Secrets & Wives
The Hidden World Of Mormon Polygamy
Extract from Chapter 10: The True & Living Church: Who's Angie?
I'm there at ten sharp. It's me and two sixteen-year-old boys, Jacob and Matthias, sitting at a cleared table in the middle of Merrill's living room, our notebooks out and pens at the ready. Merrill wipes the white board clean and introduces me.
"This is Sanjiv, he's from London. He's writing a book about polygamy and he wants to see how polygamists do trigonometry!" We all laugh. "I told him that our lives are pretty boring, but he doesn't believe me. So let's see if I can't prove him wrong!" He's loving it. It's the Merrill show. "I was explaining to Sanjiv last night that we don't usually let media report on us because they're so prejudiced. We've been quite badly burned by the media. That's why you've never read anything about the TLC for the last eight years. But I met with Sanjiv last night and we've spoken on the phone, and he's genuinely interested to see what our lives are like. So let's just have a normal class. Just pretend he's not there. Does that work for you?"
The boys nod. I nod. Everyone nods. Then the phone rings and Merrill stops. "Hold on a second." And he retreats to the rear of the house to take the call. When he returns, minutes later, he's glaring at me. "Okay, we're going to have to stop this whole thing right here. You have to leave."
"No more interviews. We can't continue this. You have to leave."
"What happened? Who was that on the phone?"
"Did you talk to a girl called Angie?"
"You're staying at the Manti House Inn, correct?"
"Well, you talked to someone called Angie there."
"No I didn't, I talked to Trish."
"Yes, and you also spoke to Angie. She says that you are here to do a sensationalist, anti-polygamy book and you were asking for numbers of people who have left our group. So our interview is over. That's all I have to say. Now you must leave."
"B-but wait a minute. This isn't true! I talked to Trish and then I talked to you. That's it! I don't know anyone else from the group."
"Have you spoken to Rachael?"
"Well, that's not what I've been told. You have to understand, there are people who have left who will give you a very different and frankly a very false perspective. Have you spoken to a boy called Jacob?"
My mind's racing. What's happening here? Who's Angie? Is "Angie" Trish's real name? Is Trish a member of the TLC? Who's Jacob? Who just called him now? Why doesn't Merrill trust me anymore?
"Look, Merrill, I don't know what's going on here, but you know where I'm coming from. I'm not an anti-polygamist. I don't believe polygamy should be a crime. I believe it should be demystified. We discussed all of this." I'm scrabbling for a hold, the rocks are loosening.
"I've been told that you've misled me," he says, grimly.
"Was that Angie that called just now?"
"No, it was Jim Harmston. He has spoken with Angie." His boot heel is poised over my fingers.
"But I never spoke to Angie!" Fingernails scraping down the cliff face. "I spoke to Trish and she recommended that I speak to lots of different people and she gave me some numbers. But I haven't rung any of them. I just accepted her help in the spirit in which it was given."
"So you're saying that Angie is lying?"
"I don't know who Angie is!" My branch is breaking, the rope's unraveling. Either Angie's lying, Jim Harmston's lying or I am. And by defending myself, I'm attacking one of them. I'm screwed.
"You need to leave. I've already said too much. You just need to leave."
It's the Vermillion cafe all over again - the fat girl's sniggering, the patrol car's circling. The trig students watch me stand up and grab my bag. But I can't just walk out. I need some sort of an exit. "You tell me that your prophet can read hearts and minds," I say, a little louder than expected. "Well, if that's the case, why doesn't he read mine? I'll tell you why - because if he sat there and told me I had a conversation with Angie, then I would know for sure that he was a false prophet. He'd understand that I'm telling the truth, goddammit."
I make for the door, and struggle with the latch. It's all going wrong. Merrill has to come and help. He seems to pity me somewhat. "What I'm hearing from you and what I'm hearing from Jim just doesn't add up," he says. "Who knows what he's basing his knowledge on right now?"
As I turn back to say goodbye, I see Natalie at the end of the room, looking alarmed. Jacob and Matthias staring. Merrill's standing at the door, his hands on his hips and his head tilted to one side, a rather fey pose considering the tension of the moment.
And the door smacks shut behind me. Walking to my car, listening to the pebbles crunch underfoot and my short quick breaths, all I can think, is "Shit, I shouldn't have said 'goddammit.'"
On the drive back to the Manti House Inn, I curse just about everyone - Merrill, Jim, Trish, Angie, whoever she is; the whole church, the whole town. I pushed the boulder up the hill and some fucker pushed it back down again. And I need to know who. Trish can sort this out. She'll know who Angie is. I can't leave Manti like this.
So I march back into the Manor House Inn and find Trish on reception, sunny as ever. "Hiya, Sanjiv! You're back for more toffee, I know you are."
"Trish, someone's been telling lies about me and I don't know who it is. I feel like I'm in a fucking Kafka novel, excuse my French." I tell her the whole story, how I got kicked out of the house, falsely accused, the whole thing. And she smiles. "Now you know what it's like in polygamy. These people have secrets you know, if you start poking around . . ."
"But who's Angie?"
"You met her last night. She was the one doing the dishes. She's one of Jim's wives, basically. I'm not supposed to say, but she has a secret and Angie's secret could ruin the TLC. The whole thing could fall apart."
"I can't say. It's too big."
"Did you talk to Angie after talking to me last night?"
"Oh we talked for a good hour. She said, 'He's here to talk to Rachael, I know it. He's going to write one of those anti-polygamy books full of lies.' I think that's what she told Jim."
"And Jim believed her."
"Angie's a queen in that group. Whatever she wants, she gets."
"Is she here?"
"No, she gets here at 4 PM."
I look at the clock. "Four! That's five hours away. Can I call her at home?"
"I can't give you her number, I'm sorry. Here, try some of this fudge. Take as much as you like . . ."
Five hours to kill in Manti. I try watching TV in my room, but I keep pacing around, replaying the scene in my head. I try driving around town and traipsing around the shops, but it's no good. I'm a duck moving across a still pond—apparently calm on the surface, but paddling away furiously below the water. Why would Angie lie about me? Why didn't Trish tell me about Angie before? How can I salvage this?
So I head for the library and for a couple of hours I write a letter stating my case—one part indignant and one part conciliatory. Figuring this might be my last shot at the prophet, I decide to hand-deliver it to his home, a little green house opposite the TLC's assembly building. So I'm standing there, ringing his bell as it begins to snow around me. The wind chimes are chinking and I'm preparing my lines - "Hello, Mr. Harmston, I think there's been a misunderstanding . . ."
Eventually a small, crinkled woman comes to the door, smiling. "Hello, I'm Karen." She says she'll take the letter for Jim. "He's out now." Of course he is.
At 4 PM sharp, I head back to the Manor House Inn to confront Angie. There's no sign of Trish, just a couple of girls in the kitchen, one of them sitting up on a worktop eating ice, the other wiping down a surface.
"Are you Angie?"
"I might be," says the girl with the rag in her hand. She's pretty and petite, with dark brown eyes and big lashes.
"I'm Sanjiv. I think we have something to talk about?"
"Do you want to go somewhere private to talk?"
"No, we can talk right here."
"Okay, then. Did you tell Jim Harmston that you had a conversation with me yesterday? About my book."
"Uh-uh. I didn't call Jim. Why would I say I had a conversation with you when I didn't?"
"That's not what Merrill Jensen said."
"Oh, Merrill Jensen, I wouldn't believe him. Why are you talking to him? He's just trying to flaunt his family because he's got two wives. But he's a bad example of polygamy. He's very arrogant."
"He says Jim called him and said that you spoke to him about me. You said I was writing a negative book about polygamy."
"Well are you?"
"Are you here to talk to Rachael?"
"No, I don't know how to get in touch with her."
"What's your book about anyway?"
So I give her the pitch. And at every step, she questions my motives, my honesty, my credentials. "What makes you different than other journalists?" "How can you write about this if you haven't got any faith yourself?" "Why do you care, what's your agenda?" And she rejects my every answer. It's exhausting. I'm doing a backfoot jig here, doing all the talking while she bats back everything I say with a skeptical spin. The portcullis is up. The crocodiles in the moat are snapping. There's no way she's letting me in.
"Can I call you sometime?" I ask. "I want to continue this conversation."
"Is email better?"
"Well . . . do you want to talk to me again, or are you done?"
"I don't mind talking to you. If I'm here when you come back and if I'm not busy working, we can talk then."
"But Angie, I've come here from LA. That's 600 miles away. I can't just come up on the off-chance that you're here."
"That's not my problem."
"Can I at least leave you my details?"
"You can do whatever you want."
So I write them down on a piece of paper and hand them to her. But instead of taking the note, she turns around and walks away. "Leave it on the side."
My hope shattered, I leave Manti, still none the wiser as to how things took such a bizarre turn.
Then a few days later, the emails come flooding in. Four in a day, long urgent letters, all from Angie. This time her tone is warm and confessional. She apologizes for her attitude, for causing me inconvenience, and she wants me to forgive her.
"I had the opportunity to read the letter you wrote to Jim," she writes. "I thought that it was very well written and seemed sincere. I do not intend on staying in the situation I am in and so I am feeling extremely insecure about my circumstances at the moment. You see, I am only 25 - 26 in September. According to law I was a 'Child bride.' I have spent 50% of my life living this way. I risk a tremendous amount just by speaking with you over the e-mail."
It seems beneath all that bristle is a nervous and sensitive young mother on the verge of a momentous decision. Angie doesn't only want to talk. She wants to leave Jim and the TLC and escape to California.