فصل 39

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فصل 39

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  • زمان مطالعه 15 دقیقه
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Chapter 39

It was spring when I arrived in the valley. I drove along the highway to the edge of town, then pulled over at the drop-off overlooking the Bear River. From there I could look out over the basin, a patchwork of expectant fields stretching to Buck’s Peak. The mountain was crisp with evergreens, which were luminous set against the browns and grays of shale and limestone. The Princess was as bright as I’d ever seen her. She stood facing me, the valley between us, radiating permanence.

The Princess had been haunting me. From across the ocean I’d heard her beckoning, as if I were a troublesome calf who’d wandered from her herd. Her voice had been gentle at first, coaxing, but when I didn’t answer, when I stayed away, it had turned to fury. I had betrayed her. I imagined her face contorted with rage, her stance heavy and threatening. She had been living in my mind like this for years, a deity of contempt.

But seeing her now, standing watch over her fields and pastures, I realized that I had misunderstood her. She was not angry with me for leaving, because leaving was a part of her cycle. Her role was not to corral the buffalo, not to gather and confine them by force. It was to celebrate their return.

I BACKTRACKED A QUARTER mile into town and parked beside Grandma-over-in-town’s white picket fence. In my mind it was still her fence, even though she didn’t live here anymore: she had been moved to a hospice facility near Main Street.

I had not seen my grandparents in three years, not since my parents had begun telling the extended family that I was possessed. My grandparents loved their daughter. I was sure they had believed her account of me. So I had surrendered them. It was too late to reclaim Grandma—she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and would not have known me—so I had come to see my grandfather, to find out whether there would be a place for me in his life.

We sat in the living room; the carpet was the same crisp white from my childhood. The visit was short and polite. He talked about Grandma, whom he had cared for long after she ceased to recognize him. I talked about England. Grandpa mentioned my mother, and when he spoke of her it was with the same look of awe that I had seen in the faces of her followers. I didn’t blame him. From what I’d heard, my parents were powerful people in the valley. Mother was marketing her products as a spiritual alternative to Obamacare, and she was selling product as fast as she could make it, even with dozens of employees.

God had to be behind such a wondrous success, Grandpa said. My parents must have been called by the Lord to do what they have done, to be great healers, to bring souls to God. I smiled and stood to go. He was the same gentle old man I remembered, but I was overwhelmed by the distance between us. I hugged him at the door, and gave him a long look. He was eighty-seven. I doubted whether, in the years he had left, I would be able to prove to him that I was not what my father said I was, that I was not a wicked thing.

TYLER AND STEFANIE LIVED a hundred miles north of Buck’s Peak, in Idaho Falls. It was there I planned to go next, but before leaving the valley, I wrote my mother. It was a short message. I said I was nearby and wanted her to meet me in town. I wasn’t ready to see Dad, I said, but it had been years since I’d seen her face. Would she come?

I waited for her reply in the parking lot at Stokes. I didn’t wait long.

It pains me that you think it is acceptable to ask this. A wife does not go where her husband is not welcome. I will not be party to such blatant disrespect.*

The message was long and reading it made me tired, as if I’d run a great distance. The bulk of it was a lecture on loyalty: that families forgive, and that if I could not forgive mine, I would regret it for the rest of my life. The past, she wrote, whatever it was, ought to be shoveled fifty feet under and left to rot in the earth.

Mother said I was welcome to come to the house, that she prayed for the day when I would run through the back door, shouting, “I’m home!”

I wanted to answer her prayer—I was barely more than ten miles from the mountain—but I knew what unspoken pact I would be making as I walked through that door. I could have my mother’s love, but there were terms, the same terms they had offered me three years before: that I trade my reality for theirs, that I take my own understanding and bury it, leave it to rot in the earth.

Mother’s message amounted to an ultimatum: I could see her and my father, or I would never see her again. She has never recanted.

THE PARKING LOT HAD filled while I was reading. I let her words settle, then started the engine and pulled onto Main Street. At the intersection I turned west, toward the mountain. Before I left the valley, I would set eyes on my home.

Over the years I’d heard many rumors about my parents: that they were millionaires, that they were building a fortress on the mountain, that they had hidden away enough food to last decades. The most interesting, by far, were the stories about Dad hiring and firing employees. The valley had never recovered from the recession; people needed work. My parents were one of the largest employers in the county, but from what I could tell Dad’s mental state made it difficult for him to maintain employees long-term: when he had a fit of paranoia, he tended to fire people with little cause. Months before, he had fired Diane Hardy, Rob’s ex-wife, the same Rob who’d come to fetch us after the second accident. Diane and Rob had been friends with my parents for twenty years. Until Dad fired Diane.

It was perhaps in another such fit of paranoia that Dad fired my mother’s sister Angie. Angie had spoken to Mother, believing her sister would never treat family that way. When I was a child it had been Mother’s business; now it was hers and Dad’s together. But at this test of whose it was really, my father won: Angie was dismissed.

It is difficult to piece together what happened next, but from what I later learned, Angie filed for unemployment benefits, and when the Department of Labor called my parents to confirm that she had been terminated, Dad lost what little reason remained to him. It was not the Department of Labor on the phone, he said, but the Department of Homeland Security, pretending to be the Department of Labor. Angie had put his name on the terrorist watch list, he said. The Government was after him now—after his money and his guns and his fuel. It was Ruby Ridge all over again.

I pulled off the highway and onto the gravel, then stepped out of the car and gazed up at Buck’s Peak. It was clear immediately that at least some of the rumors were true—for one, that my parents were making huge sums of money. The house was massive. The home I’d grown up in had had five bedrooms; now it had been expanded in all directions and looked as though it had at least forty.

It would only be a matter of time, I thought, before Dad started using the money to prepare for the End of Days. I imagined the roof lined with solar panels, laid out like a deck of cards. “We need to be self-sufficient,” I imagined Dad would say as he dragged the panels across his titanic house. In the coming year, Dad would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying equipment and scouring the mountain for water. He didn’t want to be dependent on the Government, and he knew Buck’s Peak must have water, if he could only find it. Gashes the size of football fields would appear at the mountain base, leaving a desolation of broken roots and upturned trees where once there had been a forest. He was probably chanting, “Got to be self-reliant” the day he climbed into a crawler and tore into the fields of satin wheat.

GRANDMA-OVER-IN-TOWN DIED ON MOTHER’S Day.

I was doing research in Colorado when I heard the news. I left immediately for Idaho, but while traveling realized I had nowhere to stay. It was then that I remembered my aunt Angie, and that my father was telling anyone who would listen that she had put his name on a terrorist watch list. Mother had cast her aside; I hoped I could reclaim her.

Angie lived next door to my grandfather, so again I parked along the white picket fence. I knocked. Angie greeted me politely, the way Grandpa had done. It was clear that she had heard much about me from my mother and father in the past five years.

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I’ll forget everything my dad has said about you, if you’ll forget everything he’s said about me.” She laughed, closing her eyes and throwing back her head in a way that nearly broke my heart, she looked so much like my mother.

I stayed with Angie until the funeral.

In the days before the service, my mother’s siblings began to gather at their childhood home. They were my aunts and uncles, but some of them I hadn’t seen since I was a child. My uncle Daryl, who I barely knew, suggested that his brothers and sisters should spend an afternoon together at a favorite restaurant in Lava Hot Springs. My mother refused to come. She would not go without my father, and he would have nothing to do with Angie.

It was a bright May afternoon when we all piled into a large van and set off on the hour-long drive. I was uncomfortably aware that I had taken my mother’s place, going with her siblings and her remaining parent on an outing to remember her mother, a grandmother I had not known well. I soon realized that my not knowing her was wonderful for her children, who were bursting with remembrances and loved answering questions about her. With every story my grandmother came into sharper focus, but the woman taking shape from their collective memories was nothing like the woman I remembered. It was then I realized how cruelly I had judged her, how my perception of her had been distorted, because I’d been looking at her through my father’s harsh lens.

During the drive back, my aunt Debbie invited me to visit her in Utah. My uncle Daryl echoed her. “We’d love to have you in Arizona,” he said. In the space of a day, I had reclaimed a family—not mine, hers.

The funeral was the next day. I stood in a corner and watched my siblings trickle in.

There were Tyler and Stefanie. They had decided to homeschool their seven children, and from what I’d seen, the children were being educated to a very high standard. Luke came in next, with a brood so numerous I lost count. He saw me and crossed the room, and we made small talk for several minutes, neither of us acknowledging that we hadn’t seen each other in half a decade, neither of us alluding to why. Do you believe what Dad says about me? I wanted to ask. Do you believe I’m dangerous? But I didn’t. Luke worked for my parents, and without an education, he needed that job to support his family. Forcing him to take a side would only end in heartache.

Richard, who was finishing a PhD in chemistry, had come down from Oregon with Kami and their children. He smiled at me from the back of the chapel. A few months before, Richard had written to me. He’d said he was sorry for believing Dad, that he wished he’d done more to help me when I needed it, and that from then on, I could count on his support. We were family, he said.

Audrey and Benjamin chose a bench near the back. Audrey had arrived early, when the chapel was empty. She had grabbed my arm and whispered that my refusing to see our father was a grave sin. “He is a great man,” she said. “For the rest of your life you will regret not humbling yourself and following his counsel.” These were the first words my sister had said to me in years, and I had no response to them.

Shawn arrived a few minutes before the service, with Emily and Peter and a little girl I had never met. It was the first time I had been in a room with him since the night he’d killed Diego. I was tense, but there was no need. He did not look at me once during the service.

My oldest brother, Tony, sat with my parents, his five children fanning out in the pew. Tony had a GED and had built a successful trucking company in Las Vegas, but it hadn’t survived the recession. Now he worked for my parents, as did Shawn and Luke and their wives, as well as Audrey and her husband, Benjamin. Now I thought about it, I realized that all my siblings, except Richard and Tyler, were economically dependent on my parents. My family was splitting down the middle—the three who had left the mountain, and the four who had stayed. The three with doctorates, and the four without high school diplomas. A chasm had appeared, and was growing.

A YEAR WOULD PASS before I would return to Idaho.

A few hours before my flight from London, I wrote to my mother—as I always did, as I always will do—to ask if she would see me. Again, her response was swift. She would not, she would never, unless I would see my father. To see me without him, she said, would be to disrespect her husband.

For a moment it seemed pointless, this annual pilgrimage to a home that continued to reject me, and I wondered if I should go. Then I received another message, this one from Aunt Angie. She said Grandpa had canceled his plans for the next day, and was refusing even to go to the temple, as he usually did on Wednesdays, because he wanted to be at home in case I came by. To this Angie added: I get to see you in about twelve hours! But who’s counting?

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