I had not been to church in over three years. I had moved to another city. I had not informed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints of my new address. I had, in fact, not had any contact with the church or its representatives for over three years.
And yet, one cloudy day in November, I was tossing my laundry into the dryer when someone buzzed my apartment from the call box at the building entrance. I let it go to the answering machine. I shook out the wrinkles from my slacks and cotton button-ups. The machine beeped, and a young man’s voice came on. “Sister Easton? This is Elder Carlson. We’d like to talk to you if—”
Oh hell no.
I dropped my laundry and sprinted to my bedroom, slammed the door, and tucked myself against it as if that could stop someone from barging in. My hands were shaking. There was more to his message, but I never heard it.
* * *
I never did find out how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had acquired my new address. These missionaries were men I had never before met, sent from a stake—a large Mormon region that encompasses many congregations, or wards—I had never attended. And yet they had my records.
They had my records, they had updated them, and they felt at liberty to use them.
It went on for weeks. I never answered the buzz from the call box. Each time I heard my name, I ran to my room the same way the frogs fall silent if a footstep crunches too close by. Reflex. I hid inside, a trembling hand pressed to my forehead, my breaths shallow and panicked. Sometimes, I shut myself in the closet until my breathing slowed.
Then, they made it into the building.
One evening after work, I heard a knock at the door. I got up from my desk and went over to look through the peephole, my hand on the knob. As soon as I looked, I stepped back as if the doorknob had burned me. On the other side of the door, two white men, perhaps 19 or 20 years old, stood in their ironed white shirts and carefully knotted ties. Name placards were engraved with their last names preceded by “Elder” without irony, and “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” centered prominently below their names.
“How did they find me?” I whispered to my brother, Allan.
“What?” He asked.
I pointed at the door. “It’s the missionaries.”
He looked for himself.
They knocked again.
“What do I do?”
My brother peered through again.
“Sister Easton?” One of the men called through the door.
I backed away from the door, whispering to my brother. “I keep not answering, but they won’t go away.”
We took turns peering through the peephole and eavesdropping on their debate over how long to wait. Finally, they straightened their ties and left. I collapsed against the door.
“What the fuck?” I said to my brother.
He looked out into the empty hallway from the peephole. “I only hear them asking for Sister Easton. Why you? I mean, why just you?”
Allan hadn’t attended church in years, either. But no one ever asked for him. I had no idea why.
* * *
The visits made it apparent that the Mormon Church had kept me on the records, even years after I had turned in my key to the church library and told church leaders that I was leaving. When the first missionaries arrived, my move had been only months earlier. How often did they revisit my records? What else did they know about me? And then, what ultimately baffled me most, they had sent young men whom I did not know to a young, single woman’s home with no knowledge and no concern for what I might be going through.
I was being stalked by an ex. I was trying to manage living with my brother—both of us locked into abusive patterns—while working three jobs. I was trying to see my way through the tangle of traumas in my past. And I was trying to figure out the future. Specifically, whether I had one.
But everyone has a breaking point. Take anyone off the street. They are stronger than you’d ever guess. They can survive things even they doubt they could. It’s the aftermath that knocks so many of us flat. It’s after you think you’re safe. You think it’s over. You can rest. And then you find out you can’t. The world isn’t what you thought it was. People aren’t who you thought they were. Even yourself. The mirror is shattered, yet you keep looking into it. A dozen eyes stare back at you.
The very first thing that the trauma survivor needs is safety.
But I had nowhere to go that was safe. People I had said no to kept finding me. Kept insisting on finding me.
A knock on my door could undo me.
Was it Top?
Was it the LDS Church?
What choices could I actually make? What decisions counted for anything? Could no one hear me at all?
* * *
I began to dread leaving my apartment. I didn’t know who I would find waiting out there. I stopped using the front door. Instead, I walked out of the parking garage or a side door. A restraining order or a call to the police never occurred to me. I simply cowered and hid and lived in constant fear.
It was what I knew.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has long elected to deny women basic rights and equal participation in their own faith. Mormon leaders have yet to mention abuse and sexual assault without also tacking on a call for victims to repent (because they must have done something to deserve it) or the threat that any false story will condemn the woman for eternity. To survivors, that can sound an awful lot like a guarantee you won’t be believed. Stories abound from abused women who reached out to their Mormon bishops only to be commanded to forgive their abuser and return to the abusive situation.
As recently as 2014, Kate Kelly, once a devout Mormon who attended Brigham Young University and served a mission, was excommunicated by Mormon leaders for advocating that women be ordained to the priesthood. All church leaders remain men—predominantly white men—and even within their own wards, or congregations, women may only hold positions of authority over other women or children under the age of 12. They cannot even serve as treasurer for their ward because this position requires the priesthood. At age 12, boys can be ordained into the priesthood, at which time they rank over their mothers and any other woman in the hierarchy of the church.
So it should not have surprised me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would send men to the door of a young woman’s home, week after week, month after month. With utter disregard for the woman’s well-being and mental health. Without considering how invasive an act that was. But it did. It astonished me.
The Mormon Church had already traumatized me years before. I had left with courtesy and firmness. But now, the regular appearance of missionaries at my new apartment, asking for me by name, was a power move. The Mormon Church was communicating to me that I wasn’t allowed to leave. I could go anywhere I wanted. It wouldn’t matter. They would find me.
It took months for me to muster the courage to open my door to that knock. Finally, I informed the missionaries that I was no longer a member and was not interested. I have no idea if they failed to convey this information to their superiors, or if their superiors—yet again—opted to ignore my wishes. Mormon missionaries cycle through wards every few months. So once the new batch arrived, the whole drama began again.
My 24th birthday had come and gone. And still, Top was stalking me. And still, the Mormons were trying to save me from my apostasy—a sin that, in Mormon theology, is worse than raping, murdering, enslaving, or committing genocide.
I was beginning to sink my teeth into the identity of the unforgivable sinner. A fallen woman. A wayward loner who belonged nowhere and believed in nothing. I was beginning to like thinking of myself this way. I pictured myself in a black saddle slicker and a Stetson, with a loaded rifle at my side. In this fantasy, I rode into towns bearing death and devilry. It was only what they deserved.
Screw them, I thought. And fuck god. If they try to break me, I’m taking them down with me. You hear that, god? I’m going to hunt you down and make you answer for all this shit. So fuck you.
It would be a long, long time before I thought again about graduate school. And even longer before I believed myself capable of anything but destruction and godlessness.