This chapter of Escape is going to infuriate you. I would advise you to have some time set aside for self-care afterward. Find something you can hurl, and something to hurl it at that won’t break. Maybe get a stick to bite down on, or a pillow you can scream into, if you’re reading this while others are trying to sleep.
Content Note for forced marriage, child marriage, sexual abuse, and misogynistic assholes.
Carolyn is still intent on becoming a pediatrician. She’s just graduated high school and worked the following year as a teacher’s assistant while attending community college. She knows she’ll need to attend a good four-year college in order to pursue her dream. For most of us, the biggest problem would be money. As long as we’d worked our academic asses off like Carolyn did, we’d have no trouble getting in to at least one excellent school. And our parents would be 100% behind having a doctor in the family. They’d move heaven and earth to help us fulfill our dream.
Carolyn can’t even tell her dad she wants to be a doctor. The most she risks telling him is that she wants to go to college. Just stop here a moment and picture that. Imagine having a parent with the power to keep you home, one who may destroy your dream in a heartbeat, just because he may decide your only possible use as a human being will be as an incubator.
Her dad goes to talk to talk to the FLDS prophet, Uncle Roy, to see if he’ll agree to let her go. Her parents roust her out of bed at 1am to tell her the news: Uncle Roy will let her go to school!
- She has to become a teacher
- She has to get married
- To Merril Jessop
- Yep, the father of the nusses
- Who is 32 years older than she is
- And who makes several FLDS boys work on his construction projects for free
- Who treats his family like shit
- Actually wants to marry Carolyn’s 16 year-old sister, but mixed up their names when asking Uncle Roy to assign him one of the teenage daughters of Arthur Blackmore
- A daughter he only wanted to marry so that Arthur will drop a multi-million dollar lawsuit against him
Pause to absorb the above facts. Please vent your rage safely.
Carolyn asks her father how Merril feels “about marrying a child”.
“Oh, he’s done it before,” Daddy says blithely. Then he lectures her on how she shouldn’t “question it or allow the devil to interfere” with this marriage, which, he adds, will happen Saturday.
That’s two days away.
Carolyn’s entire future has just been ripped apart, and she has no one she can turn to, no way out, and even if she had, her parents have ensured that she will be under their surveillance at all times until she’s married. They make her sleep the rest of the night with her mom, then take her to Bullfrog, AZ to meet her future husband. It’s then that Merril realizes he bargained for the wrong girl. He never speaks to Carolyn or her mother, just to her father, and that only briefly. Carolyn is a means to settle a lawsuit, not a human being, to him.
Imagine sitting at a restaurant table, staring into a future with a middle-aged man who wanted your younger sister instead, who is only marrying you because of money, and who will definitely impregnate you quickly and may decide you don’t need a college education, therefore you will not get one.
Afterward, Carolyn’s mother takes her shopping for wedding dress material. We learn that most FLDS girls “make their wedding dresses well before their marriages, because sometimes a girl has only two hours’ notice before she’s married…”
Two. Fucking. Hours.
Single to shackled as a sexual servant to a stranger in the time it takes to go to a movie.
While Carolyn’s mom feverishly sews her dress, Carolyn has to notify her community college instructors that she can’t take her finals and doesn’t know when she can make them up. Then Merril comes to pick her up and introduce her to his family. He doesn’t speak to her or acknowledge her in any way: yep, she just knows she’s supposed to follow him like a dog. She gets uncomfortable hugs from his family: two of Merril’s wives only welcome her because they’re ordered to.
Carolyn is stunned and scared.
In just twenty-four hours, I had gone from worrying about my finals to preparing for a marriage I didn’t want to a man I barely knew.
And now she’ll be stuck with Merril and his obnoxious daughters, the nusses, for time and all eternity. All because their religion, manipulated by cynical, greedy men, tells them this is the only way to heaven.
If there is only one reason for atheists to combat religion, to break its chokehold on humanity, to relegate it to the status of a quirky personal hobby, this is it. We need to free people from these toxic faiths. We need to make the world inhospitable to these ideas by giving everyone the knowledge and support they need to break free. And we need to not only open the cage door, but stand by to help those within safely escape.
This is one of the reasons social justice is so important within atheism. It’s not enough to sneer at gods, and belittle believers. If we’re to do any good at all, we must provide a safe place to land. We have to address the social and cultural factors that keep people trapped inside religion: we have to combat not only superstition, but poverty, inequality, racial injustice, and other factors that provide fertile fields for religion to grow. We have to be ready and willing to support believers as they escape their cults or leave their mainstream faiths, without judging them for having stayed in for so long. We need to reach out with understanding and empathy, without making our offers contingent upon their immediately letting go of faith, when it’s in our power to help.
Be there for the next Carolyn Jessop.
I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along.
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