For Time and All Eternity: Tales from a Mormon Marriage… Janessa’s story
Bio: My name is Janessa. I am from a rural farming community in southeastern Idaho. I was raised by goodly parents, and I have 3 brothers. In high school you could find me in one of two places, in the choir room rehearsing or in the seminary building studying my scriptures. I served a mission as one of the many young 19-year-old girls eager to experience the mission field soon after the announcement of the age change. I came home and married a high school friend, who quickly turned into who I thought was the love of my life.
We were married in the Logan temple October 14th, 2015. Logan was the natural choice seeing as my parents were married there as well as my in-laws. We dated for a year prior to our engagement, and we lovingly referred to it as “our year of bliss.” I couldn’t have been more in love and ready for marriage. He was perfect for me, and I was perfect for him.
The weekend after we were engaged, I set out on a camping trip to raft on the Snake River in Hoback Junction with my future family. I loved them so much and they adored me back. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. As the trip came to a close my Fiancé and I went on a solo hike to get out of clean up. On the hike he told me that he wasn’t sure he could commit to Mormonism for the rest of his life. He still wanted to get married in the temple, but beyond that, he couldn’t promise anything. I was devastated to say the least. We went through with the wedding, but not free of immense anxiety and doubt. On our wedding day 3 months after our engagement, a part of me questioned whether he would show up at the temple that October morning. He did and we were sealed for all time and eternity.
Our first Christmas together, we were gathered in the living room of my in-law’s house. We were carrying out the long-standing family tradition of writing the Savior a letter of all the things we repent of and commit to do better in the coming year and put it in our stockings to read the following year. My husband didn’t waste any time leaving the church after our temple marriage and he announced to the family that he would not be participating because he no longer believed the church to be true. Before he could even finish, my father-in-law lunged across the room and punched my husband square in the face. I was speechless. Up until this point, I had no warning or indication of abuse running in this family, the family that at times felt more like home than my own.
This incident was swept under the rug and regrettably, I didn’t push it any farther either. I loved them too much to believe that it was anything more than a fluke. I spoke on the phone regularly with my mother-in-law, and I loved having her to talk to. In hindsight I realized that she would make very sly comments to indicate that she expected me to force her son back to church. I was processing his faith crisis the best I could but trying to reason with him about leaving the church from a place of love and sorrow. That was not good enough. She had used brute force to get him to church, and I didn’t know it, but I was being asked to do the same. The torch had been handed to me as his faithful wife to keep him righteous and she felt that I was dropping it. This began my very long and hard fall from grace.
While I held and still hold many complex feelings for my husband, one feeling remains constant, and that is gratitude for encouraging my education and career. I felt pigeonholed by my family into being the pretty Mormon princess who nurtured all the neighborhood kids and shared the most emotional testimonies on fast Sunday. My only identity was Mormonism’s poster child for perfect future wife and mother. I was a high achieving student in school; however higher education was never spoken about for me in my home. Although, my husband saw me as capable of so much more, which was a gift I didn’t know I wanted.
I was attending Weber State, studying Sociology and Psychology a couple years into our marriage when trouble struck on the Homefront in Idaho. My sister-in-law was the last sibling home with my in-laws. She was involved in cheerleading her senior year, and my husband and I went to support her at one of her competitions. We noticed that she had make up covering a black eye. She and my husband had a private chat about and it seemed handled, but I remained concerned. Later we get a call that she was found in the school hallway after overdosing and was rushed to the hospital. She spent a weekend in the hospital and my in-laws were there to save her and bring her back home. They blamed her suicide attempt on Satan and committed to everyone concerned about her that she was in great hands with them in her recovery. I was knee-deep in psychology courses, and I had a lot of empathy and insight for what was going on with my husband’s family. I took several opportunities to give researched input on the situation. I encouraged them not to isolate her, and to get connected to a therapist that she can talk to. Instead, they pulled her out school and all her sports and kept her home for the rest of the year to strengthen her faith so that she could rid herself of Satan’s influence, with no access to the outside world. Her life became cooking and cleaning for the rest of her senior year of high school. Her parents rationalized that keeping house was far Godlier than anything she would have learned in school that year.
My college career was ending, and I was faced with what my next step in life was going to be. I had several professors encouraging me to continue my education. They believed that I was a great fit for graduate school, and I was seriously considering it. My father-in-law, who was unemployed spent a lot of his free time driving down to Utah to take me out to lunch or dinner. At the time, I was flattered that he wanted to catch up with me so often, I soon realized that he had an agenda. His agenda was to talk me out of grad school and do what my husband tells me. My husband wasn’t telling me anything, which was a problem in and of itself, but my father-in-law was certain that he raised his son to be the head of the household, and as such, his wife should be submissive to him. My husband was also applying for grad school, and as much as we tried to coordinate where we got in, it’s extremely unpredictable. We had come to terms with the fact that we may live apart for a few years, but that it was worth it for the dreams we were chasing.
I had put in my applications and attended a couple of interviews. My husband was in the same process. I was in the last semester of my bachelor’s degree and in the thick of my capstone research project that I was hoping to get published. I learned that I got into my top preferred school, and I was so excited, but nervous to share the news. When I told my mom, that I wanted to pursue a career, she wondered about kids. When I declared that I would do both, her face went pale, so I knew I wouldn’t get the kind of support I wanted from my family on either side. I kept it to myself for a few days and then slowly let people in on the secret. Shortly after, I learned that I was pregnant. This moment was the fatal collision of all my identities, hopes and dreams all at once. I had spent 25 years dreaming of motherhood. I had also found such passion and fulfillment in my education and new life plans. I was in classes where I learned about the statistics of the intersection between single motherhood, family dysfunction, poverty, adoption, and child brain development. If I was going to bring a wonderful, beautiful child into this world, I wanted to do it as right as I could, and I knew that my circumstances were not it. The baby’s parents would be either living in different states, and struggling to make ends meet, or living with its grandparents which alarmed me for obvious reasons, or raised by a mother who abandoned all her hard work to follow my husband’s life path and live with the resentment and grief of what my life could have been. These felt like the options I was choosing from and none of them fit the kind of mother I wanted to be, nor did I believe any of these options gave my child a fair chance. I decided on abortion with the caveat that I would become pregnant again when I finished grad school and then I could have it all. My father-in-law caught wind of my decision and dashed down to Utah on the day of my appointment. I was in bed on many pain killers and feeling many emotions. My husband was doing his best to care for me and make sure I was comfortable. We hear a banging on the door. It was my father-in-law. We pretended not to be home. I was softly sobbing on the bathroom floor when the banging happened again. He called my husband close to 100 times, and he ignored them all. He eventually left, but in later conversation stated to my face that if I had the right to kill my baby, he had a right to kill me.
I kept my distance for several months. I had been deleted from all the family group chats by then and uninvited to my sister-in-law’s wedding happening that summer. Word had spread around their small Idaho town that I was a horrible person and that their lives were being tested and tried because of me. Because of this, there was strong encouragement flowing to my husband to divorce me from all angles. There was even an accusation that the baby I aborted wasn’t his and that he should leave me before I give him an STI. My husband fought hard not to believe it, but my desperate defense paled in comparison to their years of manipulation.
The summer before we leave for our separate graduate schools, our marriage is lucky to still be considered a marriage, but there was not any official strides made towards divorce yet. He had an internship in Idaho and chose to live with his parents after our lease in Utah was up. I stayed with my parents and taught the swim lessons to the neighborhood kids. I sorted through our boxes and divided up our kitchen appliances so that we wouldn’t need to start completely from scratch when living on our own. I had planned to drop them off to his parent’s house, which was an hour north of my parent’s house. He suggested that we go on a motorcycle ride to get a hamburger and catch up. I agreed. I pulled into the driveway and my husband was nowhere to be seen. He left before I got there and didn’t tell me, so I waited in my car to see if he will turn up. My mother-in-law immediately calls the police and lies to the officer telling him that I am on her doorstep harassing and assaulting her. The officer comes and asks me to leave the property and wait in the church parking lot down the street. I am visibly upset, but I agree. While waiting in the parking lot, I’m calling my husband and he’s not picking up his phone. I hear a loud diesel Ford speeding my direction from the distance. The truck aggressively pulls into the parking lot nearly hitting my car. It’s my husband’s older brother. He taps on my window and asks me to roll it down. He proceeds to nearly crawl inside my window with fists clenched yelling that he wishes me dead, and that I am the source of everything bad that has happened to him and his family. That was the last time I saw any of my husband’s family. They had staged the whole thing to get me there so that my brother-in-law could threaten me and potentially harm me. My husband was in on it but chose not to be there to see it carried out. I drove home from that encounter fighting the urge not to swerve into oncoming traffic on I-15 to give them what they so desperately wanted.
Years later, I am divorced, graduated, and running my own business as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor. I live alone in a very peaceful abode with my two dogs, and I live in a city far away from Idaho and Utah that hosts the most genuine and unassuming people I have ever met. I happen to know that my ex-in laws still consider themselves “a close family,” with no boundaries or accountability. They still attend their ward with perfect attendance. My ex-father-in-Law is in the Bishopric. My ex-mother-in-law is the primary president, and all the neighborhood kids flock to her house after school for a piece of candy and a hug. They are revered and respected Latter-Day-Saints in their community who have persevered their life’s challenges with unwavering faith. It’s easy to make a separation between extremist Mormons and mainstream Mormons. I am here to tell you that that line is very fine. Mainstream Mormonism is not the innocent sect, they’re not the harmless ones. The church breeds violent men. Women are too often the scapegoat for the pervasive beliefs and systems that the church promotes. The expectation put on women to be the glue to hold it all together is destructive and life threatening. Finding a way out was more than escaping my Mormon marriage and beliefs, it was escaping near death.
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