Chapter Four – Growing Up a Happy© Mormon Kid
I was relatively happy as a Mormon kid…
I wanted to be the happy-go-lucky type, and so for the most part I enjoyed being a kid. I enjoyed having a built in group of buddies that were always there. Sure, I was typically the odd one out, I hated playing “church ball”, and I was certainly more the macramé-plant-pot-holder-maker kind of kid. And lemme tell ya, I made a *lot* of those. My mom loved that I was her little “sensitive Steve”, but I guess somehow she thought I wasn’t going to grow up and become a big ol’ queer while demonstrating amazing present wrapping skills, macramé skills, clothes-matching skills, bully-avoidance techniques, attention to detail and queeriness in general.
Having two torturous older brothers until I was 8 was interesting. We were an odd group; they fine-tuned ways in which I could be used to win bets, let out pent-up anger, or use to further their business du jour. There were times when I found myself inside a dryer while it was on, shoved into a trunk of a car with my mouth duct-taped shut, or being used as a weight on the back of a bike with my foot stuck in the spokes as my ankle was slowly ground off. My mom had no idea how to control them, and typically ended up trying to spank them only to shriek in tears that we had caused her to “break a blood vessel in her hand”, and she’d show us purple areas on her palm where our misdeeds physically ended up marring her hand and mental stability.
The moment my dad got home we’d scatter like cockroaches as she inevitably sent dad on a belt-whipping mission to help her regain some control. Sadly, I just became increasingly fearful of my dad and I am still somewhat fearful of him today. One time my dad, upon hearing that my Ex and I had decided not to spank our kids as part of raising them, told me to my face that if I didn’t start whipping my first child, that he’d become, “just like those brats that come to my office.” That was the first time I stood up to him, and I told him that I didn’t want my own kid to be scared of me like I was of him. When my son reached the age of seven, he relented and told me that we were doing a good job with him.
My younger brother is eight years younger than me, and my sister is eleven years younger. I am an “expressive-expressive” personality, and so I wanted to be accepted and taken in as part of the pack, so to speak. That never happened with my older brothers no matter how hard I tried. I was always entertainment, but never taken seriously. I had my role as the peacemaker, and until I finally gave up entirely I tried to break free from that role. After a certain period of time you wise up and realize your brothers are total asses and you stop your endeavors of cohesiveness.
I had such high hopes that my next older brother Bob would suddenly like me. I actually had daydreams about it. On the first day if high school, I was expecting a break, a sudden acceptance of him, he was a senior, I was a freshman and I thought I had finally made it into his accepted world. On the first day of school he approached me, and I just knew that was going to be the moment when he said, “You know? You’re not so bad, I’m happy we’re together here now.” Or something. He told me, “Listen, we’re not going to be close, don’t expect anything, and don’t talk to me.” I was devastated. I threw my focus on to my new little brother and sister believing that I would never treat them like they’d treated me.
When I was a kid, we were the quintessential “Mormon Family” from what everyone else could see. My mom had an immaculately clean home, everyone in the Ward knew this, and she took pride in it. It also drove her crazy due to the fact that my dad eventually became Bishop and that meant constant visitors to our house. To this day I carry around the ability to size up attempting an activity weighing its value against the possible mess it might make, and then typically deciding not to do it if it meant a prolonged mess, or if I couldn’t control it very well.
This eventually led to my obsessive-compulsive personality that typically came rushing out when I was attempting tasks like art projects or painting walls. One time when I was about ten years old, I was trying to make a mobile for a scout project. It was the first time I realized that the concept of “perfection” has been injected into me as I literally shredded about two days worth of intricate work because it wouldn’t hang perfectly balanced in an angry rage. I was berating myself tremendously, and realized in that moment that I really was taking on my own mom’s rage.
The way I was attacking myself in that moment when I was ten with mangled pieces of a failed Scouting Project mobile at my feet would be captured perfectly in a film scene years later in American Beauty when the character Carolyn Burnham, played by Annette Bening, berated herself while leaning against some closed blinds after a failed day at selling an ugly house. Wow, talk about watching yourself and your mom being played right in front of your nose! Years later, I would watch Merryl Streep play Joe Pitt’s mother in HBO’s version of Angels in America and almost cry watching the similarities between Mrs. Pitt and my mom.
My mother was a tortured woman. She was pregnant at age fifteen and married my dad, who was nineteen and seeking a way to escape his Mormon mission. She had three kids by the time she was twenty-one. She dealt with mental illnesses, most likely healthy doses of Bi-polar Disorder and Manic Depression – heavy on the depression side, amongst others. I tested myself one time to see how much of her genetics was plaguing my failing marriage by taking the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory – MMPI-2, and found that I got her mania, but not her depression. (It also reinforced my homosexuality as I topped that test marker with flying colors.)
She never sought out help her entire life, and avoided any form of possible cures, including health care professionals and correctly applied medications through physicians to help her manage her paranoiac delusions. All of her daughters-in-law became competition within two years of joining the family, she and my dad saw their kids as peers instead of children and treated us all that way, and she became an acid-tongued bitchy shrew under the guise of a smiling, mature sage. Towards the end of her life her poison-laden tactics were making me insane. After her death my father sent her funeral bill to his kids, and I was expected to pay my share of her funeral. It was presented to me as an “opportunity”; it was an opportunity I did not take.
My dad never once forced her to become healthy, but supported her in every single mentally-ill thing she said or did; it was obvious to me in later life that he’d do anything to maintain a relationship and continue getting laid, which was not that often it seemed. But he loved her. When my mom was upset and angry, everyone cow-towed to her. My dad misused his pharmaceutical license continually with her, and she was always on some sort of medication, she was addicted to many drugs.
There were times when my dad would shoot her up with something and she’d literally sleep for three days, my dad used the phrase, “put her down” in reference to those moments, like she was a horse. She rarely got up before noon, and when she did she was fragile and sad most of the time. Had my mom not had to deal with the church, she probably would have had a chance for a healthy life, but she had five kids that she doted on and cared for, and then died at the young age of sixty-four from polymyocitis. She was enamored with illnesses in general, and she finally contracted one that would kill her. I once asked my sister if she thought, like I do, that my mom used her illness to commit suicide, and we both agreed that she had.
My mom first discussed killing herself with me when I was about five years old, that was the age I first recall being fearful of it. When she desperately needed some attention, she’d bring up suicide with me again, knowing I would immediately freak out and rally to her side. This happened sporadically throughout my life until I was into my early married years. I believe she used that special technique only with me; my brothers received other forms of interaction with her, but not this message. I remember her confiding in me very specific details about her relationship with my dad, discussions a person would only have with their lover or partner. Therapists over the years have speculated that she did this because my father was simply never home in those early years when he was in Dental School; they called it the Lover-Syndrome. It wasn’t sexual at all; it was that she discussed intimate details about her feelings with me inappropriately. She latched on to me as her confidante, and we did practically everything together.
One time when she was particularly distraught, she went and got my dad’s pistol, walked through the house with it so I could see it, and I panicked. I followed her to the garage where she got into her huge brown car, set the gun on the seat beside her, started the car and then she sat staring ahead banging on the steering wheel. She was enraged, and I thought she might break her arms she was *pounding* on it so hard. I was standing in front of the car crying and screaming for her to stop, after a few minutes she put it in reverse and backed out and away down the street. I was sure that was the last time I’d see her; I sat there in the garage waiting for her to come home. Three hours later the garage door opened, I ran to her and she got out of the car. She had almost a catatonic look about her. I kept repeating that I was sorry, and just as she went into the house she looked at me, and with a stone-colored face shouted, “Sorry doesn’t matter!”
It wasn’t terrible all the time; my mother was also a wonderful woman under all of that. She raised me well, the best she could while dealing with an aloof, physically and emotionally distant husband whose financial misdeeds became family legend. When her illnesses weren’t blacking out her true self, she could be witty, carefree and fun. She did care for me, and she wanted my overall happiness and success, I believe. We had the best clothes, the best cereal collection on the block (to compensate for the fact that she slept most days until noon due to her “health issues”) and we were, for the most part, the Kool-Aid house. She thought about me much of the time, and that trait, when overloaded by her illnesses, became poisonous. I truly adored my mom, and so when things got really bad later in life, I was heartbroken, I never really saw her caring side much anymore.
I could spend hours on this subject, but why? The thing that became clear to me early on was that I had dreams and aspirations attached to me that I would challenge, and ultimately fight against to their dismay. But what I didn’t know was that my parents would limit, and ultimately remove their love from me. This was the most shocking fact of all, that pushing back against their tight and clear direction for our well-being and professional careers as dentists, my father’s chosen profession to escape being a farmer for life in a small town, would mean removal from their lives. My dad’s dream of making us all clones worked quite well with three out of four brothers, each of my brothers all graduated from Oklahoma University as dentists. Here’s my tally: Not a dentist – strike one. Not a faithful Mormon – strike two. Not a straight heterosexual eternally married man – strike three.
I graduated high school relatively short, eighteen years old and 5’ 2”-ish tall. In high school I actually had to sit on phone books when driving my dad’s Chevy Blazer around town so as not to be continually pulled over by cops inquiring if I was actually old enough to drive. Within six months of graduating high school, I had grown six inches, and by the time I returned from a Mormon mission Madrid, Spain, I was 6’ and 138 pounds. In those shorter high school days, my parents tried to figure me out. I was so unlike my obviously straight brothers that I became an oddity, and I think my dad had no idea what to do with me.
One time after a threesome of black bullies in my high school decided I’d be their little, white punching bag, my parents hung a punching bag of my own in the garage and sent me to see a Mormon therapist. I looked at that punching bag and thoughts two things, “My dad has no idea who I am if he thinks I actually want to take on those guys!” Years later we did strike up some similarities in my love of literature, but I never figured out the move to send me to the moronic shrink. How could my mental fear of facing three scary guys who wanted to hurt me be somehow fixed by visiting an aging Mormon man with the discernment of pond scum? Perhaps they sensed way back when that I was gay and hoped I’d admit it? I have no idea.
I didn’t really get basketball, Mormons favorite sport of all, it scared me to death for several reasons: I hated that pressure to perform and the guys were very cute and I couldn’t show my attraction, even though the other guys at that age were in *high* attraction mode with the girls, demonstrating all their outwardly accepted sexual prowess. I was still somewhat confused and really never understood with clarity my homosexuality until I was nineteen years old just before my mission. But I did have some athletic skill, I was in city soccer leagues for years, and that sport suited me quite well. I never scored once, but that sport was a good one for me, and probably why I still love a man with nice, hairy, muscular legs.
I was relatively happy until the pressure started and it got darker and darker until it felt like I was living under a cloud of responsibility and angst and unhappiness. I would say that my first 11 years were pretty fun. After that, it just went downhill. As it got darker I learned to make it seem like it was OK. I polished the routine; I told others I was happy©. In retrospect, I’ve never been so unhappy in my life. But when you’re in it, born and raised in it, you don’t know any differently.
Before I realized I was different I really felt just like Nephi, a “prophet” in the Book of Mormon. I totally identified with Nephi, that or maybe I just wanted to kiss Nephi. Lemme tell ya, the graphic images embedded into the Book of Mormon made those men so very enticing as I got older. Hugely muscled and just…well…sexy. Talk about a book full of studs! Even Abinidi (pronounced uh-bin-nih-die, accent on the “die”) was freakin’ huge and in the best gym-rat shape you’ve ever *seen* when he was about to be slain for being a super-prophet-dude. Years later my Ex would pronounce it Ah-bin-ah-dee (accent on the “ah”), which irritated me at first and now makes me laugh my ass off, why would a Hebrew name be pronounced Ah-bin-nih-die (accent on the die)? I believed in the church wholehearted, “beyond the shadow of a doubt”, if you will. Wow, that phrase makes me want to vomit now. With “every fiber of my being”.
Once I had my driver’s license, I found a way to escape my pain at home. I drove to friend’s houses, made close friends with all their parents, and did my best to avoid my own room. I worked from the age of fourteen, and I’ve never really been without a job since. I did things at other people’s houses that I could never do at mine, like wiring up my friend’s house and flying Kermit the Frog, buying fireworks and blowing up everything in sight with another friend (which resulted in a visit by the City of Aurora’s Fire Department Investigation Unit), and other things that passed the time while my mom slept her way out of countless depressions and my father spent as much time away from us as he could with church and dental work, it seemed. And when he was home, he was quiet and removed.
Mormonism was a fixed aspect of my childhood. It shaped the music I listened to, the food I ate, what I drank, what I was exposed to, and the level of intelligent conversation. Due to the high activity level, Mormons pretty much stick together. It is discouraged to date outside the church, and most all of your friends are of the same pattern as you, like a cookie cutter. One cannot grow up a Mormon kid without being severely sheltered from meaningful dialogue and remaining in a state of habitual innocence. I never heard opposing views in my house; it was always the same message, always the same framed topics, from politics to religion, to the entire world.
As I got older, I became aware of how truly ignorant I was, but I didn’t blame this on the church. This created a drive in me to understand much more than I knew. I am *nothing* like the Mormon Church now. And I think I was nothing like the Mormon Church when I was struggling in it as a member. It was my entire being before; it was how I identified myself first and foremost. My entire world view was that of how everything else fit into or around the church’s doctrines and history. I could put any historical event into its proper place within the gospel structure. There was an answer for everything; it was entirely beautiful, and I really believed that it would *all* fit nicely into my belief structure.
Why wouldn’t it?
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