I wanted to be good, and I wanted life to be fair.
Mom and I sat on the porch, and I told her how I thought things should be.
“You know how Joseph Smith created a whole new religion based on the idea that white people had been to this place before and that the Indians and white people had lived together before, long ago, but the white people all died out and left this great religion, etched into tablets and buried it all for the return of the white people to America.”
I reasoned that I could write a religion that allowed women to be equal to men.
I said, “Women could have multiple husbands.”
Mom said, “I don’t want even one husband.”
We laughed as the sun set over the chalk-colored hills and the great mesa in the distance and the mountains behind us became dark giants.
“What are you laughing about,” my brother wanted to know, his hair shuffled on his head, no t-shirt over his rib-ragged chest.
“Oh, nothing,” my mom said. She shushed me with her gaze.
This was one of those conversations that wasn’t for my brother Brian’s ears.
Later, mom said, “You can have children without being married. If you get married because you’re pregnant, you’re making two mistakes instead of just one.” But she looked me in the eye and said, “You, of course, don’t have to worry about any of that yet. Not until you’re much older.”
When I told her that there were girls in this town having sex already, she said, “Well, that couldn’t be true.”
And then she said, “If they are, they’ll ruin their reputations.”
I would have to learn how to navigate mixed messages.
Jenny Forrester was the 2011 recipient of the Richard Hugo House New Works Competition award and has been published in a variety of places including Nailed Magazine, Penduline Press, Hip Mama Magazine, and Indiana Review. She and Ariel Gore co-edited the anthology The People’s Apocalypse. She’s the curator of Portland’s Unchaste Readers Series.