Exponent II Classics: At Temple Square

For a change of pace, I thought I’d put a fiction piece from 1991.

Margaret Young
Provo, Utah
Vol. 16, No. 3 (1991)

A Latin couple poses for a pot-bellied photographer. Their Latin friends coach them to kiss and smile, and they kiss and smile and stare into each other’s over-loving eyes, display their rings to the camera, smile, smile, smile. The bride’s dress is satin. It shimmers and swirls around her legs. Her veil blows to her cheeks. She laughs and holds it back. Her diamond glitters.

David watches Heather watching the Latin lovers. Heather’s diamond glitters, too. She looks up to Angel Moroni. She says, “When we got married…”

“Yes?” says David.

“I needed bobby pins. Gretta was too busy to buy me bobby pins.”

“Gretta was jealous. You were the bride, and she was mad. She could have bought them. She was jealous. I’m sure of it.”

“I needed them. My veil got lopsided by the end of the reception. It’s stupid, but I wanted it perfect. Since I was six years old, I wanted it so perfect. I drew brides in my diary. It doesn’t matter now. But it was selfish of Gretta.”

“Yes, it was. It was selfish,” David says.

“My veil was lopsided.”

“I don’t remember it being lopsided.”

“Everything fell apart.”

The pot-bellied photographer clicks at the newlywed’s smiles, and they kiss again. The veil blows around their faces like a cloud.

“Everything fell apart,” Heather repeats. Like he hadn’t heard. Like he didn’t know how it was.

He knew. He remembered the night he had let the pieces go.

“I can’t believe it anymore,” he had said, certain she wouldn’t understand, certain she hadn’t known he was doubting.

“The Church?” She was in bed reading.

He gazed into the moonless, cloudy night and nodded, though he knew she wasn’t watching him. He was separate from her; yet, he could feel her like God feels the human heart, from light years away. He kept nodding at the night and keeping the silence. He moved to the corner of the bedroom and took off his slacks and shirt, folding them over the back of the chair. Then, he took off his garments and held them in one hand. He felt her watching the garments. He folded them and put them on the chest of drawers beside the hamper. Then, naked, he crawled in beside her. She turned away.

Last night, thinking about coming to the wedding, he had wanted to ask her why being a Mormon meant you had to love the Church so fiercely. He had wanted to ask her and tell her everything. In his head were the words, “When I was a missionary, there were so many doors. I said, ‘I know the Church is true’ to a million half-shut doors.” He hadn’t spoken. He had sat watching her iron her matron-of-honor dress. She kept her strokes even and long, her eyes on the iron.

“The dress turned out nice,” he said. “You did a good job. Don’t know how you can turn a piece of material into such a nice dress. I’d never be able to.”

“It’s not hard,” she said, and hung it on the closet door.

“You might outshine the bride,” he said. She looked at him hard.

Then that night, after she had gotten off her knees, and he was still sitting on the bed, he said what he wanted to. “I would go with you if I could, you know. I used to love the temple.”

“I know how you feel.” She curled under the quilt, turning away. “I used to love you, too.”

The bride poses with her yellow roses lifted like an escaping balloon. She smiles at the bouquet.

“Gretta will be a beautiful bride,” says Heather.

“No more beautiful than you were.”

“Diary dreams.”

“You were a beautiful bride,” says David, pushing his fingers between hers.

“It doesn’t matter now.”

“I remember walking to the altar, holding your hand, thinking I had never seen such a beautiful woman.”

“Thank you.” She shrugs.

“You should have told me about the bobby pins. I could have bought them myself.” He holds her fingers tighter.

“It doesn’t matter now,” she says. She is addressing the trumpeting angel.

David follows her eyes to Moroni and says through to him, “I love you, you know.”

Heather bows her head. He puts his arm around her and breathes in the scent of marigolds and petunias. The newlyweds are laughing.

“Time for me to go in,” she says. “Keep an eye on Moroni for me, will you?”

He kisses her cheek. “I promise. Give my best to Gretta and Joe.”

She stands and walks towards the temple, then turns back and returns the kiss.

He waves as she enters. Then, he gazes at the granite.

Forty years in construction, he reminds himself. Sparkling stone and golden tidings. Steep and spiked. And Moroni on top, looking precarious and secure. David imagines the statue falling, falling, but two inches above the marigolds, lifting his golden robes to let white wings expand. He stares at the statue. After all, he promised Heather he would keep an eye on Moroni. He almost always keeps his promises.

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. AmyB says:

    Although this is fiction, I’m left wondering what will happen to this marriage. Will the wife come to terms with her husbands disbelief? Will she let go of the man she married because she believes he can’t get her to the celestial kingdom? Will it cause an irreconcilable rift between them, or will they redefine their relationship in a new way that allows them respect each others beliefs and love each other more unconditionally?

    I have seen tragedy and heartbreak stemming from this situation, and it makes me sad.

  2. Deborah says:

    Thanks Emily — and Margaret.

  3. Eve says:

    I find this story particularly powerful because it’s more or less the situation I’ve been in for most of my marriage. For the most part I’ve made my peace with my husband’s unbelief (being no model of orthodoxy myself…). But as with any upheaval, it takes time and effort to work out a new relationship based on new assumptions.

  4. older singer says:

    Do you want the truth behind the fiction? The story was based on my first marriage, but I have freely fictionalized. The true story had other elements, like abuse. I’d like to think that I could’ve stayed in a marriage where my spouse did not share my faith. I did not stay in a marriage where I was at risk of losing everything, including my life.

  5. older singer says:

    Btw, I’m don’t usually use a pseudonym on blogs. I chose “older singer” to post on my daughter’s blog, since she is a younger (and better) singer. Apparently, it works on other blogs too! She is the one really good fruit of that first marriage, btw.
    Margaret Young

  6. AmyB says:

    Margaret, thanks for sharing. There’s always more to the story, isn’t there! I don’t want to get too personal, but I’m wondering if you’ve written any stories about the abuse. I know that it happens, even in temple marriages that look all sparkly and veneered from the outside. However, those stories are seldom told. Spousal abuse seems like one of those dirty, shameful secrets that is spoken of even less than things like infidelity. I wish we could speak about it more because I’m certain there are women out there suffering in silence and feeling very alone.

  7. Caroline says:

    Margaret,
    I didn’t know you read this blog! That’s great!

    I bought a book of your short stories a couple of years ago and loved them.

    Thanks for giving us that real life post script to your story. For me, it adds some pathos to realize that the story was based in your real life experience.

    Like Amy said, spousal abuse doesn’t seem like a place too many Mormon writers want to go. But I too would love to see more writing – fiction and memoir – addressing this reality.

  8. older singer says:

    I have written about abuse a lot. I wrote about it most strongly in a memoir I haven’t published and don’t know if I will. The memoir won a contest, but it is awfully personal, so I just don’t know. Maybe because it ISN’T fiction, I’m more protective of it. Also, I wrote it after my best friend died, and it tells some of her secrets. I gave a copy to her daughter (it was dedicated to her), but have otherwise kept it to myself. My best friend rescued me from the abuse several times. Sadly, she also found herself in an abusive marriage eventually.
    In fiction, I’ve written about abuse in several of my stories in _Elegies and Love Songs_ (almost impossible to get–I donated a bunch of copies to _Sunstone_, so maybe Dan Wotherspoon would send you a copy if you subscribed to the magazine) and in _Love Chains_.
    My favorite would have to be “Grandpa’s Growth” in _Elegies and Love Songs_. It was first published in the Southern Review, and is probably easier to find in SR archives than anywhere else.

  9. older singer says:

    P.S.
    I happened on this blog while reading Jana Remy’s story. I subscribed to _Exponent II_ for years and didn’t know what had happened to it lately. Glad to see there’s a blog. I’ve added it to my “favorites.”

  10. Eve says:

    Margaret, thanks for providing a little background. I think your situation really illustrates that there’s simply no standard response to a spouse’s diminished activity or faith. I’ve sometimes heard people proclaim that of course they’d maintain commitment to a spouse who quit believing or left the church and that they find divorce under such circumstances inexcusable. But of course loss of faith is extremely individual. Some disbelieving spouses maintain family relationships and commitments to kindness and decency; for others, leaving the church is part of a general plunge into all kinds of depravity. I’m so sorry that it sounds as if your situation fell into the second category, and I’m so glad that you did indeed escape with your life.

  11. Deborah says:

    Margaret! I was hoping you’d check in. (Yeah!)

    A couple of years ago I had a heart-felt conversation with a women whose husband was leaving the faith. She sought me out because she knew I was in interfaith relationship. While I could offer a listening ear and some measure of empathy, I realized that our situations were quite different. I went into my marriage *knowing* I’d be attending church alone. I weighed the consequences against my conviction that I’d found the right man. She entered her marriage with a very different set of expectations. I was struck that some people had counseled her to leave him — and he did not have the darker side that you mention (thank god you got out!) — and start again with another Mormon man. When last I saw her, she was holding on tight — to both her marriage and her religion.

  12. EmilyCC says:

    Margaret, I’m so glad you gave that background. One of the things I love about this story is that the characters are so engaging in just a short 3 page story. I think that’s really impressive.

  13. Kaimi says:

    Margaret,

    Thank you for the background of the story. It adds tremendously to the depth and meaning of the story. I had liked the story a lot; now I like it even more.

    I must admit to a bit of indignant sputtering, though, when I read your comment about the circuitous route you took to this blog. Not at the end result; I’m quite happy that you’re reading X2 — the group is great, the dynamic is strong, and you’re a great addition to the X2 commenting community.

    But your comment means that you _didn’t_ get here via the large flashing neon “Margaret, Please Click Here” link — directly to this post — that I put up on the T&S sidebar a few days ago (and which is still on the sidebar!).

    Yet, you managed to end up here, circuitously, just a few days later. (Through Jana’s post — um, did you find that one from my sidebar link?) A bit of a mind-boggling coincidence; or perhaps, a Heavenly parent working in circuitous ways.

  14. Kaimi says:

    (In case it’s not already obvious, my indignation is of the amused, head-shaking variety, not the angry variety.

    And I’m still chuckling over the circuitous, serendipitous route you took here. I’ve been told (by more than one Mormon) that women tend to be more circuitous in their actions and men more direct; I’m naturally inclined to disbelieve those kinds of gender generalizations, but hey, maybe there’s something to them . . . )

  15. older singer says:

    Kaimi–I am still so new to blogging. I’m not used to the sidebars and don’t usually read them. Anyway, I’m glad I happened on this blog. Btw, this story is included in _Love Chains_, though it is revised and titled “Winds.” On the subject of interfaith marriages, I do wonder if it’s harder for Mormons to manage them than members of other faiths–particularly when one spouse HAS BEEN LDS and then has decided to leave. The “our family can be forever” (now modified to “Our family can be HAPPY forever”) suggests that everyone has to be on the same page, or close to it. The forever part seems to come into question when one spouse chooses to leave, because “forever” apparently depends on temple rituals. I like Levi Peterson’s idea that God will surely not divide a couple who love each other deeply, as Levi loves his non-LDS wife. And I have to add that while I was in this particular phase of my first marriage–getting used to the idea that my spouse (who had left the church and then returned, but was leaving again) would not be with me in the temple or at church, I behaved quite badly at times. And I was so jealous of my sisters, who were just starting to marry.
    On the abuse subject, I remember very well the day I found my strength. It was a defining moment. My ex was calling me the most vulgar things, telling me I was a totally incompetent bitch, etc., and I was reduced to a sort of fetal position–from which I suddenly stood straight up, looked him square in the eye and said without the slightest quiver in my voice, “No, I am not that. I am NOT THAT.”
    Finding my strength was the beginning of my ending the marriage–but the divorce was still excruciating. I knew that just as I had judged my husband, others would now judge me for having abandoned my temple marriage/covenants. I was absolutely right about that, btw. The only person who really understood why I had made the choice was a great aunt of mine, who had left an abusive marriage herself (one she barely survived) after having 13 children. She wrote me a letter telling me she had been praying and had suddenly felt the presence of our ancestors, and was communicating their message to me: They wanted me to know they were aware of me and loved me, and that the decision to get divorced was mine to make.
    I barely knew this aunt, so it was quite remarkable and healing to get her letter.

  16. jana says:

    Okay, this is totally off-topic, but i just wanted to briefly jump in the thread to say a few things:

    1) How cool it is to have Margaret Young hanging out on ExponentBlog.

    2) How completely flattered and flabbergasted I am that Margaret both knows my name and has read my writing.

    Margaret, can you handle some unabashed fan-love from me? _Heresies of Nature_ is one of the most moving books that I’ve ever read. I think of it often and have recommended it to many friends. And thank you for telling such powerful Mormon stories–especially those that are close to your life experiences. 🙂

  17. older singer says:

    Jana, let me just exchange the fan mail. I heard you read years ago when you were awarded a citation for your entry in the Gene England Essay contest. I was deeply moved by your essay and have been very aware of you since then. I’ve also followed some of your journey thanks to John Dehlin’s work.

  18. jana says:

    A bit more of a tangent:

    In the past few years as I’ve struggled to stay in the church, I’ve often told myself that if people who are as smart and savvy as Margaret Young (and Eugene England and Armand Mauss and so many other fine Saints) can stay in the church, well then I could, too.

    I still feel that somehow I failed in not being able to measure up, not having the ability to endure to the end. I love the Mormon people, I see so much beauty and earnest striving in my LDS friends. But ultimately my heart led me elsewhere, where I could feel greater peace. Yet I have moments where I wonder if somehow I just wasn’t strong enough to stay?

  19. older singer says:

    Can I answer really openly? I have far too much to say than I can fit into a blogspot. The day you read at Ann Cannon’s house, Ann and I were reeling because a dear friend of ours had suddenly died. Even an autopsy didn’t reveal the reason. Her name was Becky Brown Thomas, and she was Ann’s very best friend. (My best friend, Buffy Cannon, had died five years earlier in a car crash.)
    You read that night about the loss of your leg. That is the image which keeps coming to me as I’ve pondered losing you–even though you and I don’t know each other well. We have lost a MEMBER, and we’ll never be the same. We’ve lost a sister, someone else on the underground railroad who knows things about the path which we desperately need to know ourselves, someone to share the journey and the burden. But that answer–the “we need you” answer–doesn’t satisfy what YOU need. I have been pondering this for several days. I’ve been seeing your face, remembering your posture as you sat in Ann’s chair and read. (Ann wasn’t there, because the day had been far too difficult for her.) I’ve been grieving the loss of a sister–which may sound very strange coming from someone you know only vaguely.
    I have had such marvelous helpers like Gene and Charlotte and Darius and Armand and others, who have whispered strength to me at my weakest moments, and I have had some miracles which have helped me stay. There have ALWAYS been little fountains in the desert of my doubt (and I’ve had some really dry days).
    Oh dear, I have so much more to say and it’s time for me to pick my daughter up.
    Just know that I represent many people who recognize what beautiful light you offered wherever you went in the corridors of Mormonism, and it’s a light we cherish. Even though you’ll still be “active” in many ways, things are darker without you fully present.
    I’m sorry I don’t have more time to really answer.

  20. Caroline says:

    By the way, Margaret, Exponent II the publication does still exist, if you’re interested in signing up for it. It is no longer being printed in paper, but you can subscribe and get online copies. Just check out that link to Exponent II at the top of our blog.

    Jana, I think the peace you feel is paramount. Selfishly, I hope that someday you may come back (Church sucks without you), but it would be a shame if doing that violated your conscience or your peace.

  21. Kaimi says:

    Margaret,

    Well, all’s well that ends well, and your ending up reading this blog is clearly a good result. Thanks for putting up with my ribbing about the sidebar. 🙂

    And on a more serious note, thanks for your courage in discussing these issues. I know too many LDS women who have been victims of abuse. (Really, one is too many — and unfortunately I know more than one.) Too often, the abuse is kept hidden or is viewed as a cause for shame by the victim. Speaking out, by a respected authority figure, can do a lot to dispell that protection.

    The same goes for the hurtful stigma attached to divorce in the LDS community. An LDS woman is vulnerable to being judged for her status as a divorced woman, even if she had to flee an abusive marriage to save their life. Again, I think that one way to dispel that harmful societal view is for respected figures to speak out against it — and someone with a personal history can speak in ways no one else can. So thank you for your comments; I’ll be forwarding this thread.

  22. Kaimi says:

    arg – typo. That last comment should read, “Speaking out, by a respected authority figure, can do a lot to dispell that _perception_.” (I need to type slower, perhaps — I’m rushing off to play a musical number in a few minutes and apparently going too fast in my blogging.)

  23. Kaimi says:

    Also, about the book.

    First, I’m already a subscriber. Can I bug Dan Wotherspoon then, and tell him that you sent me, Margaret? 😛

    Second, though, it doesn’t seem to be _that_ impossible to find. One online used-book network currently lists 19 copies of it at different used bookstores, ranging in price from the reasonable ($5) to the outrageous ($35). You’ll have to pay shipping on it, but some of these are bookstores that you can just go into and buy it, saving you the $4. (i.e., Sam Weller’s, which currently lists two, as-new, shrinkwrapped copies at $7.50 each).

    See http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&y=0&tn=elegies+and+love+songs&x=0

    Hmm, better make that 18 copies available through the used-bookstore network — I think I’m going to buy one. 🙂

    (And as a side note, the online used-bookstore networks — the main ones I use are abebooks.com , campusi.com , and alibris.com — are a real treasure. I can’t tell you how many of my LDS books come from them. I really don’t know what I’d do without them. It’s worth it to look through them — each taps into a slightly different network of bookstores, though major stores like Sam Weller’s link to all three.)

  24. older singer says:

    Kaimi, you didn’t mention what is perhaps the biggest reason women stay in abusive marriages, and I’m afraid it does fit in with Mormon culture. Because we have the “ideal woman” image haunting us constantly (or is that just me?), we can be easily persuaded that we somehow DESERVE the abuse because we are messy or fat or stupid. It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about my first marriage, and I am in such a beautiful marriage now that it seems a little strange to put myself back into those memories. I do remember my ex starting his sentences with “Shit woman,” which would precede some statement about my being “totally incompetant” (a frequently used phrase) or “hideous-looking.” (It took SO LONG for me to let Bruce see me without make-up because I really did believe I was repulsive unless I had my false eyelashes in place.)
    I remember feeling like “Shit Woman” was my title–sort of the opposite of “Wonder Woman.” (I haven’t read the rules for posting here–I hope I’m not breaking them by the bad language.)
    I remember thinking that if I could just lose twenty pounds and keep the house spotless, if I could just learn to sew, if I could just be perfect, then I would earn my husband’s love. I would be worthy of it. I think the hardest statement for me to recover from was this: “Nobody could love you. There’s nothing loveable about you. You are repulsive.”
    It took tremendous strength, I now see, to stand up to that, because so much of me believed my husband was right about me. But I did stand up. And now I recognize that most of my ex’s comments were actually self-directed. I was the victim of his own self-loathing. He is quite pitiable to me now, and I have often put him on the prayer rolls.

  25. older singer says:

    Okay, I just read the rules for commenting on this blog. Yep, I did indeed break them with my use of a four-letter word which would not be allowed on television. (I guess cable doesn’t count.) I apologize.

  26. Caroline says:

    Margaret,
    No problem 🙂 Your use of the four letter word was entirely non-gratuitous. I really appreciate you sharing these experiences with us.

  27. Kaimi says:

    Margaret,

    My copies of _Elegies and Love Songs_ and _Love Chains_ arrived in the mail today. (Total outlay including shipping was quite reasonable, less than $15). It looks like I’m set now for Thanksgiving reading, provided that my wife doesn’t steal them to start reading them herself. (Which appears to have already happened).

    And by the way, who’s that fresh-faced young woman on the back dust jacket of Elegies and Love Songs? She couldn’t be _you_, could she? Why, she doesn’t look a day over 24. You must have hoodwinked one of your young students into letting you use her picture for the dust cover. 😛

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