Fall 1993, Volume 10.3
Neal Chandler (Ph.D., Princeton University) is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Cleveland State University. His most recent publications include an essay in Dialogue, entitled "Book of Mormon Stories That My Teachers Kept From Me" (1991), Appeal to a Lower Court, a three act play published in Sunstone (1990), and a collection of short stories, Benediction (The U of Utah P,1989) .
No. He wasn't angry. He was more just upset. Mr. Bremen said to tell you exactly what happened. That's the agreement. It's what I want, too. I do know it wasn't the election so much that bothered Howard. He hated the election. He said it was a clear sign. No one could mistake it. But really, it was the Conference more than anything that upset him.
You're not Mormon are you?
I didn't think so. I mean the Mormon Conference from Salt Lake City. They send it out on the satellite, and we took the children. Howard always made them sit up and behave. He has this way of just looking at them, you know, but then lately he would sit there himself fussing and talking out loud to no one you could tell.
No, not like he was crazy, just like he was talking to himself. And then all the way home in the car he kept saying something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong: the prophet of the Church sitting through the whole conference stiff and glass-eyed as a cricket and not moving a muscle. It gave my husband the shivers. He said it was like a voice of warning, some kind of message he was trying to heed and figure out.
To be honest, I couldn't see what he was so upset over. I mean, the prophet is at least 90 years old, and when people get that old, they're lucky if they can sit up at all through a whole meeting and stay awake. Besides, it was probably the television lights on his glasses made him look like that. That's what I thought, and I told him, but . . .
Sometimes I don't understand things. I'm not a very deep thinker, and I know that has been a disappointment to my husband. Oh, he never said a single word, but you could tell. When I told him I didn't see anything so bad about a 90 year old man acting like he was one, he just looked over across at me and then out at the road again. Real quiet. He said what I was telling him made worldly sense. I was a good, sensible person in that way, but I had to remember we weren't just talking about some old man. We were talking about the ordained prophet of almighty God, called to lead us in these latter days that are turning out every bit as terrible and perilous as the scriptures say they will.
Well, it does kinda make you stop and think, doesn't it? If the prophet can't get up even to say a word or wave or anything at all, then you kinda have to wonder what the Lord must be thinking of to give someone a job like that when it seems like he's already too old and sick to do it.
No, Howard didn't say he was too old. That was me. My husband always said there wasn't anybody knew the Book of Mormon better or was more powerful in standing up for the truth than the prophet. There was plenty of people wanted to hush him up, too. Plenty. Even in the church. But he wouldn't be hushed. He stood up to all the liberals and the apostate backsliders just like Samuel on the walls of Zarahemla. So when now he's not saying anything or standing up, not like before, not at all even, then you have to think something is going on.
Oh yes, but it's what I say too. And more than me. The Bittendorfs said it to anyone would listen. They're the family went with us, you know, but they didn't last. Didn't endure to the end. Howard says with some people the flesh is willing enough. It's the spirit that's weak. They were all flame and fire at the beginning. Karl Bittendorf came over nearly every afternoon, him and Howard in the kitchen talking scriptures and how the multinational corporations are just taking over everything.
Karl got laid off from the steel plant even before Howard, so they both saw it all happening. The whole company, the whole economy just like it says in the Book of Revelations. Those layoffs were nothing but a conspiracy to force everybody into line. Howard showed us. It's in the fourteenth chapter. Then they infiltrated the Church, so you could see it right on television, and everyone afraid to say so. Except Howard. My husband wasn't afraid of anyone.
Oh, there were some. The sort who never make a peep 'til no one's around to hear. Then they tell you all brave how it's always seemed fishy to them, too, and how pleased they are someone's finally speaking out because it's just got to be a conspiracy. How else could you make sense of it, even if you didn't know exactly how they were doing it, which Howard didn't yet. Not then. He just had this terrible feeling. The whole exact truth didn't come out 'til later in the revelation.
That's right. My husband has had many revelations.
It was his first one. I remember. Rachel wanted to go to her friend Elizabeth's for a sleep-over party on a Sunday night. I told her she knew better than that. But it was Elizabeth's birthday. She is really a very nice girl, and Rachel's had such a hard time making friends. What happened was my fault. I was paying too much attention to the things of this world, and I thought maybe if she talked to Howard after dinner, and if she explained that it would only be that one time, not anything regular, maybe her father would let her. Sometimes I just don't think. I don't keep my priorities straight. After all his teaching and the example he sets, his own child, the oldest one he loved almost more than if she was a boy, asks him can she break the Sabbath. You can't imagine his face.
And Rachel wasn't good about it either. She yelled and said things against the Church, which got her brother Jared into it, saying Rachel had no business going against the Church or breaking the commandments or talking back like that. Jared's the most dependable, obedient child you can imagine. He'd be a joy if he just had any tolerance at all for other people's weakness. His father always said that some valiant souls are hard souls, voices in the wilderness, sent down to earth to point the straight and narrow way for ordinary people. It's not always easy living in the Gospel light. But I don't know; it always seemed to me Jared mostly made things worse. Rachel got so angry. And really it wasn't her fault. I encouraged her. I did.
The revelation? Oh yes, the revelation. Well, when we went to bed, Howard read a long time, but even after he'd put his scriptures away and turned out the light, I knew he wasn't sleeping. You feel that across a bed. Bone weary you feel it, and your own sleep dries up like it wasn't anything. I touched his back to tell him it wasn't Rachel. It was my fault more than hers. But Howard just turned over and put his arm around me sadder even than in the car. He told me it wasn't really Rachel at all. It was something much bigger. It was the last days. Everywhere the minions of darkness turning up as angels of light, appearing as your own good friends, your children's friends, the friends even of the prophet of God. That was the really terrifying thing; it was friends dragging us all down into desolation.
He said sometimesand now I'm telling you things, private promised things, a wife should not be telling, but I want you to know how I know it was a revelation he said sometimes he needed to take refuge with me, in my arms. I was his home and shelter from a world of storm and tribulation. His hands were cold as ice, and I took them, shivering like a girl, but helping, holding him, letting him. My Howard knows how to warm his hands, Miss. He was not a angry person, just upset and needing home and knowing how to get there, how to get us both there, if you know what I mean, and we nearly were. Very nearly. And that is how I know it had to be a revelation because he stopped right there, stopped where he never stopped before, where no mortal man I ever heard of stops, and he grabbed me hard by the shoulders 'til when I got down where I could open my eyes, he was staring straight through me. Dear God, he said, dear God in heaven, they've poisoned him. They've filled his veins with drugs and venom 'til he's only half alive up there and half dead as well, and no one can get to him not man nor angel, and the truths of God are hanging by a thread.
His eyes were all faraway and secret, and he was scaring me. When he saw it, he stopped and kissed me, you would be amazed how sweetly, like a boy, and then he said he was sorry, but we could not do this. Not now. He'd been trying to hide, to run like Jonah from the voice was calling him, but the Lord had pulled him back, dragged him away out of the deep to make him face up to Nineveh. And now he had to prepare himself, prepare us all for the mission that was coming.
No. I didn't see anything. I'm not a spiritual person. Not like my husband. I just never felt so naked in my life.
On the twins' birthday. That was the second revelation. After dinner he made us all sit down in the living room and he told us the Angel Moroni had come to him in a dream and said it was time for the remnant of Zion to go up out of Babylon into the West Virginia mountains. Us and the Bittendorfs and anyone else who truly loved the Lord. There was a place prepared for us there where the Lord would seal us up against destruction, so when Armageddon was done and nothing left but desolation, we would be the ones to come down and restore the gospel to the Earth. He said we were chosen. It was a terrible responsibility.
The children? They took it like children do, I guess. Jared and Daniel thought that getting out of school to go live in the mountains was the greatest idea anyone ever had in the history of the world. The girls weren't so sure, and Rachel didn't say anything. She looked at the floor the whole time, and then asked to be excused. She said she didn't feel good.
Howard watched her out the door. He said she didn't feel good to him either. He said she had a bad spirit.
Well it didn't get better.
She didn't come home from school.
The next day. I thought maybe she ran away. Howard said that was fine. Any child ran away from him would be the only one running. He said he wouldn't look for her. But when it got almost midnight, he took the Ford and went out with Jared. They found Rachel at the mall.
She didn't have a single thing to say for herself; reeking of tobacco and her coat torn, she just stared at the floor defiant as if she didn't care about any of it. Howard was so quiet, he scared me. And Jared pecking away at his sister 'til you wanted to scream. It just made her worse. Why couldn't he ever see that? Howard said Rachel was making it completely clear why the Lord commanded him to take his children out of Babylon, and he was going to do just that. She could count on it.
Well, it all came out then. She told him she wouldn't go. She didn't care if the Anti-Christ was coming or abominations either, and she didn't care about God's revealed will for her or anybody else. She just wanted to stay right there in Seven Hills with her friends. If her friends were going to hell and damnation, well she would be just more than happy to go with them. What it meant was we had to sell the house. Which we did, you know. But if I'm telling you the rest, I might as well tell you I wasn't very willing either. I wasn't submissive in my heart. I didn't want to leave, not Cleveland, not even Seven Hills, and when Howard was out looking for work, before he gave up on ever finding any, I just went around from room to room hating the whole idea.
We spent eleven years in that house. I would stand in the kitchen and count them up over and over on the wall where we marked the kids' birthdays and how tall they'd gotten. We used crayons. Every child with their own color. And the date. And how many candles. It was real colorful. Eleven years, you can imagine, the wall was kind of a mess.
My neighbor GloriaMrs. Polaskithought we were crazy. No job and no house to move to. Just going off into the mountains on a dream and prayer. That's how she said it. Howard asked me not to talk to her anymore. Beware of friends, he said. The deceiver does not enter into your house a stranger. Gloria and her children were not a righteous influence, which when you got down to it, I guess they weren't. Her Jen was only a year older than Rachel, wearing make-up and staying out 'til her poor mother was frantic, and then yelling back and making a spectacle for the whole neighborhood to hear. So what was I going to say? The truth is Howard didn't know the half. Gloria broke down in my kitchen one morning and said that Jennifer had gotten pregnant by some boy she didn't even like, and her mother hadn't found out 'til the baby was already aborted in a clinic somewhere with the boy paying for it and Jennifer acting like it was no big deal, but locking herself up in her room and not letting anyone ask any questions or talk to her at all. Her poor mother sat at my table and cried and cried. It just made you ache.
I mean, I could always see what Howard was saying about the last days. I could. The way the young people dress, the things they say to their parents, to anybody at all; and the drugs and the criminals and worldliness on television; not a movie anywhere you could take your family to, nowhere you could look that isn't full of mammon or filth or homeless people. And even in the church there were things. Things you can't even talk about. What could shock you after that? Not even the elections. It had to be the last days. The whole world just made you ache.
But even so I didn't care. Not enough. Not in my heart, and I didn't want to sell the house either or move at all, not anywhere though I couldn't tell Gloria that. What I told her was when we left she could have my Russian Vine. She always loved that plant. I kept it on the counter with just a hour or so of sunlight in the afternoon. That's the secret, you know. A Russian vine is a very fussy liana. But with the right light you can keep it fit and fat as any philodendron. Gloria perked right up. She said she couldn't possibly take it, but she always coveted that plant. When I carried it over to her, she held it like a baby, promised she'd take extra good care of it. I suppose it's dead by now. A regular plant killer that woman. Couldn't keep crabgrass alive. In the garden she was just walking ruination.
You're laughing at me. Well, I laughed, too, when I gave it to her, but inside I was already grieving for that vine . . . and for Gloria too. Seemed to me if I was called to any mission in this world, it was to stay right there and protect those two from one another. I warned you before. I'm not a very deep person. When God called the Children of Israel out of Egypt, they just got themselves up and walked homeless and half-naked into the desert. Just happy to do it. But all I could do was stand by that crayon mess on my kitchen wall and blubber. I was hanging on to everything, looking back as stubborn and sorry for myself as Lot's wife. And maybe that's how it all happened. Don't you think? I mean the looking back. Maybe it just turned me completely into stone.
That's kind of you to say. Somehow you know another woman will understand certain things, but you don't have to try to be my friend. I'm not looking for a friend, not anymore. If you're shocked, I understand. You don't even have to be nice to me. I signed the paper, and I'm fine about the arrangement. Mr. Bremen and me understand each other. I want the kids taken care of. The money's for them. That's what I care about. And maybe also to let people know it wasn't really Howard's fault. He couldn't help it if he had a revelation, and he's not like they are saying. My husband was my best friend, you know. He always said it, even when I disappointed him.
When he found me in the kitchen crying, he put his arms around me and told me I was right to grieve. What else was I supposed to do. You had to grieve for the lost world, even for Babylon, but you had to be strong, too. You had to do what the Lord had called you to. We had to go to West Virginia. He'd seen it in a vision. It was a wilderness place watched over by angels because a sword was buried there, the Sword of Laban from the Book of Mormon, and the Angel Moroni had hid it up in a mountain, exactly for us to find in the last days.
I'm sorry. Of course, you wouldn't. Laban was this powerful man in Jerusalem who tried to stop the purposes of God, but the Lord delivered him into the hands of a prophet named Nephi and told him to take Laban's own sword and cut off his head because it was better for that one wicked man to die than for a whole nation to dwindle in unbelief. And Nephi did it, and Howard said it was that very same sword that was hid up for us, and it held God's own power to protect us and the children and the whole future nation from the Anti-Christ and his drug lords and perverts and from all the multi- national corporations that were already destroying this country. He said he already sold the house.
Oh, the Mormons had their say. It was the Bishop called us in, Howard and me, even Rachel and Jared, and he called in the Bittendorfs, too, with their oldest girl Melodie. He started out friendly as a hungry cat, carrying in chairs for everybody and saying he'd asked us there out of brotherly love.
He pretty much knew what Howard had been saying about the poor prophet and the Church. He said my husband was wrong. Even if he meant well. Those revelations were from the adversary. He knew for certain because he'd been talking with people authorized for this kind of thing, and it had been revealed to those brethren that we had all of us entered into a secret pact with fundamentalist apostates and other persons plotting to destroy the Church.
Why, it was just the silliest thing you ever heard in your life. Secret pact! Fundamentalist apostates! Maryanne Bittendorf and me looked at each other, and it was just all we could do not to laugh out loud. Ridiculous man. Even Rachel rolled her eyes, and Howard just shook his head. If that was the best they could manage for revelation, it was no wonder the Church was in trouble.
I don't really know if they excommunicated us. I suppose they did.
First, Howard sold everything. Or just about. I wouldn't let him sell the Mason jars or the Vita-Mix. I didn't care if it was wilderness we were going to. I wouldn't watch it either. I know the people that go to those house sales. They swoop down on you like a flock of crows. Before it's even light, there they are, squawking and fighting on the lawn and looking for something to steal, something the poor owner doesn't know the value of. And then in the evening when the people are wore out and too tired to argue anymore and just wanting everything gone, the locusts show up with their boxes and plastic trash bags and just eat you bareblade and root and all.
I wouldn't watch it, so I left him the boys to help and took the girls over to Gloria's. Howard didn't like that. He wanted me to go to Bittendorf's, but I took them to Gloria's, and I let them watch the television, too. And drink Pepsi-Cola, which was all Gloria had. And they had a fine time except for Rachel, who didn't want any Pepsi and who just sat in front of the living room window watching over at our house all day, and not eating either and so angry I couldn't talk to her at all.
You know, she was going to be a senior this year, and the first time in her life she had real good friends. It broke your heart. I wanted so bad to ask Howard if maybe she could stay. Just for her senior year. We could have found someone for her to live with. Of course, that was completely crazy, even to think about. You don't leave your child behind in Sodom. No matter how bad she wants it. My husband would never have heard of it. He would just have been completely disappointed in me again. So I kept still and left it up to him.
He did his best. He spent hours showing her exactly where everything was prophesied in scripture. If he lost his temper and called her to repentance, he always loved her more afterwardoh, he did love Rachel. He gave her a blessing and a revelation from God just for her alone, which he couldn't tell me exactly what was in it, only that God had called her to a special mission in the restoration of all things and promised her blessings in this life and the next that mortal minds cannot even comprehend.
It seemed to. Rachel did stop arguing with her father. She stopped carrying on and making everybody crazy. She kinda gave in. Howard was so relieved. He hugged me and thanked the Lord. But I could tell Rachel wasn't really changed. Underneath she was still burning. I could smell it in a room, do you believe that? And watching her by the window there at Gloria's, I could just see it all over her like smoke.
You know, when we went home afterward, it was almost just a house anymore. Really. Everything sold and carried off. It seemed like just rooms and hallways and boxes on a porch. So when we finally packed up and left, it wasn't nearly so bad as I'd thought. It was more like providence. Somehow it was.
Well, I think the Lord had been preparing us all along, and we hadn't known it. Everything was there. All the camping gear. We had plenty of food storage. I always did my food storage. Always felt I ought to. And Maryanne Bittendorf was almost as faithful about food storage as me. The prophet just always emphasized the necessity of it. Howard said we had enough for maybe three years if we were careful and if he and the boys hunted for the rest. He said there was a lot of game in West Virginia, and they all had their hunting rifles, even Noah who wasn't old enough to use one yet. And the target pistol, of course; you know about that. And Brother Bittendorf had a shotgun. Howard said there was plenty of ammunition and a few surprises for anyone who got it in their head to come after us. But he wasn't worried about that. The Lord would take care of that.
Oh my, yes. There will be persecutions, Miss, and abominations of desolation where the righteous have to flee into the mountains away from them that kill the prophets and the saints. And God will swallow up the persecutors in the depths of the Earth, and the mountains will fall on them and whirlwinds will carry them away. That's scripture. Howard showed me many times. He knew the scriptures back and forth. You could tell him any verse at all, and he would find it for you before you even finished. My husband knew the word of God; that is fact, and he said we were just like Nephi and his people in the wilderness, only instead of camels we had the four-wheel-drive and new trailer, and Jared driving the Ford, and the Bittendorf's van. We were a caravan, and it was an adventure, a sacred adventure calling us to the new Zion. And I'll tell you, Miss, when we finally got there, it seemed like it almost was.
I mean, it was just like Howard saw it in the vision. Exactly. He took us straight there, you know; didn't make a wrong turn even once. We found the campground just outside of Alton, which is almost no place at all, over toward Imperial that's even smaller, and when Howard told us, this is the place, I almost cried it was so beautiful. The trees opened up to a meadow where the bloodroot and the hepaticas just almost danced up and down under dogwood thick as baby's breath and every bit as lacy. It was April, you know, and so many crab-apple blossoms it hurt your eyes to look, and not a single fence or telephone pole or TV antenna anywhere, not even a road or a mail box or a yard sale sign. You could hear the Buckhannon River down the valley in the willows, and you could just smell the newness and summer coming and almost even the hemlock up on the ridge. If it hadn't been for the mud and the kids all covered with it in practically nothing flat, you would have thought you were in heaven itself with the mountain hanging there above you. Howard said the Lord would call him up there to get the Sword of Laban and the keys and authority for the New Dispensation that was coming with the Earth renewed again and cleansed and purified by fire. And standing right there in the incredible untouched beauty of it, you just knew it was true.
Oh, it wasn't easy. I didn't mean to say it was easy. It was more work than I can tell you. Mud everywhere, and the kids so wild over being out of school, and not just out, but being the only ones, which you couldn't stop them celebrating over, tracking in and out of the tents and making the most incredible mess you ever saw in your life. How were you going to keep up with that, and cook on camp stoves for fourteen people, and carry water for the laundry and cleaning, and do the mending, and you could go all day long and all night and not ever get done. After a week, Karl Bittendorf had to drive forty miles to the laundromat in Clarksburg. We hated to spend the money, but you just couldn't keep up, not at first, not in that mud.
The men found an old cabin on the ridge and went to work to see if maybe they could fix it up, which they couldn't; it was too far gone, but it seemed like a good start at the time, and we got into a routine, waking the kids early for prayers and scripture study, Howard expounding the patriarchal order that God was revealing to him more and more every day and commanding him to write down for scripture in the New Dispensation. And me and Maryanne Bittendorf making breakfast while her husband hauled firewood and water for cleaning. Afterward the men, including Jared and Daniel and David Bittendorf, went off in the four-wheel for target practice and military training while we kind of let the kids run 'til they were tired enough to where you could get their attention again, and when lunch was done, we had home school.
I taught the reading and the writing, and Maryanne did arithmetic. She had a gift, you know. Such a quiet person, but she had a gift for numbers that even Howard had to shake his head, and I would sit sometimes and watch her teach the children their times tables or long division maybe or later even fractions under a hundred year oak tree in God's own clean air with flowers all around, hepaticas and crab-apple, and then when the mud dried and the grass grew up to your thigh, wild azaleas and rhododendrons, and not a single worry anywhere about crime or drugs or perverts or traffic even, not even Conference. And I would think, Howard is right, this is the New Zion. It has to be. It just does.
What changed? Everything, I guess. You'd have to say, it all got better first. Not easy, but so hopeful. We were prospering in the land. Howard found a farm up the valley with a house you could repair, and more than a hundred acres just standing fallow and forgotten like the Lord had saved it up for us to bring forth in the last day. Howard said it sure wasn't any accident. And the owner was a old lady up in Imperial who rented us the house very reasonable and said she'd sell the farm, too, if her son agreed.
Turned out, the son wasn't very agreeable at all, but the farm was real run-down, and Howard said you could just smell how bad he wanted the money, so if we held out for our price we'd get it with what we had left from the house in Seven Hills and what the Bittendorfs had, and still have money for equipment and the kind of sensible perimeter security the Kingdom of God was just definitely going to have to have.
Oh, my husband is a expert on perimeter security. When he wasn't reading scripture, he always had his nose in some magazine or catalog or something. He could tell you anything about security. And Karl Bittendorf had been a M.P., that's a policeman in the military. While they were fixing up the house, they kept saying how it was set up perfect for a command post being two stories and on a hill where you could look out and see the whole valley in three directions. It did seem kind of perfect, except for needing paint and a new roof. It could have been a lovely old house, and out back there was a apple orchard and in front of that a fenced-in plot for a big garden with onions still growing wild and rhubarb and a great big blackberry bramble.
I was happy about the house. Then Howard started driving into Clarksburg about arrangements and the papers and to get supplies. He said he needed help. He wanted to take me with him, but what he really needed was someone good with figures to keep accounts and go over the papers for the deal and make sure nobody was cheating us with fancy numbers.
Well, she certainly had a gift. There was no denying that. Someone had to take care of the children, and I didn't mind at first. But after a while it got to be sometimes twice a week and as far away as Wheeling, where Howard said you had to go because the law was just so loose in West Virginia, if you didn't have everything locked up tighter than a drum, they'd cheat you blind. They always got back so late. One time they didn't come home at all, not 'til morning. Howard was real sorry. He said they broke down on the road, and it was true we didn't have a telephone, but I don't know. Somehow, it just didn't seem right for a servant of God.
Karl Bittendorf didn't say anything. Not to me. Oh, he got a funny kind of look, but I'll tell you something. Maryanne is a quiet person. She hardly ever says a word, but if anyone in that family has the say, it's not her husband.
I didn't like any of it. I'll be honest with you. I was just fighting with it in my heart. The morning after we moved into the house, I couldn't sleep over it. I got up while it was still dark and went outside. The plumbing wasn't fixed yet, and you had to go outdoors. I took a jacket and afterward I went out to the end of the garden where the creek runs down to sit a while and ask the Lord for faith to overcome my doubts and my suspicions. And when I looked around there were deer, not twenty feet away across the creek, a whitetail and her fawn that was almost grown and hardly a fawn anymore. Funny how a animal like that has a baby most every year and keeps so slim and graceful. She looked straight at me. I didn't move a hair. The sun was coming up and the whole sky burning. Her breath was white smoke in the air, and smoke rising up off the creek, too, that was just on fire from the sky, but the water still so clear and so perfect, you could see every rock and pebble and grain of sand along the bottom, and it seemed to me like every single leaf, too, and branch and blade of grass and every petal of every Black-eyed Susan down the whole, entire valley to where fog was floating like the Holy Spirit over the willows on the Buckhannon. The valley was just transfigured, and when she looked at me across the water, I shuddered. I couldn't help itand I thought, this is the all-seeing eye of God. Looking straight at me. Not a angry look, I don't mean that, but not friendly either, just sort of curious, like she saw me, God looking at me, but through me, too, like glass or like the water in that creek, and whatever I was feeling, whatever it was I came up there with, it didn't matter. It really didn't even matter at all. Do you understand what I mean?
I guess the truth is, I don't really understand it either. Sorry.
How I felt? That was the day, you know, that all the trouble started.
Rachel came into supper just mad as spit. She made me go up stairs and told me I'm only telling you what she said. I'm not telling you it's true she said she'd seen her father in the orchard with Melodie Bittendorf doing things a prophet of God who is married and has seven children and revelations from God for other people has no business to even think about doing.
I told her I couldn't imagine what she was talking about.
She said, "Mom, she's younger than me. She said . . . "
She said Melodie went bloodred, trying to button herself up, and her father shouted at her. What did Rachel think she was doing out there.
She claims she shouted right back. Just what did he think he was doing?
Then? Then he came after her. Rachel says she ran.
I couldn't. Howard didn't come home. Not 'til late, and by then everyone was frantic, looking for Melodie, who didn't come home either, and everyone knowing. Rachel just wouldn't keep still. Karl got out his shotgun. He scared me half to death. He looked frozen, like he was supposed to march off somewhere, but didn't know which direction. And Maryanne went kind of crazy. She's the quietest person. You never saw her like that, ever. When Melodie walked in the door, she went over and slapped that poor girl so hard, she knocked her down. And I'll tell you something. It's not charitable, but I'll tell you. I think it was part jealousy. Even if she hadn't been going off with him. Even if nothing ever happened. The way she always looked at Howard and followed him around and made Karl do anything he said. She just lit up if he paid her any attention at all. I think Maryanne Bittendorf was so jealous it almost didn't matter if it was true or not. By the time Howard got home, they were already packing up to leave.
Well, first they moved into the motel at Clarksburg. They told anybody would listen how Howard was fallen, and they were going to take their money and their things and move back to Cleveland. Howard told them they could move anywhere they pleased and be damned for it, but what they had given to the Lord was the Lord's. The Lord did not surrender his property to traitors. Maryanne said she was going to get the police.
Oh, it was terrible. All day Rachel just glared. She wouldn't say a word, but you could see the anger. When Howard tried to talk to her, she'd walk away, and when he commanded her in the name of the Almighty to turn around and listen to her father and answer up when he spoke to her or else, she turned around all right, but just stared straight at his collar, saying yes sir and no sir and yes sir to whatever he said, which was worse almost than not saying anything at all.
I never saw my husband like that. And I knew, when he came up to bed, I would have to ask him. I didn't see how I had any choice, but he started in before I could even think, telling how it was terrible for him, just a constant ordeal, how people mixed into the things of God, when they didn't understand them at all, when they were just swinging around in spiritual darkness with shovels and hammers and breaking precious things and hurting people.
He said Melodie had come to him in the orchard to tell him she was finally converted. She'd been praying like he'd counseled her, and angels had actually appeared above her bed for a witness and to tell her she'd been elected to serve in the New Dispensation. He said she looked just completely transformed and the Spirit told him right there that this was one of God's purest creatures that ever lived, and he was to wash her body with living waters from the creek and pray all worldly darkness and depravity from her spirit to seal her up unto coming forth in the first resurrection.
It was a sacred ordinance he was doing, and he said he could see how a worldly person might see a sacred thing like that and just misinterpret it completely. But it was the spirit of mischief lead Rachel to that orchard in the first place. She had a bad spirit, and for all his praying and fasting and all the agonizing in his heart, he just didn't know if he could ever cast it out.
Maybe being a prophet was too much for him. Maybe he wasn't strong enough to live in the light of truth because he was always making mistakes. Praying, and trying his hardest, but making a mess of everything anyway. The very elect were deserting him and running back to Babylon and getting the assets frozen by some devil lawyer, and where were we going to get the money for the farm now or to carry on the work the Lord had commanded him to do. How was a man couldn't even save his own children going to save the world. He sat on the edge of the bed and just wept. He did. Like a child. It broke your heart. And his hands so cold. I didn't know what to say. I'm just not a spiritual person. I told you. But I knew how to warm his hands. I did know that.
My husband fasted four whole days. Not a bite of anything. And then he went to the woods and supplicated the Lord all night long in the cold, and when he came in in the morning, his eyes were changed, and he was calm as summer, and he told me the Lord had answered his prayers.
He had a revelation. He was still called to be a prophet, just like Abraham of old, but also a warrior, mighty and strong like Jephthah, to save the House of Israel, and he was just bound and determined to do whatever he had to to establish the Kingdom of God. If there was dissension in your own house, then you had to purify your own. If your brother or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or a friend who is like your very own flesh, lures you away to worship false gods, then hard or terrible as it is, you have to raise your hand against them. That's all there is to it. It's a commandment. Howard had been commanded special to go up on the mountain and build a altar unto the Lord for a purification. It was a trial, he said, a test of purification, so he could receive the Sword of Laban and the keys to the New Dispensation which was going to roll forth like a stone cut from that mountain and make the whole Earth tremble.
It meant he was commanded to build a altar for a offering to the Lord, so he could enter into the presence of God.
That's what he said. And there was one more thing.
He had to take Rachel with him . . . for a witness.
Well to be honest, I was kind of relieved. I was afraid he was going to tell me he was commanded to live polygamy. It's a principle, you know, that someday is going to be restored when we have the fullness of the gospel. It's right there in the 132nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants for anyone to read, but I was just dreading it all the same. I am not a spiritual person. I have seven children, and I'm not slim or graceful either. I never was a graceful person, and Melodie . . . Melodie Bittendorf isn't even as old as Rachel. The truth is, I was more jealous of that girl than Maryanne and just as crazy. In the gall of bitterness. That's how I felt. When he told me the revelation, I was so relieved, it was all I could think about.
No. I guess I didn't stay relieved. I thought I was happy, but I couldn't get content. Howard went off to find Rachel, and it started to bother me. I mean, the purification. More and more all day, 'til I wasn't getting my work done. I couldn't pay attention. When he came back, he said they were going at sun-up. Rachel was willing. It was a true sign, he said. She didn't even argue. I helped get them outfitted with food and with good shoes. Then Howard brought out his hunting gear. I asked him why he needed a rifle. He said he didn't. It wasn't him who needed it. It was the God of Israel.
When we went to bed, I couldn't fall asleep. Everything was suddenly turned around with Howard so peaceful after the revelation and me wide awake and just sick at heart wishing it had been polygamy after all and not knowing what to do 'til finally I got up and went over into Rachel's room and woke her.
I told her she didn't have to go with her father. That's what was bothering me. I told her it would be all right. It was his calling to go on the mountain, and the Lord would be witness enough for anyone. She didn't have to go.
She wanted to.
She said she did. Sat right up in her bed and told me that going on that mountain with her father was just exactly what she wanted. If they went up there and got the Sword of Laban and a angel came, then she'd admit he was right. She'd believe him about Melodie and about the patriarchal order and anything he wanted. But if there wasn't any sword or any vision, then she'd show him for the liar he was, and when they got back down from the mountain, she was going to get away, even if she had to walk out of there by herself, and out of West Virginia and all the way back to Seven Hills.
I told her not to wait. She should leave right then. I said I'd help her. I didn't want her on that mountain. Not with him. Not for anything. I asked her please to go. Please.
Rachel just looked at me. "You never stand up to him, Mom." That's what she said. She said I never did and never would in a million years. Someone else would have to do it.
Then she lay back down on her bed and turned her back to me.
I guess it doesn't really matter how I felt. It wasn't true what she said. Was it.
I'm not supposed to tell you all this. My lawyer is just having fits that I'm talking to you at all. He's a nice man and he's very patient with me, but he doesn't understand it doesn't matter about me anymore. I promised God if he'd let Howard go to the Celestial Kingdom, and not hold what happened against him because really he couldn't help any of it, he always tried his hardest, then I would take the responsibility and go where I had to, even the outer darkness and not complain. I don't mind so much. To be honest, I'm a little weary of living in the light. I'm not real good at it. I think that's obvious, but I'm not crazy. Don't think that. And I didn't have a revelation. Not really. If I heard a voice, it wasn't God's. It wasn't even a man's voice. If I heard it, it must have been my own, don't you think? Or just imagination. I'm not a spiritual person, not like my husband. But it was true what he was going to do to Rachel. For the purification. I knew it as soon as I heard. I knew it was true.
Oh no. Howard never said it. But I knew just as plain as if he did. I couldn't sleep, the voice already whispering what I would have to do about it, then or afterward. When he came back from the mountain, it would have been the same. Only worse, of course. Much worse.
Did I tell you, Gloria came to see me. All the way from Seven Hills. She made her son drive her in the Camaro, and the water pump broke down just outside Wheeling, but she said she didn't care. Sometimes a broke water pump was just the least important thing she could think of. She brought me two women's magazines, which it's a good thing Howard can't see them, and sour cream brownies she baked herself with macadamia nuts, and a cutting from her new philodendron. It was pretty much dried out and done for, but I told her a little water would bring it right back. Truth is, there isn't enough good sunlight back in there anyway to raise mushrooms with. I didn't ask her about the vine.
Gloria said we were all in the newspaper. With pictures. She said mine was a old picture. She didn't know where they got it. And the bishop wrote a letter to the editor, saying how it was shameless for them to call us Mormons when any real Mormon could have told them we were apostates, and how the Mormon Church had done more for the family and moral standards in this country than any other institution you could think of. Gloria is not very charitable about the Bishop.
If you want, I could give you his phone number. Gloria's, too.
They had Jared in the paper. Gloria didn't want to tell me, but I knew already. He's a hard soul, my Jared. He says I'm lying and there isn't any proof, which I guess he's right. There isn't. He told his brother Daniel I was fallen. I wasn't even their mother any more. I'd lost the right. He showed him in Isaiah where I was even prophesied. Imagine that. Me fulfilling scripture.
Rachel won't talk to anybody. She says we're all crazy. The whole family. You can hardly blame her, but I'm not so sorry as you might think. You know, I just walked straight up to the bed and pointed and did it, the whole time scared to death I wouldn't. Someone, some angel would be sent to stop me, to hold me in his arms and explain how it had to be the way the Lord commanded, and I didn't want to hear it; I didn't want anybody stopping me, not even a angel. She is my little girl. Do you understand that? She isn't any angel's business.
Oh, the noise scared me half to death. Dear Lord, I thought, What have I done? But it was such a little hole, just the smallest mark on his garments, and it didn't bleed. Not a bit. If he hadn't opened his eyes, . . .
Oh yes, wide open. My heart sank. I knew he would foresee it. They do, you know. Martyrs. The Spirit warns them. I was his best friend; he always said it; he knew me better than I knew myself. I couldn't bear to see the terrible disappointment. To have that be the last thing. I just couldn't. But it wasn't there. Do you believe that? I was so certain he would know, but he didn't, not at all. It still amazes me to think. And I'll admit it to you, Missyou've been so niceit comforts me a little, too. Because the truth is I just never saw my husband look so surprised in all his life.