So, imagine that the only way you can go to college is by having a sister-wife so jealous of you that she’ll talk your husband into sending you away. No one’s going to let you go just because it’s the right decision for you and your family. No one cares that you want to complete your education. It’s only because your sister-wife can’t stand you that you get the chance to go at all. And your new stepdaughters, asked by your husband to spy on you at college, are all clamoring for the chance to watch your every move. It’s the only way they’ll have a shot at college themselves. Their father certainly wouldn’t give mere girls an education just because they want one.
Welcome to Carolyn Jessop’s dysfunctional new family. This is what passes for sensible in the FLDS.
Content note for: forced marriage, manipulation, controlling behavior, abuse, theft.
(Some people like to paint rosy pictures of polygamy, but for most families, it’s not the divine existence preached by the church. Many, probably most, of the wives aren’t at all happy to share their husband with other women. For instance, if you want to know how Merril’s wife Barbara feels about the whole new-wife thing, just note the sad puppy picture she bought when Merril married Carolyn.)
Two months in to her terrible marriage, Carolyn will be given freedom and independence few FLDS women ever enjoy. She and two of Merril’s daughters will be given an education, an apartment, and a car. Most women in the FLDS will never have these things. Women with an education and experience living on their own, out in the world, aren’t as trapped within their culture. They might harbor thoughts of escape. They may have the resources to manage it.
But just as Carolyn is gaining a modicum of freedom, her new stepdaughter and ally Audrey is losing hers. In the week before Carolyn leaves for summer classes, Audrey wakes her in the dead of night to tell her something terrible has happened: she’s be been assigned to marry a stranger.
Audrey tells Carolyn she’s in love with someone else.
I didn’t know how to comfort Audrey. She was speaking forbidden words. It was not allowed in the FLDS for a young woman to get her heart set on marrying a man of her own choosing. Occasionally a young girl would tell the prophet that she felt she belonged to a certain man, but she would always insist that what she wanted was to do the Lord’s will, saying something like “I want to be by this man’s side in marriage if it is where I belong.”
And, of course, being a lowly female, 20 year-old Audrey couldn’t even take the initiative to tell the prophet that much. Her daddy would have had to take her – only he was never around and didn’t make it a priority to help his daughter, and so the prophet has assigned her to someone else – without saying a word to her or hearing her wishes. And thus Audrey is trapped, feeling as if her life has abruptly ended.
Carolyn can definitely relate.
Audrey tries to cancel the wedding reception, at least, so that she won’t have to deal with all the people celebrating the worst day of her life, but her new husband overrides her wishes. He wants a celebration, and his desires are the only ones that matter. It probably never even occurs to him that he should compromise on this.
Carolyn envies Audrey for marrying a man close to her own age, who doesn’t yet have other wives to compete with. Audrey envies Carolyn for at least marrying an important man in the FLDS. Neither of them will ever love their husbands. But Audrey’s new husband Merlin is, at least, a kind and loving man who allows her to go to college with Carolyn when he gets a job out of town. Not every man in this horrible culture is completely despicable.
Meanwhile, Barbara and Merril’s daughter Lenore, who was sent with Carolyn to spy on her, delights in her role and the approval it brings from her mother. The worse she treats Carolyn, the more Barbara rewards her. A godly family, indeed.
Carolyn, being clever, soon catches on that Lenore is getting praise for upsetting her, so she puts on her happy mask. Lenore is suddenly no longer getting all the praise, and gets so upset that her grades slip.
Lenore’s sisters, eager to earn Barbara’s esteem, rifle through Carolyn’s bedroom every time they visit, turning her unapproved music over to their father like good little spies. When Carolyn confronts him about it, he tells her,
“It’s up to me to decide who can go through your things… If there is something inappropriate, it should be brought to my attention.”
This is religious patriarchy, people. It gives men the idea they can treat their wives like they’re arrant children, because God said so. This is some bullshit.
Carolyn gives away anything that Merril doesn’t like, but also begins locking her bedroom door. So Merril gives the girls permission to pick the lock and take anything of hers they want. Carolyn decides to opt out entirely, and starts spending even the weekends away from the Short Creek compound whenever she can. The family still finds many ways to abuse her, and she’s desperately unhappy, but she does establish that she has the strength to defy them all.
But because her parents believe her marriage is the will of God, she has no way out of it, no matter how bad and degrading it gets.