Merril Jessop, arguably one of the worst husbands and fathers in the FLDS, decides after two weeks of being wedded to two new wives that the whole family needs a honeymoon. He’ll take his six wives and thirty-four children to the San Diego Zoo. In order to carry out this cunning plan, he rents a bus and assigns an elder son as the driver. But he does precious little else to arrange things, because that’s the sort of asshole he is.
Hold tight, kids, cuz this is gonna be quite a memorable trip.
Content note for rape, neglect.
Of his six wives, one is too detached from reality to know what’s happening. One is too depressed and neglected to give a shit. One is too much of a sociopath to lift a finger. One is too busy trying to curry favor with her new husband to do practical shit. That leaves Carolyn and Cathleen to prepare enough food and pack enough clothing for five days away with a family the size of an over-crowded elementary school classroom.
Carolyn almost rebels – this is really too much – but Cathleen reminds her they’re the only adults who will take care of these youngsters. So they buckle down and get to work. And it’s a hellish amount of work.
Days into their preparations, Barbara comes breezing in to take command. She can’t let her sister-wives think they’re capable of doing anything on their own. She can’t let them think they’re doing anything right. She huffs and she puffs and she tells them they’ve got it all wrong. But she hasn’t thought things through enough to have an answer when Carolyn asks her what they should be doing.
It’s so obvious this is just Barbara throwing her weight around. And Carolyn’s had it. She calmly but firmly puts Barbara in her place for once. Barbara stomps out of the kitchen and leaves Carolyn and Cathleen to it until the last day before the trip, when she starts a war over the sweet rolls they’ve just baked. She works on their husband, telling him how awful and incompetent those girls are, until he summons them in for a lecture in his office. He allows Barbara to order them to make breadsticks for the entire brood. This, after she was complaining they’d made too much food! Barbara and Merril should really sign up for a stint as professional torturers. They’d be great at it.
Finally, the big day comes, and the enormous family departs Colorado City. Most of the adults are in the van with Merril and the smallest babies. The 32 other children are stuffed in the bus with Merril’s discarded and depressed wife Faunita. I cannot imagine how awful it was for her to be trapped in all that noise and chaos, with no help from the teenagers.
Of course, the family’s too disorganized to call roll at rest stops, so one of the children inevitably gets left behind in Flagstaff. He’s too young to tell the gas station employees or police who his parents are, but he’s clear onthe fact that they’re on this trip cuz Daddy just married two more wives. He can’t even remember how many sisters he has, but knows he has 14 brothers. Can you imagine the expressions on the cops’ faces when they hear all this?
No one on the van or bus even notices one of the kids is missing until a cop pulls them over hours later. And when Barbara and Merril finally arrive to pick him up, he’s not a bit fussed. He doesn’t cling to his parents for comfort. Neither of them hug him or hold his hand. Poor kid is so used to neglect that none of this fazes him.
Family meals are served in parking lots, with dozens of shrieking children running around, bigger snatching food from the smaller, while Merril takes most of the adults for a restaurant meal, leaving Carolyn and Cathleen to handle the herd alone. Imagine having to travel like this for five days. And then being lectured that you’re not “keeping sweet.” ZOMG.
On the second night out, they stay in Yuma, AZ. Merril decides to sleep with Carolyn. They have five of his children in the room, but that doesn’t stop him from forcing himself on her in the middle of the night.
After it was over, Merril rolled over and went to sleep. I stared into the darkness, feeling like I had been raped in front of his sleeping children. I did not, could not, sleep for the rest of the night.
Carolyn, sweetheart: if it feels like rape, it is rape. It doesn’t matter if this asshole is your husband. If you don’t want sex and he makes you have it anyway, he has just raped you. Your feelings are perfectly valid.
She looks at herself in the mirror the next day and sees a “shell of a human being,” her dignity and her spirit “stolen.” Her husband doesn’t give a shit about her. She’s a thing to be used, not a human being with thoughts and feelings and needs of her own.
That morning, he takes all his wives to breakfast, leaving the teenage girls in charge of the brood. Faunita takes the opportunity to ream him for casting her aside. He hasn’t even kissed her in ten years. These women are mere possessions, to be used or put away however he chooses.
Carolyn is still too traumatized from the previous night’s marital rape to process anything.
When they get back to the hotel, the kids have trashed the rooms, spilling milk and food all over the carpets and beds. They get everyone herded onto the van and bus, and continue on to San Diego, where it’s a miracle no one drowns in the ocean. Merril even deigns to give Faunita a kiss on the beach.
At the Zoo the next day, the older kids flee the family, leaving Faunita, Carolyn, and Cathleen to try to watch over the youngsters. Somehow, they all make it through without leaving anybody behind. But when the bus breaks down on the way back home, Merril doesn’t even notice. He drives blithely on in the van, leaving nearly his entire brood stranded with only breadsticks to eat all day. He gets word of their plight when he calls his construction company from Yuma and gets a message relayed by the bus, which by then has thankfully been repaired. It’s on its way as he attempts to book them rooms. But the hotel they’d trashed the day before refuses to have them back, and the other hotel hasn’t got enough rooms, so many of his kids end up having to sleep on the bus that night anyway.
Carolyn isn’t ready to question her faith just yet, but she’s definitely doubtful of her husband now. Unfortunately, she’ll soon be more tightly tied to him than before. Escape won’t come for a long, terrible time.
I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along. The full list of reviews to date can be found here. Need a chaser? Pick up a copy of Really Terrible Bible Stories Volume 1: Genesis or Volume 2: Exodus today!
3 thoughts on ““The Shell of a Human Being” – Escape Chapter 11: Honeymoon”
I just got hooked on this series and did a straight-through binge-read of all your posts re: ‘Escaped’. Great series idea for your blog! I also just d/l a kindle copy so I can spend a sleepless night tonight reading the remainder of the story…
Not to make light of Carolyn’s story, but damn, how can this be a modern American tale? I couldn’t escape the thought that somehow we were all being punked, and this was more likely a long work of fanfic about “FLDS, the forgotten eighth kingdom of Westeros….”
Right?! And what’s even more terrifying is that the FLDS now is 1000x worse. I’ve read books by later escapees that make Carolyn’s situation look tolerable – but it isn’t.
Seriously, Dana, my mind boggles at the realization that Carolyn is still putting up with this, at this stage of her life. You’d think any sane person would be out of there like a shot.
This, more than anything else, speaks to me of the incredible coercive / abusive power of authoritarian religions. (Er, I guess that would be just about all of them.)
It seems pretty obvious that Carolyn had no other options, or maybe it would be more accurate to say she thought she had no other options.
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