HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap. It was originally published on March 8, 2014.
Five years ago, on my birthday, I left home.
Obviously, there’s a lot of backstory to this, and, I guess, this is that story.
I didn’t say goodbye – I couldn’t say goodbye. I was terrified that if I did, if I told them I was leaving, that they would shut me in my room, and jam the door and not let me out. That they wouldn’t let me out of their eyesight ever again, despite my having reached legal age where they couldn’t do anything – and I would have fought, you bet your ass I would have fought. I would have called whoever I could, police included, if they locked me up when I was 18 – but I didn’t want that to happen, I didn’t need that delay, I didn’t need that pressure or the guilt trips that would then ensue and cause me to acquiesce.
My mom was 9 months pregnant with the last child, due any day – I prayed that my mom would have the baby before my birthday, so I didn’t have that weight on my shoulders. I talked about how praying never really worked for me, this wasn’t any different.
I had spent the last three months planning my party, working on my parents to let me go to the mall by myself without a sibling. I told them of my plans many times – how I was going to hangout and eat dinner with friends and then we’d go to a movie and they could pick me up at like 10 or 11 when the movie let out.
I started carrying a messenger bag with me everywhere I went months ahead of time too, so when I packed what I was bringing with me, and brought it to the mall, they wouldn’t notice anything different. I always had a jacket in there to keep it looking full, no one thought anything of it. On my birthday, I packed my vital records that I had kept/hidden after getting my driver’s license the month prior, my HSLDA diploma, my laptop, a pair of clothes, and my conveniently travel sized birthday presents.
I convinced my family to celebrate my birthday early, before I left for the mall because I would be home after the kids went to bed and we had church in the morning. They didn’t really like it, but they went along with it.
I had bought all of my siblings presents with some leftover amazon money from christmas or something, and put them in my backpack by my bed with a note dividing up my stuff and saying I love them.
I got to the mall, and my closest friends met me and we had an early dinner and that was as far as the plan I told my parents about went, because after that, my actual plan came into play.
This plan, the escaping part, had been in the works for over six months.
In August of 2008, right before the olympic opening ceremonies, Alex and I woke up to an email in our inboxes from my parents saying “we have decided to end the relationship between Alex and Kierstyn and are forbidding them from speaking to each other.”
This happened conveniently after my mother had yet another positive pregnancy test (or whatever it was that indicated to her that she was pregnant and had every reason to control my entire existence again). Things had started going downhill since that May, and the last time Alex and I had seen each other in person(June), we created this plan.
If my parents broke us up (because they had been acting like they were about to and causing a lot of drama and being suddenly very negative and pushy and ridiculous) that on my birthday Alex would come get me, and we would run away. If it was on my birthday, there would be nothing legally my parents could do, since I was legally an adult – we would be free to do whatever. We hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
July happens, Alex is asking about a proposal (the earliness, yeah, okay, they were pushy) twice is what sent them over the edge – twice because they didn’t respond the first time and the vacation he was planning on proposing to me on was coming up soon and he needed to buy tickets.
Interestingly, when Alex asked my dad in general about proposing, my dad gave a whole-hearted yes that lasted until the next morning when my mom took me aside and told me that my dad had changed his mind. This wasn’t the only time this had happened – dad endorsing something, then going to bed and “changing his mind” I knew it was bullshit, I knew my mom was actually behind it and the subsequent announcement of the pregnancy sent me over the edge. I was livid that my mom was having yet another baby, I cried on the phone to Alex telling him that my life was over – because in many ways, it was, this was the one that was going to do me in, if there was one that was going to do that. I realized I couldn’t keep living as my parents slave but I also had no choice. At this point I didn’t realize that what was happening was abusive and wrong, I thought I was wrong. This pregnancy is when the shit hit the fan.
So August, the email happened. The email obviously created an email fight and I was too emotionally distraught to deal with it, so I told people to stop CCing me. I screamed and cried uncontrollably, I went outside where I was alone and there was room only to have my mom come out and tell me to get back inside or someone will think something is wrong (ya think? asshole). I went in, and she sat on my bed and deigned to tell me she understood what I was going through (um, she has no idea what it’s like for parents to decide they can retract your adulthood, control every move of your life, and break you up with your boyfriend just by being parents – her parents didn’t do that). I glared at her through streaming tears, and managed to muster “only for six months”, she said “no” shook her head and left, as I watched her, still glaring.
This triggered a borderline suicidal depression, or whatever it is that results in suicidal ideation – because I did that a lot. I was already depressed (but I didn’t know it until I started meds and realized what not depressed felt like, and realized that was not what I had ever experienced), but this was just, every time I thought I hit bottom, the bottom caved in and I fell deeper deeper deeper into an increasingly dark abyss, of confusion and self loathing and numbness. I was always waiting for another shoe to fall because they kept hitting my head, it was unbearable, and the entire six months, that went unnoticed. No one said anything. In fact, I barely talked to my parents at all except to go over my birthday plan and be demanded of. I felt so alone and uncared for and every day I felt like I was dying inside, and every day I was reminded just how much my parents really didn’t give a shit about me as myself, only in relation to my service to them.
Interestingly enough, I had told my parents, after my trip in June, that Alex and I were planning on running away together should they break us up, because they were all like “we feel like maybe if things keep going this way we’ll have to stop it” and I was like “yeah, well, if you do, I’m leaving” and they didn’t believe me, or remember this conversation. I remembered it because I thought I was screwed – turns out my parents don’t have much of a memory for things I say, unless it makes them angry and/or bent on punishing me. And before anyone dares get into “but parents are wiser” territory, this was about stuff that had been completely resolved, stuff that happened because I was projecting things (my parents) onto people, and stuff that was cleared up because I was apologized to. And also about petty theological disagreements my parents had with his parents. Nothing that had anything at all to do with the relationship or the relationship dynamics between Alex and I – just them and his parents (again. my parents destroyed so many of my friendships because of their disagreements with parents).
So, I bode my time, I flew under the radar, I became what felt like invisible – I made plans to get my driver’s license in January, started carrying my messenger bag around in October or November, and started birthday planning in November, and was beyond that, never noticed.
I told some people I trusted about my plan, and was supported, mostly – except for one person who was supportive at first, and then was like, you have to tell your parents because youth pastor said and I was like “…” but all my close friends, all the ones who’d been with Alex and I from the start, knew sort of what was going on and were super supportive – which meant the world (and still does <3). Then I left, I left on my birthday without saying goodbye, before my mom had the baby. My grandparents had come up for the baby/to be around to help, so I wasn’t leaving them hanging. I don’t know what it says about me that I still, five years later, have to justify my escape with but my grandparents were there, so I knew the kids would be taken care of, and I wasn’t abandoning them altogether. I think I feel like people will still be like, but you left your siblings! Which, I’m pretty sure is not the reaction people should have, because I shouldn’t have had to have been my siblings’ (essentially) primary caretaker in the first place. Strangely enough, I’ve never had that reaction, but it could be because I always pre-emptively answer it.
It killed me though. Leaving without saying goodbye killed me. I mean, I said goodbye, but not with the “I’ll never see you again probably” ending, but I hugged and kissed them before I left, because I needed to. Because, I was leaving everything. Leaving didn’t trigger a change of heart on my parents, it just enraged them. I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again, honestly, I still don’t know if I’ll ever see my siblings again. My grandparents paid for our plane ticket to see my family in the December of 2009, and that’s the last I’ve seen of them.
My parents have spent the last five years telling my siblings not to be like me.
In 2010 my parents decided they wanted nothing to do with me until I apologized to them for the hurt I caused. It destroyed me. I didn’t leave my room for two weeks.
I don’t know how to say this emphatically enough, leaving was hard, it was brutal, it wasn’t something I did willy-nilly, it destroyed me, there were times I re-thought leaving at all because I knew it meant leaving my siblings and believe it or not I do give a shit about them. Ultimately I left, because it was a life or death choice. I could stay, and wither and die – internally, definitely, and with a daily increasing possibility of physically – or I could leave, and have a chance at life and then be there on the other side for my siblings when they get older – or at least have that chance. So I left. I left on my birthday five years ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (to. this. day.).
I just wish that maybe people really understood what that meant – means – feels like.
I am the 3rd of my siblings, and my older two siblings “left” the family too. I put “left” in quotation marks, because they were both adults, both going towards technically parent sanctioned things (marriage for one and a ministry for another) but it still felt like abandonment to me and was quickly construed to be abandonment/betrayal of the family by my mom. For the next few years, this storyline was indoctrinated into myself and the other siblings.
I still had some, limited contact with them that was usually strained because I was the family evangelist, so to speak, trying to get them back in the fold. Then, when I was old enough, I finally left too.
I still have younger siblings at home that I have some limited contact with.
I tell you this back story to hopefully give you some encouragement. You are not the only sibling that will leave a situation like that, though hopefully they will not have to do it so stealthily. I don’t know how long it might take, or which sibling will be next in line, but there will be one, or a few, or all. And when they realize, like you did, that they can no longer stay, they will suddenly start to question if this, maybe, isn’t how you felt and thought, and maybe, you aren’t how your parents tell them you are. When they need to leave, they will need your help, and it’s fairly likely they will ask for it.
You have not abandoned them, you have paved the road to their freedom as well.
When I left my younger siblings, I thought of how I felt, and feel now, about my older siblings leaving, and this is the only thought that strengthened my heart (because the head is never the problem, is it?) against the internal feelings of guilt and accusation.
You are a superhero, Kierstyn. You are one of the bravest.
I get it! The shunning and losing your siblings is the only way parents can punish and, wow, is it vicious! The pain is unbearable but it really is the only way to get away. It’s a terrible way to start your adult life running for your freedom and trying to survive in a world you were never prepared for.
Kierstyn, thank you so much for sharing your story. As a homeschooling mom, I have found Homeschoolers Anonymous to be extremely enlightening. Your story really provides a window, for me, into the world of many homeschoolers and show the devastating effect that fear and control-based parenting can have on children. The stories I have read here provide a lot of food for thought and have led me to have in depth discussions with my children (now 20, 17, and 14) as to what we have done wrong as we raised them and what they would do differently. Fortunately, we had already begun, in the last few years, to make changes in our approach to parenting and homeschooling. One thing shines through in your story and that is that you love and care for your siblings. Know that what you are doing will pave a path for them in the future and know also that your writing may be used to convict and convince parents as well.
I can not imagine the crushing feeling of being controlled to the point of having to literally plan an escape from your family.
Thank you for the bravery in telling your story…
I remember when one of my older girls in a family we knew left home. All I ever heard was the story the mom had given the younger siblings. Then I ran into the girl in college, and I realized the family had spread crap about it.
Sorry you went through that, but thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry to hear that you still aren’t able to have a relationship with your siblings. I can’t even imagine how heartbreaking that would be. I had a similar experience leaving my parents’ home as a young adult and my mother refused to let me see my siblings for about three months. I now feel lucky that her anger did not last any longer! It hurt to be excluded from the lives of people who had been my only friends and were almost like my own children to me. Like yourself, I almost singlehandedly raised many of my siblings for years. I hope that you will all be reunited in the future and that your siblings will know that you always cared about them.
Thank you for sharing.
I know how alienating it is to share and have people marginalize my experience because they do not understand.
That’s why it’s so important for us that have suffered this kind of upbringing to speak out and unite together.