My friend Billy* was a year younger than I was, a sweet kid with brown hair that curled into ringlets and enormous blue eyes. He came from a very poor family; he was also a non-conformist who wore chains on his Sunday dress-pants and listened to Linkin Park. The opinion of the ward was stacked against my friend, as adults and teenagers alike whispered about him. There were rumors that he skipped school, that he smoked cigarettes, that he had “bad” friends. I never knew the truth of these rumors - we attended different high schools - but I do know that he loved his little sister dearly. Her face lit up when she saw her older brother and he always gave her a hug. My junior year of high school - my final year of church attendance - we were both prone to skipping sacrament meetings. Sometimes we would cross paths as we wandered the empty church halls. Our discussions were always topical - school, life, jokes. The elephant in the room - our personal reasons for skipping sacrament meeting - was never addressed. I was too afraid of the possibility of condemnation to confide in my friend.
Billy committed suicide my freshman year of college; he jumped off a bridge to meet the jagged rocks below. I never mustered the courage to tell him about my shattered belief; now I am left with the empty feeling of having failed him in some crucial way. I reached my limit at the start of my senior year of high school; I quit attending church and withdrew into a shell as I struggled to cope with my father’s anger, my mother’s heart-break, and the various gossip surrounding my exit. We lost touch as I sorted out the aftermath of my exit; dealing with any Mormon, no matter how sweet or atypical, was just too painful. And then he was dead and there was no second chance for reconciliation, no way of letting him know that he wasn’t alone. I suspect he may have been going through the same struggles I was. But I will never know the truth.
But what I do know is that being a non-conformist or a non-believer among Mormons is a very stressful and isolating experience. A year after Billy committed suicide, I attempted to take my own life. My father was making petty judgmental comments about my character while my mother was interrogating me about my “sinful” lifestyle. The idea that my parents - the two people in the world that were supposed to love me unconditionally - had turned against their apostate daughter was too heavy a burden to bear. The prospect of the impending years seemed bleak; I thought I would never regain what I lost when I left. That was a very, very low point in my life and one that I never wish to return to. And so I am compelled to write, in order to describe the warp and weft of a life spent traveling a different path in life. A life that, in the years since my suicide attempt, has grown deep and rich from a curiosity about the world at large.
And so this brings me to the issue of why I write this blog. Why I am going public with my story. I grapple with the issue of sharing my story in a public venue; I worry that I am self-centered, that I will hurt my family, that my story is not relevant. But then I am reminded of Billy and of why I need to write. I want faithful Mormons to know that people who choose to leave the Church are not bad people. We exist and are fellow human beings, with all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that make humanity so wonderful. We deserve respect, to have our choices and beliefs honored. I want the people who have never been involved with the Mormon Church to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be associated with this peculiar American faith. And most of all, I write because I want others who are struggling with their faith to know that they are not alone. I want them to know that their doubts do not make them a bad person and that life will get better, as they find the courage to shape their own destiny.
Billy deserved better; he deserved to know that he wasn’t alone. I have failed one person by my silence; I will not fail another.
*Name has been changed