I was barely 19 when my eldest sister decided to make a run for it.
Against all my convictions and everything I parroted that my parents believed, I helped her.
I remember her looking over her shoulder at me, washing dishes, as she went downstairs in our split level home, a silent farewell where we couldn’t embrace or pretend anything was going on.
I remember I was still working on the dishes in the sink when my mom found her empty room and sounded the alarm. I remember pretending I had absolutely no idea, and I pretended that i wasn’t crying into the dishwater as I heard my dad called everyone he could call, attempting to intimidate them into helping him scour the countryside for her or cutting off any resources she might have through them, calling her names and predicting her demise.
I was a little over 19 when my parents sent me to ATI’s Journey to the Heart in an attempt to keep me from following her example.
Against all precedents, they sent me alone on a train and in a taxi to the center of the country where I found theological discrepancies between ATI’s material and my parents own branch of personally branded “THE correct way” philosophy. I remember feeling the sting of rejection when the famed seer himself sent me away curtly when he found out I was there on a scholarship and that our family had never been card-carrying members of his organization. I remember the resentment that would not go away no matter how many times I tried to “tear down the stronghold,” and all the years since that week and this one. I remember the thrill of spending my own money, finding my own train connections, walking around a real college campus with an old friend, and experiencing a day of her academic life.
I was halfway through being 19 when I secretly began corresponding with my sister again.
Against all thoughts of self-preservation, I dared to call her and spend time with her during an afternoon event she came to where the siblings and I were performing our homeschooled talents.
I remember the horrible ending to that evening when my father refused to allow her to hold the baby, and seeing, again as if for the first time, how malicious he was by nature. I remember the tortuously long bible studies he forced us to have wherein he would use an example at least every other week of how wicked she was and how she hated her family and her family’s god. I remember how I first followed one of her links to the blog of a book-writer who changed my life.
I was on the verge of 20 when I began spouting dangerous ideologies that put me on my parent’s radar.
Against every spanking I had ever had, I stood up to my father and refused to allow him to confiscate something of mine. I remember the thrill of having a personal possession that did not have to be shared, a laptop purchased with “graduation” gifts from family. It gave me a window into the outside world, it gave me a taste. I remember looking for the author-lady’s article about how Michael Pearl responded to the first and second child killed by his methods. I remember arguing with my parents in tears that this was deadly and that it was paramount that they look into their punishment methods as they sat there with jaws scraping the floor.
I was a month away from being 20 when I refused to back down one more time, and my father grounded me to my room except for bathroom breaks and meals.
Against my JTTH-inspired vow to serve my family another year, I took a cellphone that was snuck in to me and began calling people who would listen to me and offer advice. I remember “Elizabeth” encouraging me to secure my social security card, and I did it despite having to sneak into my parent’s room and rifle through the family folders to find it. I remember staring at the folder and being too afraid to take my expired passport or anything else in case they would notice the diminished size and suspect I was planning something. I remember the final weeks when our elderly neighbor’s and next-door-secular-homeschooling-family read the author’s finished book and put all the pieces together. I remember being rebellious and locking my room door every night, and every morning finding it unlocked and cracked open.
I was a week and a half over 20 when I went to a local Amusement Park with my family for a special vacation on discount tickets purchased with couponing.
Against all common sense my father ordered all us females to wear skirts for modesty, and I protested by wearing my shortest (knee-length) one with capris underneath. I remember almost getting sent back to the car for the whole day because I pointed out several mini-skirt wearing women and commented on their impressive modesty. I remember holding my tongue because I had one last day to spend with my little brother, and I remember being brave enough to whisper to him what I was planning at the end of the day. I remember the blisters on my heels that I didn’t mind because I spent the night petting my cats and begging them to forgive me for abandoning them.
I was 13 days over 20 when I put a note on my dresser along with money for the cats care and I walked two boxes of clothing over to the waiting car that took me into town.
Against all odds I managed to stay in town most of the day until my sister was able to leave work and come get me. I remember people being extraordinarily kind to the naive should-be-an-adult woman who was hiding in fear and watching the door. I remember staring down at my Friendly’s taco-bowl-salad and being unable to swallow because my brother delivered my father’s ultimatum. I would come home by sundown or my cats would be put out at the edge of the road.
I remember my sister facing her demons less than a year after her harrowing escape in order to help me.
I was only two days older when we drove into a driveway 500 miles distant and I first saw the people who were going to be my teachers and helpers for the next half decade.
Against the new backdrop I bought my first two-piece tankini-and-skirt combo and my sister and I shared a sunny afternoon in their community pool. I remember everyone cautioning us about how these people were complete strangers and if “anything feels off” to come back to my sister’s and to figure things out from there. I remember the new landlady buying me a sheet set for my room in a vibrant lime green along with a “husband pillow” and her humor and kindness made me feel right at home. I remember thanking my sister before she left, and being happy, scared, nervous, and tired as I started my new life with a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I was free, and that I would remain free.
my heart goes out to you and the cruelty your father had to both you and your cats….I hope they are ok…I too am a cat lover and went through some legalist crap in the church over pets and what to wear. I rode my horse to church and the pastor called my husband (who was min. of music, youth, ed) and asked “what is wrong with your wayward wife?” The pastor had told me I was to wear dresses at all times and suggested I get rid of my 2 cats. We were not there long. But the Gothard thing on how to be a submissive wife was at our next church. It nearly drove me crazy. I also spent 27 yrs teaching in public school and all the rules they put on a teacher nearly drove me crazy also. It is about 20 yrs and we have not been to church. Unlike some under this legalist regime, we still believe in a loving God, knowing it is men who make up more rules than are necessary. I feel so bad that all the extra crap on how to raise a family has driven some wonderful young people to atheism. I wish and pray God’s best for you as you find your way. Christians do not have it easy no matter where they live. I probably could not take being a Christian in a communist or Muslim country where they face death every day.
My heartfelt sympathy to you and over your cats. I hope you’re okay and the cats too.
They were put out in the garage, but bequeathed to my youngest sister to care for.
Unfortunately the boy cat ran away soon after, but the mama one lived out her days there, and the other girl is still an independent entity. It was bittersweet, but they survived, like me.
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You are so brave. Mad respect.
Wow, what a terrible set of parents ! That “dad” especially. A real piece of work. Congrats that you and your sister got away when you did. It’s too bad your cats weren’t taken in by the neighbors, but then again, dear old dad may be a scary neighbor to seal with. For the life of me, I don’t understand how such monstrous behavior from such parents are tolerated by churches, much less God himself ! Too many parents, I witnessed in church over the years when I still attended, got a sadistic zing out of causing their babies and other kids distress. Absolutely ruined a service for us once this took place. And the pastors were either blind to the wrongness of those practices, and or they condoned it as a cultural trait from the Puritans and the Old South handed down to them. My hope for you is that you and your sister can one day rescue your remaining siblings from these tyrants and their narcisstic rages. CPS, or legal adoption can be done by you two, as you are no longer minors, and I’ve heard of this being done in secular families where they older siblings sue for custody of their younger siblings. Legal Aid may be able to help you if you want to pursue this course of action….foster care can be dicey if done by strangers. One more thing-there is a fundamentalist program on the radio called Family Life Today(can Google them if you like)and their guest line up has many of those described in HA, as giving parents advice on how and why, they should abuse their children in God’s name. I wonder if your father listens to that stuff ?? Reb Bradley, Tedd Trip,etc. I only listen to the shows on the radio for entertainment now, remembering when we listened to these victimization promoters, and allowed people back into our lives who absolutely didn’t belong there-yet we did because to not do so was unforgiving. Forgiveness in itself isn’t bad, but re-entry into the survivors life should NEVER be automatic. We found out in some very dangerous ways just how TRUE this is.
Thank you for sharing your experience.
The way you were treated is reprehensible.
I hope you find peace.