrongness abides in this statue.  And yet, like Barack Obama, I love this country and I love Mooreland, Indiana with all my heart.  What I would like to see here is an attempt by a fellow Hoosier to personally identify with the heroism of Huck Finn, and his willingness to risk his life to save his friend, the slave Jim.  I would like to see, in the horrifying whiteness of the artifact’s eyes, a plea for justice and racial parity in this country – finally, finally.  However, scrambling back to my car and speeding out of town, I was reminded of Twain’s ‘notice’ at the beginning of his great novel:

“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

RIGHT?!?  Remember those trucks?

UPDATE:  At #10 on my list of the Top Ten Works of Literature of Ever is John Crowley’s Little, Big, a book so good I cannot possibly begin to describe its scope or its power.  Harold Bloom included it in The Western Canon, and called it a book “around which cults are built, and rightly so.”  Unless you are currently reading Carolyn Chute’s Egypt, Maine trilogy, I demand that you order it IMMEDIATELY and read it even though you might find it outside your usual purview.  We must grow, people.  It is a work of wonder and mystery, Shakespearean in its span.  I thank you in advance.

Published in: on June 2, 2008 at 8:51 pm  Comments (7)