I paid a visit to Colorado City today. I've been here a few times before, visiting the grave of my mother's father in the Short Creek cemetery, or hoping to see one or two of my siblings who disappeared when their mother left our father and joined the FLDS. Things in Colorado City have changed. The vitiated air of oppression has lifted some, but fear spawned by the Texas raids makes people edgy.
A decades-old community split has created sectors in this dusty town beneath the magnificent Vermillion Cliffs: The old FLDS die-hards loyal to Rulon Jeffs—he turned his leadership over to the notorious Warren—have thinned out. Many moved to other FLDS settlements, particularly Texas. But in the General Store you'll find the FLDS women still taking care of business in their long pastel dresses and braided hair, piety wafting from their pores. There's another faction, of Centennial Park residents. This progressive group broke away from Jeffs in favor of a more democratic theocracy. (An oxymoron, I know.) A committee of men represent the community and make decisions together. Women in this group hold positions of power in education, business, and health care.
My hosts took me to the Merry Wives café, run by three sister-wives who make a fine living feeding tourists and residents, where I ate the best tuna pasta salad I've had since before my mother died. A group of young women came in for lunch, buzzing like teenagers everywhere. They giggled and teased each other for being "old maids" and playfully harassed one waitress who is approaching twenty-three and still hasn't married. She grinned and retorted that at least she wouldn't be a waitress all her life. She's studying to be a nurse at the Mojave Community College (which is situated in Colorado City!). The teenagers who have come from the academy (or high school) wear blue jeans and cute little tops (that cover arms and navels) and their long hair falls in shining cascades past their shoulders. You could find girls like these on any high school campus, but they might wear skimpier clothing and use rougher language than these girls, who greet their elders with respect and love.
As we toured the town, I saw something that made my mouth fall open: a young woman who looked like she could have been Elissa Wall's cousin sitting on the steps of the South Zion Executive Building smoking a cigarette! She smiled and waved at me and blew smoke in my general direction. I think she wanted me to know that she can do whatever she damn well pleases.