Year of Polygamy

Deborah’s story

Bio: Heather is a poet, artist and writer who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I have had to face, these past few years, that my life could have easily been Brenda’s if a few small things had changed. And, more importantly, I’ve had to face that the point between extremism and mainstream Mormonism is small, and those who, like Brenda, get slowly pushed past logical lines in the sand are many. Those who survive, it is by luck. Not “there but for the grace of God go I,” No. It is luck, and if you are one of those who escaped from budding extremism, even if not partnered into a “school of the prophets” sort of situation, you are in a common situation and terribly lucky. 

Only luck.

My former husband was a good man and far more nuanced than I was when we married. I was horrified that he would watch R-rated movies, or his mom go grab extra dinner supplies on Sunday. I was still attempting to solve scrupulous problems with being more scrupulous. 

I knew my spouse’s father had…a temper. He would yell for Mother, and she would drop what she was doing and go trotting like a terrier. It bothered me, and it bothered my husband. He used to ask me if I thought his mom would leave his dad once the kids were older (the youngest were six and eight at the time we married). She hasn’t, even though once her husband threw a cooked turkey at her at the extended family Thanksgiving dinner. My spouse was determined that his father’s ideas weren’t any use to him, and that he needed to be far from them, then.

It wasn’t until we had children that were six and eight that my husband, who had been going through a severe depression for several years, told me that his father really had some good ideas after all. Things began to devolve more from there. Determined to gain respect by any means necessary, my husband- who had never previously spanked children- began slapping, spanking, then slamming little ones up against the wall or couch. This, of course, had the opposite reaction of what he wanted. Our non-neurotypical children were not going to be those who immediately and strictly obeyed with no reasoning and without trust. 

When the hitting began, I began working on a way to leave. As a disabled women, who had no completed degree, this was a complex situation. As he felt me pulling away from his influence, he would highlight conference talks and leave them on my pillow when argument didn’t work. When that didn’t bring me into obedience to him, he would take his highlighted talks to the bishopric. Weren’t these true principles, he would ask? Of course they were, my leaders would say, they’re printed from the church website! Well, my husband would say. My wife doesn’t believe them. She wants to get a job. She wants to finish her degree. She refuses to obey me. 

My parent’s marriage wasn’t this way, and neither were my sisters’, and with their support I began making plans to get out. My former husband, who also had never exhibited interest in them prior, began collecting weapons. He joined the local state guard, and began visiting with the militias which are associated with them. After we left (and we did get away) he tried getting my teenaged son interested in camping with his friends. My kid showed up to the campout and realized this was a militia, and wanted no part of that. 

We got away with a great deal of help of my parents, but in part because his own father had made some poor financial choices. My ex drained our 401k instead of getting family help. He got plenty of family counsel, though. In his paranoia he was certain I’d drag his children to hell if he didn’t have custody, and that I was trying to make sure he’d never see them again. I just wanted him to not punch them anymore. But, as he didn’t leave marks often, and most of the problems were psychological and emotional traumas, they were impossible to prove. My physical disability made me seem not useful, as did my adrenaline based nervousness. Having been isolated from friends, church leaders, and now the Court looking at me skeptically, he offered me the option of returning. I didn’t take it. He sent me emails explaining that I was a zombie, a witch, a post-modern humanist, a demon who had been lead away from the truths of the gospel. I was still active at church, still have a temple recommend, and thankfully my bishop and stake president knew better when they each were contacted by my ex, trying to spread rumors of me. My ex has no idea why I don’t want to go to the temple often. He used to use the words of the endowment to control me, manipulate my understanding of God to match his God.

 I never could do it his way, even when still trying to comply enough to please him. Finally, I had decided to do things by that of a kinder God, a loving one who wanted me to stay alive. 

My son told me my ex has bought a sniper scope. He asked what it meant that dad said I was a baby-killer. His father made him watch Glenn Beck specials about a coming Civil War in America, darker right wing propaganda, and go on trips with his charismatic chiropractor friend who believes that only raw foods and lemon juice and avocado will support the immune system. 

I don’t know why my luck has held. My former husband is now dating again, and by all accounts healing and healthy. Supposedly he’s doing CBT therapy and practicing better things. We do much needed family therapy with youngest and indeed he does parrot publicly changes in communication with his son. I absolutely adore his fiance and wish her every good thing. If he’s made concrete changes now, though far too late for my trust, I hope for her sake that they sustain.

May her luck hold, despite the odds. 

If not, I’ll be around.

I’m grateful, and still alive. 


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