Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Reumah” is a pseudonym.
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Part Three: Escape
This roller coaster I was one wouldn’t stop. Me, hesitatingly trying to make a step forward, my parents instantly pushing me back. I bought a little pallet of eye shadow one day – my parents told me I looked like a whore. I bought a skirt with a hemline just at the knee. My parents said I was pushing their standards. I desperately wanted a job. My father sat me down and told me how I was actually losing money by taking a job outside the home….and that my skills were better utilized under his roof.
I finally got the job I so coveted, at the age of almost 21.
I must have looked completely lost, walking into the store that first day in a long skirt, unsure of how to behave or what to say in this unfamiliar environment. Over the next six months, I would meet so many new people that would open my eyes to the oppression that I was living in. I made so much progress in that six months, but my parents could only see the negative influences that the “world” was having on me. I had to lie, sneak around, and pretend to be someone I wasn’t to keep the peace in my household.
One morning when I came down for breakfast wearing my favorite pair of jeans, my father told me that he was ashamed of my immodest clothing, and that I wasn’t allowed to wear those jeans ever again in his house. As a 21 year old woman who’d tasted just enough independence to understand what she was missing, I was livid. I started keeping the jeans at work, and changing into them as soon as I left my parent’s house. My days of quietly obeying my parent’s directives were quickly coming to an end.
I applied for, and miraculously received, a full ride scholarship to a distinguished university completely across the country from my parents. I remember my Dad, sitting on the couch in our living room, telling me he would never approve of one of his daughter’s leaving his home to attend college. That he would never allow it. Would never give his blessing.
I remember crying in the living room, desperate for an escape from my prison.
My friends at work told me I had to go. Those women at my first little retail job were instrumental in helping me ease into the real world, and open my eyes to the fact that I NEEDED to move on with my life. Yes, it would be hard. Yes it was scary, especially without any support from my family. But I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend 4 years across the country from my family, becoming my own person. Because after so many years living my parent’s beliefs and being told what was right and wrong, I didn’t know who I really was.
After an agonizing summer, I went.
My parents, insistent that they would move the family across the country so I could stay under their roof, drove me out to my new college with the promise that they would be there within a semester. I secretly hoped their plans to move would fall through. Thankfully, they did.
I fell in love with dorm life instantly, and loved the absolute freedom I had over my life. My future opened up before me. Endless opportunities and freedom met me at every turn. I met so many wonderful people who were kind, helpful, selfless, and genuine. I marveled when I met folks who weren’t devout fundamentalists and had never heard of patriarchy, and yet were still amazing people. These students – most of them had been to public school, had been raised in normal American culture; and yet they weren’t raging pagans, criminals, and devils in disguise. How could this be? Maybe my parents had been wrong.
Fast forward almost three years to the present day. It’s been a long road.
The first year of college life was incredibly difficult. I couldn’t keep up with any of the conversations my peers were having. Pop culture references went straight over my head. I hadn’t seen any of the movies people talked about; I didn’t get the jokes my friends made. People were shocked when they learned I’d never had a boyfriend and never been kissed; horrified when they learned I’d never gone to high school, played a sport or gone on a sleepover. I didn’t know who the Backstreet Boys were, had never listened to a Michael Jackson song, and didn’t know the Disney Channel even existed. Eventually, I started leaving those details of my life out of conversations. I created a completely new “me”, and many of my friends never even knew of my life before college.
My relationship with my family is rocky these days. I now stand for everything they’ve ever been opposed to….done everything they always wanted to protect me from. They’re convinced that college has corrupted me in a thousand ways. They don’t approve, support, or accept the person that I’ve become over the past 3 years since I left the movement. On the surface, they’re friendly. They feign interest in my activities, and we talk on a regular basis. But deep down, they can’t stand what I’ve become.
My siblings are still at home, lost in the life from which I’ve escaped. Fortunately, one of my brothers decided to leave too, and he’s now traveling around Europe making up for lost time.
I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come. But I have a lot left to go.
While I don’t dwell on my past, it does shape the person that I am today. I still find traces of my upbringing from time to time. My boyfriend is constantly dispelling my twisted views of life, family, relationships, and myself that are still left over from my dysfunctional upbringing.
And it’s overwhelmingly difficult to know that I don’t have the support of my family.
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.” ~ Thomas Paine
End of series.