Four Reasons Why I Believe Cynthia Jeub

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Susan Gabriella Douglas’s blog The Little Fighter That Could. It was originally published on October 12, 2014.

Susan’s disclaimer: the claims made in this article are drawn only from a Christian homeschool background and thus only pertain to similar such circumstances. Because this article responds to information found in this post, it may be useful to view it before resuming.

Cynthia Jeub’s claims of parental abuse on her blog have caused an uncomfortable stir in the Christian homeschooling community and beyond. Some people offer comfort to her and her sister, Lydia, who were both kicked out of their house, while others, obviously less moved by the story, are demanding reasons. Reasons for why Cynthia’s claims are true, and then, even if they are true, reasons why she feels the need to publish them.

This made me angry. I asked myself why an audience so detached felt the need to demand such technical answers of abuse victims like Cynthia. Why wasn’t her word good enough? Interestingly, I was actually able to get a partial answer.

A large portion of the people who hear Cynthia’s story may already know of her family—with sixteen kids, it’s hard not to get some press. And what most people (at least speaking for the Christian homeschool world) have been educated to believe is that the Jeubs are all reputable people up there with names like the Duggers and the Pearls. Consequently, due nearly only to the fact that Cynthia’s parents gave us our first impression of the family, Cynthia’s unexpected claims are now being weighed against a reputation toward which we have already been biased.

It’s been estimated that physical first impressions are made in one-tenth of a second. First impressions are hard to change. But imagine this—the tables turned. What if Cynthia presented to the world everyone’s first impression of her parents as abusive, hypocritical people? How much harder of a time would it be for Mr. Jeub to come along and retrieve his reputation?  You see, it’s not a question of credibility as much as it is our subconscious bias. And our bias requires logic to supersede it. Therefore, it cries out, give us reasons.

I do understand this. But I’m also still convinced that there ARE reasons. The reputations of those who came before Cynthia may be uncomfortable to question, but I believe they are worth braving in the name of open-mindedness. After having done this myself, I have even been surprised—with four reasons why I believe Cynthia Jeub.

 1) The Jeub’s Response to Cynthia

An article and a podcast were recently put up by Cynthia’s father, Chris Jeub, which were interestingly removed by him days later. While the article was eventually reposted, the podcast is now only available due to the initiative of those who believe, contrary to the podcast’s original intentions, that it supports Cynthia’s case. Here are a few reasons why.

In the article so appropriately entitled Responding to Heartache, Chris makes a bold statement meaning for it to prove that humans respond inadequately in the flesh to heartache. The statement he actually makes, however, gives a very different vibe.

“I envy the abusive parent whose kids never lip off, or the hot-tempered boss whose employees just do as they say, or the fire-breathing pastor who beats their congregation from the pulpit. Everyone seems to behave. I don’t know how they manage it, because I have not had good results with the response of the flesh.”

I do not intend to twist what Chris is saying to mean something it blatantly does not. I believe his train of thought was that this is the wrong attitude to have. He mistakenly assumes, however, that this power-hungry attitude is normal amongst the rest of us. And yet, somehow, I do not envy the abusive parent whose children never speak up for themselves, or the position of a hot-tempered boss whose employees just obey, or the fire-breathing pastor of a seamlessly behaving congregation.

It seems to have slipped Chris’ mind that even in the flesh we shouldn’t wish to be monsters. Certainly our flesh is weak, but a desire for complete and utter authority isn’t assumed, it’s developed. This is an attitude that is not healthy, which—if Chris took abuse seriously, for the crime that it is—he would know not to take lightly.

This is evidently not the case, because the podcast put up in defense of the Jeub’s reputation attempts to make a laughingstock of Cynthia’s first blogpost as four of her siblings attempt to debunk her claims.

It is my personal opinion that the reason the podcast was hastily removed was because it comprised of too much evidence in Cynthia’s favor. Below are the paraphrased alibis the Jeub children provide to disprove the abusive events disclosed by their sister.

  • “This always happens—this is normal.”
  • Mom only hit him because I hit him first and she took my side.”
  • “He wasn’t bleeding; mom and Micah only gave him a bruise.”
  • “Mom said she was sorry and she’d never do it again, so it’s irrelevant.”
  • “I don’t remember this happening but my siblings said it did, and it sounds like abuse—but mom would never abuse us kids. It can’t be abuse.”
  • “Why wouldn’t mom be upset if she didn’t do the dishes while cleaning and cooking and caring for ten kids? It’s her job to do the dishes. Cynthia’s an adult, she should just grow up and do the dishes.”
  • “Cynthia’s only mentioning this one part of the conversation. Dad didn’t only ask her ifthe reason she was cutting was to follow the trends of her college friends.”
  • “I doubt this even happened, but if it did, mom didn’t ORDER Cynthia to not tell her counselor she was self-harming…she just suggested it. Besides, that makes no sense.Why would she be in counseling and not tell her counselor she was self-harming? Cynthia totally is contradicting herself.”
  • “Mom and dad used to think spanking was a really good thing like ten years ago, but they don’t do that anymore.”
  • Mom blew it that one time and threw silverware at me, but that’s just what moms do when their kid doesn’t do the dishes, right?”
  • “Remember, mom was in the middle of a miscarriage. She was having a hard time. We have to cut her some slack.”
  • “She was so sorry, and you’ve forgiven her, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

These statements do NOT justify what happened to Cynthia. In fact, if you read her blogpost and then listen to the additional information explained in the podcast, the abuse becomes even more evident. If you have any doubts about what’s been paraphrased here, I encourage you to go listen for yourself. I’ve also transcribed the entire podcast, which you can read here.

2) Brainwashing

Brainwashed Children Don’t Know They Are Being Abused.

Cynthia’s first post claimed three main things. Physical abuse—abuse her siblings did not deny happened, and instead trivialized by normalizing it or saying it was forgiven; psychological abuse—which her siblings responded to by doubting; and emotional abuse—which her siblings made fun of.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I relate closely to Cynthia, as I grew up in a family that was—not physically, but—psychologically, spiritually and emotionally abusive. I therefore feel that I understand where she is coming from.

From growing up with such abuse, I also know that the most confusing part of it can be that you don’t know you are being abused. If you grew up in a successfully abusive family, you would’ve been taught from the earliest age possible that your life as a victim was normal. To you, the world outside was a dark, scary place that wanted you to be miserable…unlike in the house where you lived, in the loving arms of your abusers: Your Christian homeschooling parents, who tell you they love Jesus more than anything else.

When you do something wrong or that makes your family look bad…that is your fault. When you don’t want to obey your parents because it hurts…that is your sinful spirit, which must be broken. You suffer from guilt and shame and the constant, crippling fear of inadequacy.

The reason why most children who are being abused don’t realize it is because they have been brainwashed. I know I was. In fact, I am out of school, and it was only last year that I began to realize my parents hurt me a lot more than the world has, or can. This is because, as an independent adult, I choose who hurts me by choosing how I live my life; but under my parents’ authority, I had no control over what I could do, say, or believe. I was not only withheld from being myself, but I was pushed into a mold that I was not designed to fit in.

Siblings Are Willing to Stand By Their Parents Even When Their Siblings “Rebel.”

Cynthia, Lydia and their two older sisters all agree that they have been abused, and yet the younger siblings make no such claims. Likewise, my older brother, Ryan, and I know that we have been abused as children. But our two younger brothers? They angrily have been pitted against us, believing we’ve rebelled against our parents.

In the comments of one of Cynthia’s blog posts, her younger brother, Micah, blatantly denies any abuse. Jumping on top of this, people immediately asserted that he was only brainwashed. In Micah’s defense, someone realistically pointed out that he was far too sharp to be brainwashed. And I have to agree. At the age of seventeen, it would be difficult to brainwash anyone. But…what if it had started at the age of two?

I don’t think a genius could stand a chance.

The brainwashed are simply people whose worlds have been painted inaccurately, in a way that causes them to function on someone else’s terms. It’s harmful for our independence to be denied for the same reasons that the American Revolution is considered just.

Seeing Micah repeatedly insist that his sister was the one to blame reminded me of myself years ago.

My older brother, Ryan, as a legal adult, had gotten into a relationship against our parents’ wishes. This was the situation that I firmly believe God used to get him out of my family’s abusive home. But in the wake of the moment, and for the next two years, our family was in shambles “because of his mistake.” It broke my mother’s heart, it pissed my dad off to the point of swearing in front of me for the first time in my life, and I and my younger brothers became very bitter at him—all because we believed he was sinning by dating instead of courting. I have many memories of talking with people who disagreed with me about Ryan’s situation, but I held fast, and never for a moment did I question whether my parents were right or not. That’s just how powerful brainwashing can be.

Perhaps this explains why Cynthia’s younger siblings are all standing with their parents—they simply do not yet have the unveiled eyes to see the truth.

Parents Can Be Brainwashed Too.

I am not here to proclaim that Mr. and Mrs. Jeub are evil, although I definitely feel that what they’re doing is not right. Instead, I sincerely believe that parents can be brainwashed too. Brainwashed to believe that what they’re doing is best for their kids. Brainwashed like mine were to believe that the man who tells them what is right is representing God. Brainwashed families quite often aren’t self-invented. Sometimes they’re hoodwinked by their leaders. This doesn’t justify anything abusers do—but it’s helped alleviate my perspective toward my parents, and people like them. Therefore I don’t look upon the Jeubs as monsters; instead, I see them as terribly, tragically misled people who—for the sake of their children—must be corrected.

3) Similar Testimonies

Cynthia’s story sounds like a plethora of others posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous, a blog dedicated to telling the stories of homeschool alumni who hope others can learn from their negative experiences. I have found the same behavioral patterns in her story that are evident in many preceding hers, and they all point to the same tragic idea: the misled continue to mislead others. Maybe it’s believing that God teaches them to beat the wickedness out of their children; perhaps it’s the simple idea that obedience trumps all else, regardless of the expense. There are many different patterns of abuse each with its own unique effects, but in every situation regarding parental abuse the children pay the consequences—often long after they’ve left childhood behind.

Cynthia’s story is one of many—too many to turn a blind eye toward. I can’t just reason stories like hers away, like I did with Ryan. They are becoming too loud and too real for me to continue to justify.

4) Track Record

Cynthia is not the only Jeub to leave the nest with less than stellar relationships with her parents. She is one of four—the oldest four—to not only leave with different beliefs than her parents, but to be kicked out of the house for refusing to be controlled. I really wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Jeub can fall asleep at night without wondering what they did wrong. Really, how can you parent and watch as 100% of the children who move out leave as disowned rebels without questioning your tactics?

Cynthia’s parents and siblings claim that Cynthia is mentally ill. I don’t argue that struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts is the epitome of emotional stability. Having struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts myself, though, I quote my counselor when I say that “emotions serve as an internal thermometer; so when our emotions tell us death is the best option, we know something is terribly wrong.”

But not wrong with us.

When people want to die, they’re not crazy—they’re being seriously oppressed. When I wanted to die, it wasn’t because I was losing it. I have never been diagnosed by anyone but my parents with madness; instead, what I have been told, and what I have grown to believe, is that the way my parents were treating me was threatening my mental well-being.

Suppose with me for a minute that Cynthia was mentally ill once (loosely defined according to whatever extent you may believe it); and by the way, she says she’s gone to therapy since moving out. Now ask yourself why she might be mentally ill. After all, there is no effect without cause. Perhaps she was in an unhealthy, abusive environment. Perhaps she was so oppressed that her only coping mechanism turned out to be the dream of a better reality, which—in her sheltered world—turned out to be none at all.

I don’t know this for sure.

But here is what I do know.

Cynthia’s track record is the same as her three other sisters. Interesting that her family is claiming that only Cynthia is mentally ill… And yet all three sisters support her words. All four sisters claim the same growing up experience. Clearly, we have few choices to be choosy with. Either:

  1. These sisters are telling the truth, or
  2. All four of them happen to be insane.

I believe each of these reasons stand alone as evidence that Cynthia is simply sharing her heart. I can’t blame her—her siblings are still living in the abusive conditions she’s clearly spent so much time recovering from. Besides, the whole idea behind blogging is to share opinions and experiences. The people who condemn Cynthia for sharing her story should likewise be condemned for telling her how they feel about it.

I, for one, think Cynthia is doing a really brave thing by sharing the truth. I hope that her story will someday feel worth the pain living through it has caused her. I hope she inspires people to be courageous and honest, as she has inspired me. I hope she educates people about the reality behind Christian homeschooling. And dear God, I really hope she helps her siblings.

They’ve Got The Fear

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Jones’ blog Anthony B. Susan.  It was originally published on September 10, 2013.

These girls. These so-called “teenage exorcists.”

You’ve probably heard of them by now. Enabled by their parents (and I use ‘enabled’ deliberately here) they’ve travelled the world battling the forces of evil. They’ve taken culture war to a supernatural extreme. Adult me pities them. Adolescent me would have rolled her eyes–and probably envied them just a bit.

It sounds ludicrous. And it is ludicrous. The Harry Potter phobia and the conviction that the United Kingdom is a seething hotbed of demonic activity aren’t rational reactions. Nevertheless, I’m going to argue for a certain degree of leniency for these girls.

If you can, step inside my former world for a moment.

In that world, demons are real. And they are terrifying. I spent nights awake, soaked in  sweat, because I had been told that demons can possess people, even people who think they’re Christians. I’d been told that if you aren’t right with God, you’ve left a window open for the devil. So I prayed. I prayed until I fell asleep, and when I fell asleep, I had nightmares about witches and devils who would seek me out and take me over.

The dreams would routinely frighten me awake. One night, I ran for my parents, because I was a child and that’s what children do.

My father then told me that I was actually correct to be frightened, because Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

I didn’t go back to sleep that night.

And then there were the Rapture movies, with their gory martyrs. I secretly loved them, because for a long time Revelation was as close as I could get to science fiction. But at the same time they too filled me with fear, fear that I wasn’t really saved, that I was out of favor with God and would therefore fail to be Raptured upon Jesus’ imminent return. I spent so much of my early life effectively paralyzed by fear.

When you’re a child, and you’ve been told from your earliest days that evil isn’t just real, but that it’s an active force currently engaged in a war against you, it makes sense to go on the offensive. If you’re a girl, of course, your options are limited. You’re not allowed to hold a position of spiritual authority. You can be a ‘prayer warrior.’ You can share the gospel. But you certainly can’t lead an offensive against the devil. That’s men’s work.

Unless you’re Brynne Larsen or her friends, Tess and Savannah Scherkenback.

These girls are the fundamentalist Scooby Doo gang. They’re almost certainly being controlled by Larsen’s father, a failed televangelist, but they’re doing something. They’ve seen the world. When I was a teenager, demonic possession seemed far more plausible than freedom.

People change as they grow. I lay the blame at Bob Larsen’s feet, and at the Scherkenbacks’ feet, for choosing to raise their children in a manner that has emotionally crippled them. Brynne, Tess and Savannah most likely believe they’re helping people.

I was 20 when someone tried to exorcise me.

Specifically, she intended to set me free from depression, and somehow she thought laying her hands on my head in public, without prior warning, and praying the “depressed spirit” out of me would improve my outlook on life.

My exorcism wasn’t particularly violent. I’m grateful for this, because self-proclaimed exorcists have been known to carry things to a dangerous extreme. But it was invasive and humiliating. A year later, I left the church altogether–for a variety of reasons, of which the exorcism was only one.

It turns out that leaving the church did far more for my depression than exorcism ever did.

Brynne, Tess and Savannah have never been on the receiving end of exorcism. ** I suspect that if they underwent what they’re dishing out to others, their perspectives on the matter would change rather drastically.  But that’s my point, really: they’ve never been faced with any real to challenge to their indoctrination. They’ll be adults soon (and since Savannah’s 21, she’s really already there) and personal responsibility does play a role. But believe me, fundamentalists know how to brainwash. They’re terrifically successful at it.

They saturate your every encounter with the world with such a blinding fear that it feels impossible to move or think, and waging culture war is the only proactive measure you can take.

It’s so pervasive that even now, as a secular adult, the occasional sleepless night is still ever so slightly tinged with fear.

If I’m going to be honest with myself, I don’t know that I’d have left the church if it weren’t for experiences like that exorcism. Perhaps I might have eventually, because the doubts were certainly present. But my departure might not have been so early, or so drastic. When I had cause to fear Christians and not the devil, it became much more difficult for me to convince myself that Christianity was worth the effort.

If we’re fortunate, Brynne, Tess and Savannah will learn from their travels. Maybe they’ll even join me and my friends among the ranks of the prodigals.

I hope for their sake their journey is less frightening than mine.

** Update: So it seems that Savannah Scherkenback has received an exorcism. Also for depression. I suppose becoming an exorcist yourself is certainly one way to prove to your fundamentalist community that you’re really “healed.” Maybe I’ve underestimated the level of fear (or arrogance) at work here. Thanks to Kathryn Brightbill for pointing this out.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Three

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Three

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


In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


Why It’s Not Just About the Past and My Bitterness

"Their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians."
“Their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians.”

As I sat down to a steak dinner with my parents after my MA graduation ceremony (8-2012), the conversation drifted to my younger sister’s future plans.  She is being homeschooled much in the same way I was, except with a hefty dose of Victorian ideas on gender roles and sexuality. (She is truly brilliant and reads tremendous amounts of literature. She could likely score a 30+ on the ACT and receive a scholarship.) I asked her if she still intended to go to college — she used to talk of being a veterinarian – and she replied that my father gave her a choice. She could either have him pay for her wedding or her college. I said that giving a young girl such a choice was cruel and my father replied that he had “lost confidence in college since [my] education obviously failed me.” And I said, “Well, I guess it failed [my older sister] too.” He said, no it hadn’t, because she is now a Christian, homeschool mother who generally agrees with them religiously. So basically, he said college failed me because I don’t believe what he does. 

Throughout my years at college, in a rural town in the Bible Belt, he has used this line of thought many times. I discovered in conversation with my extended family that he led them to believe I’d been “brainwashed” at college by my professors. I’d confronted my father numerous times about how insulting this was, but he really didn’t get it. Not until I told him that my being a liberal was actually going against the grain did he begin to respect me.

They continue to expect me to be a person that I’m not. I’ve written about how there are two versions of me and I want to focus on a few occasions during and after college that illustrate how their beliefs have continued to hurt me. Nearly every time we get together, conversations devolve into arguments about politics because their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians. They insult my beliefs by saying that they are just a phase – when I am living in the “real world,” I will surely be conservative like them.

When I tried to explain that their twisted worldview makes nearly every minute political and social issue into a religious issue, my father simply did not understand. He responded…“Yes I try to live my life in obedience to the Word of God in the Bible. That means these beliefs inform all I do in my life. If that insults you then truly Jesus was correct in stating that those that followed Him would enter into conflict, even with their own family.”

When I visited home for Christmas with my then-fiancé, my mother started a conversation on Christmas morning about how the rise of feminism ruined America. To give some background, my wife is incredibly close to her mother, who divorced when she was young. My wife’s mother worked extremely hard and worked her way up the corporate ladder. My wife draws a lot of inspiration from her mother. Now to the conversation. My mother said that women should never have been given the right to vote, that birth control broke down the American family, and women in the workforce was simply not the proper place for women. My mother subscribes completely to the submission doctrines of fundamentalist Protestantism and, suffice it to say, my wife is very empowered. Like most Christmases with my family, it devolved into a heated argument and my wife was very offended by what my mom said. My mom was literally saying women like my wife’s mother were ruining America.

Nearly six months after my graduation-fight with my parents, my mother finally decided to weigh-in. My father and I sent a barrage of emails back and forth, because I cannot control my emotions when we get into arguments.  After a lot of small talk, the conversation turned to my sinful lifestyle. My mom asked me if I was “pure” on my wedding day. I told her no I wasn’t and I didn’t want to talk about my sex life with her. She reminded me of a pledge I made to her at the age of fourteen, promising abstinence until marriage. I told her that was very unfair to bring up something like that. Then she proceeded to tell me how I would face “consequences” later in my marriage because of my sins.Then she told me the reason we fight is because I just “feel guilty” about all my sinning. She never said anything about my living with my fiancée before our marriage. Only after we were married did she choose to judge me. She didn’t even understand why her comments were judgmental – to her she was just imparting some righteousness. It’s like she forgot to judge me two years ago, so she did it then. But to my mother, it’s not “judging,” it’s just telling the truth – she likes to call herself a prophet.

So I told her some truth. That I think they raised me in a fundamentalist cult and that’s why I don’t get along with them. Especially because they believe all the same things they used to. She tried to say they believe differently now, but couldn’t name a single area where they’ve changed their minds, except they watch more TV now. So when mom is crying on the phone telling me that “we don’t get along because your conscious is guilty” or that I broke a promise to “stay pure” that I made to her at 14, I go to a very dark place.

Whenever we go back to arguing about the things we’ve literally been arguing about for a decade, I am physical affected. The sort of panic attacks I used to have come back and I have a lot of trouble controlling my emotions. They still think rock is evil, they are going to push my sister into courtship like they did me, they are going to fuck her up.  My only twisted hope is that I can reach out to her when they start to become senile.

I don’t enjoy spending any time with them because I just leave feeling shitty. I’m so sick of it. It’s emotionally and intellectually exhausting. They say things like “we’re proud of you” but they only ever talk about my accomplishments. When it comes to my intelligence, morals, or ethics, I’m just a dirty liberal sinner to them. The fact that, after seven years of this, they still refuse to see past my political beliefs and have made no real efforts to get to know me is incredibly discouraging. I have made a lot of efforts to be more reasonable, less argumentative, and I try to never bring up an issue that would spark an argument.  The reason it’s still hard for me is because they aren’t over it and they still inject it into my life. In the past, it was easier to pretend like it didn’t bother me and I figured mom and dad would grow out of it (like almost all of my friends’ parents).

It would be different if my parents made an effort to get to know me – instead of the me I used to be. They still give me Lamplighter books for Christmas, which are out-of-print works of fiction, re-printed by Christian Book Distributers because they are explicitly Christian. I have no interest in these shitty books – I will be reading Harry Potter to my children. I recently moved across the country and they have taken literally no interest in my safety or my new home. Part of why I moved was to get away from them. I don’t want to be obligated to see them – ever.  Maybe after years of space, I can start to forgive them. It feels like every time I make myself vulnerable, usually against my better judgment, it ends in pain. Every time I let things go, more gets piled onto me.  It’s unfortunate, but the less time I spend interacting with my parents, the happier I am.

To be continued.

20 Ways Not to Respond to Homeschool Horror Stories

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 17, 2013.

The following is a list of things that range from impolite to incredibly disrespectful that I have heard since I started speaking out about this issue. I’m (unfortunately) not making any of these up and I’ve actually had every single one of them either said to me or seen them said to others. If you don’t want to be a jerk, please don’t say any of the following:

Concerning homeschooling:

1. Tell me how good of a homeschooling experience you or someone you know had and imply that it cancels out mine.

2. Say that obviously it was just a parenting problem, not a homeschooling problem at all.

3. Say that obviously it was a religious fundamentalism problem/bible-based cult problem, not a homeschooling problem at all.

4. Say that I am not describing real homeschooling so I should not be talking about my experience like it was homeschooling at all.

5. Say that I need to be careful, that openly speaking about this will help enemies of homeschooling (nosy neighbors/government/the minions of the Antichrist) have the political cover to mess up or destroy homeschooling for the good homeschoolers.

6. Say that obviously because I am standing here today with a job/degree/spouse/all four limbs that the homeschooling I got really wasn’t too bad and therefore we all should keep calm and carry on.

7. Say that my parents only homeschooled because it was a problem with the school district and obviously any public school in my area/state/nation/world would have been worse.

8. Say that maybe my homeschooling experience was even secretly good and I likely don’t know enough about what I’d be comparing it to, with public school being so awful and all.

9. Say that you/your kid/someone you know had a much worse experience in public school/government school/a hole in the ground and so I should quit bellyaching and overdramatizing my homeschooling experience and instead just be grateful it wasn’t as bad of a story as the one you just told.

Concerning abuse:

10. Say that what happened to me was so uncommonly rare that it’s not something we need to be generally concerned about.

11. Say that you are sure that it was that my parents were uneducated/rural/brainwashed/obviously raised wrong and that’s why they did what they did, even though you know nothing about my parents’ background.

12. Say it is obvious that I am so hurt/broken/angry/bitter/emotional/weird/vengeful that I have lost track of reality, don’t know what I’m talking about on any of this, and no one should listen.

13. Say that I need to just let the past be the past, understand that parents make mistakes/are not perfect, then go forgive mine (immediately assuming that I haven’t), and stop disrespecting them by talking about this issue.

14. Say that the way life works is that your parents can raise you however they want/force you to be the person they ask/mess you up for the first 18 years of your life and then it will be your turn when you have your own kids.

Concerning religion and politics: 

15. Say that if my parents were real Christians that this never would have happened.

16. Say that this is obviously a problem with Christianity itself and all homeschoolers should respond by being secular/atheist/Buddhist/some other faith.

17. Say that you seriously doubt (or had it laid upon your heart by Jesus himself) that it is in God’s will/my best interest/society’s interest for me to be talking/thinking/spreading lies like this and you will pray/worry/be quite concerned for me.

18. Ask me if I am aware that when I talk about my story it is mainly going to be helping people who hate homeschoolers/Christians/parents/Americans/suburban white people unfairly stereotype/hurt/oppress all of your group because people will mistakenly think you are like me and my family and obviously you are nothing like us at all.

19. Accuse me of being put up to this by teachers unions/liberal brainwashing/feminism/Satan and not having actual good reasons for how I characterize a problem I lived through and/or am studying.

20. Accuse me of being anti-homeschooling, anti-Christian, and anti-family all in one fell swoop because I said what happened to me should not happen to other kids.

Now that I’ve listed all the rude, insensitive, selfish, and potentially threatening things I can think of that you should not be saying to people who have shared their horrible (or even just a little bit bad bordering on mediocre) homeschooling experience (I’m sure I left some out, so please feel free to include them in the comments), here are eight examples of something that might be a good idea to say:

1. Thank you for sharing your story.

2. I am trying to understand where/when/how this occurred. Can I ask you? How did X, Y, or Z happen/come to be/take place?

3. What helped you get out/get better?

4. What do you think could have made this situation better/not happen at all?

5. What do you think someone like me might do or keep in mind to prevent this from happening to others?

6. What do you like to do today, now that you’ve left that environment?

7. Can I share what you said with my friend/relative/pastor/neighbor/blog readers/Facebook?

8. I wish you well and hope that tomorrow/this week/life/the future will be good for you.

Also, even if this stuff is foreign to you and you really have no idea (or maybe don’t care) what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who has had this kind of homeschooling experience, please try for a moment to imagine how it would make you feel and what it might lead you to do and then have compassion. Personally, I love to argue and I have a lot of “fight” in me, but for many people who are sharing their story, just finding the words and the strength to do so is incredibly hard. People should not, under any circumstances, be pushing someone who’s telling a survivor story to defend themselves or expect them to deal with the kind of obnoxious behavior I listed above.

Thank you.

Quiet Dog (Bite Hard): Thomas’ Story

Quiet Dog (Bite Hard): Thomas’ Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Thomas” is a pseudonym. This story was written as a companion piece to Cain’s stories. Originally, Cain and Thomas wrote their stories to intertwine and this story makes reference to the book burning Cain discussed.


“Fuck Martha Stewart.”

~ Tyler Durden

They say my friend Cain is hard to get along with. That he’s sometimes dogmatic in his beliefs, sometimes ungentle in an argument, sometimes a bit arrogant and sometimes insensitive with how others feel. These same people will invariably turn to me and say, “but why do you get along so well with him? You’re caring, and sensitive, and you listen to other people’s opinions and never push others aside—you’re everything Cain is not!”. But this is unfair and a terrible misunderstanding. What they don’t understand is that those very same qualities that make Cain an “asshole” are the very same reasons we get along so well. In fact, I admire the asshole in Cain.

I want to be that asshole someday.

You see, it’s not that I’m nice. Or caring. Maybe I am sensitive, but if I had to be brutally honest (and I do, really, want to be brutal) my sensitivity stems from deep-seated insecurity. I am not kind because I am kind, I am kind because I am deathly afraid. Afraid of what you might think about me, afraid of what think about me, afraid of what you might do, afraid of what might do, and afraid afraid afraid of a thousand other fears. Sometimes people look at me and for no reason at all, without any sort of context, without even having met me before, and say, “you need to calm down”. Or sometimes they notice that I seem to shake very subtly all the time and ask me if I’m cold. And I’m so lost in my own head, chasing my own mental tail, that this sudden interruption in my inner-dialogue startles me, and I always look wild-eyed and scared, and I never know what to say in return so I stammer, and mumble, or just say absolutely nothing. Which probably doesn’t help the perception that I need to calm down.

What’s worse is they’re absolutely right. I do need to calm down. But how does one simply tell oneself to calm down? Trust me, in my head I’m screaming at myself to calm down, but that other anxious me in my head will always turn to the yelling me, laugh, and say with the accusatory finger, “No, YOU calm down!”. It’s a vicious cycle, the most morbid sort of tail-chasing invented by dog or man. It’s a terrible circle I’ve been drawing for my entire life, though I can’t necessarily blame any one thing or the other. I don’t believe in cause and effect. Maybe it’s all things wrapped up into one psychic knot. So let me unravel some of the threads before we return to my friend Cain, because in order to understand my relation to Cain, you have to understand me, and to understand me, well… you won’t. But for starters you’ll have to understand the concept of lapdogs, role-playing, and a book called Fight Club.

I was always a sickly child. With this condition and that condition, from infancy to adolescence to adulthood, I had one problem after the next. So obviously I spent a lot of time at home, with my mother, who coddled me. Don’t take this to mean I hold a grudge against my mother for coddling her sick child (who would?), just that God or Fate or stupid Bad Luck or whatever force that dictates these things saw to it that I was destined to become Mommy’s Favorite. I hogged all the attention; from my sister, from my brother, probably even from my father. I was always sent home from school (when I was going to school—later I would be homeschooled), I always had to be rushed back from a friend’s house early, always had to sit on the benches while my little league teammates played the game… essentially I was always in her lap. Like her quiet, dependent little dogs she loved so well. So it was inevitable that as she became so firmly attached to me, I became attached to her. Nobody would ever diagnose themselves with an Oedipal Complex, but I was unwittingly usurping my entire family’s place to be with my mother. And if you knew my mother, she was the Household.

If I wasn’t in my mother’s lap I was in the hospital. I bet you don’t know what Pyloric Stenosis is, but it’s no fun. It’s when your esophagus doesn’t connect into your stomach for one reason or the other. One reason is the sphincter in your stomach is too loose around the tubing of the esophagus, so your food spits back out of your stomach. The other reason (mine) is that your esophagus is too high up, so my food spit itself back out of my stomach. The results of both is you throw up every time you eat something. Or whenever you are jostled too much. My parents had an affectionate name for those Johnny-Jump-And-Bounce contraptions you put babies in—you know, those little seats suspended by bungee cords babies like to bounce in. Well, they called my Johnny-Jump-And-Bounce Johnny-Jump-And-Puke. I would go down, then up, then puke, then down, then up, then puke. I was a vomit machine, and always therefore crying. Why would they allow this to go on? Because Pyloric Stenosis usually corrects itself if you have the former cause, where the sphincter is too loose. But I, of course, had the latter cause, which doesn’t. So after countless medical examinations, after all the poking and prodding into my orifices, into surgery I went. They said the scar would disappear, but it hasn’t. It simply stretched.

I bet you know what Croup is, though. They call it the “barking cough”, which I believe is terribly ironic looking back. Here I was, the “quiet dog” in mother’s lap, with a barking cough. Oh, but Croup is not just having a bad cough. No sir. Have you ever felt your lungs rattle your entire body? Not just rattle, but shake, shake every fiber and nerve and bone and tissue and blood vessel in your body. It’s like having your own personal earthquake. Do you know what it’s like to have your throat constrict to the point where it is no larger in diameter than a coffee straw? How much oxygen can you get breathing through a needle-point? Have you ever had to sleep outside, in the snow, cradled in your father’s lap just so you can live through a single night? I have.

They say Croup is a childhood illness. I had it until about age 14. Almost every year, at around the same time, from as far back as I can remember I was in the hospital for a week at a time. I once worked at Blockbuster and I was always complemented on my movie trivia knowledge, like that’s such a noble thing to have. They never ask why I know so much about movies. If they could only see me sitting in a Croup tent, isolated from the world by a wall of plastic, watching the world imitated through technicolor tubes eighteen-plus hours a day for a week at a time, they’d probably pity me, rather than congratulate me. I remember one particular movie I watched almost every time, and I can’t watch it now without having a terrible feeling of tightness around the chest. My dad rented it for me, probably not remembering that I had seen it so many times before, and probably not thinking about the irony of the movie’s title and its associations with my condition. Or maybe he did, and it was his subtle way of striking back at all the attention I was stealing from his wife.

It was called The Abyss.

Not that my father was a cruel man. He was simply a passive man. My mother walked all over him, commanded him to sit, to stay, to roll over. She set the rhythm of the family and had the whole house at her beck and call. When her mood was down, so were ours—when they were up, we were up. But the downs seemed more frequent. And no, it was not entirely her fault either. I told you at the beginning that I can’t blame one thing or the other, but all, and my mother is no exception. She too was sick all the time and would spend weekends in her room watching TV, like me during Croup season, only every weekend. She had also been in a terrible car accident and was pretty thoroughly doped up on pain meds most of the time.

Physical illness can do terrible things for the mental and emotional state of a person, particularly if that person has a lot of mental and emotional baggage to begin with—and she had truckloads. Her family was, let’s just say, dysfunctional, like mine only in polar opposites. While we were caught up in religious fervor, ardent conservativism, what Cain would describe as fanaticism, hers was decadent, loud, liberal and with only the smallest attempt at appearing Christian. It’s funny how one moves from opposite to opposite. It’s true what they say, about opposites attracting. But that’s probably because these opposites are extremes, and one naturally leads to the other. Like how hope unfulfilled leads to despair, or unrequited love leads to hate. In my mother’s case, the extremes of liberalism led to the extreme backlash of conservatism, much like what we see happening in the news all the time. “The gays” pass a pro-homosexual marriage bill in California, Christians get it repealed, and Mormon churches get the short end of the shit-stick. Left to right to left to right… but imagine this in a microcosm of the home and you have the buildup of one dysfunctional home to the next in dysfunctional opposition to the first. Presto, neato, you have my family.

Cain was not the only person to experience a book burning. But while his family, at least from what I can gather, stuck to the fanaticism track, mine kind of waxed and waned back and forth between fanaticism and more relaxed religiosity. At times, usually when we were in a Baptist Church, our standards would give a little and I could watch PG-13 movies, or read books that had an occasional dirty word, or play video games with a moderate amount of violence. But when we joined more “spirit filled” churches, like the Pentecostal Church or “non-denominational spirit-filled congregations”, the fervor reached its zenith and we would have to gather all the material we had allowed, all the movies and music and books that had meant so much to me in my prepubescence and angsty teenage years, gather them up in one huge monument to the filth of modernity, and after my father had read a particular passage and explained to us the damage that this garbage was doing to our souls (while my mother would speak in tongues and occasionally repeat something my father had said), we would light the match and ceremoniously watch it burn. The smoke rose up to the heavens, like the sacrifices of so many little lambs centuries before us, in praise of God’s holy sanctification of our home.

During this time I went along with it, keeping my mouth shut, biting my tongue, and being the image of the perfect son. I learned to be passive, like my father, and never say anything against the orders of the day. I did what they told me to do, rarely got in trouble, read my Bible and prayed before each meal and before bed. In a phrase, I was just like my mother’s tame little domesticated dogs, quietly and eagerly awaiting that reassuring pat on the head and to hear the words “good boy”, because I was tired of potentially being bad all the time, I just wanted to hear that I was doing good. In fact, I don’t even remember the items that I burnt, all those things that had meant so much to me. Because when my parents told me they were evil, they were evil. I burned them willingly. But the only item I specifically remember being burnt was my copy of a role-playing game called Morrowind. In the fictional world of Morrowind, I could be anybody I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do (good or bad) and change the (fictional) world in any way I saw fit. I was powerful.

You see, I remember burning Morrowind because Morrowind offered me an escape from me, because deep down, any quiet dog hates himself for being quiet, for being passive and docile. They desperately want to run around the house, to bark at cats and passing cars, to pee inside, to dig holes in the yard—they desperately want to be a dog, as a dog should be. But for fear of the words “bad dog”, they whimper, they tuck their tails between their legs and spend half their life pleasing their master, and the other half sleeping away the boredom. With the burning of that video game, I burned the last bridge to my escape.

God still has a taste for blood, but now we sacrifice images instead of animals.

And then came ATI. Advanced Training Institute. Which was really just a cute way of saying “Advanced Brainwashing Propaganda”. My science textbooks told me everything in existence was made in six days. That the earth was six thousand years old. My sociology and psychology (though we didn’t call it those “liberal” titles, they represented to us “worldviews”) taught me that masturbation was homosexuality because I was having sex with myself and I was obviously the same gender as me—an offense worthy of hellfire. Being the teenage boy that I was, of course I was masturbating like the world was ending tomorrow. So though I yearned for heaven, I secretly felt I was destined for Hell. Contraception was evil because it wasn’t trusting God to give you what you need. Any music with a beat was evil, because of some horseshit about Africans being essentially demon worshiping witch doctors who corrupted the white man through Elvis Presley because of his association with the black culture. Not that my parents went all that far, but still, these were the people we associated with, and some of it rubbed off on my parents.

Cain was in the same program, as well as the homeschooling speech and debate program we were in, where we met. And I think this is the sweetest revenge, that this dynamic duo of asshole and quiet dog should meet in the shelter of its doghouse. If we start the revolution that burns the world like so many evil books, know right now that it started in the very place that tried to keep us from the world.

Irony is a motherfucker.

But it was through ATI that I came upon the book that changed my life. It was called Fight Club. And yeah, it’s a little cliché now, what with the movie and the subculture that surrounds it, but fuck it, if it reaches so many people so deeply, that’s because it has something to say goddammit. I read that book while I spent a year in Taiwan with ATI, supposedly “teaching” kids English (though we were really undercover evangelists). Not that they would have approved, but for the first time I was away from home, with people that didn’t really know me. I could be anybody I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do (good or bad). Taiwan was my Morrowind in the real world, and for the first time, I was considered the bad dog. Me! The quiet dog turned bad. I took a note from Tyler Durden and made it my personal quest to upset the precarious little perfect psuedo-world these little undercover evangelists lived in. And like the unnamed narrator of Fight Club, I wanted to destroy their beautiful world. Not that I didn’t like them to an extent, or that I didn’t even make friends with some of them—in fact, I still am friends with some of them and I cherish those friendships. It’s just that I felt they were misled. They worried about the wrong things. They knew what a duvet was. So I made it a habit to tell one cannibal joke at dinner, every dinner. I wouldn’t go on all their stupid little church visits, though I was forced to attend the “house church service” we held together (though then I wouldn’t sing along, wouldn’t share).

It was in this silence at church that I learned to turn my curse of being the quiet dog into a virtue. Sometimes not saying a damn thing communicates the most. All these empty words of God, and grace, and sin, and all their piddling little “daily struggles” to “overcome the sinfulness inside them” taught me that what these people considered hallow were really hollow. Little did they know that all those hours I disappeared in I was taking a train to the nearest city, going to the dingiest bars I could find, reading all those dirty little books, watching all those forbidden movies, starting up a healthy smoking addiction—my “daily struggle” was not against sin, it was to find the next! I was struggling with sin to overcome righteousness. While they were trying to overcome the world, I was trying to become it. While they were trying to convert the world, I was trying to embrace it.

And then came the day that I returned home. To my fence. To my leash and the patting patronizing hands who expected me to be such a good boy. And unfortunately I had not yet gathered enough strength to bark at my masters. It’s one thing to be whoever you want to be to people you don’t know, where you have the freedom to make yourself, like a character out of a role-playing game, before they can have an image of you pre-formed in their heads, but when you return back to the people who helped make you out of an egg and a sperm, who impressed upon you the concept of evil and good, who trained you, who clipped your nails, scooped up your poop, taught you to sit, stay, lay, and roll over, who know you… then they see only the quiet dog. They only see the unnamed narrator before he fabricated Tyler Durden for himself. Still weak, still pushing paper at his job, measuring days by the color of his boss’ tie, still stuck in conversation with himself as himself. Whereas the unnamed narrator could kill Tyler in the end but keep the better part of Tyler, the admirable part, and be OK in a mental asylum—I had simply lost Tyler and returned to the beginning.

But if Cain is an asshole, if he is dogmatic in his beliefs, sometimes ungentle in an argument, sometimes a bit arrogant and a bit insensitive to how others feel, that’s only because he’s living in Morrowind. He actually believes his beliefs, and if that conflicts with yours, then yours have to either conform or make way or simply accept it and walk your way. Maybe this isn’t all positive (nothing is), but at least he made himself and carries that with him, no matter how hard that image slaps the face of the image people expect him to carry. He’s the Tyler Durden to my “Jack”, the leader to the follower.  And when someone turns to me and expresses incredibility that the nice, kind-hearted little boy that I am could be such good friends with that prick, Cain, I’ll just smile and say, “woof”.

This project Mayhem was his idea, and whether or not he’s subtly making me or I him, or both, or whether we stand alone on the same turf of ground, we can both share the delight of a good bonfire.

Burn, baby, burn.

I’m tired,

tired of the gallivanting,


tamed and domesticated

sort of love.

The love we buy in shops,

staring out

with pitiful eyes from cages,

saying please,

please take me home,

take me home

and keep me there until

you put me down.

This sick puppy love begs

at tablecloths

for the little leftover scraps

of boredom,

of having nothing better to do.

If only,

if only it took it, instead of asked.


I want to grow out my hair,

file down my teeth

and sharpen my trimmed claws.

No more birds,

I want to leap onto a gazelle

and tear it apart,

I want to chase down a zebra

to see how it tastes.

I want to rip off our rotting skin,

and spell love

and lust and hate and fear and joy

in intricate letters

with our intertwining entrails,

then gather them

back together with new-grown arms

and make ourselves anew.