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We only lived in Salt Lake City for a year, but it was a happy one. Mother took us to the zoo and to the park, where we'd play on the swings and slides. My father's business was successful and expanding. But he decided we needed to move back to Colorado City, Arizona—a tiny, nondescript FLDS enclave about 350 miles south of Salt Lake City and a stone's throw from Hildale, Utah, where I was born. The reason we went back was that he didn't want my sister Linda attending a regular public school. Even though she would technically be going to a public school in Colorado City, most of the teachers there were FLDS and very conservative. In theory, at least, religion is not to be taught in public schools, but in fact it was an integral part of the curriculum there.

When we returned to Colorado City, my father put an addition onto our house. There was more space to live in, but life became more claustrophobic. Mother changed. When we got up in the morning, she would still be sleeping. My father was on the road a lot now, so she was home alone. When we tried to wake her up, she'd tell us to go back to bed.

She'd finally surface midmorning and come into the kitchen to make us breakfast and talk about how much she wanted to die. While she made us hot cornmeal cereal, toast, or pancakes she'd complain about having nothing to live for and how she'd rather be dead. Those were the good mornings. The really awful mornings were the ones when she'd talk about how she was going to kill herself that day.

I remember how terrified I felt wondering what would happen to us if my mother killed herself. Who'd take care of us? Father was gone nearly all the time. One morning I asked my mother, "Mama, if a mother dies, what will happen to her children? Who will take care of them?"

I don't think Mother noticed my urgency. She had no idea of the impact her words had been having on me. I think she felt my question arose from a general curiosity about dying. Mother was very matter-of-fact in responding to me: "Oh, the children will be all right. The priesthood will give their father a new wife. The new wife will take care of them."

By this time I was about six. I looked at her and said, "Mama, I think that Dad better hurry up and get a new wife."

I was beginning to notice other things about the world around me. One was that some of the women we'd see in the community when we went shopping were wearing dark sunglasses. I was surprised when a woman took her glasses off in the grocery store and I could see that both her eyes were blackened. I asked my mother what was wrong, but the question seemed to make her uncomfortable and she didn't answer me. My curiosity was piqued, however, and every time I saw a woman in dark glasses, I stared at her to see if they were covering strange, mottled bruises.
FROM: Polygamy in America: Lisa Ling Reports
Published on January 01, 2006

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