Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Sense of Dread

I knew there was some shame and secrecy surrounding my sister’s wedding. I was only seven, but I knew. They were getting married in our family room. Our family room! The place where I watched Smurfs and The Muppet Show was to be their sacred chapel. It was the place where I’d fight and wrestle with my older brothers and the place where our dog, Puddles, would track in mud from outside. How could a wedding take place there?

The day of our sister's wedding, Carrie, and I took a bath at my grandma and grandpa’s townhouse, only a few miles from our house on Barola Lane. My grandma got down on her knees and washed our hair, her perfectly coiffed hair not moving an inch as she did so. My mom was nine months pregnant with my little brother and wasn’t able to bend over and wash us anymore.

Carrie and I popped floating clusters of bubbles and fought for space in the tub. "Why are they getting married in our family room? Aren’t you supposed to get married in the temple,” I asked grandma.

“They’ll be married in the temple in a year. For now, they are doing it at your house.” She answered in a way that suggested that she didn’t want any more uncomfortable questions about the shameful marriage.

I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand exactly what had happened. When I’d heard of their engagement, I was told that they’d only been dating for two weeks. I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. How wonderful it would be to know within a couple of weeks that you found your prince Charming! I’d tell teachers at school, as if they should be as awed and as jealous as I. From their responses, however, I could tell they were suspicious, not jealous. “What do your parents think,” a recess monitor asked, with true disbelief in her voice. “They think it’s great,” I answered.

They didn’t think it was great though. I knew what their hushed tones and hasty wedding plans really meant. They were embarrassed and wanted the wedding over as quickly and quietly as possible.

Even at the age of seven, I knew that my sister and her boyfriend had “messed up”. They’d done something naughty and couldn’t get married in the temple. They’d probably even had sex, but no one told me that. I just gathered that from the roundabout answers I’d get from grown-ups when I’d question them. But there was more to it. I knew it. Even a kid can sense great fear in the adults around her. The fear that emanated from the adults was not only because the wedding would be outside the temple. They knew something wasn't right, or at least sensed the doom and pain this union might bring. Though, I'm sure, they had no idea how twisted and perverse things would become.

I really wasn’t worried about the young couple’s future; I didn’t know enough to be worried, and I thought adults did too much worrying anyway. Couldn't they just be happy and bask in the romance of it all? I was thrilled because my sister, Carrie, and I were flower girls. We got to wear white dresses and flowers in our hair. What more did I need to know?

Because Carrie was mentally disabled, she didn’t automatically understand how exciting it was to be a flower girl. I got her excited though. I talked in gleeful shrieks about how beautiful we’d be and what an honor it was. She grinned and clapped along with me.

After our bath, my grandma put pink, spongy rollers in my hair. What a treat! My mom had never been one to put my hair into a hairdo, and it was very exciting to be getting such treatment. She took out the rollers and I had ringlets at the side of my face. She put up the rest of my hair. It was very circa 1973, even though the year was 1983. I didn’t care if it was a little out-of-date; it was beautiful! My grandma carefully bobby-pinned the small wreath of flowers into my hair. The back of the wreath had tiny ribbons flowing from it and I loved how they flowed down the back of my head, like strands of Rapunzel's hair. I felt like a bride and even pretended that it was my wedding day.

I don’t remember much about sister's wedding. I don’t remember walking down any makeshift aisle or anyone announcing them as husband and wife. I do remember my dad was the one that married them. He was a bishop at the time and I thought that one day I’d like to have my daddy marry me to somebody too.

I also remember that my sister didn’t wear white. I thought it was so odd. She wore a shimmery, tan fabric. Yes, it was pretty, but it was no wedding dress. There was no veil! No full-length dress! Just some 1980’s, puffy-sleeved, night-on-the-town kind of dress. Carrie and I were the ones in white. We were the virginal, pure ones that night. At least, that seemed to be the message.

After the wedding ceremony took place, the bride and groom took their places around our dining room table and cut into their modest cake with white and peach frosting. This also perplexed me. I imagined a wedding cake to have tiers and to be intricately decorated. This was a simple sheet cake, like one I would have at my birthday party. My sister politely fed her husband his piece of cake. Then he teased her and pretended to smash the cake into her face. She was horrified. I laughed. I thought he was so funny. I had no idea, at that time, that this simple act of teasing was a symbol of their abusive relationship. He would forever be teasing and embarrassing her. He didn’t mind humiliating her for a few chuckles and giggles.

As a child, so much was hushed in my presence, and I wonder if anyone was all that surprised when my sister came home crying, with a black eye, only a few months after that strange, makeshift wedding. Were they surprised when her ribs were broken from a "fall down the stairs" a few years later? And would they ever have guessed that the little flower girl, dressed in virginal white, would come to them later as an 18 year old college coed, telling them that the same man who teased and abused my sister, had also stolen my innocence as a child?

(Disclaimer: I am in no way suggesting that any Mormon marriage that takes place outside the temple is doomed or wrong. My own wedding to my wonderful husband took place outside the temple and we were sealed in the temple a year later.)


  1. I just want to take up that little girl you used to be and hug her and protect her. I am dismayed...so dismayed at the lengths people will go to to 'save face.' to pretend that they're in the right, no matter the cost to others.
    What I am so thankful for though is your ability to create healthy and loving relationships after going through and seeing what you did. You are truly the hero of this story.

  2. Loves to you too, Blue!

    I feel the same way, Heather, I just want to pick up that little girl I used to be and hug her. Once you have kids, you just realize how awful that whole thing was.

  3. You tell this in amazingly interesting prose. It needs to be saved. It's book material. It gives me chills because I understand what you have been through.
    Blue "says" it best.

  4. So sad. I think once you have kids, you also can't believe someone wouldn't protect you the way you fiercely protect your own kids. I'm so sorry for that little girl, and I'm so proud of the woman who survived it all.

  5. Alyson, I am so sorry. As a mother, I have such a hard time believing that anyone could stand by and let that happen to their daughter...and I am including your older sister in that, too. If you, as a young child, could realize what was happening in that marriage, it is beyond belief that your parents didn't. I know it's hard to intervene in those situations, but wow. And after what happened to you that they are still saving face. I refuse to understand. (hugs)O and thank you for sharing your story.

  6. Donna - that is so sweet! Thank you!

    Val - Thanks so much! And I feel the same way about protecting kids. That has been sorely lacking in my family.

    Lara - I agree. I don't believe that everyone was completely clueless in what was happening. I think the signs were ignored and not enough protection was put into place. I would never, ever let my daughter (or son for that matter) be left alone with a guy like my brother-in-law.

  7. Alyson,

    You can know that what you wrote may have had no 'apparent' effect on people, but truth has a way of corroding the facade... and it will come to a head someday. He will make a mistake, or someone will no longer wish to hide the truth anymore... but it will come to something. I am proud of you that you have the courage to sit down and rehash was was without a doubt a very painful period in your life.

    My thoughts are with you.

    Shame on your family for ignoring this. They are however, fated to live with the consequences and guilt of protecting a criminal.

  8. H.Chick - Thank you! They can't ignore it much longer, like they always have. I'm now forcing the issue, finally.

    I knew in starting this blog that I would be attacked or people would try to guilt me into shutting it down to protect the innocent. I knew it would happen, but didn't realize it would happen so soon. I've already got people defending my abuser to me and using the innocent victims in this (i.e. his children) to try to get me to stop. I don't name names, so I'm not hurting any of his kids. This blog is strictly the truth! And the truth can't hurt you. Only pretending and denial can.

    If it hurts anyone that loves him to read this, then DON'T read it! You are not being forced and I will not shut it down because people are trying to make me feel that I am now "making victims" of his children through this blog. They were made victims by their dad, not me. He is the one who caused all this pain and heartache.

  9. Are you serious? They don't have to read it. I'm sure it would be upsetting to hear accusations against their dad, but better to have a seed of suspicion implanted in their hearts - the better to protect themselves and their children eventually. You are so right that he made victims of them not you. You go girl!!

  10. Yes, I'm serious and it's totally infuriating. The whole reason I do not use names on this blog, is to protect his children.

    His children have always been used as pawns against me. Whenever I wanted to seek justice or spend Christmas with my family (without him), they tell me to think of his innocent children. They always used his kids to shut me up. And now, that's happening again. I hate that they have to be hurt and feel pain about this, but it's not my fault. This was all their dad's doing.

    Let me clarify and say that I'm not blaming the kids. It's everyone around them that are using them to try to shut me up. I love his kids and always will. They are innocent, but their father should have thought of that all the reprocussions before he violated me for 7 years. This is all on his head. If they love him and want him in their lives and it hurts them to read it, then they just need to stop reading it. This is my story and I WILL tell it.

  11. Hey, my hub is coming to pick me up so I'll be back later to finish reading your blog.

  12. I love the poem by Robert Frost, Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood. You are now taken a road less traveled by, and that will make all the difference. Give your adult self a hug, and not just that little girl. She needs it!

  13. I have always tried to teach my kids that you trust that first instinct you have about people. First impressions can be wrong, but when you have that alarm sounding or feeling of fear or dread it almost always is accurate. People really need to listen to the kids when they are choosing a spouse, they are so in tune. I agree with Heathers sentiments, and I wish I could say something to make it all go away, but I have learned all to well that that is impossible. So instead I offer my support, and my prayers as you continue to work through this.

  14. Crash - look forward to having you back!

    Kaylynn - I love that poem too! And you're right, the adult self needs a hug too. :)

    Hanson - You're so smart to teach your kids that. I think we are usually taught to ignore alarming feelings and to just trust that people are always good. I've learned to trust my instincts. It has paid off over the years.

  15. I just read all your posts on this blog. I fully agree with what you have written about family members who seem to "forgive" the abuser and scorn the abused. This same thing happened to my sister. Only they never seemed to forgive the abuser, but they never pressed charges, and my parents have basically ostercised my sister. They told us mean things about her and because of the remarks they made it put doubt in our minds about her feelings for us, her sisters. But we are now older and know better. We have taken down the walls with her and are rebuilding our relationship with her. She was the oldest so we nievely trusted our parents and all they said.
    I am assuming this occured in Utah. I love Utah, but it seems that things sometimes happen not quite to church guidlines there. I live in Idaho, and I can tell you if this was brought before the leadership here he would have been excommunicated and they would have helped in anyway to press charges. If and when he was brought back in to the church he would have a permnent restriction on having any contact with youth of all ages. He would not be allowed to serve in any leadership calling including Sunday School president. It is so sad to me that the church has let you, the victim down. As well as the abuser. They are not allowing him to fully repent and save himself from things to come after this life. There will be retribution, just apparently not from Utah!
    We were just in Logan for the weekend and church was very "weird". They were very laid back and I felt like I was just lounging to get through church services. I felt like there was no meat in the doctirne being "served", unlike our SS teacher. It can be so "meaty" sometimes that it takes a week or more to digest what is being taught!
    Our Stake President taught us growing up "Belnap kids sleep between Belnap sheets" this inculded every family member. NO Sleepovers, NO matter what. That included family members. They did not sleep over at cousins houses. For this very reason. It happens more than people realize! It even happens with siblings. Sometimes of the same sex. My family now has the same rule, our kids only sleep between their own sheets. NO sleeping together, they sleep in thier own beds! Period!!
    I will definately be back to read how you and your "quest" are in my prayers. Sorry for the long comment. You just struck a chord with me!

  16. Alyson, I've been out of the blogging world for a while so I just got caught up on this new blog you created (and of course your beautiful pictures on the other blog) I'm so impressed by your strength to express your feelings. This is something that has obviously changed you and created the person you are today and I applaud you and your efforts on healing. At the same time I feel sorry for your sister. Sorry that she has been blinded by the person she married. Sorry that she doesn't have your strength to face the truth. It makes my heart ache to think that she and other members of your family would embrace this person and try to pretend this didn't happen or downplay the abuse. It is possible to forgive without having to embrace the wrongdoer and act like it didn't happen. Look at what happened with Elizabeth Smart. I watched an interview with her and her family and they truly have forgiven the man that took her and abused her. They don't live everyday wishing him ill will, but at the same time, they wouldn't invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner and encourage other young girls to be around him. Sorry for such a long comment (I probably should've emailed) But I wanted you to know that you have strangers like me out there who support you and are moved by your courage and strength.

  17. Found you and as a total stranger, wanted to voice my admiration and support. I'm an active LDS member and a social worker. I believe that our church culture does indeed need to change. I am so sorry for how people in your family and church community responded. It angers me. Sending good energy your way-

  18. Springrose - Just hearing about your sister makes me so sad. I know how she must have felt. No, I did not grow up in Utah. I grew up in California. This all happened in California, and while I understand what you mean about the church being different in Utah, I obviously don't think this could only happen in Utah. I think most of us are too trusting of our leaders in the church. They are all human and are all influenced by their own life experiences. I believe that those experiences often get in the way of them doing the right thing. I think this could happen anywhere and I think we all need to be more vigilent. I think I lot of erroneous decisions are made in our church court system. It actually frightens me how often things probably go wrong. By the way, my abuser's bishop at the time that I forced him into a confession was a police officer! You'd think that he would have been especially sensitive about doing the right thing and having my abuser arrested, but they were friends and so an injustice was done.

    Sara - This is what I've told my family for years. I told them that I could forgive my abuser and wasn't expected to keep him in my life or let him around children. They don't like that because it upsets their little system of doing things and it makes it hard for them to live in denial. What my family has done to me since the abuse is nearly equal to the abuse. They have betrayed me in an unspeakable way.

    Patria - Thanks so much! I'm glad to hear more people who don't just accept the culture of the church and realize that things need to be changed. We need to start a movement.

  19. Hi Aly,

    I agree with all your comments. Especially Sara. It's doesn't make any sense that a family would keep this on the down-low. How does your sister live with the fact that her hub has done this to you (and her and her kids.) She would have to pretend that it never happened. I know it's more complicated than my outsider perspective, but it's hard to grasp.

  20. Reading and caring and admiring!! I am so proud of you I could burst. Has anyone ever heard of shouting from the rooftops?

    You make my courage strong Alyson. You are a pillar in the billowing surge.

  21. Talk about foreshadowing. Wow.
    BTW, you are a really, really good writer.

  22. Reading this just makes me sick. My sister had a friend whose family treated her sexual abuse similarly. She committed suicide before she was 20. I have always told myself that my children's safety and well being comes before upsetting family/friend relationships, and I can't understand families who think otherwise. It is especially sick when he has admitted it? There isn't even a he said/she said for them to try to hide behind? Can't wrap my mind around it.

  23. SpringRose -Unfortunately this scenario happens in the US and outside the US. I can attest to both.
    Alyson-it is truly the children who need protection. "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18: 6)