Alex paused and asked for water, and Shawn handed him and Josh bottles from a mini-fridge in a bookcase. "Thank you," Alex said. "Well, after that ordeal, you can be sure of two things: First, I was going to be very, very careful and second, I was one hundred percent gay."
For the first time, Josh spoke, "Alex, did you ever learn where that photo came from?"
"I didn't. Did you know about it?"
"Yes, it has followed me around."
"Alex, if you would continue," Helen gently admonished them and called Alex back to the task at hand.
"Strange thing. Mom had always been suspicious of everyone and everybody, but she accepted that I had been turned away from that 'wicked and evil path'. If there were two things at the center of her universe they were money and her religion. Exodus was supposedly run by strictly orthodox Mormons, so what they claimed to do, they had done. That, coupled to the fact that she spent my child support money, a college reserve fund and money from her own pocket convinced her they could not be wrong when they claimed I was now straight. 'You are not yet eighteen,' she said, 'and you haven't done your duty as a missionary yet, so naturally there are restrictions.'
"There were. I was not allowed to go anywhere without her beyond walking in the neighborhood, but at least I saw the sun. I had a very, very limited wardrobe which was strictly orthodox and I was not allowed to use the computer except in her presence. Television was still a no-no. I was bored out of my skull just sitting at home and I dared not go outside my boundaries as she did random checks.
"If I was not at home, she better be able to see me when she drove around the block. I learned that when an elderly lady down the street called to me from her porch and asked if I could replace a light bulb for her. It only took five minutes, but mom drove around the block while I was inside and when I stepped in the front door, she accosted me with her broom handle. She finally stopped beating me and I told her what had happened and I was just helping an elderly lady. 'Wasn't I supposed to do that?' I asked. She didn't answer, instead, she walked down the street to check my story. Mom was not a weak woman and I had bruises all over my body and was ashamed to go outside the house for over a week because of my face. One blow gave me an awful-looking black eye.
"I suppose I will always ask myself the question I am sure you are asking, 'Why didn't I leave?' I don't know the answer to that beyond the possibility that the known monster was less frightening than the unknown one.
"Anyway, I was determined to graduate high school as though I had spent the summer in Boulder—at mid-term of my junior year—and I did. When I asked about college, mom said I was not living in one of those faithless institutions, so I started searching and found BYU offered online courses as did the local community college. Mom forbade my taking biology—those evil infidels claim biology can disprove the Book of Mormon—or American history anywhere other than BYU. Suited me fine. Boulder had developed and fine-tuned my bullshit filters. I signed up for biology and American history at BYU online and eventually I would have to take a biology lab class, but that could wait. Had I done everything at BYU, I would have been limited to three courses, but Salt Lake Community College didn't have to know I was taking courses at BYU and I signed up for three courses there. Had I had anything to do otherwise, I might have been too distracted to handle five classes, but when you have walked around the block three times, what are you going to do for the rest of the day?
"To this day I have been unable to figure out how mom raided my college fund, but she did. I did learn later she had to scramble to pay it back to avoid trouble with the law. The one thing that frightened her was that dad would find me. She had taken back her maiden name, but had not dared try to change mine. I guess she knew I did have a limit and I would have to be in court and she was not having that. She did have me use the address of that ratty apartment when I enrolled at BYU and SLCC. She had given the post office a change of address to a remailing service so any mail from them would come where we lived, but all correspondence was done by email, so that never happened.
"Like all good Mormons, mom was high on education so long as it was approved. BYU was, of course, beyond question and since SLCC was in the Holy City itself, it also must be pure. When the spring quarter ended and I had five A's, mom was ecstatic. You would have thought she earned the grades herself. I again enrolled for three courses during the summer session at SLCC, but only one at BYU. I had been such a good boy, mom loosened the leash a bit. 'Around the block' was expanded to 'around the neighborhood' two blocks on each side of our block and two blocks deep. I could also speak to the neighbors, but not go inside their houses. The elderly lady down the street and I became good friends and she was my shoulder to cry on, although I was very careful about what I told her.
"Fall semester came and I again enrolled for two courses at BYU and three at SLCC. I was going for dual degrees in science and business and according to my calculations, that would require six semesters minimum. Mom approved, but when I turned eighteen, something happened. Child support stopped. Mom was in a dilemma. She could have me drop out or pay out of pocket. There was about a semester's tuition left in the college fund. I suggested I find a job and she told me not until I was twenty-one. I reminded her that I was an elder and could be on mission and she reminded me that I was not and the bishop had said flatly that until I had been proven straight for four years, I would not be approved, if then. Nothing could be more agreeable to me. No way I was going door to door peddling Mormon orthodoxy when I was condemned to hell by the LDS already!
"One Saturday morning in late May, between spring and summer semesters, a man came to the house inquiring about Alexander Bledsoe and showed Mom a picture. Mom told him she did not know any Bledsoes and had never heard of Alexander Bledsoe. The man left, but as he walked back to his car, he kept looking back at the house. Mom watched him from behind the living room curtains. Monday Mom stayed home and at seven a moving van pulled up to the house and everything was loaded and it left before noon.
"Oh! I forgot about Princess. When we moved to Salt Lake, Dad insisted that she come with us. It was a bit of a drive to the ranch where she was boarded, but Dad and I drove out every Saturday and I rode. When Dad left for New York, Mom moved her to a 'place we can afford'. I never saw it, but I did happen to see the bill for her keep and wondered what kind of hellhole she was living in. I had about gotten over crying about my situation, but when I saw the bill, I cried myself to sleep for days. Six months later, mom told me 'I managed to sell that money-eating horse and good riddance. If your father had not given you that animal, you would never have been led astray by that child molester Josh Taylor'. I caught myself before reminding her he was younger than I was. I spent more nights crying myself to sleep.
"Anyway, I think Mom drove all over Salt Lake to confuse me about the location of the house she was moving us to when all she would have had to do was drive five blocks in any direction. Half an hour after we left, she pulled up in front of a very small house in a neat, but obviously poor, neighborhood. I guess she had transferred all the utilities last week as everything was on including internet. At least it was better than before since it was broadband and all we had before was dial-up.
"There were no bars on the windows and no lock on my door. There was practically no yard, back or front. It was definitely a step down. When we had everything in place in the house, mom said, 'Alex, I have had your name changed…'
"'You can't do that!' I shouted at her and she slapped me across the face, twice.
"'I can and I have. From now on, you are Marvin Alexander Crimshaw and that's that. I'll still call you Alex, of course. Here is your new social security card, photo ID, and birth certificate. I have gone online and made the necessary changes in your college records so you still have your credits, only now they belong to Marvin Crimshaw.' How she managed that, I did not and do not know. I did realize fighting it would be fruitless. So I began life as Alex Crimshaw.
"The college fund was almost completely drained and child support had stopped. Mom became so desperate for money that she found a very strict, elderly Mormon couple who owned a grocery store several blocks from home and talked to them about hiring me. They did and I started working four hours a day. In addition to minimum wage, we got groceries at cost which was a help.
"Since we moved, we had a new bishop and stake president. Mom went to the bishop to see if he could help with my college expenses and he did. We were still on a very tight budget, but making it. I started fall semester and was taking five courses again. Mr. and Mrs. Simpson were tight with the dollar and when she fell ill and couldn't work, he asked about my adding hours. Soon I was working eight hours, four days a week, and nine Wednesday and Saturday, spending the extra hour stocking shelves after the store closed. The store was closed Sunday.
"As I said, Mr. Simpson was tight with the dollar. I was working over forty hours a week which meant I was due some benefits. Also, with the increase in hours, he saw his share of the social security tax rise. He proposed he pay me for the same number of hours as before, twenty, officially and he'd pay the rest in cash. He'd save his tax on the extra thirty hours and I agreed. I took my check to Mom as always and gave her some cash, but always had a receipt for the groceries I brought home which was not what I had paid and often there was good produce that did not sell which I took home for free rather than it being tossed in the garbage, but for which I managed to get a cash register receipt by charging, then canceling the free produce. I pocketed the cash difference between what I paid for the reduced price and the free groceries and what the receipt covered.
"All in all, I averaged a hundred a week of my own. I knew Mom was sneaky and would find it if I left it at home. There was a small branch bank about ten blocks from the store and twenty from the house. I opened an account there and discovered I could make deposits through a night deposit drop box. I started to ask Mr. Simpson to take it when he took the store deposit on Friday, which is when I got paid, but decided he might make a comment to Mom when she came in to check up on me. Instead, I walked a block away, out of sight of the store, and caught a bus on my lunch hour and made a deposit inside at a teller's window.
"I did beg Mom to let me buy a bike, but she wouldn't relent, so, I guess for the first time, I really faced her down when an opportunity presented itself. A woman who shopped at the store was laughing one day about her son who was back from his two-year mission tour in the Philippines where, she said, he was often caught in the sudden tropical rains while on his bike.'He says if he never sees a bike again it will be too soon. Pity too, as we bought him a nice one a few months before he left so he could get in shape. Oh, well, you know how young men are.'
"'Think he might sell it?' I asked.
"'Honey, I think he would give it away but, anyway, he's away and won't be back for a couple months. Why? You interested in buying a bike?'
"'Yes, ma'am, I am.'
"'If Mr. Simpson can spare you, hop in the car and I'll run you over to look at it. You want it, you can have it for seventy-five dollars.' Mr. Simpson said I could go and fifteen minutes later, I was on a beautiful, nearly new bicycle, headed back to the store. The lady said I could pay her the next time she was in the store. I had Mr. Simpson keep seventy-five from my pay in case she came in while I was not there, which would be unlikely.
"As I rode my pride home, I was determined I would face Mom down if she didn't like the deal. When I handed her my check and the cash, I said, 'I have something to show you on the porch.'
"When she saw the bike she said, 'Alex Crimshaw! Where did you get two hundred, three hundred dollars to spend on a bike like that! Young man…'
"'Just hold it!' I actually raised my voice at her. 'First off, it's money I earned and I provide the groceries around here and give you what I have left. This time I took seventy-five dollars of my money and bought a bike.' I never got beyond that as such a bargain crossed out my buying the bike without permission.
"'You only gave seventy-five dollars for that bike? That's all?'
"'You can ask Mr. Simpson when you go to check up on me, which you can stop. Now how about supper, I am starving.' In a small way, the worm had turned.
"She stared at me, her mouth hanging open. 'You will not speak to your mother in that tone of voice!'
"'Then start acting like the mother of an eighteen-year-old because I am and I will act like one.'
"Things were a mite tense for the next couple weeks, but when she pushed too hard, I pushed back or didn't budge. Gradually we came to a better understanding.
"I was working fifty hours a week and still carrying five courses and it started to catch up with me. I was young and not in bad shape, if not good, but I needed sleep which I was not getting. One afternoon I was riding back from the store when a kid—a young man—came out of a side street on his bike and we fell to talking. He was a rising senior in high school. I asked about college and he said he had been offered a scholarship at a small college in Idaho, but his parents probably wouldn't let him go. 'It's BYU or nothing and it looks like nothing as I don't have money and they don't, and there's no scholarship for me at BYU. Heck, I don't even have spending money.'
"'Like a job Saturdays?'
"'Let me check into something. I ride by here most days about this time.'
"I talked to Mr. Simpson and he said he'd give the boy a trial. LeRoy, that was his name, was a hard and dependable worker and I started getting Saturdays off the first of September.
"One afternoon LeRoy caught up with me and we rode around the neighborhood, talking. I asked him if he'd like for me to talk to his parents about college. 'Wouldn't hurt,' he replied. They were nice people, but pretty adamant about not allowing their son to go away to a heathen college in Idaho.
"'By the way, what college is offering the scholarship?'
"'And it's in Idaho?'
"'Give me a day or two,' I said.
"I knew nothing about Rick's College, so I looked it up on the internet and found it was a Mormon college, maybe the only one beside BYU in the U.S. I don't know why I never heard of it, but if they had offered LeRoy a scholarship, surely they had done a sales pitch and his counselor should have told him it was Mormon.
"The next afternoon, he met me at the cross street. "LeRoy, can't you read? Why don't you know anything about Rick's?'
"'To be honest, Coach just told me he could get me a good scholarship there, but when I told my parents they hit the roof. My counselor sent a bunch of stuff to my homeroom and I just stuffed it in my book bag and when I handed it to my father, he roared "BYU or nothing. You're not going to a heathen college and that's final," and tossed the stuff in the trash.'
"'Think they might allow you to attend a Mormon college other than BYU?'
"'Sure, I mean, I think so.'
"'Then let me recommend Rick's in Idaho to you.'
"'Yeah, but say nothing until I can talk to them.'
"I sent off for the prospective student packet and a week later went to see the Kemps, LeRoy's parents. I did a sales pitch for Rick's that would have done their major recruiting officer proud and LeRoy's parents had their picture made with LeRoy two weeks later when he signed for a track scholarship as they, his high school coach, Rick's track coach and recruiting officer looked on. I felt I should have been there instead of the recruiting officer.
"Having Saturdays off helped. I had my BYU credits transferred to SLCC and when they were added, I had enough for an AS in general studies at mid-term with only three courses and I decided that was fine as I'd have two and a half years to go even with the extra hours and I would have had to do on-campus classes and I wasn't ready to fight Mom on that. Life would been hell had I done so, but maybe not the hell it was later.
"When I decided to take my degree and run, I applied to the University of Utah. There was no money left in the college fund and there was a major tuition jump, however, I did get some scholarship aid and Mom decided we could handle it. I could commute by bus, but I'd have to cut back my hours at the store since I'd have campus classes. A few I could take at night and some online, but I was determined to do some on campus as a regular college student.
"Well, my experience was what you would expect. Mom began making noises again and I actually dated some, but never the same girl twice. I also had a couple dates a semester with guys. We got into some heavy making out and jerking each other off. One guy I saw several times, I told Mom his name was Shirley, gave me my first blowjob—well, aside from my 'final test' at Exodus—and the second and third as well. After the second one, I returned the favor, but he wanted more, and more often. I didn't blame him, but I couldn't handle that, school and work, so he moved on.
"I took the maximum load allowed and did summer semester as well, so I actually earned my degree in biology with a minor in computer science in two years, including the summers. Mom was going out most nights and began to be even more strange and extreme in her religion. I thought she had lightened up, and she had for a while, but now she was really strange.
"I had applied for several jobs, but heard from none, then one evening when I came home from the store, Mom handed me a letter from New Beginnings offering me a job teaching biology and being IT specialist for their school. Mom suggested she take some time off and go with me to St. Francis where I would be met and taken to the school. We packed and headed south. Mom had taken a week off, so we had a leisurely trip down since we left Saturday and the interview wasn't until Wednesday. Clearly if you expect to enjoy the trip itself you avoid interstate highways and, additionally, we made side trips when the opportunity arose. I saw a relaxed Mom I hadn't seen in years and there was no mention of religion at all. I thought we had sorta settled our differences as we drove south, fool that I was.
"We arrived in St. Francis Tuesday afternoon and were met at breakfast the next morning by a well-dressed man I guessed to be in his early fifties. He introduced himself as Abraham Strang and suggested Mom ride with him and I follow. 'New Beginnings is a distance from here.' Some distance it turned out!"
Josh chuckled when he recalled the distance, remoteness and insular qualities of the compound.
"When we finally arrived, an armed guard let us through a gate in the twelve-foot high chain link fence topped by razor wire. We drove down a long drive with neat fields on either side until we came to a village with a very large building in the center which I was sure was a Mormon church or meeting house, but it was built to look like a temple. There were several medium-sized buildings and many small cottages. There were barns, sheds and pastures, all a picture of a large, prosperous communal farm.
"When we parked, Mom got out, looked around as if she was in the highest heaven and asked, 'Isn't this just perfect?' Having spent most of my life in what I considered the jumping-off place called Wellsburg, no, this wasn't perfect. I couldn't see myself coming from the University of Utah to this place where it was almost an hour to the first paved road. No, this definitely was not perfect.
"'Mr. Crimshaw'—I still cringed when I was called Crimshaw and had vowed I would get my name changed as soon as I had time and money—'if you will come with me, I'll show you the school which I believe you will find more than adequate, then we'll have a look at our computer setup, which, I confess, is entirely outside my universe,' he chuckled.
"The school was more than adequate. In fact, it almost looked like an unused model of an ideal school except for the strap hanging by each door. I didn't have to be told what that was for. The computer setup was amazing, especially the area designated ID Production. 'One of our enterprises is the production of ID badges. Forgery has become so common and the need for secure ID badges has made most smaller companies' and departments' equipment obsolete and the new sophisticated equipment is so expensive, companies are happy to have us do their badges for them and it turns a good profit for us. In fact, this, the farm and several other enterprises means we are totally self-supporting.' Mom was soaking this all up like the very nectar of the gods.
"We were shown a cottage which would be provided for Mom and a room where I would live in the single men's quarters. 'Of course, I suspect you will not be single long.' Strang looked at me with a leer and winked. 'Now, let's meet the Prophet.'
"'But I thought the Prophet lived in Salt Lake.'
"'He is the heretical head of a heretical church. The true church was the one James Strang led after he was ordained by Joseph Smith at Smith's death. Lehi is his successor on earth. He is the true Prophet.'
"'Oh,' was all I could say.
"We walked toward a side annex to the church/temple and entered a small anteroom. Strang pushed a button and announced us. A voice sounding like it was coming from a cave bade us enter. Inside, sitting on a throne-like chair, was a skeletal little man almost swallowed by his 'throne'.
"'Welcome Sister. I have longed to meet you after I saw you in a vision. And this is your son?' Mom was so awestruck she could only nod. 'We are delighted you will be among us.'
"'Wait a minute,' I said.
"The strange little man looked at me and Strang said, barely above a whisper, 'We will discuss this later.'
"'You bet we will!'
"'Show some respect in the presence of God's prophet!' Mom hissed.
"We were soon dismissed from the Prophet's presence and, as we left the anteroom, Strang said, 'We will go to my office.' The polite facade was gone.
"'What in the hell have I gotten myself into now?' I wondered."
Editors: Jesse and Scott.
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