Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Salome” is a pseudonym.
Dear Homeschoolers Anonymous,
First, thank you so much for giving us a voice. It’s so important that we speak — and are heard. Just telling our stories has value, and you’ve done a phenomenal job. We are watching. We are listening. We are learning. And we are healing.
I’ve tossed around the idea of telling you my story for some time now — but I couldn’t figure out how, and I’m such a goddamn private person that writing about my childhood is like prying my teeth out with a crowbar. I’m finally writing because I don’t often get the chance to brag safely about my brother, and I think it’d be foolish not to take the chance.
We’re all home for the holidays, and I find myself struggling to reconcile the emotional manipulation, patriarchal ideas (which BTW have completely screwed my life up — I can’t even get married, because I can’t seem to shake my patriarchal conditioning — so thank you for speaking up about patriarchalism too), and sometimes simple cruelty that I remember as a kid and the relatively stable family who jokes around (at my father’s expense — which would have been heresy when I was a kid), allows my teenage sister to wear normal clothes, and practically force-feeds me some weird herbal goop my mother concocted to soothe my raw throat.
IDK what changed.
I can’t forget all of the horrible things they said and did (I’m still keeping my recent decision that I don’t think I can be a Christian anymore, as well as the surrounding circumstances, from them, just in case). I can’t forget the constant friction that comes from being the oldest child in a cookie-cutter family whose inner rot was concealed beneath our conditioned responses. We were punished when we made our parents look bad, not when we actually did bad things. The incongruity was hardest on me — and I tried hardest to conform for awhile, until I set out on a campaign to break my father’s heart when I got into high school.
That made me target #1.
My brother bucked their rules from a very early age. Let’s be clear: he is objectively a good man, and was a good kid then. No drugs, no sex, no porn (that I know of… Mom did put a lock on the computer pretty inexplicably once, and gave me the password with instructions not to give it to my brother, so I guess it’s possible). Both my brother and I developed an appreciation for heavy metal (the raw honesty speaks to me), and have anger issues (I have a host of other emotional issues, but I haven’t talked to him about it, so I don’t know if he shares any more of them), but considering what we went through, I think we’re justified. Mom was convinced he was a terrible person, not a Christian, morally lax – the list goes on.
I apologize for the long and garbled introduction.
The point I was leading up to was this: my brother and I fought like the world was gonna end if the other person got their way, but we also stuck together.
We warned each other in hushed tones when our mother was in a particularly vicious mood, and helped each other skulk around outside her sight. We spent long hours outside, because she was likely to forget us if we were out there, but in the times that she did remember us and screamed our names in that tone of voice that said we were in for a rough day, we gave each other looks of pity as we walked back to meet our fate. We didn’t tattle on each other. In the times that the emotional abuse turned into physical abuse, after my brother got bigger and stronger than both my parents, he stepped in.
When our little sister came along, we made an unspoken pact to protect her too.
I’m a little jealous of her sometimes, honestly. She missed the worst of it, and we shielded her from much of the rest. She joined me in my campaign to break Dad’s heart — and succeeded to a degree I could not. Our joint efforts may have something to do with the change in my family, actually. I hope so. That call to protect my siblings has affected me hugely — I still find myself staying in dangerous situations just to protect the people who are still too naive to protect themselves.
Sacrificing my safety for theirs comes naturally. I’ve always done it.
One incident is firmly lodged in my mind. My parents had decided that it was a good day to sit me down and lecture me (more like screaming cherry-picked Bible verses at me and telling me I was worthless) — for hours (I don’t remember just how long. It may have been anywhere from 2-4 hours). It had something to do with my campaign, although it quickly spread to include anything and everything my mom could think of, whether it was true or not.
Think Communist China Cultural Revolution-era denunciation meetings.
I was an emotional wreck, because I had been trying to ease into a closer relationship, which meant that my normal policy of emotional numbness was not in effect. I was crying, they were screaming, and then my brother swooped in to my rescue. He said, “Stop. Just stop. Can’t you see what you’re doing to her? Stop.” When they turned their ire on him, he explained further — he was intervening because he loved me. I didn’t stick around much longer — he had given me an out, and I spent the rest of the day outside (this time beyond earshot). That day remains both one of my best memories and worst memories — it was one of the only times I can remember my stereotypically strong and silent brother telling me he loves me without any coaxing.
I’ll never forget that.
I’m sure there’s more I could say, but sifting through all of these memories, trying to remain true to the story, while leaving out the shit I’m not ready to deal with, is kind of exhausting and painful. I feel bad criticizing the people who are showering me with love and gifts, but I’ve got to deal with at least some of the memories rattling around in my mind.
Thank you for listening. That’s more than can be said about most.