Happy Valley

I am seven people deep in line at Walgreens in the city where I went to college.
Orem, Utah. Mormon Mecca. Locals call it “Happy Valley”.

For believers, it’s literal – a whitewashed happiness breeding ground.
Paper doll cut outs of righteous brothers and sisters linked hand in hand in hand.

For the lost apostate, it’s tongue-in-cheek. A ironic metaphor aimed directly
at the residents of this small mountain town who consumed the most anti-depressants

in the country my Junior year of college. Mostly — young, married women.
Beautiful soft creatures completely blind to their own rageful rib cages.

‘Mother of Zion Syndrome’ the news article called it. Three to five kids deep
trying to finish degrees and remind themselves they are more than second-hand

to the patriarchy that runs so deep in this valley you can smell
the ill-fitted suits and ziplock bags of cheerios filling church pews.

Fingers to lips shhhing babies. Themselves. Last time
here I was 20, but trusted my memory of the convenience stores

that line Center Street, gained more confidence in my recollection
with each turn: The second-hand music store I’d drive my boyfriend

to so he could play a guitar he couldn’t afford, hoping I’d be accommodating
wife material; The deli music venue where I worked and was fired three months later;

The coffee shop where poets, professors, and queer students found refuge
from the slight side eye of returned missionaries and husband hunters. Open Sunday.

I am next in line. A six pack of light beer under my arm — a quick stop
before heading to a tiny house I rented on the nearby lake to write for a weekend.

This, the only kind of adventure that would bring me back to this valley
so many decades into my godless years – the ones I’ve owned, mine. I wonder

as I rest the bottles on the counter how long it’s been since the cashier rang up alcohol.
Barcodes screaming ‘inactive’ or ‘sinner’ or ‘lost’ as they slide across the knowing laser.

Was it a coy customer hiding their face? A19-year-old shaking student showcasing
her roommate’s fake ID and hiding a pack of cigarettes she doesn’t know how to smoke

in her underwear drawer at the dorm? I smile with a motherly love that surprises me,
now the mother of my own girl, for every daughter in this valley searching for real transcendence.

Still, she is here, finding her own divine blood in Plath and Rilke and bad wine.
She sees my feet floating in line, says ‘You are the iron rod*.

You did it. You did it.’

*the iron rod refers to the tree of life story in Mormon scripture

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