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keep sweet
by Melissa Sagastume

Not many people get the opportunity in their lifetimes to reconsider their worldview completely. I left the faith that I was born into and had to deconstruct all of my values and belief system. This happened in my early thirties, when I was deeply entrenched in Mormonism and motherhood. I had a lightning bolt moment, as the choir director in my church, that where I was and what I was doing did not line up with my soul. I had struggled for months with this new awareness that something was being kept from me. It was confusing, terrifying, painful and exhilarating. I left church that day and never went back.


On the other side of that journey, I became voraciously curious about the bonds of fundamentalism and the influence of patriarchy. I happened to be in a thrift store one day, in Las Vegas, when a group of women entered in prairie dresses, accompanied by an older, stern man wearing thick bi-focals. The wide age range of these women puzzled me, until I realized that they were polygamists and all sister wives. The man watched the women intently, like he was guarding them, like he was a warden in a prison yard. I was captivated.


The younger girls divided away from the older women and moved towards me. One of them looked to be about fourteen years old and was very pregnant. Blonde and beautiful, she glowed and didn’t seem to mind the heat or the attention the other girls lavished on her. They pooled around her in a sisterly womb. I had never seen anything like it. They moved as if they were of one mind. When they approached the bookshelves, they stared at the titles as if they were grenades. They didn’t dare touch any of them. The group moved swiftly towards the back of the store, to the safety of discounted onesies and baby quilts.


I made my purchase and buckled my own baby into the back of my little Toyota and drove home, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the pregnant girl. I wondered what her life was like. When she had her baby, was it in the living room, with a midwife? What if there were complications? What did she dream about, if she ever dreamed of anything beyond motherhood? Was she rebellious? Was she compliant? Suddenly, what was once just a newsbite, an oddity, became a real flesh and blood person to me. I wanted to know everything about her.

If I pulled out a family tree, it’s entirely possible that this girl, who lives out in the wilds of the Arizona desert, in seclusion, could be my distant cousin. One little crook in my family tree, and we could have switched places. I could be her, she could be me. Geography is destiny. I heard that in a TV show once, and it stuck with me.


Every play has discoveries, but this play is a kind of reverse mystery theatre. In these women's lives, at the moment the play begins, there is a dance between truth and propaganda that they can feel but not detect or define yet. With all the breadcrumbs people dropped over the years, it still took me a long time to see the truth about Mormonism. What happens, when the truth comes roaring in like a lion? What happens when the narrative we’ve been fed is challenged? What happens when you get a taste of freedom? What happens when desire trumps conviction? What happens when the patriarchy disappears? Truth commands center stage, even in darkness, even as propaganda fights to hold the thick curtain of confusion down. I wanted to explore that with the lens of my own experience and using characters who have an innocence similar to my own. What I'm discovering is these women and their struggles align with our own in modern society. Outrageous but true. These alignments exist. What does that say about where we are as women now?

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