In light of SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade, I offer the following from A New Eden, Part II of Idolatry:
Sophia’s white-gloved hands were lying in her lap, holding the Easter lilies she had taken from the arrangement next to where the casket had been.
“Keep driving please, Sam.”
Sam kept driving, passing the turnoff to the garage, continuing at a measured pace down the narrow lane, over the rolling grassy hills and through the shaded woody vales, all the way to the back of the estate, to where on the crest of the last hill stood the majestic red oak, where from the oak’s high branch hung the swing.
Sophia could still hear the squeals of delight as Roger or Aaron would push Julie. “Higher! Higher!” Julie would demand, her bare legs and feet reaching for the sky, her head thrown back in abandon as she arced out and up, over the falling slope beyond, over the easterly flatland, finding weightlessness in the open sky.
“Momma, I’m flying. . . .”
As had become their custom, Sam stopped the car fifty yards short. Sophia walked alone the rest of the way. She stood now before the swing, staring blankly at the empty wooden seat as it creaked and rocked gently in a passing lullaby of a breeze. Standing here, she would always be able to hear her daughter’s floating, soaring laughter. The memory, a mother’s sacred blessing, was now her burden forever to bear. Next to the swing was the granite stone, flush in the ground. On the stone’s polished face, unmossed and unweathered, the engraved letters and dates were too fresh, too young, too new. They always would be.
Almost from the moment Julie became a teenager, the laughing had ceased and the struggle had begun. Her driving desire for independence pushed against all restraints—reason and sensibility be damned. Missed curfews, angry arguments, stony silences, hurled accusations, slammed doors. Sophia wasn’t terribly surprised—her daughter had always been willful and independent, as Hales tended to be—yet she was disappointed. She had hoped to be spared. Aaron, through his teens, had never caused the slightest problem or concern. Julie lashing out was wounding, to be sure, but Sophia endured, knowing they would get through it somehow, as countless mothers and daughters through the ages had gotten through such phases. With all the sympathy and empathy she could muster, she kept the relationship tacked and pinned and stitched together through the strains, impasses, bitterness and tears, knowing that the two of them would survive and overcome, eventually. They were strong. They loved. They trusted each other. They were honest. Sophia would be there, waiting on the other side for her healthy, happy daughter to re-emerge. It would only be a matter of time, of perseverance. . . . But it required more patience than Sophia ever imagined she would have to find.
Then, in the middle of Julie’s fifteenth year—sooner than Sophia had hoped or expected—Julie’s demeanor changed. Indeed, her entire personality changed, practically overnight.
She had met a boy from the Church who convinced her to attend a youth service with him. Within a week, she declared herself a Christian, a redeemed Lamb of the Flock—saved. At meals she effused about Jesus’ fathomless love and God’s grace, which was not only her own personal salvation but the salvation of the whole world. Her black jeans, her formless, dark sweatshirts and her ragged sneakers were replaced by conservative knee-length dresses and low-heeled shoes and sandals. Her black hair with the rebellious red streak was dyed back to the original brunette. Her pixie cut was left to grow back out. Her makeup and jewelry were discarded—Sophia quietly rescued a set of diamond studs and a string of pearls from the garbage.
Her mother had welcomed the change with only minimal unease. At the dinner table, Sophia preferred the exhortations and enthusiasm for all things Flock to the seething and heavy silences punctuated with spewed anger. Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that her daughter had jumped out of the frying pan and into—not the fire, but a vat of warm, sugary, liquid gelatin. The overt kindnesses and effervescent expressions of love for everyone and everything seemed to Sophia little more genuine or justified than the anger and venom. How long would this new spiritual high last? How long would the new medium buoy Julie up? How long before the gelatin would begin to solidify around her? How long before the spell broke?
Less than six months, as it turned out. In the middle of the school year, Julie insisted on transferring from her private school to the Flock’s academy. Roger had refused initially, but with Sophia’s patient persistence and urging, he finally acquiesced.
At the beginning of the summer break, Julie had travelled with a busload of Flock youth to a Church retreat at a campground in southern Idaho. When she returned, the effervescence and effusiveness had vanished. She wouldn’t talk, she wouldn’t open up, no matter what Sophia or Roger or Aaron tried. Once again, she shut everyone out. Through the locked bedroom door, her pillow-muffled, retching sobs could be heard late into the night. Surely, Sophia guessed, the problem was now a boy, perhaps even a girl—but she could get nothing out of her daughter.
After a few days, Julie pulled herself together enough to continue attending church services and activities. She donned a brave smile but remained subdued. A few weeks later, Sophia came home at midday to meet with the electrician about the pool heater. Julie’s book-bag and purse were on her bed. Julie herself was nowhere to be found. On a mother’s hunch, Sophia drove to the back of the property.
Julie was there on her swing, rocking herself gently, head leaning against one of the ropes. After a forlorn search of her mother’s eyes, the dam finally broke and the despair poured out. Julie was pregnant, of course. It had been a Flock boy, of course. She wouldn’t say which. She had gone to a church counselor that morning. He had informed her in gentle but firm terms that her only option was to have the baby—unless she wanted to lose her soul and go to hell for the murder of one of God’s children. Still hardly more than a child herself, Julie was distraught, devastated.
Sophia was heartbroken for her daughter—and furious, not at Julie’s actions, but at the Church’s response. She pried the name of the counselor out of Julie and arranged a meeting. The counselor was polite and empathetic, but he wouldn’t back down. He insisted he would have told the same to his youngest daughter, a year younger than Julie: murder was murder. There was now a child of God in Julie’s womb, and Julie’s duty was to carry her God-given burden, to give birth, and to raise the child to adulthood. Julie’s life was no longer her own. Other young mothers had managed it—Julie would manage it as well. Fortunately she had Sophia to help her. God didn’t promise that our lives would be easy, only that it was our duty to carry whatever cross he gave us to bear on this earth, for which we would be rewarded in heaven.
Sophia next stormed the parish, but Reverend Lundquist was away on a tour of the Flock’s missions in Central America. He couldn’t be reached, or so his secretary insisted. Sophia’s daily messages went unanswered.
For two more agonizing weeks, Julie struggled. She struggled with her conscience and with her hopes for her future, with her hopes for her life and for her soul. When Julie allowed it, her mother was at her side. In the end, with her mother’s approval and escort, she made an appointment at the clinic and had the abortion.
The drive home had been in a thick silence. Sophia reached out to hold her daughter’s hand. Julie pulled away, clasping her own hands in her lap, staring out of the window.
She stopped going to church. Sliding back into her darkness, she began palliating her shame and grief with food—any and all food she could get her hands on, any she could keep down. After gaining thirty pounds, she suddenly stopped eating and lost all the weight—and then more weight. She returned to church and went to a different Flock counselor, this time a woman, who told her that God would forgive her, but only if she were truly and genuinely remorseful and ashamed for her grievous sins, for having sex out of wedlock and for murdering her unborn child. Given the severity of the transgressions, the counselor prescribed a six-month regimen of weekly personal and group counseling and prayer, supplemented by five hundred hours of voluntary duty in the orphanage, taking care of the babies that other young mothers, following God’s will, had given birth to. Julie asked her mother later what had happened to all the mothers of those babies. Sophia could only guess. A couple of them, she knew, had worked at the resort, but they had long since disappeared from the community.
Long talks between mother and daughter and longer silences followed. Julie regretted having slept with the boy, or more accurately, having done so without protection, but she couldn’t bring herself, as hard as she tried, to feel wrong for having done so. She was chagrined at having made what she considered to be a serious mistake, but she simply was not ashamed of it, and she couldn’t make herself feel an emotion she didn’t feel. The act of lovemaking, she told her mother, had seemed neither wrong nor unnatural. She had been following a desire that God surely had given her for a reason. She had felt terrible about the abortion but she couldn’t bring herself to feel genuinely guilty for that either, given the alternative, which was simply unthinkable to her—and she was too honest to fake a remorse that didn’t and couldn’t exist.
She attended another few church services. Of course they knew. Everyone knew. One of the girls working at the clinic probably had a friend of a friend who was a Flocker. The only secrets in Aurum Valley were the ones nobody cared about. As she told her mother afterwards, she felt as if the whole congregation were watching her. Many had gone out of their way to express sympathy and understanding, seeming almost grateful for something they wouldn’t come out and name, as though they were somehow relieved at what she had done—that she, Julie Hale, was a sinner—that she, of all the girls in the valley, had sinned.
Sophia accompanied Julie to church the next Sunday, and she experienced it too. She was approached and greeted eagerly with a fresh, enthusiastic acceptance, as though the Flock members were appreciative that Sophia and her family had been brought down to a status as low—perhaps even lower—than their own. God had revealed that the Hales, too, were subject to human fallibilities and carnal hungers; their weakness and true nature had finally been revealed; they had been brought down to a position from which only God could raise them up again, up to the more humble plane of the Flock.
Julie lost another twenty pounds she couldn’t afford to lose before waking in the hospital with an IV in her arm, having fainted in her room while the rest of the family ate dinner. As her daughter was being released, three days later, Sophia had choked back tears on catching a glimpse of Julie’s back when she was changing into her street clothes. She looked like a concentration-camp victim, all skin and bones. It was less than a month later, on another spring day as faultless and beautiful as this Easter afternoon, that the housekeeper found Julie hanging in her bedroom closet, the belt from her Procession robe around her neck.
Julie had never had a chance to wear the robe. She had been so pleased and excited when she bought it, months ahead of time. She was so looking forward to her first Procession. Sophia had left the robe hanging in the closet.
Quent Cordair, A New Eden, Part II of Idolatry, 2016