Note about page numbers: I’m using an iBook copy of this book. With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings. As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers. For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino. That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.
Having met our mysterious crucifixion survivor and watching his discovering of some unknown power last week, we turn the first chapter of Peretti’s “The Visitation” this week to meet nineteen year old Sally Fordyce as she leaves her home in Antioch Washington to go for a walk. We learn that Sally is nineteen and has returned to Antioch to live with her parents after a short-lived relationship with a trucker named Joey. Peretti describes that relationship from Sally’s point of view:
She had believed everything Joey, the trucker, told her about love, and how she was that girl silhouetted on his mud flaps. The marriage — if it happened at all — lasted three months. When he found another woman more “intellectually stimulating,” Sally was bumped from the truck’s sleeper and found herself coming full circle, right back to bring Charlie and Meg’s daughter living at home again.
This is the perfect evangelical cautionary tale against “fast relationships,” especially those involving premarital sex. Sally is that “poor girl” who trusted the promises of the “wrong boy,” fell head over heels, got used, and had her heart broken and dumped back home, ruined.
As anyone who has ever dated can tell you, there’s a lot of truth to this story. I suspect most of us could tell that story of that person who promised us the world and eternal love, believed them, and ended up getting hurt. I don’t take issue with any particular detail of this story, as it’s quite plausible.
And yet, the way in which this tale is told and meant to be perceived in evangelical circles is troubling to me. This is not a tale of a young woman who had her heart broken when love didn’t work out, but the tale of the foolish girl who made a lot of bad choices and got the heartbreak coming to her. Let me break down some of the hidden (or maybe not-so-hidden) elements of this message.
First, we have Joey comparing Sally to silhouettes (presumably of a sexy woman in some pose that’s meant to be provocative) on the mud flaps of his truck. In evangelical culture, this is a hint that Joey is a sex-obsessed boy who would seek to sexually objectify any woman he meets. In the evangelical mindset, this is probably seen as a sure sign that Joey watches porn too, and that if Sally had been smarter, she would’ve realized that Joey was bad news and only interested in one thing where she was concerned.
Add to this the phrase “if it happened at all” in regard to the marriage, which suggests that maybe Joey and Sally didn’t officially tie the knot, but instead were simply cohabitating in Joey’s truck as the traveled around for his work. Again, this is a clear warning sign in evangelical circles, as any guy who will shack up with a girl without “making her an honest woman” is bound to dump her at some point. Again, to the evangelical mind, this is something that Sally should have seen as a sign that Joey was trouble and avoided him.
The thing is, this is how some evangelicals tend to envision all relationships that meet their expectations of “doing marriage right” look. There are no well-meaning couples who decide to live together and do their best to make things work, only to fail. If such a relationship fails, it’s because the couple “did it wrong.” Even if the couple does everything “right” according to the culture, if the relationship fails, it’s a sign they “didn’t really do it right after all.” And while they might be sympathetic with Sally, there’s that part that sees this as consequences she brought on herself.
This is further shown as Peretti tells us that Sally saw her relationship with Joey as her chance for freedom. Of course, Sally’s understanding of freedom is painted as immature. Now that she’s back home, she has to cook, clean, and help with other household chores, things that she apparently didn’t have to do while living with Joey.
Of course, to Sally, freedom also meant escape from the small town of Antioch. To her, Joey was her one chance to escape. I find this interesting because Peretti is playing on a cliche here that I don’t buy into. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in small towns wants to escape them. Even some of those who are not “wheat farmers” decide they like their cozy little hometown and stick around. After all, there’s a lot to be said for living in a small community where everyone has known almost everyone else since they were born. It can be quite comfortable.
Yes, some of us decide we’d prefer more excitement. Or we decide that our chosen careers require us to move. Or we decide we’d have better dating options in a larger, more diverse community. But we don’t necessarily just leave our small towns for the sake of escaping our small towns.
This is, I suppose, where I find Sally a bit poorly written. There is nothing driving her desire to get out of Antioch. There is nothing pushing her away from her hometown, nor is there anything pulling her to some new location.
Of course, that’s why Sally never found an escape other than Joey. She has no ambition of her own. She has no goals or self-determined destination. And that’s why she is still (or at least back) in Antioch. So she latches onto a man — a trucker who tells her that she’s sexy and beautiful, no less — to provide her with her escape.
Elephant in the room time: Don’t a lot of evangelicals hold this up as a woman’s perfect — and only — duty? Isn’t being a wife beholden to a particular man part and parcel of many evangelical descriptions of the ideal woman. So here we have Sally, who seems to be latching onto that idea herself. She turned to a man to be her ticket to the good life. And yet, because (1) she didn’t “do it right” and (2) she “failed,” she’s a “poor girl” to be pitied/tsk-tsked by the same people who probably contributed to her thinking that this was the perfect life for her.
After all this set up, Sally meets a random stranger that has a message for her:
“I’m here to bring you a message. Your prayers have been answered, Sally. Your answer is on his way. Be looking for him.”
Sally’s answer to her prayers — her prayers to get out of this small town — is on his way. You heard that, the alleged answers to her prayers is another man.
You can almost hear the evangelical readers sardonically thinking, “Here we go again.”
 Google maps knows of no Antioch in Washington, though there apparently is a “Highway 9” that runs through that state. I suspect that this is another attempt by Peretti to create a plausible sounding small town, as Yamikuronue concludes about Ashtion in “This Present Darkness.”
 I grew up in the rural town of Tioga, Pennsylvania, so I’m a “small town boy” myself.