Jr High Polygamy

One of the more unfortunate periods of my life was the three years we lived in Utah. We moved to Orem, Utah, when I was just starting sixth grade. So I was what, nearly 12? An awkward time in life anyhow, but moving to Orem certainly made things worse in a major way. I was totally unprepared for the impact of Mormonism day in, day out, and for being surrounded by Mormon culture all the time. My parents, at that point, were converts of less than a decade, and had also never been around so many Mormons – and I think it is amazing that they stuck with the church during, and after, those three years. They both went through Mormon-related hell in many ways. Not that I noticed it that much at the time – I was a new teenager and was therefore appropriately self-absorbed.One thing that was such a rough transition for me was the way girls my age acted. We were worlds apart. I was always a late bloomer and was nowhere near puberty yet at that point, but I was also still very much a kid in many other ways. I liked to play and run around and be a kid; I didn’t style my hair daily and I mostly wore jeans and t-shirts. The girls my age were already wearing makeup, dressing up and noticing fashion (and, more frequently, noticing the absence of it on others), and were crazy for the boys. I felt like I had landed on another planet. I’m sure they thought so too, as I was not warmly welcomed – although, par for the Mormon course, the girls were good at putting on their best pious fellowshipping act around the adults. Otherwise, it was pure Mormon Mean Girls. Urgh.

So I became an outcast of sorts – or one of those fringe-y kids who don’t really have a core group to hang with. And although I thought nothing of it at the time (and it was never deliberate on my part), I ended up being friends with people whose parents were longterm jack Mormons, and the one non-Mormon girl who was in my class at school (yes, one). I still can’t put most of these experiences into words very well, but suffice to say, I understand well why non-Mormons in Utah have a shorter life expectancy. The dynamics were just so weird. And I never felt I could legitimately take on the Mean Girls or the other pretty people, I became a major rebel in most other ways. I got into lots of trouble at school and vandalised things and defied authority at every opportunity. And a few of the prettier people started to like me seemingly against their will, and would be friendly with me when their posse wasn’t around. Strange days.

I could go on and on, but this post isn’t about Utah or Mormons per se. It’s about Danielle, a girl I went to junior high with – to Orem Jr High with, in the middle of Happy Valley, full of mainstream Mormons. As I went through my normal daily gig of hanging with the fringe, I was so constantly bewildered and mystified by the world I was living in, that many things just totally escaped my notice as being out of the norm. You all will likely recognise Danielle immediately, though I didn’t at the time, and didn’t really process the entire experience until some years later.

Danielle came to school kind of irregularly. No one really talked to her and she didn’t talk to others very much either. And for some reason, Danielle always wore a long dress with long sleeves, with a white pinafore/apron thing. Her long hair was always done in a braid. She often had a slight body odor and greasy-ish hair when it was late in the week – probably she was only bathing once a week. She spoke so little that she was almost invisible. But I usually talked to her whenever I saw her. She easily fit into my ‘fellow fringe person’ group. When she spoke, she had a very quiet, whispery voice, and it was very hard to hear or understand her. She walked around with her eyes down most of the time. In my new world of all Mormons, all the time, I figured her family was just extra orthodox and that she was shy. It’s telling that she didn’t stand out like a sore thumb to me. ‘Normal’ is a very plastic notion.

One day, I was standing in the hall between classes. Danielle came up to me (very unusual in itself) and said, “I just wanted to say goodbye.” I asked where she was going. She said, “I’m going to have a baby.” Her face turned beet red and she looked down at the floor during this interaction. At the time, I didn’t even believe her really, I thought maybe I had misunderstood her soft-spoken sentence. I was so naive, I didn’t even immediately look down at her belly, although I did as she was leaving. Yes, it was protruding slightly beneath her long skirt and pinafore. I didn’t know what to say, I smiled and said goodbye and she walked away.

We were both about 14 years old. I never saw her again.

When I hear about Helen Mar Kimball, I always see Danielle in my mind’s eye. No one will ever be able to convince me it isn’t anything other than coercion and child abuse. I was a dork at school, make no mistake, and dressed all wrong and was young for my age. But I was myself. My parents weren’t forcing me to wear certain clothes, live out their adult religious practices (beyond going to church on sundays of course), or ‘marry’ someone likely much older than me when I was still a child. That this was happening as an open secret under everyone’s nose is tragic. It was the embodiment of cultish practices happening right in front of adults and children alike – but because of its strange-cousins relationship to Mormonism, it was just not addressed at all. Even when it took the form of a pregnant child at school.

I wonder where she is now.

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7 Responses

  1. JulieAnn says:

    This story made me cry. I wonder indeed where she is, if she is. A childhood stolen. And Mormons distance themselves so neatly from Fundamentalist groups, claiming no responsibility for their practices. How tidy. I can just see them shrugging their collective Mr. Mac suited-shoulders now: “We dunno.”
    And how many more Danielles have there been, and are out there now? God, it makes me so sad.

  2. Hellmut says:

    I am glad that Danielle had at least one friend. I would not mind polygamy so much if the plural wives were college educated adults. Forcing children into it cannot be justified and the government needs to put an end to it.

  3. fta says:

    That is a sad story. I also grew up in Orem, but never knew any polygamists. Perhaps I did, but just didn’t recognize them.

    Polygamy should only happen, if at all, between fully knowledgeable, consenting adults. Unfortunately, their children are raised to think it is God’s way, and they are forced into it before they are old enough to properly consent. It’s horrible.

    Like Dawkins says, there should be no [Mormon] children; only children of [Mormon] parents. Children are too young to be of any religion.

  4. The Sacred Sister® says:

    Wow, this is such a tragic story. It makes me heart hurt. Like you, when I moved to Utah, I was also unaware of the FLDS that still practiced polygamy.
    I remember the first time I went to the Reams supermarket in Sandy. I was so confused and thinking, “Why are all these women wearing pioneer garb?” They would never look me in the face or talk to me, even though I would try to smile and be friendly. I’m sure they weren’t used to anyone on the outside being kind.

    I have a similar friendship; my friend, Molly and I still keep in touch, I have known her for over 11 years.
    Although she has never said, “I’m a polygamist”, we have an understanding. She knows that I know and we never talk about it.
    A few years ago, she moved to Texas. A short time later, I read an article about polygamist sects making their way into Texas.
    She married at 19 and as far as I know, she only has 2 children; she does email me pictures of them on occasion. I’ve met her husband (who was also very young) and I believe she is his first wife. I don’t know if he has taken more wives, of course I would never ask her that. Whoever he is, his father is highly regarded in the FLDS church. He seems very nice; I had met him on a few occasions prior to their marriage. Of course, I was not invited to the wedding and I didn’t know about it until afterward.
    Her sect is much more liberal and she has always been allowed to work outside the home, that’s how I met her. But she’s essentially trapped in rural Texas with his family. She doesn’t email me as frequently as she used to. I just can’t help but worry about her future and her children.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this; it’s sad to think about things like this, but they do happen and it’s still happening. It’s nothing less than child rape and abuse.

  5. I was also sad when I read this story. It appalls me the adults at that school turned a blind eye to what they surely knew was happening with that girl.

    Also, Hellmut noted he’s glad she had at least one friend. I disagree. While she may have had one friendly acquaintance in WC, she didn’t actually have in her a good friend and confidant. That is the hardest part for me when considering this girl’s story….she had nobody but her family to discuss this stuff with, I’d bet. If she had fears or reservations or negative feelings about her situation, she only had her family to discuss this with, the same people who supported the fact that she was pregnant as a young girl by a polygamist man.


  6. CWC says:

    SML, you’re right that I wasn’t especially her friend. I was, however, the only person I ever saw her talk to, albeit infrequently. I always got the feeling that, in addition to being painfully shy, she was actually somehow not allowed to talk to people at school. She rarely even made eye contact with anyone.

    It’s interesting – my family are converts, and I have no pioneer heritage anywhere in the lines. But in addition to my jr high polygamy experience, a woman who was my best friend in college married a guy whose mother had left his family when he was a tween to join a polygamous sect. His father later remarried, but it was very difficult, and she left her four (or five?) children to go be someone’s nth wife.

    So despite my lack of close contact with the mormon church, and lack of mormon family history, I’ve had two close brushes with polygamy. Anyone who thinks this doesn’t still impact the church, NOW, TODAY, is just fooling themselves. Polygamy and its impact is JS’s lasting legacy.

  7. Hellmut says:

    That’s a good point, Sister Mary Lisa. Danielle and CWC were not friends in the sense that they could talk to each other about intimate matters. However, when you are alone then a little respect goes a long way, doesn’t it?

    Besides it requires courage for a teenager to reach out to the unpopular girl.

    If communication dynamics among the Heber Grant faction are any indication then Danielle’s family’s communication will have been governed by a comprehensive set of taboos. Any little bit of recognition as a human being that Danielle could recognize will have made a substantial difference to her mental well being.

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