Wives and Sistersby Natalie R. Collins
When Allison Jensen was six, she and her best friend were playing in the woods near home. One moment her friend was beside her; then she was gone. When no leads emerged, she was given up for dead. Now, years later, trying to fill in the gaps of a patchwork memory, to make sense of the senseless, Allison still can get no answers from the Mormon community in which
When Allison Jensen was six, she and her best friend were playing in the woods near home. One moment her friend was beside her; then she was gone. When no leads emerged, she was given up for dead. Now, years later, trying to fill in the gaps of a patchwork memory, to make sense of the senseless, Allison still can get no answers from the Mormon community in which she lives. Why is she being fed half-truths? Why is her father able to tyrannize and torment as the self-appointed messenger of God? When a brutal attack on her as a young adult makes her desperate to escape Mormon bonds, Allison finds herself on a collision course with community leaders as they cover up the steps of a sexual predator. She must stop them before they find her and keep her from piecing together the tragic past that has haunted her life.
- Tess Gerritsen, author of The Sinner
“A dark, powerful debut novel. Natalie Collins pulls no emotional punches crafting this searing tale of one woman's search for justice.”
-Lisa Gardner, author of The Killing Hour
“Natalie Collins' Wives and Sisters is a journey through heartbreak, tragedy, and self-discovery with a courageous woman who dares to think for herself in a dogmatic society. This is a story for anyone who has ever questioned what they've been taught all their life; anyone who has ever doubted their self-worth, and everyone who loves to cheer on the underdog and watch them triumph in the end. You'll be glad you took this journey with her.”
-Tina Wainscott, author of I’ll Be Watching You
- St. Martin's Press
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Wives and Sister
By Natalie R. Collins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Natalie R. Collins
All rights reserved.
I WAS SIX YEARS OLD THE FIRST TIME I HAD AN INKLING GOD WOULD NOT always protect me.
My parents raised their children according to the strict tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What was offered to us as truth was simple: all one had to do was be baptized, pay a faithful tithe, and follow the teachings of the Lord's prophets — nothing too difficult, even for a first grader to grasp. I swallowed it dutifully, wholeheartedly, relieved that life was simple and easy. I knew the difference between right and wrong. I knew the basic truths of God's plan for us. I felt comfortable and assured that I would wake up the next day knowing exactly what to expect.
On a sunny, warm April afternoon in 1972 my friend Cindy Caldwell and I blissfully played on her property, two miles from the nearest house. Eight-year-old Cindy had picked me as her best friend in the Farmington Fifth Ward, despite our two-year age difference. I had a serious case of hero worship.
Our playground was two acres of big boulders, trees and brush, and lots of places to hide — a child's paradise. We'd received permission to go there from Cindy's mother, who was grateful for anything to distract us so she could plan her Relief Society lesson.
We knelt by the side of the shallow, ice-cold creek that flowed down from high up in the Wasatch Mountains. By the time it reached us — near the valley floor — it had divided many times, and was now no more than a small stream of water. We dipped our Barbies into the swimming hole we'd formed for them by damming up the water with rocks and twigs. The older and wiser Cindy explained to me the consequences of being baptized, something that had happened to her just a month before.
"... And when you get baptized, you can't sin anymore, 'cause God won't automatically forgive you." She gave me a knowing look. "You don't have to worry about that yet, Alli. You still have two more years."
"What's a sin?"
"A sin is when you do something really bad, like steal something, or touch somebody's private parts. After you get baptized, if you do that stuff, you have to repent and tell the bishop."
I was quiet as I digested this information. I thought of the time several weeks before when my good friend Bernice Franklin and I had explored each other's girl parts while we played doctor. I remembered it felt really good when Bernice touched me there, and I squirmed with the memory. Feeling good was a sin? I was in deep trouble.
I also did not want to have to tell our bishop about my sins. Bishop Harwood was a big, loud, jovial man with shiny red cheeks, almost no hair on his head, and great tufts of it everywhere else we could see, including his nostrils. It sprang from the dark holes like a big unruly hair forest, hiding all types of unknown beasts and vengeful creatures. I had a hard time looking at him without fixating on his nose and all the wiry hair that came out of it.
Our neighbor, Rodney Crowell, who was in my first grade class at school, spent the entire summer a year before trying to convince Bernice and me that the bishop was a werewolf. I told my mother, and Rodney didn't come out of his house for a week. He never brought up the werewolf theory again.
"Now, when they baptize you, they do this," Cindy prattled on, apparently not noticing my discomfort. She took her Barbie and placed her in the water. "I baptize you, Barbie Caldwell, in the name of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost."
She dipped her Barbie under the water and held her there.
"How do you keep from drowning?"
"Silly!" Cindy giggled as she pulled the doll from the water and shook it off. "They don't hold you down very long. They just dip you down and then lift you back up."
She moved from the side of the creek to the little chapel we had built a short distance away. "Now we need to confirm them ..."
A crrrr-aaaackkk filled our ears, and we both jumped and screamed, as only little girls can. After our first shaken moments of terror, we looked at each other and Cindy said, "Ralph!"
Cindy's brother, Ralph, sixteen and a bully, lived to torment us. He'd gotten his first shotgun for Christmas that year and was always up at the Caldwell property looking for rabbits, squirrels, birds, and other small creatures he could torture and murder.
"Ralph!" she yelled, standing up. Her knees were covered with dirt and little red dents from the pebbles we knelt on. She had her hands on her hips, like my mother did when she scolded us. "Ralph, where are you? You're gonna get it. When I tell Mom you shot around us with your gun, you'll never see it again! You know Dad will take it."
No answer came, no snicker, no sign of Ralph. I fidgeted with uneasiness, and realized I had to pee badly and the only toilet was far away.
Cindy looked around, shrugged her shoulders, and sat back down. As she reached for her Barbie, we heard the snap of a tree branch and we both jumped again.
"Knock it off, Ralph! Dammit! Mom's gonna kill you."
"You said a bad word!"
Cindy gave me an impatient look and turned back to the trees where we believed Ralph to be hidden.
"Is swearing a sin?" I needed to know, because my devoutly religious father swore all the time.
We looked over to the area across the creek where we'd heard the noise, and I saw a sight that caused my heart to jump in my chest — the barrel of a rifle pointed directly at us. We couldn't clearly see the person holding the rifle because he wore camouflage, but he sported a dark beard peppered with gray. Ralph shaved once a month at best.
Slowly it hit me. This was not Cindy's brother.
We were going to die.
"Stand up," ordered the man. His unfamiliar gruff voice caused prickles of sheer terror to run up and down my legs and arms.
I couldn't move.
Slowly, Cindy stood up.
"Stand up!" he ordered again. Cindy grabbed me by the hand and pulled me to my feet. I'd sat too long, and my feet and legs had gone to sleep. Now pins and needles ran through them as the blood began to circulate. I couldn't help it — I hopped up and down, trying to ease the pain.
"Knock it off, you little bitch!" he ordered. I couldn't stop dancing, and he lifted his rifle and aimed it directly at me. I think my heart stopped, and Cindy jumped in front of me, as though she were going to save me. He jerked the rifle up into the sky and fired a warning shot.
I peed my pants right then.
"Take off your clothes," he commanded. "Take them off now!"
We still could not see much of him besides his beard and the gun as he stayed hidden behind the tree and heavy brush.
"We won't take off our clothes!" Cindy said in a brave voice. "We won't. You'll have to kill us."
It was quiet for a moment. I imagined he was deciding whether or not he wanted to murder us. I was too young to consider any of the implications of our removing our clothes. Silently, I prayed, vowing fervently to never tattle again, never sneak cookies when I had been told no, never pick on my brother Kevin.
Please, God, please, don't let us die. Don't let the man kill us. Please save us. I promise I'll be good.
"All right," he yelled. "Little blond girl, you run. Run now. Run fast. Don't look back or I'll shoot you."
He meant me. Cindy had beautiful long brown hair that curled up at the ends. I hesitated. I wasn't going to leave my friend.
"No," I said in a squeaky voice, the loudest I could manage. "No. I won't leave her." I grabbed Cindy's hand and pulled her with me, and we ran. My shoes were loose, because Mom always bought them big so they would last. I lost them both as we ran and didn't dare stop to look back or to pick them up. Fleetingly, I thought of my mother and father. They would be mad I had lost my shoes. We didn't have much money.
I heard him crashing through the brush as he chased us. I held tightly to Cindy's hand, and I turned for just one second to see if he was close.
It was a mistake.
I tripped over a large root pushing up through the dirt, and the last thing I remembered was hitting my head on a large rock. When I woke up, cold, wet, and terrified, there was no sign of Cindy. Frozen with fear, I couldn't move, afraid the man was still there, afraid he would shoot me. I prayed silently, the same words over and over: Dear God, please save us. Dear God, please save us.
But there was no longer an "us." It was only me. Where was Cindy? How long I laid there I didn't know, but the cold, desperate fear that kept me un-moving gradually released its hold and I slowly, cautiously sat up. I looked around but could see no one.
"Cindy?" I whispered. "Cindy?"
She didn't answer. I moved my head slowly, and the world swayed as I sat up and looked around me.
"Cindy?" A little louder, but still no answer. The sun was setting now in the late afternoon sky, and soon it would be dark. Our mothers would be wondering where we were. Did Cindy go home without me? Was she tired of a little girl tagging along with her?
I stood, all shaky, looking around carefully, watching for the bearded man with a gun.
"Cindy? Where are you?"
I heard a slight crack from behind me, like the sound a twig makes when somebody steps on it, and I whirled around but could see nothing. I walked backward away from the noise, Dear God, please save us, running through my head; and I mouthed the words silently. I heard nothing more, but knew someone was out there. Someone was watching and waiting for me.
Still walking backward, I tiptoed off the pathway and into a copse of trees and bushes, heavy and scratchy. I tore my arms and legs on the brambles, and there was blood in my eyes from my earlier fall, but I didn't care. My fear numbed my pain. I settled down onto the ground in the bushes and waited, praying silently all the while, ignoring the tickles that could be bugs. I couldn't move.
I waited for Cindy to come back. I waited for God to save us. I waited.
"CINNNNNDY? ALLLLLIISSONN?" A VOICE CALLED. A VOICE I RECOGNIZED — MY father.
It was dark now, and with each deepening shade of gloom my fear had intensified, but I couldn't move. Couldn't find my own way to safety.
"Daddy? Daddy!" I tried to jump to my feet and yell, but I couldn't keep my balance and I fell over again, the bushes and brambles scratching at me more. The sound of his voice released some of my fear; and I reached up and touched my head, feeling the deep wound that no longer bled. I'm hurt. Someone help me. My left eye was partially glued shut, probably from dried blood, and I squinted with my right, trying to compensate for my lost vision. All this I realized now that I felt rescue was close.
"Help!" I yelled. It came out as a squeak. "Daddy!" It wasn't very loud, but it was enough.
"Hey, Richard, over here," yelled another voice. I recognized it as belonging to Brother Jacobsen, one of our neighbors. He moved toward me, and the flashlight hit my eyes, momentarily blinding me.
"Oh, shit," he muttered as he picked me up, and I heard the voices as other searchers came to us. "Call an ambulance, she's hurt."
My body went limp as I rested in the comfort of his arms. Safe. I was safe. I heard the squawk of a radio and knew our local police force must be here also, although I had a hard time discerning the shapes that surrounded me — until one stepped forward.
"Allison, where's Cindy?" It was her dad.
"I-I don't know. I think the bad man took her." I felt responsible.
It didn't matter that I prayed, or that I ran — I had turned to look back and fallen. Now Cindy was gone. God must be terribly mad at me.
They took me to the hospital in Ogden. I screamed when the doctor came at me with the curved needle and must have passed out again. I woke up in a hospital room with my mother asleep in the chair by my bedside. The doctors and nurses were in and out of my room many times during the night, and I heard whispered words I didn't understand. Their sad faces as they exchanged mournful glances with my mother made me feel all the more guilty and responsible. Everyone was sad — sad that Cindy was missing, I guessed, and because I was not. The beautiful girl with the brown curls should have been the one saved.
All I wanted to do was sleep. When they asked me where Cindy was, I shrugged my shoulders. I didn't know where she was, and that hurt.
"It was the man. The man with the beard. He shot his gun at us. He threatened to kill us if we didn't take our clothes off."
I told that same story to the police officer standing by the side of my bed the next day. He glanced uneasily at my father and Mr. Caldwell, Cindy's dad, and I was scared. Was he getting ready to arrest me? If I hadn't turned and looked, I wouldn't have fallen. Cindy might still be safe.
Soon after the policeman left, my parents took me home and put me in bed. They moved my younger sister Corrie's pillow and books to the room that, for the time being, she was forced to share with our youngest sisters, the Little Girls. She glared at me before leaving, and I turned away and tried to bury myself under the covers. My head throbbed and the gash on my forehead, which had required twenty-four stitches, ached and itched. I kept touching it, perhaps to remind myself I was still alive.
I fell asleep, and when I woke up I could hear a hushed voice through the partially open door.
"She hasn't asked about Cindy ... No, I think she's in shock ... No ... No, not yet ... Yes, she was. She was ..."
My mother was on the phone. Her voice went quieter, and I could no longer make out the words. I got out of bed and wobbled across the floor, still dizzy and feeling sick to my stomach. My head throbbed with each step I took, and it seemed as if I walked miles before I reached the door. I opened it a little wider and slipped through, following my mother's voice to the kitchen. I stood in the doorway and listened.
"No, there's no sign of ... no sign of rape or abuse ... They found footprints that led to tire tracks ... Only one set. They think he ..." Her voice cracked as she struggled to regain her composure. She glanced over to the doorway and gasped when she saw me standing there.
"I'll call you back," she said quickly into the phone and replaced it on the cradle. She hastily wiped away her tears and came toward me.
"Allison, honey, you need to get back in bed. You've been hurt. The doctor said you have to stay down for at least another day or two."
She didn't answer. I asked again.
"Honey, we don't know," she said, her chest heaving as she spoke. My mother rarely cried, except at church services when the spirit moved her, and my heart clutched as I watched her agony. Her face was lined, her eyes deep and mournful, her dark brown hair spotted with gray. My mother looked old to me for the first time — old and very tired. The mother who had worn lipstick every day — "Always wear lipstick for your husband, Alli, even if you don't have time to do anything else" — was gone.
I remembered the boxes of Clairol hair dye on the kitchen counter next to the sink, my mother with her head under the tap, an old towel wrapped around her shoulders as she rinsed. I'd stood next to her with the ingredients, magical, mystical women things that enhanced our "beauty" and made us "alluring," at least according to the box. I'd handed each thing to her as she asked for it, including the actual dye packet — in a color called chestnut.
Now I realized I couldn't remember the last time she had colored her hair, or worn lipstick — even for church.
She was so sad, so sad for Cindy. But Cindy had just disappeared. These changes in my mother had been happening for a long time. Was this my fault? Had I disappointed her? Was Cindy's disappearance going to be the worst of all the things I had done?
No one was glad that I was safe and had not been stolen away, but I understood that. I let them down. I didn't save Cindy.
Mother reached up as if to wipe the tears again, but they were no longer there. She had become my mother again, the tired mother, and it was her job to protect me. She put on her "mother" face, the one she always wore when dealing with us children and our problems. It was her job to wipe our runny noses, to clean up the vomit and diarrhea, to bathe us and feed us.
Excerpted from Wives and Sister by Natalie R. Collins. Copyright © 2004 Natalie R. Collins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Natalie Collins is an author and journalist with over 20 years writing experience. She was also an editor for the 2001 and 2002 Sundance Film Festivals. A lifelong resident of Utah, raised a member of the Mormon Church, Natalie lives there with her husband and two daughters.
Natalie R. Collins is an author and journalist with more than twenty-five years’ writing experience, including a long stint with the largest daily newspaper in Utah. She has served as an editor for the Sundance Film Festival, worked in advertising and human resources, and is currently working full-time as a writer and graphic designer. A lifelong resident of Utah, and raised a member of the Mormon Church, Natalie still resides there with her husband Jeff and two daughters. Her books include Wives and Sisters, Behind Closed Doors, and Ties That Bind.
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A long weekend is the perfect time for Wives and Sisters. A compelling book that you can¿t put down. And when Wives and Sisters closes, 288 pages later, the characters remain in your memory, living in your thoughts, compelling you to read it again. The disappearance of Allison Jensen¿s best friend and her own confrontation with death age of six colors this story of personal survival. Nine years later, Allison begins questioning the system of her world with the death of her mother. She began bucking that system at the subsequent remarriage of her father, in his effort to populate his Celestial heaven. Through Allison¿s pain and humiliation of rape, to her triumph over the deceit and bondage of the patriarchal society in which she is trapped Allison Jensen is our antihero. From childhood to adulthood she takes the hard road to truth, pulling, not only herself but, her sisters to the otherside of their personal devastation to survival. Natalie Collins has convincingly woven an intricate tale in Wives and Sisters with the emotions of life that draws you in and doesn¿t let you go. Situations many of us could never comprehend in a sane world, and yet know they exist daily in a new millennium. I could not put this book down, I read it again, and wanted more. My family gets copies of Wives and Sisters for Christmas.
Not often do I read a book in one sitting. But already on page six of Natalie Collins' 'Wives and Sisters' I knew I would not go to bed until I had read the whole thing. 'Wives and Sisters' is fiction in only one sense: the actual names of the characters are invented. In every other sense, this 'novel' is a devastatingly accurate journalistic report of the effect that Mormonism often has on the lives of those who live it, who leave it, and who are its victims. Every Mormon, every former Mormon, and everyone who has lived among the Mormons in Utah or in the other areas of the West where Mormonism has dominated the local culture, will recognize almost every character in this book - the authoritative father, the submissive wife, the abused children, the 'good ol' boy' nature of the Mormon hierarchy, the young adult who is trying to escape a Mormon past and live a normal life. And just as familiar will be the depictions of every-day life in Mormonism. All the secrets that are generally covered up by Mormons - who are generally thought by non-Mormons to be 'those nice people up the block with the nice big family and such wonderful family values' - are here portrayed in all their sad reality: the sexual frustration and abuse, the cover-ups, the self-justifications, the quiet desperation, the wide-spread depression, the blind obedience to church authority, the devastation of so many individual lives in the name of religion. Unfortunately, the Mormon church has so far been fairly successful in covering up the rampant sexual abuse of its children. This book may call Mormonism to account before an outraged public, just as the Roman Catholic church has had to admit its complicity in the devastation of so many devout Catholic children. But there is more here: Collins also gives the reader romance, mystery, crime-solving, and even humor (the baptismal scene is unforgettable!). I hope this book is made into a movie. (It will probably be banned in Utah!)
This is the best book you will ever read in your lifetime. Amazing! Putting it down is impossible.
Wonderful book..The ending is rushed but did not take away from the book too much..Worth the money..
Easy to read, interesting, and not a predictable suspense novel. Unlike other books I have read, the details were all tied in together by the end and I wasn't left wondering about anything. The focus on the Mormon religion was also a unique twist.
Rarely do I come across a book that moved me as much as Wives and Sisters by Natalie Collins. I read until my eyes grew bleary and could no longer focus on the page. If it weren't for that, I probably would have finished the book in one sitting. The story gripped me and wouldn't let go. The characters were so real that at times I almost forgot I was reading fiction. This book is going on my 'keeper' shelf, and I'm looking forward to the author's next title.
In Utah, six-year-old Allison and her best friend Cindy are playing together when a bearded male with a rifle kidnaps the latter. Cindy¿s body is never found as the authorities conduct a token investigation into the girl¿s disappearance. One year later at a Mormon Church sponsored picnic, Allison sees the abductor attending the event as if nothing happened..................... When Allison turned fifteen, her mother became pregnant with her sixth child, but dies during childbirth; her father quickly remarries. This increases Allison¿s doubts about the patriarchal Mormon Church that enslaves women. She escapes to attend the University of Utah, but one night returning home late, someone donning a fake beard rapes her. Allison thinks her brother-in-law Mark is the culprit. Soon she is being stalked with only law enforcement officials trying to keep her safe. Her father and her church blame Allison though they know that Mark is a child molester; they hide the truth to protect a male member of the community even one defrocked as a missionary.......................... Though clearly one sided and the final twist seems obvious, fans will be stunned by this tense thriller that condemns extremist religious and social moral behavior at the cost of any segment of society. Allison is a terrific protagonist as she refuses to remain victim to a strict code of behavior that suppresses and disenfranchises the weak through religious doctrine enforcing control. Those family value advocates screaming to bushwhack the Bill of Rights by constitutionalizing behavior should take a close look at WIVES AND SISTERS as this fine tale provides food for thought when the powerful use morality as weapons of mass destruction..................... Harriet Klausner
I had the chance to read this book a while back and I still remember it vividly. The main character, Alli, will grab your attention from page one and won't let go. There's an important message in the story in Alli's life about the destruction that we often inflict on one another with a sense of righteousness.