Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Merle and the Fetus Christmas Letter - Part 2

I apologize for the delay, but on a positive note, I got done a lot of the stuff I needed to get done and I wrote a whole entire poem this morning, so that means I can blog again and finish telling you about Merle.

In our last installment, Merle, my Jesus Freak Calvinist across the street neighbor was looking for a wife. The problem was that potential wives were few and far between. Merle insisted on a perfectly "godly" woman, whatever that meant to him. He couldn't find one that suited him. The potential wife needed to be a virgin, have never worked and needed to still be under the care of her parents. She couldn't have been all out in the real world getting contaminated by things like jobs and rap music. He wanted someone essentially dumb and innocent I think. She had to go to church pretty much constantly, be active in church related service, able to cook and bear children and willing to have as many children "as the Lord willed" which translates into she must be willing to be a Christian brood mare who refuses all forms of birth control, even that rhythm method those heathen Catholics use.

Merle always went on and on and on about purity and how important it was that he find a pure woman. He hoped for someone who'd been homeschooled because that would add to her purity. Basically it sounded to me like what Merle wanted was a girl who had been locked away from everything until her wedding day when Merle could take her as his own property and continue to keep her locked away. Then they could have a bunch of kids and shelter them from reality too. I don't really see the sense in all this. I think I even recall Jesus saying something about people not really being all that pure if they've just been cloistered and never tested, but what the hell do I know. I was just living across the street having premarital sex, watching HBO and listening to the mainstream radio, the flames of Hell already licking at my toes.

His own mother thought Merle was crazy. I loved Merle's mom, so a story about Merle just wouldn't be complete without including Leona. Leona was a constant source of embarassment and shame to her son. You see, while a lot of the boys in the Christian boarding house had been brainwashed by their parents and grandparents into being religious fanatics and it wasn't really their fault, Merle had chosen his beliefs on his own. His family (gasp) was totally secular and not in the least bit religious. Leona was a little tiny thing with long, dyed black vampire hair. She always wore loud, red and black outfits with gigantic, 70s style sunglasses. She was brash and opinionated, but in a fun way and she was an outspoken feminist who thought her son treated women like a caveman. They fought constantly. I adored this woman. She liked to get on Merle's nerves by dancing in public places to whatever music was playing. Merle was like those people in "Footloose." Dancing was bad.

So yeah. Add to the list that Merle's future wife couldn't have ever danced.

With all these requirements I didn't think Merle could ever find a girl who would fit his specifications. He told me that the Lord would provide.

Well, the Lord did. Somebody from church knew somebody who had a daughter. She was twenty and had been holed up in a well known Christian college in the Deep South for the past two years, but not to worry, she was chaperoned constantly when in the presence of men and had signed a virgin contract with her dad years before. She even wore a special ring.

It troubled Merle that Merrilee went to college. Why would a truly godly woman go to school? Why would a woman of the Lord, who knew her place was really in the home, bother to get a useless education, even if it was at a Christian school? The reason was that when she finished high school (at a super private church school that had about six students in the graduating class and was not, thank God, accredited) the Christian college offered her a scholarship. Having no prospects for marriage at home, her parents advised her that at school she would have better luck finding a good husband and that learning about The Bible locked in this compound of a college would be a good way to bide her time until Mr. Right came along. So she went and studied art and Jesus and the art of Jesus.

Merle could live with that. Studying art was ok because then as a housewife Merrilee could draw and paint or do crafts to occupy her time. He thought it was an acceptable discipline. I've often wondered what studying art at a Christian college entails. I think it's probably akin to studying art in Iran. They probably blackout the body parts in pictures of famous works of art in textbooks. The drawing classes are probably all gender segregated and they probably just sketch pictures of other women in long, high collared dresses. Later I saw some of Merrilee's drawings. While technically good, they were copies of photographs of things like white tigers, Persian kittens, unicorns and sad looking African children with flies on their faces.

Merle arranged his courtship with Merrilee's father. Then he informed her, by letter, that they were now courting. He sent her a picture and several more letters. He even sent her a care package of items from his life so she'd get to know him. This was all very medieval to me. Any normal woman, I thought, would get a letter from a strange man telling her that she was now his girlfriend and go straight to the police. The fact that Merrilee was delighted about this confirmed the fact that she was probably Merle's soul mate. I never did understand these people.

When Merrilee sent Merle her picture I finally realized what had attracted Merle to religion in the first place. Merrilee was very pretty. In the non-Jesus world Merle would never in ten bazillion years ever have a chance with a girl who looked like Merrilee. Never. Even if he was the last man on earth after a nuclear holocaust and she was the last woman, would a girl like this ever have sex with Merle outside of a severely religious community. Religion therefore, gave Merle the possibility of actually getting laid, whereas in normal reality this never would have happened. It's ironic isn't it?

Merrilee was a dead ringer for Hilary Swank. So picture Hilary Swank madly in love with Kip from "Napoleon Dynamite" and you will have the perfect image of this couple, who were now a couple in spite of the fact that they had never met.

After three letters Merle was shopping for the engagement ring. She sent him drawings and photographs and wrote him long letters about God. He did the same. Whenever he would write a letter he'd bring it over for me to look at first. I schooled him on how to be romantic. It was a little like Cyrano except that I wasn't in love with Merrilee.

Merrilee came home for a holiday break and she and Merle finally met. I feared what would become of this meeting. I thought maybe she'd get a load of what Merle looked like and run screaming back to the Christian college. Miraculously, she didn't. I know, I couldn't believe it. God is truly an awesome God, y'all. No wonder Merle loved Him so much. For a week Merle and Merrilee went on chaperoned dates with her parents. They were never, ever alone and they were never allowed to touch. By the end of the week they agreed they definitely wanted to get married.

The problem was Merrilee was trapped at school and had some kind of contract with the school where she couldn't leave because she had to work off her scholarship. It was some complicated arrangment that I never understood. Add to that that dating was prohibited and the school is surrounded by high walls, gates and armed guards so the outside world can't get in, and Merrilee felt like she was serving a jail sentence.

Merle began to take out his wrath on the Christian College. They were Baptists afterall and didn't follow the doctrine of predestination, which Merrilee did. Why she went to a school that didn't preach her exact beliefs I have no idea. These people are weird. Anyway, you've probably heard about this school and its notorious security. It's a big deal in the Evangelical world from what I'm told and parents send their kids there specifically because of the strict rules and constant supervision. From the way I've heard the place described it sounds like 1984. That means that by even exchanging letters with Merle, Merrilee was breaking school rules big time. I don't know how she got away with it. I guess she was a rebel. Merle hated the school and wanted to get her out of it.

Finally he decided, after taking me to go pick out her engagement ring, which had rubies because of the line in Proverbs about a good woman being more precious than rubies, that he needed to break Merrilee out of the school, rush her back to Atlanta and marry her. I admit that this was all very exciting to me and also quite scandalous. Merrilee's father had given Merle permission to drive his daughter back home without a chaperone. Can you even imagine?

I'm not exactly clear on the details of how it all worked out, but I think Merrilee got permission from the school to go on an outing in town with some minders and other girls. I think Merle essentially pulled up and Merrilee jumped in, to the horror of her handlers and classmates. I think Merrilee's parents talked the school into forgiving Merrilee's debt and to send back her belongings. All of it was a bit of a blur to me.

In any case they were engaged and married very quickly which meant that Merle had to move out of his boarding house. He rented a duplex a couple streets over while they looked for a larger house in the neighborhood to buy. In the meantime I befriended Merrilee and taught her how to cook, since she didn't know a lot about that. I showed her how to be a housewife and from time to time she and I would go to Chick-fil-a and get biscuits for breakfast. She was dumb as a stone, but perhaps the nicest girl I've ever met. I genuinely liked her, although she got on my nerves a lot with the whole submitting to her husband nonsense. She couldn't help it.

Merle and Merrilee seemed like really happy newlyweds. Merle bossed her around something awful, but Merrilee didn't know the difference. Pretty soon they found a house in the neighborhood and painted it very bright, primary colors. I never understood why they wanted a red, yellow and blue bungalow, but the neighborhood was funky like that anyway so it fit. They also acquired several cats and if you didn't know they were Jesus freaks you'd have sworn the house was inhabited by a pack of hippies. They were happy and pretty soon they were pregnant.

They have been pregnant every year since. I don't think Merrilee has had a year off from pregnancy since. I wonder how many kids they'll end up with. I almost think they'll be like those people who have seventeen kids whose names all start with J. They'll have to get a bus to go anywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Merle have five children so far, all pretty close in age. The oldest is seven and the youngest was just born. It wouldn't surprise me if they're already pregnant again. All of the kids are homeschooled and apparently headed for Jesus Camp, as the creepy Christmas letter informs of their deep and abiding love for the unborn.

The lines that really got me were these:

"Never has a child shown so much love for fetuses. His passion for unborn babies inspires his daily artwork. Never has a six year old boy loved embryos as much as X. ... X could look at pictures of fetuses and embryos all day long."

And of course the child had decorated the Christmas letter with drawings (that were actually really good, but still) of the ten stages of fetal development. I guarantee you the kids all go around with big pieces of tape across the mouths too (anyone see "Jesus Camp"?)

I'm creeped out still. Is it really healthy for kids to be that obsessed with "the unborn?" When I was six I was really into Snow White. I'm just saying.


Jocelyn said...

That. Was. AWESOME!!

Thanks for the wrap up on the story. You're killing me with the "Kip and Hillary."

Anonymous said...

Yes, you ARE a freak magnet! But that's what I like about you - all the weird stories!

CC said...

I never understood the whole sacrificial religious behaviors, either. A life of no dancing, no occasional cursing, no drinking, and no passionate baby-less sex just seems worthless to me. It seems to me rather cruel of God to want his children to live such joyless lives.

Then again, I'm a sinful heathen so what the hell do I know?

Missicat said...

Oh. My. G-d. Actually, at one point I was attending an Evangelical Pentecostal type church so, yes, I met a few folks like these two....Fortunately I had functioning brain cells so I got the HECK out of there!
I wonder if these girls were lobotomized at birth, or did they wait until puberty??

Jeannie said...

my my my my my

MtnMama said...

Is it really healthy for kids to be that obsessed with "the unborn?"

Um, no.

This is why so many fundamentalists want their wives to be YOUNG. They want to prop up their sorry, twisted, deluded ideas, and a grown woman would never go for it (until she's been so wrung out by producing offspring that she submits to anything)

I'm all for spirituality, but religion SUCKS.

All of them. I was listening to NPR this morning and they were talking about how the Catholics are all in an uproar about a "re-invested" Bishop who denies the Holocaust.

Religion teaches a skewed worldview -
They all see the world as a bunch of enemies that they need to fight against for domination.
That scares the be-JESUS out of me...

Joy said...

Being raised in a fundamentalist Baptist home (dad was *the preacher*) I can totally believe that these people have/had these beliefs and rationale. That being said, it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck! creepy fetus drawing children. UGH! So happy to never have to go to church again, yay!

Loved this story. You creep magnet you. Please share more asap.

amy said...

I always wondered how those girls were supposed to go from completely ignorant of sex and totally virginal to willing, constant sexual partners. Overnight. Didn't make any sense to me.

Renee in Seattle said...

As a new Christian at age 21, I was in a group of "lifers" discussing free will verses predestiny. I distinctly remember saying, "whatthefuckareyoutalkingabout" and to this day (20 years later) I think it is the biggest bunch of irrelevant nonsense I have ever heard. Like trekkes speaking in Clingon. Whothefuckcares?

Jennifer said...

Man, I'm so glad I'm a pagan who's gonna go to hell. This freaked me right out!

Bella@That damn expat said...

"Any normal woman, I thought, would get a letter from a strange man telling her that she was now his girlfriend and go straight to the police."

This sentence floored me. Great writing!

Anonymous said...

Babies of all ages and sizes ARE lovely and wonderful. I think it's sweet a child realizes this {even if his parents are jesus freaks and they are all prolife wackos}.Love and babies and kindness and are thing we should aspire to protecting if nothing else.
Lil S.

KT said...

Amazing story --- and no, I don't think it's terribly healthy, but then again there are a lot of things about the Evangelical church that I don't get.

I'm not sure why you'd even SHOW a kid that young a fetus. Are there children's books on this topic? Instead of reading about dinosaurs, trains, superheroes and the solar system or something, is X being given books about fetuses? What a way to wreck a childhood.

Breny said...

Wow. Who knew freak magnetism was a genetic trait?

BTW--the family that had 17 kids now has 18 kids with names that start with a J. And the oldest boy got married to a girl he had never kissed until their wedding day.

JoeinVegas said...

If they are so cloistered, how the heck did they even figure out how to get pregnant?
We lived near a whole compound of Jesus freaks in Southern California, they were the western arm of 'The Bible Speaks', and had a hard time dealing with outsiders. I never could understand how it was OK for them to lie, cheat and steal from people outside their group just because the weren't 'born again just like them'. This included other born agains, since they too weren't 'just like them'. Guess the ten commandments only apply when dealing with your own group.
I think religeon is the worst invention ever put together to subjucate people, more deaths and wars from that then anything else.

Anonymous said...

LOVED this story. FASCINATING...

I wish you still lived in the same neighborhood with them - great story fodder!


JennAviv said...

Your blog always cracks me - your writing is as endlessly entertaining as your family. Keep the crazy coming, please!!!!!! :D

Anonymous said...

Long time reader - sometime commenter - the only thing healthy about this story was the way it was written. As to the religious zealots, I am so far removed from that world - maybe they'll meet and marry (somehow)
some of these l4 kids just birthed to the woman who already has 6.
Maybe. :)

Miss Kitty said...

Holy Moses. NO pun intended.

MAN, those two are WEIRD. I've always wondered what makes people raised in the secular world go Jesus-crazy like that. I have a friend who's always been addicted to *something*: drugs, alcohol, or Jesus. Maybe Merle's similar.

BTW: my word verification is "madmag."

FreeDragon said...

I'm a bit confused, wouldn't explaining to the child what a fetus was naturally lead to a discussion about sex thus totally ruining the innocence?
BTW- great writing, it feels like I waited forever to read the conclusion of this story.

Deneen said...

You are a master storyteller.

That is all.

nandy said..., I miss it. They need to open a franchise up North.

Kelly Hudgins said...

Shame Bill Maher didn't know about M & M when he made "Religulous"!!!!!!!

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