I ducked as a white ball whizzed past my head. It missed but the string tightened, halting its escape and causing it to smack me across the back of the neck instead.
“Not like that,” Emiri said calmly, taking the Poi Balls out of my hands. “Like this.”
Her arms twisted effortlessly, her wrists gyrating in a graceful serpentine. The balls obediently followed her subtle cues, dancing in and out, before ricocheting off of her forearms, back and forth in perfect rhythm.
“See?” She smiled.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so before?” I replied sarcastically.
Emiri smirked. “Just shut up and do it.”
I had joined Kiwi Club (one of BYUH’s diverse array of extracurricular culture clubs) with Emiri. Kiwi was shorthand for the Maori people of Aotearoa or New Zealand. Having come from this culture, Emiri was filling a more tutorial role as the rest of us learned how to operate the unwieldy Poi Balls.
Across the room, a group of boys made strange noises and smacked themselves hard across their bare chests. They were learning a Maori Haka, the point of which, apparently, was to convince an opponent to flee in terror because you were totally, completely, utterly, batshit crazy. The boys widened their eyes, stuck their tongues out to their chins, stomped, yelled and hissed aggressively. It was impressive.
Meanwhile, an older group of Maori women sat in the corner creating costume feathers for our upcoming performance. The room was filled with deliciously aromatic scents emanating from a nearby table piled high with Maori foods. It was the kind of scene that normally would have lit my senses afire.
But my senses remained unlit. It was enough to help me forget myself, which was a relief. It just wasn’t … It just wasn’t. Nothing was. Everything was dimmer than it should have been. A dark curtain had been drawn over my life.
The strange melding of pain and perfection that my life had become after my religious disciplinary court had started sliding more and more into the dark. Kesa had noticed the gloom and was trying valiantly to cheer me up. But it wasn’t like cheering someone up after a breakup or a failed test or a fight. This was bigger than all of that and its effects were seeping into every area of my psyche.
It could seem strange that something so small could have effects so far-reaching. Even now, over a decade later, it’s difficult to effectively unpack the emotions of that time. In hindsight, I believe my state was the result of a collision of factors.
First, I may have had my disagreements with the church, but I was Mormon. After a lifetime steeped in the culture and doctrine of the LDS faith, being formally disciplined (and very nearly cast out) struck me to the core. Then, through my subsequent studies, eighteen years of Sunday school lessons, devotionals, firesides, seminary classes and church talks on the damning effects of sin came flooding back, drowning me in shame. I was broken and tarnished.
Second, the entirety of the repentance process had thrust me into a level of deep disempowerment and vulnerability that I had never encountered before. I felt small and weak. I was only one wayward girl and the men of the bishopric wielded the power of God. They spoke for him. They were his representatives. What was I? Nothing. Or worse. The experience left me feeble and floundering.
The court had other effects as well. As a teenager, sexuality was no different for me than for most others fortunate enough to experience the natural evolution of human maturity. Like most, mine progressed from the enthusiastic discovery of attraction through the spark of ignition to the burning passion that ignites those first innocent explorations of love. I was fortunate enough to have experienced some of that slow flowering of healthy sexuality so essentially intertwined with growing up and coming of age.
But in my life, that natural evolution was intersected by outside religious forces. Guilt became ever-present until I taught myself to live two lives. That assuaged the guilt but it had personal consequences of its own. My life became fractured. So I sought to heal the rift.
My confession was a guillotine.
Once I entered the office and the door closed behind me, there were questions asked. Deeply personal, detailed, even explicit questions, asked of a young girl sitting alone before one, then three grown unknown men. This was disturbing in a way that I couldn’t have articulated at the time. I knew only that I felt afraid, vulnerable and exposed.
It was the psychological aftermath of a psychological game and it was comparatively minor. I was never victimized in almost any sense of the word. My experience was nothing more or less than a natural byproduct of a system which placed the spiritual and emotional fates of young girls in the hands of men wielding the power of God. Yet, however insignificant it may have been, the experience was mine and its effects were mine to handle.
And at this particular moment in time, I wasn’t handling them well.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.