I was married at1985- to an year-old
SHE ESCAPED FROM HER FAITH,FAMILY AND THE ONLY WAY OF LIFE SHE HAD EVER KNOWN
ihad one week to choose a husband. In absolute agony, I felt as if I were already falling to my death. Over the next few days, I felt like the walking dead.All roads seemed to lead to a hopeless future.One night,just four days before I was to be married,I went into my bathroom to get ready for bed, glancing into the mirror. My eyes were sunken and colourless, surrounded by greying, sallow skin. Months of righteous fasting for the failing health of my late husband and Prophet,Rulon Jeffs,had played havoc on my body, but it was my spirit that felt broken. After all the years of striving to be a good church member and a good wife – one of 65 – to a man chosen for me,I was tired. Trying to look at my options with less fear, I kept coming up against a door I didn’t dare to open. If I did, I would have to rely on the kindness of the outside world. That thought petrified me, nearly as much as marrying again. I couldn’t begin to think of how to live among murderers, rapists and thieves – the wicked, corrupt, ignorant and unkind people of this world, as outsiders had been described to us since birth. Wicked… unkind… Was that really my experience? Memories flooded my mind: sympathetic neighbours who helped us after our house fire, a former violin teacher who nurtured my talent, the owner of a stringed-instrument shop who encouraged me to play.
A memory I had carefully tucked away whirled into my consciousness. Walking into the Sears department store in St. George as a young bride, searching for vacuum parts. Briefly separated from my sister-wives, I strode alone into the appliances section, where I was unexpectedly mesmerized by a vast sea of televisions, which displayed the most striking black woman on every screen. It was sacrilegious to watch, but the woman was captivating. Even as cloistered from the world as I had been, I recognized the face of Oprah Winfrey. Interviewing a woman who had become a foster mother to a whole neighbourhood of cast-off children – transients, runaways, children of addicts and so on – Oprah was celebrating her generous heart, and even gifted her with items that would serve her hodgepodge
family. I was floored. Those two beautiful women completely refuted everything I had ever been taught about the outside world – especially about black people! Our new church leader, Warren Jeffs, said blacks were from the seed of Cain, and he used words like ‘uncouth’,‘wild’ and ‘ignorant’,‘immoral’, and ‘filthy’, saying they were cursed, loved Satan, loved evil, and that not one soul was clean, pure or righteous. He had been wrong. At the time, I had to put that knowledge on the shelf with so many other things that did not mesh with our teachings. Now, I took a long, hard look at all the things that Warren had said were absolutely true that I knew were not. I pulled that nugget of wisdom regarding Oprah and the lovely people I had met in the outside world off the shelf and tucked it into my heart, where it belonged.If I was going to leave,I would have to take a chance on the kindness of strangers, and that outside world, whatever it held for me. Once again I thought of Warren but, this time, I felt a fire ignite in
WIFE OF THE PROPHET OF THE FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, REBECCA MUSSER THOUGHT SHE WAS FREE AFTER HIS DEATH SEVEN YEARS LATER – UNTIL SHE WAS TOLD SHE MUST REMARRY. SO
my belly; I would not allow myself to be broken.In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning, I put a note on my bed for Christine, my mom, and my sisters.
Taking an exit to avoid the cameras and any of the men on security patrol, I pushed the heavy oak door quietly behind me until I heard the latch click shut. My heart pounding, I walked as casually as I could, as if I were out for a stroll on the grounds. I made my way around the side of the massive Jeffs mansion, then turned abruptly toward the fence.The gates were locked, as I knew they would be. Long skirt and all, I scaled the tall fence that protected the Jeffs family from ‘outsiders and wicked apostates’. In doing so,I became one of them.The spikes at the top were tricky to manage in my long skirt, yet nothing compared to the half-mile walk I had to trek to meet Ben, fighting my urge to bolt back to my sister-wives, whom I was having great difficulty leaving. Technically,Ben was my grandson as he was Rulon’s 19-year-old grandson with a sister-wife. He didn’t
believe that I should be forced to do anything I didn’t want to. After I finally reached the backside of ALCO, a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) member-run business, Ben rounded the corner in his brother’s shimmery gold truck, loaded with a mini trailer from his previous employer. My heart flooded with relief and continued to pump wildly as we passed our neighbours’ homes on the way to Highway 59, which would draw us toward Las Vegas and on to Oregon where my brother Cole lived.He had been kicked out of the FLDS six years earlier when he tried to shield our younger siblings from a beating. In the silence of the growing light,I stole furtive glances at Ben,whom I barely knew. I had just left everything and nearly everyone I’d ever known, and so had he. I tried to fathom why in the world he would do this for me. Ben had already scandalized himself and his family by kissing me one day, but he would place himself in very real danger if he
Though not a liar nor a
thief, I’d had to steal
my own belongings
away to claim my very life
had the audacity to turn against Warren and escape with the Prophet’s wife. For two days before I left, I attended every meal and class so it wouldn’t occur to Warren that anything was different.Carefully,I had selected only a few favourite long dresses from the closet, so that it would still look full.I couldn’t leave all my photos and scrapbooks behind, as my family and friends were too precious. Neither could I leave my sewing machine, nor the boxes of material in my closet. Besides music lessons, I had felt that sewing would be my only way to make a living on the outside.That thought still terrified me.Making sure my room looked as if everything was still intact, I’d had to sneak the most important items out without being seen, then hide them somewhere off the Jeffs’ estate.Though not a liar nor a thief, I’d had to steal my own belongings away to claim my very life.
When my letter of explanation was discovered in the light of day, Warren was adamant in the order he issued to the community: find us before nightfall, ‘to save that girl’s soul before she commits adultery’. All of Warren’s brothers and several members of the God Squad were sent on a massive manhunt for us, scouring Colorado City, St. George, Cedar City and the surrounding environs. He used the threat of adultery to get the men to move quickly, as a woman’s virtue was prized among the FLDS. However, Warren was also very concerned about something else, though I wouldn’t understand that until much later.As the former Prophet’s widow, I knew far too much about the inner working of the Jeffs family and the true undertakings of the FLDS. I was a dangerous liability to the new Prophet. People in the rest stops and restaurants stared curiously at our attire and my hairstyle. A FLDS woman must never cut her hair because, as the New Testament story in Luke describes Mary and another woman washing Jesus’ feet and drying them with her hair, so must we do for our husbands. Once in Oregon, I was paralysed by fear of the outside world.I had no idea how to do my hair, how to dress, and what customs, holidays, or social rituals to follow. I was still wearing long dresses,the only clothes I owned,and poufing my hair,so Cole decided to take me shopping. ‘Buy whatever you want,’ he said. With no idea what to choose, I ended up with a jogging suit and a shirt in the shocking and onceforbidden shade of red. Afterward, Cole brought me to a hair salon.I was terrified:I had never cut my hair,except to trim the ends. I wasn’t facing the mirror, but I blanched
as I saw my rich brown locks hit the ground. My hair was gone; it now looked ugly and made me feel that way inside. For days I cried in private, feeling homesick and missing my mother and sisters and friends desperately.
In the meantime, Ben and I needed to start earning money. Two weeks and countless applications later, we both got jobs at restaurants.Everything was new,exciting, thrilling and sobering to me. I began reading voraciously, following Cole’s recommendations. I was fascinated by the philosophies of successful people like Stephen Covey, Joe Vitale and Deepak Chopra. Excitedly, I sat on Cole’s front porch and called my mother for the first time, anxious to share with her what I was learning in life and through books. While she was glad to know I was safe and relieved I had reconnected with Cole, she was negative about everything else, telling me I was trading my salvation for material goods.She was more closed off than I had ever heard her.Warren’s warnings had clearly affected her. I knew she had been ordered not to talk to me, and that I was supposed to be ‘dead’ to her. She risked her FLDS membership and salvation by the very act of communicating with her apostate children.People had been kicked out for less.
when I watched television, I was surprised and often scandalized by how different it was from when we were kids. One night Cole and Ben and I watched an R-rated movie in which a man and a woman had sex, and I became alarmed when they started making noises – loud ones! Did everyone in the outside world do that? Cole had noticed that Ben and I were getting closer and was emphatic that Ben was welcome to stay as long as there was nothing sexual between us. Unfortunately, it was a tough promise to keep. We both wished to honour Cole’s request, but we felt magnetically drawn to each other. One day, Cole insisted that I watch a movie called The Truman Show. The main character, Truman Burbank, is adopted as a baby by a television studio. As he grows, every important person in his life is simply an actor; every part of his life is a set – but he doesn’t know it.Whenever he wants something the production team can’t provide, he’s told that it’s just not available.‘Why would you want that?’ different characters ask him.‘Your life is so perfect the way it is.’ When he starts realizing that things just aren’t right, he finally faces his fear of water and sets off in a boat for the horizon. Barely surviving a violent and horrendous storm manufactured by the producers, Truman discovers the horizon is a painted backdrop and realizes that his entire life has been a lie – set up for the camera and the benefit of strangers, the viewers. Full of disappointment with his false relationships, he walks off the set and into his new life.
The movie mirrored my own life.Before every decision I’d ever made, I’d asked myself: what would the Prophet have me say or do? For every question, there had been an appropriate,programmed answer.I was never allowed my own opinion; I had never developed the ability to choose. All of my people were like that, too. How had our belief system become so screwed up? I gave myself permission to look deeply at polygamy in a way I never had before. All of a sudden, nothing seemed holy about the structure that must be in place for polygamy to work. Why would God put a roughly equal number of males and females on the earth if he wanted a polygamous society? This structure meant women didn’t get the time, affection and validation they so crave.And, because only a select number of male leaders are righteous enough to receive multiple wives, not only do a high number of young men get kicked out, but the marriageable ages of girls becomes increasingly younger as demand intensifies. Throw these factors into a climate in which the leaders make the people feel as if they can never question those leaders because that means questioning God himself, and one has a recipe for spiritual abuse. Every way I examined it,polygamy was neither healthy nor holy.Why could no-one see it? For days I was furious,and all I knew was I did not want that perverse dictator Warren directing my show from his self-righteous pulpit.
Clockwise from top left Rebecca Musser as a teenager (fourth from the right) with six of her sisters at home in Salt Lake City; at age 19 when she became 85-yearold Rulon Jeffs’ 19th wife, 1995; Musser in 2011.
From far left to right Musser playing roller hockey (front centre), a rare pastime; on her fifth wedding anniversary, 2000; her memoir.