Disclaimer: This is based on a true story. Certain names and details have been changed.
I wake up in sobbing tears from nightmares. Memories that were pushed to the far reaches of my mind are being exhumed as I begin to write the experiences from the early years of my marriage. These were the years I lived isolated from family and friends, communal-style, in a filthy, windowless, concrete bunker with my fucked-up in-laws. They called their five acres of raw land, The Ranch, but it wasn’t a ranch. Well…not in the precise sense of the word, but, it could be considered a ranch if corralling broken down vehicles is taken into consideration.
Thirty paces from the bunker, sat a dilapidated twenty-five foot camping trailer. Unimaginably, this was my husband’s childhood home. I wasn’t allowed to go inside the trailer but, when I complained about our current living arrangements, Aaron shared stories from his past that made me feel fortunate to stretch my legs out in a full-length twin bed. Strewn across their land were several broken-down vehicles in various stages of decay. While other children played on swing sets and slippery slides, my children climbed atop an old army jeep and pretended to fight a war, jumped inside a Corvette and donned the role of race-car driver, or climbed aboard a rusty tractor and imaged they were farmers plowing the north forty.
The family called the bunker, The Shop, because living there was only supposed to be a short term solution to financial difficulties. Half of the rectangular cinderblock structure was used to sell silver, turquoise and supplies to the Indians; the other half was where we set up camp. It wasn’t a literal bunker to protect us from bombs or gun fire, but rather a small windowless bunker designed to protect us from theft. It had been built by the family without proper building plans or licenses. It didn’t have an occupancy certificate, but, somehow, we lived there unnoticed by inspectors. Had representatives from child services seen how we were living, they would’ve taken our children away. I didn’t know anything about building codes, child services, mental illnesses or personality disorders. I knew that my living conditions weren’t normal, but living isolated with just the family, kept me in a state of unquestioning compliance. We didn’t have access to television because we lived too far from town. Making long distance phone calls to family and friends was too expensive. My sole source of information and entertainment was an occasional good book, a weekly trip to a three-hour block of church, and conversations with Aaron and his family.
On the last Sunday of every month the relief society president pulled me aside and asked me how I was doing.
“Fine. Thanks for asking.”
“That’s great.” She said with her I-Really-Don’t-Give-A-Shit-About-You smile. “Do you have a few minutes to sit down and listen to a message from the Lord?”
She gave me the lesson from the Ensign magazine. This is the same lesson that all devout Mormon women are required to read for themselves each month so I’m uber disappointed in Mr. Christ’s redundant lesson on, The Privilege of Ministering.
And then we’d drive home.
Once a year, I met with the bishop and stake president to renew my temple recommend. After answering their prying questions of worthiness, I’d tell them how unhappy I was living isolated so far from town.
“Can your husband make a living elsewhere?” my stake president asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“Then I suggest you learn to make the most of it.”
So that was that. An authority figure representing Mr. Christ had spoken. I wasn’t allowed to question my situation. I labeled my feelings as unimportant, threw them in a box, and placed them in the far corners of my naive brain.
Once a year, I’d pull out this box, reexamine its contents, add in additional concerns, discuss them with my bishop and stake president, and then be told the same thing: Be supportive. Serve with the full love of Christ. Obey the counsel of my husband. Forgive.
As a faithful church member, my husband, a priesthood holder and head of our household, had authority over me. But in reality, his mother—and to some extent, his sister—controlled me because they controlled Aaron. My father in-law—a kind, quiet man—obediently sucked hind tit. I quickly learned to never openly question our living conditions, or the fact that my status was lower than all other members of the group, including my nieces and nephews. I was completely unaware that I had fallen prey to living in a cult within a cult.
Before I became a member of my cult family, Aaron’s deceased brother, Randy, had a vision about the land. The Ranch wasn’t just any parcel of land. It was sacred.
“One day,” they said, “each family will have their own home. We’ll grow our own fruits and vegetables, and raise our own livestock. We’ll be completely self-sufficient…totally prepared for the Second Coming.”
Randy was Aaron’s oldest brother whom I’d never met because he committed suicide a year before I met my husband. Even though he was dead, he played a critical role in my life. I just didn’t know it at the time. Mind-control is super confusing when you’re in the middle of it. I willingly ate their bullshit because that’s what they fed me. But I digress. Let’s get back to the fucktards, how they think, and why my existence with them causes me nightmares twenty-five years later.
Maintaining a good image is vital to fucktards. They never could accept the truth about Randy. Instead of him being sent home from his Mormon mission with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, they claimed he was favored by God and had a special purpose here on earth. Randy wasn’t talking to the voices in his head, he was fighting off the evil spirits that were sent to destroy him. Satan knew Randy was important to the ushering in of Mr. Christ and that’s why he was constantly under attack. Randy was so fucking special that when the family was informed of his early dismissal from his mission, essentially, a major disgrace to the family—worse than being a black lesbian—they demanded to meet with one of the high-ranking general authorities of the LDS church.
“Brother Scott didn’t hear a word we’d said.” Aaron complained. “He could’ve used his priesthood power to cast out the devil and his angels. But, instead, he turned his back on us. Randy wouldn’t be dead, if it wasn’t for the hardness of his heart.”
Now, to you and me, this fucktarded view of mentally illness doesn’t fare well when trying to portray a positive image to society; but to fucktards, it was a perfectly logical explanation to Randy’s death. Telling extended family and ward members that the devil picked up a shotgun and shot him in the chest was, somehow, better than admitting he was mentally ill. (Proof of this belief would become evident as additional family members took their lives in subsequent years—stories for another time.)
Aaron shared sacred experiences with me privately, and in a voice that resembled the same tone all faithful members of the church use to bear their heartfelt testimonies—a soft, loving tone that evokes powerful emotions. The tone he used was as familiar to my ear as when my parents, leaders, and peers testified of so-called truths while in my youth. So, even though my cult family’s stories were bizarre, little by little, I accepted them as true.
As I bought into their dreams, I found myself sacrificing personal comforts for the greater cause. But, as I watched other family members march into the shop and pull cash out of the store register whenever they needed it, I grew unsure about my future. They didn’t just take tens and twenties from the till, they took handfuls of hundred dollar bills whenever they needed or wanted them. This always irritated Aaron, but he, too, kept the code of silence as required by his obese, domineering mother. I was the only in-law and wasn’t allowed to take any money without express permission. Aaron gave me just enough cash to buy a day’s worth of groceries and gas for my trip to town and back. Upon return, I was required to hand over the receipts and all the change, leaving me with no money of my own.
I was embarrassed and ashamed of how I was living and never told my parents how bad things really were. They lived hundreds of miles away and didn’t know that when the sun melted the snow or when it rained, my days and nights were spent mopping up the rain water that poured in through our leaky roof. Buckets and large bowls caught the steady flowing areas but we couldn’t catch every leak. Currents of water rushed down from the slopped driveway, through the back door, and wound its way through stacks of dusty boxes like a slow moving creek. Black mold crawled up the sides of the walls. Spiders dropped down from exposed insulation in a partially finished ceiling. Mice nested in the dark corners of the room by day but we all heard their scratchy tiny feet scurry in the night.
The kitchen was a remnant of a failed burger joint. Over-sized metal refrigerators and grills were too inconvenient for daily meal preparations but were ideal for storing old magazines, store receipts, and junk. We cooked meals for the eleven of us on an old 1940’s three-burner stove. Cupboards were never installed and dishes were loaded onto planks of wood and covered by towels to keep them free from mice droppings. The oversized kitchen sink doubled as a place to wash dishes and a tub for small children. Eventually, a shower kit was purchased and installed on 2×4’s so the adults could bathe.
My parents didn’t know that when my children got sick, I feared my crying child would wake a bunker full of sleeping people. I took my child from the room and went into the area that was set up as a store. This room wasn’t insulated and had no heat source except an old pot-belly stove that turned cold in the night. Of course, there wasn’t a rocking chair for me to rock my child back to sleep. No chair at all to ease my tired feet. I donned a coat and moon boots for warmth, wrapped my child in heavy blankets and paced the concrete floor throughout the night.
These are just a few of the memories that ignite my nightmares. In each dream, my husband holds me hostage by threatening to keep the children with him in this environment. I always stay for the children and wake up sobbing as though I’m once again living at The Ranch.
I’m often asked how Aaron and I had sex in a crowded room—with my mother and father in-law’s bunk bed only three feet from mine. I tell them, “Quietly.” In the pitch-black cover of night, I listened for the slow, heavy breathing of children and the loud, annoying snoring of adults before sneaking over to the couch where my husband slept. As I begin to write those stories, maybe I’ll wake up screaming from wet dreams instead of sobbing tears.