In November, 1958 my family moved to Columbus, Nebraska. Like all the homes we lived in while I was growing up, there was only one bathroom for our family of six. Marilyn would take forever to do her business, so it could be a challenge if you really needed to go.
One day I pounded on the door, pleading for her to finish so I would not pee in my pants. Finally, she opened the door and walked out. I rushed in and opened the toilet lid. After several seconds of boyish deliberation, I decided that I would start calling her the “Little Logger.” That nickname stuck with her until the day she died.
I left home in 1962 to go to Bethel headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Still a teenager, Marilyn was convinced that Armageddon was near and a righteous new world was just around the corner, but she was by no means a gung-ho JW. In fact, she was not happy with her day-to-day life. She realized that Nebraska would not turn out to be the big adventure she thought it would be. Isolated in a small, rural community, she had no friends and was not encouraged to read anything but JW literature. Bored with school and life in general, she felt like she was a ward in Mama’s make-believe world, unable to figure out who she really was.
Shortly after Marilyn graduated from high school in 1966, she tried to find part-time work in Columbus. But with only a basic, minimal education, there were few jobs available to her except for cleaning homes and offices. She found cleaning jobs at several places, but after a few days on each job she would be terminated. She never said why, but I knew her problem. Marilyn still had “the slows.”
Marilyn lived at home for almost three years and could not find work. Because she could not help out financially, tension began to mount between Marilyn and our parents. Marilyn also resented the special treatment given to Susan, our mentally handicapped sister. Marilyn and Susan bickered constantly. Marilyn grew desperate and decided she needed a change of scenery.
A Surprise Phone Call
It was 1969 and I’d been an ex-JW for four years when Marilyn called me on the phone. Could she move to Grand Rapids, Michigan? Could she live with my wife Helen and me for the first two weeks? She wanted to find a job and a place to live. I talked it over with Helen and we told her yes. We felt this would be an opportunity to get to know her better as an adult.
However, after only two days into Marilyn’s arrival, Helen was not happy. Marilyn would help around the house, but only when you asked her. Like Mama, when she visited she preferred to be waited on. But to Marilyn’s credit, she didn’t seem offended when Helen told her that she needed to take more initiative.
Marilyn found a job working for a small Chinese restaurant located at the north end of Grand Rapids, about fifteen miles from our house. My brother Tim and Helen’s sister Esther, who were newlyweds, helped Marilyn find an apartment within walking distance of her job. She also started attending meetings at Tim and Esther’s Kingdom Hall. She began dating a young JW brother and for a while all seemed to be going well for her.
But then she informed me that she wanted to go back to Nebraska. After only four months away from home, she announced that she wasn’t happy, spent more money than she made, and she didn’t like her job.
“The Man of Her Dreams”
Six months later she called to tell me that she had met “the man of her dreams” in Nebraska. They were going to get married and she wanted Helen, me, and our two kids to attend the wedding. Her fiance’s name was Jerome Roper and he came from a big family of well-to-do JWs in central Nebraska. Everyone liked the Roper family. She didn’t know what Jerome would do for work, but his parents would help him find a job and help pay the rent for their first house.
I felt that the key ingredients for a responsible husband appeared to be missing. However, if Marilyn loved Jerome and he made her happy, why shouldn’t I be happy for her?
Three months after they were married, Marilyn and Jerome came to visit us. Jerome, a carefree sort of guy, seemed disconnected from Marilyn. He hinted about staying in Grand Rapids if I could get him a job at the company where I worked. When I first met his brothers and dad at Marilyn’s wedding and reception, I had a feeling they had good work ethics, but that’s not how I sized up Jerome.
A day into their visit, he asked if some evening he and I could go to a strip bar. He assumed that because I wasn’t a JW, I liked those kinds of “worldly things.” While I wanted to smack him, I played along and pretended that I could arrange it. Then he let me in on a little secret: he liked hard-core pornography. When I asked him if Marilyn knew about it, he said yes. She didn’t like it, but they were “working on it.”
The next day, I told Marilyn about my conversation with Jerome. She was pleased that I had confided in her, but she was disappointed that I hadn’t shamed him for his poor behavior. Stunned, I told Marilyn that I thought she had a problem on her hands. Nothing I could say or do to this guy would change him. He was a self-centered little boy, disguised in a man’s body. Leopards don’t change their spots…
Marilyn was even-tempered, making it fairly easy to share bad news with her. She grabbed my hand and told me how grateful she was for our little talk. She confided in me that Jerome could also be a control freak and had been abusive. Not in a physical way, but he could go off on verbal rants that made our handicapped sister’s use of the F-word seem like child’s play.
They stayed with us for another day and then went back to Nebraska. In less than a week, Marilyn annulled their marriage.
This Time “the Real Deal”
Three years later in 1972, Marilyn reported to me that she had met the second “man of her dreams,” but this time the guy “was the real deal.” While she was on a trip to Georgia, she met “Mr. Wonderful,” believing him to be an exemplary JW – albeit a new one. Ruggedly handsome, he doted on her and she loved it.
“Does he have any baggage?” I asked.
“Oh, he had a big drug problem while growing up and he hates his dad. But then he found the Truth. People tell me that he’s a changed man. He’s a workaholic, whether working for a living or working for Jehovah.”
Helen and I did not attend the wedding. But Marilyn and Carter, her new husband, visited us shortly after their wedding. Carter Wilcox bore no resemblance to Marilyn’s first husband, intellectually or emotionally. It appeared that he was totally devoted to her and that they were truly in love.
Carter was not a big talker but what he said made sense. He had some interesting ideas about how he could make money selling and servicing computers, and seemed to be a business-savvy guy.
On the other hand, I thought he would be difficult to like, especially from a guy’s point-of-view. He came off as a bit of a con artist and couldn’t connect with Helen. For me that was not a good sign. I also sensed that Carter was uncomfortable about me being an ex-JW.
Marilyn and Carter bought a home in Columbus, Nebraska. To the best of my knowledge, they were a model JW couple, doing all the things that make Witnesses unique. Carter successfully started and operated a growing computer business. They did well financially and started a family, a son and daughter. But they weren’t born until after I was disfellowshipped in 1977, an event that triggered Carter’s decision to shun me. It was also a decision that Marilyn honored, so I never became a presence in their kids’ lives.
Ironically, it wasn’t until 1981 that “shunning” became the official policy for all Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Reconciliation and a Reunion
Marilyn and I did not communicate with each other for fourteen years. However, that came to an abrupt halt when I received a surprise telephone call from her in the spring of 1991. It was a surreal experience hearing her voice again.
She couldn’t apologize enough and felt that she had waited way too long before daring to call me. She had heard that my 30-year-high-school reunion would be held in Columbus that summer and wondered if Helen and I were going. She hoped we would be there and wanted to renew our relationship. I hadn’t planned to go to the reunion, but decided immediately that I would open the door to this opportunity.
Marilyn invited us to have dinner with her at her house. She and Carter were separated but her kids would be there. My parents and our sister Susan, all of whom I hadn’t seen in over ten years, would also be there. I didn’t say anything, but this news was a huge red flag. This made no sense to me unless Marilyn was in some kind of trouble. If JWs even shared a meal with me, they could be disfellowshipped and shunned.
I wondered what had been dropped in Marilyn’s lap? She acted like all was business as usual. She and Carter were separated, but that’s all I knew. At that point I had no idea of how low our brother Tim had stooped to uphold an inhumane JW policy.
To tell this part of the story, I must go back in time and share events before Marilyn’s call:
The one JW policy that Carter cherished most was that men are allotted special privileges over women. A man is the head of his house and king of his home, regardless of his intellectual or emotional status. This gives him certain special rights. If he wants to verbally abuse his wife, he can do so with immunity, as long as he does it with his wife’s best interests in mind.
Early in their marriage, Carter had been verbally abusive to Marilyn, ratcheting it up ever so slowly as the years passed. Verbal abuse was not a new experience for Marilyn. Ironically, Mama had a talent for using it and performed her verbal magic on Papa for as long as I can remember. Papa tolerated it, so why couldn’t Marilyn do the same? After all, Carter provided well for her physical needs and was a “good JW.”
However, three years before Marilyn called me, Carter physically abused her for the first time and that scared her. While he did not abuse her regularly, he was not averse to making threats. She learned later that these bouts usually occurred shortly after he took swigs from a bottle of hard liquor he had hidden in the basement.
Early in their marriage, Carter was verbally abusive about Marilyn’s poor housekeeping, being late, and getting on his nerves “for no good reason.” After their children arrived his tirades increased. Marilyn handled constructive criticism well and I’m convinced that if Carter had picked his battles and not attacked her self-esteem, it could have been a win-win for both of them.
The bottom line is no woman (or anyone else) should be subjected to the way Marilyn was treated. What made Carter’s abuse even worse was that around other JWs he acted like a perfect gentleman. He would go into his rants when the two of them were alone, although a few times he had gone on short “they-may-not-hear-me” rants when their kids were around. In an effort to get him to stop, she said that she planned to go to the elders at her Hall and report Carter’s abuse.
Marilyn Decides to Ask for Help
That turned out to be a dicey strategy because our brother Tim was serving as one of those elders. Carter knew what Marilyn was planning to do. He decided to help his cause by asking to meet Tim privately.
He described to Tim how delusional Marilyn could be, particularly since the birth of their children. Carter explained how any of his efforts to help her improve her parenting or housekeeping skills were met with her complaint, “You’re abusing me.”
Carter wanted to make sure to “stack the deck” in his favor by effectively painting Marilyn as a “wacky” woman. He convinced Tim that “Marilyn was the problem” because she was refusing to cooperate and fighting Carter’s leadership as head of the family.
Carter Believed He Should Be Able to Pull Marilyn’s Strings
When Marilyn met with the elders she told them everything, especially her concern about Carter’s daily verbal abuse. She also mentioned that Carter had physically hurt her several times. She believed that it wasn’t beyond the possibility that after drinking too much and while in a wild, frenzied state, Carter might kill her. The meeting continued for over an hour. Tim spoke first and suggested that she might be “imagining” some of her complaints.
“What if he kills me? What happens then?” she asked.
Tim’s response was typical for a JW elder. “Marilyn, that isn’t going to happen. But if it should, you will always have the hope of a resurrection if you’ve been a loyal and faithful wife.”
“Okay, but I think a trial separation would help both of us.”
Tim again responded, “Marilyn, Carter is the head of your house. If he decides that’s an appropriate response, so be it. But it will be his decision.”
Exasperated by the meeting, Marilyn went home fearing for her life. She knew Carter would soon learn about the meeting and the elders’ recommendation.
The next two weeks were a living hell for her. Carter took his abuse to a new level, threatening bodily harm if she went to the elders again. Marilyn’s self-esteem slid to a new low. She tried praying – hoping Jehovah would intervene. She found that it helped to talk to Mama, but Marilyn had been doing that for years. Mama had a standard pat response: “Let’s just wait on Jehovah. He knows all and will take care of it in His own due time.”
After another two weeks, Marilyn knew that she could no longer live with Carter in her house. For her it was like living with a serial killer, knowing that it was only a matter of time before he exploded.
She had to do something – and she had to do it now!