part seven

An interesting (to me anyway) side note about this time; I would often get adults in the congregation coming up to me and talking with me about something I’d said or something I wore and how it was inappropriate or some such thing.  Most of the time I would have no memory of what they were talking about. I must have looked quite stupid to them sometimes.

I do remember I had a skirt with a slit up the back and this older sister stopped me in the Kingdom Hall and said “That slit is too high, I can almost see your bottom.” I can still see Luella as she stood there examining me with her rheumy blue eyes, magnified behind her thick glasses. I was mortified.

When I got home that afternoon, I immediately stitched that slit up thinking “Ohmygod, I do not want to be accused of attempting to attract too much attention from the men in the congregation.” Sisters were discouraged from wearing anything that was too revealing or too tight or too short or too (insert word of your choice here). We were always to be mindful of doing anything that could be a ‘stumbling block’ to anyone else because we would be ‘blood-guilty’ if we caused someone to leave the ‘truth’ due to our behavior. We had to watch our thoughts, our actions, our feelings, our everything. There was no way to do it all well enough or spiritually enough and the counsel was always ‘we must strive to be god-like in everything’ and ‘do as much in Jehovah’s service as possible’ to assure our place in god’s kingdom after the world was destroyed.

As I’m writing these words today, I can literally feel the burden of them weighing me down. I wonder how it’s possible to hold someone responsible for the actions of others in such a way. I mean, it’s not like we purposely went out of our way to do things that would discourage anyone. We all knew our job was to bring people to Jehovah. We all knew we wanted a place in the new system after the earth had been cleansed by god. We all knew we wanted a part in cleaning up the earth and making it into a beautiful paradise. We all knew the goal.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years, many things happened that I am only now able to process in a way that is ,while not exactly helpful to me, a bit more understanding than it was at the time. We lived in a small town. The population was approximately 2000. We knew everybody and everybody knew us. It was made that way more-so because my mom and her siblings grew up in this town and their school friends were now the parents of our school friends.

Anyway, as small towns will do, every summer our town had a festival and so did the small towns around us. During this summer, my dad was on a motorcycle journey through the midwest looking for work. My mom, brother and I were home most of the summer by ourselves which was a huge relief for me. We spent most of our weekends partying at all these small town festivals in our area. My friend, Kim, went with us as did my aunt and several cousins and we just had a good time.

My mom’s SOP during these weekends was to give us money, arrange a meeting place and time and disappear with my aunt. At one festival, my friend and I ended up at a dance held in the middle of town. We hooked up with these young men who were so drunk I’m sure they had no memory of us the hour after we ended up evading them. Kim and I just wanted to dance. She apparently knew how to handle drunk guys. I did not. Kim was an enormous flirt. I was not. Kim danced with one guy and I danced with his friend. If not for Kim, I would not have been in this particular situation…hmmm…I never realized that before right now. That’s probably not a fair assessment however I quite literally knew nothing about guy/girl stuff.

The young men we were dancing with seemed to think that because we agreed to dance with them, we agreed to let them put their hands anywhere they wanted as well. I remember feeling very nervous and then I just felt sick. This guy was huge though and I didn’t know how to get away. We were in the middle of an enormous crowd of drunk people who wouldn’t have known if anyone needed help. I still don’t know how I got out of there but we ended up meeting my mom not too long afterward. All Kim and I wanted to do was go home. My mom and aunt were very drunk. Very. Drunk. The young men Kim and I had escaped from had followed us. We didn’t know who my mom was talking too until we heard her say “Oh yea, these are my girls, we’re going to (insert restaurant here), why don’t you follow us there!”

Her words struck fear into our hearts. We watched for their truck the entire time we were eating and all I can say is I hope they were too drunk to find their truck and not actually driving in their condition. I was never so glad to get home. The next morning Kim and I got up and went to the meeting like the good little christian girls we were. I have no idea how Kim felt but I felt dirty.

At another festival in another little town near us, my cousin and I walked into the restaurant we were supposed to meet my mom and aunt at. We headed to the bathroom in the back only to discover my mom and aunt in a booth in the back with some men we’d never seen before. My mom was kissing this guy and I was immediately dizzy. I turned around and left the restaurant in disbelief. I have thought for years that I was just angry with my mom for being unfaithful to my dad. Now I believe the history I had blocked out so well is what was triggered and I had no safe way to interpret those feelings other than anger.

I was very angry and confused. I asked my mom what she was doing with a strange guy and I have no clue what she said to me but when my aunt got to the car a bit later she looked at me and said “What is wrong with you? Do you really think your dad is being faithful to her while he’s out galivanting through the midwest?” I’m still not quite sure what one had to do with the other but my brain doesn’t work like most in my family so I’ll just leave it at that.

My baby cousin was spending the night with us then…she was only 1 and a half. These strangers followed us home. I took the baby upstairs to my room to keep her safe that night. She slept in my bed right next to me so I would know where she was. When we woke up the next morning, I went downstairs without the baby and only one of the men was on the couch. Of course the other guy was in bed with my mom but I didn’t want to acknowledge that at the time and remember telling myself he must have left. I got the baby some food and we stayed upstairs until those guys were gone.

For the life of me I could not tell you what happened when my mom got up. I remember absolutely nothing else about that day after going upstairs with food for the baby. I just this moment am wondering what the baby’s mommy would have said if she knew what happened while she was at our house. That baby is now 27 years old and married but I can still feel the fear I felt that night keeping that baby safe from those men and my mom. 

 About the time my junior year started an article came out in the Watchtower about those who had been baptized and were no longer serving Jehovah. The article talked about how those people could still be identified with Jehovah’s people and that if they were still engaging in conduct unbecoming a christian that it would be necessary to cut off all ties with them. Kim called me one night and said that, based on this article, she didn’t feel comfortable coming to my house or spending time with my parents anymore. I can still see my parents faces the day Kim came to our house, sat down at our dining room table and informed my parents (with the article underlined and hightlighted for their benefit) she would no longer be coming over to our house or talking with them. She told them she wanted to spend time with them but Jehovah frowned upon it and since the goal was to encourage them to come back to the organization, she was going to follow this direction.

I completely agreed with Kim’s decision and knew that there were certain things I could no longer discuss with my parents as well. I also knew that if I were to continue pleasing Jehovah I would have to make a choice soon about what to do. My parents were heartbroken and all I could say was “If you don’t want this to happen, you need to do something differently now.” Of course they didn’t do anything differently and that pissed me off to no end. I didn’t understand how they could refuse to do something that would make life better for them and for me.

I remember once I was in the grocery store after the meeting with some friends and apparently my dad was there too. I didn’t see him but when I got home I learned that he’d been there and saw me. He was furious that I didn’t speak to him. I got a lecture about how I still lived in his house and he’d be dammed if I was going to ignore him like he was nobody while I lived there. I’m sure he had more to say but I can’t remember what it was. I do remember feeling sick to my stomach though and thinking “Oh man, this is going to be so hard when the time comes.”

to be continued

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Part seven? I’m going to get caught up. I’ll be back.

    Reply

  2. Traci, you have survived SO MUCH!! I know what it’s like to grow up under a black and threatening storm cloud of fear and oppression. This is very sad and my heart goes out to you. It is so depressing for a person’s spirit when these conditions span such a large period of time in a child’s life. You and I both deserved better. We were just children. Children are pleasing to any concept of God that has not been perverted by twisted groups of people.

    Reply

  3. Traci, your comment about self-responsibility jumped out at me, because as I was reading the previous paragraphs, I was thinking just that. Well, no, my head was screaming, “YOU weren’t responsible for anyone but YOURSELF!!!!!” Especially as a child, loading that responsibility on you was just insane.

    I’m so glad you survived your childhood. I think you’re an amazing woman. I understand that sometimes you don’t feel that way, but you should know that those of us reading about your life experiences are in awe at your ability to survive conditions that were … well, just simply unbelievable oppressive. I’m glad you’re here and telling a very important history.

    Now I’ll wait for the next chapter.

    Reply

  4. Traci, your story is fascinating and amazing. You should be so proud of yourself for sustaining what you have.

    Reply

  5. I have read all 6 parts today and all I can say is “Wow”. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us and I look forward to Part 7.

    Reply

  6. Institutionalized religion has no choice but to force itself on its members, especially the young ones — its very survival depends on it. Granted, not all institutions are as blatantly oppressive as the JWs or the SDAs in my case; but no matter what the doctrine, if it’s institutionalized, it will be enforced. This series of yours really has me thinking, Traci. Thank you.

    Reply

  7. I lovingly disagree with you, Shari, if “institutionalized” means the same thing as “organized.” There are religious denominations, one to which I belong, that encourage free thinking, spiritual and intellectual seeking, among its members. The guiding principle is “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” i.e., no one has the right to judge you or tell you how to be. Many people, from an unhealthy place inside, need, or think they need, to be told what to do. Those are the religious groups that we hear about most often. In the news or even in people’s personal stories, like this. But there are organized faith communities for people who don’t have that need, or don’t have it any longer.

    I agree that the more complex the “doctrine,” and the more people between the individual and God “interpreting” the doctrine, the more likely there are to be abuses of many kinds.

    Your series make me think, too, Traci, and as your story always has, it makes me angry that the name of God is used to oppress and abuse. True faith is about freedom, not imprisonment.

    Reply

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