Rugged Handsome in a Cult: a New Year’s Heartbreak

River Irons
6 min readJan 1
“Old Home Place” by Kansas Poetry (Patrick) is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

“Are you going to watch the ball drop?” Steve called out to me jovially from the other end of the long basement hallway between the boys’ and girls’ cafeterias.

This story takes place mid-way through my cult years in Saint Marys, Kansas, a day or two before the New Year’s Eve that would ring in 1996. I was 18, having just graduated from the cult’s high school in May. In compliance with my subservient role as a woman, I worked in the campus food service kitchen when I wasn’t working as a teacher’s assistant. Because I’d finished high school, I didn’t have to worry about the strict separation of boys and girls that made the two cafeterias necessary. I was allowed to speak with the opposite sex for the first time.

Steve was a tall, slender, incredibly handsome maintenance worker that I’d sometimes see around campus grounds, where I was living in a dormitory at the time, and I’d occasionally crossed paths with him in the food service areas. He strode broadly around campus in his steel-toed boots, flannel shirt, and extra-tall work jeans, the ring of keys dangling from the belt jingling with an air of hyper-masculine importance.

Likely in his 40’s given his weathered, slightly olive complexion and touseled salt-and-pepper hair, Steve had never married. He’d dated dozens of women in the cult, never seeing any of them more than once or twice. In our little closed community, Steve was a legend. Before settling down and having the expected child per year with some ordinary man, you might have a chance at locking down Steve.

I remember him briefly courting my widowed mother, maybe even going on a date with her. She raved about his rugged perfection, but predictably, things didn’t work out between them.

“Are you going to watch the ball drop?”

“What’s the ball drop?” I called back.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I wondered if I should be embarrassed.

He strode back down the hall toward me. “You know, the TV shows on New Year’s Eve, when they count down to midnight, and the ball…” He trailed off as he realized the confusion on my face, looking two feet down at a mere child in years and life experience.

River Irons

I grew up in a cult. I escaped. I still search for freedom from oppressive constructs. Digital Artist, Storyteller.