She Ate the Fruit. She Had To.

Picking the low hanging fruit A woman picking the low hanging fruit. The woman & tree and background are on separate labeled layers.

Picking the low hanging fruit
A woman picking the low hanging fruit. The woman & tree and background are on separate labeled layers.

By Wendy

(This song is performed by Wendy and her sister.)

I was 24 when I got divorced and my parents separated. It was a gut-wrenching time, to say the least. To soothe the constant ache in my heart, I started playing the guitar and dabbling in songwriting. My new roommates and I formed an all-girl band called “The RockStar Betties”—writing and performing ragey feminist songs on instruments we were just learning. (If you lived in Provo at the time, you may have seen us playing at a house party in all our fledgling chick-band glory.)

I was also in my first year of an English master’s program at BYU, when Professor Susan Howe assigned my women’s literature class a final project: tell one woman’s story. Naturally, I wrote an angst-ridden song. Fighting back tears, I performed the song for the class and accompanied myself on the red, used acoustic-electric guitar my mom had given me that year for Christmas. I immediately sat down in my chair, relieved that I’d made it through without bawling. I thought at the time that I had written “She Had To” about my mom and her agonizing decision to divorce my dad. Dr. Howe was on my thesis committee but she didn’t play favorites when it came to grading my project presentation. I don’t remember what I said in the presentation that day, but I remember Dr. Howe’s comment accompanying my less-than-desirable grade: she said I didn’t give enough context for the song. She was right. I didn’t really tell my mom’s story during my class presentation. And now I know why. The story was really about me.

The truth is, my parents’ divorce was devastating to me. It was more painful than my own divorce. My marriage was abusive and I wanted a way out long before it ended. But my parents’ divorce rocked my world. Unwittingly, I had defined myself entirely by my family context: having an intact family unit where I was an integral (oldest child) part. There were no boundaries in my mind between where my family members ended and where I began. There was no “me.” Just the nuclear family that I centered my happiness on. Anyone familiar with the pop psychology term “codependence” will recognize that I had a textbook case. When my parents divorced, I didn’t know who I was. It took many years of soul-searching, therapy, prayer, and graduate training in several forms of psychotherapy to learn how deeply important my personal happiness is. It’s important to me. It’s important to those around me. It’s important to my God.

I dedicate this song to every woman who struggles to define herself outside any relationship—be it to one person, a whole family, or a whole organization. I dedicate it to Mormon women who are taught to value others more than themselves, especially in the context of marriage and family. Divorce is a personal decision. So is the journey to achieving personal happiness. Finding it within or without the context of marriage can be daunting and disorienting for women who have been taught that their value is dependent upon how thoroughly they sacrifice their happiness—even their bodies—upon the altar of others’ happiness. Eve’s decision to defy God’s commandment and eat the fruit in order to heed God’s greater commandment speaks to me. I imagine making this decision between two seemingly good choices must have been inexplicably excruciating and hard-won. One she describes in Moses 5:11 to have been in the service of universal growth: to obtain knowledge of “good and evil, and the joy of our redemption.” I drew inspiration from Mother Eve when I wrote this song. And I draw it from her today.

“She Had To”

April 1974, wedding bells and flower girls.
Long white fence, garden grows seven children.
Leaves fall fast, seasons pass
One man gone, and her heart.

She wandered the desert, hands outstretched.
Asking, “Why is my well spent?
What can fill this emptiness?”

It’s incredible this peace; the apple is sweet.
Inordinate relief, solitude.
Sky bright blue, garden brand new.

Decisions are ridden with dichotomies:
Personal peace, family unity.
She walks alone.
Her garden grows thorn and rose,
But she knows:

It’s incredible this peace; the apple is sweet.
Sky bright blue.
Garden new.

She ate the fruit.
She had to.

(Wendy has had multiple lives , figuratively speaking, but likes the one she’s living now the most.)

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10 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Wendy, I love this song, and I deeply appreciate your post about this time in your life when you and your mom were making hard choices and learning to find and define yourselves outside expectations of the self-sacrificing woman. Thank you for this reflection and for the acknowledgement that these decisions are tough and complex — but that we have a wonderful model in Eve, who made the tough decision with the greater vision and perspective in mind.

  2. Jess R says:

    Oh man, this resonates with me so much. My parents divorced my senior year of college; the separated in October, my grandfather died a few weeks later, my brother left on his mission in December, and the divorce was finalized in February. My dad had been having an affair for years. As a military family, we were also really codependent. It is so destabilizing for your parents to split up, even as an adult. It really shook me up and sometimes I still feel like I’m recovering from it. Especially now that I’m getting married soon.

    I love your beautiful song so much. It’s a great reminder that sometimes we have to do things that others see as bad in order to take care of ourselves and the people we love. And we don’t know what is happening in anyone else’s life.

    • Wendy says:

      Thank you for your kind words about the song, Jess. I’m sorry to hear that you had a similarly intense year when your parents split up. It sure can take a long time to recover from s series of losses like that. And there is great wisdom in your thoughts about caring for ourselves despite judgment from others. Sending you love and blessings on your upcoming marriage!

  3. Sarah says:

    Seriously so beautiful — I’m getting chills again <3

    • Sarah says:

      And your story also resonates with me. My parents are not divorced, and they did a lot of good in my childhood, but a lot of damage as well. I love your expressed words about Eve and the connection that we can draw strength from. So much love.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Wendy, this is beautiful. I love this, “I didn’t really tell my mom’s story during my class presentation. And now I know why. The story was really about me.” This is why I think telling stories (our’s and other’s) is so profound…we so often learn new things about ourselves. (And, I’m glad that I can listen to this song whenever I want now! I so enjoyed it the first time I heard it and am envious of your talent and time in an all-girl band!)

  5. Michelle says:

    My temple married parents also divorced. Dad didn’t care that he was excommunicated while Mom only cared she was stuck raising five kids (I’m the oldest too) all alone with no man at her side. Three years later she remarried in the temple and kept reminding me I should go find my own husband . My only younger sister also married in the temple. No one was ever interested in marrying me, anywhere. I walk alone. A lone woman on earth with no identity. Eve was so lucky. God led her to her eternal companion. Eve never had to compete with others for Adam’s attentions. Why couldn’t God do the same for me?

  6. spunky says:

    This is beautiful and powerful, Wendy. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  7. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this, Wendy. (I am only coming to it, now.)

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