I was barely 19 when my eldest sister decided to make a run for it.
Against all my convictions and everything I parroted that my parents believed, I helped her.
I remember her looking over her shoulder at me, washing dishes, as she went downstairs in our split level home, a silent farewell where we couldn’t embrace or pretend anything was going on.
I remember I was still working on the dishes in the sink when my mom found her empty room and sounded the alarm. I remember pretending I had absolutely no idea, and I pretended that i wasn’t crying into the dishwater as I heard my dad called everyone he could call, attempting to intimidate them into helping him scour the countryside for her or cutting off any resources she might have through them, calling her names and predicting her demise.
I was a little over 19 when my parents sent me to ATI’s Journey to the Heart in an attempt to keep me from following her example.
Against all precedents, they sent me alone on a train and in a taxi to the center of the country where I found theological discrepancies between ATI’s material and my parents own branch of personally branded “THE correct way” philosophy. I remember feeling the sting of rejection when the famed seer himself sent me away curtly when he found out I was there on a scholarship and that our family had never been card-carrying members of his organization. I remember the resentment that would not go away no matter how many times I tried to “tear down the stronghold,” and all the years since that week and this one. I remember the thrill of spending my own money, finding my own train connections, walking around a real college campus with an old friend, and experiencing a day of her academic life.
I was halfway through being 19 when I secretly began corresponding with my sister again.
Against all thoughts of self-preservation, I dared to call her and spend time with her during an afternoon event she came to where the siblings and I were performing our homeschooled talents.
I remember the horrible ending to that evening when my father refused to allow her to hold the baby, and seeing, again as if for the first time, how malicious he was by nature. I remember the tortuously long bible studies he forced us to have wherein he would use an example at least every other week of how wicked she was and how she hated her family and her family’s god. I remember how I first followed one of her links to the blog of a book-writer who changed my life.
I was on the verge of 20 when I began spouting dangerous ideologies that put me on my parent’s radar.
Against every spanking I had ever had, I stood up to my father and refused to allow him to confiscate something of mine. I remember the thrill of having a personal possession that did not have to be shared, a laptop purchased with “graduation” gifts from family. It gave me a window into the outside world, it gave me a taste. I remember looking for the author-lady’s article about how Michael Pearl responded to the first and second child killed by his methods. I remember arguing with my parents in tears that this was deadly and that it was paramount that they look into their punishment methods as they sat there with jaws scraping the floor.
I was a month away from being 20 when I refused to back down one more time, and my father grounded me to my room except for bathroom breaks and meals.
Against my JTTH-inspired vow to serve my family another year, I took a cellphone that was snuck in to me and began calling people who would listen to me and offer advice. I remember “Elizabeth” encouraging me to secure my social security card, and I did it despite having to sneak into my parent’s room and rifle through the family folders to find it. I remember staring at the folder and being too afraid to take my expired passport or anything else in case they would notice the diminished size and suspect I was planning something. I remember the final weeks when our elderly neighbor’s and next-door-secular-homeschooling-family read the author’s finished book and put all the pieces together. I remember being rebellious and locking my room door every night, and every morning finding it unlocked and cracked open.
I was a week and a half over 20 when I went to a local Amusement Park with my family for a special vacation on discount tickets purchased with couponing.
Against all common sense my father ordered all us females to wear skirts for modesty, and I protested by wearing my shortest (knee-length) one with capris underneath. I remember almost getting sent back to the car for the whole day because I pointed out several mini-skirt wearing women and commented on their impressive modesty. I remember holding my tongue because I had one last day to spend with my little brother, and I remember being brave enough to whisper to him what I was planning at the end of the day. I remember the blisters on my heels that I didn’t mind because I spent the night petting my cats and begging them to forgive me for abandoning them.
I was 13 days over 20 when I put a note on my dresser along with money for the cats care and I walked two boxes of clothing over to the waiting car that took me into town.
Against all odds I managed to stay in town most of the day until my sister was able to leave work and come get me. I remember people being extraordinarily kind to the naive should-be-an-adult woman who was hiding in fear and watching the door. I remember staring down at my Friendly’s taco-bowl-salad and being unable to swallow because my brother delivered my father’s ultimatum. I would come home by sundown or my cats would be put out at the edge of the road.
I remember my sister facing her demons less than a year after her harrowing escape in order to help me.
I was only two days older when we drove into a driveway 500 miles distant and I first saw the people who were going to be my teachers and helpers for the next half decade.
Against the new backdrop I bought my first two-piece tankini-and-skirt combo and my sister and I shared a sunny afternoon in their community pool. I remember everyone cautioning us about how these people were complete strangers and if “anything feels off” to come back to my sister’s and to figure things out from there. I remember the new landlady buying me a sheet set for my room in a vibrant lime green along with a “husband pillow” and her humor and kindness made me feel right at home. I remember thanking my sister before she left, and being happy, scared, nervous, and tired as I started my new life with a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I was free, and that I would remain free.