My dad has always thought of himself as a rebel. How he managed to keep that idea through the sixties, where he didn’t grow out his hair or take drugs, lived at home, and graduated from college with a degree in geophysics; through the seventies, where he married a year out of college, had two kids by the end of the decade, wore a tie every day to his work at the oil company, and, most tellingly, sold his butter-yellow Spitfire to buy a powder-blue station wagon; through the eighties, when he built a large home, served as a Scoutmaster, and was still wearing a tie; through the nineties, where he moved back to Utah, celebrated capitalism, attended Beach Boys concerts, and refused to let my brothers pierce their ears; and through the 00’s, when he gained ten grandchildren, threw a fit over his daughter dating someone of a different race, and made fun of the Peace Corps, I’ll never understand.
He did vote for Ross Perot. But only once.
Maybe it wasn’t matter of being a rebel, but instead feeling like he never quite, completely fit in. He grew up in Utah, Salt Lake City, as the fifth generation of descendents of the pioneers. His parents, my grandparents, were Mormon to the core, and my geeky, over-intellectualizing dad rejected his parents’ church, refused to go on a mission, and replaced the scriptures with Machiavelli and Nietzsche by the time he was sixteen. He stayed in college to avoid going to Vietnam, and the war was over before his lottery number came up. Since a physics degree wouldn’t allow him to easily do anything but go to graduate school, he added a few geology classes and moved to Houston to start twenty years of working for the oil companies. There, he met my mother.
My mother was working as a bookkeeper. Since graduating from high school, she’d been through one engagement, two cities, three colleges, four semesters of classes, and five majors. She was a cheerleader in high school, and social butterfly as an adult.
My mom was engaged when she was twenty to a local boy who planned on becoming a police officer. They didn’t get married, and as for the reason why, my mother told me the following story when I was about 16. (Disclaimer: She was talking to her teenage daughter. I wonder if the story would change if I could ask her now?)
She and Bobby (the fiancé) were to be married in six months. He wanted to sleep with her then, but my mom refused to have sex before getting married. He had the great idea to work off his frustrations with a willing girl so she could wait. My mom agreed. Unsurprisingly, he broke off their engagement and married the other girl. Broke her heart, but if it hadn’t have happened, she wouldn’t have married my dad.
She and my dad met at a party at their apartment complex. My mother was perfectly suited to pulling my dad out of his social awkwardness, and he treated her like gold. After my mom took him home for dinner with her parents one night, my grandparents refused to give an opinion for fear she’d automatically reject someone they liked so much. They were right; she would have. They kept their mouths shut, and my parents were married a year later.
They had a society wedding. There are pictures of them in front of the big Baptist church downtown, flanked by seven uncomfortable ushers and seven parasol-toting bridesmaids. There was an open bar at the reception, and there my dad’s parents met my mom and her family for the first time. My grandmother cried all the way home.
Become my parents
My great-grandfather, my mother’s grandfather, was staunchly Catholic, and my great-grandmother was enthusiastically Methodist. They raised my grandpa as a mix of the two, and he promptly rejected both. When my parents were married, my mother told my dad that she’d look into his church, but if she didn’t like it, he’d have to join hers. He agreed. After they’d been married a year, my mom called the missionaries, loved everything she heard, and joined the church. She gave up smoking, drinking, iced tea, and went to church by herself. My dad stayed home and watched football on Sundays.
I’ve asked him about this since, mostly wondering what the heck he was thinking. She went by herself?? He looked embarrassed, laughed a little, and then said he trusted my mother. It wasn’t a bad bet.
One year later, their first baby died due to complications during delivery. One week after my brother died, my dad’s only sister died of lupus at age 21. My mom was still too sick to go to her funeral, so my dad flew to Utah alone, accompanied by a small white coffin. The aunt and the nephew were buried side by side in plots my grandparents had bought for themselves.
When my mother recovered physically, my parents crept softly down to Mexico, where they’d had their honeymoon. In a bar/restaurant in Acapulco, my mother sat with a sigh and my dad headed for the bar to get himself a beer.
“Janeen, do you want something?”
My mom lifted her tired, sad eyes and asked for a margarita. My dad looked at her quietly for a moment, took her hand, and led her out of the bar. They talked on the beach for an hour. When they went back to Texas, my dad went to back to church.
My mother told me the above story. My brothers don’t know it, although I shared it with the youngest one. I asked her why they did that, why Dad went back to church. She told me about some friends of theirs that had their own baby die around the same time my brother died, and those friends divorced shortly after. Some people pull together and fix things in their life to match their ideals, and other people pull away from the pain and shrink away from each other.
I grew up in a manner unusual for my surroundings but typical for Hatrack: lots of books, chronic underachieving, and a very secure home. We lived on an acre and a half on the edge of a rich oil town in West Texas, and I spent my childhood following my mother around as she did Relief Society president work for the ward and the stake. The only girl with three brothers, I was a bit of a princess. I generally had only one friend at a time, but it was all I wanted. My family was happy enough and I enjoyed being by myself enough that one best friend was all I needed. Group dynamics remained an avoidable mystery.
When I was 13, we moved to Houston, where for the next three years I wore all black, read lots of Edgar Allen Poe, and worried my mother. After three years in Houston, my dad quit the oil industry, gathered the family and the savings, and went into business with his brother in Utah. We moved a year earlier than planned, without an extra year of saving and before my mom could finish her degree, because my mother was worried about me. My surroundings changed from a yuppie Houston suburb to 97% Mormon Farmington, Utah.
Almost an adult
When my family had moved from Midland to Houston, my friend Jenny’s family had moved from Midland to Utah, and our new house in Utah was in the town right next to her. Jenny and I remade friends, and we became inseparable.
Jenny and I became friends with My Boys from High School the year after high school was over. The madrigals, the elite singing group, have Lover’s Feast every year to raise money. The Lover’s Feast I finally attended had as a tableau a sword fight between a couple of dashing knaves, their squires, and a medieval bouncer who came to break them up. We liked them instantly.
All five guys had grown up together on the same street, and they stayed friends. One fighter was my Library Buddy, and Sam, the other fighter, was their natural leader. They lived at home to work before their missions, and Jenny and I went to separate colleges, but going home meant hanging out with my Boys. After they all left on their missions, I missed them terribly. I didn’t know what that meant. That summer, I had a dream where I talked to Sam for over an hour. When I woke up, I was happy and thrilled and didn’t miss my friend for almost a week.
I’d never planned on going on a mission. I didn’t plan on getting married at 21 either, so I’m not sure what I thought I would be doing. I did have a horror of turning into my Young Women leaders, all of whom went to BYU, married after their sophomore year, and fell into a stiff, passive mold with stiff hair and too much eye makeup that held no affection and left no room for me. Probably, I figured I’d be in school for the extent of my twenties.
I debated going for almost a year before I turned 21. (I have trouble with large commitments and need lots of time to think about them.) I was restless where I was, and felt that if I was willing to spend up to ten years in school, then surely the Lord deserved a year and a half. The letters from my friends were strange and fascinating, and I wanted to be part of something that could change and gentle them so greatly. I also felt it was about time to take a stand. All of that, and I can still tell you the day I decided to go. I went to the homecoming of the Comet’s older sister, and sitting in church watching her tell of her experiences, I’d never seen anyone so beautiful and lit from within in my life. I’d known her and her brother for years, but something inside her had changed. I wanted that, and I wanted to be part of whatever force had the power to change someone so completely. I was going.
My junior year at Utah State, I was living off campus in a friendly building, I adored my new roommate Molly, I was taking the classes I wanted (Latin! Chemistry!), I still had my scholarship so school was free, my mission papers were in, and that January, the guys started coming home from their missions.
In May, I went home for a weekend. Home meant Jenny and my Boys, and when I left that Saturday night, I didn’t tell my family where I was going. Everyone had come back, including Sam, who still followed me around, and Jim, who didn’t seem to mind me following him around. (To everyone who is still reading this incredibly long missive and chooses to respond, I thank you. For giggles, use the word “bound” somewhere in your post.) That evening, we gathered at Sam’s house and started talking. One by one, Jim and the others slipped away until only Sam, Jenny, and I were left. At 6:32 am, the phone rang, and Sam answered.
It was my dad. To this day, I don’t know what my father said to him, but Sam turned white, said “Yes, sir.” and slowly hung up the phone.
“Katie, they want you home.”
When I got home, it was 6:00am. (That was my first mistake.) My mom was crying and my dad was furious. Jenny was still with me, and my dad said that he would drive her home – I wasn’t going anywhere.
While they were gone, my mom was still crying. She said she might need to go to the hospital. She’d been the hospital a few times that spring, but I didn’t really know what was going on. My dad had always driven her before, so I asked if I was to drive her the twenty minutes or if I should call an ambulance. She didn’t know, but she seemed to be in distress but not horribly, so I grabbed my keys. (That was the second mistake.) We were in the car, and I realized I hadn’t taken my mom’s cell phone – she was the only one with one. I couldn’t find it with a scan, so I decided it was better to drive and call my dad from the hospital. (That was… yeah, you get the idea.) On the way, my mother’s breathing became more and more labored. I pulled over into an empty gas station and called an ambulance. When I went back to the car, she was still awake, but just barely. She couldn’t breathe. She whispered how much she loved my dad, and me, and my brothers. She kept saying it wasn’t my fault.
By the time the ambulance got there, she’d been gone for almost eight minutes. She stayed in a coma for two weeks, and she died without waking up. My dad was at the hospital, but my brothers and I were home – I was in my bedroom, staring at the marble wallpaper.
My mother died on June 10. I was supposed to enter the MTC on June 28, and I had nothing prepared. Mom and I were going to do all the shopping in June after school got out. Someone talked to my mission president, and my enter date was put off until July 31. My house was so...sad. It didn’t even occur to me not to go – I couldn’t wait to leave.
I was living in someone else’s story. I practiced in my room the strange sentences that applied to some other girl with my face, some other life that had obliterated mine.
“My mom died when I was 21 “
“How did she die? Um, congestive heart failure.”
“Did you know my mother? She died years ago.”
I can’t remember much from those two months. I do remember that we went for a weekend to Jim’s family’s cabin on Bear Lake. Sam taught me how to fence, we watched some horrible movie the guys picked out about spatulas and a cable station, and late that night, after everyone else fell asleep, Sam taught me to play chess. Pausing over a move, he muttered softly, “Katie, please stay.” I was floored. (I was an idiot.) I sputtered some sort of no, there wasn’t a chance, and he quickly left for upstairs. We didn’t talk again. Two weeks later, I left for Detroit on my mission.
I didn’t want to talk to them. They were friends that belonged to another time, and I didn’t have any right to talk to them. Sam tried – he cornered me a couple times, offered his help, and spilled over with worry. I told him I was fine, completely fine, and why was he worried? I should have been with my mom that weekend, I shouldn’t have made her worry, I should have done many things differently, and in a desperate act of penance, I would cast aside all the things in my life that made me the person who made this happen. It was the least I could do. Besides, this obviously wasn’t my life. It didn’t matter what I did.
I meant to leave my life completely, and it happened. Jenny fell off the face of the earth a month later when she got her first boyfriend. By the time I got back, Sam and Jenny were married (He married my best friend. How Mozartian of him.), and my dad got married and moved the family into her house one month before I came home. (No, they didn’t wait for me. Yes, I did ask. No, I wasn’t okay with this. In the poetic justice column, the wedding day was a disaster of children and grandchildren relations from beginning to end. Picture bi-generational tantrums during the ceremony. *suppresses urge to snicker*) Molly did save her wedding until I came home, which I appreciated. Other people were waiting for me as well, but I only spoke to those who could never possibly hurt me. (Don’t do that – it’s not a good idea.)
I don’t know the ending to this story. I absolutely adored my mission – it was wonderful, and it did change and gentle me. Detroit was perfect – my grief made things harder, but only for my companions. *grin* Sharing what my mission was like would take another 2,000 words, but it can best be summed up in Mosiah 18:30. That feeling of living someone else’s life did end, but it took a few years for me to figure out that, believable or not, this actually was my life and that meant I needed to pay attention to it.
There’s more of life after this, but this is a good place to stop. The story isn’t over yet, of course. Everything in here happened years ago, and I wondered about posting it. What’s the point? Except it does explain a lot of me, I think.
I love the people I have met and the friends I have made here at Hatrack, and I’m so, so grateful for this community that the Cards made possible and the community-builders brought to life. Thank you.
I can see how difficult it was for you to write this. Bringing back memories hurts, but don't doubt that there was a point in this. It is a wonderful landmark, allowing a glimpse into your heart. I love you. I can't wait to meet you.
I am so grateful to know you, sister. And truly, you are one of my heroes. Not to mention my triplet - your Mom's conversion story is identical to my Mom's. And hers was in Texas too. And my Dad worked in oil. Yipes! You are me!
Thanks for being such an example. We love having you here!
Posts: 8503 | Registered: Aug 1999
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I'm bound and gagged. But that has less to do with your post than it does with certain practices of mine that are probably better discussed offline.
Kat, that was a beautiful and powerful post. I'm sorry your mom had to go when you needed her so much. I am very glad to hear that you are living your life. I have a friend who has spent her entire adult life in resentments and recriminations, mostly surrounding her family. I was worried (from some things you'd said in the past) that you were either running in a similar vein, or headed that direction. This post has helped me to realize how wrong my opinion was. And I am sorry for it because I might've understood you better had I bothered to read a little more closely over the past 10,000 posts or so.
All I can say is that this was an eye-opener for me and I'm very glad you posted it.
I look forward to meeting you someday soon.
Congrats on 10,000 posts, by the way!!!
Posts: 82 | Registered: Apr 2003
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I read every word, spellbound! The story of your mother's death makes me cry. Dear kat, you are so much a part of what hatrack is. Here's to 10,000 more. <<<<<<<big hug>>>>>>>>> and a wenchkiss
Posts: 5509 | Registered: May 1999
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Boy am I bad at working specific words into my posts.. If someone asks me to, I'm bound to have difficulty...
I'm glad to read this, kat. It was worth waiting for. The worst tragedy is having to go through your mother's death like that without knowing anything. I wish you the best of luck.. Forever. Thanks so much for your story.
Posts: 4812 | Registered: Apr 2003
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Katie, one of the only things that makes we wish I HAD gotten some sleep at WenchCon is the idea that I could possibly have been more cognicent and would therefore have been bound to have made much more sense in our conversations together - especially on the last day. As it was, I rambled and ranted, and spent more time talking than listening - which for me, as people who know me best will attest to, is a bit of a departure.
In one of those ramblings, I mentioned my philosophy of writing - of how it's a lot like archaeology, and how elements that seem wonderful and complete on their own can suddenly grow more fascinating and beautiful when more information is uncovered.
It works with people too, you know.
Yours is a story worth reading - worth knowing. And I'm sure I speak for all of the WenchCon attendees when I thank you for giving us a chance to see a peek at the continuing work in progress.
Now take up Josh on his offer, and send him your computer! I want you to get AIM working so I can get to know better!
Kat, your life story parallels my mother's in a lot of ways. Both you and she are amazing, strong women. I kind of envy your opportunity to go on a mission; that's the only regret I have about marrying when I did, but what is right is right, and I somehow knew I wouldn't go. (: But this isn't about me, it's about you. I enjoyed reading your post.
Hm. I think this may be the first landmark post I've responded to. I never know what to say when someone shares (bound) something like that. I just want to soak it in, to enjoy knowing the person that much better.
Posts: 1900 | Registered: Sep 2003
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I'm so sorry your mother died and so close to when you were going on your mission.
That is awesome that you still went on your mission. You are an inspiration and thank you for sharing this post (and 10,000th post, wow!) Now I miss my mom... I think I'm going to go call her. About when did you find out about Hatrack?
Once again, thak you for sharing your story. The part about your mother got to me. Please don't ask why. Maybe I'll put that in my landmark post when I hit 1000.
Posts: 4216 | Registered: Dec 2003
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Thanks for sharing your story with us and for being such a presence here. You were one of the first posters I noticed when I was new, always welcoming and kind, and your posts are just as beautiful now. My appreciation knows no bounds.
That was a landmark straight from the heart, kat, and you didn't mince words. i admire both things, and you, immensely. i find myself disagreeing with you very often on important matters, but despite that I've always liked you and enjoyed reading your posts. i think that speaks to what an eloquent, impassioned person you are, cause i rarely like people whom I disagree with.
You are an asset to Hatrack. Thanks for showing us a little bit of why.
Reading that post I was left with an emotion of awe and something I couldn't quite place. Then it struck me.
I am so proud of you. I am proud that you survived everything. I am proud that you have grown from the evils that crossed your path. I am proud that those evils were overcome to make you the great person you are.
I have no claim on you, but I am proud to know you.
Kat, I've never found you to be other than a caring and courageous person. Thank you for sharing your story. I read every word--though I won't play any games just for giggles, or just to be tested, so you'll simply have to take my word for it --and found it to be a deeply touching account. I'm sorry for the hardship you've been through, and I wouldn't wish the bad times on anybody, but I'm grateful for the person you have become, and I'm thankful that you've found a home at Hatrack, and I've had the chance to virtually know you. I hope someday I meet you IRL. Sooner or later I'll have to break down and visit all of the distinguished Texas jatraqueros . . .
P.S. You put up with a lot of crap. I'm glad recent times have been better for you, and hope the peaceful, easy feeling continues.
Posts: 1112 | Registered: Jan 2003
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