"I don't know if I should move to Seattle, Ruth. I don't have a job there, and rent is expensive," my younger sister Elena worried over the phone. "It's gonna be hard to move all my stuff and find a place to live while looking for work. What do you think I should do?" She was 28 years old and had been working at the same job for seven years. She wanted to make a change.
"Starting over in a new place is hard work, especially on your own," I replied, thinking about how many times I'd done the same over the past two decades. "But if you need to make a change, you should."
When Elena, the eldest of my three younger sisters, decided to move to Seattle, I couldn't help but worry. I had started over more than a few times in my own life and I knew how difficult it could be. I thought about the moments when Elena would feel lonely, off on her own and apart from me and her two younger sisters. We had always drawn our strength by being together. But I also knew it was time for Elena to find that same strength inside herself.
Discussing and planning Elena's move with her reminded me of the first time I had reinvented myself. It had been the riskiest and most frightening choice of my life. When I was 15 years old, my sisters and I left Colonia LeBaron, the polygamist community in Mexico, where we had been raised. My sisters were so young, they still don't remember the night we escaped: Holly was just eight months old, dozing in my lap, while four-year-old Elena and two-year-old Leah slept curled into each other in the backseat of the old station wagon my brother navigated over the dusty, potholed roads of LeBaron in the middle of the night.
Our departure had to be a secret. We were slowly making our way to the U.S. border in Arizona, and then on to my grandmother's home in California. For the first time in my life, I had a sense of how scary the unknown could feel. But I was certain that my sisters and I could not stay in the Colony, where the only future available to us would have been to enter into a polygamous marriage and to give birth to as many children as possible. I had no idea of what would become of our lives outside of the Colony, but I knew that what would become of them inside was not what I wanted.
|“I had no idea of what would become of our lives outside of the Colony, but I knew that what would become of them inside was not what I wanted.”
I had no concept of success; in fact, the idea that I could create my own life was totally foreign to me up until the point our station wagon crossed the border. I just knew I wanted something better for all of us, even if I couldn't articulate what that might be. The only thing that mattered to me then was my basic survival and my sisters' safety.
We made it to our grandmother's house that night, and stayed there for almost four years. When I was 19, I reinvented myself again. My grandmother had become too ill to care for us, but I stubbornly insisted that my sisters and I stay together. I moved us all into a small home of our own in Grants Pass, Oregon. I worked at a wrecking yard as a receptionist making $6.75 an hour, and although we were safe, I could barely pay the bills. I had no idea how hard being a single parent raising three young girls on my own would be. Little did I know then that my three sisters would grow into happy, independent, beautiful young women, and that the bonds we formed in those early years would stay with us for life.
I'd had yet another opportunity to reinvent myself when my sisters graduated from high school and moved out of our house. For the first time in my life, I was left with no one but myself to care for, and the thought of that freedom terrified me. I couldn't sleep, and I didn't know what to do with my time. It was at that point that I began to take writing classes after work. I wrote and wrote, forcing myself to put my story down on paper. After five years of work, I sent my manuscript to publishers, and now, as my book
makes its way into the world, I can call myself an author.
Although I left LeBaron 29 years ago and have had to reinvent myself several times in the years between then and now, there has not been one moment in which I didn't feel the support of my sisters' love. As Elena prepared to reinvent herself, beginning afresh, on her own, in a new city, I knew that she would rely on her connection to us to help her through the difficult times. It takes courage to take the steps toward a life you love. And when you're facing the unknown, your sisters' love becomes a deep wellspring of courage you can carry inside yourself.
Ruth with sisters (from left) Elena, Holly, Leah. / Credit: James Reynolds.
÷ ÷ ÷
lives in Portland, Oregon. At the age of 15, Ruth left Colonia LeBaron, the polygamist Mormon colony where she grew up, and moved to California. She raised her three youngest sisters in California and Oregon. After earning her GED, she put herself through college and graduate school, eventually becoming a high school Spanish teacher. She remains close to her siblings and is happily married. The Sound of Gravel
is her first book.