This is a long one, but I tried to break it into logical categories and keep it in order. Without this history, the purpose of this blog becomes rather nil so I hope you enjoy!
Born In Texas
My parents divorced when I was too young to remember my father, who never endeavored to keep in contact. The Army deducted child support, so he didn’t even have to think about me once a month when writing a check. I never existed.
My dignified mother lives by the code, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” so the only thing I ever knew was that I had been a daddy’s girl. Basically, the first man I loved left me and I’ve felt it all my life. I often wonder how it can be that a stranger could matter so much to a little girl, then a teenager, a young woman, and finally a grown woman. I was certain, however, that if I couldn’t charm or cajole him into loving me, no one ever would. I defined myself by how I couldn’t win my phantom father’s love.
Raised In Idaho
I was too big a personality for the pious town in which I was raised. Rexburg, Idaho, found me scandalous. I thought they were judgmental and boring.
I didn’t leave so much as Rexburg drove me off. The cruel irony is that I was a sweet kid, scared of boys and afraid I’d never catch up to my fast peers. While some of the kids were getting drunk, smoking pot, and letting their boyfriends in, up, down and all around their business – to repent later before entering the temple – I was a prude! My only eyebrow-raising behavior was unabashed enthusiasm. And profaning from an early age. I appreciate the well-stated didacticism of Spencer W. Kimball, “Cursing is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcibly,” but I don’t care. I love to swear!
As a girl I really just said the odd “shit, damn,” and “hell” under my breath. Other than that, I laughed loud, danced, and bounced around. I was a playful, energetic kid. They made me feel dirty, ugly, unworthy. I was exuberant, and they found fault. So I did, too.
I was also suffering under the care of a mother who did not like me, and said so with regularity. “I love you, Christie Ann Fullname, but I don’t like you.” I heard only hate and, believe me when I tell you, I mirrored it back. To her, to the world, to myself. I hated Me as far back as I remember, and I hated my mom. That was the first thing I knew. Every day I walked home dreading but craving the verbal, physical, and emotional violence that was my primary parental bond.
I got really good at verbal abuse. I’m smart, and I’m mean. I understand now that this is what happens to kids living in environments of sustained trauma, but then I only knew that I was horrible person. I didn’t have the option of growing up healthy and whole. I had to get through it and my mouth took over.
The violence of my childhood home propelled me into one hell of a journey. It stunted me for a long time, and laid the foundation for my life’s work: To forgive, to tell the story, to break the cycle, to heal, to love, to create warmth and joy, and to share those things with my mom, whose life was so hard for so long. I hope you can feel my tender love and admiration for her, even when I report the rough, rude facts of our history.
Back at Madison High, I’ll never forget the day a friend reported overhearing a classmate say to the kid next to him, “You can just tell watching Christie Fullname that she’ll leave The Church someday.” I was onstage rehearsing a play. During a break, my friends and I were laughing like teenagers. I was a darling kid with zest for life, but that boy saw me as… what? Filth? Sin itself? I was humiliated. Everything about me was wrong.
All I knew that day was I was unworthy.
Turns out, I grew up to learn that my personal truth cannot be organized. I left the Mormon Church. He was right, but, oh, that hurt.
Yes, people like me leave. We leave because of people like him. They’re a dime a dozen, sadly, in towns all over Utah and Idaho. He didn’t understand his own power, and used it to injure and alienate a really sweet girl.
I recognize in hindsight that this boy, like me, was a child. I further understand that culture isn’t dogma, but it makes no difference in the end. Together, culture and scripture make that machine, and I can’t “bear witness” to any system that tears people down, forcing them to worship some unseen Being for a reward they fear they’ve already lost, effectively ruining their joy here! And possibly the peace of mind of others. The sort of meanness my classmate typified is the cultural rule in Utah and Idaho Mormondom. That’s just the way it is. Christlike loving kindness and acceptance are the exception, and no one’s talking about it. I will. And, no, I won’t shut up.
And I’m Stillworthy.
Childhood joy and nostalgia always find home at the cabin. Island Park was an idyllic place to spend my summers. Against the mountainous backdrop of untamed Idaho and Yellowstone Park, I ran and skipped and swam and climbed and squealed, and slept each night in a bed handbuilt, like all the furniture, by my grandfather, in a cabin he built and wired by hand. He took me exploring for hours. Together we all-but-memorized the Encyclopedia of Western birds, identifying them on our walks.
“What’s that!?” I’d ask.
“Consult your book,” he instructed.
“I think it’s such and such!” If I was right, he’d imitate the call. Grandpa could mimic who-knows-how-many birdsongs. If I was wrong, he smiled and made me keep looking.
I can see his face still. He was delighted with me! He loved my company.
Grandpa was the only figure in my young life that made me feel like I was okay just the way I was. The only thing I’d ever heard from the world and everyone in it was that I was unworthy. Period. Not with Grandpa. Though he did admonish hubris from time to time and certainly availed himself of teaching moments, he adored me for me and I loved him for it. I loved his dreams for me. I saw stars in his eyes before I saw them in my own. Grandpa wanted me onstage. I was raised on expectations of the day I would join the cast of Playmill Theatre in nearby West Yellowstone, Montana.
Ironically, by the time I spent a summer on the Playmill stage, my family had disowned me. Mom had been beating me since before I can recall so when, at age 19, I finally hit her back, all Grandpa was told was that I’d punched my mother. Disrespecting your elders was inexcusable, no matter the circumstance, which he doubtless didn’t know. I disagree. In situations of abuse a child has a right to say no, any way they can. I only wish I’d said it sooner. Mom and Dad kicked me out, and the entire extended family closed ranks and quit speaking to me. (Except for Melanie, but my angelic sister is
an aberration a story for another day.) It was 1993.
To understand what this means, let me explain that our cabin was 22 miles from the west entrance of Yellowstone Park, and I don’t recall a summer that the entire family didn’t fill dozens of seats at least one night each season at Playmill. All my life, Grandpa painted the picture of me performing on that stage and his pride on that day. I was there for him as much as I was for me. And no one came. Except for Melanie. I had baby brothers who were 7 and 9 at the time, and I begged Melanie to bring them to see my shows. She hated to tell me that she’d been trying. Mom wouldn’t let her.
In the end, Grandpa couldn’t resist. He and Grandma came to a performance of “See How They Run,” in which I had a leading role, and slipped out afterwards before I could corner them into a conversation. My castmate, Lisa, caught them in the lobby before they got away. “I told them how much we love you,” she reported as I cried in the dressing room. “He said, ‘It was good production.’”
So very Grandpa, so stern and proud. Today, I love that he loved me so much he couldn’t stay away, no matter what his principles dictated. Then, I only knew that I was unworthy.
This is the little girl who memorized and recited poetry for the grandfather who loved her and corrected her grammar.
From Potato Country To Big Sky Country
It was Summer 1993. I was in West Yellowstone, MT, fulfilling my lifelong dream of being a Playmill player. I’d completed an associate degree at Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho. After my folks turned me out, I finished the semester in student housing. My biggest fear had come true. I was unlovable and I couldn’t hide it anymore.
I was MAD!
Why was I here on Earth, then, if, according to “them” (my family, my peers, my culture), everything about me was too garish, too glad, and certainly too loud? Aren’t we all here in this mortal probation – Mormonspeak – to learn, to grow, to love? To live? The message I got was that my very nature was immodest. I was a nice, righteous young woman and my sweet gooey center was a blissful, dancing little girl, but everything about me was wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. I should be ashamed. I was.
My castmates couldn’t understand why I bristled at their praise. It breaks my heart now. Everything that made me shine onstage made me loathesome in my small town and to my own mother. When I remember failing to adjust to “dorm life” I think of Linda, in particular. All of the girls lived together. She was ten years older than us and very much a mother hen, to this day the most joyful woman and the most fun! I hated her. At first I deflected her compliments. She was determined to break through my shell. Poor thing didn’t know what they’d done or how stubborn I am. When she wouldn’t stop smothering me with kindness, I belittled and degraded her. (Shut up shut up shut up.)
Lisa was her friend. She was the next worst. They had been roommates at Ricks College, impossibly upbeat (Ironically, so am I but I was, as yet, a very angry little girl) and determined that they could make me see what they saw, a tender little thing who just didn’t understand how precious she was. I think Linda and Lisa made me their project, bless them. They were going to love me better. (Shut up shut up shut up!)
Lisa’s husband, Jeff, asked all summer for permission to paint my portrait. He, like his father, Gary Carter, is a successful working artist.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I muttered every time he asked, hoping it wouldn’t come up again. It always did. I was crawling out of my skin. (Shut up shut up shut UP!)
I wouldn’t sit for him. Finally, at the end of summer, he damn near begged for a photo shoot, to paint me later. We spent the afternoon on his parents’ ranch. I liked feeding the horses. You can see how insecure I was, so young and afraid of my life. It’s sweet to me now. That beautiful garment was an authentic Native American dress, valued at $100,000! What an honor! Little did I know that I would find the sweat lodge in 2009.
At Playmill, I was a grown up now and decidedly no longer Mormon. I politely declined to pray before rehearsal. I had no objection to the ritual, but beyond folding my arms and saying “Amen,” I didn’t feel like participating. The owner pulled me aside and asked if there was a reason I “couldn’t” pray. He meant, was I on probation?
Kids who have sex can’t take the Sacrament or go through the temple for a year, or pray in public until their Bishop tells them they can. The former owner of Playmill had directed me in my first high school play. Back then he’d asked me in front of my teenage, Mormon peers, “Didn’t your dad get his girlfriend pregnant in high school?” I was 15!
I was a professional now, not a frightened student, but he hadn’t changed. Degradation and humiliation were his operating principles. No one would ever question his worthiness, a man, a priesthood holder. How dare he presume to ask such a personal question! That’s between my Bishop and me, if I choose to share it. And no, thank you very much, no sin keeps me from anything I might wish to do, with head held high. A gross abuse of his power and position. Disgusts me to this day.
Abuses such as these are commonplace in cultural Mormondom, and objections are patronized and dismissed by the devout: “Oh, that’s not the dogma.” So what?! It’s inappropriate! The Church has grown pathologically ill in this area and no one is willing to talk about it. Members are expressly forbidden to read anything about The Church not sanctioned by The General Authorities, aka The Brethren. To this day, I haven’t!
(Nevermind that I’m writing it.)
“Oh, that’s just the culture. That’s not the religion itself.” Yes, it is. I’m willing to bet that nowhere in the texts of Fundamentalist Mormons is the rape and forced marriage of children in their dogma, but it most certainly IS that religion in certain cancerous communities. Stop hiding behind platitudes, please!
More Misguided Priesthood Leadership
I’d given the Lord an ultimatum a year-and-a-half earlier when I started Ricks College in Fall 1991. I went to my first week of church on campus and approached my new bishop with a check for $964 and some change. It was my tithing arears. I had kept track of all of my teen earnings, an IOU to God. HE TOOK IT! I walked up to this grown man, Bishop Clark, introduced myself, and told him what that check represented. He took it!
Anyone with an actual conduit to God and charged with the guidance of young people would have told a well-meaning little girl to take that honest, hard-earned money, earmark a portion for expenses and some college fun, save the rest for a mission or wedding, and pay an honest tithe henceforth. He took it! The largest money-making religion in the western world did not need an 18 year-old girl’s last penny.
I got my money back, not with that intention and many years later. We’re even. I turned to the Church at a time of desperate need that was the result of a self-harming lifestyle, and a good Bishop helped me. Twice. For that, I am truly humble and grateful. I’m also touched by the kindness, understanding, and guidance of my mother’s Bishop at another time of my life when I doing dangerous things. She was terrified for me, and he comforted her in a true and meaningful way. Those men remain among the things/people/moments of inspiration I’m most grateful for. But Bishop Clark taking that check is just more evidence that any church is simply an organization of people, not diety. I’m sure the guy did the best he could with his belief system and his instructions, but his maturity alone should have readied him to smile lovingly at my youthful intention and instruct me to make better choices in future. Nope. He took it!
(Leaving the Mormon Church is a bit like walking off a plank, particularly in Idaho and Utah, when no one you know isn’t also Mormon. You are given one script and no playbook for any other lifestle. It’s tough out there for young people who can’t help but ask questions. Some of us don’t make it. Turns out, I’m something of a scrapper with a knack for surviving. Even when I don’t wanna.)
That check represented my last investment in the Lord. I was starting with a clean slate at Ricks College, although I literally had never sinned. Adolescents, you’d assume rightly, were mostly counseled in infractions of morality and The Word of Wisdom. (Don’t drink, don’t smoke. Don’t let your boyfriend touch your boobs.) I was a teenage, snow-white virgin, carrying the weight of guilt and shame of anyone who’d had an impure or hateful thought at the sight of me. I was dirty, and I knew it. I was bad, and I knew it. I didn’t have a testimony, because I was doing something wrong. I was unworthy, and I knew it. I was unlovable, and I knew it.
Oh! I’m also just your average molested Mormon girl. The neighbor got me when I was nine. His little sister was my friend. He showed us hard porn and made us do stuff to each other. Then he’d masturbate and rub it all over us. He was sixteen and fully mature. He talked it up to my brother, who had no friends or body hair. A nine year old-old girl shouldn’t know the difference between a boy who’d hit puberty and a late-bloomer. My brother fondled my sister and me a little, and it breaks my heart for him. I preferred it, because he wasn’t beating me up those nights. It was the only tenderness any of us knew. Still, I cried in the night, and my sister has never really been okay with it. It stopped when mom got engaged and I found the courage to tell. I had forgotten!
I think my brother’s hated himself his whole life for it and I wish he wouldn’t. I sorrow for the burden he carries. Guilt is a bitch. I see him as an innocent, too. We were all smothering in the silence of a very sad family. My poor mother, trying so hard. She did so many things right. She did so many things wrong. I don’t hold her responsible for what happened, but I do think that our culture kept them quiet after they stopped the problem. They might have told the Bishop, who would have done nothing beyond ordering some repentance measures. They should have told the police. What the neighbor did was aggressive, degrading, mocking, scary, and intentional. It feels like rape when I remember it. I can feel his rage searching for something to… force. He looked for victims and found them. My brother was just trying to be keep up with a false friend. Between us, it was affection. There wasn’t any anywhere else in our lives.
What if I had shut up then? How long would it have continued, and what might it have become beyond just a little inappropriate exploration? Still, they tell me, “Shut up, Christie, shut up!” No, I will NOT. To shut up is to give up, and die. The neighbor never touched me again either but I was, by then, certain that I was unworthy.
Well, at Ricks I was starting over! I was determined that with continued effort, I would get my testimony! You are to study and pray, asking if these things are true. You will receive a Burning in the Bosom for confirmation. I never had that, and I was ashamed. I’m bad. I’m weak. I’m wrong. But I’m gonna get mine! “And if I don’t have a testimony by the time I graduate from Ricks,” I threatened Heavenly Father, “I’m out!”
While at Ricks, I read The Bible (including the Old Testament!), The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants (revelations given to Joseph Smith and some of his friends), The Pearl of Great Price (Smith claimed they were Egyptian papyri!), AND the Joseph Smith History. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There are millions of Mormons who didn’t work as hard for their testimony as I did not to get one.
Joseph Smith prayed in The Sacred Grove, where he saw the Father and the Son in The First Vision, because a scripture in the New Testament Book of James told him, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” As Mormons, we’re taught that we have to do our homework. Study the scriptures and pray. I did that. I was left with questions. They call that A Stupor of Thought, but it’s culturally shameful to have one so no one ever does!
What answers I was given by leaders and peers were thinly-veiled admonitions to shut me up. My lack of faith was weakness, disrespect. A close friend in Junior year said to me one day, “I’m worried about you, Christie. You’re starting to sound like one of those intellectuals,” she warned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunstone_Magazine
We were raised to ask! Now I ask too much?
(Shut up, Christie! Everything about you is wrong.)
I can hear the Mormons saying I was too proud to receive my testimony. I only reclaimed any prayerfulness about me after I left the Church. I admit that humility is not among my traits, but I do not believe that people are to be broken. Only since I walked away have I begun to feel humble wonder and praise, “How great thou art,” truly! Whatever thou art, how great it is! (I continue to adore hymns. I love sacred music.)
It was this inner conflict that I carried with me to Playmill the summer of 1993. Familial turmoil exploded in January: I struck my mother and lost my family. Ecclesiastical turmoil was set aside, or so I thought. I was 20, grown up, not tied to any religious organization, and I had my first paying gig. A strange outsider called Caleb got a job there, too.
Caleb could not understand my obsession with God, who He was, how I should live my life to feel Him, to reflect and honor Him. Caleb was dumbfounded. “Just live a happy life,” he’d say. “Who cares about God?”
(I heard, “You’re small-town. You’re stupid,” and screamed back, “Shut up!”)
“What difference does it makes how beautiful the trees are if God made them or not? Maybe He did; maybe He didn’t. Personally, I don’t think He is at all!”
“Christie,” my sweet Caleb would plead with me. “I think you’re pretty. I think you’re special. I want to hold your hand and gaze into your eyes. I want to climb hills with you, marvel over clouds with you, talk about art, music, and books with you. I want to kiss you all the time and tell you that I like you.”
(“Shhhh…! I’m not worthy!”)
“Christie, I want you to be my girl. Who cares about God?”
Every once in a while, we shared a carefree moment. He was so smart and exciting. He did silly things to make me giggle. We played card games and stared at each other for hours. No one else in the world existed. I was in love!
Somehow, Caleb broke through all that anxiety and I fell in love with a boy who was, like me, a 20 year-old virgin. I thank the Mormons for one thing, a rabid fear of my own sexuality. I was a late-bloomer, but I blossomed, have no doubt (into fear, self-loathing and binge-eating disorder, sadly, but my body did wake up at last). Thank god a fear of sin kept me sweet and new. My first time was the best one. I own it; Don’t even try.
Caleb was a ducky theatre geek, and a late-bloomer too. We were so nervous and sweet and awkward and kind to one another. It was truly magical. It was totally spontaneous, not terrifying on some prescribed wedding night. We had an entire summer leading up to a firey August night so hot I insisted we take it under the big Montana sky.
“Are you sure?” he worried. “What if you regret it tomorrow?” He was so patient with my fear of hell, so concerned for my well-being. That precious boy offered to wait 3 days and then we could do it if I hadn’t changed my mind!
“Get a blanket!” I ordered him. “NOW!”
To this day, I have yet to hear a better first-time story than mine. It was black pines silhouetted against stars in a midnight blue panorama. Stars down to the horizon! It was Big Sky. If you’ve ever smelled the mountain air in summer, add the first time you trusted someone and you have Caleb and me spooning and kissing and learning and giggling, minds blown… 5 times.
“I love you!” It was so sweet.
Godblob, You Bastard!
Unfortunately, that put me on another path to inexhaustable predictions of calamity and pain. The Church was true, surely. It was just a matter of me understanding, feeling, how it was true, and that would happen one day. Surely. My parents were intelligent people. They wouldn’t sell me a false bill of goods. They were good people. I knew they meant well. My mother was the victim of abuse. It was one of the illogical reasons she hated me for being so favored of her father, I see now. He was emotionally distant at best, and that generation’s spankings are brutal beatings to us. The message got through with her: YOU ARE NOT WORTHY. By goddamn, I wasn’t going to end up like her! But that’s tragedy independent of The Church. These are mistakes of men, not God, I told myself. The Church was true and I didn’t want to be one of those pathetic women crying to the young girls. “Get married in the temple! I have to wake up every day knowing that my marriage is ‘for time’ only. I love my husband so much, but he’s not Mormon. I don’t have an eternal family! Waaa… Fate worse than death…!”
I bought it hook, line and sinker, and where did that leave me now, with a boy who found my beliefs provincial? Someday, I’d have a testimony and a house full of kids with a man I love and I’d look around me and cry, knowing that I chose wrong for time and all eternity.
“Christie! I love you! Who cares about God?”
“Shut up! He has to be something! What, He’s just… a blob, Caleb? What is God?”
“Baby, who cares?”
“I care! What is God to you? Who is God?”
“I don’t care.”
“You’re just okay with a blob!”
“Yes, I don’t need god to be anything.”
“God’s a blob. He’s just a blob and that’s okay with you.”
“Yes! God is that bird or your shiny hair. God is nothing. What difference does it make?”
“ALL the difference!” (“Shut up shut up shut up!”)
I wasn’t ready. It’s laughable to revisit this now, but I was terrified to let my Godblob go. He was all I had. And I still had that nagging inner truth to contend with at the end of every day: If my own family could leave me, why would this boy love me forever? I was unlovable, and I knew it. No way Caleb or anyone would stay.
Montana to Hollywood
I followed him to Los Angeles, and it all finally fell apart. I actually smacked him a time or two. Since then, I’ve never felt a violent bone in my body. My abuse is uniquely verbal, just as it was in childhood. I was the littlest one. (“I might die this beating, but by damn, they’re gonna hear about it!”) My words would ring in their murderous ears, I decided, long after I was dead. I made sure of that before I even recognized that what happened in our home was irregular. I remember the thought patterns survival created in me; I don’t recall my first beating or whether it came from my mom or my brother. I only know that no 6 year-old hates her mother because she’s a bad kid. (It was my secret shame. I didn’t want her touching me, talking to me, or breathing anywhere near me! I hated her, and that made me evil. I cried myself to sleep many nights.)
Caleb forgives me, of course. He loves me. He helped me understand just how sick I was in the aftermath of a lifetime of abuse. Sweet Linda was my roommate in LA! Poor girl! We just laugh and laugh now. How I love her. How moved I am by her loving intuition, which she attributes to “the spirit” Mormons refer to. (She’s from Sonoma, AZ, and Los Angeles. Utah/Idaho Mormons are their own psychotic breed.) LA pressured-cooked my worsening depression into a near-daily eruption of tears. I was in full-blown crisis, and after ten months I came home, utterly defeated.
And Back to Farm Country
Dad got me into therapy when I returned to Rexburg. I’d have gone sooner, but in high school I refused to be the family scapegoat yet again and insisted that mother get help, too. “She always says, ‘It takes two to tango,’” I argued. “She’s part of the problem. She should participate in the solution.” She refused! So I refused, too. I’ve never quite forgiven my folks for letting me fall through that crack. I don’t care if you really believe it’s all the kid’s doing. BE THE GROWN UP! Your job is to see that kid into adulthood, no matter what it takes. I was suicidal and they knew it. And she needed the freaking help!
I went to see Dr. Ronald Zohner in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and started taking Paxil. It took the edge off, but it knocked me out. All I did was wait tables at JB’s Big Boy in Rexburg, and sleep. The immediate suicidal crisis was averted and I could stand it at my sister’s until I figured out what comes next. Melanie had sweet new baby, my niece Rachael, and I sure liked her. I went out with a few return missionaries, old friends from high school, and a country-western singin’ student at Ricks whom I worked with. He even wore a big buckle.
My friend, Jim, had acquired a theatre in Jackson, Wyoming. I spent my first two summers out of high school working at a hotel there, and I was glad to go back to summer stock and the tourism trade. That’s my ol’ backyard!
With my pharmacist father’s mantra singing in my ears, “Better living through chemistry,” I set about trying again. I’m old enough to have a favorite summer of youth, and Jackson 1995 is it. “Paxil is the Wonderdrug of the 90s,” I told my new friends. I had a few tantrums and didn’t always get along, but we were a joyful bunch of bright-eyed youth. We went river rafting with regularity, singing “Hail, Poetry!” at the same placid spot where we all jumped ship and swam, every time. I went kayaking. I climbed a new trail everyday and put my head under water in glacial lakes. I jumped waterfalls. I was fearless! I was alive!
Moose Falls, Teton National Park 1995
Kirt and Kim are two of my dearest friends to this day. We called ourselves The Triumvirate, and all we did was play and dance and laugh, and climb and sing and live!
Singing For The Prophet
There was one untoward incident that summer, and I finally stood up against the judgment. I had had enough, and I would be silent no more! One castmember was a return missionary from Utah, going to BYU. He didn’t care for me, but I was used to people like him. He was harmless enough and cute. In fact, Kim had a crush on him.
Well, all the kids went to church together and they came home one day reporting that President Gordon B. Hinckley and Sister Marjorie Hinckley would attend their Ward next Sunday, and they were to arrange a musical number! I wanted to sing for the prophet! I dearly loved Gordon B. Hinckley. He spoke at a devotional when I was a student at Ricks College. He was a man of crackling humor and deep, abiding love. His wife spoke first. “I like being married to Gordon B. Hinckley,” she said. “Most of the time.”
The congregation laughed.
“Then there are times when we’re pulling into Rexburg, Idaho, and I say ‘Now I don’t have to speak at this thing, do I?’ ‘Well, yes,’ he answers. Then I don’t like it so much.”
Those were the true Mormons. They were true disciples of Christ. I cried when Pres. Hinckley became the Prophet. I remember hearing it on the news and running out to watch the TV as he said, “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us stop bickering amongst ourselves and do His work.” I dearly loved Gordon B. Hinckley. He exuded and emanated joy, humor, and love. And I wanted to sing for him.
Well, this young man complained when I left the room that I wasn’t worthy. I’d smoked my first marijuana that summer and got sloppy drunk a time or two. When I unraveled the strange vibe upon returning to the room, I flipped out. “That is it! Let me tell you something, you little prick! I grew up in a town full of you! I know exactly who you are. And so does God! And let me tell you another thing. God would rather I sing for his holy prophet than you, because He knows and you know and we all know that you’re going to be a General Authority someday. He knows you’ll be there next week, and the week after that. But I might not! And He wants me there! Shame on you! Shame on you and everyone like you! Go to hell! I’ll be your neighbor, and I’ll make sure it’s HELL!”
Later, the boy apologized. If I had it to do again, I’d accept. I genuinely respect a face-to-face apology, but then I kept my anger as a shield. I didn’t sing for the prophet but when Gordon B. Hinckley died, I saw him in the LDS Conference Center. It was beautiful, quiet, aromatic of roses, and prayerful. My cousin whispered, “It feels like the temple in here!” I dearly loved Gordon B. Hinckley. He said, “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.”
I had a real set-back when I met a bad person at the end of Summer 1995. He followed me to Boise, where I studied poetry and dance. He beat me. I felt so unworthy of love, and I had hit Caleb, after all. I couldn’t forgive myself. I didn’t deserve any better. It only lasted one semester. Mom and dad finally got it out of me and sent some scary homeboys, a massive wall of two enormous brothers now on the Boise police force, to let him know he was not to touch me again. He didn’t, but I was in a dangerous spiral at that point.
To make matters worse, much worse, I was to become the State of Idaho’s key witness against a tenant of the co-ed I lived in. Roger T. Black was an obese diabetic in his 50s with a gangrenous foot and a jazzy power chair. He used his disability to prey on pretty young things on campus. He was always “going to school.”
He began labeling all of my things, including fruit, and leaving Post-It Notes on my door, from the desk of Roger T. Black: “If we call a girl with red hair a redhead, what’s a person with black hair? A blackhead?” There was a new message daily. Quickly, they got lewd.
Though there was a men’s restroom and two other male roommates, Roger T. Black used the girl’s bathroom. The other girl, Tammy, a sports fitness major from Minot, North Dakota, was creeped out by him, but pretty much left alone. Finally, he masturbated in our bathroom and left a pile of ash next to the deposit, so we’d know it was from him. He was the only smoker. I reported it to the head of the housing department, a Mormon who regarded me as a cute little girl making something out of nothing. He humored me in the office and never even sent an employee to meet Mr. Black or check out the apartment.
Mother insisted I get his number. When she called, he was at a meeting for church, his teenage daughter reported. My mother asked her some polite questions. Did she enjoy school and what were her favorite activities? “Well, thank you, young lady. Have a good night, and you be sure your father calls no matter how late he gets home.” He did.
“How old is that sweet young lady I spoke with eariler?” Mom asked.
“Oh, thank you. She’s 15.”
“Well, that’s my little girl you’ve got in your housing there. You see to it that nothing happens to her.” Way to go, Mom!
After mother scolded the pasty middle-aged man, he finally tried to clean up the mess he pretended didn’t exist, but by now it was too late. It had escalated beyond recovery. I walked out of my locked bedroom in stocking feet one morning into a puddle of urine! Mr. Black must have been storing it. It soaked the entire hallway down to my door, and it reeked! In the bathroom was a giant vibrator on a handle bar! It had buttons and knobs and gadgets and functions and arms and teeth. It had been my routine to load myself with everything I’d need to emerge from the bathroom ready for my day. What else could I do but proceed? I stood under the streaming, scalding jet and sobbed. I took the device to the housing office, went to my classes and returned home, pretending it was just water. I poured bleach all over my hallway, dried it with a fan, and went about my life!
One night, a young mother of a newborn, whose husband was working the midnight shift, called him frantic at work. The neighbor had knocked and handed her a pistol, “Protect yourself. It’s going down. The Wicked Witch of the West dies tonight.” Her husband called the police. Except for that visit to the young mother, Roger T. Black had barricaded himself in his room for days. He was shitting in buckets – cigarettes burning holes through the carpet – and storing an arsenal of licensed firearms, not permitted in managed, off-campus housing. But who would know? All of my complaints had been regarded as the histrionics of a hyperbolic young woman and summarily ignored with no investigation.
That night, they hurried me into an empty cement dorm, where I rocked myself and twitched for a couple of weeks as I somehow aced my finals through full-blown PTSD.
I went back for a second semester, but I had fully reverted into an abysmal and deadly dangerous depression. I lived in a house with a bunch of fun girls, but I scarcely left my bed. Out and about, I was barely awake. I was dead inside. I was a ghost.
Paxil wasn’t working anymore.
Another Summer in Wyoming
I thought another summer in Jackson might snap me out of it. Jim had invited me back. I got there before the rest of the cast and I promise you, I took a deep breath, instructing myself to accept them as they are and not try to force a repeat of the wonderful year before. And I promise you, as innocent and fun and quirky and diverse and playful and sweet as was the cast of 1995, the cast of 1996 was that toxic. One was a drug dealer (who routinely threatened physical harm against the owner, directors, and producers) and the rest bought their weed from him! A couple of nights out drinking and singing karaoke was fun, but all they wanted to do was smoke pot, play poker, and congratulate themselves on how smart and sophisticated they were. Meanwhile, they were filthy and entirely uninteresting. What had been a joyful singles space was overrun by this disgusting, thankless, dirty, narcissistic family, and unless we got the hell out of the apartment the single kids became unpaid babysitters! I got a part-time job at another hotel and stayed away as much I could. Mostly, I cried. I had two friends from the year before and we were all miserable.
I took it on the nose, though, because I simply could not adjust. They were the most bland, insufferable, grandiose, banal people I’d ever met. One girl had talent, but she was hateful. She’s well-known and respected here in Salt Lake, for good reason, but I’ll tell you: There are nearly two decades of theatre friends we have in common that say the same thing. “Be careful. That girl will stab you when you turn around, and she is mean!”
I was sick, in crisis, but they were poison. Jim agrees: Summer ’96 sucked.
I was posing, but the look sums up Summer ’96.
A couple of times I went hiking alone. I took John and Isaac to Moose Falls, where I jumped again. We drove through the park, but mostly I slept. I started binge-drinking. I got wasted and called my biological father, who’d never heard the hysterics. I guess mom wasn’t answering anymore. He called the cops. I suppose he thought it would scare me straight and I wouldn’t threaten suicide anymore. Jim warned me the next day, “Don’t drink again. Don’t repeat a scene like last night.” I did. Dad called the cops again. I got out of the hospital in time for work the next day, but Jim came over and fired me.
I’ve been calling him a bastard since we reconnected a couple years later, last millennium. In fact, I just finished an evening of filming for the pilot of “The Potomac Group,” a sitcom he and his friends are writing. He cast me as the staffer who got fired! “You bastard.”
Isaac and me as Tony and Alice
I was a maudlin actress at best, but I was sweet. The show “dimmed” after I left, according to Jim’s report. One of the cast members was a talented actor with enormous stage presence (and great success in Hollywood). I was the light.
I Vowed I Would Never Live In Salt Lake City.
I was back in Rexburg waiting tables after four months in a loony bin. My first suicide attempt had failed. I was miserable.
If you’re not going to school or raising a family, there is no reason to live in Rexburg, Idaho. It’s a dismal “us and them” town for the single, fringe gal of shaky faith. I called my best friend from high school, who lived in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Get over yourself and move down here,” she ordered me. So I did, on Dec. 6, 1996.
Salt Lake got me. Curses! I was bigger and better than all those tater tots I grew up with! You know the ones. They find their eternal companions at BYU-Idaho, nee Ricks College, then move to the Salt Lake suburbs to raise their babies unto the Lord.
Salt Lake got me. Praises be! I’m home.