“Easy for a good girl to go bad
And once we gone
Best believe we’ve gone forever
Don’t be the reason
Don’t be the reason
You better learn how to treat us right.” -Rihanna
Want to know what it’s like to be a Jeub? If you check my dad’s Facebook, you’ll see smiling faces and positive talk.
Let me tell you a story.
Dad walked into the bedroom I shared with my sister, Lydia. To consolidate space, Lydia had taken to hanging up most of her thrift-store clothes in the closet. We didn’t have room for another dresser in addition to my dresser, a bookshelf, the bunk bed we shared, and our two desks.
Lydia was 19 and I was 21. It was normal for dad to walk into our bedroom without knocking. Our door handle’s lock was broken – when you have fifteen rough brothers and sisters, most things don’t last, including bedroom door locks. We didn’t have curtains hanging in our window, so I usually changed in the bathroom, carrying my clothes with me each time I showered. The bathroom door was broken, too, and I shared it with six sisters, so I’d been dressing myself behind the shower curtain since I was eleven.
“Girls, get in my office.” He was yelling. “We need to talk.”
“Dad, will you please close the door behind you?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t. In winter, the open door would chill the basement room, with a thin layer of carpeting protecting us from the icy concrete floor. We used spot heaters to warm our rooms during the colder months. It wasn’t cold today, but dad always left our door open after waking us up.
It was Labor Day, 2013. I’d just started my fifth semester of college, and I was working three jobs: my part-time desk job, editing a section of the school newspaper, and working for my dad. My best friend often said it was too much for me to do, when there could be five to ten kids in my bedroom at any given time. I told her it was fine, and this was normal for me.
Most of what Lydia and I owned was already in boxes. We’d planned to move into our own apartment that week. There was just one problem: we needed proof of income to take over an apartment lease. Lydia had just interviewed for a store that was about to open, and I’d just started my part-time job. The newspaper didn’t record many hours, and my new employer quickly produced what I needed to prove income. We just needed dad to show that, as our main employer, we were making enough to move into our apartment.
When we asked our dad to help us show proof of income, he refused. He said we couldn’t make it on our own, and we wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment on our own. We were confused, seeing as we both had jobs and incomes, but you couldn’t argue with dad.
So this morning, Lydia and I shuffled into his office. Mom was sitting in the corner, the two of us took seats in front of the desk, and dad shut the door behind the four of us.
“I’m upset.” He said. “You drain our resources, you eat our food, you live in our house, you drive our cars, and you were supposed to be moved out by now.”
He was worked up, pacing and glowering down at us in our chairs. For the first time in my life, my dad started cussing at me. He said we didn’t help out around the house enough, and we were ungrateful, and we were wasting his money. Mom sat in the corner and approved the whole episode with her silence and nodding.
If we stayed, dad told us, we would need to pay for everything: the printer, the Internet, the SUV we already fueled whenever we drove it, and rent to sleep in our bedroom.
I’m not sure why I was determined not to cry. I know dad had made me cry many times in these kinds of exchanges, but this was too far. He’d never used swear words, and I had done nothing to bring this on, and I needed to protect my little sister. “Dad, you’re not making any sense. We are literally packed and ready to leave.”
My training in competitive forensics let me see the status dynamics. He was standing, and when I stood up, this threatened his power over me. He demanded that I sit back down, or leave his house immediately. My mind raced. Where would I go? He’d already taken away my ability to get an apartment. I only had a few thousand dollars to survive, and with me being enrolled in school, I didn’t have time to try for more income.
I finally sat back down. “Now, see, why did you sit down?” Dad jeered. “Because you’re admitting that you can’t make it on your own. You need me. You need my resources, everything I pay for and can’t afford. Now, since you’ve chosen to stay, I’m going to charge each of you $500 per month for rent.”
I stood up again. “That’s it. You’re being completely unreasonable.” I walked out, and, as soon as the door was closed, started shaking uncontrollably. I frantically texted a handful of friends. I was afraid dad might disconnect my cell phone, since we were on the same plan. I told my friends to show up if they didn’t hear back from me in half an hour, because I might lose my ability to contact them.
I still had paperwork to print for school, but dad had yelled at me for using the network and printer. I was in a double bind: I could ask to use the printer, and have my request denied. I could print without permission, and risk him confiscating or tearing up my papers – which I sincerely thought was a real possibility in his current mood. I could also hand him twenty-five cents, which would cover the cost of a few sheets of paper in his industrial printer, purchased for the family business’ publishing needs. The last option seemed the least risky, but I also knew my dad would probably be offended. I gathered two dimes and a nickel from my wallet, brought it into his office, and said I was paying for sheets of paper and ink. I went back in my room, and began loading the last of my belongings into boxes.
Dad slammed my door open and threw the coins at me. “Take your damn money!” he yelled.
I yelled back at him, saying I thought he wanted me to pay for using his things.
Lydia and I have twelve younger siblings, and the kids looked frightened and worried. I asked mom if I could take a shower before I left, or if I should pay them for it. She seemed surprised that I even asked, and said, “of course you can.”
I cried in the shower, knowing it would be my last day living in my family’s house, I was being kicked out, and I hadn’t done anything. Mom came in the bathroom while I was toweling off, and she said I should apologize to dad for rudely offering him change. My brother Micah, age 16, just wanted peace, so he begged me to hug my dad and say everything was okay. Five little kids stood around and watched while we obliged him begrudgingly.
One of my friends was still living with her parents, and they said they could come pick us up. I informed my parents that I had a place to go.
Lydia went for a walk and angrily processed what was happening for two hours. When she came back, mom and dad were opposed to letting the two of us have a private conversation. “Don’t think that if you leave, your sister will want to go with you,” dad told me.
We ignored their wishes and talked briefly anyway, before meeting in the office again. Dad smiled widely. “You guys found a place to go, and we’re so proud of you guys!”
Lydia and I exchanged glances at the heel-face turn.
Dad said, “We just have some finances to sort out, and then we’ll send you on your way.”
In our family, we never really tracked finances. Most of our work for the family business was contracted, so extra hours weren’t paid. Most of those contracts were spoken, not written or signed. Dad controlled all our bank accounts, so he just transferred agreed-upon amounts when we finished projects. Lydia and I often thought he changed his rates before and after, but we had no way to track it, and besides, he would ask, aren’t we committed to the business? When we did get paid by the hour, it was supposed to be minimum wage, but filling out timesheets wasn’t a priority.
We talked about cell phone charges and other expenses. Lydia and I forced dad to look at his bills and do the math, and this always meant we owed him less than he said at first. When we finally figured out what we all owed each other, he paid us for the past six months of our work, and we paid him for utilities and phones. He came out ahead and transferred the difference from our accounts.
Then he said, “I’m so proud of both of you. We gave you options, to stay and rent from us, or to find a place of your own. So you’re moving out, and we don’t want you to go around to all your friends and complain about us. We didn’t kick you out, so don’t say we did.”
The next hour was perhaps the most awkward of my life. My friends came to get us, and my parents showed smiles and invited them in for dinner. We hadn’t gotten so much as an apology, but now everything was fine. As Lydia and I left, dad stopped us at the front door to take a picture. Of everything that happened that day, this is the Facebook post people saw:
That’s the difference between Jeub home life and what you see of my family online or on TV.
End of series.