It’s December, and Carolyn is back at Merril’s house after completing her fall semester at college. Merril, Barbara, and Ruth took off for Salt Lake City shortly after she arrived, leaving her virtually alone with the 14 kids still at home. Faunita, the only other adult, doesn’t leave her room very often. So Carolyn is free to do chores on her own. There are so many clothes to wash that, although they have to be rinsed by hand and hung to dry, it’s faster to do laundry in the old industrial-sized washer than try to use the more modern automatic washer and dryer. I can’t even bloody imagine the drudgery.
Content note for: Forced marriage, coerced sex
The FLDS has a new prophet, Rulon Jeffs, who took over after Uncle Roy died a few weeks before. While Carolyn cleans and looks forward to cooking for her gaggle of stepkids, Jeffs is busy arranging a wedding for Merril, who’s marrying Cathleen, a young widow of the former prophet. Merril lies to Carolyn and tells her Jeffs had just sprung this match on him with no warning.
Carolyn is suddenly forced to consider how she can remain valuable to Merril when he brings home his hot new young wife:
Like every other polygamist wife, I had no say in whom I would marry and no way to divorce my husband if it did not work out. Sex was the only currency I had to spend in my marriage – every polygamist wife knows that. Once we are no longer sexually attractive to our husbands, we are doomed.
It’s not just that a husband who still wants sex with his older wife will treat her (marginally) better. The other wives will treat her relatively well, too. Her sexual value to her husband even determines whether her stepchildren respect her. And, of course, everybody in the community gossips about whether a woman is being bedded by her husband or not.
It’s grim stuff.
A woman who is no longer physically attractive to her husband is stranded on dangerous grounds. She often winds up as a slave to the dominant wife. She has no voice to report on any shortcomings or abuse in the family. The sexually favored wives will often recruit the children of the less powerful wives and reward them for turning on their biological mothers. It is nothing short of ruthless vengeance.
And women who have few or no children are at greater risk of losing status. Children are a woman’s insurance. In seven months of lackluster sex, Carolyn hasn’t yet gotten pregnant. And now, with this new wife, she knows she may never have a child.
Once again, she feels like her life is ending.
Of course, Merril has left her out of the proceedings. It’s customary for FLDS wives to be present when their husband marries yet another woman, but Merril only takes two of his along. And he’s got to move fast to snatch up as many of Uncle Roy’s widows as he can. The more he marries, the higher his status within the FLDS. Of course, the wishes of the women involved have no bearing at all.
We also find out how Rulon Jeffs got the Prophet’s mantle. Turns out, “He was the only living apostle who had not been excommunicated.” The FLDS may still be ticking along without a prophet who’s in prison for life for raping children if Uncle Roy had been a little less trigger happy on his apostles.)
Jeffs should have been the one to marry those widows – it was traditional – but he didn’t move fast enough. Merril, the former prophet’s nephew, and Truman, Uncle Roy’s stepson, gathered up the widows they wanted and marched them to Jeffs with the bullshit story that the widows wanted them and Uncle Roy wanted it this way. Jeffs, stuck in a corner, said yes. So now Merril’s got two brides, not one.
Merril, having secured his new women, summons Carolyn to Salt Lake City to meet them, threatening her with the loss of his favor when she balks. She doesn’t want to be a part of this, but she has no choice.
When Merril’s oldest daughters arrive home that night, they’re happy to rub salt in Carolyn’s wounds. They see her as an unimportant impediment from a family of nobodies. Having a prestigious new mom – wife of the previous prophet, no less! – tickles their snobbery. They’re also happy such an important wife will make Barbara apoplectic.
And, at age 19, Carolyn is looking at a life consigned to the pile of used-up wives. But at least, she thinks, she won’t have to have sex with Merril anymore.
When Carolyn arrives in Salt Lake City with her father, Merril decides to mention he’d married yet another woman, Tammy. So Carolyn’s confronted with two new wives when she’d been expecting one. Twice the wives means more than double the awful.
Tammy had wanted to marry another man when she was widowed, and is furious she was forced to marry Merril instead. The younger new wife, Cathleen, hadn’t even been allowed to call her father. When she repeatedly said she didn’t want to marry Merril, she was told she had to. There’s absolutely 0 female autonomy within the FLDS church. Women are chattel. Whatever lip service they pay to loving and respecting them is just empty bullshit. Aside from the rare exception, men don’t hold women in any esteem. They’re just means to their husband’s end.
And Merril doesn’t even want to fuck these new women. He fucks Carolyn instead. Cathleen is grateful to have been let off the hook, while Tammy is furious. And with six wives and no room for them all, the Jessop family dysfunction reaches a peak. Carolyn is ordered to let Cathleen sleep with her. Yes, in the same bed. Yes, this is extremely irregular even by FLDS standards.
It was highly unusual for a man in our culture to ignore his new wives. The first wife was often unloved, mistreated, and ignored. Most men believed they would have an abundance of wives, so they didn’t put much effort into their first marriage. It was the later wives, the women who ended up marrying men twice their age, who were usually more valued and better treated by their spouses.
Even by the low standards of the FLDS, Merril is a reprehensible human being. And it’s about to get worse…