I wasn’t born to be submissive, but I became that way over time. I wondered why God loved boys more than girls, men more than women, why our feelings and our names and our positions are diminished in scripture, why our beauty and ability to seduce men- as the biblical Esther did- was most important. I wondered why the Book of Mormon described the mother of Jesus as being fair and possessing great beauty when I wanted so much to believe that God looked upon the heart instead of her figure. I wondered why there were so few verses about her and the few we did have thought to comment more upon her face than her strength of character. I wondered why God intended us to only mothers be, when the opportunity at all was so dependent on how we looked. I wondered. I ached. I agonized.
But when that all-knowing God is always watching, always needing you to do more than simply be and feel alive for the brief stages of our lives, then you swallow it down. God was glaring down at me in my most peaceful moments. When I felt overcome by stars or autumn leaves or snow tumbling in the spotlight of a streetlamp, God’s heavy gaze reminded me that I should be praying, bending over gold-leaf pages with a scripture-marking pen, putting on church clothes, being pretty but not sexy, engaging in the work.
I am still confused about how I went from a spirited child, always aghast at the sexism I saw all around me before I was even old enough to give a name to it, to a young woman in restrictive nylons and knee-length skirts, bowing my head to men in dark suits and white shirts and droning Priesthood voices. The study of psychology does nothing to alleviate the misery I feel at knowing that I allowed myself to become that. I was a victim of brainwashing, but I was not born to be a victim. I was trained to be one. I was trained by all the people I trusted most, and that, my friends, is what Mormonism did to me.
Recently an old friend stopped by- and I mean old both literally and figuratively. Helen is an octogenarian who I first met ten years ago when I hastily involved myself in a shame-marriage that everyone knew was due to unchaste behavior. She was the Relief Society President, which in our religion gave her the right to ask intrusive questions and drop by announced. She meant well- at least I hope she did. I have thrown my sweaters and my frumpy tops that Mormon me wore away. I wear tank-tops and have lovely, extensive tattoos, and I feel her eyes gaze over them and interpret them for what they are; symbols of apostasy. And she tells me that I should be grateful that my dead mother has been watching over me as an angel these past eleven years, and I swallow back vomit and tears and hostility. Well, the vomit and tears, at least. The hostility I could not fully contain. I will not allow anyone to guilt-trip me into religiosity with my dead mother. You see, for over a decade now I have been told that my mother’s early passing was a gift of sorts, since surely she could help me more from the other side than ever she could here in this earthly realm. It’s an insult. It’s a knife to the heart of all the pain that has been compounding in my chest these many years. My mother has never known my children, never been available to help tend them when I’m sick, when I’m exhausted, when I am lonely beyond all reckoning. I would give all my money, my home, my life, just to talk to her on the phone one more time. Don’t tell me how lucky I am that she is dead.
The lack of mother has been the defining event of my life. I suppose it is true that it has made me a stronger person, resilient and impervious to the dragging chains of the obstacles I face, but it pains me to even consider that it could be worth it. I know I have developed a crusty shell out of necessity- a scab- an ugly outer covering that protects those weak, fleshy parts of me that were left oozing blood too many times in the past. If my mother’s death has made me tough, it is an ugly sort of tough. No intricate, swirling shells around me. No. This is a jagged, scarred exoskeleton I have around me. I have evolved in the most miserable of ways.
The future was beautiful to me once. It was something I could form and make my own, and yet now I often feel as if I were born only to die. I have become a tortoise with a shockingly long life span and little to do in it. I do manual labor for small paychecks and come home and contemplate the ways I want to change my life and know that I do not have the funding to do anything of the sort. I learned too late that emphasizing the importance of motherhood was nothing but a sexist tool of the patriarchy, used to enslave women and keep them handcuffed to the men who hurt them. If not for the path Mormonism set me on, I could fly away. Maybe instead of transforming into a tough, brittle reptile I could have become a butterfly. But butterflies are fragile, and my life is one where the fragile do not survive.