This chapter really highlights how dysfunctional Carolyn’s family is, and how fucked up FLDS doctrine is – and keep in mind, this is before Warren Jeffs took over and it got extreme.
Imagine getting the opportunity to vacation in Hawaii. Awesome! Only… you have to go with the husband you hate. Not as awesome. And he’s taking two of his other wives… so not awesome. And your husband doesn’t even bother to tell you and your sister wives that you’re going: he just kind of lets you find out on your own… even less awesome. And you’re pregnant and have horrible morning sickness. Now we’re pretty fucking far from awesome.
Merril usually isn’t interested in his wives other than Barbara, but in the FLDS, you have to at least keep up an appearance of treating all wives equally, and his tendency to only take Barbara on long trips is getting noticed. Because a woman can only get messages from God through her husband, it can damage his standing in the community if he appears to be failing at the task of keeping his family under control. Merril has tried to keep the illusion of equality going by keeping most of his younger wives pregnant. But that only gets him so far. So he figures he’ll knock down three long trips in one and haul three of his wives to Hawaii.
Carolyn’s dad helpfully pays for extra tickets so that Merril can take Carolyn, Cathleen, and Tammy along on his Hawaii vacay. It’s the only way dear old Dad can bribe Merril into taking Carolyn along. But Carolyn would have rather done without his help: it’s an insult to be one of three, rather than the only wife going. This is probably her only chance to travel outside the Southwest, much less the continental US: he’ll continue to favor Barbara over the rest of them after this, and, “As women, we had no right to travel by ourselves.” But sharing that opportunity with two others is rather worse than never getting it at all.
Even Tammy, who has the lowest status as the one wife who hasn’t yet gotten pregnant and birthed a child, knows this is bullshit. She tells Merril that only Carolyn should go, as her dad’s the one who paid. But Merril enjoys being fought over by women he owns but doesn’t love. He also adores being an autocrat, and tells Tammy she has no “right to ask questions.” She’s to obey only.
Cathleen, the third wife chosen for this trip, is equally pissed. So yeah, this definitely isn’t going to be a happy families trip.
Carolyn has to leave her two precious young children in the care of people who don’t give a shit about them. In the FLDS, women have no say over anything – not even who should watch their kids.
And Tammy turns the trip prep into a war. Unable to get anywhere with their husband, she turns all her anger on Carolyn, and tries to outcompete her on everything. If Carolyn has one new dress, she must have seven, and so forth. She becomes obsessed with using the trip to get pregnant, even taking double doses of a fertility drug. A woman’s only power in the FLDS is in her children. Tammy desperately needs children so that she’s no longer nothing, and she’ll pursue that child at any cost.
So off they go: two pregnant wives, a wife who is ruthless in her quest to become pregnant, and the man who loves none of them, along with “six other FLDS couples.” Enchanting.
The folks at the airport can’t help but stare at all these women in bulky prairie dresses waiting to fly to Hawaii. And Carolyn gives us some important insight into the mind-set of an FLDS woman:
The strange looks we got didn’t bother me because I still believed we were God’s chosen people…. I never doubted the central tenant of our faith, which said that in order to come to earth a spirit must be worthy to incarnate into a priesthood home. We had to prove ourselves worthy before we could inhabit the spirit of a child.
The fact of our birth meant we were precious spirits – one in a million – and when the last days came, we would be the ones who would be lifted up to heaven in the rapture. So by the time you’re born into the FLDS culture, you’ve already won a lottery of sorts. You’re a spirit chosen to do God’s work on earth, which is priceless. When God gives one of his children so much, it carries a lot of responsibility….
So while I thought it was strange and uncomfortable when people stared at me, I did not feel embarrassed. I was one of the pure and select. I looked down on the people who thought I looked strange. They were wicked and less evolved.
So, y’know, that goes quite a long way toward explaining why a person could be forced into marriage with a man they despise, live in virtually third-world conditions, suffer abuse and rape, and still have faith in the religion causing all of those things. It’s the same religion telling you that God thinks you’re the best. It’s giving your life a profound meaning. And all those people looking down on you are trash. Pretty powerful stuff. Everyone wants to feel special. And you might cling to that tenaciously, especially when it’s all you’ve got.
We’ll break here. Next: Hawaii with an incredibly dysfunctional family unit in Paradise.
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!