My fa­ther spent the sec­ond-last week of his life in a VA hos­pice room, an er­satz sub­ur­ban par­lor with a beep­ing bed. It was a re­lief of sorts after the dou­ble-oc­cu­pant room we’d been over­crowd­ing—ex­cept that this room meant im­mi­nent death. My sis­ters, Marti and Teri, and our younger brother Tony sched­uled vigil shifts. Tom, third sib­ling but old­est brother, was fly­ing from Kenai.

Our mother was, pre­dictably, ca­pa­ble in her dis­tress. Pre­sent most of the time. She sat and slept in the heavy arm­chair next to his bed. She mur­mured med­ical ex­pla­na­tions to him, kept her hand on the sheets near his, some­times stepped away a mo­ment to re­com­pose her­self.

The on­col­o­gist pre­dicted death in two weeks, lu­cid­ity for less than one.

What to do with a few more days of ac­cess? Screen out vis­i­tors? Wake him up for every last good­bye? He had al­ready made his final re­quest: “Make sure your mother gets out. She’s a bit of an in­tro­vert.”

By now we were all strangely out of con­ver­sa­tion.

In life, the man we had all come to call CT up­hol­stered his mis­an­thropic dis­gust for fools, harpies, fruit­cakes, posers, climbers, and syco­phants with de­cep­tively gre­gar­i­ous warmth. Be­cause Mor­mons re­gard com­mon ward mem­ber­ship as a fam­ily bond, con­gre­gants ar­rived at the Hos­pice Room reg­u­larly and unan­nounced to de­liver sooth­ing plat­i­tudes. Re­mark­ably, Dad broke the mor­phine sur­face for each new vis­i­tor, treat­ing every­one with def­er­ence, al­most meek­ness. We all an­tic­i­pated an ex­pul­sion at some point, a scat­ter of well-wish­ers blown out like wet Oc­to­ber leaves. But our fa­ther’s sin­gle act of ex­as­per­a­tion was to seize the trans­par­ent tube taped ab­surdly to the end of his nose and yank it out.

We live near the hos­pi­tal, so my shifts were eas­i­est. Maya had given up her bed­room to my mother for naps and short gar­ish nights but this af­ter­noon Mom had dri­ven the hour to her home to make space for a hos­pice bed and equip­ment. I sat in Dad’s room, try­ing to con­cen­trate on a book.

“Want me to read to you? There’s a funny chap­ter about Hoover Dam.”

“Not now,” he an­swered. And, con­sol­ing: “Maybe later?”

“Sure. Yeah.”

He closed his eyes, dozed, woke within min­utes.

“Um. Sorry,” he said, and I knew to get up.

I said, “I’ll check on you in a bit.”


This was fre­quent. It was ex­cru­ci­at­ing for him to sit up and man­age the uri­nal, and mor­ti­fy­ing to hand his chil­dren a jug of hot liq­uid, but to him any­thing was bet­ter than a catheter. I walked out to wait on the dis­mal love seat in the door­way foyer. I held the book open in my lap, but stud­ied the cracked paint be­hind the gaudy flo­ral print on the wall. A group of mid­dle-aged Sun­day cou­ples wan­dered by, scan­ning room num­bers.

“Here it is,” some­one said, after every­one else had passed. They all back­tracked to face the door, and me. The three men wore dark suits. The women wore flo­ral dresses or skirts under long coats, hair in tai­lored and sprayed asym­me­tries.

“Can I help you?”

“Is this Tom An­der­son’s room?”


The women were wear­ing heels. The men were all tall, ap­proach­ing portly—my age, maybe a bit younger. I re­sented hav­ing to look up­ward to make eye con­tact. I as­sumed pro­fes­so­r­ial stance.

“We’re the bish­opric,” a man with a taste­ful dot­ted tie in­formed me, as if this were suf­fi­cient. In my par­ents’ world, it was.

I knew these peo­ple came with sin­cere good will. Still. Had any­one both­ered to call? Did these men sim­ply iden­tify them­selves as ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal ti­tles? Their wives were not “The Bish­opric.” Were they just folded into the term? I knew the an­swer.

I strug­gled to con­tain my philoso­phies, be­cause the rel­e­vant point was that a mere door par­ti­tioned us from the quiet throes of a dying man. I tried to smile gra­ciously, but I wanted to make them spell out their in­ten­tions. Peo­ple from my ex-hus­band Art’s Mor­mon con­gre­ga­tion found it ex­pe­di­ent to call my youngest daugh­ter Maya at her apos­tate mother’s house: they in­vited her to ac­tiv­i­ties and meet­ings, as­signed her to parts and par­tic­i­pa­tions, never in­tro­duc­ing them­selves or so­lic­it­ing my con­sent. My sta­tus as ex-wife, ex-Mor­mon wrecker of val­ues sanc­tioned them to speak to my kids as if I didn’t exist, to arrange my chil­dren’s lives and sal­va­tions around the in­con­ve­nience of an in­sis­tently pre­sent mother.

A death vigil means minute after tick­ing minute.

I stood, still, be­tween my par­ents’ Bish­opric and the door to what was left of my fa­ther, wait­ing for some­one to rise to the stan­dards of human cour­tesy.

One man in­quired, “Are you his daugh­ter?”


“Which one are you? Are you the nurse?”

“No, that’s my sis­ter Marti.”

“Oh, then you must be one of the Eng­lish teach­ers.”

Teri teaches tenth grade at Ridge­way High.

“Yes,” I said.

After their chil­dren were grown, my par­ents had moved from our home­town of Alpine to a re­tire­ment-com­mu­nity con­do­minium in Amer­i­can Fork, ten miles south. The peo­ple in their new Mor­mon ward knew them as “empty nesters,” but doubt­less they knew that Tom and Nadeene had apos­tate chil­dren—fairly pub­lic tragedy in the Mor­mon king­dom.

Fi­nally, one of the women stepped for­ward.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “You must be in so much grief, and we haven’t even in­tro­duced our­selves.”

She held her hand for­ward and told me her name, then turned to in­tro­duce her hus­band, “The First Coun­selor.” The oth­ers leaned to­ward me, of­fered names or ti­tles, and shook my hand.

So I said, “I’m Karin. Dad al­ways calls me his Num­ber Two Kid.”

They laughed, rec­og­niz­ing my fa­ther’s humor.

“Is he in there?”

Hmm. No. Sorry. He stepped out for a nine-hole—

“Yes, but I just stepped out to let him freshen up. Let me make sure he’s ready for com­pany.”

I opened the door, slip­ping in quickly as if they all might stream in be­hind.

“Dad?” I asked from the entry al­cove. “How’s it going?”

“It’s okay. I’m done.”

I walked to him, checked IV lines and straight­ened his pa­jama col­lar. I smoothed the sheets and blan­ket and took the jug to the bath­room. I poured and rinsed and walked back to hook it on the bed rail, cov­er­ing it with a sheet cor­ner.

He said, “Honey, thank you. I can’t be­lieve you’d do this for me. I’m so sorry.”

“Dad, please. It’s noth­ing. Your bishop peo­ple are here to see you. Can you man­age six of them?”

I looked him over, help­lessly on dis­play for any­one who might drop by.

“Want me to comb your hair?” I asked.

“No, I can do it.”

I handed it to him and waited. Dad combed care­fully. His brown hair had grayed over the past year, and in re­cent weeks thinned con­sid­er­ably, de­spite our fam­ily de­ci­sion to forego chemother­apy. His fore­head was blotched and translu­cent. Vi­o­lently fa­tigued, he lifted his blood­shot eyes and smiled a lit­tle. He handed me the comb.

“Are you ready?” I asked. “Do you need a drink of water?”


I held the glass and straw for him. He took a long painful swal­low.

“Okay,” he said. “Send them in.”

“I’ll just wait out­side the door. Holler if you need me to come in and kick some butt.”

He at­tempted a smile, and mur­mured, and I went out to send the party in. I left the door cracked. I tried to set­tle into the two-seat couch. Opened the book again.

I could hear drifts of con­ver­sa­tion.

“How are you, Tom? Feel­ing okay?”

“Oh, pretty good.”

“Brother An­der­son, we’d like to give you a priest­hood bless­ing.”

Oh. God.

I could pic­ture it. The suits clos­ing in. The vial of olive oil, the anoint­ing. Three men, heavy hands on his weak­ened head. The women keep­ing their dis­tance so as not to block the Melchizedek flow.

What could this do that my mother’s love couldn’t? What God would re­spect the au­thor­ity of these men over the claims of ir­re­li­gious but loyal sons and daugh­ters? What could com­mand­ing do that plead­ing would not?

Bless that organ so rav­aged by alien cells that it bleeds out faster than it draws in.

Bless those nerves to give him a few more gen­uine mor­tal thrills.

Bless that small angry woman out­side the door to not wreck our in­can­ta­tions.

I tried to dis­tract my­self with words on pages, but the tone was wrong, and every time I heard steps I lost my place.

And sure enough. Faux Uncle Bruce, Grand Dip­shit of his­toric Alpine, am­bled un­mis­tak­ably past. Bruce dis­ap­peared then reap­peared once he com­pre­hended the room num­ber, writ­ten on a torn cor­ner of paper in his hand.

Bruce was not an ac­tual re­la­tion. His older brother LeVon had been Dad’s high school base­ball team­mate and best friend. LeVon was a good man by na­ture—a kind brother to Bruce, who was clearly des­tined to be­come a local fool. Bruce had dated one of Dad’s sis­ters in the early six­ties, just long enough to be­come an in­side fam­ily joke. My aunt had come home to re­port that Bruce was “A piggy and a barf.”

But no one re­ally wished to be un­kind. When LeVon died of Leukemia in his thir­ties, Dad shoul­dered the big brother role. I was nearly grown up be­fore I un­der­stood the re­la­tion­ship; Bruce had been or­bit­ing our fam­ily life for­ever. He showed up for fam­ily gath­er­ings. He dropped by to shoot the breeze when Dad was prun­ing, or dig­ging, or clean­ing ditches. He hung around the real es­tate of­fice. He often needed money.

Old pho­tos prove that Bruce was once a kid brother: LeVon and CT in base­ball flan­nels, grin­ning at the cam­era as Bruce makes a clown­ish face. LeVon and CT, suave and shirt­less, wash­ing CT’s blue con­vert­ible; Bruce, fully dressed, proto-gut pro­trud­ing, fake-kick­ing a head­light.

LeVon and Bruce were the sons of an ed­u­cated and ar­tic­u­late con­ser­v­a­tive dy­nasty. LeVon was prac­tic­ing law when he died, leav­ing his wife wealthy enough to take her time choos­ing a new hus­band. Once she did, she took the kids away to the Mid­west and scarcely re­turned. Bruce strug­gled through a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy, which may be one rea­son my fa­ther har­bored such a low opin­ion of the dis­ci­pline. That, and Sig­mund Freud.

Bruce was briefly mar­ried, but within three years the wife va­moosed, two ba­bies in tow. Alpine was overtly cen­so­ri­ous and pri­vately sym­pa­thetic. Once, when I was a kid, Dad pointed her out to me at a title com­pany in Provo. He greeted her and she looked up, said, “Hello, Tom,” but then turned back to the dis­cus­sion around some­one’s desk—I couldn’t dis­cern whether she was an em­ployee or client—and en­gaged no fur­ther.

Bruce had been work­ing for LDS So­cial Ser­vices for as long as I had known him. He called him­self a psy­chol­o­gist, but that was delu­sional. Dad called him a file mon­key. Bruce had worked in the same of­fice for thirty years with­out ad­vance­ment or up­dated ed­u­ca­tion. Now a bald­ing dork who wore cheap suits and fat ties in a pretty suc­cess­ful at­tempt to re­sem­ble Dr. Phil, Bruce sat his big butt down be­side mine, then he slid even closer and wrapped his left arm around me, drop­ping his face close as if we were hav­ing a deep con­ver­sa­tion.

“I’m so sorry about this, Karin,” he said, and it took a sec­ond to re­al­ize he was apol­o­giz­ing not for our in­ti­mate prox­im­ity but about my fa­ther’s ill­ness.

I pulled away as far as the couch arm would allow, but Bruce seeped like mer­cury. Al­ter­na­tive seat­ing beck­oned from across the small open space but I have a knack for dumb­ing down when I’m smashed in small love seats by am­bigu­ously friendly dirty old men. In hos­pi­tal foy­ers. While my fa­ther is dying in the next room. I would have had to push and squirm my way out, maybe put my hand against his shoul­der for lever­age, so in­stead I vaguely hoped that he’d leave soon.

But the only rea­son Bruce might fi­nally get off the couch would be to go in to see my fa­ther. And once in, he wouldn’t leave for hours. Not un­less we all pitched in to make him go, and I was cur­rently on my own. Bish­opric and wives were bask­ing in the blue glow of vic­ar­i­ous tragedy; noth­ing in­di­cated that the min­istry was sub­sid­ing. And, at this point, bet­ter them than Bruce.

“Bruce,” I said. “He’s re­ally sick. That’s his bishop in there, and he brought the wives and coun­selors, and they won’t stop talk­ing to him. By the time they get fin­ished, my dad is going to need sleep, you know?”

“Ab­solutely. Ab­solutely,” he said. “I know just how it goes. I’ve been through this, you know. Com­ing to visit your dad just brings it all back. It’s like los­ing a brother all over again.”

I carry min­i­mal rec­ol­lec­tions of LeVon.

“Yeah, it must have been re­ally hard,” I said.

“It was. It still is. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about him. And now it’s your dad. LeVon must be hov­er­ing over us right now, try­ing to com­fort us, try­ing to tell us it’s all going to be okay. That’s some­thing I wanted to say to you. I’m glad you’re here. Maybe it was in­spi­ra­tion for me to come up when I did.”

Bruce wig­gled his way for­ward on the cush­ions, enough to swivel part­way around on the seat to dis­play an ex­pres­sion of wise benev­o­lence, fol­lowed by a fur­rowed brow of pa­tron­iz­ing con­cern.

“I’ve been hear­ing some very trou­bling things about you, Karin. I’ve been want­ing to tell you that I un­der­stand.”


“I’m not here to judge you. Let’s make that clear right now. What you do in this life is your busi­ness and your busi­ness only. It’s up to Heav­enly Fa­ther to judge, and only he knows who we truly are, deep in our hearts. When I say I un­der­stand, I’m not mak­ing any sort of com­ment on your wor­thi­ness.”

It had been years since any­one had tried this brand of so­lic­i­tous­ness with me. Ex­cept for this un­pleas­ant af­ter­noon, I hadn’t been face to face with a Mor­mon bishop in more than a decade. Art fired off surly emails or ha­rangued the kids with con­vo­lu­tions meant for me. CT had fa­vored the tele­phone dive-bomb method of pa­ter­nal con­ster­na­tion: “I just think some­times women who get too caught up in pol­i­tics lose their fem­i­nin­ity, don’t you? Well, good to talk, honey. Bye.”

For a weird mo­ment I re­mem­bered that my dad was right there in the next room. I thought to call him out to make short work of Bruce be­fore I re­mem­bered we were pa­trons of the hos­pice pro­gram.

“Bruce,” I said. “What the hell are you talk­ing about?”

“It’s not my place to judge,” he re­peated, and I man­aged to push off the couch and step over to a sin­gle chair. He pulled him­self up, too, and re­planted poly­ester into an­other one, scrap­ing it closer to mine.

“Sex­ual per­ver­sions are in­di­ca­tions of prior trauma,” Bruce pro­nounced.

I looked away, and then turned back, elim­i­nat­ing ex­pres­sion.

“Oohhhh. I see. This is about my Choice Com­pan­ion.”

Debra was at work all the way down in Utah Val­ley, in an­other di­men­sion. I needed her here, at her dark­est and strongest, be­side me.

Bruce reached over to wrap his huge hand around my upper arm. He squeezed and pumped as he talked.

“I just want you to know that I un­der­stand the rea­sons. I’ve known you since you were a lit­tle girl. I know that your heart is good. And I know you’ve been through some very ter­ri­ble things.”

I could hear the mur­murs in Dad’s room. How could these peo­ple imag­ine that a long so­cial call under these cir­cum­stances was a benev­o­lence? I wanted to go in there and tell them to get out. But then Bruce would go in.

“What?” I said. “Are you hav­ing your­self a rev­e­la­tion? I un­der­stand basic psy­chol­ogy, Bruce. And here’s the thing. We’re all trau­ma­tized. I just picked sin. I chose it. I enjoy my sin­ful life. It’s peace­ful. It’s not hu­mil­i­at­ing. I have no in­ten­tion of trad­ing it in for a good man or a tem­ple rec­om­mend.”

He stared at me, in­ca­pable of pro­cess­ing the wrong an­swers. Then he shook his head. “No. No, it’s not that sim­ple. Yes, some sins are grave in the eyes of the Lord, but Heav­enly Fa­ther sees our hearts. He knows we are hurt­ing.” His hand around my arm felt like a blood pres­sure cuff. “We all have to an­swer for our trans­gres­sions but I just don’t think you’ll be able to turn to­ward the light until you can come to terms with your past. You’ve been abused, and you’re ex­press­ing your fear by choos­ing a—”

“A woman?”

He let go of my arm and took my hand. I jerked it back.

“Now, Karin, don’t get de­fen­sive. I’m afraid you’ll harden your heart to the point that there will be no re­turn­ing. I feel deeply im­pressed to tell you that re­pen­tance is pos­si­ble, that your sins may not be en­tirely within your abil­ity to elim­i­nate until you’ve found a way to heal.”

“Bruce! Thanks for the free psy­cho­analy­sis but I think I can man­age it on my own. So I had a rough mar­riage. Oh well.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean that every man in the world is a bad guy, you know.”

“Yes, Bruce. I know that, too. Plenty of good ones out there. Plenty of beau­ti­ful ones. I like to look.”

“See there? You aren’t en­tirely im­mune to the Spirit of Truth! This is what I’m try­ing to tell you. But at some point you may find that you are no longer in tune with the Still Small Voice. At some point you have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for what you choose, no mat­ter how trau­matic the cause.”

My brain was mov­ing to­ward tele­vi­sion sta­tic. I wish I could re­port that I was ex­er­cis­ing some de­gree of agency here, but I didn’t ex­actly choose to sit there and sac­ri­fice my san­ity for my fa­ther’s ben­e­fit. It’s just the best alibi I can come up with for not telling Bruce to blow off.

“Bruce, I just now in your pres­ence took re­spon­si­bil­ity for what I chose. Didn’t you hear me?”

He wouldn’t stop. “I know you had a dif­fi­cult mar­riage. Every­one could see that. But there was some­thing wrong with you be­fore you mar­ried Art.”

Blue un­cer­tain stum­bling buzz.

“Some­thing wrong with me?”

“You were abused when you were very young. I mean in a sex­ual way.”

Re­it­er­a­tion: Bruce is a fool, and not in the King Lear sense. All the right in­gre­di­ents for a func­tional human being—his par­ents and sib­lings and cousins and even his chil­dren made up of the same com­po­nents, but all the ones I know are hu­mane, re­cep­tive to ed­u­ca­tion, ca­pa­ble and self-aware. Bruce, how­ever, is fly­tape.

“Women who were abused when very young tend to marry weak or abu­sive men,” the fly­tape con­tin­ued. “Your mar­riage was a symp­tom of a deeper prob­lem. The deeper prob­lem is that some­one sex­u­ally abused you when you were very young.”

By now he was hardly recit­ing to any­one but some cos­mic band­width.

“And I know the bas­tard who did it,” he said.

I jolted back from my own fre­quency.


“It was a long time ago. I know who did it. You were too young to be able to re­mem­ber. Luck­ily that guy is dead now.”

My brain went black.

I don’t go for that re­cov­ered mem­ory trick—at least not in my case. I have patho­log­i­cally ex­cel­lent re­call, and I can’t begin to con­jure what Bruce was re­fer­ring to be­yond his own fan­tasies, tum­ble-dried with So­cial Ser­vices jar­gon. Some­times that re­pul­sive af­ter­noon in the hos­pi­tal comes back to me and I con­sider call­ing him up and call­ing him out or ask­ing him just what he was re­mem­ber­ing. Or con­fess­ing. But I fear Bruce would enjoy the con­ver­sa­tion too much, and that’s not a ser­vice I wish to ren­der. Yes I’ve been trau­ma­tized but who hasn’t? I’m not one hun­dred per­cent sex­u­ally healthy but who is? I think I’m well within range of nor­mal sex­u­al­ity but who, in­clud­ing avun­cu­lar Bruce, doesn’t be­lieve that about them­selves?

Bruce tends to show up as a dull coun­ter­point to my brain­chat­ter every time I start mus­ing about my own sex­ual his­tory. It’s been like that as long as I can re­mem­ber but since that af­ter­noon at the hos­pi­tal the un­cle-specter has be­come more rudely ex­plicit. I spend more idle pon­der­ing time than I want to over un­seemly sex­ual rid­dles. With­out a doubt, I’m haunted by six­teen years of mar­i­tal be­wil­der­ment. Art, like Bruce, was con­vinced that there was some­thing wrong with me, and it made him livid. It was a wife’s job to sat­isfy her hus­band, he said, over and over, and Art couldn’t help it if he was, in his peren­nial self-as­sess­ment, “over­sexed.”

In my clear­est states of mind I can brush off both of Art’s di­ag­noses, even laugh them away like the ab­sur­di­ties they are, but six­teen years is a long time to ab­sorb a hus­band’s in­ti­mate grief and rage. It made me into the adult I am; it’s not sim­ply a thing to be re­moved. By now I’m a cy­borg: what­ever I may have been at the mo­ment of union with the beau­ti­ful but tor­mented man I mar­ried is now in­ex­tri­ca­bly formed around my mem­o­ries of him. The image of his in­dig­nant face, his long ac­cus­ing fin­ger thrust­ing in my di­rec­tion, the pal­pa­bil­ity of his dis­sat­is­fac­tion, suck the strength right out of me when they surge through my blood­stream. And part of the ef­fect, for me, is a re­cur­ring fear that maybe Bruce and Art were right, that I’m not made as I should be. That I was de­fec­tive way be­fore Art got hold of me.

Like my fa­ther did, I have a rest­less, imag­is­tic mem­ory—the kind that can con­jure ghosts and scenes more vivid than the mo­ment at hand. It grants me too many op­por­tu­ni­ties to sift for cause. Art, on the other hand, re­mem­bered al­most noth­ing of his child­hood. He could re­cite com­mon fam­ily mem­o­ries that I heard in sim­i­lar ver­sions from his par­ents or sis­ters, but when I pressed him he could pro­duce re­mark­ably few in­de­pen­dent rec­ol­lec­tions. Dur­ing our mar­riage he kept a co­pi­ous jour­nal, filled with minute de­tails of each day, partly be­cause he lived in ter­ror of for­get­ting. Art feared gaps in time and empty spaces. He stacked shelves and coun­ters and clos­ets with ob­jects he saved and stuff he ac­quired. It was al­most as if he thought our home would float away and be lost if he didn’t weigh it down. He turned the radio up full vol­ume so it filled every room in the house and even the yard be­yond. Our car was al­ways full of trash and lum­ber and paint and back is­sues of The New Yorker, which he read every week, cover to cover, usu­ally while he was lis­ten­ing to the radio. He lis­tened to every show on NPR and he called in to com­ment some­times four or five times per day—to the point that the local host would say, on air, “Hello again, Art…”

I don’t have much ac­cess to the child­hood that made him, and ap­par­ently nei­ther does he. Be­sides, it’s his story, not mine. But I do know that many of the re­li­gious tropes that nudged or shoved me into fem­i­nin­ity per­vaded his child­hood, too. He slouched to­ward mas­culin­ity, I sus­pect, un­easy about its iso­lat­ing im­pli­ca­tions even while eager to claim an iden­tity that dis­tin­guished him from the five sis­ters that, at least by the time I mar­ried him, he loved and re­sented in equal depth.

As for me, my early mem­o­ries are so de­void of sex­ual aware­ness that this it­self could be some kind of pathol­ogy. Art al­ways said that his par­ents told him noth­ing about sex, ever. Debra’s didn’t, ei­ther. Both of my long-term adult part­ners picked up the big se­crets of grown-up life with­out parental ex­pli­ca­tion. My dad seized away from sex­ual con­ver­sa­tion with his kids; as far as he was con­cerned this was en­tirely not his job. I guess he men­tioned a few key points to Tom and Tony in their teens but by then they’d al­ready heard the good parts from their friends. Our mother, on the other hand, ex­plained every­thing care­fully to Marti and me when we were eight and seven. She drew care­ful pic­tures of sperm and an egg, and then an em­bryo in a uterus, with a ball­point pen. I wish I had kept the draw­ings.

“So, yes, that’s how ba­bies get made” she said, wind­ing down after a prac­ti­cal and well-or­ga­nized pre­sen­ta­tion. “But it’s not just about re­pro­duc­tion. Peo­ple who love each other have sex be­cause it’s—” she paused, and smiled, clearly re­call­ing some­thing spe­cific. “Grown ups have sex be­cause it’s fun. Be­cause it’s a way to feel close to each other and show love for each other.”

She fin­ished with a firm only-af­ter-mar­riage ad­mo­ni­tion, but her ra­tio­nale strikes me now as poignantly per­sonal: “But only after you’re mar­ried. It’s im­por­tant to wait until you can re­ally trust some­one with so many of your emo­tions.”

I wasn’t trau­ma­tized by all this in­for­ma­tion, ex­actly, but I was pretty stunned. I had sus­pected noth­ing of this. I un­der­stood the anatom­i­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween boys and girls; I had two lit­tle broth­ers, after all. I un­der­stood that there were va­ri­eties of kiss­ing; our par­ents hadn’t raised us in a vac­uum. I even knew that some parts of the body were for­bid­den to all, yet fas­ci­nat­ing to some. When I was four, an older girl in our South­ern Cal­i­for­nia neigh­bor­hood—in fact, from a fam­ily that at­tended our church—had played a pretty graphic game of Doc­tor with me as pa­tient. She was eight. She needed to per­form a thor­ough check, she had ex­plained, but it was okay be­cause I was under the sheet. As were her head and arms. She would have been more thor­ough had she not been in­ter­rupted; my mother sent her sprint­ing home, re­mind­ing her that she had been bap­tized, for Heaven’s sake. Af­ter­ward Mom ex­plained to me that pre­tend Doc­tor was nearly al­ways some­one’s ex­cuse to be nasty, and there­fore I should avoid it.

Still, I had not sus­pected at all that nasty was okay, in fact fun, for grown-ups. Maybe this should have been con­veyed as some­thing to look for­ward to but at the time it so in­verted my sense of cos­mic order that I felt queasy and dis­ori­ented. I knew kids could be weasel­ish, nasty, prone to emis­sions, nosy, and overly pink. But grown-ups, my par­ents’ be­hav­ior had mis­led me to be­lieve, ought to know bet­ter. I may have been count­ing on this. For many years I avoided fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion. I pro­ceeded to wall out all but the most prac­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion.


So, I un­der­stood the re­al­i­ties of re­pro­duc­tive sex. I was happy to en­vi­sion my­self as the some­day wife of a man who loved me the way my fa­ther loved my mother, and I sin­cerely wanted to be a mom, like her. I was pretty sure I would be good at it. I spent a lot of time try­ing to imag­ine my fu­ture chil­dren. Fre­quently I thought about the boy, some­where in the world right this very minute, whom I was des­tined to marry. I often won­dered what he was doing and whether he dreamed of me. Al­though I looked each one over care­fully when I had the op­por­tu­ni­ties, I hoped it wasn’t one of the Alpine boys I al­ready knew. Some of them were very nice, some of them not, but over­all they struck me as fairly stu­pid. For ex­am­ple, not one of them could spell. They asked to copy my school­work, and I gen­er­ally shared but I en­vi­sioned a hus­band who knew things. And the same boys who copied my home­work were the ones who told me girls shouldn’t be on the base­ball field at re­cess.

My dad told me oth­er­wise. My dad had taught how me to catch a speed­ing hard­ball. I wanted to marry some­one like that—some­one who liked to play for real.

I main­tained this state of mind until I en­tered Sev­enth Grade. Alpine kids were bussed to Amer­i­can Fork to at­tend Ju­nior High and High School. We took class show­ers in a big open room, all to­gether, after PE. I still looked like a fourth grader. Many of the girls looked ready to make ba­bies, and most of the oth­ers had at least hopped on the train. Pu­berty kept me wait­ing until I was well into fif­teen, when it hit so hard I gained forty pounds of boobs and butt on my 5’2” frame in a sin­gle dev­as­tat­ing year. The weight hung on and then dropped with equal caprice in my early twen­ties. Maybe some­thing about all that taught me to sep­a­rate my mind from my body, to get on with the sit­u­a­tion at hand while my body did what it wanted. But in sev­enth grade I could fore­see none of this.

The year I was twelve, our ward lead­ers called a spe­cial meet­ing in the church cul­tural hall for teenaged girls only. My class, First-Year Bee­hives, were just old enough to at­tend.

The 1974/75 school year was a sea­son spiked with in­cip­i­ent philo­soph­i­cal rup­ture, dot­ted with crim­i­nal types like Sonia John­son, Leonid Brezh­nev, Gary Gilmore, and the wan­ing Davids Gates and Cas­sidy. I tend to re­call all of these fig­ures more or less si­mul­ta­ne­ously, but I had to look up the dates to con­firm that I was re­call­ing Ted Bundy from the same pe­riod. I’ve kept him in a room of his own. It’s now ev­i­dent to me that the meet­ing at our church was a re­sponse to nearly in­con­ceiv­able re­ports of Bundy’s rapid Utah se­quence of sex mur­ders. No one knew yet who was leav­ing a wake of dis­mem­bered fe­male bod­ies in the local moun­tains. And no­body in­formed us girls, that night at the church, that an au­then­tic mon­stros­ity was ac­tu­ally out there. But the grown-ups cer­tainly knew. Crit­i­cal as I might be of adult dis­clo­sures and with­hold­ing, I do not doubt that they were prompted by in­di­gestible fear for the sea of daugh­ters con­gre­gated that night.

The “cul­tural hall,” an in­door bas­ket­ball court with re­tractable back­stops, was the stan­dard gath­er­ing place for any local func­tion, sec­u­lar or re­li­gious. Be­cause Alpine was too small to sup­port its own movie the­atre, kids mobbed there on Fri­day nights for rau­cous big-reel screen­ings of epic Dis­ney films: The Cast­aways; The Par­ent Trap; Song of the South. Fam­i­lies at­tended ward din­ners, Boy Scout meet­ings, Road­shows, Gold and Green Balls, rit­ual in­duc­tions. Re-imag­ing the north­east cor­ner of the Cul­tural Hall churns up a lot of anx­ious mem­ory for me; it feels now like I was sit­ting back there for the up­com­ing scary rape talk with Mar­cie, the twins Lana and Laura, Boy­dene, Paulette, and Car­olyn. But that can’t be right. We were youngest and would have been seated at the front. But I do know it’s the spot where Janie Nichols, lanky and in­so­lent as the bad boys she ran with, had bounced a bas­ket­ball off my head thirty or forty times in ret­ri­bu­tion for smart­ing off at her.

Gen­der seg­re­ga­tion at church, es­pe­cially at teen func­tions, was more com­mon than in­te­gra­tion, so I wasn’t sur­prised to be sit­ting at the church with only girls. But we were puz­zled to see the en­tire bish­opric sit­ting on for­mally arranged chairs at the front. One of them usu­ally hung around the church to “pre­side,” but they often left the for­mal parts of our meet­ings to the MIA pres­i­dency. To the left of the bishop and his coun­selors were the three women in charge of the girls’ Mu­tual Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. Sis­ter Both­ing­ton sat in the cen­ter of her God­head as Bishop Nichols did in his.

But the cu­rios­ity of the night was Dave Samp­son, the County Sher­iff, who sat to the right of Bishop Nichols and his helpers. Dave was an Alpiner. In fact he lived in our ward. When he was on Sun­day duty, he’d wear his uni­form to church and run out at the first squawk of his walkie-talkie. He was a big-shoul­dered guy, bald­ing, a bit ro­tund, but Wyatt Earp im­pres­sive. On his off-duty Sun­days, he wore a suit and tie over cow­boy boots, sus­tain­ing his gabar­dine pants with a tooled leather belt and mid-sized rodeo buckle. Samp­son was a fa­mil­iar fig­ure, but we had never seen him front and cen­ter—star, guns and hol­sters—at a meet­ing for girls.

This was all look­ing to be very se­ri­ous, but I had no idea to what de­gree until I was al­ready good and trau­ma­tized. Sis­ter Both­ing­ton, gifted for­bid­der of bois­ter­ous chil­dren, launched the meet­ing. We bowed our heads for the open­ing prayer, and then the Bishop stood to ad­mon­ish po­lite at­ten­tion, shoot­ing a se­vere and plead­ing glance to­ward his own daugh­ter Janie be­fore giv­ing the mi­cro­phone over to Sher­iff Samp­son.

And then Samp­son stood be­fore us. We were cu­ri­ous and there­fore at­ten­tive. Our la­conic sher­iff opened his mouth once, and shut it again, and for a minute I imag­ined he might just sit back down. He rethought, and then spoke.

“Ladies, we need you all to lis­ten very care­fully tonight. I’m sorry to have to talk to you about things you shouldn’t ever have to know about, but there’s times we just have to tell it straight, for the safety of all in­volved.”

Marti, just a year older than I am, vividly re­mem­bers this too. Pre­dictably, my sis­ter and I have in­ter­pre­tive dif­fer­ences. Partly be­cause she worked for twelve years at the Amer­i­can Fork Hos­pi­tal Emer­gency Room, she has spent close pro­fes­sional time with sher­iff types. Nurses and cops in­habit the same di­men­sion; she knows what they see. In her telling, her sym­pa­thy for Samp­son high­lights his ex­cru­ci­at­ing dis­com­fort. Maybe it’s not true but it seems like the chasm be­tween what sher­iffs knew and the naiveté of young girls was wider in the 1970s. But then again, many of the girls in the gym with me had al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced plenty of sex­ual trauma—some of it I know, some I can’t guess. Small towns are freighted with open se­crets—and the sta­tis­tics I can ac­cess demon­strate that I don’t know the half of it.

But the Utah County Sher­iff was there that night to warn us about some­thing that went be­yond handy un­cles or nasty babysit­ters. Sher­iff Samp­son was talk­ing about hand­some men, smooth talk­ers, sick per­verts mas­querad­ing as ex­actly the kind of nice guy we might wish to date. He was talk­ing about kid­napers—not the kind of­fer­ing candy to kids but com­pli­ments to young women. And then he was talk­ing about all the things a man like that might like to do to pretty girls. Bundy did go for a very par­tic­u­lar kind of “pretty,” but the rep­e­ti­tions of the ad­jec­tive that night still turn and roll in a box in my head.

And now Sher­iff Samp­son was talk­ing about hand­cuffs and cars and dark canyons. Ob­ses­sions, pro­trac­tions, rep­e­ti­tions.

The cul­tural hall was very quiet, ex­cept for the man who was ad­dress­ing us. At the mi­cro­phone, Sher­iff Samp­son sys­tem­at­i­cally plowed through de­f­i­n­i­tions, check­ing off his list of hor­rific deeds the right kind of sick man might enact upon young girls. He taught us many new words I had never heard: Bondage. Tor­ture. Necrophilia. A whole new vo­cab­u­lary list, re­plete with im­agery to in­sure that we never for­got the mean­ings.

Fetishism. “Stuff like lov­ing cer­tain body parts that aren’t—well, reg­u­lar. Like an­kles. Or heads. Get­ting dressed up in cer­tain ways. Dress­ing a vic­tim in cer­tain ways.”

Voyeurism. “Keep your cur­tains closed, for Heaven’s sake! Don’t be show­ing off. Sure, you like to be pretty, but think about who might be watch­ing.”

Mas­tur­ba­tion. “Some­times in front of some­one who doesn’t want to see. Some peo­ple like to be watched.”

Ex­hi­bi­tion­ism. “Some­times they show you and run. Some­times they’re just get­ting started.”

Sadism. I al­ready knew this one, sort of. My Dad had a joke: “There was a sadist and a masochist…”

I don’t know what all of this savoir-pou­voir was doing to other girls in the room. Every­thing around me faded into a dark­ish heavy blur. This night in the church gym, girls gath­ered in, in­ter­pel­lated and an­swer­ing, is for me the un­canny por­tal. Prob­a­bly noth­ing of my gen­dered or sex­ual his­tory trav­els for­ward or back ex­cept through this pas­sage. This is the night I com­pre­hended, ir­re­versibly, that I was fe­male, the night I be­came fe­male—and every­thing I de­sired or val­ued as such would come to me, in some way, on con­di­tion of this know­ing.

Even­tu­ally I learned to shut down the sheer panic and walk through the dark, get on with my fem­i­nine life, but that night and for years after, I was nau­seous with fear. I just wanted the sher­iff to stop.

“Now, there’s an­other thing a rapist can do to your body,” he was say­ing now. “This one is called sodomy.”

I felt a stir be­hind us. I gulped in the Sher­iff’s new word and then looked over: Janie Nichols was heat­ing up. At the mo­ment she was ges­tur­ing with her fore­arm, mak­ing a moan­ing sound, chortling and push­ing at her fer­vent groupies. Some­how, tun­ing in to her was a re­lief: some­thing fa­mil­iarly per­verse, a dis­tur­bance of light-of-day pro­por­tions.

The sher­iff, en­grossed in the lex­i­con, con­tin­ued at the mi­cro­phone.

“Sodomy is a par­tic­u­larly heinous sin. Our bod­ies are made for cer­tain acts, and some se­ri­ously sick peo­ple can get ob­sessed with the wrong uses of the wrong—uh, open­ings. The de­f­i­n­i­tion of sodomy is ‘anal pen­e­tra­tion.’”

Janie emit­ted a huge snort, and the girls around her gig­gled wildly. Janie got a grip, re­laxed her face into in­no­cent sin­cer­ity, and raised her hand.

“Brother Samp­son?”

She caught the sher­iff off guard. Thus far, no one but Janie and gang had shifted or spo­ken.

Samp­son stopped, abruptly, and peered out to­ward us. Janie waved as if she were hail­ing him from a lifeboat. Samp­son squared his shoul­ders and low­ered his eye­brows. What Janie knew, and how she knew it, and what she might do about it in any given cir­cum­stance, were nerve-wrack­ing ques­tions for adults and chil­dren alike. Janie had three very con­ven­tion­ally pretty sis­ters who curled their hair and wore heavy eye makeup. She had four broth­ers, one al­ready mar­ried and at­tend­ing Brigham Young Uni­ver­sity, one who had van­ished into drugs and was rarely men­tioned, and two lit­tle broth­ers the same ages as mine, cute and charis­matic. Sto­ry­book boys. Janie looked and be­haved more like her broth­ers than her sis­ters, es­pe­cially the wild one, even though she wore dresses to church and kept her hair long and slightly turned back with a curl­ing iron.

For me, Janie was a per­pet­ual source of in­trigue and dis­tress. A bully. A wit. One hun­dred per­cent ir­rev­er­ent. Re­cently dur­ing cook­ing class at the church kitchen, she had cra­dled a huge green cu­cum­ber in the open fly of her 501 jeans. She’d stir some nearby pot under su­per­vi­sion and then turn to swag­ger and thrust be­hind prim Sis­ter Dal­trey while the rest of us watched in shock and mud­dled glee. Had some­one asked me on that night to se­lect a re­al­is­tic veg­etable, I prob­a­bly would have ges­tured in the vicin­ity of the car­rot sticks.

Sher­iff Samp­son sized Janie up as if he were fac­ing a wolver­ine. “Um, yes, Janie? Do you have a ques­tion?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, coy as hell. “I don’t un­der­stand what you mean.”

“What don’t you un­der­stand?”

“That thing about ‘anal pen­e­tra­tion.’”

He stared at her, and then swiveled back to­ward the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal col­umn to make eye con­tact with Janie’s fa­ther. Bishop Nichols was red-faced but he sat still, ex­cept to crane his neck around the sher­iff’s blocky form to shoot Janie an im­po­tent glare. Janie was be­hind and to the left of us Bee­hive Ones. Janie was Marti’s age—they were Bee­hive Twos. The MIA Maids were fur­ther back, and the Lau­rels be­yond. Every­one now was gaz­ing at an­gelic dan­ger­ous thir­teen-year-old Janie.

All of us Bee­hive Ones turned back to see what Bishop Nichols would do next. The man se­lected dis­avowal. He nod­ded at Samp­son. Samp­son reap­proached the mi­cro­phone.

Samp­son said, “Well, Janie, you know what ‘pen­e­tra­tion’ means, don’t you?”

“Does it mean to poke some­thing? Into some­thing else?”

Samp­son gave her the cop stare. “Yes. That’s what it means. So, you got it?”

“Yeah,” she said.

The grown-ups at the front all ex­haled. Most of us girls, how­ever, knew Janie wasn’t fin­ished. And we were right. Just as the pro­gram was about to re­sume under con­trol of the proper au­thor­i­ties, she waved again. And was re­luc­tantly called upon.

“I get the pen­e­tra­tion part,” Janie con­ceded. “But I don’t know what ‘anal’ means.”

“Anal,” Samp­son said. “Anal is… well, do you know what a, umm. What a rec­tum is?”

“No,” she said. “What is a rec­tum?”

Now the adults were par­a­lyzed, but they cer­tainly had our un­di­vided at­ten­tion. Dave Samp­son sput­tered, then stopped. Bishop Nichols half stood and sat back down, and then stood, and said, “Janie! That’s enough!”

Janie pur­veyed a school­girl flum­mox. “Dad! I just want to un­der­stand what he’s say­ing! You told us that this was all very im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion, and we needed to pay at­ten­tion. I’m only doing what you said! I can’t un­der­stand what he’s telling us un­less I know what a rec­tum is.”

Bishop Nichols clenched his jaw and stepped to Sher­iff Samp­son’s side. The sher­iff took a step away, ex­pect­ing to sur­ren­der the mi­cro­phone, but the bishop stayed put, said noth­ing, and sim­ply glow­ered at Janie. All of us but Janie with­ered back. She sim­ply re­peated her ques­tion.

“So? What’s a rec­tum?”

I knew what this word meant. I was raised by a nurse. Mar­cie Davies leaned over to me and whis­pered in my ear, “It’s your bum, isn’t it?”

I nod­ded yes, and she passed the word down the line. And then we all strained for­ward again to hear how Sher­iff Samp­son would an­swer Janie Nichols.

He said, “Anus and rec­tum mean the same thing.”

Marti and I di­vide our sym­pa­thies on this point too. Nat­u­rally, she feels sorry for Dave Samp­son. Cer­tain sub­jects put Marti on high cau­tion, es­pe­cially when she knows I’m writ­ing about them: I’m prone to ill-ad­vised con­clu­sions. Marti got a lit­tle worked up on the phone, em­pha­siz­ing that Janie’s be­hav­ior was one hun­dred per­cent in­ap­pro­pri­ate. But that’s kind of the point. Im­plic­itly vi­o­lent hi­er­ar­chies are ei­ther re­in­forced or dam­aged by the oc­ca­sional highly ex­plicit. Ted Bundy had forced our local en­forcers of young fe­male virtue to spell things out—to spell out the deep codes and de­f­i­n­i­tions of ve­he­mently pa­tri­ar­chal re­la­tions. Some­thing in Janie com­pre­hended this, and she was going for dam­age.

“Well, what do anus and rec­tum mean? I don’t un­der­stand!”

Samp­son flushed and then pointed at her, hard. “You know per­fectly well what those words mean, Miss Janie Nichols!”

Janie looked around, so­lic­it­ing backup. An­drea, Carma, and Wa­needa, the mean­est girls in Alpine and prob­a­bly all for good rea­son, gazed back at her, win­some and hun­gry for knowl­edge, be­seech­ing Janie to speak in their be­half. Janie said, “No I don’t, Sher­iff Samp­son. Sir.”

“Sir,” in the town I come from, is not a re­spect­ful term. It’s a par­ody of re­spect­ful. Every­one knows it. Samp­son clenched his jaw.

Janie turned back to her dis­ci­ples. “Do you guys know what anus means?”

“Tell them,” Mar­cie whis­pered to me, want­ing to get this over with.

“No!” the mean girls an­swered in cho­rus, and some­thing new, some kind of fu­ture daz­zling joy in will­ful non­com­pli­ance was im­planted in me, even while I con­tin­ued to fear the fear­less Janie Nichols for years.

Sher­iff Samp­son was shift­ing into a mode that must, as a cop, been far more com­fort­able for him. “Haven’t any of you girls been pay­ing at­ten­tion in your bi­ol­ogy class?” he hollered.

No one an­swered him. We all sat, an­tic­i­pat­ing his an­swer.

“Okay, Janie,” he said. “Your anus is your butt. Sodomy is pen­e­tra­tion of the but­t­hole! You know what but­t­hole means, right?”

Janie’s girls col­lapsed in laugh­ter.

Janie said, “Oh! Yes! Sher­iff Samp­son. I know what that is. Now I get it! But­t­hole! Thank you, sir! Be­cause I didn’t know what rec­tum or anus meant!”

She sat down to re­load, but by then her fa­ther was part­ing the sea of pu­bes­cent girls. Bishop Nichols had prob­a­bly been a high school jock. He was mus­cled and big-shoul­dered even now under his suit and tie, paunch and over­nicety notwith­stand­ing. Janie saw him com­ing and stood back up, grin­ning, to greet him. He wrapped his fin­gers around her bony upper arm walked her out as she wailed “Dad! I just wanted to know what the sher­iff meant! I didn’t know he was talk­ing about but­t­holes! I didn’t think we were sup­posed to use dirty words at church!”

No doubt Sher­iff Samp­son had re­cently wit­nessed unimag­in­able hor­rors. Bundy had left a trail of mu­ti­lated young fe­male bod­ies along the Wasatch Front. Laura Aime’s re­mains were found in Amer­i­can Fork Canyon on Thanks­giv­ing Day of 1974. Our pic­nic turf, ab­solutely. Melissa Smith was the daugh­ter of Mid­vale’s po­lice chief. Mid­vale was one county up, but just across the line, fif­teen miles away. When I think about what Dave must have known and seen, I won­der how he moved be­tween di­men­sions, at what costs, and what he saw when he gazed over the liv­ing daugh­ters of his neigh­bors and home­town friends.

I get it, all the way up to this point. I be­lieve that in­for­ma­tion should be avail­able to peo­ple—even the hard kinds, even to kids, es­pe­cially be­cause peo­ple, “reg­u­lar” as well as mon­strous, prey on them. I know we can’t out­guess all of the po­ten­tial ef­fects and I do be­lieve we should worry about that, even though I have to ac­knowl­edge in some ways that I’m mak­ing the same ar­gu­ment that Utah’s Eagle Forum likes to make against any­thing but ab­sti­nence-only sex ed­u­ca­tion. But the more I un­ravel this story I’ve packed around since I was twelve, the more I com­pre­hend that the night the teenaged girls of Alpine, Utah, were con­vened to learn the graphic ter­mi­nolo­gies of sex­ual co­er­cion from the sher­iff and bishop, the mes­sage was a lot big­ger than Bundy-at-Large.

The mes­sage, fa­mil­iar enough to me now, was that girls cause rape. And even if they don’t, they prob­a­bly kind of like it. And if they like it, they are as bad as the rapist and will be held ac­count­able by Heav­enly Fa­ther, who reads the hid­den de­sires of our hearts, the dark lusts of our bod­ies. We can lie to every­one else, but we can’t lie to God.

This core prin­ci­ple, usu­ally rolling just be­neath the sur­face of most fun­da­men­tal­ist ar­tic­u­la­tions of sex­u­al­ity, haunts the sex­ual lives of Mor­mon hus­bands and wives, even as we di­lute and com­bine and jux­ta­pose it among other mes­sages that spring more brightly and con­sciously to our sweet­est in­ti­mate re­la­tions. Stirred up into folk ad­mo­ni­tions to women to never refuse their hus­bands, to al­ways please him sex­u­ally lest his ram­pant de­sires find ex­pres­sion else­where, or in other ways—and mixed in with doc­tri­nal edicts that a wife obey her hus­band, the bearer of God’s priest­hood, even if he di­rects her to sin, the deep logic of tra­di­tional Mor­mon sex­ual mores gen­er­ates sub­con­scious pat­terns of sex­ual self­ness that, in cer­tain con­stel­la­tions, can cre­ate al­most unimag­in­able psy­cho­log­i­cal guilt and strain. For the hus­band as well as the wife.

This is one thing I know, first­hand.

Maybe it’s ex­ac­er­bated, maybe al­le­vi­ated, in the light-of-day world of a cul­ture that cher­ishes its chil­dren. For me, it’s re­demp­tion. But the fact re­mains, al­ways pre­sent and al­ways re­pressed, that chil­dren are made at our strangest and dark­est in­ter­sec­tions.

In the bishop’s ab­sence, the Sec­ond Coun­selor ner­vously stood to re­store order. Soft-spo­ken Brother Creighton coughed fu­tile noises into the mi­cro­phone while Sher­iff Samp­son stood aside, look­ing like he wanted to un­hol­ster. We weren’t quite in a state of riot but we were strangely an­ar­chic. The girls in my class whis­pered, tit­ter­ing over a ragged il­lus­trated note that had passed through forty hands at least. Many of us were ges­tur­ing across the rows to­ward sis­ters and friends. I wanted to catch Marti’s eye but her head was turned in the di­rec­tion of Janie’s empty seat and then sud­denly we all yanked our faces for­ward at the sound of Sis­ter Both­ing­ton’s for­mi­da­ble high-bo­somed au­thor­ity.

“Young ladies! Turn around this minute and give us your full at­ten­tion!”

Sis­ter Both­ing­ton would not have looked out of place wear­ing Valkyrie horns. In­stantly we were silent. Sis­ter Both­ing­ton stared us down, class by class, be­fore turn­ing the sit­u­a­tion over to the Law. Even Samp­son looked shaken. And then the side door opened and Bishop Nichols’s broad sil­hou­ette shaped up against the flu­o­res­cent hall­way lights. It took a sec­ond to see clearly that Janie was en­ter­ing in front of him, re­morse­ful in pos­ture but smirk­ing in our di­rec­tion. Janie came in and sat qui­etly, but, be­cause of her, some­thing had shifted for all of us. Janie, who may have been on some level more deeply fright­ened by this as­sem­bly than any of us, had re­versed the flow. Some small com­po­nent, of some­thing, not ex­actly ex­plain­able to my sis­ter in our re­cent phone call, nor en­tirely clear in my own mind, had ab­solutely not been said yes to.

Bishop Nichols re­gained his nice-guy au­thor­i­tar­ian com­po­sure. Into the mi­cro­phone, he said, “Young Ladies, I know that all of this in­for­ma­tion is dif­fi­cult for all of you to hear. But this is not just a mat­ter of your phys­i­cal safety. As daugh­ters of our Fa­ther in Heaven, you have a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect your bod­ies, to keep your mor­tal tem­ple pure at any price.”

He stood, re-gath­er­ing the in­vis­i­ble man­tle of the Holy Priest­hood, mag­ni­fy­ing his call­ing as the spir­i­tual pro­tec­tor of this spe­cial por­tion of his flock.

“Your bod­ies are sa­cred ves­sels of the Lord. Your bod­ies do not be­long to you. You are the valiant gen­er­a­tion of young women, saved be­cause of your spir­i­tual strength to bring forth chil­dren in the Last Days. It’s very, very im­por­tant that you un­der­stand ex­actly what this means.”

I had heard this sort of thing in church—and even in the re­li­gious spillover at school, so I imag­ined that I did know what it meant. I needed to save my­self in pu­rity for the man I had prob­a­bly fallen in love with in the pre-earth life, the man I had promised to wait for, the man I would some­how rec­og­nize de­spite the veil of for­get­ful­ness, that—

“It means,” said Bishop Nichols, voice brim­ming with con­cern, “it means that you must pro­tect your virtue no mat­ter what. Evil men abound in these lat­ter days, men who want to do any one, or all, of these ter­ri­ble things to you that Sher­iff Samp­son has de­scribed to us tonight. It’s a sad com­ment on the world that we have to ex­plain these ter­ri­ble deeds to pure young women like your­selves, but you must un­der­stand them in order to not be de­ceived.”

The bishop fal­tered a bit, glanced briefly in his daugh­ter’s di­rec­tion. Janie was fin­ished—slumped, sour, ex­am­in­ing the floor. The bishop opened his lips to con­tinue, but then fal­tered again, turned his head to­ward the women of the MIA pres­i­dency. Trim Sis­ter Thomp­son, de­mure in belted flo­ral, gazed gra­ciously to­ward noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar. Hefty Sis­ter Wil­son, legs crossed tight and arms folded, turned her face in the bishop’s gen­eral di­rec­tion, glazed. Sis­ter Both­ing­ton, jaw fixed and square, glared the Bishop back to his call­ing. Nichols turned back to­ward us.

“Sis­ters,” he said. “You must re­sist a rapist to the death. Do you un­der­stand? Your vir­gin­ity, the pu­rity of your beau­ti­ful young bod­ies, is your most pre­cious pos­ses­sion. You must not yield it to an evil man, even if he tries every­thing in his power to pol­lute you.”

Pol­lute? I knew what this word meant. Like a filthy lake. A fouled river. A cold shock­wave hit me chest-on and rip­pled in­ward. I worked my way back to some sense of self by re­view­ing the new words I had learned, one by one. As I had just been in­structed to do for the past hour, I pic­tured the ad­vance of a full-grown man, imag­ined every threat, every act linked to each new term, and each ges­ture faded into black at the reach of his hand, be­cause I knew I’d be dead or worse after the first help­less kick. I weighed about as much as pick­ing-bag of cider ap­ples. But, now, be­yond—I began to ab­sorb the ter­ror of sur­viv­ing it, the im­prob­a­bil­ity of sav­ing my­self with a pu­trid bar­gain. Heav­enly Fa­ther wouldn’t for­give it. Every­thing I ever hoped for in my best heart would be taken away, be­cause I had sinned by suc­cumb­ing to a psy­chopath. I heard this doc­trine many times after this night, in fact read di­rectly from a nearly-canon­i­cal book by Spencer W. Kim­ball, the prophet him­self, called The Mir­a­cle of For­give­ness: “There is no con­dem­na­tion where there is ab­solutely no vol­un­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion. It is bet­ter to die in de­fend­ing one’s virtue than to live hav­ing lost it with­out a strug­gle.” One Sun­day School teacher, a few years later, re-read these sen­tences to us and then wrote the word “ab­solutely” on the chalk­board in giant cap­i­tal let­ters. He then spent the en­tire les­son de­lin­eat­ing the many ways in which the in­tegrity of this word could be as­sailed by women who har­bored even the slight­est car­nal de­sire. Of this kind. Or that. Or this.

Marti says she doesn’t re­mem­ber this part. Maybe it’s my pe­cu­liar in­abil­ity to blur cer­tain kinds of lan­guage. Or, maybe be­cause she has re­mained faith­ful but is still cyn­i­cal and smart, she needs to re­press some vi­o­lent ab­sur­di­ties. And, be­cause she was a mem­ber of the rape team in the ER, she un­der­stands first­hand that cir­cum­stances can get con­fus­ing. I’m more or less in line with my sis­ter on this; I’m not will­ing to go all the way with the the­ory that no woman would ever lie about being raped. Sex is too strange and com­plex and cul­tur­ally con­strained to make any such gen­er­al­iza­tion. As a mother I fear, all the time, the vo­ra­cious girls who fol­low my youngest son like groupies, who sneak back to his homey garage at night, who seem will­ing to tear each other apart de­fend­ing their lim­ited ac­cesses to the Big So­cial Order he rep­re­sents to them. For my sons’ sakes as well as my daugh­ters’, I fear the deep struc­tures that por­tray every “real” man as a la­tent Ted Bundy.

The sum­mer after the girls’ meet­ing at the church, we learned the name of the man him­self. The news named towns and cam­puses and canyons that con­jured first­hand im­agery. For me it was the first of many times I felt the strange heat of a na­tional stare at my home state’s sex­ual rep­u­ta­tion.

At twelve and thir­teen I was in high de­mand as a babysit­ter. I liked the money, I was good with kids, and night after night I would put other peo­ple’s chil­dren to bed, re­turn to kitchens and fam­ily rooms to straighten the clut­ter, wash dishes, check the locked doors and closed cur­tains and sit, quiet, read­ing, into the very late hours of night, lis­ten­ing for the man with the power to per­form un­speak­able acts and keep me alive long enough to damn me to Outer Dark­ness, the place pre­pared for true and bap­tized Mor­mon be­liev­ers who be­trayed their great gift of true knowl­edge. All that light, all that joy, the blessed res­ur­rec­tion of the de­serv­ing while I was sucked into black­ness, los­ing the sound of my own screams in the eter­nal cold hor­ror I de­served be­cause maybe some­how in my deep heart I had said yes, just a lit­tle. Be­cause I wanted to be pretty. I wanted a man to want me. If any­thing char­ac­ter­ized the child I was, it was fam­ily love and loy­alty, a pure cer­tainty that my peo­ple lived in the best of all pos­si­ble worlds. The faith we prac­ticed held up that con­stituent pre­cious­ness as bait; when I flash back vividly enough, I can hardly for­give it.

But, in gen­eral, it’s been so long since I’ve ac­tu­ally be­lieved any of that, I ac­tu­ally for­get that my chil­dren and part­ner and I still live ge­o­graph­i­cally in those same strange wa­ters, now with the in­ter­net maybe and not so much poly­ester. It’s not some thing of the past. Only my own past, a fathom or so. The of­fi­cial motto at my chil­dren’s pub­lic Utah Val­ley mid­dle school, in the noughties, was “Mod­est is Hottest.” That’s about as tight as a cul­tural myth can wrap it­self up.

The kids came home from after school once to re­port that the school stan­dards com­mit­tee had staged a video-skit to un­der­score the motto. The angry broad-shoul­dered woman who served as the school’s hall mon­i­tor had lined up five or six of the pret­ti­est, most pop­u­lar ninth-grade girls. They wore teddy bear masks to hide their iden­ti­ties. Each wore some­thing out of com­pli­ance with the dress code—mini-skirt, plung­ing neck­line, bare midriff, tem­porar­ily col­ored hair—while the ma­tronly en­forcer of mod­esty pointed out the par­tic­u­lar provo­ca­tions that would turn ap­par­ently nice boys into sex­ual mon­sters. And then the whole num­ber fin­ished up with the re­minder that re­ally, if you want to at­tract a man, he’s ac­tu­ally more turned on by the girls who dress like ladies, not pros­ti­tutes.

Chris­t­ian, who had by then al­ready calmly pad­dled on out to the ed­dies of main­stream Utah Val­ley mas­culin­ity, re­marked, “So, I guess if you re­ally want to get raped, you should wear a pi­o­neer dress, right?”

My fa­ther died know­ing that his thought­ful, quick-wit­ted, artis­tic grand­son was gay. He hadn’t ex­actly come to terms with it, but he was work­ing his way through a long and care­ful re­con­sid­er­a­tion of his life­time ho­mo­pho­bia. A part of me re­sents ex­press­ing my grat­i­tude for this—I don’t see how I should have to be any more grate­ful than my sib­lings that my fa­ther treated our chil­dren with love and kind­ness, and in fact there were some shock­ingly ugly mo­ments in Chris­t­ian’s child­hood for which I won’t ever fully for­give my fa­ther—but I do know that, late in his life, after he would have vastly pre­ferred to re­main happy and un­chal­lenged in his foun­da­tional world­views, he re­belled against his own mak­ing to find con­nec­tion with a boy he loved and ad­mired. And I’m guess­ing he did this by re-trac­ing the mak­ing of het­ero­sex­ual man­hood in the very par­tic­u­lar forms of it he de­spised, and then by walk­ing back out into the ter­ri­tory of a grand­son who hated them too.

Noth­ing was more de­spi­ca­ble to my fa­ther than a man who had to keep prov­ing he had a dick. In my fa­ther’s phi­los­o­phy, a man gets con­trol of him­self. A man thinks through his brain, not his or­gans. A man con­tains, and be­comes, and takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for him­self and the wel­fare of the peo­ple he loves. In this place my fa­ther rec­og­nized his grand­son—and was reach­ing up from the depths to make claim, even as death was drown­ing him.

And here in spec­tac­u­lar con­trast, here in the hos­pi­tal, was Uncle Bruce, sit­ting across from me while my fa­ther lay fad­ing in a beep­ing bed. My fa­ther dying on the other side of that closed door while the Priest­hood and their wives mur­mured bless bless bless… And thank the God I don’t be­lieve in, my sis­ter Marti turned the cor­ner and ap­peared be­fore us. My beloved smart sis­ter Nurse Marti who heard the same bull­shit at the church that I did and still be­lieves, still at­tends, who stashed all the crazy in func­tional ways, like me and also not. Her mar­riage has hit some reefs by all means, but she and her hus­band are thirty years in. She didn’t pick sin as refuge, and I imag­ine she’s sad that she’ll have to go to best Mor­mon King­dom of Glory with­out my kids and me—or our other sib­lings ei­ther, all flam­ing apos­tates—but she sin­cerely likes my part­ner, a lot more than she ever liked my hus­band.

Marti dou­bled back a step when she saw who was sit­ting near me.

“Bruce,” she said. “Back off my sis­ter.”


I have no clear path to my fa­ther’s mys­ter­ies. I do not com­pre­hend my mother’s heart even as I in­habit it. My dad lost his own fa­ther when he was sev­en­teen, dur­ing a pitch of ado­les­cent re­bel­lion. My mother’s mother died at thirty-three, when my mother was four years old. My mother has no con­scious mem­ory of her. My par­ents each had to in­vent them­selves be­yond vi­o­lent and un­re­solv­able loss.

And I am dev­as­tated to re­al­ize that my chil­dren will have to do the same.

I still can’t com­pre­hend who my hus­band was, and when I think back on our most be­wil­der­ing mo­ments, I don’t know how to rec­og­nize my­self.

He sits in his car out­side my house, sum­mon­ing our youngest child, Maya, for his week­end. I park out­side of his, call­ing her back. Our daugh­ter walks, gra­cious, through the breach.