Mette Ivie Harrison
My fourth son, Kenneth, pulled into the driveway as I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes. I had a sense of foreboding at the troubled look on his face and guessed that he’d waited until my husband, Kurt, was gone to work and I was alone. Kenneth had been distancing himself from the Mormon church lately, which had put a serious strain on his relationship with his father, the bishop of our ward.
“Mom? You home?” he called out, not bothering to knock on the door.
“In the kitchen!” I answered. I wiped my hands off and wished that I looked better, but he was my son. He’d seen me in my pajamas before, and without my hair done.
He came over and gave me a big hug. “I love you, Mom,” he said. He smelled like he’d been sweating on the drive over. “You know that, don’t you?”
This only made me feel more nervous about whatever Kenneth had come over to tell me. Of my five sons, he was the one I worried most about—well, after Samuel, my youngest, who had come out as gay last year and was currently far away in Boston on a Mormon mission.
“What’s up?” I asked cautiously.
“I’m getting married,” he said simply.
“What? How? To whom?” Was he so estranged from the family that he had gone as far as to get engaged without even introducing us to the woman?
“Her name is Naomi Carter,” Kenneth said.
“That’s a lovely name,” I said, trying to act normal about this. If he loved her, I was sure the whole family would love her, even if I had to make them do it.
“She’s great, Mom. I’m a lucky guy.”
I wished that I knew anything about her. I wished I could see them together, make sure they seemed happy together, right for each other. But I trusted Kenneth, and in the end, I hugged him fiercely. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m so happy for you.” He wasn’t hugging back, though. Something was wrong. “So?” I said, when I released him.
“So what?” said Kenneth.
“Well, what aren’t you telling me? Why did you make sure I was alone to spring it on me? Does she have two heads or something? Is she a felon?” I was trying to joke, but I could tell it wasn’t going over well.
He sighed. “Naomi’s part of—well, her family is only kind of Mormon.”
“Kind of Mormon? What does that mean?” With Kenneth’s doubts about the church, I really hadn’t expected him to marry a devout churchgoer. But that was obviously why he was nervous about telling Kurt. He must want me to act as an intermediary, to get Kurt used to the idea that they weren’t going to get married in the temple—sealed as Mormon couples are in an eternal family in this life and the celestial kingdom, not just married till death, as in other religious traditions.
Kenneth sighed again, and rubbed at his head in a way that reminded me of Kurt, if Kurt had had more hair. “I guess there’s no easy way to say it, Mom. Her family is polygamous.”
I was so shocked I had to gather my thoughts. Of all my sons, Kenneth was the last one I would have expected to be interested in a polygamous branch of Mormonism. I was really not sure how I was going to handle it if Kenneth were about to tell me he’d be having multiple wives, if that was what he planned for the future with this Naomi Carter. I’d never really accepted the polygamous past of the Mormon church and had always assumed I’d never have to. I thought I’d raised Kenneth to think the same way.
“Are they FLDS?” I asked slowly. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints was the most infamous polygamist branch of Mormonism, led by the now-jailed “prophet” Warren Jeffs, who had been indicted for statutory rape after he married dozens of barely teenage girls, some of whom were also his close blood relatives. Just the idea of Kenneth sitting down for Sunday dinner with men who did that made me sick. I suddenly wished that Kurt were here, after all.
“Not the FLDS, Mom,” Kenneth said. “Her family is independent. And very modern. Her dad is an OB/GYN at Salt Lake Regional. One of the wives is an investment broker and another is an artist. Naomi is in med school, too. She wants to be an OB/GYN like her father.” He held my gaze as if he were begging me not to judge him just yet.
I struggled not to make a remark about it being a lot cheaper to have a lot of babies if you were a baby doctor yourself.
“Okay,” I said, hoping I knew my son as well as I thought I did. “Are you two planning to be polygamous?”