Hurts Me More Than You: Charis’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


Charis’s Story

Our physical abuse was defined as love.

I used to think that there was only one thing that was not ideal during my childhood. What I remember as isolated incidents, the times that my mom was not ok with my dad’s behavior. I’m now seeing with different eyes the methods of ‘discipline’ and ‘training’ that my parents used. Realizing that what was abusive, I considered normal.

When it came to “training” or “discipline” there was no doubt my parents believed it was for our ultimate good. That it was an expression of their love for us. They “chastised” us because they wanted to keep our souls out of an “eternal lake of fire.” We were told many things about how this abuse was actually love, and demanded by God:

“I do this because I love you.” “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” “God disciplines those he loves.” “Parents who don’t discipline their children hate them.”

When I was younger, spankings and time alone were the main methods of “discipline” that I remember. It didn’t really matter how old you were. A first time for one of us, I remember my sibling being around maybe eighteen months. My mom and I came home from the grocery store and my younger sibling was very… subdued? Dad said they had had their first training session, or something like that. No idea what, if anything, had been done wrong.

I know there was some statement by dad on how he had done it while my mom was gone because she would have been too soft.

I don’t even know how to describe what they used to strike us with. It was made of something like leather, very thick and smooth, too big to be from a belt.

There was always a pronouncement of how many times we would be hit. “That’s eight!” or the like. My mom had a penchant for counting, like some parents do when they want you to do something “one, two, three…” In our case each count represented another “spanking”. Before you could be punished, or “chastised”, you had to express absolute submission. This meant not crying, removing your pants and underwear, and bending over the bed.

Afterwards you had to hug them, and usually there was a drawn out discussion about what you had done wrong.

I remember being maybe five years old. It was after my dad had spanked me, and I was crying. I didn’t want to touch him, so I was backed up towards the wall away from him, and really didn’t want to hug. He was explaining to me that just like I was backing away from him, my sin separates me from him, and hurts our relationship.

Conditional affection, love defined as chastisement, and the blame laid to me for problems in our relationship.

I distinctly remember a “training” moment when I was a small person, at whatever potty training age was. I remember being given specific instruction to go in the toilet and not my underwear, or else. It seems like mom and dad left me alone to play for awhile, because I remember the moment when they came to my door and discovered I had gone in my pants. It seems like the reasoning was that I was rebellious or lazy, but I couldn’t say.  “Sins of omission” and all that. I was in big trouble, was given a lecture and spanked. I also remember that I was wearing orange.

I have a memory of playing in my room with a doll that cried if you turned it over. I was spanking the doll with the leather instrument my parents used on me and making my doll cry. My parents discovered me and I was in big trouble. To this day I have no idea what was so wrong, I was a child emulating my parents.


There is one term my dad uses to this day that concisely defines the picture of God I was painted.

“God’ll help you with that.”

Seemingly sanguine, it was used as a threat or condemnation. It meant something along the lines of: “If you don’t get your act together God will make your life living hell until you shape up.”

Similarly, if dad said “I can help you with that” it was meant as a threat. Figure out how to obey on your own, or the consequences would be severe.

Around eight I have fewer and fewer memories. The bottom dropped out of life and everything was hard, for all of us. Never got easier after that. From age eight until I moved out life was a constant stress. You never knew when something was going to happen, when someone was going to get hurt. Sundays were the worst because dad was home all day. There was plenty of ‘discipline’. I have no idea what was deserved and what wasn’t.

Something must have happened to the leather thing, because my mom adopted a sturdy wooden spoon. She broke a few of those with use. Dad, I think, used his hand for a bit because I remember his graduation to a board due to the strain on his hand.

I was around ten or eleven years old when dad made a board with a handle and put work into sanding and finishing it. I remember it being 2+ feet long and five or six inches wide. I only have the memory, nothing exact, and of course everything is bigger when you’re a child.

There was a big to-do about the whole thing. Dad talked about a board from his childhood that had holes in it and two separate layers along with a handle. One of those -you’re so lucky I had to walk to school uphill both ways- kind of things. I don’t even know if the story was true.

The existence of this new form of punishment was a big threat. I had no doubt dad would use it on us. At this point I was already afraid of hearing his truck in the driveway. I remember cleaning my section of the room immaculately. The hangers in our closet were so straight that looking at then made me dizzy.

The very first time dad pronounced punishment with the new board it was for me. We were getting groceries as a family. My younger sibling started to walk away to go be with dad. We got in trouble for being between parents alone in the store, so I grabbed my sibling’s sweatshirt and told him to stay. He went to dad and told him what I had done. Dad got in my face and said he was going to punish me with the board. I fell apart right there in the grocery store, absolutely hysterical. My parents herded us out of the store, I was screaming and crying the whole way home. My dad told me to shut up, no more noise on the way home. I couldn’t stop crying. Mom suggested to my sibling that we take the punishment together, split it or something. He would have been around five ears old. To this day I don’t understand why she said that. I don’t remember any more of what happened. It seems like mom and dad started dickering (maybe about her suggestion that I get less) and then dad left angry, for a long time. I don’t know for sure.

I figured out that if something mattered to you, they’d use it to punish you. If you did something wrong, they’d take it away. If you didn’t do something right, they’d tell you that you might have gotten what you wanted back, but now you wouldn’t.

I made it my mission in life to care about absolutely nothing.

If I didn’t want it they couldn’t use it against me. I didn’t care about eating. I didn’t care about spending time with them. I didn’t care about being alone. I had no friends after eleven, so they couldn’t keep me from seeing anyone. One sibling was particularly hard to use the method of removing “privileges” on. I remember my mom saying in exasperation that there was nothing that mattered to him, how was she going to take it away? Removing meals or no food for a day was an oft used punishment.

I remember distinctly the moment when I realized I could never be good enough. It was never going to stop.

I had made dinner for the entire family, cleared up and was just finishing washing every dish. My dad came into the kitchen and screamed at me. I remember dad saying that if I thought that was good enough I was crazy. I don’t remember anything after that.

I figured out there was nothing I could do to protect myself or my siblings. All I wanted was to find a way to prove that we didn’t deserve it. That we had done the right thing. We had obeyed even if dad didn’t think so. I became increasingly depressed and suicidal as I faced the reality that there wasn’t a standard of perfect that christians agreed to. Even if I were capable of perfection, we couldn’t even decide what it was.

The years from early grade school and all through my teens are a blur. I have very few isolated incidents that I remember. Screaming and cursing, unpredictable enough to completely catch you off guard.

My brothers definitely got the worst of the punishments. I don’t know why this is. Maybe they thought boys were sturdier or more rebellious and needed more force to make an impression. Maybe my parents had a harder time breaking their spirit. Maybe because they were younger than me and got the worst of my dad’s anger as his stability waned.

My dad beat my brothers. I have no difficulty calling it a beating. If you hit your child with a board using all your force countless times on a regular basis, that is a beating.

I know there was punishment that I never knew of, and sometimes there were things I heard about later. Dad would go into a room with one of us and I had no idea what happened. Most of the time I would intentionally go outside in the yard so I didn’t have to hear the screaming of my sibling.

Every day it shatters my heart to know that I was there, and there was nothing I could do about any of this. I wanted to do something, I wanted to protect my siblings. But I was helpless. I wished I could take it all for them, find a way to teach them how to avoid all of it, to be good enough. In hindsight I know it was fruitless.

This ‘training’ is not what love is, but I was raised to believe that it was.

Navigating the Justice System, Part Three: As a Young Adult

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on June 12, 2014.

< Part Two

When I was about 17, I moved out.

Once it was truly clear to me that what happened in my home was abusive and not normal I decided to try to end the abuse for everyone. I started making regular calls to Children’s Aid on my father. I had to get help making these calls because Children’s Aid did not take my calls seriously because I was perceived as a disgruntled daughter (I was a disgruntled daughter, I suppose – but it didn’t negate what I had to say). There had already been multiple closed investigations on my family, and my parents presented as godly people who were just doing the best they could do with very little money and terribly rebellious children (although the social workers were always impressed with our obedience). I had help from guidance counsellors at my high school, and from the family I was staying with.

This process exacted a steep personal cost.

I had to relive what had happened constantly, and I worried that if this bid for freedom for all my younger siblings failed, and my parents found out, I would be cut off from them forever. My father had always threatened to pack everyone up and move to Mexico in the middle of the night, and I was afraid that if CAS called and invited themselves over for a pre-announced visit, my father would follow through on this threat and be forever protected by his friend-of-a-friend counterparts in Mexico. This situation caused a lot of pain for me. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, and began engaging frequently in fairly serious self-harm, although I had done some self-harm even as a pre-teen before I knew that it was a thing. I have self-injury scars on my arms that will never go away.

My self-injury served as a tangible demonstration to those who were supporting me by calling CAS, that there was a real problem that needed to be fixed. I believe that some of the thinking was that maybe if they could get an intervention in the family home, they would be able to save my younger siblings from going through the same thing. It was kind of too late to save them from the pain, but at least they could end it.

CAS became convinced to take a closer look.

Once another investigation was finally launched, things moved quickly. There were a few meetings, and my dad was given the option of promising to not yell at my mother or physically punish the children (this may sound familiar). They found out that he chased teenagers with garden implements, and beat kids with dowel rods and broomsticks. They only wanted that to stop. He declined this option, so he ended up being removed from the property by CAS and police. He was taken to jail and charged with child abuse for his use of unreasonable corporal punishment. He was not allowed back on the family property because my mom was there with the kids (I had also moved home) and he wasn’t allowed to displace the family. We went to criminal court when I was 19. I had just started dating my now-husband, and going out for some lunch while at court was our first date. I testified, along with several of my siblings.

We were given victim support this time.

We testified much more clearly than we did when we were kids. We went for a few days. The judge was kind to us, and cleared the court room of anyone that we didn’t want to have there. They asked us questions kindly, and didn’t push us when it was hard. We only testified against my father, not against my mother. We decided as a group of teenagers that the priority was to get my father to answer for what he did, because what he did was much more serious than what my mom did, and my mom had not been physically abusive to my siblings in the time between my father’s arrest, and court. The result of those court proceedings is that my father took part in a plea deal, where he pled guilty to three counts in exchange for the other six (there are nine siblings) charges being dropped.

He was given a year of probation. He also had to continue going to court with my mom (family court, I believe) to work out issues of custody, but for him to get a say, he was supposed to file his own papers. He never did. He repeatedly attended court with no representation, or asked for adjournments to have more time to file papers. Eventually this ended and my mom pretty much ended up with custody and residency in the home, because of his inaction. My grandfather bought my father a car and a cell phone, and he has spent the past 7 years floating around between staying on his other property in Nova Scotia, and living with his like-minded friends in Ontario who allow him to live in their houses with their children, or to set up a shed or camper in their back yards.

He still has no concept that he did anything wrong at all.

End of series.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Cylena Crawford

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Cylena Crawford

On January 25, 2001, 17-year-old Cylena Crawford from Elgin, South Carolina was left to feed, care for, and discipline her brothers and sisters while her mom worked and her father was otherwise occupied. That day, however, her “discipline” meant brutally beating both her 13-year-old brother Michael and 11-year-old sister Korresha — and the latter fatally so. Korresha died the following day from bleeding to death.

On January 25, 2001, Cylena Crawford brutally disciplined both her 13-year-old brother Michael and 11-year-old sister Korresha — and the latter died as a result.
On January 25, 2001, Cylena Crawford brutally disciplined both her 13-year-old brother Michael and 11-year-old sister Korresha — and the latter died as a result.

Cylena was the oldest child in the Crawford family. Her mother Sylvia worked 2 jobs to support the family and her father Lawrence was a Nazarite priest who believed in Pentecostalism. All of the Crawford children were allegedly homeschooled by Lawrence, though “he often wasn’t home” and neighbors “rarely saw the children” outside their mobile home. Cylena had four siblings: Michael (13), Korresha (11), and 2 others (a boy, also 11 years old, and a girl 9 years old). Cylena reportedly “often was left in charge.” The entire responsibility of her siblings fell to her: she fed them and, “if they got out of line, would spank them.” In 2000, the year prior to the murder, social services were called to the Crawford home due to an anonymous tip about neglect, but no neglect was able to be substantiated.

On the day of the beatings, Cylena was left in charge of her siblings as was usual. After Michael and Korresha did something wrong (it remains unclear what exactly), she started disciplining them with a 1-1, 18 inch board. However, according to reports, something went wrong: “Once she started, she got carried away with the 11-year-old.” Authorities said Cylena beat Korresha “on the head, body, arms and legs,” and Michael “in the back and about the body.”

Complicating the situation was the fact that Lawrence was home this day. Not only that, but Korresha was still alive when her mother returned as well. Despite being disoriented, Korresha told her parents about the beatings at 10 pm the same day. They did nothing, however, until the following morning when Lawrence found her unconscious on her bedroom floor. Despite being rushed to the hospital, Korresha was unable to recover. Officials said she “bled to death after blood seeped through her muscle tissues for several hours.”

What role Lawrence played in the murders is unknown. The father originally told authorities he was away when Cylena beat her siblings, but he later admitted to being home at the time. Thus on February 25, 2001, he was also charged with murder. He was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison. Cylena’s murder charges remained intact and she was admitted to a mental health hospital. Her mother Sylvia was also charged with neglect in light of the fact that Korresha was allowed to bleed profusely overnight and was not taken into the hospital until she was unconscious.

View the case index here.

Like Acid on Skin: Myra’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Myra” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warnings: the following story contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse of a child.


Perhaps this is just for me, for me to finally put into words the terrible pain in my heart, which seems to slowly eat away at life like acid on skin. Sexual education.

I received none as a child, absolutely none.

The following story might be confusing in places because I have recently been told I suffer from PTSD and DID, or dissociative identity disorder. Large portions of my childhood are missing, confused, or simply changed. Only recently has the truth been resurfacing in my mind.

I was homeschooled my entire life growing up, and my family was the homeschooling family to be in our area.

My mother kept a computer in the house that was password protected and we were never allowed to use it unless we were typing. I found her password book one day tucked under her mattress when I was cleaning the house. When I was a teenager I snuck out of my room in the middle of the night and I searched sex, rape, and pornography on the World Wide Web. They were all terms I had heard before, mostly associated with evil and the world going to the devil at church.

Needless to say I got a first-hand pseudo sex education from the porn industry.  And I was hooked. I spent every night on that computer watching pornography in a trance. I realized, eventually, that I had been masturbating since before I could remember as a self-soothing mechanism when I was spanked. I also realized that my father touched me after beating me (it was called spanking but I was always left with bruises from the middle of my back to my knees) to make me stop crying.

I had my first orgasm as a small child with my father.

Frankly, the experience was beyond confusing. The actual experience with him was pleasurable not painful at all, but it forever associated being beaten with sex for me. And obviously, I was being molested even thought I did not know it. I honestly thought it was how people were supposed to comfort their children. The intense shame and regret I felt as a teenager immediately caused me to dissociate the memory and place it in my mind in a place that was carefully guarded.

I do not know how long this abuse continued or when it started. There are other elements of the abuse that I have recently remembered but are too fresh, raw, and frankly too explicit to detail.

My mother spanked me between the legs whenever she caught me masturbating. When I was almost a teenager I was raped by a family friend.

Today I am left with a confusing mixture of sexual issues. I have a hard time not associating sex with punishment. I have a hard time not seeing sex as something used to make someone feel better, basically, used as a commodity, I have a hard time associating intimacy with sexual action.

Having any sort of sexual education might have helped me see that I was being taken advantage of by the people who were supposed to care for me. Perhaps it would not have, I honestly do not know. I do know that it could have saved me from a life long struggle with pornography addiction.

I hear others talking about how wonderful, intimate and generally fireworkery, sex is.

I wish that had not been taken from me.

I wish I had not been so isolated. I wish I had been told more about sex.

To My Baby Brother: The Things You’ll Never Know, by Jessica


Also by Jessica on HA: “Copy Kids—The Immorality of Individuality” and “Christian Discipline, A Child’s Perspective.”

To my baby brother:

I know we don’t have the best relationship.

I know you think I’m ungrateful for the things my parents gave us. I know you think I ran away that day when I was 18.  I remember the day you told me I abandoned you.  I know you weren’t as mistreated and I am glad for that, because I’m your big sister.  I love you.

I can prove I love you in the things you’ll never know.

When you were little, you  liked to flush things down the toilet.  Dad was always snaking the drain in our little 2 bedroom trailer house.  It’s a  quirky kid thing.  One day, when you were 3 and I was 7 or 8, you flushed a match box car and clogged the drain.  Dad found out.  You ran to the bedroom screaming and locked the door.  You were 3.  You weighed 30 lbs soaking wet.  When dad got that door open, he sat down cross legged on the floor with you on his lap and started punching you.  I ran for him.  She made him stop.

I took a beating for you that night.

It was worth it and I would do it again.  This was the first time, it wasn’t the last.  I learned to take credit for your mistakes whenever I could when you were little.  I wish I had told him I flushed the car.

That day when I was 18, the day that made me leave, I cried all night.  I knew I had to leave.  I knew I wasn’t safe.  I knew being choked by my dad wasn’t normal.  I didn’t cry because I was worried for myself or that I was going to miss my parents.

I cried because I couldn’t take you or my older brother with me. 

I want you know though, I fought for you.  I spoke to your school about counseling for you.  I talked to social services. I spoke to an attorney.  I wasn’t trying to abandon you.  I thought about you every day and grieved when I was told their was nothing I could do.

You were just barely a teenager then and whether they will admit it or not, my parents learned something about smothering a teenager.  It backfires. You, little brother, were in public school after kindergarten and received a full education.  Be grateful for that, you’ll never know how valuable that is.  You were able to take drivers ed.  I heard one year that you were out celebrating halloween with your friends and I cried that day because I realized they were giving you freedom.  You were allowed to date.  You were given a car and they assisted you with college.

I am glad that they gave you a better a life. 

You were however, still abused.  I can’t say that enough and you need to hear it.  Dad was beating you too.  I remember your middle of the night cries.

So little brother, when we discuss these painful things, I need you to try to remember how things were.  I payed a price in love to try to make your life a little better.  I need to you to try to remember and see things from a little different perspective.  I don’t want you to stop loving mom and dad.  You guys have a good relationship.  I just want you to know that I fought for you.

I did not just run away. I didn’t abandon you.

Silent No Longer: Lani Harper’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lani Harper” is a pseudonym.


Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of physical abuse.


Part One

He closed the door behind us, and told me to pull my pants down and bend over as he dramatically pulled his belt out of the beltloops of his pants. Disobedience was not an option and would most certainly grant me a far worse session with the belt, so I pulled my pants down. Sometimes my mother would let us leave our underwear on, but JD never did. Once I tried to wear double underwear, anything to help dull the blows a bit, but got found out and the reprisal was so severe that I never did it again.

But for JD, all our beatings were naked from the waist down, and if we were wearing a dress, then we were totally naked.

I stood half bent over, holding the edge of the bed, while his mountainous bulk shadowed me from the ceiling light. And braced myself for what was to come. No amount of bracing kept me from stumbling to keep my stance, to keep from falling over. I was a small child and he used all his substantial force to emphasize every strike. Though my legs trembled violently and could barely hold me up, I knew that falling over meant starting over.

With each strike, I was to count out loud. I tried to order my wobbly tongue and quavering jaw to speak clearly enough that I wouldn’t have to begin again, but inevitably I cried and he could not understand me. This meant restarting multiple times, and his frustration when I lost track of where I was. The numbers I pictured in my mind wouldn’t stay still. In the middle somewhere, overcome with humiliation, anger, frustration and other emotions I could not name, I urinated. And prayed that my underwear and culottes tangled around my ankles would absorb the warm liquid, prayed that my socks would catch any straggling drips, prayed that it would not wet the carpet beneath my feet.

I gripped the end of their comforter so hard that I made fists in spite of the fabric in my palms. Gripped harder and harder so as to resist the powerful instinct to raise my hand to shield my bare behind. But I had done that before too, and not only did my arm get the brunt of a lash or two, but I had to begin all over again, ensuring the beating lasted longer.

Hot saltiness tumbled down my cheeks until I was almost gagging on my tears, combined with the warmth of urine down my leg, and the all-encompasingness of my humiliation threatened to drown me.

Indeed, I prayed for death in those moments.

I seem to remember 18 being the magic number, though the number changed every time. This, I guess, so that we would always be wondering, and he would always be in control. I was never sure when exactly he would decide I’d had enough.

When he was finished, he made me recite a verse or two while pulling my clothes back on with trembling fingers. There was a lecture about how how this was his God-given duty to show love to me and help me become less sinful, that I deserved more, worse and should be thankful, that this was hard and he didn’t like it but it was necessary and in my best interests.

Then he would duct tape my mouth shut, a concrete reminder that I was never to say anything to anyone.

My mouth was now shut, and I knew I was to keep the tape on all night, during my sleep. Now go clean yourself up, hurled at me with disgust in his voice.

I did not get to finish my half-eaten meal, but was sent still-hungry to clean up the table and kitchen. I did not regret not being made to sit down, but moving was difficult. My sister Andie was to help me, both to ensure that the job was completed properly and also so that I didn’t sneak scraps off plates to try to ease my hunger. Anyway, the tape over my mouth prevented further eating. Her eyes burned compassion into me whenever I dared look at her.

My mother actually told me after one beating that I would not remember these episodes and that if I did, it meant I was bitter. I remember thinking that I was okay with that because I did not want to forget what she had done to me and how much I hated her in that moment.

I always walked out of The Bedroom with newly-kindled anger and hatred at my parents.

The bruises stayed for weeks, but often there would be another beating before the bruises from the previous incident had completely healed such that my skin was a mottled mess of yellow and green old wounds mixed with the bright red-purple of the new welts. The frumpy, blousy style of the early 80s, combined with the mandated-loose clothing of the fundamental churches actually worked to my benefit: I could hide my wounds, though even the softest cloths chafed my swollen, cracked and oozing skin.

And always, on the way out, he would say, remember, what happens in The Bedroom stays in The Bedroom, and what happens in This House stays in This House. And he would send me away with the knowledge that he was watching and all-knowing, that he would know if I told even my siblings, which would result in another lesson. We were never allowed to comfort each other, though there were a few hasty, whispered words to the newly-beaten one in the dark of our room.

We did not dare hug.

I cried myself to sleep, fiercely dashing the tears from my cheeks, attempting to wipe them away before they sogged the adhesive and loosened it from my skin. I had to be able to show him my still-taped mouth first thing in the morning. After a while, we stole tape so that we could remove the tape while we slept, then replace it in the morning.

The Pearls published their book about the time I graduated from high school, but my parents had been using their methods, espoused by Jack Hyles and Lester Roloff at the time, from our infancy in the late 1970s. Contrary to what the Pearls, Gary Ezzo, Jack Hyles and others who espouse this way of rearing children believe, this expectation of a surface appearance or semblance of obedience actually works against the parents who use it: in our family, it created bitter children adept at hiding their bitterness. It created strife and hardened our hearts (that they thought they were softening) against our parents: we hated them.

It created a subversive culture of deeply angry children with secretive, ignored and repressed anger, who lashed out at each other because we could not lash out at our parents. It created a culture of blind obedience instead of teaching us how to make good and informed decisions. It ignored the fact that we would grow up and move out, and kept us in this perpetual childhood for longer than is natural. As a result, I spent much of my twenties figuring out things and growing personally in ways I should have been able to during my teen years. Finding indpendence and autonomy, discovering my authority and my rights that were denied me.

It wasn’t until I had children that I realized spanking isn’t hard, it is easy.

It is easy to hit, and once you have begun a habit of hitting, the next hitting episode comes easier and easier until it’s rote, instinctual, without thought, automatic. Hitting is also a gateway to anger: the more I hit my kids, the angrier I became and the easier it was to become angry. I recognized this very early, while my kids were still very little, but though they were nothing as severe as my own beatings as a child (three swats with a spoon while clothed), I regret every episode of spanking them.

I do not remember my last beating, though they continued in much the same fashion until I was sixteen. I still remember the humiliation and ferocious anger at being violated on the outside by the beating and on the inside by the changes they sought to force into us, by the association to God and spirituality. It affects me decades later and has thus shaped my views on everything from parenting to God to spirituality, to self-worth and more.

I got out without really knowing what I was running from or why…and was shunned, but that’s a story for another time. Decompressing and deprogramming continue into the present, but I hope that telling my stories will begin to dispell the power my parents and their secrets still hold over me.

My name is Lani Harper, and I am a survivor.

Silent No Longer: Lani Harper’s Story, Part One

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lani Harper” is a pseudonym.


Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of physical abuse.


How to sum up the first twenty years of my life in a few paragraphs? The stories are too numerous and shocking for me to process, let alone speak of.

The memories tumble over one another, leaving me gasping for air as I look with new eyes at my childhood. A childhood I thought was near-idyllic for many years. Even after I started to see my parents as too harsh on us as kids, it took nearly a decade and a half for me to put the label on it. The stories are many, but they all begin with a single point. I cannot tell the rest until I tell the beginning, the root from which all other things sprung. I am a 36 year old woman, a wife of more than ten years, mother to three.

Yet I still feel like a 6 year old girl being tersely instructed to not tell, or else.

They taunted me with mysterious unnamed events that they assured me I didn’t want but would befall me if I spoke, told me they were only able to spare me these horrible things if I kept the Code of Silence. They told us that this was how Christians disciplined their children. Other people outside of our faith wouldn’t understand why we did things this way. They were ignorant, through no fault of their own, and we had to spare them this particularly harsh reality of Christian families.

Logically, I know that he will not beat me or physically harm me now, but emotionally, psychologically, I still hold a terror that he will. Yet I am compelled to speak and encouraged by those who have gone before to tell their stories. Sad, that this is how we bond, that we have been reduced to clinging desperately to one another in our shared woundedness.

My name is Lani Harper, and I was abused.

I am the middle child of five, the third girl, and my father always introduced us like this: This is Number One Daughter (hand on Libbie’s head), Number Two Daughter (hand on Andie’s head), Number Three Daughter (I always tried to duck his hand; I hated the heaviness on my head), Number One Son (a pause while he puffed himself up with pride at introducing our brother Dale), and Number Five (hand on Evie’s head). Number One was better than Two, Two better than Three, but we all paled in comparison to Number One Son. He was never “Number Four”.

I grew up in a house where my father JD exercised complete and aboslute authority over all. His word was, we joked then (but with an underlying seriousness) law. And he brooked no challenges, no contrariness, no insubordination. To do so was to incur the wrath, to bring down his heavy hand of judgment in the form of severe disciplines. I suppose he may have always had this sort of near-obsession with power and control, and joining the military because he was flunking out of college only reinforced these authoritarian tendencies and cemented them by practice, giving him tools and methods to use on us, his insubordinates. He often commented on how running a house was similar to running a ship. And, he would say, I want to run a tight ship.

We were commanded to fall in line and to call him Sir.

Children in this culture are viewed as the property of the parents, and especially of the father. When termed that way, instead of viewing a child as a gift, a blessing, an individual entrusted to two people to nurture into an independent, educated, intelligent, functioning member of their community and citizen of their country, one begins to see how little children are valued.

Children are not people. They are not worthy. They are born sinners, with the innate and persistent duty to sin against their parents. It is an us-versus-them mentality: the children are against us, are going to undermine us, are going to undo us at an elemental level. Consequently, the parents’ focus becomes the need to stand firm against their children’s “wiles”, and to guard themselves against being drawn astray by their children. To be strong and stronger than their children. To resist their children anytime the parents feel pulled against their will, their desires, their instincts. And then to deny their children as they ask for things, in an attempt to show the children, as my father would say, who’s boss.

With this perspective, every small blunder became magnified under the perception that we were elementally sinful, deliberately devious, manipulative, intentionally-subversive.

And it was punished as such. It was a society obsessed with control, evidenced by the behavior of the man’s children. We were brutally instructed on how to act, how to speak, how to comport ourselves in the home such that when outside the home, we would not embarrass them with our childishness.  We were drilled a horrid play-acting at home with severe punishment even for transgressing in practice – until we relinquished our will and just did things the way he wanted them.

So we sought to learn the mercurial rules, learn to be good, learn to do anything and everything we could to not bring about the abuse.

We were happy because children are happy until given a reason to be otherwise.

Happiness, I believe, persists as a desperate pursuit in order to feel normal, and to try to balance out or paint over some of the darkness in the home with something beautiful. It is a pursuit critical to their sanity, offering an escape from the horrors they have to face.

It took years after having kids of my own before I gathered courage to myself to describe to my husband how my parents spanked my siblings and me. After hesitantly giving the details, with a guarded watchfulness in my eye to see if he’d scoff or brush it off as inconsequential, he surprised me.

That’s not a spanking, he said, that’s a beat-down.

I had to change my definition: I now refer to them as “beatings” and not “spankings”. Definitions make all the difference.

The beatings began, like for most children raised in this early pre-solidified fundamentalist culture, in infancy. The weapon of choice grew with us, beginning with a wooden spoon or ruler. Then it was a ping-pong paddle, then a yard stick, and finally JD’s very thick leather belt folded in half, and beatings were given for any number of perceived-failings large and small.

During dinner one night, I stood to reach into the center of the table to give myself a second helping. I remember being excited, though whether at serving myself or being granted a rare second helping, I am not sure. I was about eight and small in stature, and I had a half-full glass of milk. In my childish exuberance, I reached over my glass and knocked it over. And froze. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe they would let it go. The milk seeped into the crack between the leaf and the rest of the table, wetting the place mats and the table runner underneath the dishes.

Let’s go, JD said with a sigh of exasperation and thew his napkin on the table, looks like you need a lesson with the belt.

And so, in the middle of the meal, I was escorted to The Bedroom. I knew what doom awaited me. All for spilling some milk. I knew that, if I were allowed to finish my meal, that I would be allowed no further drink because spilling my glass might have been purposeful.

He closed the door behind us, and told me to pull my pants down and bend over as he dramatically pulled his belt out of the beltloops of his pants.

Part Two >

I Was Beaten, But That’s Not My Primary Issue With Homeschooling: Rebecca Irene Gorman’s Story

Rebecca Irene Gorman. Photo used with permission.
Rebecca Irene Gorman. Photo used with permission.

I have a past.

Those I tell about my past find it tragic, unbelievable, and hard to understand.

I want them to understand my past so that they’ll know that I am an intelligent, social, motivated, hardworking woman, not the misanthrope slacker I may appear to be to the casual observer. I want them to know that I’m making positive life choices and tackling challenging issues everyday, even if they are not immediately visible to the outside world, due to the cruel grip of past violence, reaching through time.

Japan progresses into the future with the complex issues of radioactive waste ever-present. Development and renewal in Haiti includes rebuilding after the earthquake.  The America we build today for our children and grandchildren is built upon an America that experienced 9/11 and the Patriot Act. We may forgive the past, but it always continues to exist in the way it molds the present.

My preparations for sleep include putting a band-aid on my nose, threading floss through an oral appliance and braces, rinsing with hydrogen peroxide and oral wound care, turning on a white noise machine and a HEPA air purifier on high, propping myself up on pillows in hot-washed cases, tightly binding a strap around my chin, and attaching an air-blowing tube to my face.

If I’m lucky, I’ll wake up before noon, without sleep inertia, and untraumatized by any lingering nightmares – an encouraging start to my day.

My evenings and mornings – my evenings and mornings now – could have been like your evenings and mornings. But someone made a choice for me, more than twenty years ago, that this instead would be my life today.

Today, I can stand in line at the grocery store. I’m no longer sitting on the ground, in an ankle length dress, while I wait for the sales clerk to ring up my purchases. Today, as long as I remember to take my morning and afternoon medication, I can clumsily attempt a game of volleyball or tennis without needing to sit down between serves.** I can stand long enough to conduct my business professionally. If I were to join a tour through a museum or town, I would probably seek out a chair only once or twice. But this isn’t the way I lived for twenty years.

I make a note on my calendar on days I don’t have nausea, night sweats, dizziness, or hot flashes.

I know that if I go out for a Friday night of teetotaler fun, I’ll still be recovering on Monday.

Sometimes I skip a meal because I don’t have easy access to food that won’t make my symptoms worse.

I embrace the joys of being twenty-nine. The friends I can spend an evening with, or email or Skype. Beautiful afternoons in parks. The companionship of two quirky felines. The occasional party and obscenely long recovery period.

But when I meet a stranger at an event, and he inevitably asks me ‘What do you do?’, the answer resonates in my mind: ‘Not as much as you.’

Not out of lack of ambition. Not because I was born with a disability. Not because I was in an accident. Only because the individuals that the state gave complete control of my fate decided that my pain and the limitation of my life and potential wasn’t worth preventing or treating. My captors, in designer apparel, would corral me into their luxury vehicle, to be paraded before their high net-worth clients, boosting their social equity and enlarging their income. I must perform as a trained animal, smiling through my pain, submitting to verbal abuse when I sat before I fainted, suppressing my personality and self-identity and playing my role perfectly.

I lived in a dirty, dust-bunny-colonized room, with antique furniture, floral curtains, mold plated windows, and spiders between my sheets. If I read, I could mentally block out the sound of yelling, until its source burst into the space – and my face. I learned that the appropriate response was to immediately cower and obey: the longer I delayed, the more ensuing punishments would accumulate.

More than once a week, I was allowed the exercise of a supervised quarter mile walk. More than once a week, I was allowed an hour or two of supervised co-existence with children my own age in a structured educational context. The phone and television were off limits, but I was provided with instructional material in mathematics and grammar with which I could, and did, provide myself with an education.

The age of majority didn’t apply to me. I would live with my masters indefinitely, servicing  their home and work and satisfying their needs for intimacy and emotional support.

Today, when I look a little awkward at that party, or move a little strangely when we do business, it’s because I’m still assimilating into your culture.

And assimilate I must. I do not have a native culture to return to or celebrate.

Is my story tragic, unbelievable, and hard to understand? That’s because you didn’t come from my world. I’m glad for that.

** This was true only briefly. A year after gaining my mobility, I lost it again to wrongly developed hips. Until I go under the knife and complete the ensuing recovery, volleyball and tennis, as well as moderate walks, are off the menu for me.

Relationships, A Series: Part Ten — I Am A Phoenix

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part Ten of this series was originally published on June 12, 2013.


Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation


Part Ten — I Am A Phoenix

I finished chronologically writing our story yesterday.

Although, in a weird way, I haven’t finished it.

Our story still continues, and even though I reached over 2,000 words with almost each post, I left a lot out. Like, pages upon pages of information, memories, circumstantial happenings left out. I had the opposite of a writing hangover yesterday. My mind was buzzing with freshly remembered memories and I felt like I needed to go back and add even more to each part.

Like I didn’t talk about how we had nicknames for each other, how Phil called me Lady Mysterious because he couldn’t figure me out in one conversation like he could most girls.  I called him DLF; reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia. Or how Phil said that I was like a good book; a good book that makes you think and that you can’t read in one sitting. I didn’t mention how it became my goal in life to make him laugh.

Do you know how rewarding it is to know that you can make someone laugh?

Especially after he had told me that he didn’t laugh much. I still have a mischievous side to me that will try to catch him off guard by doing something he least expects. Tell you what, I have pulled some awesome stuff on him, and thoroughly enjoyed making him speechless.

I haven’t talked about how Phil once compared me to an onion, multi-layered and all that. He covered his tracks by hastily saying I smelled so much better than an onion. We even once tried to write a book together. It was going to be called The Official Guide to Modern-day Hermitage. Trust me, that would have been one heck of a spectacular book!

We both have felt the pull of wanting to be hermits for a very long time.

I didn’t mention how I stupidly almost ruined our friendship at the beginning. I held on to these very damaging ideas of emotionally purity and how I couldn’t be friends with a guy unless I was going to marry him. When Phil asked for a week of communication silence, I retaliated and basically told him our friendship was wrong, we needed to stop talking, and I apologized for “allowing the friendship to reach this point.” Gah, I was so stupid! I broke his heart without even realizing it because I thought that was the right thing to do. Girls, if you any of you are ever in a situation with a guy like this, put yourself on the line and speak the truth. Be bold, be honest, and be real.

Don’t let “purity-catchphrases” get in the way of a real friendship.

I didn’t write about how high and mighty I felt when I told Phil that our friendship was wrong. I don’t want to remember just how rude I was to a genuinely caring guy who was falling in love with me. I don’t like mentioning just how goody-two-shoes I was about a lot of things, especially when it came to relationships. I was a thoroughly messed up girl, and yet, I thought I was doing it right.

This is what is coming back to me as I work through the details I left out about our story.

It’s in those details that the guilt lies. It is in those details that I remember just how flippant I was with this precious man’s heart. Even though having him ripped from me was devastating, I needed that wake up call. I needed to know just how much I needed him. I needed to see that I could love him, and did. I needed a slap to the face for how much I played with him and wasn’t honest. I don’t like remembering or reading about how shallow I was with hinting I liked a guy when talking with Phil, but never being honest and saying look, I like you, really, I do.

I didn’t mention about a little red heart I made for Phil.

He told me one day after the six months of silence that he really wanted a token of love from me. I thought about it, and before I even thought all the way through it, I had crocheted a perfect red heart. From the day I gave it to him, to this very day, he still carries that heart with him. I didn’t mention that I still have the first two roses he ever gave me. Those roses — one red, one pink —are tucked away in a thin wooden box which I still open every once in awhile. I still have the first dozen white roses he gave me on our first officially dressed up date.

I didn’t mention how much I hated saying goodbye to him.

Out of everything that happened to us, having to say goodbye every night for so long was the worst thing. There is something about saying goodbye to the one you love that really eats at you. Our first words to each other after being pronounced man and wife were now we don’t have to say goodbye!

I have a sense of being unfinished. Maybe, one day, I will write about our first year, and this past year. Our story does not end at our wedding day, it has continued and will continue until the day we die. 

I have learned to never say never when it comes to writing about something.

We both have looked back on our relationship and recognized it as a testing ground for us both. I have often taken the stand that God was/is preparing us for something as we went through our pre-marriage relationship.

I say “bring it on!” to anything that’s coming in our future. If we were able to get through what we did, then there is no reason why we won’t make it through anything else that might be coming. Going through those three years of trial after trial only taught me more about being resilient. The past four and a half years have proved to me that I can make it. The past six months have taught me that I am strong.

I am a Phoenix, I will continue to bounce back even stronger than before.

Phil and I made it through some of the worst years of our lives only to come out stronger in love, in trusting each other to have the other’s back.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.


To be continued.

Relationships, A Series: Part Nine — We Made It

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part Nine of this series was originally published on June 11, 2013.


Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation


Part Nine — We Made It

I am going to try to wrap up the before-marriage part of our story in this post.

This will be about a day that broke my heart. The walls that went up around my heart after this day have still not been taken down, only reinforced. I didn’t know that the same person could break my heart so many times.


I didn’t feel much when my friend passed away. I said in my last post that something happened to me as our relationship continued. Part of what happened was I lost my innocence.

I lost faith over and over again that my dad cared at all about what happened to me, or whether or not he loved me.

Losing my friend was hard, but it wasn’t until almost a year later that I was able to really grieve her loss. My heart was slowly hardening and I was seeing just what I meant to my parents.

The Saturday of Phil’s guitar teacher’s funeral, the day before my friend’s funeral, I went out to breakfast with my mom. My mom’s and my relationship had grown increasingly rocky, and my trust in her was just about as broken as my trust in my dad. I felt like she wasn’t supporting me at all.

She didn’t stand up for me.

I was upset for most of our breakfast and we definitely didn’t see eye to eye on barely anything. I finally said that maybe it was time for me to move out. Some of the biggest issues that my parents, specifically my dad, had with me was that I wasn’t helping mom out enough at home. I wasn’t filling to huge role I used to fill with making dinner almost every night for 11 people, cleaning more than my fair share because my siblings wouldn’t clean, and babysitting without pay for all of my siblings. I was working 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, add in every other Friday off, and trying to get time with Phil, trying to see my other friends, and I simply had no time left.

Top it off with the snide comments, and the constant cold shoulder or being picked on from my parents at home —

Home was just not a place I wanted to be at anymore.

When I said that maybe it was time for me to move out, she surprised me by agreeing that yes, maybe it was time for me to move out. I was so surprised especially considering how just under a year ago I had tried to move out and both of my parents manipulated me into staying by using my siblings against me. I couldn’t believe my ears. I went home and sent a text to Phil about what mom had said, and then sent an email to my pastor because I wanted to make sure that I did things right this time.

Not even five minutes after sending the email, my parents walked into my room. I knew something was up right away.

My dad opened the dialogue by saying something about knowing I had breakfast with mom. He then told me that he wanted me to move out and I had two weeks to do it. He told me that he was tired of dealing with me, he didn’t have time for me anymore, and then proceeded to blame me for the problems he was having with my siblings.

He said I was a bad influence.

He said it all in a very nonchalant, “I don’t care,” kind of way while I sat there crying. I couldn’t believe that once again my dad was twisting my siblings against me. He asked if I had any questions and when I shook my head no, he then looked around my room and pointed out the few things I could take with me. He said that if I needed help, that I could ask, but basically, I was on my own.

The breath had been completely knocked out of me. I felt betrayed by my mom.

I felt like I was nothing to my dad but someone who he could no longer control and could be easily discarded.

My heart was ripped open and I felt any shred of faith that I might have had in my parents disappear. My parents walked back out of my room while I sat there, sobbing, and wondering what now. I emailed my pastor again and said disregard my last email, my dad just kicked me out. I called Phil, sobbing on the phone that dad had kicked me out. He hung up on me because he was so incredibly pissed. He tried to call my dad to talk to him and confront him. Phil tried to ask about listening to me, or caring about me, but my dad shut him down.

I had made the mistake when talking to my mom that morning about our pastor counseling Phil and I about needing to start looking at moving forward without my dad’s blessing.   So when Phil called my dad to call him out, my dad turned the conversation back on him and accused him of disrespecting him and daring to go behind his back and moving forward without his blessing.

Phil was so incredibly upset. That was his breaking point. I have never seen Phil so knocked flat. I had reached my breaking point as well. My heart shut down that day.

But the day wasn’t over yet.

My mom came back into my room and told me that dad had told her that appeals were welcome. What the fuck. My dad expected me to come to him on my knees and beg for him to let me stay? Absolutely not. I was completely done. He cared nothing for me besides having to have control over me.

I was not a daughter. I was not a person. I was simply a thing to be controlled.

I told my mom that I was not going to do that. She came back into my room even later around dinner time and told me that I was welcome to come out to dinner with the rest of the family. It was not an invitation like I was expected to come, it was an invitation like I wasn’t a part of the family. My dad was happier than I have ever seen him. He was practically bouncing around. He even let the kids play the games at the pizza place we went to. He never let them do that. Never. My siblings had found out that I was being kicked out and the oldest ones were furious with dad.

My dad was celebrating.

At my friend’s funeral the next day the drama of the day before hit Phil and I really hard especially during the service. I grabbed our pastor after the service and we ended up talking with him for a good half hour. He told us right away that through my dad kicking me out, my dad had renounced any control he had over our relationship.

Our pastor told us that he was completely 100% behind us and he wanted to get us married.

Phil and I were grateful for the support from at least one person.

I spent the next week frantically looking for a place to stay. Because I didn’t have a car, I had to rely on Phil, and he was right there waiting for me. He was by my side every single step of the way. I found a small bedroom and a bathroom that I could rent for a month while waiting to move in with friends. I moved out almost exactly two weeks after my dad told me to leave.

I removed myself from my family. I cut them off. I stopped talking to my mom unless I absolutely couldn’t help it. I didn’t tell her where I was moving to. She hadn’t stood up for me, I wasn’t going to go to her for help. My parents kicking me out went against everything they had said to keep me from moving out the year before. Everything was in direct contradiction. I couldn’t believe it, but at the same time, I was done, and I knew I had done everything I could to restore any sort of relationship with my parents. I was free, and because my dad had kicked me out, there was no viable ammo on me that could be used against me.

I found out later that rumors were being spread that I had moved out because I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I expected that, and was totally not thrown off by it.

I expected such underhandedness from my dad.

The day I found a place to stay, we were able to settle on a wedding date with the church. Everything started falling into place. The date was three months away.

The month I lived on my own was the worst of my life. I felt bad for the family’s whose basement I lived in. We didn’t tell them about my family because we didn’t want to put any burden on them.

I began planning our wedding. We knew we weren’t going to get any support from either family, so we budgeted it out and found ways around the major expenses. I made my wedding dress, and was very happy with it. My dad’s parents sent us two very generous donations for our wedding. My grandmother called me one day and told me that she wanted to pay for my wedding dress.

We were lifted up on so many hands as people started coming out of the woodwork to help us.

My mom’s oldest sister was a lifesaver. She made my veil, she was the one who gave me my ring and found my wedding band for a very good price, and she made the brownie cupcakes for our wedding, along with numerous other things.

Things were looking up, we were getting married, but it was with sad and heavy hearts that we marched towards that day. There was no giddiness, there was no overwhelming joy.

There was simply this feeling of it’s time, we made it.

There was a sense of heavy relief as that day came closer.

We decided to save money and have a potluck reception. We only sent printed invitations to close friends and family, everyone else was invited via an online invite. The potluck reception was one of the best decisions we made with regards to our wedding. We were hearing praises about our reception for months after we got married. We wanted the people who had been our family throughout our relationship to have a part in our wedding and having a potluck was one of the ways to include people.

Honestly, I was planning on walking down the aisle myself, or Phil and I would walk down together. I did not want my dad to walk my down the aisle. When he kicked me out, he stopped being a father figure, not that he ever really was. My mom told me one day a few weeks before the wedding that dad was really depressed because he thought I wasn’t going to ask him. Frankly, I wasn’t going to, but I decided that I would simply because I didn’t want anymore drama. My family was not involved very much in the wedding, and I purposefully kept it that way. My friends are my family, and I had more than enough people helping.

The day finally came.

May 14th, 2011; the day we were getting married.

My dad almost didn’t make it to the ceremony because he had spent the night before our wedding in the ER with one of my brothers. By the time I got to church at 9 that morning, I was done with planning, I wanted to enjoy myself, and try to forget about the nagging feeling I had that something would go wrong. My biggest fear was that my dad would try to do something to stop the wedding from happening. I was completely calm all the way up till 15 minutes before I walked down the aisle. Then I almost started crying as I realized that we had actually made it.

We made it to the end. We were getting married.

Despite the people who didn’t believe us, despite the heartache, the tears, the hurt, we had made it. Three words that are such a relief to write:

We made it. 

We wanted a short ceremony, it was only maybe 20 minutes. We were pronounced man and wife, and we marched back up the aisle to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, part 4. A grand and triumphant march.

We made it. 

We spent the reception wandering around greeting everyone we could. We both felt a great relief that we were done with the drama.

We made it. 

We left the reception after about two hours, drove to our new apartment, changed, packed up the car, and took off to Williamsburg for a week.

We made it.

We made it! May 14th, 2011.
We made it! May 14th, 2011.



To be continued.