A Conversation With a Stranger

I was at the local swimming pool the other day and I noticed a woman reading a book — a real, live book! with a highlighter! Initially, it was the novelty of someone reading a book instead of scrolling on their phone that caught my attention.

But then I recognized the cover of the book she was studying. It was Let’s Talk about Polygamy by Brittany Chapman Nash.

The book being read by the woman at the public pool.

My LDS friend (who, let’s face it, is obsessed with polygamy) recommended this book to me a few months ago. I checked it out from the library but only read a chapter or two before it was due back. I frequently listen to audiobooks, but I’m not very good at finding time to sit still and just read a book, so if I’d found this book in audiobook format, I could have listened to it in no time. Can anyone relate?

Anyway, when I saw the stranger sitting on the pool deck reading and highlighting this book, I decided to go talk to her. I was curious why she was interested in reading it at all, much less studying it so closely. I wondered what she thought of polygamy and whether she knew any polygamists personally.

I didn’t know how she’d respond to me coming up and talking to her out of the blue. Maybe she’d think it was weird or maybe she’d refuse to talk to me, but I also knew I’d regret it if I went home without attempting to strike up a conversation.

So when my baby needed a nursing break from our swim in the cold water, I wrapped him in a fluffy towel and we went and sat near my new bibliophilic friend. Between her AirPods and her concentration on her book, it took me a minute to catch her attention, but I found success.

We had a nice chat. I learned she’s in the mainstream LDS Church and she’s interested in the history of Mormon plural families in the late 1800s running from the law and/or hiding from raids.

I told her a little of my own story.

Yes, we all live together.

I had 3 children at the time Melissa married Joshua; now I have 5 and she has 2 (not to mention her grown children from her first marriage), but I often say simply that I have 7 children. I love saying it: “I have seven children.” It feels a little like cheating, since I only gave birth to 5 of them.

My sisterwife’s preschooler calls me “Mama Charlotte”, which I find very sweet.

I told her briefly about my aunt, who decades ago became convinced that polygamy was required in order to go to the highest degree of heaven. She begged her husband to take another wife. When he refused, she left him and her 4 small children and went and became someone’s second wife. That plural marriage didn’t last, but the trauma it caused her children did; even now, some 35 or 40 years later, when they refer to “Mom” they’re speaking of their stepmother, the heroic woman who stepped in and raised them when their overzealous mother wouldn’t.

The ripping apart of a family by someone too eager to live “The Principle” almost definitely contributed to my aunt’s brother (my father) reacting negatively when he found out his own daughter (me) had decided polygamy was for her as well. The big difference is that in my aunt’s case, her choice led to her children losing a mother, and in my case, it led to my children gaining one.

By the way, I don’t want to mention my father without also mentioning that altho things were rough at first, in time, my parents have really come around. They even consider Melissa and Joshua’s children to be their grandchildren, which is a dream come true for me.

Back to the deck of the pool. Yes, the book-reading stranger has met polygamists before; in fact, she’s friends with one that goes to a certain fundamentalist Mormon sect that meets not too far from here. She was curious whether we’re in that one? But no, we haven’t joined another group, and probably never will.

We aren’t members of a Church? Do we have community? Yes, a wonderful one we’ve built for ourselves. The families we hang out with the most are a mix of polygamists, monogamists, and single people; polygamy is certainly not a prerequisite for being friends with us. The two main things our closest friends share with us are (1) They have Mormonism in their background and (2) They believe in keeping the Torah, which has become a big part of our religion (I would even say a larger part than our Mormonism).

By the way, my husband Joshua was recently invited on to The Mormon Renegade Podcast to do a series of interviews on the topic of Torah, Mormonism, and especially the celebration of Biblical holidays.

I occasionally get emails from readers asking when I’m finally going to write more of my story on my blog. The answer is “In good time” but for those of you who don’t want to wait, go listen to episode #15 of that podcast. In it, Joshua tells the interviewer the story of how we became polygamists.

Which is what I did with the woman at the swimming pool a few days ago, something that never would have happened if I wasn’t a polygamist.

How Joshua and I Met

There he stood, in the front of our Ethics and Values classroom, curly brown hair, leather jacket that couldn’t hide his muscular arms, sexy 5 o’clock shadow, a deep voice.  He was discussing the pros and cons of capital punishment, the controversial ethical topic assigned to his group.

I had dated a lot in high school, but now that I was in college, I was trying to be pickier, trying to figure out what my type was, and I had picked up the habit of analyzing men to discern which of his physical traits I liked and which I didn’t.  I had never found a man I couldn’t improve upon, but as I sat on the back row that day watching and listening to Joshua, for the first time I couldn’t come up with a single thing I would change to make a man more attractive.  I had found my ideal man, at least on the surface.  Not only was he the most handsome men I’d ever met, but he was intelligent, well-prepared, and well-spoken.

At the end of Joshua’s presentation, I raised my hand to add to the discussion.  Was it just my imagination, or did he like what I had to say?  A little while later, I raised my hand again, but then I noticed that class time was almost gone, and I lowered it again.  He noticed the question left hanging, and he approached me as the classroom emptied and asked what I had intended to say.

We talked for a few minutes before going our separate ways.  But that was enough to get the ball rolling.

It was a series of coincidences that had led to our meeting.  You see, we weren’t exactly classmates: We were taking the same course, but we were in different sections taught by the same professor.  If things had gone according to schedule, Joshua and I would never have met.  But something happened to shake things up: My brother had been called on a mission for the LDS Church, and I wanted to go with him and the rest of my family to see him enter the MTC, or Missionary Training Center.  The end of the college semester was approaching, and since class time was being taken up with group presentations, my professor had started making class participation part of our grade to prevent attendance from declining.  If I was going to see my brother enter the MTC, I would miss my class, so I talked to my professor in advance and got permission to make up the participation points by coming to another of her Ethics and Values sessions.  I searched my schedule for a time when that would be possible.  Most school days at 1:00 p.m. I was busy as an ASL interpreter for a religion class.  Fortunately, those classes weren’t held on Fridays, which meant I was available for that one hour — which happened to be, of course, the day and hour of Joshua’s presentation in his own section of Ethics and Values.  That’s how I came to be there that Friday afternoon.

After Joshua and I had parted company.  I went to work for a few hours and then got ready for a date — a formal dance I was going to with a man named Ryan.

Now, Ryan and I were very close friends, and sometimes we acted as tho we liked each other, but the truth was that the woman he wanted to marry was away from home serving a mission for the mainstream LDS Church, and I was just a placeholder until she came home a few months later.  I wasn’t particularly into him either, but we got along splendidly, and our relationship was convenient.  We carpooled to school together, worked on our Calculus 3 homework together, hung out as friends on the weekend, and when one of us needed an official date for an event, the other person was usually available.

(As a side note, two fun stories: After his girlfriend got home from her mission, Ryan and she came together to my wedding reception, which was so romantic that they ended up getting engaged at it.  They’re still happily married and have half a dozen kids.  He’s a successful engineer, so I guess it worked out for him to study calculus with me, ha ha.  Another guy I dated met someone at my wedding reception, soon afterwards they started dating, later they were also engaged.  Have you ever heard of a wedding reception so romantic?)

I had asked my friend to do my hair in a fancy up-do for the dance with Ryan, and while she worked, I chatted endlessly about this man named Joshua I had met at school that day.  I don’t know how I came up with so much to say about someone I’d only talked to for a quarter of an hour, but you and I both know how silly girls can be.

At some point in the course of our conversation I told her, “I think I’m going to marry him!”  She responded by telling me I was crazy.  (I still have the professional photo taken of Ryan and me at the formal dance, and it’s one of my favorites because of the fond memories I have of that day and even of my hairdo.)

I couldn’t stop thinking about Joshua for days, and he must have had a similar weekend.  On Monday he got my phone number from our professor (with my permission), called me up, and the rest of our story is for future chapters.