I, Mikey, having been born of goodly parents in the Year of Our Lord 1980 AD…
I always wanted to begin my story this way. Hey, if Joe, I mean, Nephi did it, why the hell can’t I?
Really though, I WAS born to great parents. I grew up in what was then a small suburb, now a very large affluent suburb, of Salt Lake City, Utah. I was born in the covenant and my folks were your typical young, Mormon, middle middle class couple. My sister was born two years before me, so by the time I came along, they had already begun their little family. My parents were fantastic. They loved each other and they loved me and my sister more than anything. My dad was a self-taught architect and making damn good money for the time. My parents met while receiving their degrees at Brigham Young University; my mom’s degree in Fashion Merchandising, my dad’s in Business Management.
I want to break here and give some background on my parents.
My mom, Virginia, was born in Utah in May of 1953 to Mark and Orpha Ward. She was the fifth of six children; she had three older sisters and an older brother. She spent most of her formative years living in the Seattle, Washington area. My mom didn’t have the most ideal childhood. She was born nearly three months premature, which in the 1950’s was usually considered a death sentence, obviously due to the lack of medical technology at that time, relatively speaking. I remember her telling us frequently that when she was born, she was able to be cradled in one of her father’s hands, and could have been put in a mayonnaise jar and still had room to move.
She spent almost the first year of her life in the neo-natal ICU at Holy Cross hospital in Salt Lake City. The doctors were cautious but hopeful about her prognosis, but also couldn’t make any promises as to whether or not my mom would live. At that time, most of the nurses at Holy Cross were nuns. Throughout her life, she always held a special place in her heart for nuns, as they had cared for her as lovingly as a mother would her own child.
Not long after my mother was finally released from the hospital and allowed to go home, her parents packed the family up and moved to Bellevue, Washington, which is a suburb of Seattle, east across Lake Washington. They moved into a modest, but beautiful home in the neighborhood of Clyde Hill. Much like the suburb I grew up in, Bellevue is one of the most affluent and highly-priced places to live in the Seattle area. Today, the median home price ranges from $350,000 to $400,000.
Because of her very premature birth, my mom was a sickly child. She had chronic asthma (which stuck with her throughout her life), and was a frail, tiny little girl. The children she grew up with and her brothers and sisters nicknamed her “Skinny Ginny”, because of her small stature. This nickname grew on itself as she got older and lost her baby teeth. “Skinny Ginny” became “Skinny Ginny the Toothless Ninny”. Over the years the nickname stuck, but was always used very affectionately.
When she began kindergarten at age five, she was still too frail and ill to leave the house. A two-way communication system was set up at home and in the classroom, so my mom was still able to learn. I always like to think of this as a 1950’s version of online classes. She attended school this way for a couple years, and by then her health had improved enough that she was able to start attending regular classes at the school. Because of her sweet-natured and outgoing personality, despite her health problems, my mom was a very well-liked little girl. She made friends quickly and was always fiercely loyal to those she loved and cared about.
My biological grandfather, Mark Ward, was a violent, hot-tempered, unfaithful, emotionally and physically abusive alcoholic, though as I’m told, he hadn’t always been that way. Outwardly, he was a very charismatic, charming man, who had the looks and the suave of a young Clark Gable. He made his living as a salesman, and because of his charm and charisma, was able to provide a very comfortable life for his family. As time moved on, however, most of the money he made was funneled into booze and other women. He began belittling and emotionally abusing his children, especially his two youngest- my mom and her little brother, Joe. He would constantly say to my mom that he wished she had never been born, and that she had been nothing but a burden from the beginning.
Tutu, my maternal grandmother, was as beautiful as a movie star. She was a wonderful mother, a loving wife and had solid relationships with each of her children. Despite the rapid decline of her marriage, she always remained positive, kind and fiercely protective of her children. They were the most important thing in her life.
When my mom was about nine years old, her father abandoned the family to be with another woman, leaving my grandmother with very little income and six children to raise. My grandmother (we called her Tutu, which is Hawaiian for ‘grandma’- to this day I’m not sure where the nickname came from), was forced to take on two additional full-time jobs to support her family. The job she loved the most and had been working at the longest was at a real estate firm. There, she met Eric Pearson, a successful real estate developer who owned properties all over the Pacific Northwest. Eric had also been married before and had children, although his first marriage had not ended amicably, and he didn’t have much of a relationship with his children. After Mark left, Tutu and Eric began dating and eventually married. Eric was the man that I knew my entire life as Grandpa; I never did meet my biological grandfather, Mark.
Tutu and Grandpa Eric’s relationship was something out of a 1940’s Hollywood movie. They were, as the old expression goes, “madly” in love. He courted her and treated her like a queen. He always used to refer to her as “my darling”. He embraced the entire family as if he had been a part of it since the beginning. Although most of my mom’s siblings were either in their late teens or early twenties when Grandpa Eric came into the picture, he thought of them as his own children, and all of them came to know him as Dad. Grandpa Eric was everything that Mark had not been. He was kind, loving and unconditionally supportive of his new family.
As the years went by, and my mom blossomed into a young woman, she became increasingly beautiful, and closely resembled her mother. She was still “Skinny Ginny”, but no longer frail and sickly. She was trim, pretty and confident.
Although both her mother and biological father were Mormon, they were never consistently active in the LDS church. As my mom grew up, however, she began to attend church on a regular basis, going with a good friend.
After she graduated from high school, my mom decided she wanted to move back to Utah and attend BYU. She said goodbye to her family and headed south.
My dad, Glenn’s childhood was vastly different from my mom’s. He was born in July of 1951 and raised in the Salt Lake Valley. His mother, Martha, was raised in the LDS church, but his father, Bill, was not. My dad never really attended church as a kid, and concentrated more on sports and girls. His parents were very close, and for the most part, my dad had a very happy childhood.
Grandpa Bill was a very successful architect. His office was run out of the house, and that gave him time to teach his sons the tricks of the trade. My dad was the second of four kids; he had one older brother, Mark, a younger brother, Brent, and a younger sister, Linda. He was closest in age to his older brother Mark, and looked up to him in every way.
Mark was handsome, popular, athletic and intelligent. He was everything most boys wanted to be. When Mark was about fourteen, he fell off his bike and got a very large bruise on one of his knees. Time passed, and the bruise didn’t clear up. My grandparents took him to the hospital and after getting an x-ray, the doctor broke the news that Mark had cancer. By the time he was diagnosed, the cancer had spread through most of his leg, and at the time, his only chance for survival was to amputate the leg. Mark underwent surgery and had his leg amputated. Unfortunately, it was discovered that the cancer had spread further than the doctors originally thought, and was now in Mark’s lungs.
Mark died at the age of sixteen. Obviously, the family was left devastated, but it didn’t affect anyone quite as much as it did my dad. Mark had been his best friend and his hero, but now my dad was the oldest, and had to be a role model for his younger siblings.
Time passed, and after he graduated high school, he was accepted at the University of Utah. He began school, and immediately joined the Kappa Sigma fraternity. In true fashion, he began drinking, smoking and doing all types of things that made his parents’ hair curl.
After a year or so at the U of U, drinking, partying and not getting much done scholastically, my dad decided to mend his ways and start going to church. He quit drinking and smoking, and stopped socializing with his fraternity. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the only way to maintain his new ‘clean’ lifestyle was to transfer to Brigham Young University.
Not long after beginning classes at BYU, he met my mom. It was one of those love at first sight things like you see in the movies. My dad timidly asked my mom to go with him to one of the school dances. To this day, I keep the photograph taken at their first dance.
Like my Tutu and Grandpa Eric, my parents were crazy about each other. My dad always talks about how deeply in love he was with my mom, and how they would make out everywhere there was a couch. They both, however, maintained their “virtue” while they were dating.
My dad received his degree in Business Management, but had learned the trade of architecture from his dad. Right out of college, he went to work for his dad as an architect, although my dad never received “formal” training or a degree in architecture. My dad had a knack and a talent for the trade, however, and soon became my grandpa’s business partner.
After my parents graduated from college, they decided to get married. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple in April of 1976, and immediately began trying to begin a family. It wasn’t easy. They tried for nearly two years to get pregnant, and after going through some fertility treatments, my mom became pregnant with my sister, Amanda.
Mandi was born in January of 1978. She was one of the most beautiful little babies most people had ever seen. She was petite, and had a shock of white-blond hair. That girl could stop traffic, and that continues today.
Two years later, little old me was brought into this world via caesarian section. When I was born, I had a red mark on my forehead between my eyes- not really a birthmark; it would only appear when I was pissed off. In my opinion, I wasn’t the cutest of babies, but I was born with a set of dimples on my face that through the years I learned to work to my advantage in several ways. In my early twenties, those dimples got me laid more often than I probably would have without them. That damn red mark on my forehead, however, followed me until I was probably ten years old, but again, only appeared when I was angry. Why the red mark is important, I don’t know, just a small incidental detail about my physical appearance as a child.
Like my sister, I was born with almost white-blond hair. By the time I was about three or four, however, my hair darkened to a chestnut brown and my face was covered in freckles. God, how I hated the freckles. They were the bane of my existence throughout childhood and adolescence. From adults it was always “oh, look how cute your freckles are!” Fucking freckles. Although they have faded, at almost thirty-one years old, I still have ‘em. Fair-skinned Mikey and his goddamn freckles.
My brother, Kevin, was born about 3 ½ years after me. He was an adorable blond-haired happy kid and was such a great addition to our family. My brother and I have always been extremely close, and he was my best friend throughout the horror that was my adolescence. More on that later.
I was a happy kid, but very shy and reserved. I wasn’t comfortable around new people, and was always kind of a homebody. From an early age, I loved books and devoured as many as I could get my hands on. Records were another passion of mine. When I was three, my parents bought me a plastic Fisher-Price record player, and a whole bunch of those 45s with stories narrated on them that came with the book and the record. I don’t know what it was, though, about the physical records, but I loved them. I loved the shape, the feel of them in my hands, and most of all the turning action of the record player.
Anything that had a disc-like apparatus was a record player for me, even my mom’s Kitchenaid mixer. I used to steal the little disc that the bowl would spin on and play with it. My mom was constantly finding that damn thing in my room and would chastise me not to take it again.
One memory about records that I will probably never live down, happened when I was probably two years old. My mom was a gigantic fan of the Beatles. She had every record they ever recorded, most of them first editions. One day, she came downstairs and I had taken all the Beatles records she had out of their sleeves and spread them out on the stone hearth, thus scratching them all to hell. Again, like the red mark, the record obsession is merely an incidental detail and has nothing whatsoever to do with my life as a whole.
When I was four years old and my sister was six, my mom decided to put my sister in piano lessons. My parents went out and bought a nice upright piano and started my sister in lessons with a wonderful German lady, who I’ll call Gretchen, who lived down the street from us. Gretchen was about my parents’ age and she had kids that were roughly the same age as me and my siblings. From the get-go, my sister hated piano lessons. She was always something of a diva; and had a strong, stubborn personality like my mom. She didn’t like to be told she had to do something she didn’t want to do.
My mom forced my sister kicking and screaming to practice her piano lessons for a mere half hour a day after school. Not long after my sister began piano lessons, I figured, hey, that doesn’t look so hard. After my sister was done practicing, I would go in, sit down at the piano bench and play her entire lesson. Well, my parents figured they had a piano prodigy on their hands and immediately started me in piano lessons.
Thus started my lifelong love affair with music. I loved the piano. Loved it. Instead of going outside and playing sports and games with the other kids in my neighborhood, I would sit at the piano for hours at a time every day and just play. It was a place I could always escape to; it had a calming, head-clearing effect on me, and still does. When I’m playing, I’m able to focus all my attention on the keys of the piano and the emotion of the song, and nothing else really matters to me when I’m in that place. It’s very zen.
I took piano lessons for nearly fourteen years. I was involved in many piano competitions and recitals. It was always something I excelled in, and continued to love throughout the years.
My parents were always active in the LDS church, and raised us the same way. We went to church every Sunday, and my parents held various callings. My mom was Homemaking Counselor in the Relief Society for many years, and my dad served as Ward Clerk for a big portion of my younger childhood. My mom was what everyone would refer to as Supermom. She was active in everything she could be- PTA, Room Mother at school, my sister’s dance lessons, my piano lessons, my brother’s sports activities. She sewed, she cooked, she cleaned house, she even began furthering her education, taking correspondence courses from BYU. My mom was at the top of her game in my early childhood.
When I was about six years old, an event came to pass (hehe) that, looking back, was probably the first time I witnessed how cruel people could be. My mom was Homemaking Counselor in the Relief Society at the time, and was pretty close with all the ladies in the ward. Somewhere around that point, my sister, by brother and I all came down with a raging case of head lice. This was back in the day when they would hold “read-a-thons” at school, and all the kids would bring their pillows and blankets and treats from home and lay on the floor of the classroom reading for a whole entire school day. While there’s really no way of knowing for sure how we contracted the lice, this is most likely where we got it from.
My mom was in a panic. She was very obsessive-compulsive about keeping the house clean and disinfected, although she was never one of those mothers that kept plastic on the couch and never let anyone “live” there. But she did pride herself on the cleanliness of the house. The case of head lice was a huge curve ball. She took us to the doctor and got a lice comb and some anti-parasite shampoo, and spent hours picking the nits out of our hair. She boiled all the clothing and the sheets and eventually, the lice were gone.
Mormon wards being what they are, it wasn’t long before everyone knew we had head lice. The gossip spread like wildfire. The women of the ward shunned my mom, and gossiped behind her back, calling her an unfit mother, saying she should have kept her house cleaner, and paid more attention to her kids’ hygiene. The parents stopped letting their kids play with us, and coming to our house for sleepovers or anything like that was forbidden by all the kids’ parents. No matter what my mom did, she was looked on as a pariah in the ward for a long time.
This incident threw my mom into a deep depression. The vibrant, energetic woman I had always known deteriorated before my eyes. She spent most of her days in bed crying. She would get up only long enough to make sure we were fed and taken care of, but not much more than that. The light had drained from her eyes. All the things she loved to do no longer seemed important to her anymore.
After weeks and weeks of this, my dad decided it was time she see her doctor. She went in and was prescribed Valium. Back around that time, Valium was a very common drug given to people with depression. Not much was really known about depression; it wasn’t diagnosed as commonly as it is now. I don’t think drugs like Valium were really known as being highly addictive. The valium helped my mom return to some semblance of normalcy, and within a short time, she was out of bed and back to being my mom. Looking back, I don’t think she ever fully recovered from the incident with the lice. To me, it was the beginning of the end for her.
I was baptized and confirmed when I was eight years old, just like most Mormon kids are. When you’re eight years old, you really aren’t given much of a choice whether this happens or not. What kind of eight-year-old has that kind of freedom and self-knowledge to know what they’re getting into? Being baptized was just something you did if you were Mormon. There was never any question that it would happen, and at that time, it was a happy occasion for me. I was baptized at the Stake Center in the baptismal font by my dad. I had to be dunked twice, since my knee bobbed up out of the water the first time, and Mormon baptism requires full immersion of the body in the water. You aren’t really a Mormon unless every part of your body goes in the water. Being an adult now, with a tiny bit more common sense, this whole thing seems so epically absurd.
Much to my chagrin and against my will entirely, my parents made me go to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Again, this is just what was expected of Mormon boys. There is typically a specific track that all Mormon boys, especially in Utah, are expected to follow, and not stray too far from: baptism at eight, Scouting, Eagle Scout, Priesthood, both Aaronic and Melchizedek, Temple, Mission, BYU, Marriage, Kids, Grandkids, Adult Mission, Death. No one often questions this track in life, at least no one I knew growing up; it’s Just What You Did. But oh how I hated Scouts. I hated camping, I hated the outdoors, I hated the sports we were forced to play. I hated tying knots, and most of all, I hated all the mean boys in the ward who made fun of me because I wasn’t into all the typical “boy” stuff. All I wanted to do was stay home, read, play the piano, and do things with the friends I actually liked. But nonetheless, my parents were emphatic about me attending Scouts, no matter how much I protested.
I always knew I was different from other boys. As I said, I never did most of the “boy” things. Sure, I tried to fake it; I went to BYU games with my dad and pretended to have a good time, even though I had no idea what the hell was going on down on the field. I stood up and cheered at the appropriate moments, but never really knew why. I made friends with some of the boys on my street, and Aaron, who was really into sports but also wore his heart on his sleeve like me, soon became my best friend. He convinced me to sign up for Junior Jazz basketball and be on his team. I did. I was miserable. At that age, I was slightly taller than a lot of the other boys and therefore was made the position of Center. Hell if I knew what that meant. All the other boys on my team knew basketball inside and out. I faked it. I had anxiety before every practice and every game. I got yelled at by the coach and the other boys a lot, because despite practices, I still had no idea what I was doing. No one ever passed me the ball. I just kind of stood there most of the time during the games, moving my feet and holding my hands up over the kid I was supposed to guard. In the two (yes two, I’m apparently an idiot and told my folks I loved basketball) seasons I played, I was passed the ball one time, and got one ball in the basket.
I did well in school in those days. School came easy to me. It was something that I felt comfortable doing. I was a model student, did my work quietly and efficiently, and always handed it in on time. During recess, I spent my time mostly with girls. I felt more comfortable doing the things girls did at that age; hopscotch, jump rope, playing on the monkey bars. I didn’t want to play football or anything else like that during recess. As far back as probably third or fourth grade, the boys started calling me gay, even though none of them had any idea what the word meant; all they knew was it was an insult and would make a person feel bad. By the sixth grade, the insults had ramped up so bad, and rumors were flying around about me playing “sex” with other boys (which I had done with a couple other curious boys my age, but who DIDN’T do that?), and they knew I was a fag, and for reasons I still can’t fathom, I became affectionately known as “Hitler”. Day after day, the boys (and even some of the girls) in my class would give me “dead arm” which was when the boy used his knuckle and punched me as hard as he could in the upper arm. My parents never knew about it, but most of the time my upper arms were covered in bruises. I really didn’t know how to fight back. I became more and more withdrawn and it became increasingly difficult for me to go to school.
Let me jump back a bit and talk a little more about my home life.
1988, the year of my baptism, was also a year of many other not-so-pleasant events. Around that time, my parents decided to sell their home, and build their “dream house” in a new subdivision less than a mile away. We would still be in the same ward boundaries, since the area wasn’t hugely populated at that time. Being an architect, my dad designed the house himself. The building process was very stressful on my folks. A lot of late nights, big arguments about the rising cost of the house, all the unexpected errors made by the contractor. There was a lot of tension in the air between my parents during that period; tension that was poised to increase tenfold over the next few years.
Once we got moved into our new home, got settled in and things seemed to return to a bit of normalcy, my mom began getting crippling headaches. I didn’t know this at the time, but my mom’s doctor who had prescribed her Valium, had, after two years, taken her completely off the medication cold turkey. Knowing what I know now about benzodiazepines, having been on them myself for my own panic attacks, this was a very foolish move on her doctor’s part. Benzos, like narcotics, are a class of drugs that shouldn’t be stopped abruptly after taking them every day for a long period of time. The withdrawal symptoms are similar to withdrawals from heroin. But again, around this time, there wasn’t a whole lot known about the nature of Valium or any drug of its type, and there certainly wasn’t much known about the withdrawal from these drugs.
As I said, after my mom was unceremoniously taken off Valium, she began to get migraine-like headaches that would keep her from being able to function like a normal human being. My bedroom was just down the hall from my parents’ and I remember lying awake late at night and hearing her cry from her bedroom because she was in so much pain.
No one knew what to do. My dad certainly didn’t. He began to look stressed and exhausted all the time. He was working 50 hour weeks, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, trying to take care of me and my siblings, helping us with our homework and all this on top of trying to be there for my mom. My dad is and always will be my hero. The man has gone through so much heartache and hardship in his lifetime, but remains to this day undauntedly happy and optimistic.
When the headaches didn’t stop, and my mom’s doctor(s) had done every test they could think of with no results, he referred my mom to different specialists. Through hours spent in doctors’ offices, through painful testing, MRI’s, CT scans, and even a spinal tap, the results always came up with nothing. No one could figure out what was wrong with her. During this time, accompanying the headaches, my mom also began getting horrible panic attacks. She would be deathly afraid, shaking, screaming, crying for no apparent reason. She also had more frequent periods of extreme depression. She became more and more bedridden, and was unable to continue the Supermom role. My dad pretty much took over running the household.
As one would expect, my parents’ marriage was under a lot of strain. They fought almost constantly about everything; money being the main thing. My dad was working so hard, and about that time, the housing market took a dive. Because he was self-employed, the money wasn’t coming in nearly as quickly as it was being spent. Thousands of dollars a month were spent on medical bills, which left little money left over for household expenses. My parents unfortunately turned to credit cards to supplement the lack of income. This only made things more stressful for them financially.
I guess to understand the impact all of this had on me, it would be helpful to understand the dynamic of the relationship I had with my mom. I was, am, and forever will be a proud mamma’s boy. My mom and I were always best friends. She understood me in a way no one else ever has or probably ever will. As far back as I can remember, my mom always referred to me as her “kindred spirit”. We had a connection that was almost psychic at times. I always knew when she was in emotional pain, even if I wasn’t home, and she always knew the same about me. During the rare times of calm when the pain was less, and there wasn’t so much anxiety, my mom and I would sit and talk for hours about everything from the weather, to school, to theology, to family, to music…everything. We shared everything with each other. When my mom’s panic was at its peak, and she was cowering in the back of her closet in the dark, and my dad couldn’t figure out what to do to help, I would go in there and she would hold me and sing “You Are My Sunshine” and I could always make her feel better and bring her down from the ledge. These were really scary times for me. As much as I loved being there for my mom, it took a large emotional toll on me. It’s really difficult as a kid to feel like you’re holding all this weight on your shoulders and not really having much of a choice. I couldn’t just abandon my mom.
During those days, I prayed a lot. I studied the Book of Mormon. I looked for some kind of answer to why all this was happening to my family. I don’t think I ever expected an answer, but the emotional weight of everything that was going on, literally forced me to my knees in prayer because I didn’t know what else to do. I was always taught that God only gives people challenges in their life that they are able to handle, but my faith began to waver in the height of everything that was happening. But that didn’t stop me from believing that God would hold me up and make me strong. My grades in school were suffering. I couldn’t concentrate on homework, and my time in class was spent worrying about what was going on at home.
When the anxiety attacks kept getting worse, my mom’s doctor referred her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, in true form, prescribed a bevy of medications for her. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, not much was known about panic/anxiety/depression disorder, much less about the drugs typically used to treat them, but those drugs were thrown around like candy, and not much attention was paid to the combinations and dosages.
The medications began to take their toll. Her psychiatrist was constantly switching her from this to that to any and every antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication that was available. Zoloft, Depacote, Paxil, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and dozens of other things I can’t even remember. My mom never abused her medication; she only took the prescribed doses at the prescribed intervals. Alas, none of these medications worked. The anxiety spiked, the depression increased, and her asthma started raging out of control. Things began to get so bad and so dark. My parents continued yelling and screaming at each other. My little brother would come to my room and sit with me and cry. So many nights we just sat holding each other and crying, listening to the screaming and crying coming from my parents’ room.
During this time, the family, sans Mom, still attended church regularly. My dad held his callings and did everything he was supposed to do. I think church was a big escape for him, which at the time he really needed. Any escape at all. He didn’t know what to do. Anything he said to my mom turned into an argument. He was working later and later, and when he came home, he avoided my mom as much as possible. He had begun to look like an old man. The worry lines on his face were becoming deeper, and his health began to deteriorate. He was exhausted all the time, and by that point, my parents were sleeping in separate rooms; mainly because my mom was so sick, he couldn’t get the sleep he needed.
I want to break here and explain that my parents always deeply loved each other. I don’t know of many marriages that could withstand all the trauma my parents’ did and still remain intact. There were periods of calm interspersed throughout these rocky times. During these moments, my parents got along great. They laughed and talked and genuinely enjoyed each others’ company. My dad just didn’t know how to cope with the stress of my mom’s illness. None of us did. It was like a huge black cloud hanging in the air all the time.
As I grew into adolescence, I realized more and more how different I was. As I began puberty, and should have been noticing girls, I started noticing boys. To be perfectly frank, I never really paid much attention to it. It wasn’t this big epiphany I had like “Oh. My. God. Becky. I. Like. Boys. That. Is. So Wrong.” No, it just kind of was what it was. By the time eighth grade rolled around and I was about fourteen, I understood a lot better what ‘gay’ meant. I realized I had little to no interest in girls, and the time I spent fantasizing during the times I masturbated, I found myself thinking about other guys in my school, wondering what their penises looked like, and how it would feel to touch them and have them touch mine. Again, at the time, it just wasn’t a big deal to me. ‘Gay’ wasn’t something that was talked about a whole lot, at least not in the concrete sense. At fourteen, I really didn’t grasp the actual concept of sex. Sure, I knew what it was, I had gone through the whole birds and bees talk with my folks and I heard kids at school talk about it a lot, but sex as a reality didn’t impact me much. Even though I began masturbating when I was about eleven years old, it never occurred to me that it was bad. Frankly, I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew it felt good to do it. The guilt never really hit me and I got lucky that the whole “do you masturbate” question never was directly asked in my priesthood interviews. Sure, the, “are you morally clean” thing got asked, but for all I knew, that only was referring to having sex with an actual person. I passed the sacrament with no guilt. I studied my scriptures. I believed in everything the Mormon Church taught me. At thirteen, I was made president of the Deacon’s Quorum. My spiritual self seemed to be the only part of me that was wholly intact. I liked going to church. I liked feeling like I was close to Heavenly Father. I think at that point, it was the only thing I felt like I had left to hold onto.
Thinking back, I kind of kick myself for not keeping a journal. I started probably ten of them, but as with a lot of things in my life, I started, but never finished or kept it going. It would be really fascinating for me to go back through and actually read the thoughts I was having at that point in my life. The details and timelines of all this have become a bit blurred. That whole period in my life felt like one ongoing nightmare, so I’m finding it a bit difficult to keep all this stuff in chronological order.
As a complete and utter aside, and because I suffer from a bit of ADD, I want to talk a bit about memory. Memory, all alone in the moonlight. Memory is a funny thing. Every moment of every day as long as we live, our brains are bombarded with sensory stimuli — unless you’re Helen Keller and have been shot up with some weird Amazonian numbing agent, in which case there would be no stimuli, mainly because you’re Helen Keller and you’d already be dead, so it’d be a moot point anyway.
Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches. Head, shoulders, knees ‘n’ toes, knees ‘n’ toes, knees ‘n’ toes, head, shoulders, knees ‘n’ toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. For the average homo sapien, our brains process and immediately discard most of the external stimuli we are exposed to day in and day out. The big exception to this rule would obviously be the blessed few who have the gift of a photographic memory; although I can’t honestly say whether that would be a blessing or a huge annoyance. I don’t think I’d want to remember a lot of the things I see. For instance, just the other morning, some random homeless man in a wheelchair came rolling over out of nowhere to the smoking area outside the office where I work (keep in mind, I don’t work in a downtown urban-type area. It’s an office park with nothing else really in the immediate vicinity) and began sifting through the ashtray and scouring the ground for cigarette butts that had one or two drags left on them, and stuffing them in his socks. I don’t want to remember things like that. It’s horrifically sad, and quite frankly, more than a little creepy. Of course, thinking about it further, I may want to keep that one in the Files so I have something to talk about at future awkward dinner parties I’m sure I’ll be invited to at Lindsay Lohan’s house when she gets out of rehab.
But, at the end of the day, whether fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not one of these Sainted Mind Photographers myself, so I constantly marvel at the small, minute, seemingly insignificant and wildly random details my brain seems to hold onto for some utterly bizarre reason; things I’m not really exposed to repeatedly in daily life. Why, for instance, do I remember the lyrics to a song I heard only once and hated, but for the life of me, can’t remember the exact color and shade of my mother’s eyes? I saw them nearly every single day of my life for over twenty years, and to this day, I don’t think I could pick them out of an eyeball lineup. Especially if it was one of those high-pressure lineups in the dim room with the one-way glass, where you’re the white trash hooker from Rhode Island named Sheila who was the only witness to a heinous contact lens incident, sitting there with your ratty bleach-blonde hair and dark roots wearing bright magenta lipstick and matching eyeliner you got at the Pick ‘n’ Save that you knew were a bad idea but went real well with the shoes you stole from that bitch that calls herself Couch Cushion who works the 7-11 parking lot one street over and is constantly stealing your Johns because she swallows and you don’t but you know you’re way classier and give better head than she does plus you practice safe sex by doing backdoor because the last thing you want is to get pregnant again so soon. So you’re sitting there in the police station and you’ve got the whole I’m Coming Down From a Ten Day Meth and Heroin Bender twitches and you’re smacking on a flavorless piece of Big Red gum that keeps sticking to the partial dentures your pimp had to pay for because your last John punched you for accidentally using teeth when you were giving him the five-dollar Mississippi Tongue Twister that happened to be the weekly special you were running at the time, and the butch female cop who’s wearing too much Acqua di Gio for Men aftershave and whose breath smells like canned green beans, M&M’s and Camel Menthol cigarettes has her mouth right next to your ear, which is kind of a turnon, even though you’re not really into bumping uglies with another girl again, plus she’s grinding her teeth and threatening to tell your pimp that you’ve been skimming trick money off the top for the past twelve years to pay for your out of control canned cat food addiction if you don’t hurry the fuck up and point out the eyeballs she KNOWS you saw that night, but no matter how hard you try you can’t point them out because there are five sets of disembodied eyeballs staring at you through the glass, and your memory isn’t that great since you tripped over a stray cat in the alley where you sometimes give quickie discount half ‘n’ halfs and hit your head on the edge of the dumpster that your best friend lives in, so Officer Butchie loses her cool and starts hollering and throwing the used Kleenex at you that she keeps handy for the chronic post-nasal drip she developed from snorting too much blow off the toilet seats in the bathroom at the police academy. Or something. So, just like our friend Sheila the Hooker from Rhode Island, I’m not all that great under pressure, especially if I have a butch female police officer with a hardcore coke habit screaming and throwing Kleenex at me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. Early adolescence. So, from the time I was maybe eleven or twelve, I had a best friend. His name is Josh. I use him in the present tense because he is still a part of my life. He grew up just four houses away from me, was a year older and we were interested in a lot of the same things. Josh and I spent almost every day together. After school, on the weekends; we even took Josh along on family vacations with us sometimes. He was like a member of the family. By the time I was fourteen, and realizing that I might be *gasp!* gay…I felt like he was the only person in the whole world I trusted enough to tell. I sat him down one Friday evening when he was sleeping over, and told him the things I was feeling. He sat calmly and listened to me and told me he was my friend no matter what. We left it at that. Things didn’t change between us at all; we went along as we always had.
The more I came to terms with being gay, and the more I understood what it meant, the more the guilt started to set in. I attended all the Priesthood Sessions of General Conference with my dad and little brother, and each time, either the prophet or one of the GA’s would bring up how evil it was to be homosexual. I would sit there in abject terror for my soul, knowing this was a part of me that I needed to squash. I needed to stop masturbating and thinking about guys in a sexual way. I needed to pray harder, and study the scriptures more, build my testimony and turn my life around. Above all, I could never, ever tell anyone else.
The first real sexual encounter I had with another guy happened when I was about 15. At that time, my parents had purchased a computer and before long, we were ONLINE! I logged in hours on America Online. I spent a lot of times in the M4M (male for male) chat rooms, and found myself beginning to talk sexually with other guys. So much for turning my life around, eh? The more I tried to suppress the feelings I had, the more they pushed themselves up. I came up with an online “character” for myself. According to my online profile, I was 16, Latino, ripped with muscles and a huge penis. I found naked pictures that looked like my description online and posted them to my profiles. I talked with hundreds and hundreds of guys, mostly older, and always I found an excuse not to meet them.
Over time, I got braver and braver about revealing things about myself online. I made more accurate descriptions of myself, and posted my real age. I took down the fake pictures, but didn’t replace them with any real ones of myself. I began wandering into the local gay chat rooms. As a tender fifteen-year-old, I got a lot of attention from the older guys. They would hit me up with things like, “oooh, jailbait” or, “do your parents know you’re in here” followed by flirting, followed by cybersex, followed by invitations to meet. Rarely did anyone under the age of eighteen contact me. Most of these guys were in their late twenties to early thirties.
Of course, the last thing I wanted to have happen was to meet someone and have the word get out that I was gay. One afternoon, my parents and I had a fight. I have absolutely no recollection what the fight was about, but I do remember being really angry with them, and I wanted to act out. The only way I knew how to do it was to enter my secret online world. That day, a thirty-five-year-old guy named Chase began to talk with me in the Utah M4M chat room. Chase was in town on business from Canada and was staying at a motel off I-15 in Midvale. We chatted for awhile and he eventually asked to meet me. This was it. I was going for it. I told him to meet me at a nearby mall. I convinced my sister to drop me off at the mall to meet some “friends from school” and hang out. She dropped me off, and I hurried to the other side of the mall where I told Chase to pick me up. After standing outside ZCMI for about ten minutes, Chase pulled up. I was terrified.
Chase didn’t look anything like his description. He looked to be in his mid-forties, was probably close to fifty pounds overweight and was smoking a cigarette. I didn’t know what to do. Like a total idiot, I got in the car with him. The thing I remember most about Chase is he had an Aussie accent. I was too nervous to ask him many questions, but as he drove toward his motel, he started rubbing my leg. I vividly recall the smell of his aftershave or cologne. I probably won’t forget that smell until the day I die.
He tried to make small talk with me the entire way, but I was too scared and shy to talk back. We reached the motel and I followed him to his room. Within seconds, he grabbed me and began kissing me. Sad as this is, this is the first time I had ever kissed anyone. I was pretty grossed out. He started taking his clothes off and taking my clothes off and before I knew what the hell was happening, I was performing oral sex on him.
Keep in mind; this is the very first time I had done anything like this with anyone. I was really disgusted. Here I was, not even sixteen years old, in a motel room with a complete stranger who was probably three times my age, doing things that made me sick to my stomach. He was really overweight and this was the very first time I had ever seen an uncircumcised penis. It horrified me (though that horror has since left the building). A lot of what happened that night I have blocked out, but I do remember being down there doing what I was doing and him farting right in the middle of it. I remember gagging and trying not to throw up and all the while trying to make sure he knew I WASN’T gagging and choking back vomit.
After being there about a half hour, he finished. I didn’t. I asked him to take me back to the mall so my sister could pick me up. We didn’t speak on the drive back. I got out of his car and he drove off. That was the last time I saw or spoke to him.
Words cannot describe how awful I felt. I ran back inside the mall, went straight to the bathroom into a stall and began to cry. What had I done? I was unclean. I had a huge, heavy stone sitting in the pit of my stomach and there was nothing I could do about it. I stayed in the bathroom for probably close to a half hour, then dried my eyes and went to a payphone to call my sister to come get me.
I was sitting on a bench outside the mall when my sister pulled up. I got in the car and immediately she could tell something was wrong. I told her I had just gotten in an argument with one of my friends and that I was okay. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I tossed and turned and tried to scrub my brain; praying silently that I could erase what had happened, and most of all that God would forgive me. I knew I had done something gravely serious, and knew it would come with equally serious consequences.
For the next two weeks, I fastidiously stayed away from the computer and did my best not to think about what I had done. I spent every evening in my room reading the scriptures and praying that Heavenly Father would make it all better and forgive me. After nearly a month, I felt pretty much back to normal, and continued on with my life, but for probably the next year, I could still smell Chase’s acrid cologne in my nostrils.
Time moved on, as it does, and I became increasingly aware that I probably wasn’t going to change. I had prayed. I had cried. I had done everything I knew how to do to make this “affliction” go away, to absolutely no effect. I continued chatting online, but instead of seeking out random sex partners, I went in search of someone to date. I figured if I focused my brain elsewhere, I wouldn’t be tempted to have sex. Plus, after what I had done, the thought of actually repeating the same mistake kept me in line for awhile. At that point, I had no idea sex could be anything other than smelly, disgusting and wrong. I still had a sex drive, sure. I was an adolescent boy in the height of puberty, after all. But after the horrific Chase experience, I was too scared to try again.
Things on the home front weren’t improving much either. In fact, things were getting drastically worse. By this time, my mom was nearly completely bedridden. Like before, years ago, any light she had in her eyes had gone almost dark. I did everything I knew how to do to help her, but being only a teenage boy my resources were limited. Not to mention the set of problems I was creating for myself without anyone knowing.
Carrying around a secret like that is sheer torture. The weight and taste of it gets so bad, there are times you’re sure you won’t be able to continue walking. But whom could I talk to? Who could I tell? My parents were certainly out of the question. The bishop? Hell, no. I began to feel trapped. I started having a whole slew of suicidal thoughts. Evidently, there was no way out of this except to die. I was tired of fighting to keep my family together, trying to help my mom, worrying about my dad, attempting to keep my brother shielded from the hell of what was going on in our house, all the while grappling with what I thought was an affliction. God had obviously abandoned me. My prayers had gone unanswered. All my cries for help fell on deaf ears.
I never attempted suicide, but there came a point when it was all I ever thought about. My mind became obsessed with thoughts of death. I had my funeral all planned out, right down to what music would be played. The only solace I found was knowing that once I got to the ‘other side’, whatever that was, all these problems I had would cease to exist.
As I said earlier, the specific times and dates get a little muddy, but I was in mid-adolescence when my dad had his first heart attack. He was in his mid-forties at the time. His family had a big history of heart disease; his mother passed away of a heart attack in 1984. I remember the ambulance coming to the house and taking my dad away. It was then that I understood how fiercely I avoid conflict. When the ambulance came, I was hiding up in my room, doing my best to convince myself I was completely aloof. And if I’m brutally honest with myself, I think I was a little desensitized by that time. So many shitty things had happened, this one felt like the proverbial drop in the bucket. In fact, it was eerily funny in some way. It was like, “REALLY? HOW MUCH MORE???”.
Even at her lowest, my mom was fantastic in a crisis. Shades of her old self really came shining through. At a time when it seemed she should have been falling apart, she completely came together and stepped up to the plate. She remained calm with the paramedics, with everyone. She went to the hospital with my dad and arranged for my siblings and me to stay with friends for the night.
Thankfully, the heart attack was minor, and there was little damage. It was painfully clear, however, that my dad needed to reduce the stress in his life. But how? His doctor ended up putting him on a fairly high dose of the antidepressant Zoloft. Unlike with my mom, the drug seemed to do wonders for him. He was much calmer, took things more in stride, and my parents seemed to fight less and less.
A year went by, and disaster struck again. My dad had another heart attack. This time, however, my mom was in no way, shape or form equipped to handle it. She completely shut down. She was taken to the hospital alongside my dad. They admitted both of them to the hospital; my dad to the cardiac ICU, and my mom to the psychiatric unit for observation.
My world was falling apart around my ears, or should I say falling even further apart than it already had. My parents were both in the hospital, I had no idea whether they would live or die. By this time, I had pretty much given up on God. Where the fuck had he been? What had all of us done to deserve having this much shit rain down on our heads?
My dad had dodged a bullet yet again, but this time the treatment was more aggressive. They went in and inserted stents into arteries in his heart to keep the flow of blood going and to help get rid of the blockages. This seemed to help for awhile, and my dad’s health improved.
My mom’s health, however, continued deteriorating. She continued seeing the psychiatrist and his wife, who was a licensed clinical psychologist. It seemed everything that could possibly be done was being done, and yet, nothing was working.
Later that same year, my dad had his third heart attack. This time, he was taken via helicopter to the cardiac trauma unit at St. Mark’s hospital. While en route to the hospital, he was given a shot nicknamed the Artery Blaster, which allowed just enough blood to get through the artery to keep him alive. This was the only thing that kept him from dying. The cardiologist delivered the news the next day that my dad would need to undergo a triple bypass surgery. My dad was still only in his mid-forties. What the hell was going on? They scheduled the surgery for the following day. My mom stayed by his side the entire time, and once again was back in survival mode and seemed to be doing quite well.
As we all know, most things aren’t usually what they seem to be. The REAL beginning of the end was just around the corner.
My dad had been in the hospital for two weeks recuperating from the very invasive bypass surgery. The surgery had been successful, but it left my dad completely unable to care for himself. He required round the clock care. My mom was at the hospital with him day and night, providing the emotional support he needed. My sister, brother and I spent quite a bit of time at the hospital as well, both to support my dad, but to support my mom as well. During the weeks he was in the hospital, he was healing faster than expected and seemed to be doing quite well.
Out of nowhere, extended family started swooping in. My dad’s younger sister, Linda, flew in from Texas. My mom’s younger brother Joe flew in from Seattle. There may have been others, but I can’t immediately recall. I believe at this point I was about seventeen.
By that time, my faith in the LDS church was all but nonexistent. I only went to church when I was forced to go, and even then, I usually only stayed for sacrament meeting. On the weekends, I was going out to clubs and staying out far too late. My grades weren’t that great, and school almost seemed like an afterthought with everything that was going on at home. Even graduating didn’t seem all that important to me.
While I was glad to see my extended family that came flying in while my dad was healing, I was beginning to question their motives. Everyone seemed really tense and something odd was floating around in the air. It was almost palpable. I chalked it up to everyone being concerned about my dad. If only that had been the case.
One afternoon, my aunt Linda and uncle Joe asked that I sit down and talk to them. I went into the living room and there they sat along with the bishop of our ward. Before I could even ask what the hell was going on, they launched in and explained that they were planning an intervention on my mom. They had decided that my mom was a drug addict and that her continued use of her prescribed drugs and her behavior were going to end up killing my dad. They were planning to completely blindside my mom. My dad was scheduled to be home from the hospital the next day and that was when they were planning the intervention. They explained in no uncertain terms that I was not to interfere with the intervention, and wasn’t to breathe a word about it to my mom. It was very “you’re either with us or you’re against us, and you sure as shit better be with us or else.” It was explained that my little brother and me were not initially going to be part of this intervention, but if my mom didn’t agree to go to rehab, we would be brought in, because we could be the key to making this a successful endeavor because my brother and me were closest to my mom. Out of all of what was about to transpire, I think this is what has scarred me the most. They were exploiting the close relationship I shared with my mom, and worse, they were going to do the same thing to my little brother.
And where, you might ask, was my older sister while all this was going on? Well, she had conveniently moved out of the house at this point and was living with friends in an apartment. I resented her for a very long time for leaving my brother and me alone to deal with all this, but I know now it was the only way she felt she could survive. As far as my sister is concerned, I have been able to forgive her for her part in what happened. She had helped coordinate this entire intervention. My mom’s older sister Karen, younger brother Joe, both of them recovering alcoholics and AA poster children, along with Bishop Chapman had been the masterminds behind everything that was happening. With all the time that has passed, I realize she was mainly just another pawn in the game
Mandi and my parents had a very rocky relationship after my mom began to get sick. Mandi was a party girl. She was drinking, experimenting with drugs, and having sex. Looking back, I’m sure this was her way of acting out and trying to deal with what was happening. When she was still living at home, she was gone most of the time, at her boyfriend’s house, her friends’ houses, basically anywhere she could be other than home. She loved my mom, I knew that, but she pretty much didn’t want anything to do with her. Mandi blamed her for tearing apart our family and causing all my dad’s health problems, and was pretty vocal about that.
And, while we’re at it, you might be asking, what did my dad think of all this? Later I learned that he agreed to it, because he was too weak to fight. This was quite literally an ambush and given his weak state, he was in a very similar position I was in. This was going to happen and there wasn’t a goddamn thing he could do to stop it.
I was in shock. I couldn’t even begin to process all this information as it was flying at me. The only thing I could think of to say was “What?! You’re doing this the day my dad comes home from the hospital after having MAJOR SURGERY? ARE YOU NUTS? My mom isn’t a drug addict!” But they weren’t listening. The really compassionate response I received when I asked this question was, “Your dad’s arteries are clear from the surgery. He’s just fine.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was going to happen no matter what I did. And really, what could I do? I was one person up against all these people who were on a Mission- determined to do what they were going to do, and God save the people who tried to get in their way. They were armed with the weapons of God.
I told them flat out that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the intervention, and not to ask, but they made it clear that I probably wouldn’t have much of a choice. The phrase they kept using was “do you want your dad to die? Because that’s what’s going to happen if you don’t cooperate. In fact, it’s quite possible you’ll lose both your parents!” They also let me know that if my mom didn’t cooperate and go to rehab, social services would be called and it was very possible my brother and me would be taken in by the state and placed in foster care. I know now that my dad never would have let that happen, but at the time, the threats were very real, and utterly terrifying.
I was told to go to my friend Josh’s house the next afternoon and stay there until I was called. I spent the next day with Josh, as instructed. I told him everything that was about to go down. He was as dumbfounded as I was. He loved my mom almost as much as I did. But like me, he felt helpless. He gave me as much support as he could, and I will never be able to repay him for that. I never would have made it through without him.
It was becoming late in the evening and I still had not received a call. I was on tenterhooks waiting to hear what was happening. Around 9pm, the phone rang. I was surprised to hear my mom’s voice on the other end of the line. She was absolutely livid. Her anger was almost seeping through the phone. She told me to get home right then. The tone in her voice made me really uneasy. When I got home, she began to grill me about how much I knew about the intervention. I told her honestly that I knew about it, but had outright refused to participate in it. She told me she wasn’t going to rehab, and there was nothing they could do to make her go. She was hurt, confused, angry, but eerily calm about the whole thing. We sat and talked for hours, and then she asked me a question that caught me completely off guard. She said, “If I had to leave, would you come with me?” I asked her what she meant by that, and she said she might have to pack up and leave and start a new life somewhere else, and she wanted to know whether I would come with her. I had no idea how to respond. A million thoughts were swirling around in my head. I thought about the gravity of what she was asking me. I thought about never seeing my friends again. I thought about never seeing my dad again. It scared me, but at the same time, I have to admit, I was intrigued by the idea. I also knew I loved my mom and wanted to do anything I could to support her. Somewhere deep down, though, I knew the escape would never happen. She didn’t have the heart to leave behind everything she had always held dear. The idea was born from fear and anger. She was feeling cornered, and wanted to do anything she could to escape.
We talked until the wee hours of the morning, and eventually she fell asleep and I went to bed. I slept fitfully. I knew the battle was only beginning, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to get through it. I did something that night that I hadn’t done in a long time. I prayed.
The next morning, I woke up convinced for a moment that it had all been a terrible nightmare. But as is often the case, that moment of relief is dashed when reality sets in and you remember what’s actually going on in your life.
My mom was sequestered in her room. She had locked the door and wasn’t allowing anyone in, and wasn’t speaking to anyone who tried to talk to her. I couldn’t really blame her. I think at that point I was just as angry as she was.
No sooner had I gotten showered and dressed, I was informed that our whole family, excluding my mom, were going over to the church to meet with Bishop Chapman in his office. My uncle Joe was coming along with us. I told them again that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with any of this, but again, I was told if I wanted my parents to live, I would go along with it.
We sat in the bishop’s office at the church for hours. Scriptures were read, blessings were given, and tears were shed. The bishop called on God to give my uncle Joe the right words to say to convince my mom that going to rehab was necessary. This nightmare was never going to end. At this point, I was too tired to fight them. I didn’t have anything left inside me to give. I felt a lot like I believe my dad felt; just too emotionally and physically drained to argue. I sat quietly, listening to what was being said, numb and barely hearing a word.
Another intervention was being planned. The bishop in all his infinite wisdom was convinced that this time it would work because he had two secret weapons: my brother and me. He knew my mom would listen to us, and if we said the right words, she would agree to go to treatment. We were told what we should say: if she didn’t go, we would be taken away from my mom and not allowed to see her. We were told to tell her explicitly that she was destroying our family and killing my dad. If she loved us, she would agree to go.
I would be lying if I said I remembered much about the first intervention I took part in. I can’t even tell you where it took place. One thing I remember is feeling very angry that I was being coerced to participate in something that was destroying my family. My heart was breaking and there was nowhere I could turn for solace. The bishop was right: the words were spoken, words I didn’t believe. Lies and sentences I knew were breaking my mom’s already fragile spirit. Someday I hope I will be able to forgive myself for speaking those hateful words. I felt like a puppet, being manipulated and controlled by Joe and Bishop Chapman. Eventually, my mom agreed to go to a 28-day inpatient treatment facility just south of Salt Lake City. Everyone was thrilled. Everyone but me. I looked into my mom’s eyes and I could literally see her heart breaking. I had never seen that kind of pain in her face, even through all the horrific panic attacks and deep depression I never saw her that broken. Broken, but resigned to what was happening to her. She, too, was too exhausted to fight anymore.
The next day, she was checked into the treatment facility. It was done rather unceremoniously, as was the case with much of her previous medical treatment. The only sense of relief I felt was knowing that this part of the ordeal was over. I was so drained, and spent the next few days walking around in a stupor. I was emotionally numb, but even through the numbness, I was still able to feel the pain.
The next few days were eerily quiet. The atmosphere was very subdued, but an odd electricity had also impregnated the air in our house. At the time, I thought I was just being paranoid, given all the weird shit that had come down. I learned then never to give in to a false sense of security. No matter how bad things are, I was given a hard lesson that things can, and usually do get a hell of a lot worse.
Over the years my mom was sick, she became really lonely. A lot of the depression stemmed from that, I think. People she thought were her friends had abandoned her. She couldn’t get her brothers and sisters to return her phone calls. My sister was difficult to reach. My dad was at the end of his ropes and just didn’t know what to do for her anymore; not for a lack of wanting or trying, he just didn’t know how else to be there for her.
To pass a lot of the time, my mom discovered QVC, one of the many home shopping channels on cable TV. She watched it constantly, day and night. She told me once that just hearing the presenters talk made her feel less lonely. To this very day, thinking of that just breaks my heart. Naturally though, the watching turned to buying. She began collecting porcelain dolls. They arrived on our doorstep by the dozens. Eventually we had hundreds of these dolls all over the house; some were never even taken out of the boxes. She said that knowing they were going to arrive gave her something to look forward to; a little ray of sunshine in her bleak world.
I understand now how unhealthy the obsession with the dolls was, but I also understand the reason behind it. She wanted so badly to give her life purpose and meaning, and this was one way she found that she could do it. The physical and mental limitations that had taken over her body prevented her from doing much of anything else.
I remember frequently having long conversations with my mom. She was so sad because the state she was in was completely opposite of how she’d always been. A woman that was so vibrant, energetic and full of life had been reduced to a lonely woman who rarely left her room, was too scared to be around people and whose life had become completely devoid of happiness. She cried so often because she thought of herself as being a terrible mother. There were so many things she wanted to accomplish and do, but simply couldn’t. All the facets of her former self were slipping away from her more and more with each passing day.
Witnessing her deterioration was one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through. I felt so completely helpless because there was nothing that could be done for her. Medically, everything had been tried, short of committing her to a mental institution, which she sometimes begged for. Over the years, she spent several voluntary stints at the psych unit at the University of Utah hospital. As painful as it was for her, it was the only way she could think of to get away from the house and rest. Above that, she knew being away would ease the stress on our family and more importantly, give my dad a little downtime. These periods often gave her a little more hope, but that never lasted long.
Before long, the house became neglected. My dad was in absolutely no shape to be able to keep up with it by himself, even with our help, the task was so overwhelming, we kind of threw our hands up. The house became cluttered and dirty. All of us knew it was an issue, but we hadn’t the slightest idea how to go about dealing with it.
The house itself became a catalyst in the weeks and months that followed. The time was quickly coming for my mom to return home from treatment. As I said earlier, there was an odd feeling in the air, a feeling that none of this was even close to being over with. Just a few days before my mom’s scheduled release, we were once again summoned to the bishop’s office. There, under the unassuming smile of Jesus in a traditional LDS painting that was hanging on the wall above the bishop’s desk, my nightmare began again. My mom wasn’t coming home from treatment, at least, they were going to make damn sure she didn’t come home anytime soon.
There was to be yet another intervention. Bishop Chapman, Joe and Karen, my aunt, had decided that my mom needed more treatment, but they didn’t want her at a facility in Utah. My aunt Karen worked closely with a rehab facility just outside Spokane, Washington called Sundown. This is where they were going to send my mom. It was a 90-day inpatient program, with only limited contact with the outside world.
Bishop Chapman once again told us that in order to make this work, my brother and I would need to use the close relationship we had with my mom to coerce her into going. This time, he told us we would need to tell her that we didn’t want to have a relationship with her unless she agreed to go.
The whole thing was like some déjà vu horror. I had lived all this just three short weeks before. Only this time, they were pulling out all the stops. If I didn’t do what they asked, not only was my dad going to die, but I would most likely never be allowed to see my mother again. These threats weren’t veiled, either. This was going to happen unless we did and said everything we were told.
Emotional manipulation and extortion should be punishable by law, especially when it involves kids. As helpless and scared as I felt, I can only begin to imagine how my brother was feeling. He was only fourteen at the time all this was going down, and had a far more fragile heart than me. I could see the pain and terror on his face, and I knew he felt just as trapped as I did.
The plan, as it was explained to us, was to go to the treatment center in Salt Lake City with the pretense of a “pre-release family counseling session.” We, the family, would be in a room with my mom, a counselor and Bishop Chapman. Once again, we were going to blindside my mom, just when she was becoming hopeful that she was on her way home.
The next evening, we arrived at the treatment center. I was quite literally sick to my stomach. I had only seen my mom once since she had entered treatment, as they felt that her case, family contact would hinder her treatment. I missed her so much, and the last thing I wanted to do was see her under circumstances such as this one. We waited in the lobby for quite some time, and the bishop continued “coaching” my brother and me on what we were to say. I only half listened. I hated this man so bad. He had taken this whole situation and just run with it. It began in the family, starting with my aunt and uncle, but now, Chapman was running the show. I could feel the sense of smugness and what he thought was power radiating off his skin. I could barely look at him. He had this mock look of concern on his face, but it was very easy to see through it. Just his presence there made me so angry I could barely see clearly.
Eventually, the counselor/interventionist came out and escorted us into a small conference room. She gave us the lowdown on how this would all happen, and reiterated the things we needed to say to her. She also said my mom would most likely become very agitated and upset (duh), and this would probably be one of the most difficult interventions she, the counselor, had ever been a part of. Even she seemed hesitant about doing this. I think she knew my mom really had no business being in treatment at all, let alone being shipped off to another facility a thousand miles away. After about twenty minutes, she informed us that she was going to bring my mom into the room.
My mom came into the room a few short minutes later. She saw us all sitting there and began to cry. She rushed over and hugged us, and looked terrified to let go, for fear we might all slip away. The look on her face crushed the little bit of my heart that was still intact. How could I possibly break her heart again? Every cell in my body was screaming at me to get the hell out of there. I knew there was no way this would end well. I couldn’t stand the prospect of destroying my mom’s spirit any more than it had already been destroyed. Yet again, I was left with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. I didn’t want the moment to come, but I couldn’t wait to get it over with. The longer I stayed in this “happy” moment, the more I knew how much she would be destroyed. My heart felt like it was leaking into my shoes.
The counselor said she wanted to start the meeting with my sister. My sister stood up and began a tirade. She let my mom know why we were there, and demanded that she, my mom, stop being selfish and go to Sundown. My mom’s face blanched and turned to stone. I couldn’t look her in the eye. She immediately said there was no way in hell she was going. My sister started yelling at her. “YOU’RE KILLING MY DAD, YOU SELFISH BITCH! CAN’T YOU SEE YOU’RE RUINING OUR LIVES????”
My mom stood up and stormed toward the door, but it had been locked from the outside. She crumbled to the floor and began to sob. The counselor motioned to me to go talk to her. Everything I had been “coached” to say went right out the window. I knelt on the floor next to her, held her and told her I loved her, and would love her whether she went to Sundown or not, and that I would always be there for her, and no one could ever take that away. I told her though, that all of this shit that was going on would never stop unless she went. That, I knew was true. The only reason I wanted her to go is I knew this would keep happening over and over again, and I couldn’t take doing this again. I looked right in her eyes. She looked like a child sitting there on the floor, eyes filled with fear and confusion. I wished more than anything that I could just magically take her away from this place and make everything alright for her. She looked so trapped and helpless. I think she knew there really wasn’t any way out of this. After what seemed like an eternity, somehow, someway, she agreed to go to Sundown.
I had said this so many times before, but this time I meant it. I couldn’t take anymore. I had absolutely nothing left. I was a shell. Everything I’d ever known had been pulled out from under me. Emotionally, I felt nothing. Physically, I was so tired I could barely stand. Mentally, I felt like my entire personality had fallen out one of my ears, and it would take me a lifetime to find it again.
If it was at all possible, Bishop Chapman looked even more smug and pleased with himself. He had, after all, used his Priesthood Power to degrade an already fragile woman into doing his bidding. To this day, I have no doubt in my mind that his intentions were far from good. This man oozed evil. He smiled the entire way out to the parking lot, embraced us all, got in his car and left.
My mother completed her time at the treatment facility in Utah, then was on a plane to Spokane, Washington to enter treatment at Sundown.
I found myself living under the naïve delusion that during the time my mom was in Washington, our family would be left to recover from the events that had transpired over the past weeks, months and years. You would think by this time, I wouldn’t allow myself to be lulled into this false sense of security about my life. Part of me thinks it was some kind of internal survival instinct; that I had to believe something good was going to come out of all this.
Not much time passed, two or three days maybe, after my mom left for Spokane, and there was still that nagging energy in the air, sort of like those days you have when you wake up and and you’re absolutely positive there’s something wrong. No matter what you do you can never quite put your finger on it? That energy hung around in the air for days. I tried my best to ignore it, but my intuition or whatever you want to call it kicked in and I went to my dad, who had spent most of the last few days in bed, still recuperating from his surgery- something he hadn’t had the opportunity to do much since he was discharged from the hospital. My dad and I spoke for quite awhile about everything that had gone on. After a few minutes, I asked him point blank what was going to happen now. He told me the bishop had met with him, and as a ward service project, a few people were going to come in and help clean our house.
As I mentioned earlier, the house had been neglected for quite some time. It needed to be deep cleaned. To be honest, I was actually looking forward to having a clean house. It had been quite awhile since we’d had that luxury. If I had known what was really about to happen, I would have been down on my knees 24 hours a day with a toothbrush, cleaning the entire house by myself. I would have gladly accepted bruises on my knees and muscles so sore I wouldn’t be able to move, and the cramped hands and the smell of bleach that would never quite come off my skin no matter how many showers I took. I would have even gladly cleaned the house with my tongue.
It began innocently enough. Four or five members of the relief society showed up at our door armed with cleaning products and buckets, and genuinely kind smiles on their faces. These women I truly don’t place any blame on for what happened. The women with the cleaning arsenal were the closest people to friends that my mom had. They began in the kitchen, and really CLEANED. Things were pulled out of the kitchen cupboards and the insides of the cupboards were washed. The kitchen was really getting CLEAN. It started smelling really good, and I actually began to look forward to coming home.
But then, more people started showing up to ‘help’. It had been decided by the bishop that in order to pay the bill for my mom’s rehabilitation, a yard sale needed to be put together with any excess things in the house that would fetch a price. Then the real fun began. The house was swarming with people, everyone from the entire Elders Quorum, and the entire Relief Society. Kids, teenagers, practically the entire ward began to descend on our house.
Rooms began to be torn apart. Every closet was opened and emptied. Every box, every container, every drawer was pillaged. Family heirlooms were taken. Our entire lives, beginning to end, were laid bare for the entire ward to see. These people were quite literally airing our dirty laundry out all over the neighborhood. I remember one day, coming home from being someplace, and found three men from the Elders Quorum in my bedroom, going through my closet and the drawers of my bureau. I. Freaked. Out. I began screaming and yelling at them to get the fuck out of my room. I literally pushed them out the door, then moved my bureau in front of it and barricaded myself in. I had finally reached my boiling point. I felt something in my brain snap and I began tearing apart my bedroom. I had never felt that kind of rage before. I had never let something take over my body that way. All the pain, humiliation, coercion, manipulation all came flooding back, hitting me like a huge wave crashing into a rock on the shore. So this was what it felt like to be crazy.
In reality, I know it’s kind of silly to be so protective of STUFF. Physical things. Possessions. Some of which to this day I have no idea why I would want to keep. But it wasn’t just stuff in my mind at that time. These were things that had been a part of my life. Evidence of the past. Proof that certain events had really taken place.
And it wasn’t just the stuff. It was the feeling of violation, of losing every shred of privacy our family ever had. Of feeling like this was something all these people in our ward had just been waiting on for years, the chance to dig in and get to the fleshy center of our family. To figure out What We Were All About. To uncover every dirty little secret and expose it. Then, they might Finally Understand Us.
The pillaging continued for weeks. More than a few of the ladies from the Relief Society, a majority of the women that had first come in and began to clean, began to be completely disgusted with what was going on. They saw people pocketing things they found that they wanted to keep. They saw people picking and choosing things that would be in the Yard Sale, but deftly hidden away and priced so low so they themselves could get their hands on it.
The aforementioned women stopped coming to the house. They couldn’t take it anymore than I could. Down to the deepest parts of my soul, I know this small group of women genuinely cared for my mom and our entire family, and believed what they were doing was the right thing. For that, I will always hold a special place in my heart for them. Particularly for a woman I’ll call Debbie, who grabbed the jewelry box full of my Tutu’s jewelry, some of which was priceless, and kept it at her house until my mom’s return. She didn’t want The Mob stealing or selling it. Thank you, Debbie.
After the dust settled, the house cleared, the Yard Sale went down, and things began to get quiet again, I began to question myself. There are so many things I wish I had said and done. I wished more than anything that I hadn’t contributed to putting my mom into rehab, when I knew from the bottom of my heart that she didn’t belong there. I said that to several people but I was told I was in denial and did nothing my whole life but be codependent. Was there a real way to fight back? I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know.
For the rest of my life, I will never forget the day my mom came home. I was at school the day her flight came in. When I got home and pulled up in front of the house, the next door neighbor’s door opened, and a woman I barely recognized emerged. I hadn’t seen my mom in over three months. Standing there was my mom, sixty pounds lighter, with glowing hair, and a smile on her face. She saw me, and ran toward me. The image of her running toward me will be burned into my memory long after I’m gone from this life. It is one of the moments in my life that made me realize how much I loved this woman. I hadn’t seen my mom run like that since I was a small child and she would play with me on the grass of our backyard, the sun glinting off her hair, and the million dollar smile she used to have before the sickness took its toll on her body.
She ran toward me and scooped me up in her arms and held me for a very long time. All these years later, I can still feel her arms around me.
Over the next year, I grew a lot, both mentally and emotionally. After all that had happened involving the members of the ward in my neighborhood, I understood that this behavior that I had seen was not divinely inspired. These people were selfish, greedy and only cared about their own agenda. As a result of this, and finally coming to terms with being gay, I realized the Mormon church had absolutely no place in my life. I stopped going to church. I still didn’t have the courage to tell my family about my sexuality.
I was raised pretty liberally. My parents were never the so-called ‘Nazi-Mormons’. Because most of my extended family was very diverse and most of them weren’t active in the Mormon church, my parents taught us to accept people as they were. I have always felt lucky for that. My cousin came out as a lesbian years before I even hit puberty, and there was never any question about the fact that we needed to love her and be a part of her life. My mom was a firm believer in the importance of family, and keeping ties with everyone, no matter what.
Still, even knowing that, there was still so much fear in letting them know the true me. Part of that I think is that despite how much I had learned, I still didn’t know who I was. I was dating, having sex, sowing my oats as it were. But something deep down inside me was screaming to get out.
After my mom came home, her anxiety attacks increased tenfold. Since there was no medication in her system anymore to help regulate her mood, the attacks went unchecked. I think after awhile, everyone, including my aunt and uncle, realized they had made a big mistake sending my mom to rehab. Even while she was in Sundown, the staff and counselors there told her they really had no idea why she was there. She didn’t abuse her medication, she wasn’t a junkie…she was a woman with a disorder as real as cancer, and it wasn’t being treated properly.
More doctors, more treatments. Medicine had advanced somewhat over the years to where more was known about how to treat anxiety disorder. Finally, it appeared that there was a combination of medication that seemed to start working. Things actually began to calm down a bit around the house.
I graduated from high school in June of 1998. I had received a full-tuition scholarship to Southern Utah University for Opera and Vocal Performance. Before my sophomore year in high school, and I was working with my parents to decide which classes to take, my dad literally dared me to take Men’s Choir as one of my arts electives. I had never really thought about singing before. I was a pianist. But, since there wasn’t any piano elective taught at my high school, I decided to throw caution to the wind and try my hand, or my voice, at singing.
I took to singing like the proverbial duck to the proverbial water. I had found another musical escape I could pour my energy and concentration into. Through the years of high school, choir became my life, my sanctuary, something I could use to balance everything else that was going on at home.
I progressed through the more elite choirs in high school and won several vocal competitions. I felt like I had finally found my niche.
In September of 1998, I moved to Cedar City, Utah to attend school. I was on my own for the very first time in my life. What should have been an opportunity for me to spread my wings and figure out more about myself became an opportunity for me to become friends with alcohol. You know that old story about self-medicating. I found that drinking made me forget about the pain of the past ten years. It made me feel confident- something I had never felt before in my life.
I don’t think I was ready for the freedom. I abused it. I didn’t go to class very often. I sat in my room and read a lot of books, none of which had anything to do with my classes. All I wanted to do was rest. I was becoming exhausted for absolutely no reason. God knows I wasn’t exerting myself in any sense of the word.
I was driving home nearly every weekend. I worried about my parents. I missed my own bed. I missed the security of my house. I wanted to spend as much time there as possible. After a few weeks, I noticed I was losing weight, and my health was getting worse.
One weekend, I came home and became violently sick. I had a raging fever, a cough that felt like it had originated in the balls of my feet, and my body was wracked with pain. I was vomiting anything I tried to eat. When I began throwing up blood, my parents rushed me to the emergency room.
I was put on IV liquids, and heavy doses of acetaminophen to bring my fever down. Vials of blood were taken. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. There were a whole slew of tests run, and I came up positive for mono.
I had never been so sick in my entire life. It took me nearly twenty minutes to get from my bedroom to the bathroom and back because I had to stop and rest so often.
So, I had to forego my scholarship and move home. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that sad about it. I think in my heart that’s what I wanted to do all along. I was sick for about two months, but then began to return to normal.
As my health improved, my attitude started worsening. My parents and I fought constantly about everything. I was so on edge and angry all the time. Any little thing would set me off. I was spending my weekends at Club Bricks in downtown Salt Lake City, looking for men. I found a few, had a few one night stands, but I still hadn’t found anything permanent. I had to keep up living this double life and it was killing me.
At the beginning of 2001, I lost my best friend.
My twentieth year was an interesting one. As the fights between my parents and me began escalating, I knew I needed to be on my own again. A good friend of mine from Wyoming was looking to move to Salt Lake, so I suggested she and I get an apartment together. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to move out of my parents’ house.
We found an apartment in Murray, Utah, about ten miles from downtown Salt Lake. Well, instead of changing the pattern of my life, I continued my love affair with alcohol. Every night was a party. And I never had trouble finding sex either. The job I had at the time gave me plenty of people to choose from, and boy did I ever.
I still wanted to find a steady relationship. Eventually, I met Dan through a friend of mine. Dan was everything I was looking for. He was heart-meltingly handsome, funny, had a good job and his own apartment…and he was smitten with me. We began spending nearly every night together. He worked a swing shift, so we generally spent the entire night drinking, watching movies and talking. Things were so easy with Dan. I fell hard and fast for him. He treated me like a king.
Toward the end of 2000, my mom’s health went into a tailspin. Her asthma had gotten so bad, she was on oxygen 24 hours a day. Walking was almost out of the question. She spent most of her time sleeping on the couch in the family room. My dad was faithfully by her side.
On the afternoon of January 20, I received a phone call from my dad. My mom was in the hospital. She had been watching TV with my dad and my little brother and had abruptly stopped breathing. She fell over on her side, but somehow they were able to get her breathing again. They called 911 and they tool my mom to the hospital. Everyone assumed she had accidentally overdosed (there they went with the drugs again). She was having her stomach pumped and was given a charcoal solution to absorb what was in her stomach.
I got in my car and drove to the hospital. When I arrived in the trauma unit, I could see through the window of the room she was in and she was hysterical. She was sobbing and the nurse kept forcing the charcoal solution down her throat.
I went into the room, and sat by her bed. She held my hand and she just kept saying over and over that she didn’t try to commit suicide, she didn’t try to commit suicide, she didn’t try to commit suicide. I believed her.
They wanted to keep her in the hospital, but she insisted on going home. They released her after one day.
The next two days, she was in and out of consciousness. She would wake up periodically, look at the clock and just say, “it’s been 5:00 three times today already…. what’s going on?” She had stopped making much sense.
Periodically, I would get together with a good friend of mine and just spend the evening singing. It was a good way to blow off steam, and usually we sang at my parents’ house. My mom loved hearing us sing. Sometimes she would come into the room we were singing in, and sit with her eyes closed and just listen. Her favorite song we would sing was “The Rose” by Bette Midler. The lyrics really touched her. I remember each time we would sing it tears would roll down her cheeks.
It had been a very long time since Christine and I had gotten together to sing. Out of the blue after months, she called me and asked if I wanted to get together and sing for old time’s sake. She asked if we could go to my parents’ house. I agreed to meet her there that evening.
We sang for a long time that night. My mom was sleeping on the other side of the wall, but I knew she heard everything. The last song we sang that night was “The Rose”. I had made plans to meet Dan at his apartment after he was off work. As the time rolled around where I needed to leave, I went in and kissed my mom goodnight. She held me for a moment and told me she loved me with all her heart.
I arrived at Dan’s house around midnight. It was the same routine. We drank whiskey and Coke, watched movies, made love and went to sleep.
Early the next morning, there was a fierce banging at Dan’s front door. This wasn’t unusual. Dan frequently had friends drop by unannounced. I got up, put on Dan’s bathrobe and went to answer the door.
Standing there was one of my brother’s best friends. A million thoughts flooded my head. First, no one close to my family knew about Dan, let alone knew where he lived. Second, I thought, oh shit, they’ve found out I’m gay. It’s amazing in hindsight how quickly the brain can move. About a hundred of these similar thoughts passed through in the space of about a second and a half.
Brandon looked grim and serious. He said, “Michael, you need to come home, there’s been a family emergency. Your mom’s dead.”
And there they were. Out in the open. The words I had feared hearing since I was a child. My darkest nightmare was coming true. I began to crumble. As I headed toward the ground, my roommate and good friend Shawntelle rushed in the door. She pushed Brandon aside and crossed the room just in time to catch me.
So many times I have tried to articulate how I felt at that moment. Being that I’m now nearly twenty thousand words into this epistle, I figure it won’t hurt to try one more time.
Time seemed to move in slow motion, but at the same time rushed past me in triple time. Ice and fire swirled around in my brain simultaneously. My veins filled with concrete, and my muscles had turned to liquid. The world stopped moving completely, and I was stuck in that one moment interminably.
The details get a bit fuzzy, but I remember going back into Dan’s bedroom and telling him what had happened. I vaguely remember getting dressed and getting in the car with Shawntelle.
The only thing I remember about the ride from Dan’s apartment to my parents’ house was the song that was playing. In the tape player was the single of the old eighties song, “Electric Blue.” Since it was the only song on the tape, it kept looping and looping, playing and playing. I haven’t listened to that song since that day.
As we turned into the neighborhood where my parents lived, all I remember thinking was, please, God, please don’t let her body still be there, please, please, please, please. As we pulled up to the house, two police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance were parked on the curb in front of the house. I knew her body was still inside.
I still had been unable to cry. I couldn’t feel much of anything. When I walked in the front door, my family was all sitting in the living room right off the foyer. I saw my dad sitting there. When he saw me, he stood up and I ran into his arms. The moment, I mean the fraction of a second it took for my dad’s arms to envelop me, everything snapped back into focus, and my world was color again. It was like dropping an ice cube into a pan of boiling water. I began to sob. My heart broke down to levels of grief I never thought I could feel. My dad just kept saying in my ear, “it’s over. It’s over.”
I held my family and we cried together. The finality of all this came rushing in with the sun through the windows.
The paramedics were still in the other room examining my mom’s body. Any time there is a death at home; the room is automatically labeled a crime scene until law enforcement clears it. Evidently, by the time I got there, they had already been in there with her for nearly an hour.
My dad was making phone calls to friends and family, letting them know what had happened.
Shawntelle and I went outside to have a cigarette. For some reason I can’t explain, I was terrified to go outside. The sky literally felt heavy. I was afraid to look up for fear of what I might see. I expected it to come raining down on my head like Chicken Little. I remember finally mustering up the courage to look up, and just like a child, I imagined I could see teeny tiny people walking around in the clouds. Silly, but I remember doing that. Shawntelle and I sat on the back porch, smoking and not really talking. I looked up and she had tears streaming down her face. She looked helpless. We didn’t talk the entire time we were outside.
We went back inside, and what I saw made my blood boil. The neighbor, Robyn (who many of you are familiar with from the letter I wrote to her that I posted here a couple times) had rushed down the street to see what all the hubbub was about. That woman, who was one of the worst offenders in the Yard Sale Debacle, the woman who had done nothing but spread acidic gossip about my family all over the ward for years, was standing in the foyer and hugging my little brother. I wish to Christ I had said something. But, being my typical non-confrontational self, all I could do was grit my teeth and bite my tongue. My dad eventually asked her to leave.
The day wore on. More phone calls, more visits. The casseroles and cold cuts started rolling in. The last thing I could do was eat. It was all I could do to keep my empty, acidic stomach from dancing the conga inside my body.
That evening the cavalcade of family began coming in from out of town, beginning with my favorite aunt, my mom’s closest sister, Suzanne. Suzanne had been a rock for our family as long as I could remember. She supported my mom unconditionally through everything that had happened. She was like a second mother to me and my brother and sister.
I went to the airport with my sister and brother to pick her up. She came off the plane and when she saw us, broke into tears. She hugged us all and just said, “we’ll get through this together.” And I knew she meant it.
Since there was still so much financial turmoil swirling around, my dad was feeling pretty scared about how he was going to pay for my mom’s funeral services. Because both he and my mom had had so many significant medical problems in the last few years, my dad had a lot of trouble finding an insurance company that would give them coverage they could afford. The housing market was still in a pretty big slump, so there still wasn’t much money coming in. To supplement his income, and to be able to have insurance, my dad took a part-time job working customer service for Discover Card. He worked an early morning shift, then came home and did drafting out of the home office. At the time my mom died, he had only been working for Discover Card about three weeks. He hadn’t even had a chance to elect his medical benefits.
Now, whether or not you believe in God, or fate, the Universe, or some other divine presence that has the ability to intervene in your life, one of the many phone calls that came in the day my mom died made me very aware that the news that was delivered on that call could in no way be coincidence. We were all sitting in the living room. People were coming and going, offering their condolences. The phone was ringing off the hook most of the day. About two hours after I arrived at the house, the phone rang again. My dad answered it and within about 30 seconds, his eyes widened and he burst into tears. We were all watching him intently, and when he hung up the phone, he was just looking around in bewilderment.
The phone call my dad received was from the Human Resources coordinator at Discover Card. Despite the fact that he hadn’t yet elected company benefits, Discover Card was issuing a retro life insurance policy for my mom in the amount of $50,000. On top of that, they were cutting my dad a check for $5000 in addition to the life insurance policy to pay for funeral expenses. Keep in mind this was the morning of my mom’s death. Only a handful of hours had gone by since the paramedics had arrived. We were all in shock over the phone call. To this day, I refuse to believe that this insurance money was a coincidence. As I said, my dad had taken this job only three weeks earlier.
As difficult as the day had already been, I could see a lot of relief flood over my dad’s face…over all of us, really. Having to deal with trying to figure out where thousands of dollars for funeral expenses were going to come from, on top of everything else, was a burden I don’t think my dad was really equipped to handle. I’m sure it would have worked itself out somehow, but the fact that no one had to worry about the cost of all this was something of a miracle.
As the day wore on, more information transpired about the circumstances of that morning. My dad had left for work around five that morning. He came downstairs and kissed my mom goodbye. She held him for longer than she normally did, and whispered to him how much she loved him. When it was time for my brother, who was 17 years old at the time, to get up for school, he came downstairs to say good morning to my mom and noticed she wasn’t moving or breathing. He rushed over to her and shook her, trying to wake her up, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, he attempted to perform CPR. He rushed to the phone and called 911. He kept asking the 911 operator what was going on or what he should do, but all she would say is that the police and the paramedics were on their way. Frustrated, he ran across the street to get help from the woman who through all of the hell of the past few years had unconditionally been there for my mom. If there is a heaven, Marcia will be seated at the highest echelon. She was Mormon, yes, but had a mouth like a truck driver, and was the feistiest little spitfire of a woman I’ve ever met, and at the same time had the biggest heart. She would come over and help my mom when my mom’s anxiety attacks were at their peak. She helped my mom get out of the house and go for short walks. She had helped contain the damage of Operation Deployment of Relief Society and Elders Quorum to Come Ransack Our House.
Marcia came rushing over with my little brother and waited with him while the paramedics arrived. She contacted my dad at work, and his boss drove him home.
As long as I live, I will hold my brother in the highest respect for being able to do the things he did to try and revive my mom; for having the presence of mind to call the paramedics, and go get Marcia. A seventeen-year-old kid all alone in the house discovers his mother dead…I’m not sure what my reaction would have been. I have grappled with guilt over this for so long. I have always felt like if I had just stayed living at home and been there to help my little brother so he wouldn’t have had to go through that alone. But, it’s something I can’t change.
The next day, we went to the funeral home to make arrangements. It was the strangest experience. I hadn’t set foot in a funeral home since I was four years old. The mortuary we chose to take care of the arrangements is a small, independent funeral home just down the street from where we were living. The owner of the home was very kind, very professional, and didn’t attempt to upsell. He presented choices for us, helped us write the obituary, but for the most part left us to decide the specifics. We selected a beautiful mahogany casket with a light blue interior, my mom’s favorite color. A wood etching of the Salt Lake Temple was to be placed inside the casket lid.
The next task on the list was by far the most bizarre and disconcerting one of the entire day. We had to go to the shop at the Jordan River Temple and select the clothing my mom would be buried in. This was also something that was completely foreign to me. I had no idea it was standard for worthy members of the LDS church to be buried in special temple burial clothing.
My sister, my aunt Suzanne, my little brother and myself had been sent on this errand. The woman working behind the counter showed us where the burial clothing was. My sister selected the gown my mom would wear. A new apron and veil were selected. My sister had requested that she be the one to dress my mom for burial, and handle the makeup and hair as well, as she is a licensed cosmetologist. This is something I have always held my sister in the highest regard for. If it came down to it, I really don’t think I could have gathered the strength to dress my mom. In fact, I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to attend the viewing, because the thought of seeing my mom in a casket was more than my poor little brain could deal with. The funeral director had cautioned my sister, my cousin and my aunt, who were going to assist in the dressing, that because there had been an autopsy performed, that there would be a large Y-incision down her torso. That is also something I couldn’t have dealt with seeing. My mom had always said that when she had dressed her own mother for burial, it was one of the most intimate and rewarding experiences she’d ever had. I’m strong, but not that strong.
As more preparations were made, the idea was broached that I would sing a song at the service. Considering I hadn’t been able to stop the flow of tears yet so far, I opted instead to play the piano. Trying to choke out a song through sobs and tears is nearly impossible. Even speaking in that condition is a challenge. But the piano was home to me. There was nothing to fear from the piano. It had always been my sanctuary, my rock…the place I could go to when I wanted to block the rest of the world out. My good friend Christine graciously accepted the task of singing my mom’s favorite song, “The Rose” at the funeral.
As I said, I was going to be damned before I set foot at the viewing. I knew if I saw my mother dead, lying in the beautiful casket, the whole thing would become far too real, and I wasn’t ready for that at all. All I wanted to do was stay home and drink myself into a coma.
The evening of the viewing arrived, and my thoughts were troubled. I thought I had resolved not to go to the viewing, but something in the back of my head was nagging me. I hated viewings. I had been to two viewings in the past two years, and both of them had mentally screwed me. In fact, seeing anyone dead was something I had a hard time stomaching. I remember when the paramedics were wheeling my mom’s body out of the family room on a gurney; they asked us if we wanted to see her. I didn’t. As I was rolling all this back and forth in my head, I couldn’t figure out whether it would be worse seeing my mom in a body bag, or a casket. Both seemed equally horrific. But, in the end, as everyone was getting ready to leave the house, I took a deep breath, walked out the door with them, and got into the car with my family. I tried not to think too much about what I was doing. Instead, I managed to put my brain on autopilot.
We arrived at the funeral home, and Mikey’s Cranial Autopilot blew a fuse and failed. The gravity of what was happening to me hit me like a grand piano falling from the top of a twelve-story building. I didn’t even have time to try and move my heart out of the way. This was it. I was about to see my best friend, my kindred spirit, a woman who had given me more unconditional love than anyone else in the world, lying in a casket, stiff and cold like a mannequin. Despite the vise around my heart and stomach, I managed to pick up both my feet and walk inside.
The funeral director met us at the door, shook our hands, and led us to the room where we would be receiving friends and family. I’ll never forget walking into the doorway of that room, eyes down. Like a person about to jump out of a plane and skydive for the first time, I raised my eyes and looked across the room. There she was, my beautiful mother. I could only make out the silhouette of her face, but just seeing it made all my fears, pain, uncertainty and denial dissolve. Resolutely, I moved toward the casket, and looked inside.
What I saw absolutely shocked me. Lying there was a woman who looked more peaceful and at rest than I had seen her in ten years. All the worry, pain, fear, discomfort were gone from her face. For this, the old cliché was true: she really did look like she was sleeping.
They had only had to use a very light coating of foundation, a touch of lip gloss, and the slightest hint of blush on her. There was no waxy pancake makeup, or flaky lipstick. Her hair was loose and swirled around her face in loose, flowing curls. Whether I imagined this or not I still don’t know, but her face seemed to be giving off a faint iridescent glow. She looked like an angel.
I felt more at peace in that moment than I had in days. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. My heart was filled with so much love and sheer, beautiful calm, I didn’t think I could contain it. The closest thing I can compare it to is that feeling you have just before you’re about to drift off into the most perfect night of sleep you’ve ever had in your life. It was almost euphoric.
For a moment I found myself feeling very protective of her. I didn’t want to move away from the casket, or let anyone else see her. I wanted to stay there by her side all night long and just gaze down into her peaceful face, which, in death had maintained her signature half smile/smirk- the playful, mischievous curling up of the sides of her mouth that I had seen so many times. It was almost a look of triumph. Part of me thinks that’s exactly what it was.
For so long, she had longed for a moment’s peace, for just a short season of calm amid the raging storm of her own brain, and a body that had rejected her. In this state, she finally was able to find that moment, and goddamned if she wasn’t going to show the world she was gloating about it just a bit.
I’ve always found it odd when people take pictures of their dead relatives in caskets. That kind of thing has always seemed so morbid to me, but right then, I understood why people want to do it. I wish I had. What I have though, is a very bright picture of that face burned into my brain.
Before long, there was an epically long line forming that snaked across the room, outside the door and down the hall. There were people in that line I hadn’t seen in years; people I knew really loved and cared about my mom. It wasn’t all good, though. People came through that line who had put my family through hell for years, the Relief Society Harpies who had ripped apart our home, and in the process, broken my mom’s already fragile heart. People who had reveled in uncovering the Deep Dark Secrets of our family, and laid waste everything that should be kept only within a family.
It was like twanging an exposed nerve. The calm I felt was sliced through with anger. How DARE these people show their faces here? How could they possibly have the balls to come here and put on the show of fake sympathy and grief, when I had seen how cold they really were inside? I wanted to leap into the line and shake these people, and demand they go back to the holes they crawled out of. But I didn’t. I kept my composure and continued concentrating on my mom’s face.
At some point, when there was a small lull in the crowd, I walked back up to the casket. I wanted to touch her hand. Gingerly, I reached out and placed my hand on hers. I immediately recoiled as if bitten by a poisonous snake. The serenity I felt popped like a balloon. I was horrified and literally jumped back. Her hands were ice cold, and completely stiff. I knew she would be cold, but I had no idea exactly how cold. Her hands felt like the frozen turkey that’s left in the freezer until a day before Thanksgiving when you take it out to thaw.
The hot stone in the pit of my stomach came back. I walked across the room and sat down, my eyes once again downcast. I regretted so badly that I had touched her. It had completely shattered the cloud I had been enveloped in all evening. I sat on one of the floral patterned sofas for what seemed like hours. Eventually, the feeling of disgust and revolt subsided.
I’m so glad I fought against my brain and actually went to that viewing. Had I not gone, I know I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. There would have always been that sense of not knowing. Whatever your ideas about spirits, and life after death and all that, I know as sure as I know anything else that the calm and almost euphoric feeling I experienced all night was my mother’s soul, spirit, essence, energy or whatever you want to call it, enveloping me like a down blanket on the coldest evening of the year. I have to have faith in that.
After the viewing was done, and the quiet of the night settled in, my poor, exhausted brain and heart that felt like they had been through a war, collapsed in on themselves again. I sat with my dad’s arms wrapped around me and sobbed. I cried like I had never cried before in my life. My heart felt like it was imploding. There was quite literally physical pain happening in my chest. As cheesy as it may seem, I knew this is what it felt like to have your heart break.
My dad stayed up with me until well after three in the morning, but since we had to be at the church for the funeral at 9 a.m., he eventually retired for the evening. I was left with nothing but silence. There wasn’t a sound coming from anywhere. The world felt like it had come to a halt on its axis, as if it had taken a deep breath and gone underwater.
I went in the living room and lay on the couch. There was no way the temporary relief of sleep was going to give me respite. My eyes were burning and raw, and the Hot Stone was bouncing around in my stomach ceaselessly. I closed my eyes and tried to invoke the peace I had felt earlier. After an hour of intermittent crying, and ceaseless pain, I felt the soft tendrils of The Calm creeping into me again. My eyes were closed, and the peace drifted over me. As I finally drifted toward sleep, I felt fingers lightly stroking my forehead. I opened my eyes for just a moment, and for the briefest fraction of a second, was able to faintly see my mom sitting there beside me.
The morning came too soon. The fallout from the night before had done a lot of damage. My body, my brain, my soul, even my hair seemed to be sore and defeated. With the fuse still blown on Mikey’s Magic Autopilot, I once again had to dig deep and find what little momentum I had left, and get dressed for my mom’s funeral. I hadn’t really looked at myself in the mirror in days. It was the Help The Sky Is Falling fear I had experienced going outside for a cigarette the morning my mom died. I think I was more afraid of seeing my own face than I was seeing my mom in her casket. As I was attempting to tie the standard Elizabethan knot in my necktie, I looked, REALLY looked at myself in the mirror. The reflection I saw was that of a stranger, someone who had been severely beaten within an inch of his life and left for dead. But when all was said and done, wasn’t that precisely what had happened to me? My eyes were nearly swollen shut, and the skin around them raw and burning. What little I could actually see of my eyes themselves had taken on the glassy, far-away look of the glass eyes in one of my mom’s many porcelain dolls. I could barely recognize myself. I had aged ten years. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking and the more I tried to finish the knot on my necktie, the more it refused to cooperate with me. Evidently, it didn’t find the idea of the funeral appealing, either. As I had done when I was a young kid, I asked my dad to tie my tie for me, which he gladly did. That simple moment between father and son was filled with a lot of significance for me. My dad and I had always had a pretty good relationship, but the mere act of him standing behind me, helping me with my tie brought us so much closer.
As is customary with most Mormon funerals, there was to be an additional one hour viewing just prior to the funeral itself, which was held in the Relief Society room of the LDS church down the street from the house. As we were waiting for the funeral director to arrive with the body, I sat in one of the back pews in the chapel and listened to my dear friend Christine beautifully rehearse my mom’s favorite song from the pulpit. The song itself had caused a bit of a tiff with the bishop, who incidentally was NOT the bishop that had masterminded Project Rehab. Bishop Smith was a very kind man, who had lived next door to us for over a decade, and whose family had always been very close with ours. I hold no ill will against him whatsoever. Having said that, he didn’t think a secular song like “The Rose” would be appropriate to sing in the chapel. The song, which my dad had always found to be really cheesy and overly sappy, took on a large significance for him. When put in perspective, the song’s lyrics captured everything my mom had been longing for so many years. My dad could not be moved. That song would be sung during the service come hell or high water. The bishop reluctantly relented.
Sitting in the back of the empty chapel listening to Christine singing that song, tears rolling down my face is another very significant time for me during all this, and I honestly can’t say why. Even through the viewing and all the preparation for the funeral, the reality didn’t truly sink in until that moment. My mom was gone, and nothing I could do would bring her back. I became a little angry, because it felt like all the years she had fought, all the fear, the worry, the panic, the declining health, had culminated in this; in vain. As more tears rolled down my face, and the burning in and around my eyes became almost unbearable, the funeral director arrived, which gave me an excuse to leave the chapel and the haunting song.
The second viewing was a bit of a different experience. I don’t know whether it was the light, or the change of venue, or the lack of sleep, or what, but the feeling was much more subdued. I was in a place of numbness, but at the same time the numbness was ringed in searing pain. The feeling that my heart was being squeezed returned with a vengeance. Once again, the line was forming at the door of the Relief Society room, and before long began to stretch down the hall.
Most of the people that came to the second viewing had not been present during the first. My piano teacher came, which meant a lot to me. Friends of mine from high school were there- people I hadn’t seen since I graduated. The fact that these people came to support me brought me a lot of solace.
Because my mom had such a quirky, fun personality when she wasn’t in the midst of the crippling anxiety and depression, several fun things were put into her casket: Mint M&M’s (her favorite), a Big Hunk candy bar (another huge favorite), little trinkets she had loved, and a small wooden box with a print of Michelangelo’s Cherubs framed under glass on the lid. In this box were placed some of the most meaningful keepsakes from my brother, my sister and me.
As the second viewing was winding down, it was coming time to clear the room of everyone but family, and say a final prayer and close the casket for the last time. I had been dreading this moment all morning. The finality, the Last Time, the End had come. My dad’s brother, Brent, had been asked to say the prayer. I stood close to my aunt Suzanne, my brother and my sister. We held each other during the prayer and cried.
When the prayer was over, the funeral director asked if we would like the veil placed over her, or in a halo position framing her face. We opted for the latter. After the veil was positioned, my dad leaned over and kissed my mom on the cheek and whispered something to her. I’ve never known and never asked what he said.
I had once again reached a crossroads. Kiss my mom for the last time, or say a silent goodbye from a distance. I swallowed my fear and kissed my mom gently on the forehead, leaving two tears resting on her face. After tributes were paid a final time, one of the funeral directors swiftly, and without lingering, closed the casket for the last time. As cliché as this is, it was like pulling off a Band-Aid. Before I knew it, it was over.
We as a family followed the casket into the chapel. The room was packed to the hilt with people. The doors to the adjacent gymnasium had been opened up to accommodate all the people who had come. I didn’t really take note of who came; I was concentrating so hard on making my feet move, I couldn’t really think of anything else.
The casket was positioned just below the pulpit in front of the first row of pews. An absolutely beautiful casket flower arrangement had been placed on top. As a package, it was quite something to behold. When the family was seated, the organist concluded the prelude music, and the funeral began.
The particulars of the funeral itself and what was said are pretty fuzzy. What I do remember is so many kind words were spoken about my mother by everyone who spoke. Happy memories and all the wonderful things my mother had done in her life were opened to everyone who was there, including all the horrible people who had neglected and mistreated my mom. My aunt Suzanne finished her eulogy and it was my turn to play the piano.
I walked up on the dais and sat down at the black baby grand piano. I remember my right leg, the one I use to control the sustain pedal on the piano wouldn’t quit shaking. My hands quickly followed suit. I didn’t have any excess energy to will my hands to stop their tremor, so I took a deep breath, put my hands on the keys, closed my eyes and began to play. The song didn’t come easily. For the first few bars, my fingers stumbled over the keys clumsily, but not long after I began playing, The Calm returned. The magical place I go to when I play the piano took over, and my fingers and hands felt nimble and relaxed. It was a sensation that someone else had taken over my body and was playing the song for me. I finished without incident.
I believe there were one or two more talks given, and then Christine made her way up to the pulpit to sing. Of all the moments in the funeral, this was the one I feared the most. I had kept my composure throughout the funeral thus far, but I knew as soon as the song started, I would crumble again. And I did. My burning eyes, that I didn’t think had any more tears behind them, began to well up, and choked sobs came from deep inside my body. At one point during the song, I looked up at Christine, our eyes locked and we exchanged words without speaking. The song was flawless, and even more beautiful than I could have imagined.
The funeral concluded, and it was time to head to the cemetery.
The plot was purchased in the city cemetery. I remember my mom always saying she would rather be tossed in the Great Salt Lake than to be buried there, but this was the most affordable plot, and my dad insisted he wanted her close, which I couldn’t fault him for. I had chosen the location of the plot. It was directly beneath a beautiful little tree that had just been planted. I knew when it grew up, it would be there to protect and watch over her.
Oddly enough, through everything I had been able to muster strength to do during this whole ordeal, I couldn’t get enough emotional fiber to be a pallbearer. I didn’t want any part of it. I didn’t want to carry my mom’s casket, not only from an emotional standpoint, but I literally didn’t think I had enough physical strength left. I remember my dad telling me that all I could do was all I could do and he would never think less of me for opting out of being a pallbearer.
We arrived at the cemetery for the dedication of the grave and the interment. It was bitterly cold outside, and there was still snow on the ground. Astroturf had been laid out over the snow that allowed a small path from the paved road inside the cemetery to the actual grave itself. The casket was put on wooden slats over the open grave.
Tradition has always been very important in my family. One tradition that has always been constant is my aunt Suzanne bringing intricate balloon bouquets that are let into the sky at every significant family event: weddings, graduations, and funerals. As I mentioned earlier in this story, my mom was a huge fan of The Beatles, so after the dedication of the grave, we were going to play her favorite Beatles song, “Yesterday” while releasing the balloons into the sky.
After the beautiful balloon release, it was over. The casket was lowered into the ground, and there was almost a sense of relief that the whole ordeal was over with. It was time to Move On With Life, whatever that meant.
People often ask me how I was able to get through losing my mom, that they didn’t think they’d be able to handle it when the time came for their moms to go. The fact is, I learned how strong I was. I learned how resilient the human brain is. It is able to ‘hibernate’ when necessary to shield the body from the shock of something that devastating. It’s a testament to the ability for human beings to be able to survive the many horrific events we all experience throughout our lives.
To close this chapter, I think it’s appropriate to share the final verse of “The Rose” as these are the words that still ring so true when I think of my mom and her life:
“When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long; and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong; just remember, in the winter far beneath the bitter snows; lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes The Rose.”
A few weeks passed and we finally received the results of the autopsy. The family was pretty sure it had ultimately been the asthma that had killed my mom, so we were absolutely shocked when we found out what had really happened. My mother passed away from a congenital heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
This condition is very tricky and elusive. With the hundreds, even thousands of tests my mom had on every part of her body over the years, the condition was never identified. We’ve since spent hours and days researching the condition, and discovered that as of the time my mom died, it’s a condition that won’t show up unless they are specifically looking for it. The only way to identify it is with an echocardiogram, and careful measures of the heart.
Beginning in adolescence, the walls of the heart begin to thicken, which, over time causes the atrial and ventricular chambers shrink, so the heart has to work that much harder to pump enough blood to the body. Since the heart is a muscle, the extra work the heart has to do causes it to enlarge further, and make the chambers smaller. It builds on itself until the heart can’t handle the strain and eventually stops.
When my dad spoke to the medical examiner, he said the condition explains a lot about what my mom was going through. The lack of oxygen to the body exacerbated her asthma, which in turn probably was a significant contributing factor to the anxiety attacks. He also put our minds at ease a bit letting us know there is no cure for the condition. It can sometimes be slowed with medication, but unless it’s caught early, the medicines don’t really do much. The only REAL cure would have been a heart transplant, and even then, cardiac transplant patients generally are only given ten good years with the new heart. Knowing all that just explained SO MUCH. Finally there was an answer to the hundreds of questions and the years of not knowing.
When the shock and initial grief had subsided after we buried my mom, I tried hard to get back to a normal routine. Before long, I decided it was time to try dating again. Dan broke up with me not long after my mom passed away, which stung a little, but was overshadowed by my mom’s death.
I began my new dating search online again. It was always a very passive way to meet someone, unlike the bars and things where people typically are only looking for a quick bang. I started chatting a lot on gay.com. Initially it was just weeding through the muck. Several bad dates, a couple hookups, but nothing I would ever consider becoming permanent.
But before long, Bill came along. In the looks department, he was very much my type. He was tall (almost 6’4”), with dark hair, piercing blue eyes, facial hair, body piercings…everything that turned my crank so to speak. He popped up in a private message and we began talking. We had a connection right away. We talked about music, movies, art, food, bad date horror stories, everything. Before long, he asked me out on a date. I was walking on clouds.
He told me to meet him at a local coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City, and to dress nicely. When I walked in the door of the coffee shop, I spotted him immediately, and my heart skipped a beat. He was even more beautiful than his photos had been.
We hugged, and had a short conversation. He told me he was taking me to a sushi restaurant and then to the symphony. My already pounding heart began to beat even harder. No man had ever taken me on such a romantic date. I was so giddy and nervous I could barely speak. There was no way this guy would ever be interested in me.
We were running a bit late, so we decided to eat after the symphony. I sat through the symphony practically unable to take my eyes off him. Occasionally he would catch me looking and shoot me a huge grin.
After the symphony had ended, he took me to a sushi restaurant called Tokyo Boys. We sat and talked over dinner for a long time, and it was like having a conversation with an old friend. All the awkwardness and nerves had passed, and everything felt easy. Toward the end of dinner, he asked me if it would be okay if we went to a local dance club because he had a friend performing in a drag show. I’ve never been much into the club scene, but I wanted to spend more time with him so I agreed to go.
We arrived at the club and he bought me a drink. We went to where the performance was going to be and he stood behind me and put his arms around me and started kissing my neck. Before long, the drag show was the last thing on either of our minds.
The night drew to an end, and he drove me back to my car. Lots more making out, but nothing more than that. He asked me if I wanted to come home with him, but I politely declined. Anytime I had ever had sex on the first date, nothing ever came of the relationship. I wanted to hold off and see where this was going first.
And that was the beginning. We began going out two to three times a week and had such a great time every single date. Eventually, he asked me to be his boyfriend. I didn’t hesitate before saying yes.
The next few months were pretty great. He introduced me to scuba diving which was a big passion of his. He paid for me to get both my Open Water and Advanced Open Water certifications, and before long, we were going diving frequently.
After about six months, I began to get a sense of who this guy really was. The man I had fallen in love with (or at least THOUGHT I had at the time) was beginning to show a darker side. He invited me to a house party one night. Both of us got insanely drunk, which by that time was pretty much all we ever did on weekends. Before I knew what was happening, he pulled me into the bathroom and he started snorting lines of cocaine. I was HORRIFIED. What was worse, he was pressuring me to try it.
My entire life, I vowed I would never get involved in drugs. Too many of my family members had lost years of their lives doing every drug imaginable. My sister was in the middle of a divorce because her husband was hooked on cocaine. The last thing I wanted to do was become another link in that chain.
The more he pressured me, the more I resisted. Finally, he gave up the fight and went back to the party.
I believe that night was the beginning of the end.
Because I’m going to lay it all out and you’ll fully realize my sheer idiocy in the months to come, I guess I should try and explain my state of mind and heart during that period. I was still grasping at emotional straws, doing whatever I could to try and fill the void in my heart from losing my mom. I was in a really insecure place, and was willing to do whatever I could to keep from losing someone else. This was the case with Bill. I had no self esteem. I was constantly depressed. All I could do was hold on as tightly as I could. I was constantly terrified Bill was going to leave. I became completely subservient to him.
After the night of the party, the emotional abuse began. He had learned exactly where my weak spots were, and constantly did everything he could to exploit them. At first, it was very subtle. He would throw little emotional jabs here and there, but as time went on it began to escalate.
He had easily figured out, because I was completely transparent about it, that no matter what he did, I wasn’t going to walk away. Every month almost like clockwork, he would call me and give me the dreaded line “we need to talk.” These talks would always involve him telling me why he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me anymore, and kept telling me I was bad in bed, that I was too emotional, that I was too passive, that I was too unmotivated, that I was too, too, too. I could never measure up to all his expectations but damn, I sure tried. As I said, he knew damn well he could dangle our relationship in front of me to see how far he could push me because my feet were firmly planted.
He began spending hundreds of dollars every weekend on cocaine. Our weekends consisted of going to the bars on Friday and Saturday nights, getting completely wasted to the point of throwing up and passing out, then spending the rest of the time recovering from hangovers. I enabled him in his cocaine use because the only time he ever showed me true affection anymore is when he was high. There were times I even gave him money to buy the stuff just so he would be affectionate with me. I was literally buying love from him. I look back at that now and cringe at how wholly pathetic that was. I needed love and affection so badly, I was willing to go to any lengths to get it. The only upside to all this was despite how badly he tried to get me to get high with him, I never would. I thank God all the time that I had the fortitude to resist it.
Before long, Bill stopped snorting cocaine, and began using a needle to inject it into his veins. There were times I actually SHOT HIM UP (enter Mr. Pathetic again). I was in so deep in this relationship I couldn’t see, and frankly didn’t care, what it was doing to me. I think to some degree I was reveling in it. I had become such an emotional masochist, I think I actually became addicted to it.
About a year into our relationship, I was pushed to my lowest, most desperate, most pathetic ledge. One Friday night, we went to a party at a bar for a friend of his that had just graduated from college. As was our usual routine, we both drank until we could barely stand. As the bar was getting ready to close, everyone decided they wanted to go to the Belgian Waffle restaurant, which is a 24 hour joint that’s like Denny’s only it’s not a chain so the food is better.
What transpired in the next few hours has left me with a scar so deep; I don’t think it’ll ever fully go away. If you’re easily offended, you may want to skip the rest of this chapter. This is something I have shared with only a few of my closest friends, but since I have resolved to lay it all out in these pages, I will continue to do so here. I’m hoping in the end sharing it with all of you will be a catharsis.
If you’re familiar with “The Belge” as people refer to it, you’ll know that it’s right across the street from Hillcrest High School. When we arrived at the restaurant, instead of going inside, Bill grabbed my hand and pulled me across the street and down into the bleachers on the football field. He decided he wanted to have sex. I wasn’t having it. I just wanted to go to sleep.
I’ll try not to be too graphic about the details, but in a nutshell, I wasn’t given much of a choice in what happened next. Before I knew it, he was on top of me, holding me down. I struggled and told him to stop, but he kept going. He was pressing down on me with all of his weight and because I was so drunk, the pressure on my stomach caused me to vomit. He still wouldn’t let me up. I was literally choking on my own sick but all I could do was try to turn my head and spit all of it out. I learned that night what true fear and humiliation was. I was subjected to things I still can’t believe; it feels like some horrible nightmare that happened to someone else. He was still on top of me, but turned around so he was facing my feet and had his legs pinning my arms down and was nearly sitting on my neck. Before I knew what was going on, he had voided the contents of his bowels all over my face.
I retched and vomited again, trying so hard to keep from choking. I was screaming and crying and trying to push him off me. I eventually was able to move him long enough for me to get up. I was sobbing so hard I could barely catch my breath. I turned and vomited again.
He looked at me with blatant disgust and said “Jesus Christ, you’re fucking pathetic.”
I had no idea what to do. The only thing my body would let me do is run. But I didn’t run down the street from him, I ended up on the track at the bottom of the bleachers and just ran as fast as I could down the track because it was the only way my addled brain could cope.
After I physically couldn’t run anymore, I collapsed and lay my head on the ground. I heard him come up behind me and like a kick to the gut, he said, “How can I possibly love you when you don’t even love yourself? Look at you, you’re disgusting. Get up.”
He pulled me to my feet and dragged me up the bleachers to the sidewalk and we began walking. I was so tired and so horrified, I felt nothing. I kept my eyes down on the sidewalk. I knew if I looked at him, it was quite possible I would lose control and literally kill him. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, but for some reason I couldn’t get my brain to cooperate with my fingers. I couldn’t figure out how to push the buttons and make a call. He noticed me fumbling with my phone and said, “Who the hell do you think you’re calling?” I put the phone back in my pocket and we kept walking.
From the high school back to his apartment was about a five mile walk. We walked the entire stretch without speaking. I wanted to get out of there so bad but was too drunk to drive, and couldn’t think of anyone to call to come pick me up. It was nearly 4 a.m.
We arrived at his apartment and went inside. He pulled me into the bathroom and forced me into the shower. The hot water was a gift from God. It washed away the filth that was covering my face, in my hair, down my arms. I choked back sobs as best I could- I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of my grief and humiliation. I had to do something to break the tension or my head was going to explode, so I made a pathetic attempt at a joke. I said, “Haha, this is the first time I’ve ever been shitfaced!” He looked at me with that same look of disgust and said, “That little comment almost got you dumped and thrown out of my house.”
I felt completely trapped. My legs felt like cement and my heart was in the balls of my feet. I wanted to leave but there was nowhere to go. I felt so shamed, so humiliated, so hurt and so angry. We crawled into bed and I moved as close to the edge of the bed, facing away from him. To my complete horror and disgust, he tried to initiate sex again. I grabbed his hand and pushed it off me. At some point, sleep came.
The horror of that night sent me into a tailspin. I was getting drunk almost every night. I had so much fear coursing through my body all the time, I quite literally thought if I left him, he would kill me. If he was capable of raping me, he was certainly capable of hurting me or someone else I loved.
So I stayed with him. For SIX MORE MONTHS. The night in question was never mentioned. No discussion, no apology. It was as if it had never happened. But I relived it. Every. Single. Day.
The terrible irony is, in the end, he was the one who ended the relationship. He then had the gall to try and cultivate a friendship with me afterward. And because I was in such a state of emotional masochism, I tried that friendship. Before long, all we ever talked about were his sexual escapades and drug use. He bragged about having unprotected sex with someone he knew had HIV, and had also shared needles with the guy.
About a year after we broke up, he told me he had tested positive for the virus. I wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand, I had compassion for him, but largely I felt Karma had paid him a little visit, and I have to admit I felt pretty smug.
Shortly after he told me he was positive, he began trying to control my life again. At that point, I had mustered enough self love to walk away for good. I haven’t spoken to him since. About four years ago, I drafted a long email to him and was very explicit in telling him exactly what I thought of him. I confronted him about not only the rape, but also how he had treated me the entire time we were together. I told him when that disease had finally killed him, I would show up to his funeral only to spit on his casket. I don’t wish him the best. I don’t want to be the bigger person. Where he is concerned, I’m quite happy not taking the high road. I prefer, instead, to take the lowest road possible and wish nothing but the same misery and hell he forced on me.
There’s now been enough distance and time from that horrible night, I’ve started to heal. It’s a very slow, very painful process. As humiliating as it is, it has helped me a lot to talk about it, which is why I needed to share it here.
Not long after Bill and I split, I met my savior. My Jeremy. The man who was and is the light in the horrible darkness I’ve experienced in my life. The man who has loved me unconditionally for almost nine years, despite the many mistakes I have made in our relationship. The man who has given so much of himself to help me heal and recover from the hell I had gone through. He is my soul mate, my best friend, my husband. The man I want to spend the rest of my life with. His heart is so good and so honest, just being with him takes my breath away.
When I met Jeremy, I was looking for anything but a new relationship. With everything I had been through with Bill, I couldn’t imagine myself ever giving my heart to someone ever again. I had resolutely made up my mind to remain single for the rest of my life, and I was completely comfortable with that. I had come to understand that the only person I could really trust was myself, and even that was surviving only on shaky ground.
One of the only good things to come out of my relationship with Bill was that I had somehow dug deep and found the courage to tell my family about my sexuality. My only regret is not doing it while my mom was still alive, but from discussions I’ve had with my dad and my aunt Suzanne since, she knew. My mom had such a scary intuition. It bordered on psychic at times.
It’s actually kind of funny how I came out to my dad. I was living with him and my brother at the time in a rental house just a few miles from where I grew up. Since I had moved back home and my mom had passed away, I had developed such a great relationship with my dad. He and I would spend evenings together with take-out food and movies. We sat down all the time and just had fantastic conversations. I really enjoyed spending time with my dad, and we started connecting in a way we never had when I was a kid.
One night, I was downstairs in my bedroom listening to music. Out of nowhere, I made up my mind to go tell my dad right then. I have no idea where the impulse came from. I hadn’t even been thinking about it that night.
I marched upstairs and found my dad in the family room watching TV. I just said, “Dad, I need to talk to you if you have some time.” He didn’t even look overly concerned about what I wanted to talk to him about. I asked if we could go up to his bedroom and talk, just in case my brother came home.
We went upstairs to his bedroom. He sat on the bed, I in the rocking chair across the room. He asked me what was up, and I took a deep breath and just blurted it out. “Dad, I’m gay.”
He didn’t look surprised at all. Without missing a beat he said, “I know.”
I was pretty taken aback. I mean, really, if you’ve ever met me, you know it’s not all that difficult to tell that I’m gay. I’m not queeny or effeminate, but it’s not a challenge to figure it out. At the time, though, I had absolutely no idea he knew. Before I could even ask him how he felt about it, he looked at me, his eyes filled with love.
“Michael (he’s the only one that still calls me that), you’re my son. I love you no matter what. Nothing you could do or say would ever change that. I can’t pretend I understand how you’re feeling, but the most important thing is that you’re happy. I’ve known you were gay for quite a long time, but I didn’t think it was my place to confront you with it. I knew you’d tell me when you were ready. You know my belief and faith in the church, and I still haven’t found a way to reconcile this with that, but someday I know I will.”
My eyes welled up with tears. If I had had any inkling this is what his reaction would be, I would have told him so many years sooner. I looked into his eyes and knew he meant every word. We talked for over an hour, and as the conversation was winding down, he smiled at me and said, “How about we go grab some KFC and rent a movie.”
Both of us started laughing and he came over and gave me a big hug. There was no awkwardness at all, just an immense sense of relief and unconditional love.
My dad asked me if it was okay if he talked to my brother and sister about what I had told him. I told him I had no problem with that.
Since then, both my brother and sister who are very active in the LDS church have been two of my biggest cheerleaders. My sister told me she had known I was gay since I was a teenager. She had made up her mind if I hadn’t come out by the time the month was out, she was going to pull me aside and force me out of the closet, which is just like her. She’s a fabulous spitfire, just like my mom.
One of the things that makes my eyes well up with tears even now is my dad, my sister and my brother all told their respective spouses on their first dates that I was gay, and if they (the spouses) had any issue with it, the relationship wouldn’t work.
I never take for granted how lucky I am that I have a family that supports me. I realize I am an exception to the rule. So many GLBT people, especially those who come from Christian backgrounds are shunned by their families, some even kicked out of their homes. I never fail to keep this in the forefront of my mind every single day.
So as I said, when I met Jeremy, I was only looking for friends- some nice gay people to form solid friendships with; people with good energy and who weren’t emotionally crippled like Bill was. I put an ad up on a gay singles website stating very clearly that at that point, I wasn’t looking for anything romantic, just some people to hang out with, which was the God-honest truth. On that website was a feature similar to the one on Facebook where you can “poke” someone, but on this site they called it a “wink”. One day, I received a “wink” from one of the most adorable men I’d ever seen. It was Jeremy. I promptly sent a “wink” back, and before long, we were exchanging emails. If any two people had more in common than Jeremy and me, I haven’t met them. From the most obscure, random movies, to favorite foods, to music…we even smoked the same cigarettes (not a good thing, I know, but it’s more to illustrate how much we had/have in common).
I had to firmly plant my feet in the ground, though, and not give in to the pitter-patter of my heart. The truth is, I hadn’t even met this guy, and I’d be damned if I was going to break down the wall I had built around my poor little heart. It took a lot of conscious effort to keep that wall up where Jeremy was concerned, because with each email I found myself liking him more and more, which scared the living crap out of me.
After exchanging emails and instant messages for a few weeks, we decided to meet. We had talked on the phone a few times and just the sound of his voice made me weak.
To illustrate just how gay I really am, Jeremy asked me to meet him on a certain night, however I had already made plans for that night to watch the season finale of the first season of American Idol with some friends from work. To this day, Jeremy has jokingly never let me live that down.
Jeremy and I exchanged text messages throughout the entire show, and when it was over (yay! Kelly Clarkson won!), he suggested we meet for a drink. I happily accepted. I had to drive a friend of mine to her apartment downtown, but since Jeremy and I both lived in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, I agreed to pick him up in the parking lot of a grocery store near his house, and he’d come along while I took my friend home, then we’d go grab a beer. I felt the familiar butterflies that like to do jumping jacks inside my stomach whenever the mood strikes them. But I figured what the hell? I’m not going to meet him for a romantic liaison, or even a date, we’re just going to hang out and get to know each other.
As I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store, I immediately spotted his little black coupe parked near the doors of the store. I pulled up next to him and I’ll never forget the absolutely gorgeous smile he threw me when he saw me. We both got out of our cars and my heart was about to pound out of my chest. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my entire life. I thought to myself, thank God we’re only meeting as friends; no one that good looking would ever be interested in me!
Shawntelle, the friend I was driving home, got in the back seat and Jeremy into the passenger seat. From the get-go, we began talking…it really was like we had known each other all our lives. There were no awkward silences, no fishing for things to say. The words flowed so easily. Now, one thing that made this a lot easier, and if you’ve ever met Jeremy in person you know this, he is a self-professed chatterbox. In the nine years I have known Jeremy, I don’t think he’s ever been at a loss for words, which I find absolutely adorable.
By the time we arrived at Shawntelle’s apartment, she had fallen asleep in the back seat. I woke her up, said goodbye and Jeremy and I drove off, looking for someplace relatively quiet where we could get a beer and have a few smokes. Neither of us were into the bar scene, so we decided to go to a place downtown called Anchors Away, which was a very laid-back restaurant/bar/pub thingie, where they allowed smoking. Alas, when we pulled up, it had been closed. We had been driving around for over an hour looking for somewhere to go, and not finding anywhere. Honestly, I barely noticed we had been driving that long. I was too engaged in the conversation we were having. Eventually, we ended up in the parking lot of Target. There was a small strip of grass and trees and we decided to get out of the car and have a cigarette. We sat down on the grass and kept talking. Before I knew what had happened, we looked at the clock and it was nearly 5 a.m. We had been talking for over eight hours. Hours had flown like minutes, and I knew then and there that this was the man I was going to go the long haul with. I knew it more surely than I’ve ever known anything else in my life. Jeremy was going to be my rock and my redemption, and the more I learned about the challenges he had been through in his life, the more I respected, admired and adored him.
Jeremy never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes I look at him in complete and utter awe just knowing the challenges he has had to overcome. I’m going to detail a little bit of Jeremy’s past. I’m going to keep it brief, as Jeremy’s story would merit its own book.
Jeremy grew up in the Salt Lake valley, but was not born into an LDS family. Jeremy’s mom was raised Catholic, and his dad was raised Mormon, but shortly after his parents got married, they both decided that neither Catholicism nor Mormonism fit into their belief structure. They began researching other denominations and decided the Unitarian Church afforded them the option to be more liberal in their spiritual beliefs. So consequently, Jeremy was raised in an environment that fostered a sense of being able to find oneself, and if/when it came time to decide about God, Jeremy’s parents left it up to their children to make up their own minds.
Jeremy’s first encounter with Mormonism wasn’t a great one. He had a very good friend as a kid who he used to spend most of his time with. One day, he went over to this friend’s house and was introduced to the friend’s mother. The mother asked Jeremy what ward he was in, and when Jeremy replied that he wasn’t Mormon, the woman quite literally chased him out of her house and across the lawn, and told him her son was no longer allowed to associate with him.
From that incident, Jeremy always assumed that all Mormons behaved this way, so early on, he completely rejected the idea of becoming Mormon.
As he grew up, Jeremy was always a bit of a misfit. He had a difficult time at school because he was labeled the “fat kid.” As expected, this cut into his self-esteem very deeply.
Through his adolescence, Jeremy began experimenting with drugs. When he was sixteen, he got a job working at Burger King. He was still really self-conscious about his weight at that time, and trying to juggle high school and work at the same time was making him really depressed. Then his manager at Burger King introduced him to meth. She told him if he snorted it, he’d have enough energy to work, study and go to school.
It wasn’t long before he became addicted to methamphetamine. He loved the high, but most of all loved the weight loss. It gave him confidence and energy. Before long, snorting it turned to using a needle to inject it into his veins. He began learning how to cook it as well.
Jeremy was a meth junkie for over seven years. His parents kicked him out of the house, and he lived on the streets for over a year, and even turned to prostitution to feed his addiction. His parents said the only support they would give him is if he decided to enter a rehab facility.
It is said that most addicts have to hit their “rock bottom” in order to climb out of the hell of addiction. This is exactly what happened to Jeremy. He was involved in a drug deal that went bad. He was jumped in an alley and beaten nearly to death by four guys. With nowhere else to turn, he stole a bicycle and pedaled his way to his best friend Laura’s house. She answered the door to find Jeremy beaten, bruised and bleeding, with tears running down his cheeks and the only thing he could say was that he needed to get out of his life or he would die.
He and Laura began calling rehab facilities both inside and outside Utah. Another friend of Jeremy’s had gotten sober from her meth addiction at a facility in Salt Lake called Odyssey House. Because he had seen what the place had been able to do for her, he decided to seek help there.
Jeremy was admitted inpatient to Odyssey House and spent thirteen months there trying to kick the habit. After thirteen months, he left Odyssey House clean and sober. His parents helped him get an apartment and a car, and he began his new life.
Not long after he left rehab, he enrolled at the University of Phoenix and began his bachelor’s degree in Human Services. He had decided he wanted to become a drug and alcohol counselor so he could help other people the way Odyssey House had helped him. Jeremy worked so hard at school and four years later graduated cum laude from the University of Phoenix.
He has since returned to school and received his master’s degree in business. Although his career path changed, he has been able to raise over ten thousand dollars in grants for Odyssey house, and was recently considered to join the Odyssey house board of directors. He has now been clean and sober for going on twelve years.
The way Jeremy took charge and reclaimed his own life has always been such an inspiration to me. As I said, there are times when I look at him in awe. He is my hero. I often wonder what I did to deserve him. If angels exist on earth, he is one of them.
Obviously, my initial resistance to entering another relationship faded very quickly the more Jeremy and I spent time together. Before I knew what was happening, I realized I was irrevocably in love with him. It scared the crap out of me, but at the same time, my intuition told me this was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with.
After a year of being together, we decided it was time to think about moving in together. At the time, we were both living with roommates in different houses. When Jeremy’s mom heard that he and I were looking for a place to rent, she called Jeremy and told him if we wanted to buy a house, she would pay the down payment and closing costs for us. I will never forget Jeremy’s face. His eyes welled up with tears.
After quite a long time immersing ourselves in the real estate market, we eventually found a beautiful little house in the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake City.
The first year of living together was an incredibly challenging one. Our relationship faced a lot of problems neither one of us anticipated. About six months after we bought the house, I began to experience crippling panic attacks very similar to the ones my mom used to get. I began acting out in ways I never thought I was capable of.
During that first year, there were several times when we weren’t sure our relationship was going to survive. We had become strangers living in the same house together. But neither of us was willing to give up. We spent time in couples therapy, and eventually got to a new place; a more honest place. Our relationship blossomed like it never had before.
I heard a very wise saying once, and damned if I can remember where, but it has always stuck with me: “True love means falling in love with the same person over and over again in and endless cycle through life.” This has proved to be so accurate in my relationship with Jeremy. I have fallen in love with him countless times. As with any relationships, we have our challenges and obstacles, but we have always stood strong and weathered the storm together.
Not surprisingly, since my release from the abusive relationship I had with Bill, I have had a lot of issues with trust, intimacy and communication. It has taken years of therapy and backbreaking work to get to a point where I could really trust that Jeremy wouldn’t hurt me, despite absolutely no evidence that he ever would. To this day, I struggle with feelings of low self-esteem, uncertainty about my worth as a human being, and loving myself. So much of this stemmed from my relationship with Bill. I had the most difficult time opening my heart to Jeremy and fully letting him in. But things continue to move forward, and we walk hand in hand through the challenges together.
Christmas morning, 2004, Jeremy got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Obviously, in the state of Utah, we couldn’t be legally married, but he knew how badly I wanted to have a wedding, and both of us knew we wanted to spend our lives together.
It wasn’t until after the proposal that I found out that Jeremy had gone to my dad and actually asked for my hand in marriage. My dad was somewhat taken aback, but said there was no one else in the world he, my dad, would want to see me with. He has always looked at Jeremy as his own son.
We were married September 10, 2005 at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. The ceremony was small but absolutely beautiful. My entire family showed up to support me. My dad and his wife were in the front row. My nephew, Isaac, only about a year old at the time was the ring bearer. Since he couldn’t walk yet, my sister pulled him down the aisle in a Red Flyer wagon, with the rings being in a tiny red wagon tied to the back of the Red Flyer. The small wagon had come as an accessory to one of my mom’s dolls, which seemed so appropriate and fitting. It was a tribute to her since she couldn’t be there. This was one event though that I felt her presence there so strongly, and I know without a doubt that she would have loved Jeremy just as much as she ever loved me.
I couldn’t have asked for more from our wedding. We’ve been told by so many people that it was the most beautiful and emotional wedding ceremony they have ever attended. There wasn’t a dry eye in the entire house.
I was so moved and proud that my family attended and participated in the ceremony. I could never have asked for more than they gave. My dad has since admitted that he struggled a lot with the idea that I was getting married to a man. The night before the wedding, he had a meeting with his bishop, and told him the emotional bind he was in; that he couldn’t seem to find a middle ground between his love for me and his religious beliefs. The bishop just smiled at him and said, “Go to the wedding. Just be there for your son and love him unconditionally. Follow what’s in your heart. The most important thing is your love for your son. Let that guide you.” And my dad has always done that. Obviously over the years, my dad and I haven’t seen eye to eye on a lot of things, but despite our disagreements, he has never faltered in his love and support for me and Jeremy. For that, I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for him. The world needs more men like him.
In June of 2008, on the first day it was legal in the state of California before the Prop 8 debacle, Jeremy and I were married at a small Vegas-style wedding chapel in Los Angeles. It was the complete opposite of our wedding in Utah. We were married in shorts and t-shirts, and the staff photographer served as our witness. It was one of the most beautiful and significant days of my entire life.
Shortly after our wedding in California, Proposition 8 was introduced and rabidly supported by the Mormons. This event was to be the beginning of the end of my relationship and affiliation with the LDS church. It was the proverbial straw. It’s what triggered something in my brain that started me on a track that would bring me to a place of peace and freedom I had never experienced before in my life.
It wasn’t until about five years ago that I really began to explore my own spirituality again. Since I stopped going to church, I hadn’t given the matter much thought. But I could feel myself start to ache for something. Not everyone does, but I had this need to figure out what my feelings were about God.
I started reading a lot of books on religion and spirituality. I’ve always had a keen interest in finding out what other religions throughout the world believe, and as an adult I realized I could actually explore these things in earnest without repercussion. I didn’t know then whether I was Christian, Pagan, Agnostic, Buddhist or somewhere among all of them. I felt like Godlylocks and the Three Prayers.
I began to study Wicca. I had always been interested in the concept of witches in the context of the actual pagan religion. Like a lot of other teenagers, I dabbled in it back when I was around fourteen, but of course that was really all it was. As an adult, though, I became voracious. I bought a ton of books and tools that I would need to begin practicing. I realized quickly, however, that I was having a difficult time getting started and understanding all of what was involved. Keeping true with my pattern of many things in my life, I eventually became frustrated and gave up.
I concentrated then on other Christian religions. Christianity felt familiar to me. I was really fascinated with Catholicism; I loved the ritual and pageantry. Obviously, though, the Catholic church is almost more rabidly against homosexuality than the Mormon church is.
Then I found the Episcopal church. I loved that they incorporated all the pageantry of the Catholic church, but were much more open-minded and accepting of alternative lifestyles. I attended a couple of services, but being that there aren’t any Episcopalian churches anywhere near my home, it became difficult to attend.
Ultimately, though, I kind of found my own brand of spirituality. I do consider myself Christian, but I don’t limit myself to a particular box or label. There are so many aspects of different religions that make sense to me. The teachings of Buddhism, Wicca, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. all have parts that make a lot of sense to me. Religion itself isn’t overly important to me; spirituality however is. To me, everyone has to choose their own spiritual path; even if you end up an atheist. It’s not up to anyone else to force their beliefs on another person or group of people, as so many religions do. I’m happy to tell people WHAT I believe, but I would never be so presumptuous to try and force my spiritual belief structure on anyone else.
About two years ago, I began researching things about the Mormon church. I’m actually quite surprised I didn’t begin my search earlier in life. It began as most modern research does, on the internet. I had always been curious about the LDS temple ceremonies, since they were kept such a secret. A quick search on Google yielded thousands of results. One of the top search results I saw was exmormon.org. I began exploring the site and immediately found all the information I was looking for all in one neat, tidy, uncomplicated website that was so easy to navigate. I literally spent days reading through the site; personal exit stories, the archived message board posts, everything I could get my hands on.
After about two weeks of constant reading, I decided to take a stab at the RfM message boards. I lurked for about two days, and then decided to make my first post. I never did formally introduce myself to the board until much later, but I have to admit, I was quite intimidated by a lot of the posts I saw. But then, the more I read and the more I posted, I quickly realized how much in common I had with a lot of the posters on the board. Their experiences paralleled mine in so many aspects. Before long, I began to feel a sense of community I had never once felt by going to church. This was a place I felt accepted and understood.
The RfM board has since become a second home to me. I have made so many new friends and have been given a lifetime of information about the church I thought I had been so educated in, all in just two short years.
For a long time, though, I didn’t tell anyone on the board that I hadn’t officially resigned from the LDS church. Deep down, I was scared to death to actually even type up a resignation letter. I realized before long that I was still completely indoctrinated in the Mormon church in so many ways. I painfully recognized that a lot of the things I thought I had been able to let go of I was still clinging to. It took a lot of soul-searching and pain to really let go of it. I realized for the first time, when it came down to what I REALLY believed in, I had to stand on my own for the first time in my life.
There was a grieving process to it that I hadn’t anticipated. Letting go of a religion you’ve been in most of your entire life is much more painful than some people might think. There are so many years of pain, resentment, anger and frustration that all need to be worked through before someone can fully “recover”. And the truth is, I will probably spend the better part of the rest of my life trying to put the pieces back together. The most important thing though is that I have a solid support system of people who are going through such similar things. I have a place I can come to and rant, rave, laugh, cry, rage, rejoice, learn, commiserate, and revel in the sense of family and community I feel.
Back in September of 2010, I finally mustered up the courage to write my letter of resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I knew full well most of it wouldn’t get read or even acknowledged, but it was like a really productive therapy session, much like writing this memoir has been. It was so freeing to finally get it all out on virtual paper, and see the words instead of just thinking them. But something still held me back from sending it. As silly as it sounds, it seemed like such a hassle to have the letter notarized and sent via certified mail and all the other headaches that came along with it. Luckily, though, just recently the option to resign via email surfaced.
I emailed my letter of resignation on January 17, 2011. I received my initial response from the office of Greg Dodge on January 25, 2011. Because I am my mother’s son and have a really hard time believing in coincidence, I got chills all over my body when I received the letter and it was dated January 24, 2011, the ten year anniversary of my mom’s death. She was set free from her chains that day ten years earlier and it seems so appropriate that I was set free from my own chains on the same day ten years later. When I think about it, the only word that pops into my mind is ‘kismet’: Meant To Be.
I am, as they say, a work in progress. I still struggle with a lot of ghosts of my past, as do all of us. For the first time in my life, however, I can honestly say I am in a really good place. Things seem to be moving on course exactly the way they should be.
It has been really a really harrowing experience taking the time to sit and commit the angels and demons of my past to black and white reality, then sharing them with people I consider family. I have had to lay down the armor I have held so tightly against myself for so many years and really just let go. It’s been scary and painful, but it’s like cleaning out an infected wound. It hurts like hell at the beginning, but now that all the dirt is out, it’s a lot easier for the body to heal itself.
I’m grateful that I have come out of the horrible experiences I’ve had in my past as unscathed as I have. So many times I don’t feel very strong, but when I look back at the horrors I’ve gone through, I realize I most certainly AM a creature of strength, and I really do have a lot to give.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life. Stay tuned!
I’m feeling a bit smug right now.
Why? Well, a person I really admire over on the RfM message boards posted something highly interesting regarding some doctrine in LDS scripture that contradicts literally ALL of their involvement in backing California’s Proposition 8.
Now, anyone who knows anything about the Prop 8 battle is quite aware that the Mormon church and its members donated literally MILLIONS of dollars to make sure that their “definition” of marriage became constitutional law in the state of California, thereby denying gay and lesbian couples their right to marry. In a very subversive way, members were threated with their eternal salvation, citing a covenant all worthy members promise in the temple, if they didn’t donate all the money and time they could afford to ensure the proposition would pass. With the help of highly-paid accountants, they (the Church) were able to whitewash a lot of the money that was donated as something else so they wouldn’t be in danger of losing their 501(c)3 non-profit status for spending all that money backing a political referendum.
So why the sudden onslaught of Smug rising up in me? Well, the evidence speaks for itself. Right now, I would like to quote directly from one of the keystone books of scripture in the Mormon faith, The Doctrine & Covenants. Specifically, D&C Section 134, verses 4 & 9, and it should come pretty clearly:
4: We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others… the civil magistrate should…never control conscience; should…never suppress the freedom of the soul.
9: We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
Please take a few moments with that passage and really let it sink in.
Now, the Doctrine & Covenants was compiled and written back in the 19th century, when Ol’ Joe Smith was first setting up his church and its dogma. The Mormons were quite literally chased out of nearly every area they tried to settle, a lot of times with guns and torches and the whole bit. They didn’t believe the government should give special rights and privileges to one certain religion over another. Fine. I respect that. That’s written in the United States Constitution. But, as the sentences I put in bold typeface very clearly point out, it is LDS doctrine, thus handed down by God Himself, that religion should have absolutely no business meddling in civil government, which is exactly what they did when Prop 8 was put on the ballot in November of 2008.
Now, it would be quite easy for the leadership of the LDS church to rationalize what they did: “Well the church itself didn’t actually donate money, it was the members, of their own free will. All we did was just state that our doctrine about marriage is one man and one woman.”
Right. So, based on the following, Lucy, you have some ‘splaining to do:
SALT LAKE CITY 30 June 2008 The following letter was sent from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Church leaders in California to be read to all congregations on 29 June 2008:
Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families
In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2 008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.
The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.
A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.
We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.
Free will, eh? Just to reiterate: We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman.
That is the sentence that invokes one of the temple covenants: To give “means and time” when called upon to do so. Like I said, it’s subtle, yet powerful, spirtual extortion.
The irony of this whole thing is delicious to me. LDS doctrine specifically says that religion should not interfere with civil politics, but that doctrine is conveniently ignored when it serves the church’s purpose. As previously pointed out in another post, it’s the same kind of thing when Christians love to spout the passages in Leviticus that forbid homosexuality, but the part about stoning whores and the abomination of eating shrimp are no longer relevant.
For a religion that suffered as much persecution for their beliefs at the inception of their religion, the Mormons sure are delighted to turn around and shit on other groups of people that don’t agree with them. They may not be chasing us with guns and knives, forcing us across the country in covered wagons, but to me, what they are doing is almost worse because it’s sneaky and underhanded. If you’re going to hate us, at least have the balls to hate us to our faces instead of glossing over your hatred with sonnets declaring love for the homosexual people, BUT. There’s always the BUT. And it’s always a HUGE BUT. At least the people that persecuted you were forthcoming about it. Trying to secretly use money and political influence to put pressure on voters to amend the constitution to exclude a large group of people because their way of life isn’t compatible with your ideas of what God wants or doesn’t want is bigotry. Ignoring your own “sacred doctrine” when it doesn’t fit into your agenda is hypocrisy. Doing these things in the name of love is hatred. Jesus called. He wants his religion back.
Now drink your juice, Shelby.
I was moved today to write this. In case you missed the title, this letter is NOT written from my personal perspective, but from the point of view of the many young gay men and women who have chosen to end their own lives because they were unable to reconcile who they chose to love with their religion. This, of course, comes just from my assumptions and my imagination. It may read a little bit like a suicide note, but I write it more from the perspective of someone who has already died. This is dedicated to them.
Before I begin, I want to say how grateful I am for my own parents, and for all the love and acceptance I was shown. I feel very lucky for that, and it literally saved my life on more than one occasion.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Don’t worry, I made it safely. The deed is done.
Before I move on, I wanted to let you know how much I love you and maybe explain a little more clearly why I chose to leave you. I really didn’t intend to cause you so much pain, but it was the only way I could alleviate my own pain. It may seem selfish, but I couldn’t stick around anymore knowing I had disappointed you or made you ashamed of me in any way. I really did do my very best to make you proud. I’m sorry I fell short.
When I was a little kid, Dad, I remember walking along the beach in California holding your hand. It was the very first time I had ever seen the ocean. I’ll have this moment burned into my memory forever: you paused and looked out at the horizon for a moment, then looked thoughtfully down into my eyes that were unblinking and wide with awe and said, “Look out there. As deep and wide as that ocean is, God’s love for us is a million times deeper and wider. And I love you even more than that, and nothing you could ever do or say would change that.” You smiled, tousled my hair, and gave me a kiss on my forehead before leading me down closer to the water so we could feel the cool sand beneath our feet and the waves fall against our ankles.
How I wish I could have stayed in that moment eternally. I felt so loved, so safe, so strong. Even as I grew older, each time we visited the ocean it never seemed any smaller. It still stretched vast and wide toward the horizon, and even now all these years later, I can still feel the strength of your hand holding mine and the waves lapping against my feet. You were the closest physical manifestation of God that I could have grasped at that age. There were many times through the years, especially toward the end of it when things were at the very worst, when that memory was all I had to hold onto.
As I grew up, I had all these emotions building in me, and feelings I had always been taught were unclean and perverse. The only way I could make sense of it was to assume that I had done something to make God angry at me; that he was punishing me for skipping church or forgetting to say my evening prayers. Good people don’t have those feelings for no reason.
They say hindsight is twenty twenty. I’m not so sure. Even now, I am still unable to pinpoint when things changed. The older I got, the the more abnormal I felt. In church, we were always taught that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. For awhile, I had myself convinced that this was just a “challenge” God was giving me to test me. After a long time, I lost faith in that. I had a really tough time ever really believing that a God who claimed to love me would deliberately hurt me so much. I suppose I even stopped believing that there was a God at all. Obviously, given the outcome of my life, I couldn’t handle whatever “test” this was. Up until the day I took my last breath I was still down on my knees night and day pleading with God anyway even though I knew he had given up on me altogether. Either I wasn’t paying close enough attention or I never actually received an answer to my prayers. I still don’t know.
I would love to be able to tell you that none of this was your fault, and there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it, but I would be lying. Given what I have done, there’s no point in trying to spare your feelings now. It took me such a long time suffering with this by myself. When I first decided to tell you about the feelings I was having, I was prepared for you both to be shocked, disappointed, even disgusted. What I didn’t expect was to be forced into a “therapy” program that involved so much physical, emotional and psychological pain and humiliation, with the threat of my eternal soul. I didn’t think anything could be worse than grappling with these feelings on my own, but the way they tried to “fix” me was the worst hell I never even imagined. I wish I could tell you I have forgiven you for all of it, but I haven’t, and I’m not sure I ever will. I suppose time will tell.
Mom, there were so many times I wished you would just take me in your arms and let me cry and tell me everything was going to work out, like you did so many times when I was little. Sometimes my eyes would meet yours and there was such a look of pain and disgust I began to avoid you because that look stabbed me so deep. I don’t say this to hurt you, Mom, I just wish you could have broken through and just loved me, instead of placing conditions on that love.
Love. Ultimately that was the only thing I truly needed and craved, and the thing that was the most elusive. I never even had the opportunity to try and love myself. I’m convinced both of you did and do love me, but what good is that when it’s not shown or felt? It becomes a bit of a worthless emotion.
Eventually, I couldn’t bear all of these things. All the praying, all the tears, all the physical pain, all the humiliation, all the self-hatred…all because I couldn’t be what you and God wanted me to be.
And so I ended it.
Please understand, I do love both of you more than anything, and I always will. As you told me so many years ago on the beach, Dad, nothing you could do or say would ever make me love you less. I know I have caused you pain with my decision, but it was the only way I could think of to get even a small level of relief from the constant hurt I felt every day.
Before I go, I just want to say thank you for giving me life. Thank you for taking care of me the best way you could. Thank you for the all the good things that happened because of you when I was a child.
I’m going to be all right, and so will you. I know the pain will ease with time, and life will go on for you. I hope now I can move toward something better; to finally be able to be at peace with myself. I hope someday we will see each other again, and all this will make sense.
Until then, please know that I love you. I hope somehow, someway I will be able to love myself as well.
With the advent of Proposition 8 being overturned yesterday, I swore I wasn’t going to follow the pack and blog about it incessantly, but because I am a person of weak character, I caved pretty easily. But this rant isn’t really about Prop 8 specifically, so I’m still able to maintain a modicum of my dignity.
I was told recently that if I don’t want someone to get up on a soapbox about something, I shouldn’t provide the materials to build one. A very wise statement indeed. However, this time, I brought some nice hardwood 2×4’s, a can of fabulous chartreuse paint, and my Bedazzler. This is going to be one damn cute soapbox.
Because I love to try and anticipate my readers’ inner thoughts, I’m sure you’re saying, “Jesus, Mike. Build your fucking soapbox and quit talking.” So I’ll get right to my ranting.
If you’ve ever listened to anyone who is opposed to gay marriage talk about the issue, I’m sure you have probably heard their, uh, “arguments” against the issue. So, here I will list my favorite ones, and explain why each of them is completely idiotic.
Exhibit A: “If “The Gays” (I love the blatant use of the word ‘the’ in front of ‘gays’. I especially love it when they capitalize it. Feeds into my Napoleon complex.) are allowed to marry, what’s next? People marrying animals? Adults marrying children? Britney Spears re-marrying Kevin Federline? Where do we draw the line? I don’t have time to wait for you to respond! I’m late for Sacrament Meeting!”
This one is one of my favorites to respond to, because common sense is the only thing that’s needed to spray this argument with fecal matter. Gay couples getting married cannot in any way be compared to bestiality, paedophilia, or Britney Spears. Why? Because dogs, cats, goats, fish, cows, horses, children and Kevin Federline cannot sign legally binding contracts. And Britney Spears is normal again thanks to the fine folks at Merck Pharmaceuticals, so chances are she’d never want to get back with KF anyway. With gay marriage, we’re talking about two consenting adults signing a legal contract. This is basic stuff, people. We aren’t asking to bend the law to allow us to marry our Yorkies. We aren’t demanding the right to go to elementary schools to get down on one knee and propose to a 6-year-old. We aren’t members of NAMBLA for chrissakes.
Exhibit B: “Well, if The Gays (yay!) are allowed to marry, the human population will become extinct! All the Churches will be replaced with Gold’s Gyms!”
I addressed this one in my last entry, but because of its sheer stupidity, the topic clearly bears further discussion. This is yet another argument that only requires a teensy-tinsy bit of common sense to relegate it to the You’re In Permanent Time-Out Because You’re A Retard pile. Allowing gay couples to marry in no way increases the number of gay people in a given population. Marriage or not, gay people are still going to be gay, straight people will continue to ogle and boink the opposite sex…unless they’re drunk, in which case, the gender of their chosen sexual partner may become a bit…erm…squidgy. Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike will continue pushing both hetero and homo children into existence at the same rate as before. Gay marriage will not infect heterosexual uteri with some glitter-slathered hormone that causes all their children to push out of the womb as butch lezzies or Nathan-Lane-In-The-Birdcage-esque fairy-boys. Just because we (The Gays) are given the 1,138 legal rights afforded to married heterosexual couples doesn’t mean there’s going to be a giant 5000-foot-high drag queen in enormous Jimmy Choo knockoffs marching into downtown Large City, USA gobbling up all the straight people and shitting out shiny new fagbots to take over and begin decorating and doing hair. Although it would be cool, we’re not going to replace the Statue of Liberty with a gargantuan metal edifice of Ellen DeGeneres (although, again, it would kick quite a lot of ass if someone made such a statue).
Exhibit C: “If The Gays can get married, the sanctity of traditional marriage will be destroyed!”
I have yet to discuss this argument with anyone who supports it who is able to back this up with any kind of logic other than “it just will.” First off, I think the breeders (notice my lack of capital letters here) are doing a pretty damn good job of destroying their own marriages. They don’t need our help to accomplish that. Drive-Thru Marriages, Drive-Thru Divorces… how on earth is that sacrosanct? 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Yes, this even includes Mormon marriages. Just because you are a man married to a woman, or vice versa, your marriage is not immune to destruction. And believe me, the homos aren’t the ones destroying it.
Also, the whole “traditional” marriage semantics thing really gives me an epic wedgie. Since when has accepting every status quo been a good thing? America has always been such an innovative and forward-thinking country, ever since its inception in the 18th century. The only thing holding us back from being The He-Man Of The World is the fact that at heart, we are still a nation of Puritans, and because of this, no matter WHAT the Constitution says about a separation of church and state, religion still has the ultimate control. Religion, for some baffling reason, gets to decide what is or isn’t moral when it comes to legislation.
Exhibit D: “The Bible says Homosexuality is an abomination. God says being gay is wrong.”
Well…The Bible says a lot of things, none of which are even remotely clear and most of which are grossly irrelevant in this day and age. There are so many archaic “laws” in this book that seem to be conveniently forgotten, EXCEPT that pesky one in Leviticus that people love to gurdge up to try and support being anti-gay. Well, Leviticus commands that we stone whores to death (throwing rocks at hookers is just mean). Leviticus says you shouldn’t mix fibers in your clothing (better throw away that heinous poly-blend track suit hanging up in your closet or you’ll end up on your knees in hell giving Satan head). Leviticus says eating shellfish is an abomination (I ran into the bishop of my old ward shoving a lobster tail in his mouth at McGrath’s Fish House. Guess he’s going to be roasting in hell right along with all us fags). These so-called “commandments” are so quickly discarded by Bible-Thumping-Trailer-Trash who love to quote scripture all the time. Oh! I also love the folks that quote Leviticus 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination.”) and Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man lie with a man as he would with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”) as many times a day as possible, but when they are challenged that that particular scripture is outdated and archaic, they throw out that there is now a Higher Law that Ivana Trumps Mosaic law.
So tell me, O Ye Righteous, where in the New Testament does it say anything about homosexuality? When did Jesus ever wander the streets of Jerusalem brandishing a “God Hates Fags!” posterboard? Oh, you can’t right now? Oh, that’s right, I forgot. It’s fast-offering time. Okay, I can wait until you’re done. What? You have Missionary Splits later? Well slap (or stone) the ho and call her Ponteequa. If this Higher Law is now the one that everyone should follow, doesn’t that automatically negate Leviticus 18:22? “But Mike, you don’t understand! The people that wrote The Bible must have had short-term amnesia and just forgot to include Abomifags in the New Testament! Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were busy guys!” Right. You sure put ME in my place.
So there you have it. Just a small sampling of the common arguments I hear day in and day out explaining why gay marriage is wicked and will be the downfall of society as we know it. Well, you know, I think Society-As-We-Know-It is due for a downfall. Or a least a good haircut and a shave. If we always sat back and just accepted The Way Things Are, nothing would ever change, and we’d still all dress like pilgrims, and none of us would have iPhones. And I’m sorry, I refuse to dress like a pilgrim and be denied my iPhone. That would be an abomination.
Self-flagellation. Cutting. Branding. Piercing. Tattooing. Scarification. Aqua Net Hairspray.
These activities, among others, are ways different people use to purposefully cause themselves pain and misery. Some people do it for sexual gratification. Some do it to alleviate emotional pain. Some do it for spiritual transcendence. And still others are addicted to the adrenaline rush. As for using AquaNet hairspray, that one I will probably never understand. There are things in this world that are beyond comprehension, and AquaNet is one of them.
I think at some point, every person in this world deliberately causes themselves pain in one way or another. I have done the cutting thing. It worked in a pinch when I was in the throes of an epic panic attack and a Satan’s Butthole depression episode, but chronically, I just don’t think I could do it. Scars don’t match any of my outfits. I have pierced so many parts of my body, I have lost count. Same with tattoos. But these two things are done in the name of beauty, so they don’t count. And don’t give me any backtalk bullshit about this also being an excuse for using AquaNet. AquaNet doesn’t fall anywhere in the category of beauty. It falls into the category of Caustic Chemicals That Will Kill You.
So, dearest darlingest reader, I hear you asking, “Mike, what do YOU do to hurt yourself? I hope it’s something gory.”
Well, my torture device of choice is reading the comment boards on ksl.com. For those of you who don’t live in Utah, KSL is a local, LDS-Church-run news station. There is, of course, the corresponding website that is much like a local version of CNN.com or MSNBC.com but reads much more like Fox News. For each story, people are able to post their opinions of whatever topic is being reported, which is also very commonplace.
So, in order to illustrate why these comments are typically so heinous, I need to give you a bit of background about the people that do most of the postings on these boards.
Recently, KSL reported a story about a young Mexican man, a husband and father, who was murdered close to downtown SLC. When this story broke, the general atmosphere of the people weighing in on the comment boards for this story was (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Well, he was Mexican. He was probably illegal anyway, he deserved to be killed. White POWER!” Yeah. Just makes you want to go out and hug someone, right? Wrong. It makes me want to go out and push old, sweet grannies wearing bunched-up support hose out in front of oncoming traffic.
While I shouldn’t be surprised at the unbelievable level of racism that exists in Utah– I am, after all, living in a state where anyone who isn’t at least somewhat Aryan-looking is gawked at and feared like they’re walking around covered in yak poo and a coat made out of human flesh. Even with this in mind, I am still to this day a bit incredulous that people still think this way.
So, now that you have a little idea of what these people are like, can you imagine what they have to say about gay people? I hope I don’t get in trouble for quoting one of the posts here, but what the hell. Sue me.
As you probably already know by now, Proposition 8, the amendment to the California State Constitution banning the marriage of same-sex couples, was overturned by the California Supreme Court today. KSL ran the story (burying it deep in the National News section of the site) and the comments have started coming in by the hundreds. The following is a response from someone to a man who believes that being gay is a biological, genetic thing, not something that is chosen:
“So, you claim it is not a behavior and you don’t choose it. Thus, you must (by default) be saying that it is genetic. You don’t really want to claim that, do you? Because, if it is genetic, then it is a genetic disease.
According to the theory of evolution, genetic characteristics are retained if they promote the survival of the species and are excised if they decrease the fitness for survival. Several hallmarks for genetic fitness is ability to reproduce and the internal desire to do so. Homosexual behavior contravenes both of those, decreasing the likelihood of survival. Thus, homosexual behavior either is not genetic or is a disease that will lead to extinction of the species whose DNA embraces it.”
So, um, by this logic, gays are going to cause the extinction of the human race. Seriously, go us! I love that people like this fucktard actually believe the gay community wields this much power. Well, we kind of do, but that’s for another post. There was a study done roughly 30 years ago that estimated that 10% of the population is homosexual. Now, 30 years ago, being “out” wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, being that homosexuality is not nearly as taboo a subject these days. I’m sure the percentage is actually quite a bit higher, but let’s say for argument’s sake that 30% of the population is homosexual. Factor into that number all the millions of happy homosexual couples that are HAVING CHILDREN BIOLOGICALLY (Yes, even gay people have the necessary reproductive organs to facilitate this bodily function),and you can probably safely remove about about a third of that 30%. So 20% of the population is going to cause the downfall of mankind. Right. Got it. Congratulations. So in keeping with the spirit of evolutionary extinction of the human race because I like to fuck guys in the ass, all the heterosexual people out there that either choose not to have children, or are physically unable to reproduce are also contributing to the death of the biological reproductive imperative. Makes perfect sense to me. To my best friend Lydia, I say HOW DARE YOU GET CANCER AND HAVE TO HAVE YOUR OVARIES AND UTERUS REMOVED! YOU’RE CAUSING THE STARS TO RAIN DOWN FROM THE SKY! WE’RE ALL GOING TO PERISH!!!!!!!!!!
Another real special commentator on the article said this:
“We should be alert to other movements that are growing and harmful to traditional families. Part of why it has been so hard holding back gay marriage is because we have ignored it for decades and not addressed the ramifications to society early on. We just wanted to treat the systems rather than to identify the cause. Now it is too big to stop. The only chance we have of diverting others from this lifestyle is to help them to understand their divine nature, set good examples of gender roles and help others, without scrutiny, to embrace what God has set as a pattern. Gays need to have the bigger picture of the eternities and the role their gender when making a decision to participate in this lifestyle. When you oppress a people, they will rise up and rebel against you. Our only chance at influencing them to change is not by force or laws, but love and acceptance and then by introducing them to better choices.”
This sounds all warm and fuzzy, right? Yes. If people like this could just show us how life is REALLY supposed to be lived, we faggots would finally understand that a PENIS is meant to be thrust into a VAGINA and that this is our true DIVINE NATURE. Oh where has this person BEEN my whole life?! Gee, if I had just been “diverted from this lifestyle” I would know what true happiness is. Well thank you Tony Robbins, your giant teeth have shown me that I really don’t want or need to suck cock anymore.
See? I get my tampon string all knotted up about these posts. But why? The only logical explanation I can come up with is the impulse probably originates in the same section of my brain that forces me to watch reality television. It’s a well known fact that watching people whose lives are even a bigger garbage dump than your own makes you feel better about yourself. Look it up. I’m sure there is a fancy scientific study published out there someplace.
But here’s the in and out of it (in and out of a VAGINA, thank you). I read these comments because I am an emotional cutter. They make me so sad and so angry, but somehow, getting all the rage and incredulity out of my system makes me feel better.
When you were a kid, did you ever vent your anger by taking lightbulbs from storage and smashing them against the pavement? No? Never mind, then. Point is, I think getting pissed off at people I don’t even know helps redirect my anger away from myself.
Jesus Christ. Goddamn fucking epiphanies. Time to go have a drink before my meds wear off.
I posted this blog on MySpace a couple years ago, but figured I’d share it here, too.
I sit here with so many different emotions running through me. Sadness, anxiety, rage, confusion, fear, frustration; but also, hope. All of these emotions for someone I never had the pleasure to meet. I came across a website about a year ago, (www.affirmation.org) which is an organization of GLBT Mormons. The site is very informative and I hadn’t visited the site in quite awhile so I thought I would see what was new.
My readings brought me back to the page dedicated to the life and death of Stuart Matis, a very devout Mormon who struggled his whole life with being gay. This struggle culminated in him committing suicide on the steps of a stake center building at the age of 32. His story is so inexplicably sad, there is little to stop tears running down my face. The more I read about Stuart’s life and death, the angrier I become, because Stuart’s suicide could have been prevented. The LDS church claims “divine revelation” in all of the decisions they make, and all the causes they support. Through all that’s been written about Stuart and his life, one thing remains constant: a lot of the internal struggle he felt had to do with California’s Prop. 22, which, if passed, would prevent gay and lesbian couples from legally marrying in the state of California. The LDS church strongly supported Prop. 22, also called The Knight Initiative, and urged bishops in every ward to implore the members to give their time and money to support this legislation, citing “divine revelation” ad nauseum. Now, I may not have ever spoken with God directly, at least not in this life, but I know with certainty that He wouldn’t, and doesn’t, support hate in any form. The basis of God’s law is love. Not conditional love. Not love between only a man and a woman. Not “love thy neighbor as thyself…unless thy neighbor happens to be a man who likes other men…” No. Just love, pure and simple. The fact that Stuart viewed the Church’s support of this proposition as God’s way of cementing that He doesn’t approve of homosexuality I think was the last straw for him. He saw no more hope left, because, again, if the Church supports a certain piece of legislature, by extension it must be supported by God.
Stuart believed in God. He loved God. His downfall was placing all of his trust in an organization that is run by humans. Humans, by nature, are fallible…even ones that claim they walk and talk with God. I believe if Stuart had placed just a little more faith in himself and his real relationship with God, he would still be alive today. As a gay lapsed LDS church member, I have been privy to the war that was raging inside Stuart’s heart, head and spirit; the war between God and personal identity; an internal civil war that is waged until the day we die – a war that can only result in one casualty. I have walked through a lot of the same darkness and helplessness, searching for an answer that just won’t come. Whether or not Stuart is stronger than me, or weaker, who can rightly say? One main difference exists: Stuart remained celibate and alone, which is the Church’s stock answer for its gay and lesbian members.
For a religious organization that is built on the family unit, they deny gay and lesbians just that. Because we cannot marry, we cannot, in the eyes of the Church, have a healthy and loving physical relationship. If we choose to act on the feelings we are having, we are deemed unclean. Stuart never acted on any of the feelings he was having. He never gave himself the opportunity to experience love with a partner. He could never even have the opportunity to experience loving himself because of the rhetoric that the Church spouts about “moral cleanliness.” His devotion to the teachings of the church overrode his true self, resulting in dire consequences. Stuart viewed himself and his thoughts as amoral, but still could do nothing to drive them away. I can only imagine how alone and utterly helpless he must have felt throughout his entire lifetime.
There was a book written by Stuart’s parents after his death that was published by Deseret Book called “In Quiet Desperation.” In the book, Stuart’s mother, Marilyn, applauds her son for remaining celibate and clean in God’s eyes. She says “Although losing our son was difficult, it has been comforting to know that he was faithful to his temple covenants.” (pg. 20). This statement disturbs me greatly. Because your son remained “faithful to his temple covenants”, he endured God knows how many years of silent suffering, and finally saw no way out and put a gun to his head on the steps of the church he loved so much. How can that possibly be comforting? To know your son killed himself because he couldn’t win a battle he should never have been forced to fight? In his suicide note, Stuart addresses this issue to his family members: “As you know, I have been suicidal for years, and in the past year, I have been vocal about my feelings. After a year of expressing my grief to you, I’ve realized that there is nothing that any of you could do to attenuate my pain. … I simply could not live another day choking on my own feelings of inferiority.” It seems, though, that Stuart did have at least one ray of hope: his old bishop, Robert Rees, who I know with absolute certainty has been inspired by God. This man is the definition of what the LDS church claims to stand for. It is evident in a tribute he wrote to Stuart after Stuart’s death. This tribute has affected me more deeply than anything else I have ever read.http://www.affirmation.org/suicide_info/requiem_for_a_gay_mormon.shtml In this tribute, Bishop Rees again quotes Stuart’s suicide note: “My bishop and my father each gave me blessings inspired by the Spirit that proclaimed that I was indeed gay and that I would remain gay.” If that isn’t proof, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, even this wasn’t enough to convince Stuart that he was loved and accepted by God no matter what, whether or not he was loved and accepted by the church he so unquestioningly placed his faith in.
I feel like I need to address the LDS church, or rather, its leaders directly here. At what cost do we hold on to our faith in archaic, unsubstantiated beliefs? At what point do we say “I need to follow my heart and love who I choose to love”? How many other wonderful people have to die at their own hands, pushed to the brink by a church that claims to love them? At what time will “divine revelation” come that gays and lesbians are just as worthy of love as heterosexuals are? There is blood on your hands, and surely if you really have divine inspiration from God, you would know that, and do something about it instead of waffling on every word when the subject is brought up publicly. Passive-aggressively supporting hate-mongering legislature instead of addressing the issue directly is doing absolutely nothing to help. You yourselves have admitted that God has never once given you any type of revelation on this issue, and that you don’t pretend to understand it. If that’s the case, how can you possibly say that it’s God’s decree that gays and lesbians are inferior? That we don’t deserve to share our lives with someone because they happen to have the same genitalia as we do ourselves? That God would rather have us die than experience true love? How much longer are we expected to hide in the shadows of faith, placing our complete trust in men that don’t have the slightest idea of what we are going through? How can you, in good conscience, pass judgement on a man like Stuart Matis, who prayed so hard for understanding and relief that, according to accounts of the people that dressed him for burial, were “struck by the sight of his knees, deeply callused from praying for an answer that never came.”?
Fortunately, I don’t think Stuart died in vain. Despite the Church’s response that his suicide should not be “exploited for political purposes”, the fact remains that Stuart himself wanted some good to come from his death. He wanted his death to invoke change. He knew that if something positive could come from his lifelong fight, then on some level, he had achieved a victory. In his final letter to his family he writes: “Perhaps my death … might become the catalyst for much good. I’m sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders regarding the true nature of homosexuality. My life was actually killed many years ago. Your actions might help to save many young people’s lives.” Although I never met Stuart, I feel like I know him, because his life is a reflection of what I used to feel. It was when I was finally able to let go and understand that no matter who I choose to love, God wants me to be happy, and He is proud of me. I don’t need affirmation from an organization that is run by pompous, ignorant, self-serving men that cannot seem to grasp the concept of the teachings that Jesus died to protect. Only God knows what is truly in my heart, and in the hearts and minds and souls of the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian LDS church members for whom every single minute of every single day is a fight. A never-ending struggle between sexuality and spirit.
You did not die in vain, Stuart. I know you are in the presence of God now, basking in the love and acceptance you couldn’t find here on earth. I know that someday, whether in this life or the next, there will be a better understanding of what we all go through on a daily basis. I know your battle is over, and no matter what anyone else says or thinks, you won.
It’s been years since I have lived in the god-awful 4th ward and haven’t seen or spoken to you or your family in years, praise the Lord, but some information was recently brought to my attention concerning some things you said to my brother the day my mom died, and I can’t sleep until I confront you about it and finally tell you what I really think about you.
“So, your mom finally overdosed, huh?” Imagine my surprise and abject horror when my brother K informed me this past Saturday night that these were the words that spewed out of your gossip-mongering, hateful mouth the morning my mother passed away. How DARE you? In the 12-odd years that my family lived just a few doors down from you, you were nothing but hateful, acidic, nosy, and downright evil toward us; spreading HORRIFIC gossip throughout the biddies in the bitch-den Relief Society, and airing out my family’s dirty laundry throughout the entire ward. Apparently not much has changed in the 8 years since we’ve been gone.
The things that happened to my family leading up to my mother’s death were some of the darkest times of my entire life so far, and to have it all thrown back in my face by hearing the horrific bile that bubbled up from you made me want to throw up. AND NONE OF IT WAS ANY OF YOUR GODDAMN BUSINESS, LADY. K was 17 years old and completely alone when he discovered my mom had passed away. He attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for 20 minutes while on the phone with the paramedics, who wouldn’t tell him ANYTHING about what was happening. Then to have you come running down the street like a screeching vulture so you can get more fodder for your fucked-up gossip and assume that my beautiful mother had OVERDOSED? FUCK YOU, ROBYN. And to say that to a seventeen-year-old kid who just discovered his mother’s lifeless body? How low are you willing to stoop? THEN, you had the nerve to show up at her funeral? You sick fuck.
It has also been brought to my attention that you CONTINUE to ask and badger several people that are close to my family about how my mom “REALLY” died. Again, THAT INFORMATION IS NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS, ROBYN. YOURS OR ANYONE ELSES. PERIOD. For the record, she did NOT die of an overdose, or ANYTHING ELSE self-inflicted.
Your behavior during the invasion of our house by the Relief Society in the name of “service” was nothing short of appalling. You and all those other horrible women came swooping in like seagulls with syphilis to see what goodies you could lay your hands on and what gossip you could gather up to spread around. Did you get what you wanted? Did you learn all the deep dark secrets about my family?
I’m not getting this information second-hand either. I WAS THERE while it was going on. I vividly recall my dad throwing you out of our house because of it.
Oh, but the bile kept coming. I have also learned that the question of my sexuality came up between you and a couple other ladies, and you said that they should keep their kids (my friends) away from me. Yes, I’m gay. Feel free to spread it around; I don’t give a flying fuck at this point, lady. My life is my business, and I’m happy and comfortable in my own skin, and there’s nothing you can say or do to take that away from me. Air it out all over the ward you evil piece of trash, I know you’re going to anyway. Now you have my blessing to do just that.
In a nutshell, you are a deplorable cunt. I can’t say it any more plainly than that. You claim to be a good, faithful, God-fearing Mor(m)on, but you know absolutely nothing about Christlike behavior. Quite the opposite, in fact. I can only imagine you 4thward bitches sitting around in Relief Society and dreaming up ways to make other peoples’ lives miserable. When were ANY of you (other than Mxxxxx Cxxxx, who is a SAINT) there for my mom? ALMOST EVERY SINGLE CUNTY WOMAN IN THAT ENTIRE WARD abandoned her when she needed support the most. All you bitches could do is judge, judge, judge, gossip, gossip, gossip and then shed fake tears at her funeral to make yourselves look and feel like good Christian women. So you and 95% of the 4th ward can all go fuck yourselves. You made our lives there a living hell for over 12 years.
Leave my family alone. Don’t ask about us, don’t contact us, don’t think about us, don’t do anything. Find some other poor family to aim your hateful words and thoughts at. We have had enough. Find something more constructive to do with your time instead of trying to wriggle more gossip out about my family.
Yours with utter and complete disgust
Consider this my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints effective immediately. Upon receipt of this letter, I am no longer subject to the rules, discipline, beliefs, policies and ordinances set forth for active members of your organization. I do not request, but DEMAND that my name be completely and permanently removed from the membership rolls of the church. This is not a decision I have made lightly. It comes after years of prayer, debate, heartache, anger and tears. While I appreciate what you consider to be the “grave consequences” of my decision, the bottom line is I am no longer under any obligation to live in fear of these so-called repercussions. To be perfectly clear: this letter is to be processed immediately, without delay. A waiting period is completely unacceptable and I’m not going to tolerate having to participate in one. This is not a local ecclesiastical matter, either. Considering I have never even met the bishop of the ward I am currently in the boundaries of (after living there for five years), he has absolutely nothing to do with this situation, as he does not know me or anything about me. I will ignore and deny any and all requests to meet with him or communicate with him or any other local church leaders in any fashion. The only communication I will receive is a letter from your office confirming my resignation. Once my membership has been removed, you will promptly mail me confirmation informing me that my resignation has been processed. I should also inform you in no uncertain terms that any delay, unsolicited communication, contact or anything resembling a violation of my privacy concerning this situation will be met with RELENTLESS LEGAL ACTION, and I will not hesitate to involve the media as well.
If you’re at all interested in finding out why I made this choice, feel free to continue reading. If not, that’s okay too. My feelings won’t be hurt. With that said, let’s get to it.
I am gay. Simple sentence, right? Ah, not so. While I am not a resident of California, I legally married my partner of almost 9 years in Los Angeles on the first day it was legal to do so back in June of 2008. What should have been a period of celebration for not only the gay community in California, but all over the country, was defecated on by the LDS church’s underhanded, subversive, evil, corrupt, and not-so-cleverly-clandestine political backing of Proposition 8. This is beyond reprehensible. For an organization that touts honesty, love, fellowship, love-thy-neighbor blahblahblah, the fact that the LDS church hierarchy used such sneaky tactics to make this proposition pass completely negates this so-called doctrine of love. By supporting this piece of legislation in the name of “protecting the family unit” I cannot even begin to imagine how many families you have ripped apart in the process. How dare you be so arrogant as to belittle the family I have made with my husband? Your definition of the word “family” is anything but all-inclusive. What amazed me most about this whole Proposition 8 debacle, was to see that ultimately not even the overpaid, Ivy –League-educated public relations professionals the LDS church employs could gloss over how inherently evil this act was and is. The attempts at damage control were and are pathetically transparent. Evidently the leadership of the LDS church underestimates the intelligence of the general public.
Whether you believe that being gay is a choice or something genetic or what have you, any religion’s definition of what is moral and immoral should not have any bearing whatsoever on legislation. Particularly here in Utah, separation of church and state is virtually nonexistent. The laws of this state are enacted primarily by middle-aged, white Mormon men, and there is little to no consideration of the non-Mormon population.
The LDS church has always said that most apostates leave the church because they were offended in some way, as if this isn’t a legitimate enough reason for wanting to leave. I can’t think of a more appropriate reason to sever ties with the LDS church. I have been offended by your church in every way imaginable. My family was very nearly torn apart because a bishop in our ward decided my mom was a drug addict, that our house was unfit for human life, and that there were devils living there. He used extortion tactics to force my brother and me (very young children at the time) into emotionally blackmailing my mom into going to rehab for an addiction she didn’t have. He recruited the Relief Society to come in and “clean” the house, which meant a group of twenty or more women coming into our home, going through every private drawer, cupboard and closet and taking what they wanted. All because of the mandated “1000 hours of service in every ward” decree handed down by Gordon B. Hinckley. This had nothing at all to do with service or charity, it was so the harpies in the Relief Society and the bishopric could come in and air out all my family’s dirty laundry, as was a common practice in that ward. All this while my dad was in the hospital recovering from triple bypass surgery and my mom was conveniently stashed away at a rehab facility in Washington State. My mother has since passed away from a congenital heart defect. When I relay this story to anyone who is an active member, the typical response seems to be, “Well, the church is perfect, the people in it aren’t.” While I agree that no one is perfect, the men and women who are “called” into leadership purportedly represent the church and its beliefs. There is no justification strong enough to dismiss or explain away this kind of behavior from anyone, let alone people who are supposedly representatives of God.
Perhaps you remember the story of Stuart Matis? Probably not, so I’ll refresh your memory. Stuart Matis was a FAITHFUL member of the LDS church living in California. He abided by all the mandated chastity rules, prayed, paid his tithing, went to church and the temple, everything he was supposed to be doing. And he was gay. He could never reconcile his sexuality with his love for the church. He ended up shooting himself in the head on the steps of the stake center near his home. He hated himself so much, and couldn’t understand why the church he had devoted his life to hated him too and viewed him as evil and unclean. He felt there was no other way out than to end his own life. One of his close relatives described seeing Stuart’s knees rubbed completely raw from the hours he spent kneeling in prayer, pleading with God that this “affliction” would be taken from him. If that isn’t bad enough, his parents proceeded to write Stuart’s story in the book “In Quiet Desperation”. They had the gall to say that even though Stuart killed himself, they were so happy that he died with his temple covenants intact. That statement is disgusting. If he had been able to be true to himself and live the life he should have lived, I know in my soul he would still be with us today. How can you as a church justify that? There is blood on the church’s hands, and not just Stuart’s. The blood of every LDS gay kid who has decided to end his or her own life because their church told them they were an abomination (for the record, Utah has the highest rate of gay teen suicides in the nation. Coincidence? I think no.) For every LDS gay person, whether adult or adolescent, who has been kicked out and ostracized by their family because of what gender they were attracted to. Every kid that was ever called a faggot, queer, dyke, lesbo, fudgepacker sissy, or any number of derogatory anti-gay slurs by their so-called “righteous” Mormon peers because they didn’t fit into what the LDS church deemed as “normal”.
This issue was very recently thrust back into the spotlight in October, 2010 by Boyd K. Packer and his now infamous General Conference talk. In the wake of the highly publicized gay youth suicides throughout the country at the time, there was no excuse for Mr. Packer to make the highly defamatory and downright ruthless statements he made about the gay community, inferring that it is a condition that can be “changed” despite massive evidence to the contrary. We were referred to as evil, dark, wrong, immoral, that we are perverts, sinners, unworthy, harmful, just to name a few things. If that wasn’t bad enough, after the backlash from that talk, it was ‘edited’ to “clarify [Mr. Packer’s] intent.” No, it was edited because the LDS church received so much negative press about Mr. Packer’s comments. He didn’t stop for a moment to think that possibly his words would fall on the ears of a young man or woman who struggles to reconcile their religious upbringing and their “abnormal” sexuality? Did he give pause as he was writing his talk and think for just a brief second that maybe his words would cause irreparable damage to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Mormon kids and adults who are already on the ledge, wondering how they will ever be able to exist in their church and their own families because of who they love? The most disturbing thing is, I’m quite sure Mr. Packer indeed thought about all these things and knew exactly what he was doing. It was very calculated and I’m sure he chose his words very carefully. He had an agenda, and damned if he’d stray from it. This man is next in line to be the prophet of the LDS church. That, to me, is utterly terrifying. For a church that goes out of its way to make sure everyone knows they follow the teachings of Christ, your leaders do a great job at making Him an afterthought.
The way women are looked upon and treated in the LDS church disgusts me. They are viewed as commodities and trophies. They are taught to be subservient, homemaking baby machines that should not have jobs, outside interests or anything else that detracts them from serving their husbands and taking care of their families. In fact, they are required to covenant in the temple to do these things, otherwise they are breaking God’s law. It’s the spiritual equivalent of having a gun held to their heads.
The moral of the story is, you’re damn right I’m offended. Nothing good has ever come out of my experience with the church. I was born in the covenant and an active member for almost twenty years, and in that time I witnessed things that would make any person cringe, and never once received any kind of apology or show of remorse for any of it. And why? Because not one person believed they were doing anything wrong. How can the supposed “one true church” condone these things, and yet disfellowship or excommunicate wonderful, bright, loving and accepting people because of who they love?
I’m tired of the lies you tell. I’m tired of the backpedaling on doctrine. I’m tired of your presumptuous definition of who God is and what He wants. How can the so-called “prophet, seer and revelator” be so arrogant as to claim that his word is God’s word? Your “prophet” is only a man, after all. How can the leaders of your church use extortion and threats to get members to donate money they don’t even have to a political referendum that denies a group of people their constitutional civil rights because it goes against your shortsighted definition of what family means? How can you claim to be a church based on love, service, forgiveness and fellowship when no one, including the leadership, demonstrates any of these qualities? How can you continue to treat women like cattle? The hypocrisy is epic and wholly unforgivable.
I will state this clearly and plainly once more: Remove my records immediately. Do not refer me to my local bishop or stake president. Do not send missionaries or other members of the church to my home. Do not call me. Do not contact members of my family concerning this matter; it is to remain completely and unequivocally confidential. I expect a confirmation from your office in my mailbox no later than thirty days from the receipt of this letter. If it is not received within this time frame, or any unreasonable delay occurs, I will have my attorney be in contact with your office.
This morning I had the distinct and, uh, interesting privilege of reading the transcript of the talk you recently gave to the students at BYU-Idaho.
Let’s examine this a little closer, shall we? Come sit down here on this pew with me and let me tell you a thing or two.
Your talk is chock full of every kind of hole imaginable. I’d like to address a few key points; however, before I get started I would like to state for the record that I am openly gay. I am a Christian. I was raised in the LDS church but no longer consider myself affiliated with it. I have been with my partner for over seven years, and we were legally married in the state of California in 2008. I am happy. I am well-adjusted. I am a valuable member of society. Above all, I have a very close relationship with God. Having said all that, however, this letter is not about just me, so I’ll get to the point.
You speak of being persecuted and in danger of losing religious freedoms for supporting Prop 8?
To quote you: “An 1833 revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord established the United States Constitution by wise men whom he raised up for that very purpose. The Lord also declared that this constitution ‘should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh.’”
This is precisely what the LGBTQ community and its supporters have been trying to get across to the LDS church and the entire nation for quite some time. The constitution of the United States guarantees equal protections under the law for all people, and yet you openly complain about your religious freedom being infringed upon by people who oppose your support of a legislation that denies them said equal protections? Give me a break. This persecution complex that the LDS church has been fostering for almost two centuries is getting more than a little old. You want to talk about a people who have been genuinely persecuted throughout history for thousands of years? Brush up on your history of the Jewish faith, Elder Oaks. The Holocaust alone is reason enough to fully negate anything that the LDS church has had to endure since its inception. Your ‘persecution’ in comparison is pittance. Don’t misunderstand, I am not in any way marginalizing the worth of the people in your religion who have lost their lives defending their faith, but please put this into some modicum of perspective.
In this same vein, it was stated by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the last session of LDS General Conference that– and I’m paraphrasing here– the Book of Mormon is the most persecuted and picked-apart of any religious book in history. Really? Have you people heard of the Bible? Historians, theologians, kings, peasants, scientists, emperors, popes and religions have been picking that book apart for two thousand years. The Book of Mormon has been around for less than two hundred. The inference that the Book of Mormon has undergone more scrutiny than the Bible is egotistical and pretentious in every facet.
Quote: “Along with many other religious people, we affirm that God is the ultimate source of power and that, under Him, it is the peoples’ inherent right to decide their form of government.”
The constitution mandates a separation of church and state. This is something that most religious organizations, including the LDS church love to ignore. In the state of Utah, for example, the majority of the legislature is run by middle-aged white Mormon men whose legislative decisions are almost always rooted in the beliefs of the Mormon Church. If this is a separation of church and state, I’ll eat my own head and call it chocolate ice cream. In your talk, you quote the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It seems to me that you are only paying attention to the second half of that statement: “…prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Did you bother considering the first half, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”? For example: Larry H. Miller managed to pass a law in Utah some years back making it illegal to sell cars on Sunday. He didn’t want his employees to work on Sunday because of the LDS church’s teachings about keeping the Sabbath day holy, and therefore didn’t want any competition to be able to sell cars on that day either. The law was passed because again, who runs the legislature here in Utah? White. Heterosexual. Middle-Aged. Mormon. Men. Where is the church/state separation there?
Elder Oaks, no one is denying you the right to practice your religion. Neither the government, nor anyone in this nation is telling you that you can’t congregate in churches and temples whenever the mood strikes you. No one is standing in front of your churches and temples not allowing you to go in and worship. No one is stopping the presses on the Book of Mormon. No one is LEGISLATING against your right to believe what you want to believe. It’s when your religion infringes on rights that have nothing to do with God as far as the law is concerned, you’re damn right people are going to protest and make a lot of noise.
Quote: “Religious belief is obviously protected against government action. The practice of that belief must have some limits, as I suggested earlier. But unless the guarantee of free exercise of religion gives a religious actor greater protection against government prohibitions than are already guaranteed to all actors by other provisions of the constitution (like freedom of speech), what is the special value of religious freedom? Surely the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action. Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution.”
So basically you are saying that religious organizations should have carte-blanche access to twist that amendment whatever way they see fit? If I start a religion, and my doctrine and dogma involve ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism, am I still protected under the law because it is part of my freedom of religious practice? You completely contradict yourself in this statement. You say that the practice of religious belief must have some limits, and yet in the same breath you say that actions based on religious beliefs should have more far-reaching privileges than those actions that are not? What reasoning warrants that kind of thinking? It makes absolutely no sense.
Quote: “Atheism has always been hostile to religion, such as in its arguments that freedom of or for religion should include freedom from religion. Atheism’s threat rises as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness.”
So according to you, Atheists should not be allowed to voice their opposition to things they do not believe in? They are being too aggressive and you are feeling threatened? Have you bothered to pay any attention at all to the Evangelical Christian movement in this country and how much power and influence they wield? Politicians continually pander to the Christian Right because losing their support can mean losing an election altogether. You defend the LDS church’s position to vocally and actively support Proposition 8, but Atheists should remain silent about the position of religion dictating how this country is run just because the idea of that scares you? No matter which way you slice it, it doesn’t add up.
Quote: “As noted by John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, these voices ‘have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.’”
This is precisely what the Mormon Church has done to any group of people who disagree with its principles; most notably in the state of Utah, where the LDS church is the dominant religion. Atheists, gays, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, unwed mothers…the list goes on and on and on. Why do you think so many children and families from other religions are so commonly ostracized in Utah communities that are predominantly Mormon? Because these people exhibit a difference in opinion or religion or ideology, Mormon parents frequently teach their children both in word and in action that these people are to be feared and judged because they drink, or smoke or swear or whatever else they do that differs from what the members of the LDS church believe. As humans, we are given the innate ability from birth to question everything. We are conditioned throughout childhood to accept what we are told at face value, because “that’s just the way it is”. In my experience, this is exceptionally common when these questions pertain to religion. Even a devout member of your church who questions what the prophet hands down as doctrine is looked down upon and encouraged to keep quiet and “have faith”. To me and so many others, this is not an acceptable answer. How can you expect anyone to have faith when information is so readily withheld?
Quote: “Such forces — atheists and others — would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation.”
Here you go again, further blurring the now almost non-existent line between church and state. According to the United States Constitution, religion should have zero bearing on any laws that are passed in the United States. Throughout your entire talk, you quote the Constitution, but conveniently ignore the parts that contradict the bits and pieces you choose to use to your advantage.
Quote: “The Proposition 8 battle was not about civil rights, but about what equal rights demand and what religious rights protect.”
Whatever stance you choose to take about the word ‘marriage’ and its ‘definition’, the bottom line is every couple, gay or straight, should be allowed the same legal rights and benefits that come along with legal marriage. Since a majority of your diatribe is related to the United States Constitution, you should read the document a little more closely. The Prop 8 battle encompasses the fight for equal protection under the law for every single person in this country; not just heterosexual couples. Proposition 8 was introduced to deliberately deny certain people CIVIL RIGHTS. How can you say that it had nothing to do with these rights?
Quote: “The marriage union of a man and a woman has been the teaching of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the core legal definition and practice of marriage in Western culture for thousands of years. Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights.”
We keep coming back to this same issue Elder Oaks: the separation of church and state, or more appropriately the lack thereof. The Judeo-Christian scriptures or any other religious document should NOT be bleeding into the legislation of this country. This is largely why the First Amendment was added to the Constitution. The fact that a large group of people are working against you to keep scripture from governing the laws of the land is in no way infringing on your right to religious freedom. You can speak out in support of moral issues until your lips fall off- no one is denying you that. What we are denying you is your attempt to FORCE AND INTIMIDATE PEOPLE INTO PASSING LAWS THAT REQUIRE EVERYONE TO CONFORM TO YOUR DEFINITION OF JUDEO-CHRISTIAN MORALITY. Telling your members that they need to contribute every available amount of time and money to help this proposition pass is coercion. “Do this, or fear for your immortal soul.” “This is what God wants; the prophet said so.” Sounds like spiritual extortion tactics to me.
This great nation of ours was built by people who wanted change. They wanted freedom from religious oppression. It’s horribly ironic to me that this oppression is precisely what the LDS faith and other religions are trying to impose on everyone. The basis of the Constitution is this: if it ain’t working, change it. Since you seem to be so versed in the Constitution, re-read Article V. After all, this is what you and the rest of the Christian Right are trying to accomplish, isn’t it? Your goal is to amend the Constitution to legally define what marriage is based on your specific religious beliefs. You argue that one man and one woman has been the basis of the idea of marriage for thousands of years. History should also show you that the status quo can’t work forever or our society would crumble. The LDS church in particular should be very familiar with this concept, considering your rather colorful history. Change is what drives civilization forward. Progress, Elder Oaks. Progress.
Having said all that let me be perfectly clear here: I absolutely irrevocably do not believe the vandalization of churches and temples to be right or justified in any way. In fact, I think it’s beyond reprehensible. However, the people that chose to do this do not represent the LGBTQ community or its supporters; any more than a group of violent white-supremacists represent every Caucasian individual in the world. The fact that you choose to pigeonhole all of us who are opposed to Prop 8 as a group of vandals is disgusting and cowardly.
The majority of our community and its supporters are not trying to “intimidate” you or any other organization into silence or keep you from any religious practice you choose to participate in. What we are trying to do is get OUR voices and OUR opinions heard because for countless years, WE have been intimidated into silence and forced to remain in the shadows. We were taught to fear using our voices and demanding the rights, privileges and protections we are entitled to as citizens of this country. I’m here to tell you: that ship has sailed.
Take a look at the staggering statistics of people that have chosen to end their own lives because their church taught them that their feelings are evil and morally unclean. With all the electronic information at your fingertips, spend some time researching Stuart Matis, who committed suicide on the steps of his stake center in California because the LDS church supported a similar piece of legislation to Prop 8 a few years ago. How long do we pretend these people don’t exist? We not only fight for CIVIL RIGHTS for ourselves, but also in the name of those people like Stuart Matis who aren’t around anymore to join the battle because their religion told them they were less than human and their lives were cut tragically short as a result. I cannot be any more blunt that this on this topic: Your church has blood on its hands, and it’s time to acknowledge that, not gloss over it with a sliver-tongued press release you people are so notorious for spewing.
Take a look around you Elder Oaks. The walls continue to come down with every passing day. People are ending their silence. It’s crystal clear based on your talk that your church is in a panic about it. I will say most of the time historically speaking, your attempts at damage control have been notably impressive to the untrained eye and ear, but this time, it’s infinitely more transparent that these attempts aren’t holding as much water as they used to. Basic civil rights and human dignity aren’t things that can be pushed under the rug in the name of God no matter how many Harvard-educated public relations professionals you employ. No matter how much money and time you throw at legislation like Prop 8, I want to tell you in big block letters that will be easy for you to read and understand: WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED AGAIN. WE WILL NOT SLINK BACK INTO THE SHADOWS. WE WILL NO LONGER ALLOW OUR LAWMAKERS TO PASS LEGISLATION THAT INFRINGES ON BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the March for Marriage Equality on Washington DC, and let me tell you…out of the tens of thousands of people there, NOT ONE PERSON was intimidated into being quiet. No one was deterred because religion continues to be the driving force behind the legislature in this country. We will continue to fight for our basic human rights as Americans. We will push forward raising our voices demanding not special, but EQUAL rights under the Constitution that you so dearly love. Feel free to exercise your religious freedom all you like. Despite your unfounded whining, no one is trying to deprive you of that in any way, shape or form.
Lastly, I want to say that I am appalled at your audacity to compare your so-called lack of religious freedom with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Your organization and the people in it are protected by the laws of the land. Your members are not forced to sit at the back of the bus, or drink from different fountains, or attend separate schools. Was it not your church who denied black people the Priesthood until the 1970s, not long after the Civil Rights law went into effect? Interesting timing to receive so-called “revelation” on that topic, wouldn’t you say? That is the really convenient aspect of a religion that in its own words is continuously receiving “revelation” from God. You are able to change your stance on any particular subject at any given time to coincide with socially acceptable themes when it suits you. Your alleged “struggle” for religious freedom has absolutely nothing to do with racial inequality or anything close to it. Shame on you Elder Oaks for actually having the nerve to make that comparison, and shame on the other leaders of your church. You wonder why your members are resigning in droves? It’s a direct result of crap like this that keeps coming out of your mouths.
Having been an active member in the LDS church for the first eighteen years of my life, I am well aware that the root of LDS doctrine is encompassed in a single word: Love. Instead of just preaching it, try living it for a change. Talk is cheap, my friend. Don’t try and backpedal and hide behind the fragments of the law that allows you to portray yourselves as persecuted martyrs when you are anything but. Take some time from your busy schedule and sit down with Dennis and Judy Shepard. Talk to them about their son Matthew, who was brutally tortured and murdered by men (one being a so-called ‘devout’ Mormon) because he was gay. He is as much a martyr for the Gay Rights movement as your ‘prophet’ Joseph Smith was to you. Try going back to the central theme of what your church claims to believe in. For a religion that is centered in the teachings of Jesus Christ, you seem to have forgotten what he actually stood for.
You ask us to respect your right to religious freedom? Respect our right to fight back and do our damnedest to pull this nation out from under the Puritanical thumb of religion.
Respect begets respect. Truth begets truth. Love conquers hate.