mormons and me, part ii

Continued from yesterday

It was a special kind of heartbreak, something I'd not felt before. Or since. Someone had told me about a heinous stereotype with which I was utterly unfamiliar and had arrogantly predicted my friend's descent into it. I had defended my friend. "No, not Leanne! You don't know her at all!" And then I watched my friend descend ever lower, exactly as predicted. Not a little. Not partially. Exactly.

I was ashamed for her.

But the decision was made, and after the obvious conversation about the rashness of the engagement—"Actually, John, for people in my church this isn't fast at all!"—I was supportive. I decided to work on my relationship with Lump.

It did not go well.

Lump was dim, lazy. It was impossible to imagine him getting his degree, let alone getting a job. He slurred his words lazily and never let his utter lack of merit stop him from holding forth about himself, especially to women. Three of my girlfriends have met him: Fucking Amy, the Approval Whore, and Allie. A tomboy, a show pony, and a hippie. Three very different women with really only one thing in common: they despised Lump. Of him, Fucking Amy once sighed in exasperation, "It's kind of hard to respect a guy who has to close his eyes to finish every sentence."

Allie and the AW would later applaud that description.

He was thoughtless toward Leanne and clearly expected her to defer to him on every subject, whether it was where to eat or where to live. Men are on our best behavior when we're first dating, and his best was anyone else's worst.

A trivial example: one time the three of us were eating at a buffet. Lump and I sat down first. I took one of the two booth seats, and he took the other, leaving Leanne a chair. "Don't make me embarrass you by offering your fiance my seat," I growled, and he grudgingly moved. She returned and praised him for leaving her the booth seat, praise he gobbled. When he next left, Leanne whirled at me. "You told him to do leave me the booth, didn't you?"

I said nothing, instead imagining the paucity of consideration that must come her way in order for her to have arrived at this conclusion.

"You know," I said later as she washed his clothes in the dorm washing machine. "What you get when you're dating, you're gonna get in spades once you're married. This is him at his very best."

"When it's the right one, you know it," she replied, looking forward into space, descending lower.

They got married, and as Hilary foretold, I was not allowed to attend. Years passed. Lump avoided any kind of work for seven years, and for a time they subsisted on Costco tortillas. Toiling as a substitute teacher, Leanne was sick constantly. When I would visit, I would bring gifts of groceries. And when I would visit, Lump would clumsily hint that he too would like presents.

"Did you wee this cool [insert artist's name] book? I love it. Love it. But it's $200," he would lament forlornly.

"That's a damned shame."

"I really need it, but I can't afford it," he'd try, frustrated with my obtuseness.

"It's crazy what books cost, isn't it?"

My favorite hint of all time: "Leanne sure needs a faster modem for our computer."

Poverty be damned, they started procreating. To this day, I honestly have no idea how many kids they have. Every time I talk to her, she has the same "great news." Mind you, they still haven't paid the hospital bills for kid #1. Isn't that sort of like, um, stealing? When I point out this apparent ethical lapse, Leanne is oddly untroubled. "I just trust that God will somehow provide," she says, knowing, but not feeling, that I think she's an idiot.

Therein you have my dominant impression of Mormons. They're famously and conspicuously kind and happy, even during obviously miserable situations. But there's more. There's a highly compartmentalized intellectual stunting. I've met many really bright Mormons who converse expertly on science or politics or philosophy. And then you'll enter what I've come to know as a "Mormon blind spot," where church culture and dogma trump all else, and suddenly you're dealing with a reflexively, astoundingly unthinking person. Leanne, for example, would never imagine stiffing a hospital for the cost of repairing a broken leg. But baby bills? That's different. Creating more Mormons is a Mormon girl's highest possible calling, and the stealing is not only justified, it's somehow not even stealing.

As time has gone on, the blind spots have grown. Leanne's entire life is her litter of kids and the church. They're predictably atrocious parents. As she's descended further into stereotype, as my friend has been willingly usurped by this misogynistic culture, our friendship has strained and broken. We still give it lip service, but she's effectively out of my life. The wonderful woman who was my friend is gone now, dead by her own hand.

• • •

When she was nine months pregnant with her second child, I spent a weekend fending off Lump's hints for money and sadly regarding my friend's life of Lump servitude. He was without shame, putting his wife before his own selfishness not once. I attempted to embarrass him by insisting that I, not his ridiculously pregnant wife, do the cooking, dishes and housework, but my shot impacted harmlessly on Lump's surface. Depressed by this, I said nothing as I did the dishes.

Before I left, Leanne and I got our first opportunity in six years to be alone together. We went to lunch, and for a fleeting, miraculous moment, my friend came back to me. She was herself. There was no posed happiness, no rationalizations, no Lump. It was grand. I told her I missed her, and she cried. Oh my god. That's an honest emotion for the first time in years, I thought. Was there a flicker of self-awareness after all?

Then Leanne surprised me. Quietly, ashamed, avoiding eye contact, she spoke. "John, do you remember what you tried to tell me back in the dorms, when I was doing laundry?"

Of course I remembered. I'd thought of little else all weekend.

"Well," she said softly, almost inaudibly, "I get it now."

Oh god.

And with those four heartbreaking words, I went from wishing my friend would stop rationalizing happiness to wishing that she were even better at it. I don't need to be right. I don't want it. Not here. Not this time.