Despite her terrible marriage, Carolyn has had a decent summer, finishing a summer session at college and exercising a modicum of control over her life. She goes home for a while in August, and tries to spend time at her parents’ home.* Her mother is having trouble caring for the nine youngest kids without Carolyn’s help.
But Carolyn can’t be there all the time, and so it’s 16 year-old Annette who piles 9 young siblings into the back of a pickup, along with Cousin Bonnie and 6 little cousins, and drives out for a picnic.
Content Note: child fatality, rollover accident, descriptions of serious injuries
When you have families that big, it’s extremely hard to transport them safely. There are few vehicles a 16 year-old could drive that would provide adequate protection for 17 people, much less many small children needing boosters and car seats. The open bed of a pickup is pretty far from a safe place. I’ve ridden in one, back in the 80s, when people were more lax. It’s hard to hold on as the truck speeds up, slows down, and turns, like riding a roller coaster without the padded bar to hold you in. It’s uncomfortable as hell, there’s nothing to grab on to easily, and you get whipped by the wind. Fun? Hell yeah. But I was always acutely aware I could fall out at any time, that there was no metal cocoon around me if we wrecked.
And on the sandy high-desert roads, it’s even more dangerous. The road bed typically sits several inches below the surrounding scrubland. Drifts of sand make control tricky, and hitting one of those raised sides is much like hitting a concrete curb. Hidden rocks can also jolt you unawares.
When I was a teenager, we were out riding one day with a friend in the back of the pickup. We ramped off the side of the roadbed, and even though it wasn’t much of a bump, it was enough to launch that poor friend straight up in the air. He came down so hard he shook the whole truck. We actually though he’d bounced completely out the back! He ended up having to have physical therapy for his poor battered leg, but fortunately, he didn’t have any breaks or permanent damage. Still, it could’ve ended much differently. We didn’t let people ride in back after that.
So I know from experience that riding in the back of a pickup is difficult and dangerous, but when you have fifteen small children to transport, and only that truck, you stuff ’em in and hope for the best.
Unfortunately for Annette, her siblings, and her cousins, the overloaded vehicle flips when it hits a bump and runs up an embankment of sand. It lands on many of the kids, injuring several. Two year-old Nurylon, Carolyn and Annette’s young sister, is killed.
The older girls manage to lift the truck enough for the less-injured kids to drag the trapped ones out, and everyone scrambles away just before the truck explodes. Stranded, they have no choice but to let a six year-old with a broken arm run back to town for help while they care for those with worse injuries.
Fortunately, none of the other children are critically injured: just “broken bones, bad bruises, and some cuts that needed stitches.” Carolyn, back at school finishing a class, is told what happened by her cousin Valerie. “It was a miracle that Nurylon was the only one killed,” Valerie says, but losing the cherished toddler who was her spitting image doesn’t feel like a miracle to Carolyn.
She gets no comfort from Merril’s family, who are too preoccupied with an older sister’s wedding to pay attention to a 4th wife’s grief. While a major portion of the FLDS community, even some from the other side of the religious divide, turn out to help Carolyn’s family deal with the tragedy, Merril “never said a word to me about my sister’s death. Never.”
The FLDS philosophy on death is utterly horrifying to me.
We believed in the FLDS principle that death, like everything else, was God’s will. It was God’s will that Nurylon was taken and that the other children survived. There was no such thing as an untimely death. Sadness was acceptable during the immediate aftermath, but questioning God was not.
They’re not even allowed to mourn for her past an arbitrary timeframe. They believe they’ll hold her spirit back if they do. They’re not allowed to feel what they need to feel. Indeed:
I had been raised to believe that the death of a family member was actually a blessing because it gave our family a representative on the other side who would try to protect us.
That belief gives Carolyn no comfort. She wants her sister back. But she can’t even talk about her.
We stopped talking about her after a week or two. Mourning for any length of time was considered inappropriate.
They don’t allow themselves to grieve. Nor do they get help for Nurylon’s shattered brother JR, who had been deeply attached to her. That first night after her death, struggling to understand, he asks Annette, “Why did you kill Nurylon?” He withdraws into a shell he never emerges from. He’s unable to bond with any other siblings. He was four when Nurylon died, and no one could help him process his loss.
A few months later, Carolyn’s stepmother Rosie suffers a stillbirth. That additional loss of another sibling drives Annette out of the FLDS community and into a party crowd in nearby Mesquite, Nevada, where she spends years trying to cope with her grief and her guilt. The only happy part of this chapter is finding out that Annette eventually got her life back together and had four beloved children.
Good for her. I hope she’s raising them far from the FLDS.
*Carolyn refers to it as her father’s home. I find that interesting, a perfect reflection of the patriarchal culture she was raised in.