This chapter of Escape is a welcome break from the last. It’s practically sunshine and puppies in comparison, although there’s still plenty to be horrified by.
Content note for forced marriage, sexual harassment, mentions of child abuse.
When you hear the words “new wife, new mother,” do you immediately think of a newlywed who’s just had her first child? Then you’re probably not FLDS. In this chapter title, Carolyn’s talking about her dad, Arthur, getting another wife, who will become Carolyn and her siblings’ new mother. Fortunately, the FLDS prophet has paired her dad with a woman everyone already likes: their mom’s niece Rosie.
Yep. Niece. Carolyn tells us that it’s “not at all unusual for sisters to be married to the same husband, and it was certainly not unusual for a niece to share a husband with her aunt.” Oof. We also learn that some men never get a second wife. Those who do generally wait 10-15 years after their first one. The more wives a man has, the more powerful he is.
Rose is fortunate enough to be getting a nursing degree – one of her father’s wives had chosen to go to get a degree of her own, and therefore could keep Rosie under surveillance. Arthur allows her to stay in Salt Lake City and finish her degree, even buying her a house there. She visits her new family in Colorado City, staying in eldest daughter Linda’s room, and spending lots of time in there with her new husband. Everyone else gathers in the front room to watch the forbidden teevee and try not to care too much what’s going on in that bedroom. Linda keeps a log of all the things Dad does with Rosie that he doesn’t do with their mom, Nurylon. Mom is subdued. It can’t be easy, seeing your husband more blissfully happy with your niece than he is with you.
Carolyn does get an important role model through this marriage. Before Rosie gets pregnant, she has more autonomy than any other woman Carolyn knows. She makes good money, even after having to move to Colorado City to give birth. Carolyn is often taken along to babysit when Rosie goes to work in nearby Cedar City, and can compare her opportunity and degree of freedom to the uneducated women stuck sewing uniforms in the local sweatshop for minimum wage – an amount that isn’t even enough to put food on the table for their super-sized families. Being around Rosie makes Carolyn determined to get a college education.
Rosie also gives her shelter from Nurylon’s abuse. She’s an island of stability that Carolyn desperately needs. Their family makes the best of plural marriage. It’s still full of tension – Nurylon is constantly competing to be the better wife, and accusing Rosie of not doing enough to please their husband. Becoming co-wives puts a huge strain on their formerly close relationship as aunt and niece. But they keep the worst of their tensions away from their kids. Other families have co-wives screaming and throwing things at each other. Carolyn’s mothers keep sweet. And Carolyn’s mum thinks marrying Rosie makes her husband treat her better. This is one of the few instances where polygamy sort of “works” – although Nurylon seems like she would have had a much happier life as a single wife in Salt Lake City, and would have had a wonderful time raising her kids. So polygamy still loses here.
Carolyn’s tween and teen years are characterized by the power struggle between apostles and prophet in the FLDS church. It’s somewhat of a People’s Front of Judea vs. the Judean People’s Front battle, but it divides the community, causing family members to stop speaking to each other, and children to be cut off from their friends. Despite being forced to dissociate from some of her friends, Carolyn does find one major benefit: with all the acrimony, at least church services are more interesting.
And the boundaries are ignored for holidays and dances. The dances are… interesting. I think most of us remember the awkwardness of early teenage dancing, trying to get the attention of the person you liked without looking desperate, figuring out how to do something resembling a dance with bodies that were growing too fast to be graceful, etc. Now imagine how much more awkward it would be if all the music was waltzes and other pre-20th century slow tunes, this was the only time you got to hang out with members of the opposite sex who were your age and not related, and if the 13 and 14 year-old girls had to occasionally stampede out the auditorium doors to get away from middle-aged men on the prowl for an additional wife.
It was frowned upon for a girl to dance more than one dance with a young boy. She also could refuse to dance with a young man if she had no interest. But a girl could never refuse the attentions of an older or even elderly man. This was considered one of the most disrespectful things one of us could do.
These were the rules of engagement. But there was no rule against a stampede. So when someone saw an elderly man heading toward our section, she gave a signal and all the girls ran out the door. If a girl was distracted or not paying attention, she could find herself left behind. That was what happened to Laura. We all felt so sorry for her, but thankfully, she didn’t have to marry that old man.
Excuse me. I need to go take a bath in bleach. I have to scrub out the inside of my skull, so it’s gonna take a while.
Okay. Back now. My, I feel clean.
So let’s talk dating strategy. You all remember how it was, getting together with your friends to discuss whether so-and-so might like you, and how to win your choice of special friend. FLDS kids strategize, too. I’m not sure what the boys talk about, but the girls discuss how to avoid being forced to marry some decrepit geezer. As Carolyn’s friend noted:
“So the only way you are not going to have sex with an old man is if you can get a young boy to fall in love with you. Then you have to insist that he is the only man you are willing to marry. That’s the only chance you ever have of marrying someone who’s in love with you.”
Nuggets. Did I mention these are eighth grade girls being forced to plot how they’ll avoid being forcibly married to gross old dudes? And that this is during the halcyon liberal days before the Jeffs stepped into the Prophet’s shoes, and started forcing girls to marry granddads right out of grade school?
BRB. Need moar bleach.
There’s a problem with this young love scheme: girls and boys aren’t even allowed to talk. At dances, they’re only allowed one dance. It’s hard to mutually fall in love from a distance. But there’s always theology class, and there’s a schism. The kids sign up with a teacher from the opposite side of said schism, knowing that person won’t be on speaking terms with their parents. They go to a few classes, thus lulling their parents into a routine. Then they start sneaking out the bathroom window just before class, and hoofing it through the darkness to the reservoir, where girls and boys alike can just hang out together as friends. Sometimes, a romance begins to bud. And most parents are so busy being proud of their offspring for being so gung-ho about matters of faith that they won’t let themselves entertain suspicions for long.
Thus, the kids are able to spend nearly normal time together three nights a month. Alas, they get busted after a year. Couples are split up by angry adults. And, since the only high school is on the other side of the schism, Carolyn is forced to give up her beau, her formal schooling, and her friends.
She’s so determined to get to college that she blazes through correspondence courses. After a year of that, the Prophet sends her and a few other academic aces to the high school as spies. This gives her another happy year with her friends before a new high school is opened for the prophet’s people, and the adults’ religious disputes force her to give her friends up again.
Kids are just pawns in this culture. No one seems to think of them as people with their own needs and desires. They’re potential breeding stock (or rivals) for old men, which means keeping them away from their peers. They’re used for espionage, regardless of what they think or believe. They’re items to buy, sell, trade, and use. It’s hard to see how they can learn and grow when they’re at the mercy of men who will end their relationships by fiat, and muck up their education on a whim.
And that was our lighthearted interlude. Things are about to get more awful. Stock up on cute baby animal photos and brain bleach. You’ll need it.