For three years from 2002 to early in 2005, Carl helped shepherd Mariuca, always giving her balanced advice. When she was sick with polymyositis, he and a fellow elder visited with her regularly. Even after she had partially recovered, she enjoyed going in the door-to-door service with Carl’s family because they worked at a slower pace and took it easy on her.
During one conversation with Carl, he privately told her that he was seeing a therapist. This was a bit of a shock because she knew most JWs frowned on going to professionals. At the same time, it was comforting news for her. She also found and met with a reputable therapist who helped her identify several key issues.
Once during the summer of 2005 after going door-to-door, Mariuca was riding in a car with Carl, his wife and their seventeen-year-old daughter, Maggie. For no apparent reason, she asked, “If you don’t have your mind, what have you got?” She had been thinking about her relationship with her paranoid and schizophrenic grandmother, wondering if she might eventually become just like her.
The next day, after the Sunday morning meeting, the four of them decided to chat about Mariuca’s comment. Suddenly, Carl’s wife mentioned that he suffered from depression and how debilitating it was for him when it happened. This news came as a big surprise to Mariuca. Carl had been a big help to her over the last three years. Who would have guessed he was struggling with depression? Suddenly it occurred to her that she might have offended him. She wanted to apologize but felt constrained there at the Hall. Instead, she decided to send him an email message later to try to make amends.
Mariuca knew his email address because Carl sent encouraging email messages weekly to members at the Hall. It was his way of helping them prepare for the Sunday Watchtower Study meeting. He was the “Study Servant” in charge. Other than that, she had no idea of what Carl’s personal life was like or what his current mindset might be.
Living Two Lives
Carl appeared to have everything under control as he was a caring, committed elder. She did not know that he was living two lives. He and his wife were totally mismatched, had not slept together in years and their home life was living hell. Carl’s wife was forever putting him down; he was never good enough for her. But among fellow JWs, they played the game that “all is well.” That was not at all uncommon because, according to JW rules, they could do nothing about their bad marriage. They would have to tough it out until the new world; then God would make the marriage whole. So Carl spent most of his free time away from home to escape the hostile environment. Serving as an elder had helped his self esteem, but that too was nearing the breaking point.
Carl was now questioning several JW policies. One of the policies he most objected to related to the Witnesses treating women as second-class citizens. There were also the issues involving blood, child abuse, domestic violence by men lording it over their wives, shunning, the hypocrisy of fellow elders, and JWs being told to lie and deceive (“theocratic warfare”) by the body of elders in Brooklyn, New York.
Carl could also see that Mariuca was someone just like himself. She was a thinker trying to find her way in an insecure world – although she was not yet able to see the “emperor’s new clothes” for what they were. She had been beaten and knocked around by JW male chauvinists. He didn’t know how or when, but he wanted to help this woman. He was powerless to act as part of a committee, a body of elders, where only one scoundrel could trump common sense. He was ashamed of his role in telling Mariuca that she was not free to date and remarry.
Carl also knew what depression and mood swings were like. It was part of his life story. He recognized that Mariuca was a kindred spirit and a person, like himself, trapped in a world of high-control religion, not yet knowing how to escape. But he was working on a plan.
Carl had also begun to think that many JWs he knew were nothing more than modern-day “Stepin Fetchits” – no matter their race or color – turned into religious bigots, dumbed-down stereotypes of people unable to think for themselves. Most were simply gullible followers, too lazy to rigorously research JW history, doctrines and policies. They just believed whatever the Society told them to believe. While many are intelligent, they are willing to play the role of Watchtower lackeys, simply doing anything the Society tells them to do.
About three months before, Carl suddenly saw Mariuca as someone who appeared to be moving in the same direction as he was. She accepted him for what he was, warts and all. She liked to laugh and was an excellent listener. After recuperating nicely from her debilitating illness and getting expert advice from her therapist the rose began to blossom. Carl began to see her as a vibrant, attractive woman. She was also like himself, someone who had been kicked around and unappreciated all her life.
Seeking a Different Direction
Carl did not want to be a Jehovah’s Witness any longer, not knowing how he could make it happen. However, he began to imagine Mariuca as someone he could leave with, although that was probably just a dream. He wasn’t the type who looked for one night stands; he had never cheated on his wife. So how could he tell Mariuca what was rumbling around in his head?
Mariuca had no idea that Carl was running on a spiritual treadmill going nowhere. She didn’t know how or when he was planning to jump off – or that he was looking at her as a potential run-away partner. In fact, Mariuca thought she might have offended him when she said, “If you don’t have your mind, what have you got?”
In September 2005, Mariuca wrote the following in an email to him:
“Carl, I enjoyed working with you and your family in service yesterday. It means a lot to me. I love my friends very deeply and you hold a special place in my heart because if it weren’t for your shepherding, friendship and attention, I would very likely not be an active member of the congregation.
“This morning after the meeting, you mentioned that the brothers were very encouraging to you in your bouts of depression. You said that they encouraged you not to step down because of it, that I would have been disappointed if you had stepped down. I want to tell you that you are a gem of a brother and it would be a great disservice to the congregation if you could no longer serve. You have been a great help to me. Your willingness to go beyond the superficial is one thing that makes you stand out in my opinion.
“When your wife talked about your depression, I felt bad and wanted to cry. I want only the best for you. And I want to be a part of your support system when it is appropriate. I have a support system for my polymyositis and I imagine you have one too.”
The very next day, Carl responded. “Mariuca, what a marvelous letter you composed!
“I have found the world too full of selfish, uncaring people. Too many times it becomes discouraging to the point of being unbearable. Some actually take pride in being cold and aloof. So many people are incapable or afraid of expressing true emotion and kindness. Sadly, that is what’s needed most.
“My depression and mood swings can be compared to seeing life through the darkest of glasses. At times when the glasses are removed, the light is so bright and intense that suddenly you see the world as totally wonderful. You feel smarter, faster, better than anything, even indestructible, unstoppable. The problem is that invariably you crash, worse than any car crash. If you’re pulled free from the aftermath, you still want to die. And the rollercoaster ride continues. That’s how I’ve lived my life, on that rollercoaster, for more than thirty years.
“Never could I have imagined that someone as sensitive, kind, considerate and tall as you could ever dream of associating with someone as small as me. At least that’s what I used to think. You have shown me, and I believe you, that I am as tall as anyone. But remember, I am still a crude work in progress.
“I have always seen you as a great beauty outwardly. Now I realize your inner-beauty eclipses what is physical. You are so humble, so clean, and so wise. I do understand how tender your heart is and I hope that does not make you cry. I now conclude this letter with the words of a brilliant poet, EnVogue, ‘If I could wear your clothes, I’d pretend I was you.’”
Carl’s response was not what Mariuca expected. It was a side of Carl she had never seen. Like a big breath of fresh air it was exhilarating to get that kind of attention when your self-esteem is near rock bottom. Despite her confused state of mind – and never in her wildest dreams – could Mariuca ever have imagined how this story would eventually play out.
But maybe Carl knew…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Like it or not, what follows is the core substance of a remarkably unconventional love story.
Before making any moral judgments, I ask the reader to remember that Mariuca and Carl’s story did not take place under normal circumstances. These were people trapped in a cult, led to believe their leaders were directed by a Higher Power, God Himself. Critical thinking skills are a liability if one is a good Jehovah’s Witness. Remember that fact as you continue reading.
Recognizing the Realities of a Cult Lifestyle
Before I continue with the rest of the story – the part I really like and enjoy sharing – you need to know that at this point both Mariuca and Carl were already seeing the “cracks in the dam.” Their religion was similar to the Wizard of OZ. It was a make-believe fantasy world, with followers willing to sacrifice their happiness and normality for the promise of everlasting life – a promise with absolutely no accountability. If JWs are wrong, and good science says they are, what can someone do about their worthless promises from the grave?
When you are in a cult, and your family and friends are in that same cult, it is not easy to break away. If you tell them that you are no longer a believer, they—your parents, children, siblings, and other relatives—will shun you and pretend you do not exist. For that reason, you must carefully plan your exit to decide if it is even possible.
Carl was near his breaking point. He saw firsthand the heart-wrenching damage caused when JW elders “apply Bible principles” as they meddle in people’s lives. He watched them foolishly trying to mentor repressed and sexually ignorant men and women.
One incident proved particularly troublesome for Carl:
A young man named Sam had been persuaded to believe that God wanted him to live like a man and to like girls. A so-called “loving” elder took Sam under his wings and started teaching him how to “be a man.” The elder even went so far as to pick out a lovely young sister for Sam to date. Like sheep, Sam did what the elder told him to do
Unfortunately, trusting “sheep like” Sam was devastated when he discovered that he was HIV positive. He realized that he would have no one to love for the rest of his life. After he had confided his situation to his mentor, the “consoling” elder told Sam, “Jehovah lets us reap what we sow” and “He won’t save us from our sins.” Then he confirmed that Sam would be alone for the rest of his life.
Sam went home and killed himself.
Carl shamefully recalls his participation on some judicial committees made up of lecherous older men who required sweet misguided young women to relate in detail everything involved in their “immoral acts.” During one meeting, when questioning became so ridiculously intrusive, he asked everyone to take a “timeout.”
One sick old elder, the one asking most of the questions, felt they were “absolutely necessary to judge her repentance.” Right after they reconvened he asked the pretty woman, “Did he perform oral sex on you? Did you like it?”
Carl found himself trapped in a bad marriage, but according to JW rules there was little he could do. His wife seemed oblivious to Carl’s emotional needs, making him feel like a leper whenever he was depressed. Being at home with her was not a peaceful experience.
To make matters worse, the elders at his Hall frequently told him, like a broken record, that his problems were related to his “lack of love for Jehovah.” Carl wanted out, and he saw Mariuca as being someone who might share his feelings. He decided to take time to test his intuition.
Mariuca was in a similar state of mind, but she hadn’t yet discussed her feelings with Carl. Like other JWs, she would have to keep those feelings secret because “Big Brother Watchtower” is ever present. If Witnesses noticed “un-JW-like behavior” in another JW, they often snitched to an elder. If someone innocently made a remark that he was unhappy with some JW policy, he would frequently find himself on the “wrong end of a firing squad.” It is that constant fear of being disfellowshipped and abandoned by friends and family that keeps many JWs from ever leaving the organization.
It was November 2004 when Mariuca wrote in her diary, “I have been a very angry woman for the past few days. Actually, I may be more sad than angry, but I just don’t want to let loose and cry. For the past ten years I’ve been stuck. I suffered a loss of love and my faith, and I don’t think that I have ever properly dealt with either. I’m a ‘refugee,’ just going through the motions, barely surviving, but I lost something back there. I know now that my heart hasn’t been with ‘the truth.’ My mind knows that there’s probably no other satisfying viable alternative, but it’s so hard being present at the Hall when my heart isn’t there.”
Mariuca found herself trapped in a state of mind that “there’s probably no other satisfying viable alternative.” She was wrong in making that assumption – but that is what happens when you have been programmed and brainwashed by a cult, particularly children growing up in JW “La-La Land.” While she did not know it at the time, it would be Carl who would help open the door that would let her see that there was indeed a viable alternative.
Carl and Mariuca Share Their “Secrets”
Mariuca and Carl exchanged several eye-opening emails before they decided to meet for a personal conversation at Panera Bread on September 6, 2005. Carl told her about his recent suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization. He also shared information about the emotional and financial issues that precipitated it. Then he told her about his “loss of faith.”
When it was Mariuca’s turn to tell her story she shared things she had never told anyone. For both of them, it was therapeutic to talk honestly without fear of being judged or told that “they didn’t love Jehovah enough.” That was a moment in time when they realized they were soul mates. They were forging a strong bond that could lead to their eventual freedom.
Mariuca learned for the first time was that Carl did not have a support system. He was running on auto-pilot. Mariuca was a new beacon of light in his life, someone who listened nonjudgmentally. Carl was drowning and Mariuca was like a life preserver. During subsequent meetings and conversations, Mariuca felt a special connection with Carl, call it “love” if you will, and he reciprocated. At the time she thought it was platonic and told an aunt that he was the “big brother” she’d always wanted.
But Mariuca also remembers the moment in time, after reading several articles on the subject, when she realized that she was involved in an emotional affair and felt she had to end it. With that on her mind, she called Carl and told him that they had to meet and talk.
The meeting occurred at an Applebee’s restaurant. Mariuca told Carl that it was not right for them to be so close, that they needed to end the one-on-one meetings and email conversations. It seemed strange saying that because she had never really thought of them as a couple. He listened carefully and agreed to end the relationship. But he had written a poem and wanted her to read it, saying that he had ended it with the line, “I’m willing to burn.” He promised to email it to her later.
The next day Mariuca received the following poem:
Your soft brown eyes
Unbelievably dark long lashes
inviting me inside.
breathe; deep, deeper,
wander inside you and
wonder if you feel
this reckless heat
that guides me to your flame so easily that
I’m willing to burn.
As Mariuca puts it, “My attempt at ending our ‘emotional’ relationship had not, in fact, been very successful. In all this, while Carl’s devotion was flattering, I recall thinking that his openness forced me to accept the gravity of the situation. I wanted him to stop talking! I wanted to express my thoughts, to tell him what was stirring deep within me. So in my email response, I shared the following dialogue from the movie, “The Village”:
Ivy Walker: “When we are married, will you dance with me? I find dancing very agreeable. Why can you not say what is in your head?”
Lucius Hunt: “Why can you not stop saying what is in yours? Why must you lead, when I want to lead? If I want to dance, I will ask you to dance. If I want to speak, I will open my mouth and speak. Everyone is forever plaguing me to speak further. Why? What good is it to tell you that you are in my every thought from the time I wake? What good can come from my saying that I sometimes cannot think clearly or do my work properly? What gain can rise of my telling you the only time I feel fear as others do is when you are in harm? That is why I am on the porch, Ivy Walker. I fear for your safety before all others. And yes, I will dance with you on our wedding night.”
Mariuca says that was her clumsy, thinly veiled way of saying, “Please shut up — I like you, okay?” She thought there were enough layers in the dialogue that he could take it any way he wanted to, but he needed to sit back and stop running with this. She was coming from a background of extreme sexual repression, never thinking there would be a chance in hell that she could actually become sexually involved with Carl, a married man. Yes, she admits that it sounds bizarre now, but somehow she did the mental gymnastics needed to think she was not going to have an adulterous affair, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
Carefully Looking for a Change
While Mariuca and Carl were emailing back and forth, she was careful to never write anything she thought would be incriminating. So at some level, she thought she was doing something wrong. She had two failed marriages and was not ready to start another long-term relationship. But Carl was definitely interested in her, and she was intrigued. She enjoyed the conversations with him and was at a point in her life where she did not want to remain a Witness.
She was in a position that if someone came along who seemed like a good person, she would pursue a relationship. She also had a fear of dating someone who was not a Witness. This feeling came after a lifetime of hearing JW horror stories about “worldly people,” those who would likely be drunk most of the time, physically beat her, and be controlled by demons.
On the other hand, she also didn’t want to be with a Witness. She needed to escape all of the JW guilt and negativity. Only time would tell what sort of relationship she and Carl could have. As Mariuca told me, “I was not committing myself to Carl, but I was willing to give it a try.”
During “the try” Mariuca moved into her own apartment. Several friends from the Kingdom Hall helped her pack and move. After she settled in, Mariuca invited everyone over several times for snacks and games. But each time only Carl and his daughter, Maggie, showed up. In this atmosphere, their connections were safe and fun. After one evening at her apartment, Carl informed Mariuca that he had a few housewarming gifts he wanted to give her. “Would it be okay to stop over next Friday?”
Mariuca began to worry when Carl did not arrive on time. Two hours late, he finally rang her bell. When she opened the door she saw that he was all alone. He was dressed like a hip middle-age guy on a date, wearing a cool denim jacket, stylish jeans and a snazzy print shirt. Mariuca was wearing her old grey sweats and no makeup.
When they were alone in her apartment, Carl asked her to go into another room while he set up the gifts in the living room. Mariuca was hoping that he had a painting for her because she recently learned that he was an artist. When he announced that he was ready he asked her to enter the living room with her eyes closed. After guiding her to the right spot, he said she could open her eyes.
In front of her stood a huge painting, a picture of Mariuca with a Van Gogh-like background. The painting was drop-dead gorgeous, although she embarrassingly winced to see herself on canvas. Carl called it “Girl Interrupted on a Starry Night.”
The second gift was a tee shirt that he had screen printed with the words, “Just your average everyday Sane-Psycho Super Goddess,” a line he’d stolen from the song Extraordinary by Liz Phair.
The third gift was a two-CD set of songs compiled by Carl. One CD he called “Mariuca Jazz” and the other “Mariuca Pop.” Carl wanted her to play the songs while they sat on the couch and listened.
Mariuca found herself feeling more than a little uncomfortable. “I had this odd mix of excitement and apprehension. I started one of the CDs and sat on the opposite side of an exceptionally long couch and tried to listen. I’ve never been good at hearing lyrics; so much of it went over my head. We played portions of each song on both CDs and the overriding message was that Carl and I loved each other but we would never be together.
“So I sat there uncomfortably listening. When Carl asked me to join him on the other side of the couch, I moved next to him and eventually rested my head on his chest for several minutes. When the music stopped, he stood up and said that it was time for him to go, but he wanted to know if we could meet for breakfast as he was staying at his dad’s house at the time.
An Uncomfortable Romance
“The next morning, I met him at the Original Pancake House in Grosse Pointe Farms. We had breakfast and spent the entire day together, leaving his car at the restaurant parking lot while I drove. We ended up going to the Blue Water Bridge, sitting on a bench looking at the river and talking about what our next steps might be. And I told him that I had not yet made a decision.
“Two years later, I went back to that same bench and took a photo. I wanted to capture what I was looking at while making the most important decision of my life. The picture is called Exodus 2 Genesis. It seemed fitting that I was looking at a bridge, as I was deciding whether I was willing to cross over to a new life.
“I knew that I loved Carl, but up until this point I had always done ‘the right thing’ and deciding to move forward with a relationship with Carl seemed out of the question. I figured that we had not yet done anything wrong per JW rules. However, Carl pointed out that, in fact, we would get in trouble for what had already happened, that it was ‘loose conduct.’ That unsettled me, as I thought we had not yet crossed any lines.
“That night we went to a beautiful Italian restaurant across the street from where we had breakfast. We continued talking about what our next steps should be. When I dropped Carl off at his car, he tried to kiss me. But I pulled away, feeling that I needed time to think this oh-we’re-going-to-start-kissing thing through.
“There was a television show at the time called ‘Cheaters.’ In fact you can still see it on TV, where people hire a film crew to follow their mates who they suspect of being unfaithful. I had watched that show for two seasons—one of my guilty junk-food TV pleasures. The idea of somehow ending up on a Cheaters episode was also playing on my mind when I resisted kissing Carl.”
Mariuca spent most of the next day relaxing and chatting with three of her aunts. As they visited, Mariuca’s mind was racing, questioning Carl’s motives. Did he really love her? Maybe it was a manic phase? Does Carl love me or the idea of me? She did not think that it was a good idea for someone like Carl, who was in a bad relationship, to be jumping directly into a new one. He needed sufficient time to heal and to understand what he really wanted to do. And, during the following week Mariuca did lots of thinking, but doing it alone.
Carl was frantically sending emails to her for the next few days. He had not heard from Mariuca and he was concerned. Was she okay? He wanted her to say “something” just so that he knew she was okay. He didn’t want to bug her.
Three days passed and finally Mariuca sent her first response. She composed several emails, but she just couldn’t find the right words. She felt overwhelmed. She had been listening to the wonderful songs on the CDs gifted to her by Carl and even gone online and deciphered the lyrics, words that left her speechless. For the next few days it was a fast-paced in-your-face email romance. Finally, Mariuca invited Carl to her apartment on Friday night. They would watch a movie, a comedy, Woody Allen’s “Love and Death.”
Carl arrived on time and they ordered Chinese take-out. They watched the movie and talked. They laughed and laughed and laughed some more. It was getting late and still no first kiss. In fact, nothing happened that Mariuca considered “inappropriate.”
At midnight, Mariuca felt it was too late for Carl to travel home. He was staying with his dad and might wake him up. So she asked Carl if he would like to spend the night at her place. She had a sofa bed and suggested that he could sleep there. (I never asked Carl what went through his mind when he was asked to stay the night. But I suspect his dad’s uninterrupted sleep wouldn’t make the list.)
While preparing to retire for the night, Mariuca started feeling bad that Carl would have to sleep in the living room. (Now she wants to gag whenever as she reflects back on her then naïve state of mind.) That’s when she asked him if he would like to sleep in her bed. “Even at this point,” she remembers, “I did not intend to have sex with him. I seriously thought we could sleep side-by-side and maybe spoon, but nothing else would happen. Like in the movie ‘Waiting to Exhale,’ where Wesley Snipes and Angela Bassett played two very unhappy people who slept the night holding each other while fully clothed. So I dressed in drab pajamas which I’d slept in the night before. I did nothing that could be considered to be romantic or sexy; that was the extent of my denial. We actually did occupy separate sides of the bed for a while, but one thing lead to another and we ended up making love. It was wonderful! Carl was the best.”
Mariuca describes her reaction when she first read the last two sentences in the preceding paragraph while we were editing her story. “This made me laugh! It just sounds so funny to me. Honestly, for years later I would tease Carl and say ‘JACKPOT!’ about that first night because it was a definite first for me.”
“The next morning, I woke up without the least bit of guilt about what had transpired, not at all what I had expected. Since I had been invited to go horseback riding at my aunt’s house, Carl and I parted for the day. While riding and talking with my aunts, I summoned up the nerve to tell them I’d likely be disfellowshipped very soon. I was involved in a unique relationship, but that’s all I would tell them. Later that evening, Carl joined me at my apartment and stayed overnight.
“The next morning, I woke up with this strong premonition that Carl and I should leave the apartment immediately, like we were about to be ambushed. Of course it was Sunday and normally we’d be going to a JW meeting. And if both of us were not there, it might look suspicious. So we headed for Interstate 75, ending up at Coney Island for breakfast. Then it was off to the outlet mall in Birch Run. We shopped, talked and laughed the whole time, a very enjoyable day. We ended the evening eating at a nice Italian restaurant and then back to my apartment.
The Elders Want Answers
“I received a phone call from my ex-roommate sometime in the afternoon, but I did not hear it ring. I listened to the message later that evening, shortly before going home. My old roomy said people at the Hall were asking questions about me. Some of the brothers were looking for Carl. Back at my apartment at 9:00 PM, a light was flashing on the landline phone. It was a voice message from Gunther Bemis who said that he and another brother were outside my door and wanted me to open up. Carl and I sat anxiously together in my apartment, wondering what we should do. We decided to call Gunther at his house and confess.
“Carl called and made small talk at first. Gunther said that he had been at Mariuca’s apartment in the afternoon and noticed that Carl’s car was parked in the parking lot. Then Carl told him everything. That’s when Gunther said that what he was hearing — ‘a JW scandal’ — would hit the congregation like a tsunami. A judicial meeting would have to be scheduled as soon as possible.
“I attended the meeting mainly out of courtesy. I thought that I had devoted so much of my life to the Witnesses I should at least go to it. I knew I would be disfellowshipped and I was okay with that, as I planned to continue my relationship with Carl. Four elders were at the hearing, and Gunther Bemis was the first to speak. He claimed that Carl and I were in my apartment hiding when he knocked on the door. I said that wasn’t true. He countered by saying that he saw Carl’s car in the parking lot. I explained that we had driven my car and were out of the apartment the whole day. He said I was mistaken. When I asked if he would like to see my receipts for the day, another elder interrupted and asked if Carl and I planned to get married. When I figured out that the subject had been changed, I said ‘no.’ When Gunther asked for a timeline of events, I replied, ‘Let’s cut to the chase. To stay in the organization, do I need to end my relationship with Carl?’
“The elders said, ‘yes.’ So I told them that I wasn’t going to end my relationship with Carl. Then I was told that I would be disfellowshipped, which happened in November 2005.
Sorting Things Out
“Although there have been ups and downs, Carl and I prioritized our relationship. I had to deal with my poor health and being hospitalized on two occasions. Carl was diagnosed in 2011 with prostate cancer. It was rather aggressive so we decided on a prostatectomy. He had several complications from the treatment, one of them being a serious loss of hearing. Then there was the adjustment when you abruptly leave a clannish group like JWs and are shunned by family members and friends. But I learned that Carl was not in some manic phase, that he was truly devoted to me, as I was to him. What we had been feeling for many months was the real deal.
“I am not proud of getting involved with a married man. It still bothers me today, as I know how it feels to be cheated on. Does the end justify the means? It is something that I will struggle with for the rest of my life. I am not proud of leaving the JWs the way I did. But for many years before leaving, I felt like a refugee. My choices were made under duress, acts of desperation. Carl’s love was the best gift that I’ve ever received, like a warm, fuzzy welcome blanket after years of illness, loneliness and discontent.
“My Aunt Margo’s three-word assessment of Carl and me, that we were ‘two empty wells,’ was very appropriate. It is ironic that JWs are told that they belong to a ‘loving organization’ when the reality is coldness and emotional distance. Trying to follow JW rules and pleasing elders breeds discouragement, depression, mental illness and chronic illness. Now in my relationship with Carl, I am showered with unconditional love and positive reinforcement. He is someone who thinks I am the most special person in the world. I feel very fortunate to have found him.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. Carl and I were married in Las Vegas on May 1, 2007, one of the happiest days in my life.”
Writing Mariuca and Carl’s story was a very emotional experience for me. I grew up in the same harsh high-control world. Most of my relatives are still JWs and blind to the harm caused by dysfunctional policies, God delusions, and a Big Brother lurking over their shoulder, ready to put the next guilt trip on them.
When you’re spoon-fed misinformation on a daily basis and told you will die at Armageddon unless you follow JW rules, even the smartest of people can be dumbed down to become gullible believers. The sexually repressive environment created by JW dogma is oppressive and damaging to adults at any age. Even today, Mariuca struggles with some guilt, and that hurts me because she is way too kind and smart to have that happen to her. But when you’ve been in a cult for as many years as she, there will be some toxic residue, or “ghosts,” that will haunt you from time to time.
On the other hand, Carl doesn’t appear to be haunted by those same “ghosts.” Quite different from Mariuca, he describes himself and the love of his life this way:
“I was a smart, odd, difficult child who grew into a smart, odd, difficult adult. I had a massive inferiority complex and suffered from depression. Those factors made me ripe for the picking when JWs came along. After seducing me with their talk of a loving brotherhood, they crushed me. My problems were related to ‘not loving Jehovah enough.’ I was discouraged from seeking professional help. After a suicide attempt in 2005, an elder told me that the only thing I should be doing was resting and going out in field service. Mariuca has given me a home filled with love and encouragement. She is my biggest fan and supporter. She believed in my artwork before I did. She teaches me self-confidence. I take some medication when I get really down, but it is her love and devotion that is the medication that sustains me.
“If you asked me to paint a picture of Mariuca,” Carl continued, “I would say that physically she’s a treat for the eyes. Tall and curvy, and I mean video-game curvy with big dark eyes that suck you in. She has a super bright, a super big smile. Mariuca is forty-seven, but looks thirty-five. Looking ordinary and having a wife this hot is a two-edged sword. At best, I have been accused of robbing the cradle – at the worst I have been called her father.”
I interrupted Carl for a moment and commented that anyone who meets Mariuca will like her and that I would like him to tell me why he thinks that’s so. He proudly smiled and said, “We have had many a conversation about this. First, people are drawn to her because she is so pretty. It seems most people like to be in the company of beautiful people. Second, she has the ability to get people to talk about themselves. She’s not feigning interest in them. She is genuinely excited to meet new people and eager to listen to them talk about their lives and what they are doing. I think it’s one of her ways to make up for all the time she lost fearing wicked worldly people.”
When I asked Carl what life was like for him and Mariuca after leaving a cult, he said, “Life is good. We are busy working artists who always have multiple projects going at the same time. Home is where my heart is. When I was a JW married to my ex, I NEVER wanted to be at home. Home was a sad, scary and dangerous place. The home that Mariuca and I have made is our sanctuary filled with art, love and culture. It’s ironic. I commit this horrendous sin, run off with this wanton woman, and finally I get a home that is a haven of rest and peace.”
The problem with Carl – well, it’s actually a plus – is that when you ask him to say something about himself, he always ends up talking about Mariuca. And I know why. He could not be the person that he has become without her. They are a team, partners, and much better together than they would be alone.
It’s easy for him to talk about Mariuca. He told me, “You have to meet her in person to see and feel the joy and thirst for life that this woman radiates. You have to experience her in person to witness the tremendous sensitivity that dwells within her. Words cannot do her justice.”
When I asked him why Aunt Margo referred to him and Mariuca as “two empty wells” after she learned they’d become a couple, he replied, “She knew how sad both of us were, how kicked around we had been, and how desperate we were for peace.” He continued, “I believe I’m one of the luckiest guys alive. I escaped a cult that labored to keep people’s minds chained to the ground, covered in the dirt of ignorance.
“As a JW cult member, I was taught that I, the individual, was of no importance. The only talent worth revering was the talent for making disciples. Now my life is filled with brilliant people who believe knowledge and new ideas are liberating. My friends are artists, writers, actors, educators and activists. And before I forget, I want to thank you, Richard, for writing such a wonderful story about the most wonderful girl in the world.”
I suspect that I should let Carl have the last say in this story, but that ain’t going to happen. I need to say how pleased I am for how well Mariuca’s story has come together. I hope that you, the reader, will fall in love with both Mariuca and Carl as much as I have. They’ve earned it and I’m proud of both of them.
As a consequence of writing Mariuca’s story, I feel like a doting and very happy surrogate father. And Carl is the kind of son-in-law a father could only dream about if he had a daughter like Mariuca.
And yes, there’s more as Mariuca gets the last word:
“I shouldn’t care what JWs think, at least those who once knew me, but I want them to know that I will hang only for the sins I actually committed. That’s how I feel sometimes, on my bad days, which are few and far between. I’m excited to think that by opening up and allowing Dick to share my midlife ‘coming of age’ story, it might help others to break free from the chains of JW dependency, where women are treated as second-class citizens. I may be a late bloomer, but I’m proof it is possible to leave a high-control religion, find the love of your life, learn the truth about bad JW policies and beliefs, and find real freedom and happiness. So yes, It’s Never Too Late!”
While Mariuca and I were finishing up telling her story, she asked if I would be amenable to helping her report what it was like to be shunned by family and friends. And so in Mariuca’s very own words:
“The best part of sharing my story has been gaining loving surrogate parents. Dick and Helen have been so compassionate and supportive throughout this process. It has been a pleasure getting to know them. Gaining parents who know the world I come from and who possess the perspective to understand my missteps and triumphs has been an unexpected benefit. One that has brought me a great deal of joy. It definitely helps to fill the huge void that occurred when the shunning began.
“I have had abandonment issues as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest recurring dreams was about not finding my way home. I barely remember the house we lived in for the first five years of my life. But I do recall that for years thereafter, I dreamt about walking all over the neighborhood without finding my house. Two divorces, one disfellowshipping and shunning in the name of God later, those issues were still in full force. While my relationship with Carl has greatly healed the wounds caused by my previous marriages, the shunning has taken a great toll on me.
“Most of my family — parents, two siblings and their spouses, both grandmothers, my mother’s three sisters — and all of my friends were JWs. Overnight, all of them disappeared without a trace. Everyone who I’d grown up with, my former Bethel and New York City friends, nearly every person who had ever populated my world went into hiding. Not a visit, a phone call, or an email. I recall that during the first few days and weeks after the shunning began how surreal it was when I realized there was scarcely anyone around who I knew for more than a year or two.
“Nothing could prepare me for the trauma of shunning, and it still haunts me at times. It did not help that I truly wanted to be out of that high-control religion, and even back then I could not imagine returning to it. I no longer believed the things I had been taught and I couldn’t bear to have others control my life. During those first quiet two years, Carl and I spent all of our free time together. We loved having our evenings and weekends to ourselves, quality time in our sanctuary.
“But I often thought of my family and it would make me feel sad. I started many letters to family members, trying to explain my reasons for leaving, that I still loved them, but I never completed or mailed any of them. When I would see my parents and JW siblings at funerals, I’d have these mild panic attacks, thinking this was a bad dream. Conversations varied from bizarre, disconnected, contrived and almost normal. I could see that the emotional stress was mutual, although I was the leper. I struggled with wanting my family to hear my thoughts. I wanted them to know that I was still the same person – I just no longer believed JW teachings. I longed for their acceptance, not on their terms, but on mine.
“I wanted us to be like other families. Yes, we had different religious beliefs. But we peacefully coexisted, mutually respecting each individual’s views. I wanted a level playing field, one in which they could objectively hear me out. One in which it was conceivable by them that I could actually be a good person, without having the same religious beliefs.
“In those early days I felt like a tree with no roots. I had the sunshine of Carl’s love, but there was an entire network of rootstock missing. It took several years, but eventually I felt my roots returning. And these new roots were real. They were based on relationships where people liked me for me. There were new relationships with non-JW relatives, who accepted me into their hearts and homes. There were relationships with ex-JWs, some who we had known for years. We socialized with fellow artists, workmates, former co-workers and schoolmates, and neighbors. And during this time we have forged some close bonds with many amazing people; friendships that have been tested and found true.
“Both of my grandmothers have died since the shunning began. I’ve lost two aunts and one uncle. My sister gave birth to a son. My heart has ached to be a part of my nephew’s life. I wish that I had something more akin to ‘normalcy’ and still have my family. But, as the expression goes, ‘you can never go home again.’ And, after much agonizing and some therapy, I am at peace with that. Well at least for 360 days out of the year. The pain of their rejection has slowly given way to a new found freedom and peace. I spend most of my time looking forward. I refuse to spend my freedom nearby my former prison. And so far, I’ve been rewarded with much more than I could have ever hoped for.
“I’m so grateful that Dick and Helen have come into our lives. I’m looking forward to the joy of seeing all of our stories blend together as one.”
Part 1 | Part 2
You can email Mariuca and/or Carl at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can check out Mariuca’s photography at: http://www.mariucarofick.com/
You can check out Carl’s artwork at: http://www.carlwilsonart.com