By Sean Aaron Cruz
March 21, 2014 (Aaron’s birthday)
This photo of my late son Aaron has always had a special hold on me. Every time I look at it, ever since I took this photo, the word “trust” comes to my mind, and I think about how this beautiful boy had every reason in the world to trust those around him, family and friends, and the people his parents allowed into his life. He is looking at me. I am looking at him. He is looking back at me. We are One Together.
Aaron had every reason to believe that his future and those of his brother and two sisters were secure; secure in the sense that love in our family was unconditional and permanent (“I love you to infinity”, we often said to each other). He knew he was loved, that he was a priority in his parents’ lives, as were each of his siblings, and in this love was the foundation of his confidence, the trust so clear in his eyes. He is looking at me. I am looking at him. He is looking back at me. We are One Together.
There came a time, however, when his parent’s priorities changed, after his mother became involved in Mormonism, like falling into a deep chasm full of crazy-ass ideas, which led to the breakup of his family, and now there were a different sort of people allowed into his life, True Believers with smiling faces and religious agendas, home-baked cookies and Books of Mormon, people with status and impressive church titles in his mother’s new world, and the foundation he had grown up on had changed, had vanished utterly; love was now conditional….
I never got on with his mother’s new Mormon friends, not while we were still married, and never after. They looked at me and the word “Mexican” would explode in their brains, along with all their stereotypical imagery. You could see it in their eyes, their demeanor, their assumptions. I had seen that look many times before, growing up in California, where one’s Mexican-ness was always an issue one way or another, and these Mormons didn’t like race-mixing much either, so the term “half-breed” was knocking around in their heads also when they looked at me. There was that part of it.
The Mormons now intruding into our family saw me as a threat to the whiteness with which they were now enveloping my children, and in my personal religious views (more agnostic than anything else) they saw a cause for direct action. They were fighting a religious war personally directed by God Himself (to Whom they had Exclusive Direct Access right there in Salt Lake City) against people who don’t see things the same way. Seriously crazy, bug-eyed religious fervor, a group of people bent enough to plot the disappearance of four children on a school day and to conceal them in the mountains east of Ogden, Utah. Mormons with titles: Bishop, Counselor, Relief Society President were now speaking directly to my children, from their positions of “trust”, reeking with conditional love….
First came a press of Mormon “counselors” who put a lot of hours into trying to convince me to get with their program, and after that campaign failed, after I rejected their last arguments, the same group of ideologues convinced my children’s mother to file for divorce, provided a top Mormon lawyer, and a 15-year marriage came to an end in a matter of weeks, our family itself now conditional….
My ex’s Mormon friends decided to separate my children from me as a punishment, a consequence of my “apostasy”, although I had never believed the LDS dogma, had agreed to join their church only because I had made a deal with my wife, made after years of fruitlessly attempting to persuade her to stop smoking while she equally without success pressured me to join up (“You quit smoking, I’ll join your church,” I had finally said). This was/is by far the worst deal I ever made in my life, this one here, and if only I had simply gone back on my word, things would have turned out differently. The point is, leaving the LDS church can have negative consequences….
Aaron and his siblings vanished from Oregon on February 12, 1996, now isolated in remote Mormon enclaves, breaking our physical connections, and the Mormons now in control of their lives worked hard to destroy every emotional connection my children and I had shared. It was a deliberate, structured campaign that included introducing Aaron to Prozac, Ritalin, Zoloft, a long list of other such drugs, and Oxycontin, the gateway to the Mormon-infused opiate addiction that wrecked his chances of success in high school and gave these Mormons an excuse to blame him for his troubles, for not fitting in.
Within a year of arriving in his Utah concealment, Aaron’s despair was so intense that he began cutting himself with a knife. Years later, I saw the scars as he lay there on his Utah deathbed, long, overlapping, crisscrossing scars on both his upper arms. I had no idea a knife’s sharp edge could make a scar so wide, these marks of conditional love laid out on my beautiful son, scars on top of scars, each a remnant of the Big Bang in his shrunken universe, where Trust had become a distant, red-shifted blur, falling away hopelessly into amorphous gas and dust….
Aaron’s siblings succumbed to the pressure, joined up with his mother’s church, became fully immersed in Mormonism, made friends of their own, fell in and out of love with other Mormons, and this is where they remain today, surrounded by Mormons infused with all of the conditional love the Mormon Universe has to offer, love that would be withdrawn in a heartbeat should they ever reach out to me.
I have boxes of photographs of my children, of Aaron, of Natalia, of Tyler, of Allie, with that same look of Trust and Unconditional Love in their eyes. They are looking at me. I am looking at them. They are looking back at me, and we are One Together.
There is nothing the Mormons can do to change that.
--Portland, Oregon, March 21, 2014