Her husband wants a second wife. And she is still his first wife. What will she do?
| Tomorrow, my husband will marry another woman.
I sat in my living room and allowed the thought to move slowly through my mind. At the same time, in an effort to protect myself from my emotions, I pushed the idea away. It gave me a funny feeling, an uneasy surging sensation in the pit of my stomach that unsettled my heartbeat. I took a deep soothing breath as I fought for self-control.
It's all right, I told myself. It's all right.
But it wasn't. I knew it wasn't all right.
It was a lovely spring afternoon and sunshine lay in warm puddles on my tan living room carpet. I sat on the chocolate brown velvet couch, legs folded beneath me. I was surrounded by pieces of soft, sleek fabric, pale blue like the skies with a multitude of tiny dark blue flowers with tiny white centers. As my mind raced in circles, I quickly sewed another long seam of tiny immaculate stitches. I was sewing a wedding dress, a wedding dress for Sarah. Tomorrow afternoon, Sarah would become my husband's second wife.
Second wife. My sister wife. I repeated the words over and over in my mind. It seemed like a dream. It was a nightmare.
I had agreed to this wedding. I must admit my part in this nightmare. I had told my beloved husband I would allow him to take a second bride, a second wife. Did I really believe this was the right thing to do? I'm not sure now but, when it happened, I had only wanted to do what Michael wanted. It was important that I do what he asked of me. That's what I thought anyway.
I had agreed this marriage could happen, but now rebellion surged in my heart. How could I share him? How could I allow another woman to wed this man I loved with all my heart?
The organization we belong to, called simply The Society, would permit him to take another bride only if I agreed. The time is long past when the Mormon Church approves plural marriage, but The Society is a secret organization separate and distinct from the Church. The Society supports and encourages its members who wish to continue the practice of plural marriage. On the other hand, discovery of a plural marriage by the Church is cause for excommunication.
Sarah is a wonderful woman. I could not deny that fact. She's a widow with a small child. She's had a difficult time since her husband was killed in a farming accident. I'd seen the dark circles under her eyes and the way her face filled with despair. She'd lost weight and I knew that desperation filled her heart. She has no other family and is absolutely alone, except for her young daughter. The marriage will be a miracle for her. It will give her a husband and family to take care of her and love her. There will be two of us to take care of her and love her. At least, that's how it's supposed to be, I thought. Sarah would become my sister in marriage. She would be as much a part of me as she would be a part of Michael.
As my mind searched for answers, I continued to sew the beautiful dress Sarah would wear when she married my husband. I am creative and I took pleasure in assembling this beautiful dress. Momentarily, my mind focused entirely on the stitches I made carefully, one after another, joining the seams of the garment as our lives would be joined after the ceremony tomorrow.
Outside in the trees, birds sang songs of joy and, from the recreation room, I could hear the soft voices of my two boys. Charles is two and Danny is five years old. They played quietly in there, laughing and talking to each other in a language entirely their own. They don't seem to need much attention or help from me to fill their days. They were wonderful children. Michael's sons. My sons.
I was a Mormon all my life as I grew up here in Utah, just south of the Idaho border. My parents and I and my five brothers farmed for many years in this rich rural valley. We raised cattle, wheat, horses and a large crop of vegetables. Farming was good and provided a stable environment for the family. My life was normal and unremarkable into my high-school years. I had many friends at school and in church and I had horses, dogs and cats at home. I'd dated a little from time to time but never seriously. I told myself I hadn't yet met the right boy.
I was a junior in high school when I met Michael.
As my mind traveled back over the years of my life, I continued to sew the dress for Sarah's wedding, one quick neat stitch after another.
Smiling softly to myself, I remembered the first time I saw Michael up close. Before that, he'd been around the school but I had never even spoken to him. He moved in a different social group than I did. This changed at a teenage church dance, held at the school gymnasium, sponsored by the Mormon Church. The music was nice, a spirit-lifting mixture of rock n roll and country, with slow dances alternating with fast active rhythms. It wasn't necessary to have an escort, so I had gone to the dance with my two girlfriends, Jeannie and Rhonda. We hung around the edges of the dance floor, drinking punch and watching the dancers. We were big eyed and eager, yet strangely shy, as we waited and hoped someone would ask us to dance. After a few minutes, I found myself standing alone, slightly embarrassed, as I watched my friends dancing in the soft darkness of the room.
Suddenly, he stood before me. Michael Martin. My eyes widened and my heart leaped into my throat. He was in my class at school. In fact, he was president of my class. He was a basketball and football player and a member of the honor society. A success in all areas of endeavor, I thought as I shyly met his eyes. He was tall and dark haired, with brilliant blue eyes that looked deep into my eyes as I stared back at him like a robin entranced by a cobra. But he didn't frighten me. He was beautiful. The smile he beamed at me was filled with electricity. Without a word, he held his hand out to me.
Then, to my surprise and wonder, I was in his arms, his hand hot against my back as we whirled across the dance floor. I was dizzy with pleasure and excitement. I'd never even talked to this young man before and now he held me in his arms. I could have died at that moment and been forever happy.
Something strange happened as I looked up at him. I felt myself recognize him. I don't mean just knowing who he was, but a deeper recognition. It was a recognition that spoke to my soul and echoed loudly in my heart. I remembered my mother telling me years ago how I might have an eternal companion, someone I was meant to be with, in this world and in the next. I remembered her words now as I stared into Michael's beautiful eyes. She had told me I would recognize this person when I met him. As I studied Michael's face, I felt an overwhelming sensation that I had known this man since the beginning of time. My heart thundered in my chest. My throat was dry and I could hardly catch my breath.
"Hey," he said, smiling at me. "Are you okay?" His gaze seemed to touch my face, sending small bright sparkles dancing along my skin.
"Oh, yes," I said, laughing, "I'm just fine."
"I'm Michael Martin," he said.
"I know," I responded, still in a daze.
"And your name is . . . ?"
"I'm sorry," I said with an inane giggle. "I'm Molly Shannon."
"Oh, yeah," he said as recognition dawned in his face. "Larry Shannon is your brother, right?"
I nodded. My mouth was too dry to speak.
"And you guys have the farm on the north side of town. Nice farm, too, I know. What class are you in?"
"Same as you. I'm a junior."
"What are you studying?"
"Are you going to college?"
"I think so, but I haven't chosen a school yet."
And so it continued, a long series of questions and answers. As I gained control of my excitement, I began to ask him some questions as well and, as we moved through a series of dances, we became acquainted.
After a particularly fast dance, we walked to the refreshment area. Breathing rapidly from the dancing, I stood quietly and watched as he went to the punch bowls and poured icy cups for each of us.
As he walked toward me, I was aware of how wonderful he was. He was tall, a little over six feet, quite slender but obviously muscular and strong. His family had a farm not far from ours and I knew he had worked hard all his life. His shoulders were broad. His waist was slim. His skin was clear and lightly tanned. His long dark hair was shaggy and fell below his collar while unruly strands fell forward over his face. His wonderful eyes smiled at me as he walked toward me and somehow I sensed his approval of what he saw as he looked at me.
He extended the cup of punch toward me. As I took the cup, his fingers touched mine and my hands trembled. I was so excited and happy that I thought I would burst with the feelings that raced through me. It was not only the feelings growing in my heart but also a strange new sensation of physical excitement that I'd never felt before. I was awakening as a woman and the feeling was wonderful. My skin was alive with a wonderful flush of warmth, not from embarrassment but rather from joy that made my face glow and my eyes sparkle.
After a few minutes, we left the gymnasium and walked hand in hand around the school grounds. Standing under the whispering Elm trees, we talked and explored each other's lives and ideas. We discussed our coming educations, what we wanted to do with our lives, our families, the things we like to do, and what the future held for us. It was so wonderful. We had so many things in common, shared so many goals and objectives, and wanted the same things out of life. We each wanted jobs, children and a good life. The things we wanted were quite mundane, but the common threads were what thrilled me. I knew this man and I would be forever happy together. I was convinced he was the companion that was meant to be mine. I didn't discuss this feeling with him since eternal companionship is a subject now frowned on by the church. I was, however, confident he and I were meant to be together.
As we returned to the gymnasium to rejoin the dance, we stopped in the shadows outside the door. He kissed me gently on the forehead and then on the corner of my mouth. The magic of his lips was more exciting than anything I'd ever known. He hugged me close, squeezing his arms around me. I was warmed by his nearness and excited by the feel of his body against me. My heart soared like an eagle in morning sunshine.
We went inside and danced until the closing number. I told my girlfriends that Michael was taking me home and saw their eyes bulge with surprise even as they smiled at my happiness.
Michael and I dated steadily for a year and a half. When we graduated from highschool together, we decided to marry. We were young but we were so in love. Michael had treated me courteously and properly through the long happy months of our courtship. We kissed frequently and the longing for greater physical contact was present between us, but Michael preserved the propriety of our relationship. He wanted to wait until we were married before we were truly joined in the physical sense. I don't know that I could have waited if he had not had the strength. My desire for his love, physical love, was like a tide that ebbed and flowed through my body day after day.
After the appropriate counseling and the necessary classes and preparation, we were married one beautiful August Saturday. Michael's parents granted him one of the houses on their land for our use as long as we needed it. We moved our possessions into our home on the very day of our marriage. After a brief honeymoon trip to the Oregon coast where we spent most of our time in our cabin or walking the beaches hand in hand, we returned to our new home to begin our life together.
Our day to day life and the intimacy of our nights was everything I had ever dreamed of or hoped for from life. It seemed sometimes that we were joined in our minds and didn't even have to speak aloud to share our thoughts. His smile as he came through the door, the sound of his voice, and the touch of his hands on my flesh fulfilled me in all the possible ways.
One year to the day from our marriage, our first child was born. Little Daniel, who would always be called Danny, was a second fulfillment for my life. He was a sweet, wonderful child, gentle, obedient and helpful. Caring for him was a constant joy and I loved teaching and playing with him.
I was active in the community and the church. I worked on committees and enjoyed my contributions. The work I did was beneficial to the community and to me. Michael attended college on a part-time basis and worked on the family farm. He worked hard and was frequently exhausted, but he always found time for me. We made new friends, common friends, and had a busy rewarding social life. I was so happy and busy that I turned away from my college ambitions, my wish to study business and have a career in the outside world. The career of wife and mother was sufficient for me and filled my life with joy.
About the time our second son, Charles, arrived, Michael and I joined The Society. It was a forbidden organization and joining it bothered me, but Michael insisted. I agreed because I didn't wish to argue with my wonderful husband. If this was important to him, I could accept his wishes.
Charles also was a pleasant child with a gentle disposition who gave me no trouble. We called him Charles and never Charlie or Chuck. The more-formal name seemed to fit his quiet solemn personality. Caring for our boys and our home and continuing my work in the community filled my life. I was happy and I believed Michael was happy as well.
The first storm clouds appeared on our horizon when Charles was about a year old. That was the day Michael brought Sarah to visit our home for the first time.
We had known Sarah in the church for several years. She had lost her husband eight months before and Michael and I were sympathetic about her situation. The Church was permitting her to live in one of the homes it owned since she had no income or home of her own. She cared for her daughter and found a part-time job in one of the stores in town. Michael went to her house frequently to help her with repairs and painting and other maintenance of her home. I thought the shabby condition of the house she'd been given was a disgrace and encouraged Michael to help her improve her situation.
In my mind, I ran through a list of the eligible bachelors in our community. I wondered who might be a good match for this fine young woman who was having such a difficult adjustment to the changes in her life.
It was just a month ago that Michael came to me with a shocking request.
I was sitting in the living room of our home, doing needle work and watching the boys. He came in and sat down in the comfortable chair across from me. His expression was solemn and his eyes looked worried.
I knew instantly he had something on his mind that I wasn't going to like. The nonverbal communication between us was working at full strength.
"I want to make Sarah a member of our family," he said to me without preamble.
I stared silently at him for a long moment. I was trying to make sense out of what he had said.
"What?" I said finally. I wasn't sure what I'd heard. I must be mistaken. He couldn't have said what I thought I heard.
He sighed heavily and reached out to take my hand. The warmth and strength of his touch reassured me. There was a look of determination and joy in his eyes. There was also worry. He needed my approval of this plan and he feared my reaction.
"I want Sarah to become my second wife," he said. "Your sister wife. She needs help and she will bring much work and love into our family. If we join our lives with her, it will make things better for all of us."
"We can't do that, Michael. It's against the law."
As I looked into his face, I felt the safe and secure walls of my life crumble around me. How could he ask this of me? Was he insane? I pulled my hand away and stood up. I moved a step away, turning from him as if separating myself from this thing he was asking of me.
"I know. I know," he said, shaking his head gently. There was sadness in his face, but his eyes were hopeful. "Molly, I have talked with our Heavenly Father in my prayers and I have spoken to Bishop Farley and I know this is what we should do."
Bishop Farley was a member of The Society. Bishop Anderson was our church leader. I turned back to face him, my eyes searching his face, hoping he would withdraw this demand he was making on me.
"Have you spoken to Bishop Anderson?" I asked. My voice was pale and without strength. I felt trembling move through my body, shaking me. I swayed and reached out to take hold of a chair to keep from falling.
He snapped his words quickly back at me, anger blooming in his eyes.
"No! Of course, I haven't talked to Bishop Anderson. And I won't. This is not something that concerns him. This is something for us to decide, something for us to do."
As I stared at him, I was suddenly filled with anger. I hated him! How could he ask this of me? It was wrong. It was unfair.
"Go away!" I said suddenly. "Go away and let me think. I have to think about this."
He turned away without another word and silently left the room. My eyes followed him. I loved him so much. What was I to do? What could I do? Could I refuse him? On the other hand, could I accept the plan he had brought to me. I didn't know. I sat down again and let my mind work through the problem.
I was shocked and distressed by what Michael asked. I knew he'd received some training from The Society that included information on plural marriage. We had talked about this practice, but it had never occurred to me he might actually consider such a thing.
I refused to discuss the subject. When he came back into the house, I walked away from him and went to the bedroom where I sat on the bed, rocking back and forth in agony as my tears flowed. I cried but what really frightened me was the undercurrent of anger and jealousy that surged through me as I thought about this. I hadn't realized how I would react. I hadn't known I was jealous. I'd always viewed jealousy as a negative thing, a sign of lack of love or lack of self-confidence. Now, jealousy stormed through my soul like a hurricane of wind and flame. I trembled with it. I didn't know what to do about it. I was horrified and frightened at how I was reacting.
What could I do?
Michael wisely allowed me a few days to grow accustomed to the idea. I don't know how he knew that I would finally accept his wishes, but that's the way it happened. He brought material from The Society for me to read about how a plural marriage was handled. I read the papers but my angry heart rebelled again and again.
Michael cared for the boys in the evening as I walked through the desert that surrounded our farm. I walked for miles as I struggled with my heart and soul. My mind circled like some wild creature trapped in a cage, searching desperately for escape.
As Michael talked to me time and time again, I began to weaken, to soften my strong feelings. I was accustomed to doing what Michael wanted. I struggled to look at plural marriage in a sensible manner, thrusting away the anger and jealousy that burned through me when I was careless enough to allow it. I struggled for the self-control I'd always possessed and tried to see Michael's viewpoint.
Another group of people, a man and three women who were in a plural marriage, came to visit us one evening. I was shocked. I had thought the man had a wife and two of her sisters that lived on their farm. When I learned that they were not sisters but shared the same husband, I studied them surreptitiously. How could they do it, I wondered.
The wives gathered around me and explained to me how they shared the work and their husband and how each wife had her own home. They told me how they shared the work, the life, and the money of the marriage. In their group, one wife did certain jobs, the things she was best at handling. The others attended to other needs that fell into their areas of expertise. They had grown into a unified team, they told me, a team that shared the labors of their world. One wife worked at a job in town and earned money for the group while one of the other wives cared for her children. They had nine children among them and raised the youngsters as brothers and sisters.
Because of the law, the second and third wives had a different identity and lived separately, but they were able to deal with this and pretend before the community that they were not married. But they each had children by the husband. How did they explain that, I wondered. The whole thing confused and distressed me, but they seemed happy and the group was bound together by love and their shared lives.
Finally, I agreed to do what he wanted.
And, yet, now, as I finished the last stitches on the beautiful wedding dress, I wondered if I were doing the right thing. How could this work out for us? For me? I was afraid. I was terribly afraid of what would happen in the future. I stood up at last and shook out the completed dress. It was very beautiful. My heart hung heavy in my chest and ached with a pungent pain.
The next afternoon, we gathered at The Society's building where the marriage would take place. Sarah came in, smiling, wearing the dress I had made for her. She was simply beautiful. She was taller than I was, about five foot eight inches in height She was quite slender, and her hair was reddish blonde and tumbled around her shoulders in wild abandon. Her face was flushed with a warm glow and love was apparent in her face as she gazed at Michael. She avoided meeting my eyes. What did she feel about me?
I burned with jealousy and anger, but I hid those emotions carefully and smiled at Michael and Sarah as they stood together smiling at each other.
I moved forward to stand with them before Bishop Farley who would perform the ceremony. I stood on one side of Michael and Sarah stood on the other.
"Please join hands," he said, enclosing us all in his glance.
Michael took Sarah's hand in his, smiling at her with that same look he'd once bestowed exclusively on me.
The Bishop looked closely at me and nodded.
As I had been instructed, I placed my hand over the joined hands of Michael and Sarah. This was my endorsement of and approval for the continuation of the ceremony.
My hands were icy cold and there was a fierce roaring in my ears as the ceremony went on. I heard none of the words. I was enclosed in a storm of my own making.
After the ceremony, there was a social gathering with punch and cookies for those who had attended. I walked among the people, speaking to many, trying desperately not to look as if my world had come to an end.
This was clearly Sarah's party. She was the smiling happy bride. She talked and laughed and loved every minute of it. Michael attended her graciously as was appropriate for the bridegroom. At one point, I felt his gentle eyes upon me and I met his gaze. His love enfolded me and I felt restored, but the sensation lasted only a few minutes.
My despair returned when, after the gathering ended, Michael and Sarah put their suitcases into our car and set off for the Oregon coast for a few days of solitude and honeymoon. I thought my heart would break. My mind was filled with memories of my trip to Oregon with Michael. I couldn't bear the thought of Sarah making the same trip, laughing, making love, enjoying the same pleasures, accompanied by my beloved Michael.
I took the children home with me. Danny and Charles and Rebecca, who was Sarah's daughter. She was three years old and had her mother's hair color and beautiful eyes. I swallowed my anger and despair. She was a beautiful child.
When they returned from the honeymoon, Michael settled Sarah in another house on the farm. It was about a half mile from our home. Michael spent time with each of us separately and there were also activities and work that we shared as a group. To the community as a whole, we would be only friends, living separately on the farm. Plural marriage was against the law. We had to be careful. Discovery of our situation by the Church would result in excommunication of all of us unless we disavowed plural marriage.
I was frightened.
I was jealous.
My heart was breaking.
The months passed. We managed. We got along.
Sarah and I walked stiffly around each other like a pair of disturbed and frightened cats with backs raised and eyes aglitter. At the same time, we treated each other carefully. Caution prevailed in all encounters between us. I wasn't sure how she felt about the whole situation and we didn't talk about it. We talked about many other things and became friends of a sort, but something hung between us, dark and threatening. Sharing Michael was something neither of us wanted to tolerate. I didn't know what the future held, but it frightened me.
Michael divided his time and attention between us. He spent some nights in our home and some nights in Sarah's home. He seemed to be fair about it, but, when he was with her, I was consumed with anger and jealousy. I could only speculate about how Sarah felt. Occasionally, I saw anger flash briefly in Sarah's eyes, anger I saw her suppress just as I suppressed my own anger. She smiled sweetly at me, but I trusted her less and less.
Why, I wondered, had I agreed to this plural marriage thing? It was wrong. I didn't know if I could stand it, but I didn't know what I wanted to do about it either. I was frightened. I didn't want to lose Michael or my home or the happiness I'd had. My life was swirling out of control even as I fought to live from one day to the next without being destroyed by my anger.
With two families to support, Michael worked even harder. In addition to his responsibilities on the farm, he took an accounting job for a business in town. His schedule became so complicated and demanding that sometimes he had no time to spend with either of his families. I would come downstairs in the morning to find him collapsed on the couch, sleeping as if the world had ended, too tired to climb the stairs. Or perhaps he hadn't wanted to climb the stairs to be close with me. Michael lost weight and the hours of work were aging him even as I watched. My heart went out to him in his troubles, but at the same time, my anger and jealousy refused to let me give him the support and caring that he needed. Whenever I had a moment alone these days, I seemed to end up sobbing into my pillow.
The day came in mid-winter when a red-eyed and weary Michael told me that Sarah was pregnant and would have a baby in September. I could only stare at him in shock. It was foolish of me to feel that way. I knew Michael was sleeping with Sarah and they had sex, but I had avoided thinking about the possibility of another child. Their child, not my child. However, having children was what we were supposed to do. It was what life was all about. How could I complain about that?
My stomach began to hurt me each day and I knew it was from stress, from the anger and jealousy that consumed me. I took antacids and prayed a lot, but nothing seemed to help.
Michael spent more of his time with Sarah. The nights when he stayed with me were fewer and fewer. Sarah demanded more attention from him. Her temper flashed when he didn't meet her needs. Perhaps I was ill tempered as well and made life difficult for him. Perhaps that's why he stayed away. Between us, Sarah and I were ripping him to pieces.
Now, in addition to my anger, I grew lonely and hungry for intimacy and physical love. My body ached with desire and this added to my rage. My stomach continued to hurt and I began to have severe headaches. I'd always possessed wonderful health, but now I was constantly tired and irritable. My concentration vanished and sometimes I seemed to forget what I was doing even as I was in the process of doing it.
I was terribly unhappy.
What was I going to do? I had no idea.
The next time I saw Sarah, my eyes went immediately to her waistline. Her body showed nothing, but I knew the child was there. She looked very beautiful. Her skin glowed with her pregnancy. I hated the child. This child would take Michael's love away from my children. It would also take his love away from me. I felt my heart break once again with an ache that throbbed through my whole being.
Sarah's arrogance and pride grew and she treated me and my children as second-class citizens. When she cared for Danny and Charles, she reported to Michael and to me how poorly behaved they were. They stole things, she said. She said they stole from her and from Rebecca. She looked down her nose at me and criticized my weight and the clothes I wore. She told me Michael deserved better and stalked haughtily away, giving me no opportunity to respond.
Sarah's put-downs were constant, but I tried to ignore her and care for my children. I snapped back at her occasionally but I hid my anger from Michael. He seemed to have trouble enough without my causing problems for him.
Time passed and Sarah's pregnancy progressed. She was constantly sick and the work she had done for the family now fell to me. She couldn't care for the children, not even for Rebecca. She couldn't cook or clean her house.
Michael finally brought her to stay in our extra bedroom. She acted like a princess held prisoner in a dungeon. Her litany of complaints was unending. Her criticisms of me, Danny and Charles were deeply personal and cutting. Even Michael did not go unscathed. Only Rebecca was spared her continuing assault.
I knelt by my bed and spoke to our Heavenly Father, asking Him for strength to endure and asking for a solution to our situation. I felt I had to do something but I was unable to decide what I wanted. My mind was frozen in despair and my ability to reason had deserted me. I placed myself in God's hands, but a small tremor echoed through me, telling me my future and the children's future were in my own hands.
Finally, Sarah's baby was born. Michael's first daughter. She was small and frail but quite beautiful. Her tiny hand wrapped about my index finger and captured my heart forever. We named her Faith.
When Faith was a month old, Sarah moved back to her own house with her children. I missed the baby but Sarah's absence took pressure off me and the boys. Freed of the need for quiet that had accompanied Sarah's pregnancy, the four of us laughed, sang songs and played Monopoly and The Game of Life. Michael won consistently but I didn't mind. I felt reborn and happier than I'd been for months, but the weight of Sarah hung in the back of my mind.
A few weeks passed and Michael fell back into the valley of fatigue where he'd sunk before. Sarah telephoned frequently when he was in our home, requesting help, demanding his return, complaining about the children and how tired she was of his absences. I overheard his irritable conversations and my heart hurt at his sorrow and weariness. I tried to avoid making demands. It would be bad tactics on my part, I thought, to make his life even more difficult.
But my courage failed me and my house became cluttered and untidy. The children were neglected, and my own appearance suffered. I was depressed and sometimes sat for long, aching hours, doing nothing, seeing nothing, staring into the emptiness of my life. My head was empty of reason. My heart was filled with rage. I felt my body grow heavier as each day passed.
The boys, poor neglected little creatures, seemed to live fearfully on the edges of the wreckage of our marriage. They scurried like tiny mice to gather what small crumbs of care and affection they could find. Their laughter disappeared from my life and I didn't realize I missed it. The house was silent and the air was heavy in my aching lungs.
The next week, my mother came to visit me. We had been separated from them by the barrier of the plural marriage, though they did not know the reason, and I'd avoided contact with my parents for more than a year.
I answered the knock at the door in early afternoon and was startled to see her sturdy figure and gently smiling face. I was barefoot and disheveled, my hair uncombed and teeth unbrushed.
"Mamma!" I said in surprise.
"Molly," she said in her soft voice, "you look like Hell."
I held the door open and she swept into the living room as if she owned it. I looked at the place from her viewpoint and admitted to myself that the house was a mess.
"This house looks like Hell also," she snapped as her restless critical eyes moved over the clutter in the room and the shabby solemn children who cowered away from this intimidating stranger who was their grandmother.
Her face softened as she studied the children and her eyes were gentle once again and bright with love as she turned back to look at me again.
"Molly, tell me what's going on with you. What's wrong, child?"
I stared at her for a silent moment and then burst into tears.
With a soft sound of sorrow, she gathered me into her arms, murmuring my name and patting my back. I buried my face in her shoulder and cried as I'd wanted to cry for days, letting all my anger and despair flow out of me with those thick tears. She continued to pat my back, hugging me and making soft murmuring sounds of sympathy.
Finally, I stopped crying and backed away from her. I was embarrassed. I felt incompetent to take care of myself. I hated that she had seen this.
I looked into her eyes and saw the anger there.
"Well," she said, with sharpness in her tone, "what do you have to tell me?"
I stared dumbly at her. What was she talking about?
"Are you going to tell me what everyone in town seems to know?" she demanded.
"Everyone in town?"
"That's right. The town is full of gossip about you and Michael and that Sarah woman. What do you have to say about it?"
"What are they saying?" I asked, as if I hadn't guessed. How could they know about us? What was being said? Did Bishop Anderson know about our marriage of three, our violation of the laws of the church and the state? What would happen when he did learn of it? I trembled as I met my mother's eyes and tried to hide what I was thinking.
I might as well have not bothered to hide my thoughts. She knew me. She knew how I thought and felt. She didn't need me to tell her anything. She knew by looking at me that the rumors were true.
"Oh, Molly," she said, sorrow loud in her soft voice. "How did you let this happen? You knew this wasn't the right thing to do. How did it happen?"
I could have blamed Michael at that moment. I knew I could do that and my mother would believe that none of this was my fault. But I couldn't lie to her. I'd never lied to her and I wasn't going to start now.
"I agreed to it. It was Michael's idea, of course, but I agreed to it. I know now that it was the worst mistake of my life, but at the time it seemed like we might help Sarah and not destroy ourselves." I turned away from her gaze. "Oh, Mamma, I'm so unhappy! What should I do? Please help me decide. What should I do?"
She smiled in her gentle way and sat down on the couch. She patted the couch beside her and I sat down also.
"You have to decide, child, but you don't have much time. Before long, the church will be aware of what you and Michael have done. You have to find a way to make things right. There are several ways to do this. You could leave Michael, divorce him, and let him marry Sarah legally. Is that what you want to do?"
I felt every beat of my heart throb with pain.
"Oh, no, Mamma. I love Michael. I don't know if I'd survive without him. And then there's the children. They need him as well." I was close to tears again.
"Molly, I can't decide for you and I won't decide for you. You are a woman grown and you have to make your own decisions. You know Michael and you know what you want, or you should know what you want. Do you think Michael feels the same about you or have you perhaps lost him to Sarah?"
"I can't bear the thought of losing Michael," I wailed.
"Well, then, can you fight for him? Is that what you want to do?"
It seemed so hard to me. How could I do that. Fighting wasn't my way. Could I win, I wondered. Could I keep my husband? Was I the one he wanted?
I jumped to my feet and walked quickly back and forth in the living room. I was so nervous and frightened, it felt like my heart fluttered in my throat like a Montana sparrow.
"I don't know," I growled. "I don't know. I just don't know."
"What are you going to do, Molly?" She wasn't cutting me any slack. She was putting the decision right on my shoulders.
"All right, Mamma, I'll talk to Michael. I'll tell him what has to happen."
As I said the words, I felt my soul settle in my chest and the trembling stopped. It was the decision I'd feared. Once I made up my mind, my path was clear. I could see now what the possibilities were. I could win and Michael would be with me. Or I'd lose him to Sarah.
But at least I'd be past the pain and would be able to move ahead with my life and care for my children. I prayed that Michael still loved me and would understand my feelings, but I had to go ahead regardless. It was the only thing that would save my life.
She nodded at me, her eyes warm and sympathetic.
"You know," she said, "if you need help or if you need to come to live with us, you and the children are absolutely welcome. Your father and I love you and will do what you want us to do." She stood up and picked up her jacket. "Whatever you decide, Molly, we'll be on your side."
She opened the door, then turned back to me. "You may wish to talk to Bishop Anderson about this. I don't know if he is yet aware of this situation, but I'm sure he'll be able to help you with the support of the church and with our Heavenly Father's words."
I nodded at her, without commitment. I wasn't certain I had the courage to talk to Bishop Anderson. He would be so disappointed. I hated the thought of hurting him.
After she left, I cleaned the house. It had been neglected. While the boys slept, I took a shower and washed my hair. I was washing away the pain and darkness that had consumed me for so long. I was beginning again, taking control of my life. Just the fact of having made up my mind took me a long ways towards the solution I was looking for.
Michael was due home at supper time and I made a nice meal in anticipation of his return. The children were bathed and in their pajamas when he came in. I saw the startled look on his face as he looked at the sparkling clean house and the clean, happy children. The air was filled with pleasant cooking odors.
After we'd eaten and the children were sleeping, I stood in front of Michael as he sat in his chair, staring into space.
"We have to talk, Michael."
He looked solemnly at me, a small twinkle in his eyes.
"I don't think there's a husband in the world that doesn't get frightened when he hears those words, Molly." He smiled and it was one of the old smiles, the before-Sarah smiles.
It made me feel braver and more hopeful.
"My mother was here today," I said. "She told me the community is alive with gossip about us, about us and Sarah, and that it's only a matter of time until the church is aware of what we've done. We have to work this out, Michael."
"Did your mother tell you what to do," he asked. A stranger looked at me from his pain-filled eyes. He frightened me, but I matched the fear with anger.
"No," I said sharply. "I've made up my own mind. We made a mistake when we brought Sarah into our family. It is destroying our marriage and has almost destroyed me. I can no longer endure this plural marriage, and you have to decide what you want out of the marriage. Do you want to stay with me, or leave me and stay with Sarah. You can't have both. I will no longer share your life and your love with that woman."
Out of breath, I stopped talking. I sat down on the couch and studied Michael's face as it filled with a great sorrow. His eyes darkened and shut me out and I was seized with fear that I was going to lose him. My heart trembled at the thought, but I pushed the feeling away and took a firm grip on my courage. I had to do this. I had no other choice. I could only pray that the ending would be what I wanted and needed so badly. Michael and I and the children together. That was what I needed.
After a moment, he sighed and met my eyes again. I saw the Michael that I knew in those eyes. The stranger was gone.
"I don't know how this would work, Molly," he said. "I don't know how we can fix this for us and for Sarah. She has my child, so I will have to fulfill that obligation, but life with the two of you has been most difficult." He paused for a long moment. "Perhaps this was meant to be. I have found caring for Sarah to be a hard and complicated process. She is not content with the second wife status and has hoped to destroy my feelings for you. I've resisted, of course, but she has made a pleasant life quite impossible."
He stood up and I saw how thin and weary he was. His clothes hung on his frame and lines were etched in his face. I hadn't realized how hard this past year and a half had been for him. Somehow, I'd often imagined him enjoying his marital bounty.
"Do you love Sarah?" I asked, and held my breath for the answer.
"In a way, I love her. She needs me and she is unable to care for herself. She needs a man to look after her. But I don't think I'm the man she needs. I'm not strong enough, I'm afraid. She has almost consumed me in these past months. She asks for so much, demands so much, and gives so little in return, while I watched you giving all you could and asking for nothing."
He came to me and put his hands on my shoulders and pulled me gently to my feet so that he could look into my eyes.
"I have loved you, Molly, since that day we met at the dance. I will love you all the days of my life. And we will be together in the afterlife. I know this is true."
I melted into his arms and buried my face against his chest. I felt his heart beating and felt the swelling of my own heart as the full warmth and strength of my love for him came out of wherever it had been hiding. His arms around my shoulders pulled me close to him and I was warmed by his body and his love.
"Tomorrow," he said. "Tomorrow, we will go to Bishop Anderson and beg his help to bring the church into caring for Sarah, to find a place for her to live, and to heal what has been damaged between you and I and the church."
Michael came into my bed that evening. We did not make love. He was too tired, but he held me in his arms and buried his face in my hair.
"I love you, Molly," he said. "You're the love of my life, in this world and the next."
I chuckled softly against him and we both fell asleep.
The next morning, I was tense when we arrived at the church. I hated the thought of the coming discussion with bishop Anderson. We had done such a foolish thing. I hated the thought of telling him.
As we came into the church, I felt the warmth of the temple reach out and wrap itself around me. I felt the safety of the building, the church itself, enclose me like a warm hug. I had forgotten how it felt to come into this place of sanctuary. I had missed it but hadn't realized how much.
The quiet, the beauty, the serenity lifted my heart.
I turned to look into Michael's face and saw the same emotions there.
We were doing the right thing. I was certain of it.
At Bishop Anderson's office, the secretary smiled at us and had us sit for a moment. Bishop Anderson came out of his office and gave her some papers before he turned to us.
"Michael," he said. "And Molly. It's nice to see you. Come in, please."
I saw something in his eyes. He knows, I thought. He knows.
He sat behind his desk, his emotions hidden, his eyes opaque. He gestured us towards chairs and we sat down uncomfortably, glancing nervously at each other.
"You know why we're here," Michael said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes, my son. My heart is heavy, but this can be undone if you wish and are willing."
"Yes," Michael said. "That's what we want to do. We must restore our lives and I must take proper care of Sarah, but she can no longer be part of my life." His voice broke as he spoke.
"Molly and I love each other," he continued, "and we wish to remain married and restore our places in the church." He hesitated for a long moment. Bishop Anderson waited patiently without responding.
"Bishop, I don't know what to do about Sarah. Can you guide me, help me?" Michael looked pleadingly at the Bishop and then turned his gaze to me for an instant.
"Yes, Michael," Bishop Anderson said softly. "This has happened before in the past and the church has ways of resolving such matters."
He turned his eyes to me.
" Molly, I'd like you to go home while Michael and I go to visit with Sarah. Is that acceptable to you?"
I nodded quickly and stood. Michael stood as well and reached out to quickly squeeze my hand.
I left the church and drove home. I waited for an endless two hours until I heard Michael's step outside on our porch. I heard Bishop Anderson's car leave the yard, crunching the gravel under its wheels.
My heart lifted in joy as I rose to meet him at the door. I stopped suddenly as he approached. He carried an armful of pink baby blankets with the sleeping child within.
"Yes," he said as he met my gaze. "Sarah wants us to have the baby. Faith will be ours. Bishop Anderson is taking Sarah to Salt Lake City tonight. She will be cared for there and will build a new life for herself and for Rebecca."
He put the sleeping child carefully on the couch and turned to me, opening his arms.
"It's all right? You want the baby, don't you?" He looked so vulnerable, so worried.
"Of course, Michael. I love Faith." I smiled. "It will be so wonderful to raise a girl."
"Sarah will be happy in Salt Lake City, Molly, Bishop Anderson says those people will help her find her way. She will be happy and we will be happy."
There were tears in his eyes, but they were happy tears.
"We will be probational in the church for six months but this won't be a problem, will it? We'll do counseling of course."
He put his arms around me and I was once again safe in his world which was my world also.
As I gazed up into his face, I realized that we still had a long journey to make to restore our lives, but it was not an impossible journey.
As I write these words, six months have passed. Healing has happened and Michael and I have grown ever more close as we put that terrible time behind us, out of our lives and, as much as possible, out of our memories. The journey is done, completed. Michael has gained weight and the pain and darkness have left his face. The children laugh and play once again in the security of their home. I also am happy once again. I have left the darkness behind me.
We have heard that Sarah has married a widower in Salt Lake City and, hopefully, is content. The baby girl, Faith, is a wonderful addition to our lives. I will be forever grateful to Sarah for bringing this wonderful child into my life and allowing me to raise her. Faith is worth every iota of pain and sorrow that came into our lives during that time.
Life is good and the sun shines for us once again.