115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bay of the Seven Moons

Mary Caroline Cummins, "University of California, Riverside"

Mary Caroline Cummins is a Continuing Lecturer in the University Writing Program at UC Riverside and has written for DAME Magazine, The Establishment, and the "Women and Hollywood" blog at Indiewire.  Her piece is about escaping from the South to California, and who does and does not have this privilege.


Bay of the Seven Moons

When I was twelve or thirteen, our youth pastor at First United Methodist told us, “God has a plan for you. You just have to ask him what it is.” I was an ambitious kid, eager to find my place and make my mark on the world, so I went straight home and got out my Bible.

“God, speak to me,” I said. “Tell me what you want me to do in life.” I had been assured that God loved me, that I had a special purpose that he had planned just for me. Did he want me to become a preacher? A doctor who finds the cure for cancer? A diplomat crafting world peace? I closed my eyes, opened my Bible, and plunked my index finger down at random on the page. I opened my eyes to see what verse God had chosen for me. It was I Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

That is the story I tell people when they ask why I left Tennessee. Because if it had just been God telling me I was worthless, the place could have been endured, but it seemed the entire town, a middle-of-nowhere rural rest stop on the I-24 between Nashville and Chattanooga, had been drafted to communicate God’s message to me. Whatever important things there were to do in the world, they weren’t to be done by me, and if I insisted on being anything more than a godly helpmeet for the people who really mattered, well then, I was just getting too big for my britches.

My 9th grade civics teacher had pictures of cities all around the world that he’d tacked up to the walls of his office. I was obsessed with them. I used to visit just to look at them and beg him to let me take the pictures home with me. Somehow, I told him, I would get out of getting married young and having babies and spending the rest of my life sweeping dead worms off the back porch after each rain. I would get out of this suffocating town full of judgy cheerleader moms and go there, into the pictures. My teacher would laugh and say, “You’re young yet. You’ll change your mind. I bet you’ll have ten children.” Nope, I said. Wait and see.

I was in my early twenties when I first came to the little island a few miles off the coast of Los Angeles. I had bounced around Southern California, happily lost in its total anonymity. No one here knew my mama or cared whether I lived or died. The women wore white shoes after Labor Day and went bare-legged under their skirts and ran around in halter-tops in the broad daylight. People cussed in front of children. It was heavenly.