My Story

I’ve finally managed to gather all these posts on one page. I’m slow. I know. Peace.

ya know

I struggle with the concept of God. I really do.I know where this struggle comes from. I know it’s time to deal with it too. Somehow. This is big. It’s really big. In my mind anyway. Since I have a difficult time speaking the words aloud, I’ve decided to try writing them. Even the thought of writing the words is triggering an anxiety attack. I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about this subject before and even those little bits were difficult. Why? Because it’s been ingrained in me from a very early age that talking badly about or questioning what I learned is bad. Very Bad. Bad as in apostate, as in dead, as in forever.That said…on we go…I was born into a “Christian” family. I have one memory of attending church as a small child. It involved the collection plate and Easter clothes. That’s it. I know I went to church because I have things from Sunday school in a scrap book my aunt made for me. My grandmother was very ill for most of my young life. She died when I was 5 after a long battle with lung cancer. I’ve been told she was sick for two and a half years. I have three memories of my gramma.One is of being in her closet and playing with her high heeled shoes. Red ones. The heels looked so skinny I didn’t understand how she could walk on them. The next memory is of helping her make her bed one morning and finding all her dark hair in bunches all over her pillow. The last memory is of the night she was taken away in an ambulance. To the hospital. Where she died. She was at the table writing a letter and I was playing under the table when I heard her groan. I crawled out from under the table to see her holding her head in her hands and my grandfather come charging through the door from the living room. That’s it until the quiet lights of the ambulance pulled away from our house.The next thing I remember is being told that my gramma had died and gone to heaven. I remember being hysterical and running to my room. Again that’s all. The next thing I remember is being in the back seat of a car and looking out the window at the big blue sky while thinking that if my gramma was up there watching me, she must be really big now because the sky was huge. Then nothing else until the morning I was the only one up and answered our door when someone knocked. I was five. Answering the door. Alone. Different times to be sure. There was a man and woman standing on our porch. I can still see the lady’s brown coat with the big black buttons. They asked for my parents and I got my dad up. I’m pretty sure my mom followed.I have no idea what happened during that conversation but I can make an educated guess now. Those people were Jehovah’s Witnesses. And they convinced my parents to study the bible with them. Our lives changed alot after that. We had to go to meetings and out in ’service’. That’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses call it when they go out and knock on people’s doors. I learned all kinds of things while my parents were studying this religion. I learned that my grandmother wasn’t really in heaven. I learned that it wasn’t ok to celebrate any holidays or have birthdays or be like other kids at school. It wasn’t ok to have friends who didn’t have the same religion and it wasn’t ok to be loud and rowdy or have an opinion. It wasn’t ok to ask questions or any number of other things I could write here. I was a good student too. I mean, I’d been prepped by my grandfather and the rest of my family to never question or speak up or say when something bad was happening. I followed all the rules and did what I was told. I was excited to have friends although now that I think of it, my parents didn’t socialize as much as I think they were expected to. I don’t know what that was about but I remember being disappointed alot in that respect.The meetings we went to were supposed to teach us the bible. We went to the Watchtower study on Sunday and there was an hour lecture given by some ‘brother’ every Sunday as well. We went to a book study group one night of the week. That was the best because it was only an hour and I didn’t have to sit as long. There was also another meeting night that lasted for two hours. The first hour would be the Theocratic Ministry School and the second hour would be the Service Meeting. During those meetings people in the congregation learned how to speak in public by preparing small ‘talks’ of about 5 or 6 minutes that took place in settings similar to the door to door work. Also there were small parts to show what was happening in the world of JW’s and how others in different countries were fairing as well. I remember hearing about the persecution of brothers in Malawi because of their stand for Jehovah and being terrified that would happen to me. I remember hearing of how Armaggedon was coming and if I wasn’t doing what God wanted, then I would die and be gone forever.Imagine a small girl already terrified because of what happened to her at the hands of her grandfather. Imagine being so convinced you were bad and hearing of this thing called Armaggedon and certain death. Imagine a child who’d watched her grandmother die a terrible and painful death, who was convinced that every time she felt sick, someone was going to tell her she was dying like her grandmother, imagine the terror of Armaggedon. How could I ever live up to that expectation? I was obviously bad or bad things wouldn’t happen to me. So how on earth would I ever survive. I remember telling my mom goodnight and saying “I hope I see you in the morning” for years.

ya know (continued)

I wrote my will when I was 10 years old. I was positive I was dying. I told no one of my fear. I simply wrote my will and put it in my nightstand drawer along with a letter to everyone important to me. I don’t remember who I wrote those letters to but I know I wrote several of them.What triggered my will writing? One day while in my bedroom getting dressed I happened upon some lumps on my chest. I knew it was cancer. I just knew it. (When I was 14, I broke my left hip. I was in the emergency room having x-rays and was panicked and sobbing because I knew the x-rays would show the cancer and I didn’t want my mom to know) No one ever told me that when a young girls breasts begin developing it will feel like small lumps in your chest.When I began my period for the first time, my mom was in the hospital having a hysterectomy. She almost died on the table from hemorrhaging. No one ever told me that when you start your period the first time, it’s possible to have a few days of extremely dark, tar like stuff come first. Every time I saw my underwear with that stuff on it, I was sure I was dying. It seemed appropriate that I would die with my mom. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t dying. I simply knew I was. I was such a bad girl there was no way I could ever be good enough to please Jehovah.My parents continued to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses and preparing for their baptism. They had to study through some book (I can’t remember what it was called) with a group of elders (men in the congregation who were in charge). I didn’t know any of this until years later however, apparently my parents were told they were not ‘fit’ for baptism. Why? Because they were smokers. I guess that sometime in the early 70’s, it was decided (by the bigwigs in NY) that smoking was no longer allowed. Everyone who smoked (and I think there were alot) had 6 months or something like that to quit. My parents didn’t. Whether because they couldn’t kick the addiction or just didn’t want to, I have no idea. (I do remember playing Yahtzee one night at the dinner table and my dad throwing dice so hard we never did find two of them so I think he was trying to quit then.) Whatever happened, my parents were told no baptism. They ended up taking a month long motorcycle trip back east to visit my grandmother (dad’s mom) in Minnesota. Turns out, they went to the summer convention with her and got baptised anyway. I cannot imagine them doing that. But they did. I have the pictures.During this time one of my cousins came home with them and lived with us while he completed his senior year of high school. My parents continued to smoke only it was hidden from everyone. Until one day Les saw them. And reported them to the elders in the congregation. My parents ended up being put on public reproof. (that’s a public announcement of conduct unbecoming a christian and a warning that the person in question isn’t a good associate for the congregation) My mom and dad NEVER attended another meeting. I was 9 and a half years old.I remember one night getting ready for the meeting and being asked why I had a dress on. It was then I was told we weren’t going to meetings anymore. I’m not sure about this but I think I was probably scared and relieved all at the same time. Scared because if we didn’t go to meetings, what would Jehovah do to us? Relieved because come on, what little kid wouldn’t rather play outside than sit inside for hours on end? I don’t remember much else about that time until I was probably 11 or so. My brother and I spent a weekend with my aunt who was an active Witness. We went to the Sunday meeting with her. A big, huge brother came up to us and asked if he could study with us. I know we told him he’d have to ask our parents. He must have asked and they must have said ok because he began coming to our house one evening a week to study a little blue book with my 12 year old brother and me.I don’t remember reading the bible much but we must have. I don’t remember wanting to study much. I really only have one memory of that time. It was of this man sitting on our couch and telling my brother and I that we really needed to be at our house when we said we’d be there since he drove down the hill to study with us. It was rude and displeasing to Jehovah to say you’d study and then not do it. We were little kids! If our parents wanted to leave the house and go out to dinner, who were we to say no? Whatever. He must have spoken with our parents too though. I have no idea but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know if we missed many more studies or not but I do know that we began attending meetings with him and his family. My parents never went but it became necessary that we go.It was actually kind of cool to go to the meetings by this time. It wasn’t very often that young children did that…went to meetings when their parents didn’t. My brother and I were made much of. I don’t remember too much about it but I’m sure it must have felt fabulous to be treated as special when for my whole life I’d known I was too ugly and too bad and too whatever else had been branded into my brain.

ya know ~ part three

I need to backtrack a bit here.My parents married when I was 5. My biological father was my mom’s first husband and she married him on her 20th birthday. By the time I was born, he was no where to be found apparently. My dad (the man I call ‘Dad’) was my mom’s 4th husband. They married when my mom was 26 and he adopted me when I was 7. I don’t know where I got the idea that my mom and my biological father were divorced but somehow that’s what I ‘knew’. I don’t remember him being spoken of much and I don’t remember ever asking any questions about him either. I don’t really understand how I never asked a question but, given what I know about my childhood, my guess would be either I asked and was told not to talk about it or I was too afraid to ask in the first place.While I remember being glad I had a “Daddy”, I also remember being scared of him. I know he was strict and I think I remember trying not to attract his attention. I vaguely recall feeling angry with him but since anger wasn’t allowed and showing it earned a beating, I’m quite sure it was stuffed deep down inside me so I didn’t risk getting in more trouble than necessary. He had the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen in anyone other than his brothers. It was never good to have that stare aimed in your direction. When I hear anyone use the expression their “blood ran cold” I get the same chill I remember when my dad’s stare was directed at me.Once my parents began studying with the Witnesses, that stare was even scarier. Now, my dad had the bible and Jehovah backing him up so not only was it going to get ugly, it was going to be connected with displeasing god as well. Once when I was around 12 I think, my dad told me that when he and my mom hooked up I was a ‘difficult’ child. He informed me that he’d seen a psychiatrist about the issues he had with me (I remember exactly NONE of the issues he spoke of) and the shrink told him that he’d gotten me too late to fix me. If he’d got me before I was 5, he may have been able to make some changes but since I was already 5, there was no help for me. No help for me. NO. HELP. FOR. ME.  My dad didn’t enter into the equation according to him. Imagine saying those words to a child. Even typing those words creates anxiety and triggers tears. I still don’t feel the anger I know I have inside me. I see glimpses of it at times but not often. Anger is never safe.We lived in a tiny white house when my parents married. That was the house the Witnesses first came to. When I turned 7 we moved into a big old house across the river from there. It seemed big at the time. I’ve been by there as an adult and it’s not really very big. But it seemed cavernous to my little girl self. This house had two stories and acres of land surrounding it. We had two barns, a huge hay field and another huge field that was literally covered in black berries. We had pigs, horses, chickens, a goat or two and an apple orchard. There was always something to see and stuff to do. When I think about all the stuff my brother and I did there, it astounds me. We had mini bikes, beebee guns, a swimming pool and dogs too. Looking back, I really think it was so good outside because it was so hard inside. My mom struggled with depression among other things and there were days she never got out of bed. I don’t know if this is true or not but I think I remember her going to doctors alot.When we first moved into this house, I had to sleep upstairs alone. My brother wouldn’t move in with us for another 4 years or so and I was the only kid there. I was quite literally terrified upstairs and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even last one night up there. I could be wrong however I think the next day my dad built some temporary walls at the end of the living room and that was my bedroom for quite a long time. I remember waking up alot in the night scared. It was dark and I could hear things outside my room. I swore there were people in the kitchen and the water faucets would turn on and off and it sounded like doors opening and closing. I would get out of bed when I was too afraid to stay in bed anymore and go into my parents room. I just wanted my mommy. I don’t know how many nights this went on but one night my dad got so angry that he dragged me back to bed and quite literally beat me to sleep. I can still see his face so close to mine as he told me I’d better never get out of bed again or it would be worse the next time.My parents talked with the couple who were studying with them about my night time difficulties and it was decided that since I was the littlest person in the house and the weakest person spiritually that demons were attacking me at night time. My parents were instructed to get rid of some furniture we’d gotten recently and see what happened. I have no idea what happened after that, if I still heard things or not. I do know that I never got out of bed in the night again. For all I know I could simply have blocked it all out after that. Sheer terror will do that I think.

y k ~ part four

Don’t get me wrong. There were lots of fun things that happened when I was a kid. We traveled alot during the summers. We went back to Minnesota to visit my dad’s parents and stayed for a month at a time. We went to Disneyland two summers in a row and saw lots of cool stuff through-out California. Granted, I don’t remember much of it but we do have pictures and I’m in them so I know it happened.My dad asked me one time if I remembered going somewhere in South Dakota and I looked at him with what must have been a blank stare because he said “Are you serious? You don’t remember that?” All I could do was shake my head no. I do have one memory. All us kids (there were 4) rode in the back of the pickup with the canopy on it. We got along a little I’m sure. Mostly though, I guess we didn’t. We stopped along the side of the rode one day…from the picture, I’d guess it was in Montana someplace. Anyway, we all got dragged out of the back because we’d apparently been fighting. We all got whipped. At least I think we all got whipped. I can only really remember me but the other kids were there so I’m pretty sure it was them too.I know we went to JW meetings whenever we were in Minnesota because my grandmother was a Witness. I remember not wanting to go…or maybe I did. But the truth is, meeting lots of people who asked lots of questions about where we came from etc etc, was not a fun time for me. I was mostly scared of people. I didn’t want anyone paying attention to me. Of course, my feelings about that were never taken into consideration though. It was “Stand up straight and be polite!” My grandmother was a scary woman! We tended to listen to her. I did get in more trouble than the other kids though because I wasn’t really her grandchild. It was always very clear that adoption didn’t count to her. That was some unconditional love right there…(insert eye roll here)When I was 13, my dad learned that the company he worked for was shutting down their operations on a large scale and since he’d only been there for 18 years (to everyone else’s 20+), he was the one getting laid off. I don’t think he’d ever not had a job before. Right before then my parents had made plans to move from the town I’d practically grown up in, away from the school I’d gone to since kindergarten. We were moving 30 miles south back to the town my mom and her siblings had grown up in. To start high school at a completely new school, where we knew no one. Oy. To say I was scared is an understatement. I didn’t have the best attitude about it either. That was nipped in the bud pretty quickly though.That summer we attended the convention held by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Corvallis, Oregon. It helped considerably because we met alot of people from our soon to be new hometown. By the time we got there, we knew lots of kids and adults too. There was one ’sister’ who I felt particularly drawn to. Her name was Pat Hart and she was a special soul. She more or less took me under her wing and was a mother figure to me. I loved her dearly. My mother hated her and wouldn’t let me spend time with her outside the Kingdom Hall. (that’s what a JW meeting place is called. see? even now I simply canNOT call it a church) I wasn’t allowed to speak with her on the phone or anything. She had two sons my age and they were part of my friend group. I had the worst crush on the oldest one! That was not allowed either because by this time I was only 14.I remember one time a boy called me while I was at my aunt’s house. (she was a Witness too) He wanted to talk and my dad had a conniption fit and made me hang up. Then I got a long-assed lecture on the purpose of dating and was told all about my dad and his dating experience and how he didn’t go on one until he was 28 or something like that. He didn’t have much to worry about because this boy had called me after my cousin told him to. Once this young man got a good look at me when we moved to town, he sent me this absolutely appalling note telling me I was too ugly for him and he wouldn’t be talking to me anymore. It didn’t stop the strap across my backside for talking to him though. My mother did that one. All the while telling me it’d be a real shame if she had to call the ‘elders’ to deal with me if I didn’t listen to her and my dad. Witnesses believe the purpose of dating is to find a marriage mate. Since I was only 14 and obviously didn’t need a marriage mate yet, I had alot of nerve getting a boy to call me. He was 16 so what was he thinking?! Never mind that I didn’t ‘get’ anyone to call me or the fact that it was a phone call and nothing more…I was on the road to misconduct and my always correct parents knew all about misconduct didn’t they?During this time my brother and I were being taken under the wing of several different families in our new congregation. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. It was hard for me because I am such an introvert but it was amazing too because I’d never felt so liked in my life. I thought that no matter what happened, I’d always have friends who loved me as long as I served Jehovah. I spent alot of time out in service. During the summer months I auxilary pioneered (this is where a congregation member signs a paper agreeing to devote a minimum of 60 hours a month to Jehovah’s service), had parts on the convention program and generally spent as much time as I could get away with somewhere other than my house. This did create issues with my parents. In May of 1980, Mt. Saint Helens erupted. The town we lived in was located directly below the dam that was affected by our mountain’s explosions. During the months preceding her eruption, we’d had warnings and drills and all kinds of information about what to do and where to go should the mountain decide to stop burping and really explode. Not only were the news folks preoccupied with our mountain, during the weekly meetings at our Kingdom Hall, we were cautioned to be wise and have a plan of escape etc.While I was preparing to go a meeting one evening, my mother came upstairs to my room and told me she wanted me to stay home that night. Just in case the mountain erupted. She wanted to know where I was. (now that I’m a mom, I totally get it but at the time…) I continued getting dressed and when I went downstairs to brush my teeth my mom asked me where I thought I was going. I told her I wanted to go to the meeting. She said “No.” I said “Geez, if something’s going to happen to me Mom, I’d really rather I was with my friends when it did! Jehovah will protect me!” I stormed up the stairs and slammed my door. I should have known my outburst would not go unpunished.

part five

I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses on November 24, 1979. I was 14 years old.At that young age, I was absolutely convinced I would serve Jehovah forever. I was also too scared to do anything else. I mean, if I didn’t do what Jehovah wanted me to do I would die at Armaggedon and that was enough to put the fear of god into anyone. I remember thinking a time or two ‘how is it that Jehovah is a loving god if the only reason I do something is because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t do it?’ As soon as that thought entered my young head, I pushed it out since I knew that was not an appropriate question.Now back to the end of part four:I knew my response to my mother would not go unpunished and I was absolutely sick to my stomach. Quicker than even I expected, I heard my dad yell for me to get my ass downstairs NOW. I walked down the stairs and could see him waiting for me at the bottom. Before I even reached the last stair, he said “You are getting too big for your britches young lady. Who do you think you are?” The blow up that followed was not pretty. I was scared and then I felt that calm, detached feeling take over my body. It was like watching the scene from afar. My mom finally said “If you want to die with the Witnesses, you can just find some of them to live with now too.” I said “Ok.” My dad said “There isn’t room in this house for both of us. It’s either you or me. One of us is leaving tonight.” Again I said “Ok”. I grabbed my purse and walked out the front door.We just happened to live across the street from a JW elder and his family. His daughter was one of my best friends. I was early to leave for the meeting but I knocked on their door anyway. I walked into their living room and my friend’s mom looked at me questioningly. She was the sweetest lady and I’ve missed her almost every day since she passed away on July 15, 1991. I made it to the middle of the room and said “My parents threw me out.” I must have cried but I just can’t remember that right now.I ended up on the edge of the tub in their bathroom talking to my friend. She had this way of talking in an almost whisper and yet I could hear her perfectly. I asked to use the phone and I called Pat. (my other mother) She came right down and was so kind to me. Just writing that brings tears dammit. I have no idea how long we were there. I do know we didn’t go to the meeting. I remember my brother showed up a bit later and said “I just told dad to take a flying leap and he was out of hand and” blah blah blah. I don’t know if I remember my brother ever standing up for me but he did that night.It was very late when my friend’s phone rang. It was my mother. She told me it was time for me and my brother to come home now. What could I do? We went home. I wasn’t even 15 years old yet. I had no where to go. We arrived home to find two chairs set up in the living room (like an inquisition I think now). We had to sit in them and listen. That’s it. Just listen. I don’t know how long my dad talked but I know my mom just sat there and let him go off.I’ve said before that my dad was scary. Very. Scary. His tirade was not directed at my brother but I was very glad my brother was sitting there with me. I heard all about how displeasing I was to Jehovah and how in the morning, dad was going to call the elders and I would be disciplined for being so disrespectful and horrible to my mom and him. He was in charge and that meant that I answered to him and did what I was told when I was told and unless I wanted to die at the end of this system of things, I’d better snap out of it and on and on and on. There were lots of curse words and threats and I never doubted for one moment that he would carry them all out. I don’t remember getting hit and I don’t remember going to bed but I know I ended up at school the next day. Whether I stayed awake or not I can’t tell you.During this time I was convinced that if I could just follow Jehovah’s commands better, life would be simpler. I knew that since my parents didn’t serve Jehovah anymore, I couldn’t really count on them to help me know the right things to do or think. That was for Jehovah’s spirit directed organization. I needed to study more and get out in service more and I would be directed in the right way. I knew the day would come when my parents had no more say over me. I looked forward to it and was terrified of it at the same time.Not too long after this experience, a friend of mine attempted suicide. His name was Gary and he was a sweet messed up young man. I don’t remember what happened that triggered his attempt but I do remember spending my lunch hour talking with him. He was part of our congregation and he knew that once word got out of what he’d done, he was going to be in trouble. Suicide wasn’t a cry for help to the Witnesses, it was weakness pure and simple. If only you relied on Jehovah and studied harder and prayed more thoughts of suicide wouldn’t enter your mind. This young man did end up on reproof for conduct unbecoming a Christian.

part six

I was not conscious of any ‘issues’ with god at this point in my life. I truly believed I was doing what god wanted me to do. I believed I had the “truth” (what JW’s call their religion inside their group). I knew I was serving Jehovah in the only acceptable way and no matter what happened, as long as I continued in the path I was on, I would survive the end of this system of things.When I was 15, a brother in the congregation (who had graduated with my mom) began showing an interest in me. He would always volunteer to go in service with my group. He would make comments full of innuendo during our time together. I felt both uncomfortable and giddy in a way I did not understand at all. One day, as I was getting out of the car we’d been in for service, this brother said something to me I really did not get. He was standing pretty close to me and he leaned over and said “If you were to drop your handkerchief right now, I’d pick it up for you.” I just thought “What?”, brushed him off and went home.During a chat with my mom and dad later that day, I happened to say “Charlie said the weirdest thing to me today.” and repeated his comment. My dad was instantly livid. I didn’t understand. He told me that in his day that comment was indicative of a man’s romantic interest in a woman. I was thinking “No way. This guy graduated with my mother.” As a matter of fact, he had the locker right next to my mom all through high school! Oy. I look back now and recognize exactly what was happening but at the time, I quite literally had no idea.I should probably say right here that I was clueless about dating, flirting, relationships and sex. I had no memory of my childhood with my grandfather and wouldn’t have until I was almost 31 years old. I didn’t understand my thoughts or conflicting feelings and I certainly didn’t know much about how a man and woman fit together. (my mother’s comment upon my marriage was ‘they told you about the blood didn’t they?’ That was my chat about the birds and bees with my mom. I still wonder who ‘they’ was supposed to be.) As a Witness youth, any exploration of my body or anything even remotely related to sex was frowned upon. That was discouraged from the platform(the stage-commandeered by the brothers; aka-elders and ministerial servants)  and if it was discovered that any young person was ummm… experimenting…a chat was had with the elders about it all in great detail. When I say ‘detail’ I mean Detail with a capital D.Questions asked included, but were not limited to, things like “How many times was the experimentation done?” “What exactly did you do?” “Did you have a partner?” “Were you alone?” “Did you know it was wrong?” “If yes, why did you continue?” “What parts of yourself did you or your partner touch?” I’m not kidding. It really did go like that. I didn’t get questions like those asked of me at 15 (I would have been mortified) but before my marriage I certainly did. That’s a story to come later though.So, during the time this brother was uh, interested in me, I would discover him sitting behind me at meetings. He wanted to go in service with me often and he always had something pleasant to say to me. There were times I did not feel any kind of vibes from him at all. There were times (now that I’m older) that I did feel them and they were overwhelming. I really did feel scared and excited and worried all at the same time. I also felt ashamed. I knew I was bad for feeling the way I felt and quite honestly, it never once occurred to me that maybe the guy was behaving questionably. He was in good standing in the congregation and since I knew nothing would happen until I was out of school, I tried not to worry about it too much.We went to a party one night (a JW party…not to be confused with a ‘worldy’ party) and my brother and I got a ride home from Charlie. He had his sons with him and was taking them home to their mother afterwards. He told me to sit in the middle so I did. My brother was on the other side of me and the three boys were in the back. He had this totally cool convertible and the party place was up at the top of this huge hilly road. The view was amazing. Yes, we pulled over to admire the view. Yes, he did end up putting his arm around me. Nope, nobody thought that was odd. We took the long way home and I know if no one had been in the car, he would have made a move on me. Interesting how I know that now. I was 15. He was 36.I have an almost 15 year old daughter now. The first thing I have to say about it is this: If my daughter is hanging out with friends and the only person to bring her home is a 36 year old man, she would be waiting where ever she was for ME to go get her! To my dad’s credit, the next time this brother called to invite my brother and me to do something with him and his sons, my dad put his foot down. I remember being absolutely furious that my brother got to go to the movie and I didn’t. Can you imagine? Fifteen year old me with 36 year old him in a dark movie theater? That was trouble waiting for an open door.This brother must have gotten a clue then because things changed after that. I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad had a word or three with him but I’ll never know. He began being out of town alot. Three months later he told me he was getting married to a ’sister’ he’d met from a congregation a few hours south of us. He said she had 3 children and they were moving in with him as soon as the wedding was over. Witnesses are not allowed to engage in premarital anything so most often figure that if they’re getting married, sooner is better than later because the temptation is an issue. This brother and his new wife were married within weeks of him telling me about her.The sister did have 3 children. One of them a young woman a year older than me. We became best friends and I spent a huge amount of time at their house. Weird you say? You have no idea. During my weekends there, we would play games and watch tv, go out in service and to the meetings and generally just hang out. While we watched tv, this brother would have me sit next to him. His arm would be around me and he’d practically have me in his lap. I felt so much comfort from that however his wife, wisely in my opinion, finally told him to knock it off. It was a relief and a loss at the same time. Does that even make sense?Not long after that, my friend’s brother (who was the same age as me) caught me while we were outside one day. He pulled me into this patch of really tall grass and kissed me. To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. I was so anxious for someone to want me that I allowed him to kiss me and probably would have allowed him to do more than that if we hadn’t been discovered. I remember how guilty I felt when I went home that weekend because I had done something that wasn’t pleasing to Jehovah.I spent alot of time crying during my teenage years. I am aware that alot of it was hormonal now. I’m also aware that alot of it was depression that is hereditary in my family. I didn’t know that for years though. I just thought I was a big baby for crying so much.

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.”

part eight

Three times during the year, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold conventions or assemblies. Usually there is one in the early part of the year, one in the middle of the year and one nearer the end of the year. During the summer, the conventions are larger and longer. When I was a small girl, the summer convention was 5 days long. From morning ’till night. Hours upon hours. With a break for lunch and a couple potty breaks in there somewhere. It’s a long time to sit for an adult. Imagine being a child and knowing that if you moved too much or talked too loud you would be removed from the meeting area and disciplined. I don’t remember ever being in trouble for moving around or talking however I also know I spent my life terrified of getting into any kind of trouble. My history had prepared me well.Even the smallest child was to pay attention as much as possible. As the children got older, more was expected of them. Most of the parts on the convention program were about half an hour long although there were several that were an hour at a time. Children were encouraged to listen respectfully and take notes in line with their abilities. Some would fill entire notebooks with notes. I have no idea if anyone ever went back to look at these notes but I do know I had a gazillion note books and never looked at one of them when I was finished. I’m sure I was expected to remember all that was said and refer to my notes if I couldn’t but all I never opened one of those notebooks again after I closed it. If there was anything new, it would be gone over again during our weekly meetings so I simply tried to keep up with note taking and absorb the spirit of the gathering. I adored being there. Surrounded by so many others like me was some degree of relief because with all these people, I was normal. I was just like them.I haven’t been to a convention or assembly in years however I am pretty sure I could tell you what would be on the program for any event happening this year. First would be a welcome talk reminding everyone that while they are there it’s important to soak up every word Jehovah has sent them through the spirit directed organization. Then there would be several talks about the youth in the organization being on the watch for ‘worldy’ behavior and how parents can keep them close to Jehovah in the face of the trials they endure at school and in their daily lives. There are talks about parenting and witnessing to unbelievers and there are talks about what will happen as this system of things winds down to the end. The brothers and sisters will then get an update on the work being accomplished around the world by the congregations in various countries. During the summer conventions, there is usually a new publication released and at least one bible drama that aims to compare bible times to current times. During the summer, if they’re really blessed, the people will get to hear from a brother sent directly from headquarters in New York City.I just wrote and deleted an entire paragraph of miniscule details I remember from different conventions and assemblies I attended over the years. I read through it and decided those tiny things aren’t important to me anymore. What is important as I sift through the details is what I took from them and what I’m getting as I write them down now. What I took from those meetings was a sense that I could never be good enough. Never good enough for god, never good enough for the people I attempted to served him with, never good enough for my family and never good enough for myself.  No matter what I did or thought or said, there was always someone somewhere telling me it wasn’t enough. If I spent 60 hours a month out in service, I was told that I could do just a little bit more. If I went to the meetings that my parents insisted I go to when I was younger, they told me I really needed to spend more time with them when I was older. If I had friends at school, I was told they were inappropriate. If I had friends at the meetings, I was on the watch for what I did and said because I could be talked to by elders at any moment about wrong or unwise behaviors. I didn’t view it as a no win situation back then. I simply knew I was never enough just the way I was. I knew it. Deep down inside where we hold the thoughts and feelings we don’t often acknowledge even to ourselves.I spent the summer between my junior and senior years in South Carolina. With a Witness family I’d never met until I got off the airplane. That story is for another time however, while I was there the above mentioned thoughts and feelings were cemented even stronger inside me. I got a taste, first hand, of what a real Witness family was like and I fell short in so many ways. It was a life changing experience for sure. When I returned home, I was determined to be better than ever.As I began my senior year, I was making decisions that I was positive were the right ones. While I was a junior, I had secretly taken all the necessary tests to get into college. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that I could go to school. In reality I knew I’d never get to do it. College was frowned on in the organization. It was extra worldy stuff that wasn’t required to serve Jehovah. Everyone in the congregation knew I was going to pioneer when school was out. I knew I was going to pioneer when school was out because that’s what I supposed to do. I have no idea what I thought I would do to provide for myself though. I just knew it would be taken care of. My mom had spent my entire life telling me I didn’t need to know how to do anything because I was going to get married and have a man to take care of me. I spent my whole life in the congregation being told that Jehovah would take of me.My parents were disfellowshipped in October of that year. I was 17. They hadn’t been to a meeting in almost 10 years and still they were ‘tossed out’. This not so simple act of discipline would affect my life for all the years after it. Right up to the time of my parents deaths.

part nine

My friends and I traveled south to our assembly hall in December of my senior year. We were volunteering to help prepare food for all the brothers who would be arriving in a couple days for the assembly that was being held over the weekend. It was a good time for us all and we were surrounded by like minded people who loved Jehovah. There were lots of families who did the same thing every year and we got to know alot of young people this way.While in the kitchen this time, we got to know an older guy and his wife who were always there cooking. They were friendly folks and seemed to really like me. I met their son later that day and we spent alot of time goofing around. I didn’t think too much of it at the time however the next day when I arrived at the assembly hall, the son was waiting for me. It felt really nice to have someone looking for me. We ate breakfast together and arranged to meet for lunch later in the day. It was the beginning of the rest of my life although I had no clue at the time.This young man would become my husband a mere nine months later.After the assembly, I returned home to continue my senior year. The months were speeding by and the end of high school was fast approaching. I was getting more scared by the minute but not admitting it to anyone least of all myself. During the five months since meeting the man who would become my husband, we went out with a group several times and got to know each other better. It was assumed already that we were a couple and he would send me the sweetest letters. I was making plans to return to South Carolina to live with the family I’d spent the past summer with and pioneer there. I finally told him that I was leaving after graduation and it was probably a good idea not to see each other anymore. He was a good sport about it. I thought.As the end of the school year approached, I was the recipient of several awards at my high school. I was ranked fourth in my graduating class and was selected to speak at the ceremony. I was also voted Most Likely to Succeed along with another young woman who was ranked right behind me. Who Knew? and How Weird. I was the editor of the yearbook that year and we got to tally all the votes so I’ve often wondered how that happened but honestly at the time I didn’t care if anyone had cheated to get me there. It was totally cool especially in view of my previous years of school.Anyway, I spent weeks writing my speech. When I turned it in for approval, it was tossed immediately. I was honestly ok with that because it had been written with the help of a sister in the congregation and was a bit more of a Witness than I was comfortable giving to the entire population of our town. I quickly wrote a new speech and was much more ok with it this time. My English teacher approved it right away and after the ceremony she told me it was the best speech she’d heard anyone give during her tenure there.  I took her words with a rather large grain of salt since I was the regular babysitter for her then 3 year old son, had spent the night often at her home and she knew me fairly well.Graduation night my brother and I went out for pizza with a group of friends. When we got home, no one was there, which didn’t surprise me at all especially in view of the fact that my mom had been late to the ceremony and missed my speech completely.  My brother left for some school party that I wanted nothing to do with. I sat down at the dinner table and began sobbing hysterically. I knew it was put up or shut up time but I quite literally didn’t know what to do now. I went to bed and the next morning traveled to yet another assembly.I spent the night in a motel with my friends from across the street and again volunteered preparing food. I was greeted by the young man I’d ‘dumped’ and we began chatting again. His parents were staying at the same motel and we ended up eating dinner together. His father told me “I sure wish I had a son you’d marry” while hugging me as I left the group to get ready for bed.The young man called me when I got home from the assembly and we made arrangements to see each other with a group of friends a few days later. Witnesses are strongly discouraged from seeing each other alone due to temptations of the flesh that could arise. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter if you’re with a huge group of young people or not. If you are going to engage in ‘conduct unbecoming a christian’ you can do that no matter where you are and how many people you are there with.I was struggling with my decisions about the future. Now that it was coming down to the wire, I really didn’t want to leave home for South Carolina. I was messed up completely about leaving my parents knowing that I would never be able to speak to them once I did. I tried praying for relief or comfort or whatever but I just couldn’t figure it out. I was only 17 for god’s sake. I look back now (with a daughter who is 17) and feel great sadness and heartbreak at the life decisions I felt forced to make. I cannot imagine my own 17 year old daughter making any of these choices at this point in her life.I ended up canceling my flight to S.C. It was simply too much for me and I didn’t sign up to pioneer for the month of June either. I just kind of floated along I think, hoping that some decisions would come to me in a moment of clarity. On June 20, 1983, my young man (as the sisters in the congregation had taken to calling him) proposed to me. I was 16 days away from my 18th birthday. By this time I had decided I loved him and that was the reason I didn’t want to go to South Carolina. Looking back, I really did love him. I know I did.He was good to me. He wanted me. He was a brother. He had a job, took part in the meetings and was all the things I was supposed to be looking for in a mate. I accepted his proposal and we set about announcing it to our family and friends. Oh wait, we didn’t announce it to my family. I announced it to my family. My parents were disfellowshipped and he wasn’t allowed to speak to them. To say my dad was angry would be an understatement. I find that only slightly amusing right this minute because my dad had a few months before told me that he was sure I would get married soon after graduation.We had so many friends who were planning their weddings. From March of that year until December, I went to at least one wedding a month of people who were our ages. He was 22. I was 18. I spent the next weekend with my new fiance’s parents. It was a fun time for all of us right up until the moment, Sunday afternoon, my soon-to-be-father-in-law walked into the kitchen and began berating my soon-to-be-mother-in-law in one of the loudest voices I had ever heard.

What happened next turned out to be a prophetic glimpse into our relationship over the next 17 years.

part ten

I was in the kitchen with my MIL-to-be cutting up vegetables or something as I listened to my FIL-to-be verbally abusing her in front of,  literally,  god and everybody. I didn’t equate it with verbal abuse at the time (that term would come later) however I did turn around and look him in the eye while saying “What do you think you’re doing talking to her like that?” He stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at me. I continued on saying “You can get what you want accomplished by asking her nicely you know.” That’s it. That’s what I said. Two sentences.We left for the Sunday meeting in the big van they had and as we were pulling out of the driveway, I looked at R (the fiance) and said “If you ever speak to me like that, it’s over.” He said “I know” and that’s all that was said about it. Little did I know, we were already playing our parts in a drama that would last for years and, in reality, I’m pretty sure he is still playing.I went home Sunday after the meeting and saw my parents and did I have no idea what else. Monday afternoon I received a phone call from R asking that I come to his house later that day. He and his roommate would be there so I didn’t have to worry about any chaperoning issues. I met him there at the appointed time and learned his dad had visited him at his job earlier in the day. This would turn out to be the last time I ever heard the FIL’s name without getting a chill up my spine.I asked “What did he do that for?” R proceeded to tell me that FIL had come to tell him that perhaps I wasn’t the best choice for him to be marrying. Maybe he should think about this a little more etc etc. I sat back stunned. “What? Are you kidding?” Those were my words. Spoken in disbelief. R told me he wasn’t kidding and said it didn’t surprise him at all especially since I’d  stood up for his mom the day before. We ended up taking a walk in the park behind his house. (I told you there were ways around the chaperone issue) I was completely confused by these events and didn’t know what to say or think about it. R was upset and I attempted to comfort him. Let’s just say chaperones would have been handy at the time.I decided to simply act as if I didn’t know my soon-to-be-FIL had said any of these things about me. We were scheduled to leave for the summer convention the next week and I had plans to go with R’s parents and didn’t really want to have to worry about stuff so I kept quiet. It seemed easier at the time. We camped at a park set aside for Witnesses just a bit away from the convention building. We would spend all day at the convention and then return to the campground to use the community kitchen to prepare food for all of us. I don’t remember much about the kitchen except the long stainless steel counter by the sink. I do remember my soon-to-be-MIL pulling me aside after a few days and telling me to watch what I said to someone.On our last night there, I was returning from the locker room type bathroom after showering, when I came upon the FIL talking to R outside their trailer. I stopped in mid step when I overheard FIL telling R he could do so much better than me, that I was lazy and a bad example and a list of other things that I’m sure I’m purposely blocking out. I walked right up to them and said “If you have something to say about me, perhaps you might say it to my face instead of behind my back.” FIL turned around and glared. I felt scared but I wasn’t going to back down from him. Even then I had a big mouth. (grin)I ended up being asked by FIL to remove myself from his trailer. As I entered the trailer to grab my belongings, R followed me inside to remove his belongings as well. He was going to drive me to where I needed to go and he didn’t think his dad would let him come back. We drove out of the campground and parked somewhere to talk about what had just happened. I don’t remember anything about that chat except I ended up flat on my back in the seat with R on top of me. (chaperones remember?)I managed to get up and use the payphone to call a friend I knew in a motel close to where we were. He (this friend and his family were the ones who studied with my brother and I when we were 11 and 12 years old) told us to come on over and he said “I will be timing you so I can honestly say nothing happened between you if I’m ever asked.” For some reason that makes me giggle right now! We arrived at the motel and sleeping arrangements were made. I got a bed with Mary (his wife) and R slept on the floor with their son. The next morning we got ready for the last day of the convention and off we went.My friends at the convention could not believe what had happened. I knew alot of people there. As R and I walked through the main floor of the convention hall, I was stopped every 5 or 10 feet or so by people I knew. I think he was a bit frustrated when he asked me “Just how many people do you know anyway?” It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never been there but I’d spent my life being ’special’ to all these people. I was the kid who’d been attending meetings alone without my parents for years. I was the kid who was going to pioneer. I’d been on assembly and convention programs for years. I was known. By literally hundreds of people.R and I chose our wedding date during some talk that last day. We decided on September 10th. It was far enough away to find a dress etc and close enough that R wasn’t going to lose his mind or, let me see, how can I say this delicately…ummm, die of uhhhhh…overstretching so to speak. (snark)I do not remember being excited. I must have been but I simply cannot remember it. I do remember right before what was to be our wedding day, my ‘other mother’ invited me up to her house and told me she didn’t think I was acting like someone ready to get married. I broke down and told her I was in a bad place about leaving my parents. And I was. It was very bad. And I was very heartbroken. My dad had already made it clear he wasn’t coming to the wedding. For several reasons. Not the least of which was he would not be walking me down the aisle. He was disfellowshipped and I was getting married in a Kingdom Hall.We were a week away from D-day and my parents had still not met R. I could stand it no longer and made him come to my house to meet them. We didn’t stay long but it was a relief for me to have that out of the way. The day before the wedding was supposed to be a busy one. We had things to do and over 300 people coming the next day for our 5 p.m. wedding and reception. I was sound asleep when my mom woke me up to say I had a phone call. I stumbled downstairs, picked up the phone, said hello and heard “I’ve decided to call off the wedding and I’ve already called so-and-so to tell them so the word is out.” I know I asked where he was. He didn’t want to tell me but he was at his parents house. He’d not spoken to them since the big blow-out at the summer convention. I also know I said “You called someone about this before you called me?” He had. I still find that hard to imagine.To say I was in shock would be an understatement. I went back upstairs I think. The next thing I remember is driving into town to his parents house. When his mom opened the door, I walked in and found him at the dining room table. His dad said nothing to me as we walked outside to chat. I’m sure I must have cried. I don’t remember. I said whatever it was I needed to say and gave him back my engagement ring. I think I went home but actually maybe I ended up at another friends house. I still don’t know. I do know that I told no one what happened and yet everyone knew. Witnesses have quite a little network.

My best friend, Kim, brought her new husband to see me the next day. We went out to get something to eat and we ended up at the apartment where R lived waiting for me to move in.  He wasn’t home of course and I remember it was literally pouring down rain. When I arrived home that evening, my entire family was there. All my aunts and my uncle. My cousins, my brother, everyone. I was overwhelmed. I don’t remember visiting with them much but I do remember telling my dad that even if he begged me to, I would not take R back. Little did I know…

part eleven

A few days after the wedding disaster R showed up at my house to talk. We ended up going to a local park and chatting. He wanted to marry me again. I said “No, I don’t think so.” We talked some more and I was ready to go home. We were back in his car, he leaned over to kiss me and my mother pulled up beside us.Seems someone had called for me and it was important. It must have been to get my mom out of her chair. I went home and returned the call to the brother who’d studied with my brother and I as children. He’d been made an elder during the last several years and wanted to see me and R. I told him we’d have to wait for my brother but we’d be up there when he got off work. R agreed to stay and go with me.My brother got home and agreed to go with us. When we arrived at the home of this elder, he invited my brother to go into the house and visit with his wife whom we’d known forever. He then escorted me and R out to this little trailer he had out back so we could speak in private. I have no idea how long we were there. I don’t even remember the entire conversation. I do, however, remember the most important parts of it. They went something like this:D:  So, you called off the wedding.R: Yes.T: I did not but yes it’s over.D: (to R) Am I correct in assuming that you’ve decided you really do want to marry Traci?R: Yes.D: (to me) Traci, you do know that since you agreed to marry this young man, you are already married in Jehovah’s eyes. I know there’s been some issues the past several days but since he’s come to his senses so to speak, you are spiritually bound to marry him. If you do not marry him, you will not be scripturally free to marry someone else either.T: (sits back in dumbfounded silence)D: Since you two have been ‘together’ for awhile now, it’s probably wise not to put the wedding off any longer than necessary either.I’m sure there were a few more platitudes uttered however I couldn’t remember them if my life depended on it I think. Just writing that conversation out like that has triggered some fogginess for me at the moment.We left the trailer and went into the house to eat dinner with the family and after we were done we returned to my home. R picked up his car and told me he’d be picking my engagement ring up from the safe at his dad’s house and he’d bring it to me the next day. I just said ‘Ok’ and went inside. I told my mom the wedding was back on and went upstairs. I never offered an explanation for the change of heart and my mom never asked until many years later. I think she knew what I’d say and neither one of us wanted to think about it more than necessary.

It was decided that the wedding would take place the next weekend. We already had the marriage license and the dress and everything else. We notified very few people and prepared to go ahead with it. My aunt Bonnie was the only one who said “Trace, are you sure you want to do this?” I remember telling her I had to.

R’s parents were back to completely ignoring him. If he married me, they were going to pretend neither of us existed. The afternoon before we were to be married, R received a phone call from an elder in the congregation we would be attending after our marriage. Our attendance was required at a judicial meeting immediately. We got a chaperone to ride with us and went to the Kingdom Hall. Three brothers were awaiting our arrival. We were escorted into the back room and seated. The inquisition began.

It had been reported to them that we had engaged in sexual activity over the summer and the report needed to be addressed before we could marry in the Kingdom Hall. The questions were unbelievable. I could probably list them all if I thought about it long enough but I don’t want to. The ones I remember right this moment are listed.

Did you engage in sexual intercourse? Did you have any type of penetration with anything other than a penis? Did you engage in oral sex? Did you touch her breasts? How many times? On it went for what seemed like hours. I’d never even heard of most of the things they asked about. (remember my birds and bees talk with my mother?) I had no idea what they were talking about.

What it came down to was this: My father-in-law-to-be was angry that R was marrying me. He took this story and called several people with it in an attempt to get R not to marry me. The story was repeated to the elders in the congregation and even though we’d done nothing that could be considered scripturally improper, the fact that so many in the congregation knew about it now meant that we had to be made an example of. We could not be married in the Kingdom Hall the next afternoon and we could not have any elder perform the ceremony either.

We met an aunt and one of my cousins at the apartment we would be living in and while they were out chatting with R and a couple other people, I entered the spare bedroom that by now held almost all of my stuff. I don’t remember much after that but I do recall being lifted out of the curled up fetal position I was found in later. I was a mess. My past history had trained me well however. I may have been a mess, but I was numb enough all over to not even notice. I made it home somehow and when I got up at about 4:30 the next morning (sleep was difficult to say the least), the phone rang. It was a dear friend in S.C. and we talked for a bit. My mom got up and asked me what I was going to do about the wedding. I just looked up at her and said “I don’t know. I guess we have to find somewhere to get married now.”

My mother took over at that moment thank god. She called a wedding chapel in town and reserved the space for us later that afternoon. My dad was furious of course and still wouldn’t come. I ended up going into town to dress at my aunt and uncle’s house. My grandfather ended up giving me away. I had no idea at the time how oddly, sickeningly prophetic that was. We got married. We had a small (very small) reception and went home to our apartment. My brother and some friends came with us and we all chatted and ate until something like 3 a.m.

When everyone left and it was time to go to bed, I was quite literally sick to my stomach. My new husband was very sweet about the whole thing but we accomplished nothing sexually for days after we married. I think that must be the definition of true irony. We were punished for something we didn’t even do until we’d been married almost a week.

part twelve

I experienced my husband’s first manic depressive episode three weeks after the wedding. I didn’t know it was a manic depressive episode for more than six years though. It was devastating. I couldn’t even begin to say what triggered it. I suppose it didn’t need a trigger but I didn’t know that at the time. All I know is he was so angry and I was so scared. Then he hit the depressive phase and sat catatonically in a chair for three days. He didn’t speak, didn’t move, didn’t eat, didn’t sleep…nothing I said or did or sobbed or begged had any affect whatsoever.A few weeks after this episode, I missed my period. I was terrified I was pregnant. Turns out extreme stress can trigger missed periods. I had no idea. During this time I continued to attend meetings and go out in service. It was the one thing I figured I could do right. I had so displeased Jehovah that I believed it was the only way to repent and gain his favor again. We still had friends visiting us frequently and there were some fun times. I missed my mom more than I can explain. It’s weird, isn’t it, how you can know someone is not good for you and still love them so much? R would find me periodically going through things from ‘home’ and sobbing. At times he was very loving and concerned. At other times he was cold and uncaring and angry about it all. I never knew which one of him I would encounter. Five months after our wedding, R disappeared. For hours. I was panicked. First I was certain he had left me. Then I was convinced he had been hurt somewhere. I called everyone I knew looking for him and nobody had a clue where he was. I finally gave up looking and spent the night sobbing myself to sleep on the couch. The sun was just peaking over the horizon when I heard the front door open. It was R. He walked over to the couch and informed me he had lied earlier in the week and he’d lost his job. Thus began a cycle that continued for more than 7 years. He would get a new job and things would be ok. Then he’d get angry at someone (me, his boss, a workmate, whomever), do something stupid and lose his job. I never knew what would greet me when he came home.During this time I worked part time at a bridal boutique owned by a sister in one of the nearby congregations. It was a fun and sad job for me at the same time. Since my own wedding debacle, I could barely stand to attend a wedding let alone help smiling brides dress for one. It was more than a year before I could bring myself to even look at the pictures from our wedding. I applied for several other jobs hoping to make a difference in our finacial life however I never got past an interview. I hadn’t been trained to work full time or to even begin to know how to get a job like I was applying for. We were mostly encouraged to do menial tasks designed to give us ample time to go in service and bring others to Jehovah.R was virtually unemployed for the next nine months. During this time I missed two more periods. I was convinced I was pregnant however again stress ruled my life. My FIL was still ignoring us. Just because he was ignoring us didn’t mean he’d decided to leave us alone. He continued to spread stories and lies about me and I had several more meetings with elders. I was becoming more and more discouraged and my meeting attendance began to falter. Just typing that sentence reminded me of the night R and I went to a meeting and he was still angry about something. I got up to use the restroom and when I came back to where we were sitting, he was gone. He’d left me at the Kingdom Hall and drove off. It was hours before I saw him again at home.After every such episode, he would later be so apologetic and sorry. He would write me the sweetest notes and bring me flowers and I was sure that it would be better this time. I never said one word to anyone about what was happening. I didn’t think anyone would believe me because R put on such a good show for everyone. I was the only person to see the mood swings or hear the horrible things he said and threatened and did.Just before our first anniversary, R went to see his parents. Without telling me. He came home that afternoon and informed me his parents were coming for dinner. To say panic ensued is putting it mildly. His dad terrified me. And it didn’t help any that every time I saw him, he tried to look down my shirt or put his arm around me so he could touch my breasts. I really did come to believe I was imagining it. I mean, the messages were so mixed and I had no way of understanding what was going on for me.We got word that my friends (the brother who studied with me as a child) was moving to a drier climate for his health. Since R had no job and no reason to be home, he went along to help them get everything set up. While he was there, he found a job. Yea. A job. 800 miles from home in the desert high mountains of eastern Nevada. I didn’t get a choice. I was simply informed we were moving. And we did. Three weeks later. I’d seen my parents a few times before the move. I was struggling so badly and I missed my mom. I felt guilt press upon me every time I snuck over to their house but I just couldn’t seem to help myself. My brother still lived at home and I rationalized my visits that way. No one knew though. If I’d been found out, I would have been in big trouble.My mom was devastated that we were moving. So was I. But move we did. During November. I put a positive spin on it all thinking that things would be better if we were away from R’s parents. And they were. For awhile. We attended our first meeting there and were swamped with ‘brotherly’ love and welcome. It was heartwarming and so encouraging. I thought “This is going to work. I just know it.” We had dinner invitations and were included in congregation events and we lived a mile from the man who’d guided me into the truth and told me I had to get married too. It was good.My brother came to visit and ended up staying. I’d written a letter to my parents telling them I couldn’t see them anymore because I’d been reminded of Jehovah’s commands regarding the issue. It was horrible. We hadn’t seen them in months but when my brother decided to stay, my parents helped him move and we began seeing them again. It was a secret however and my brother knew what would happen if it became public knowledge. In all of this mess, my parents were amazing. I can’t believe I can write those words now. But it’s true. They took every twist and turn as well as can be expected but if I called, they were there. I find it ironic that the people who perpetuated my physical, mental and spiritual abuse as a child, were kinder in reality than the people who were supposed to be spiritually ‘better’ and more like family.By the time we’d been married for a year and a half, I wanted a baby. Badly. As Witnesses, we were strongly discouraged from having children. It was presented as an unreasonable desire in this system of things that was so close to the end. Why would we want that added distraction of raising children when our sights were supposed to be on serving Jehovah and gathering believers who would survive the last great battle of Armageddon. I know couples who made the choice to remain childless because of this. They believed that when the new system was here, Jehovah would make them young again and they could have as many children as their heart desired. I, of course, felt ‘less than’ for wanting a child.We decided over dinner one night that we’d get pregnant. I stopped taking the pill and totally expected to be pregnant shortly. I had no clue what I would learn over the next several months. I thought nothing could surprise me by then. It was actually only the beginning of what I would discover on this journey that is my life.

part thirteen

What I didn’t mention while I was writing about wedding preparations etc was my very first visit to a gynecologist. I knew I wanted to take the pill because I didn’t want to get pregnant right away. My best friend, Kim, took me to Planned Parenthood. I remember my mom calling me because I was house-sitting for an aunt and telling me that she and dad were going to California for some job related thing and telling her I was going to PP with Kim later that day. I know she had something ‘flip’ to say but I can’t remember what it was.As the time for my afternoon visit approached I began to get very, Very sick to my stomach. I knew I needed to take care of this but I was terrified. We arrived at PP and Kim waited for me in the waiting room. I met the doctor who proceeded to tell me I was too heavy for my height. She then compared me to her and all I could think was “Yea, I know, I’m a pig.” (I wore a size 8 people) Then we went into the exam room and she left me to undress and cover up. When she came back, someone had taken my blood pressure etc. The doctor looked at the chart, looked at me, looked at the chart again and said “You’re either very nervous or you’re going to drop dead in about two seconds.”She did the usual examination of lymph nodes, breasts etc before telling me it was time to put my feet in the stirrups. As I lay down I was shaking terribly. I didn’t know what to expect. Next thing I know, I was telling her to stop and I needed Kim. She heaved a big sigh like I was really mucking up her day but she went out to the waiting room and got my friend. Kim came in and held my hand all the while telling me it was ok and I didn’t need to be scared. The doctor checked me out and asked me if I’d ever had sex before. I said ‘no’ and she said “Honey, you need to get some tampons and start working on this because I’ve never seen anyone as small as you are except for babies.”She pulled out a speculum that is normally used for adult women and then she pulled out the smallest speculum available and told me the small one was still too big for me and the big one was what I could expect my first time. She used the smallest one and it hurt like hell. I bet I squeezed Kim’s hand hard enough to hurt her but she was so good to me during the whole thing. When it was over and we’d left with my pills in hand, I made Kim stop at R’s and I told him to forget it. There was no way I was going to deal with all the crap the doctor had told me.Of course, I did get married and I did deal with it. Now, though, I wanted a baby and a baby was not happening. I remember praying every night for god to help me have a baby. I didn’t understand why it was so important, I simply knew it was. Eight months went by, we celebrated our 2nd anniversary and still no baby. One night I was up most of the night very ill. As I sat in the bathroom praying to feel better and praying for a baby at the same time, I got to thinking. I don’t know why something clicked in my brain at that time. I always believed it was because god was listening. Now I’m not so sure.The next day I went to the library and was there for several hours. I read every book I could find on women’s reproductive health. I had to be serious about it because even as a married woman, I was discouraged from learning about or knowing anything about how my body worked. I was determined though. I left with the information I needed and went home to wait for R’s arrival home after work. I was laying on the couch in stunned disbelief when he arrived. I’d been there for hours simply sick to my stomach. I didn’t understand the implications of what I’d learned even then. R asked me what was wrong and I said “I know why we’re not getting pregnant” and told him what I’d discovered. He looked at me oddly and said “I figured that’s what you were going to say.”I was still technically a virgin. Un-fucking-believable. I felt so stupid. He’d known all along. And preferred sex of the anal variety so he didn’t tell me what I needed to know. My familial history, including the events I didn’t remember, along with years of being told I wasn’t worth anything if I wasn’t unquestionally serving Jehovah had trained me to ask no questions. Ever. I swore right then and there that if I ever had a child, I would make damn sure that child was never as naive and uneducated as I was. I believe now that was the beginning of my quest for information about everything.I had always been a reader. A voracious reader. Even then, I could barely stand to read a Witness publication more than once. Now, however, I read books about everything. I read about history, science, and health issues. I read the newspaper and anything I could find about things I knew nothing about (which turned out to be alot). I read novels, biographies, books about children and a gazillion other topics I’d not explored before. During this time my husband sat down with me one day and told me he didn’t love me anymore. It got so ugly and he left the house. I packed my stuff, got in the car and headed out of town. I was going home to my mom. Before I left, I stopped at the home of our friends to tell them I was leaving. I knew R would return home later and worry.Yep, you guessed it. I stopped at that friends house and in his oh-so-elder-ly wisdom, he reminded me that if I left I was unchristian and a wife’s duty was to her husband no matter what. He informed me that by leaving I was opening myself up to all kinds of allegations and spiritual difficulties. Even when I told him what had happened earlier that day and said it wasn’t the first time he’d gotten a bit physical, it didn’t matter. I needed to go home. I had an enormous welt on my palm where the pan had burned me earlier and still I went home. I was beaten down and unsure of myself. I just wanted to please Jehovah. I didn’t want to face the fate of the world at the end of the system of things. I wanted the perfection promised by god. Four days later I learned I was pregnant.

part fourteen

A few weeks earlier I was laying on the couch watching tv when I turned over and said to R “We’re going to have a baby girl and her name is going to be Erica Rose.” I had no idea I was already pregnant and I now truly believe my girl told me her name that night. That moment still fills me with awe.The feelings that coursed through me the day I learned I was pregnant alternated between euphoria and sheer terror. It was a Friday morning in March and I called a friend and asked “Are you sure the doctor told you home pregnancy tests are just as reliable as the ones done in the doctor’s office?” She said “Yes.” I said “OhmyOhmyOhmy…I’m pregnant.” Jeanie was so excited. Then she told me that a few weeks earlier when we’d returned home from a little trip home and she and her husband, Denny, stopped by our house to say hi…she said “Dennis told me when we left your house that day that you were pregnant.” I said “No. Way.” Denny was an indian spirit some kind of guy and told me later he’d seen it in my eyes.Whatever. I didn’t care. I was going to have my baby! I went down to R’s place of work to tell him. He was out on a job when I found him and he was so totally excited. It was a beautiful moment. Of course, I had no idea how it would all end up but for that brief second in time, I thought “It’s going to be ok now.” I called my mother at work. She sobbed. (a side note here: My mother was 42 years old when Erica was born. I will be 42 in July. Weird.) I called my dad and brother and they were excited too. Then I started getting calls from our friends in town and it was a good day. I’m telling you, word gets around fast in the Witness organization. There are no secrets.Even though Witnesses are discouraged from having children, once the news of an impending arrival gets out, there is excitement all around. They are human after all and it is a life affirming event to be sure. When I had my first doctor’s appointment, I was given a due date of October 13. I tried to tell the doctor I didn’t think that was right since my cycle was different than the ‘average’. She didn’t want to hear it much and left it at that. In a small town, when the only doctor available is the one you have, it’s not like you can find another one. And I wouldn’t have known to do that then anyway. When anyone would ask me, I would say “I think late October” is closer to right. Turns out, my new found determination to learn about everything under the sun was already serving me well.The euphoria in our house didn’t last long. R wasn’t about to change his behavior because we had a baby coming. I wish I’d known then what I know now. Although, I suppose if everything happens for a purpose, perhaps it’s better I didn’t. The physical abuse didn’t continue so much however the verbal and emotional stuff got worse. I was constantly informed that I was not the best wife for him and berated for being reasonable with money and not letting him do whatever he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. He was glad there was a baby coming but he didn’t care that a baby was coming if it meant he had to be responsible and blah, blah, blah.R’s meeting attendance declined drastically. Mine didn’t decline as much but it wasn’t up to par either. Of course, this did not go unnoticed by the elders in the congregation. Our congregation had about 45-50 members so when some didn’t show up, it was noted. R’s job performance was heading downhill as well. We were making plans to attend the summer convention in Salt Lake City and I’m not even going to get into the drama surrounding that experience.My parents were coming after the convention and we were going to take a trip with them back to see my grandmother and my dad’s family. I remember laying in bed one night sobbing hysterically and praying for Jehovah’s forgiveness because I wanted to take this trip with my mom so badly. I knew it was wrong and I knew there would be consequences. I knew it. We went anyway. I had tried for so long to do what Jehovah wanted me to do. I never felt successful, I never felt like I was good enough and since my pregnancy, I wanted my mommy so much it was a literal pain in my chest most of the time.The trip was mostly good. My dad and I never got along too well if we were in each other’s company for very long and we did get into it a few times. For the most part it was good though. We travelled up through Idaho, into Wyoming and Montana, through South and North Dakota and into Minnesota where my grandmother lived. I think we were gone for three weeks. When we arrived home, the consequences I was concerned about were waiting for us.We’d been back for one day when my friend, the elder, stopped by our house and asked R some questions about where we’d been and if it was true that we’d gone with my disfellowshipped parents. R said yes we had been with them. The brother then told him that since he was the scriptural head of our family, his presence was requested at a judicial meeting the next afternoon after our meeting. I have no idea what R felt about this but I know I was quite literally sick to my stomach. The baby wasn’t too happy about it either. The more worked up I became, the more that baby kicked and jumped.After the meeting the next day, I got a ride home while R stayed after to chat with a committee of three elders. When he arrived home later, I could tell he was ummm, disturbed. We talked about what happened although, oddly I cannot remember that conversation now, and I’m quite sure some kind of discipline was discussed. I can feel my head literally fogging up right now so I know that’s true however I cannot remember what was going to happen. R ended up calling my parents to talk with them about it and within the week R made the decision to move us back to where we came from…and into my parents house. I was seven and a half months pregnant.I must have felt like I was losing my mind however I had this coping mechanism in place that I wasn’t aware of at the time. I would get upset about whatever the stressor was and by the next day I would be on auto pilot. I didn’t feel upset, angry, sad, or anything else. I only felt determined to figure out what needed to be done and do it. Within days my mom, dad, aunts, uncles and cousins were in the high desert mountains of Nevada to pack up our stuff and take us home. We were going to live with my parents.Just writing that last sentence has triggered an anxiety attack. Geez.

I knew once we arrived at my parents home (the town my mom grew up in, the town where I was taken under the congregation’s collective wing; where so much had been expected of me and hoped for me) there would continue to be consequences. I comforted myself by saying it wasn’t my choice to move in with them, it was R’s choice. It was about the only way I could keep it together I think. I do not remember arriving at my parent’s home. I do not remember the trip there at all. I’ve seen the pictures and I’m in them but I simply cannot recall one single moment of that journey.

R and I moved into my old bedroom. Yea, that was weird. I set about finding a doctor. R set about getting a new job. We settled into an uneasy routine. My parents would go to work. R would go to work. I would stay home and take care of my pregnant self and the house. I reconnected with my old congregation and yes, there were some uncomfortable moments. R completely stopped attending meetings or having anything to do with the brothers. I know his guilt ate at him. It was a difficult time.

I ended up with the most amazing obgyn. I cannot believe how it happened. This woman still takes care of me all these years later. She is incredible. I had an ultrasound that put my due date at the end of October and on we went. By the time my original due date arrived, R had reconnected with his parents. It was not a good thing. R was gone with his dad and brother over my due date. Yea, I know. By the time the due date I’d calculated arrived, R and my dad were gone hunting. Oy. R was working and not doing too well otherwise. We’d celebrated our 3rd anniversary and weren’t getting along too well. I simply did not understand how he could be so disconnected from the fact that we had a baby coming. I was 21 years old.

I developed pre-eclampsia when the baby was 3 weeks overdue. Yea, it was awful. I was gi-HUGE-ic and swollen and even my biggest maternity clothes didn’t fit. I’d been induced twice the week before and when the second attempt didn’t work, my husband quite literally went off the deep end. He was found at work one day standing in a corner, catatonic and shaking. I met him at the ER. I don’t remember how he got there. Here I was, weeks overdue, huge and swollen, disappointed because two attempts to deliver my baby had failed and he was freaking out. I was angry and disgusted and fed up to say the least and I wasn’t very nice about it either. The ER doc was not the least bit sympathetic. He told me it was sometimes like this when new babies were coming. The schmuck. R was sent home with some anti-anxiety meds and told to see a doctor after the weekend. I had an ob appointment on Monday afternoon and was admitted to the hospital immediately.

Not one person from the congregation who professed to be concerned about my spiritual health was anywhere to be seen. Go figure. I still don’t understand that but have given up trying to.

Our 9 lb. 4 oz. baby daughter was born at 3:56 a.m. on November 12th. She was 21 and a half inches long and the loudest, screaming-est baby I’d ever seen. I fell in love with her immediately. Her name is Erica Rose. She will soon be 21 years old.

My entire family visited the hospital to meet her. Not one Witness person did. I was confused by that and terrified by that at the same time. I was also exhausted.

There is one moment that still shines brightly in my memories from that time. And it involves my husband. The evening after Erica was born, after everyone had some sleep, R returned to the hospital. He picked our daughter up from the bassinet and held her and walked with her and talked to her. The words he said to her resonated within me and still do today. He just kept telling her over and over how much he loved her and how he’d always take care of her and she was daddy’s girl and he talked about all the things they would do together. I can see him with her in front of the hospital window just like it was this morning.

I still felt scared. I also felt hopeful.

part fifteen

The baby cried ALOT. I was constantly worried that I was doing something wrong. R was not much help at all of course. My parents loved her but  my mom would come home from work, Erica would be crying and my mom would ask me “Why is she crying all the time?” Like I knew?I have no idea exactly what R was doing (I just can’t remember) but when the baby was three weeks old, my parents sat me down and said “Trace, you’ve got to leave him. This is just not ok.” They had more to say but that’s what I remember most. I can still see my Erica Rose and what she was dressed in that day and I can quite literally hear those words from my parents. I know they were trying to help but they had no idea what kind of conflict that generated for me. I listened to them, then looked them right in the eye and said “I can’t.”My mom looked at me in absolute disbelief and said “What do you mean, you can’t?” I just said “Mom, you don’t understand. I just can’t. I have a baby now and I have to make sure she gets into the new system of things. That is my job. I cannot leave him.” My parents didn’t want to let it go but they did.I went back to the meetings when the baby was a week or two old. It didn’t feel very welcoming but I went anyway. I was always worried and nervous while there. What if the baby made too much noise? What if I wasn’t doing something right and everyone was watching me? We spent alot of time in the bathroom because my girlie was not happy. I kept thinking she was in pain but every time I took her to the doctor, they told me nothing was wrong with her. I somehow knew better but could find no one to listen to me.Once while at the Kingdom Hall, this older elder walked up to me to chat. I was immediately wary because this guy was ummm…difficult. He spoke for a moment and then said “You know, maybe if you’d do better with that baby, your husband would come back to the meetings.” He also informed me that it was not ok for me to be living with my parents. I was grateful at the time to be able to use my husband as an excuse.I struggled with severe post-partum depression. Looking back, I understand, but then, I was heartsick. I would hold my sweet girl while she screamed and sob at the same time. I felt so guilty. I loved that baby with everything inside me but I was not enjoying being her mommy. I cried all the time. She cried most of the time.By the time Erica was 8 months old, I was convinced there was either something drastically wrong with her or there was something drastically wrong with me. One afternoon as she was screaming and screaming, I literally heard this voice in my head say “If you just throw her out the window, she’ll shut up!” I was so terrified that I took her upstairs, lay her in her crib, closed the bedroom door and walked back downstairs to sob some more. I knew I was having such a difficult time of it because I wasn’t doing what Jehovah wanted me to do. I just knew it.During this time, R lost a couple more jobs and my dad was getting pretty sick of him. I’m not sure how many times my mom talked with me about R but now it seems like alot. The brothers and sisters in the congregation didn’t have too much to do with me either. I wasn’t disciplined or anything for living with my parents, but I wasn’t welcomed with open arms either. I knew it was because I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I felt quite alone. The baby was still difficult but I was feeling a bit better. It is difficult for me to stay hopeless for very long. I always put on a good face and was never too aware of my feelings or connected to them. I think it made surviving easier. Of course, it’s a bitch now but we learn coping mechanisms as children for a reason.We lived with my parents until Erica was 15 months old. R finally got a reasonable job and we found a house to rent and moved at last. We’d never been in our own home with our baby girl and I was excited but sad because I knew there would be issues with my parents now. When we got settled, I began attending meetings in our new congregation. I connected with several other young mothers and became close with a few of them.We eased into our life as a little family. R had many violent episodes. There was no way to predict what would happen when. I was talked to a lot about my husband as if it was my responsibility to bring him to the Kingdom Hall. He was never held responsible for one of this actions. Not one. I was always told that if I was a better christian wife, he would do better. I always thought that if I could just be better and keeping the house clean, or the baby quiet, or whatever…that he would be different. I could never do it right enough.My father-in-law continued to try making things difficult for us. There were rumors about me in several different congregations where he knew people. There were several meetings with elders about the various stories and while I was not officially disciplined, I was strongly cautioned about my behavior. R would alternate between being chummy with his parents and avoiding them totally. Whenever R would spend time with his family, he would come home spewing hatred towards me. In the 17 years R and I were married, never once did my FIL stop trying to break up our marriage and control R.While I was pregnant with our second daughter, R’s episodes became closer together and more unpredictable. I kept it to myself for the most part because no one believed me when I would mention it. R was always so personable when anyone came over. R and I talked about it during his reasonable times. I continued trying to get him to the doctor. I was scared and worried and figured it was a place to start anyway. After the baby was born, R got a job driving long haul trucks. He would be gone for days at a time but he would also have fabulous insurance. I remained hopeful that once the insurance kicked in, I could convince him to go to a doctor.

The day after our insurance went into effect, R had a doctor appointment. This was the first time I heard the term Bi-Polar Disorder. Yes, I went to the library and checked out every book about it I could find. R ended up at the office of a psychiatrist and was told he needed to be admitted to the mental health unit of the hospital so they could try some medicine and monitor him. I was relieved that he’d be somewhere else but I was nervous because up until then I’d known psychiatry was discouraged for Jehovah’s people. Worldly influences were frowned on and the concern was that mental health professionals would encourage JW’s to do things contrary to Jehovah’s will. I felt guilty for being grateful someone else would deal with R for a few days.

part sixteen

This has been a very difficult history to write. I’ve taken a break from writing for a bit because I’ve certainly stirred up lots of stuff. I’ve shared my writing with only two people here in the real world and it’s been ummm…hard. I feel like it’s needed though. I don’t know how I know it’s time to do this. I simply know it is.I had a dream a few days ago that has stuck with me. I was getting married…to my ex…there was the beautiful dress, the cake, the guests, the whole damn thing…and I was beginning my walk down the aisle and the next thing I knew, I was in the reception room with a gazillion people and I didn’t know if I’d gotten married or not! And no one would tell me what happened between the time I began walking down the aisle and that moment in the reception hall. I woke up crying and wondering why on earth no one would tell me what was going on.When I left off two weeks ago, this was the last line:  I felt guilty for being grateful someone else would deal with R for a few days. I just went back and re-read that line and it’s true. I did feel guilty.The honest truth is I feel guilty for most things, most of the time. Even now. I’ve had people tell me or email me that it’s all my choice now and I know that. I believe it. I live it. Every single day. I know I have choices now. For the first time in my life, I really believe that I get to choose. I wish knowing that I can choose made a difference in how the crap feels when it comes ’round. Because choosing to live my life differently does not mean that the crap doesn’t show up. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel it when it does. What it means is that when the crap shows up as it is liable to do, I get to feel it, think about it and then decide if I’m going to let it rule my life or not.All that said, I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyway. On we go…What was originally supposed to be a hospital stay of a few days turned out to be seven months in and out of the psych ward. My husband would be released into my care and wind up back inside the hospital within days. He even left unathorized once and was arrested at our home and taken back. During this time I could not ever leave my daughters home with their daddy so we went everywhere together. Whenever we arrived home, I would leave the girls in the car and go inside first because I never knew what I would find upon my entry. I didn’t want them to find him dead or bloody or any of a number of things.Once when we returned home, R was in our bedroom and I went in to check on him. He began yelling and threatening me. I walked out of the bedroom to make sure the girls were ‘ok’ and told them to sit in a chair untiil I returned. Then I went back into the bedroom to attempt to get R to agree to go to the hospital. It was much easier if he agreed. Instead of agreeing, he slammed the door to keep me inside the room, broke the glass on top of a nightstand and held it to his wrist yelling “Now look what you’ve made me do!” He would alternate aiming the glass and himself and at me. It was a frightening time. After an hour or two, I finally convinced him to allow me out of the room so I could check on our girls. They were still sitting in the chair I’d left them in. Can you imagine? A four year old and an 16 month old not moving? It makes me sick to my stomach to think of it now.I got the girls and we went to a friend’s house to play. It was much later that I returned home alone to see how things were going. R was asleep. He woke the next day in a much different mood and I was able to drive him to the hospital with no excitement. That was one episode of many and they were all more or less the same. Different triggers, different methods, all scary and trauma filled, all faced in that unemotional, detached state that chronic abuse victims live in. I look back now and don’t have any idea how we made it through all that.I know we attended meetings and I know that brothers would ask about my husband. I have no clue what I told them or how they responded. I don’t remember anyone coming to my aid and I don’t remember asking for it either. During this time, my girls and I did attend a summer convention of JW’s and I remember running into a sister from the congregation I grew up in. She took one look at me and said “Trace, what happened to you?” I said “Huh?” She looked directly into my eyes and told me I “had the look of a holocaust survivor” in them. She proceeded to say “You’ve changed, honey. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that you’ve lived through some hard stuff.” What could I say to that? What did I say to that? Something along the lines of ‘Yea, things are tough sometimes.’ I had no more desire to attract attention to myself and my situation than most women who live in such situations have. I knew it was my fault. I knew I wasn’t good enough to expect better and I knew it would continue until R was stablilized on the right meds.During all the hospital stays and med changes and ups and downs, I was contacted by a social worker. I had no idea why a social worker wanted to talk with me. I do remember it made me nervous though. I spoke with this woman for probably 30 minutes or so and then R entered the room. She spoke with him for a bit and he mentioned his dad committing suicide when he was 10 years old. I’d known about this but was so angry with him for bringing it up now. What the hell did it have to do with why he was in the hospital? I said something like “I don’t know what his problem is, I lived without my father for my whole life and I’m fine. He needs to get over it.” Oh yea, by this time I was all understanding and stuff.Geez. It makes me nauseous to remember I said that. I don’t know what, if anything, R said to that but I do remember what the social worker said. She looked at me very directly and with the kindest voice I’d heard in a long time replied “So, you understand what R deals with when he thinks of his father a bit don’t you? It’s interesting how people with similar histories end up together isn’t it?” I cried. There’s a big suprise eh? This social worker recommended that R begin seeing someone on a regular basis to help with the situation and she thought perhaps I’d like to go too. I don’t remember what I thought about that but I know I called a few therapists and scheduled an appointment with one for a few weeks later. I was determined to do whatever it took to help us live a better life. Little did I know…

part seventeen

I was extremely nervous about seeing this therapist. I’d spoken to her intake person and explained about my husband and his hospital experiences. She asked about me and the girls but I was having none of that. I was purely interested in helping R and learning whatever it was I needed to learn in order to help him and gain some peace in our life.It’s interesting to me that as I just wrote the above, my thoughts went to ‘why was this all about him?’ The only thing I can think of is that it was always about someone else. Never about me. To this day, if it’s about me, I’d rather not thank you. It’s yet one more reason I continue to write. I’m determined to learn how to take care of me.I don’t remember much about our first few visits to see this therapist. Her name was Joanne. She seemed like a nice enough woman. I’m sure there was a lot of history learning for her but I really can’t remember anything else except the way the light came through her windows as we were sitting in her office. I can see how it lighted one side of her face and the carpet beyond and I remember the sound-proofing materials used on her office door. Weird what the mind takes in.I don’t remember how many times R and I saw her together but I think he went alone some and I went with him a few times too. I do, however, remember the day about 6 months in when she asked me a question and I looked directly in her eyes and said “I’m not going to answer that question with him here in the room because when we get home, it will get ugly.”She paused, looking from me to R and back, and said “We could talk alone if you’d like. Or, we could schedule a time for you to come by yourself. I’m sure R can understand how difficult this must be for you given your experiences together.” R said “Oh yea, I know this has been awful for her and I understand why she doesn’t want to say some things while I’m here.” I agreed to come alone and we left it at that. I’m not sure how long it was until that appointment but I do remember being nauseous and afraid before I went.When I was there, Joanne asked me how I was. I told her that I was not happy about having the attention focused on me. Go figure. I don’t remember one thing we talked about during those sessions by myself. I do remember that after I’d gone for a couple of them, R stopped going altogether. He always had an excuse and decided he didn’t need it anymore. I must have objected but honestly, I don’t remember much about it. He was fairly stable and I know I was relieved and not willing to make an issue out of it all.During this time I remember being taken under the wing of a brother and sister in the congregation who lived not too far from us. Bryant and Charlotte. They were very sweet to my girlies and me and they were good to R as well. I learned later that they were extremely judgemental but during our time together, I was so grateful to have someone who cared about what happened to me personally.A few months after R was stablilized on his meds and back to work, he came up to me one day and said “After getting so close to death, I think having another baby would reaffirm life for me…for us.” I looked at him for a few moments and said “Are you sure?” I’d wanted a third child but was pretty sure our two would be it in view of all the hoopla in our life. He said “Yes I’m sure.” So, against my better judgement I said “Alright” and we began trying to make a baby.It had taken 13 months and 2 rounds of fertility drugs to conceive baby #2 so I was pretty sure it would be more of the same. I was relieved to know I had some time but I really wanted another baby and was willing to put aside my doubts to do it. When I was not pregnant 5 months later, I called my ob and she ordered me up some drugs. Three rounds and one miscarriage later, I finally told R that one more cycle was all I was doing. If there were no more babies, there were no more babies and that was it. Of course, you know I got pregnant. You can probably also guess that he was not the nicest about it taking all this time to make it happen either.I went to meetings as much as I could. R wasn’t interested in the least. It was probably because every time he went there, he was approached by brothers interested in his health and asking him where he’d been all this time and blah, blah, blah. He generally came home from meetings in a much worse mood than when we left the house. Frankly, it was easier for me if he didn’t go. By this time, he was pretty stabliized on his meds and the girls were able to spend time with him again. It was good…for them and for him. Those girls loved their daddy.During JW meetings, there are periods of time when the congregation is expected to take part in the meetings by commenting about the various subjects being discussed. I simply could not do it. It was quite literally too much for me. Too much attention, too much thinking, too much everything. So I never raised my hand. Ever. The subject came up fairly often. Commenting was considered a sign of one’s spirituality and I, apparently, had none…or at least not enough that I was moved to speak during meetings. I never, for one moment, doubted that I was not good enough or spiritual enough. I knew that I needed to do better commenting and going out in service. I simply didn’t know how to do better. If I said I was discouraged and going through alot, I was told to study more and pray more and rely on Jehovah more. I just didn’t measure up…in so many ways.I didn’t tell anyone when I learned I was pregnant. Well, ok, I told R. But that was it. I knew I’d get comments about having another baby when I didn’t do well enough with the ones I had. When I was 8 or 9 weeks along, I began bleeding. I totally expected to lose the baby. I called my doctor and she ordered an ultrasound. At this stage of the game, there is nothing they can do if you are losing your baby but she wanted to check for a heartbeat anyway. I know she hoped to comfort me somewhat. I took no one with me for that appointment.

The tech was a sweetie and had the tissue ready when we saw the little peanuts heartbeat going strong. They gave me a due date of 10/23 and sent me home to await instructions from my doctor. The doctor called me and told me the baby was currently viable and that I was to keep my feet up for the next few weeks. She told me the bleeding would either settle down or it wouldn’t. I stocked up on books and spent the next almost 3 weeks laying down in our living room with books for me and movies for the girlies. I was scared but resigned to whatever happened.

part eighteen

I began writing this *series* (although I didn’t know it was going to be a series) as a way to process my thoughts and feelings about my upbringing; my religion during that time and my family. It is only recently occurring to me that my life – childhood, young adulthood, now – my thoughts, my feelings, my everything has been affected by *programming* (for lack of a better word). I know we are all subject to programming as we grow however I also know some programming is positive; some is not. I think, perhaps, the word *training* may be more useful to me. Yes, I like that better. The connotation is not so negative to my thinking.Anyway, *training* has much to do with where we end up; where I ended up. I was trained that good things did not happen to me. I was trained to believe that I had to live up to an unrealistic expectation and that I could never do it. There are so many things I was trained to do and believe. This writing is my attempt to get it all out of my head and put it somewhere else; anywhere else. To get rid of it so to speak. I bundled up several parts of this series and sent them to my therapist just to get rid of them. I felt as if this gy-HUGE-ic weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Seriously.For those of you following along, my therapist and I had ummm…issues…recently. It took several sessions to come close to figuring it out and I’d be more than happy to tell you the story however, for the moment, I’ve got other writing to do. So, if you stick around, perhaps the story will appear. Just not right now. ;) And on we go…During my time flat on my back, the house went to hell in a handbasket. Dinner didn’t get made in a timely manner, dishes backed up, laundry wasn’t done and on and on and on. I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant so nobody I knew had a clue I could have used some help. R would come home from work and be furious because of the disarray. It was pretty bad however his behavior was worse. He didn’t want to help and now that we were having a baby, it didn’t seem to matter to him if that baby survived or if I was ok. *sigh*He was probably scared and worried and all that but at the time (and even now) I just think he was terrible. He visited the therapist around this time and was explaining to her all my issues and how things were going at our house. I made it for a visit to her that had been scheduled for awhile and we were chatting about what was happening etc. She commented on something R had told her and I must have gotten a funny look on my face or something because she said “What?” I just looked at her and said “Did he also tell you, I’m pregnant and have been bleeding?”Of course he hadn’t. (Who couldn’t see that one coming?)By the time I was 13 weeks or so, we figured the little peanut had decided the accommodations were acceptable and set about telling our families. I chose not to tell anyone in the congregation however. Of course, the evidence was impossible to hide after awhile and when word began to circulate, I was the recipient of both congrats and disdainful comments. The friends I mentioned, Bryant & Charlotte, (mostly Charlotte) were not happy for some reason. I still have no clue why. That said, she began to sow discontent everywhere she went regarding the little peanut and our decision to have another baby. It was odd to me then and now. But, I had other concerns.A good friend had lost her baby several months earlier. She was almost 6 months pregnant at the time and the placenta had literally ripped from the uterine wall and she hemorrhaged terribly. She was almost dead before the paramedics arrived at her home. The baby died before they could get her out and my friend was in the hospital for more than a month on the edge of death due to severe blood loss. It was a terrifying time and as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she refused blood transfusions. My friend survived and made it home however I didn’t want to tell her about my baby. I did though. It would have been worse for her to hear it from someone else. We worked through it although she and her husband never did have another baby. I think she was terrified of what could happen.There were several other young women in the congregation who were pregnant at the same time I was. Every single one of them ended up losing their babies after their sixth month of pregnancy. I was so scared. I remember sitting in daughter #2’s bedroom, staring into her crib as she slept, and praying and crying and praying some more. Daughter #3 was born on 10/23/92, weighing in at 8 lbs 1 oz. Before I’d even pushed her all the way out, I looked down into her eyes and through my mind went the thought “There you are!” and I was in love. I was also convinced that every time I put her down to sleep, she wouldn’t wake up.Weird eh? I’ve thought that too. I have no clue why I expected that however I’d guess it had something to do with thinking I shouldn’t have been having another baby and Armageddon coming and yada yada yada.I ended up battling post-partum depression again. Not as bad as with daughter #1 but it did scare me. One day while I was nursing the baby, I was rocking her, watching t.v. and crying. I don’t remember what I was watching but I do remember deciding that I was done crying. I was going to do something ‘useful’ with my life and go back to school. Just like that, I decided. I knew that would be discouraged by the congregation and for the first time in my life, I didn’t care. I figured if I was already displeasing god and everybody, I might as well do it while doing something I wanted to do because the result would be the same no matter what. I called, interviewed and began school in February when my baby was almost 4 months old. And immediately came down with pneumonia.I know, I know…weird again. It was terrible. I almost never have an actual fever. My temp went to 101 degrees. That’s it. However, after looking at my lung x-rays, the doctor told me I had exactly 12 hours to improve or it was the hospital I’d be visiting. Then he gave me two humongous shots in my ass and sent me home for a bit. Thank god I improved. But it was a long road. I continued with school though. My parents had already told my husband he should never have allowed me to go back to school and I’m sure alot of other things however I was determined.

The next thing I remember is May 3, 2003. My then 3 year old, daughter #2 came running into the house one day squealing at the top of her lungs “Mommy, Mommy! Look what I got! Matthew gave me gum for letting him poke me with his pee!”

I remember grabbing her so she’d quit jumping around in excitement over the gum and look at me. She must have realized something was wrong because she immediately froze. I didn’t notice until much later how much I was shaking. I told her she hadn’t done anything wrong and I needed her to explain exactly what happened before she got the gum. She did in her best three year old way. She told me that Matthew had gum and she wanted some. She asked for a piece and he said “Pull down your pants and I’ll give you some.” She did. She had no reason to be afraid. No one ever hurt her. She was a little innocent child. He was 9. Then she told me that Matthew said he was going to pull his pants down too before he gave her the gum. Then she pointed to her little baby bottom and said “He put his pee right here and then he gave me the gum. Look Mommy, see what I can do with this gum?”

I hugged my girl and walked outside. Shaking. R was looking at a car with the neighbor and I went over to him and said “Do you have any idea what just happened out here?” He looked at me, nodded, shooshed me and said he was dealing with it right now. I said “You’d better or I will.” and stomped back into the house. I did not want to freak out my daughter but I was a wreck. I tried to keep things as normal as possible and play and do whatever it was I usually did. R came in a bit later and said “His dad thinks it’s no big deal.”

I called the pediatrician and explained what happened and what my girlie had said. We got an appointment to take her in for an exam the next morning. The nurse told me it was a requirement to report this stuff to the police and I said ‘Ok.’ She told me that their office would file the report after our visit the next day. The exam was traumatic to say the least. The doctor was fabulous however. My girl was ok physically. Not long after we arrived back home, a sweet police officer called me. We talked a bit and he explained what happened next. He would be interviewing our neighbors although because Matthew wasn’t old enough for prosecution, they would be examining his environment to learn what was happening to him. The reasoning was that something was being done to Matthew otherwise how would he know to do that. The officer was so helpful and kind. He left his number with me along with the numbers of some counselors and support groups and told me he’d be in touch but I was to call if I needed anything at all.

Just writing this brings the weepies. I wonder what would have happened to me as a small child if someone had been that kind and caring about my situation. I had no memory of my childhood at this time. I didn’t tell anyone in the congregation what happened to my daughter. I wonder why. I didn’t realize it until sometime last year, but this incident with my beautiful child was the trigger for the chain of events that began then and continues for me even now 14 years later.

part nineteen…or not

I believe I have reached the point in my story I need to stop at for a bit. I’ve thought about it alot and while I’m still writing, it is slow going for me. I obviously still have *issues* surrounding this period of time and I’ll update the next part when I’ve finished writing it. I simply don’t know how long that will be. It could be tomorrow or three months from now I guess. All that said, I am writing today about something that fits quite perfectly with where my story is headed and actually provides an example that is more telling than any *story* I could ever write.A blog-friend, Heidi, has a place that is very helpful to those recovering from situations similar to mine. I don’t honestly remember how I stumbled upon her site however I do know it is a blessing that I did. Heidi has been following my story as it unfolds and recently had a blog entry about some JW’s who visited her home. Nothing in her entry was surprising to me. It all sounded very familiar and I, personally, had many, many, many similar experiences during my years in the door-to-door work.What was surprising (and yet not) were the comments after her post. Those comments continued into this post and truly made my stomach hurt. I realize that not every single JW is like this or would respond in such a way however, the forcefulness of their beliefs, the black and whiteness of it all is right on the money in my experience. We were trained to believe that Jehovah’s way was the only right way. That, of course, meant that every other way was the wrong way and discouraged. I use the word discouraged quite loosley (why does this word look weird? spellchecker passes it over but still…) however. I don’t know if everyone felt like I did or not but I know that I spent my life terrified absolutely.To be truthful, I still spend alot of my life terrified. I don’t watch the news much. I don’t talk about world events much. I mean, there are things that it is impossible to escape however, other than reading the news page of the BBC and the website of my local newspaper, I keep it to a minimum. My mental health is more important than the news. The doctrine and teachings of JW’s have been so ingrained within me that to do more than that completely freaks me out. No matter what the debate is, what the subject is, I still *hear* those teachings inside my head and until I can get a breath and do some self talking etc, etc, blah, blah, blah, I get really messed up.I really admire people who are sure of their beliefs and convictions. The reality of it is that I don’t know what I believe about god. I don’t even know if the word *god* should be capitalized or not. I most often feel that capitalizing it gives it too much power over me. I would like to feel power over myself for awhile before I figure out if I want to give that power up to any one person or spirit or whatever.I know this though: I believe in kindness, keeping children safe, helping one another in whatever way we can and being true to ourselves. If that isn’t good enough for god or people or whomever thinks they have a right to decide that…I’ll just have to live with the consequences because I simply cannot handle it any other way right now.Peace.

part nineteen

from part eighteen: Just writing this brings the weepies. I wonder what would have happened to me as a small child if someone had been that kind and caring about my situation. I had no memory of my childhood at this time. I didn’t tell anyone in the congregation what happened to my daughter. I wonder why. I didn’t realize it until sometime last year, but this incident with my beautiful child was the trigger for the chain of events that began then and continues for me even now 14 years later.Since the police got involved in the molesting incident, our neighbors got really pissed off. Isn’t that rich? Their son tries to poke my daughter with ‘his pee’ and his parents get angry with us? To say I was confused would be an understatement. I still had absolutely no memory what-so-ever of my childhood and I simply didn’t understand the psychology that goes with something like this. I did all I needed to do. Filled out the paperwork, held my daughter down for the vaginal exam she did not want to have, tried to contain my temper and still finish school while mothering my 6 year old and my 6 month old as well.Somewhere during this time I came down with pneumonia and my mom ended up with severe gangrene in her hand and needed emergency surgery to save her life. Added to all the excitement that was our life at the time, the neighbors were still unhappy with us and began encouraging their children’s misbehavior. Actually misbehavior is an understatement. My children could not even go outside to play anymore because the other kids would throw knives at them. Yea, we lived in a very cheap part of town and their were some ‘interesting’ people there. The time had come for us to move somewhere else. Sooo, in the midst of it all, I found us a new home. My husband was not the least bit helpful and in fact was more of a hindrance than anything however we got a house and moved and tried to move on.I did not tell anyone we were moving except for a friend who was not a JW. After we’d been in our new home a few weeks, we did finally hook up with a new congregation but I have to admit, my attendance was sporadic. There was so much to do and with almost no help from my husband, it felt impossible at times. I was 28 years old and had three children. I was in school and my husband had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a year or two earlier. I spent my days in school, my evenings taking care of children and every other moment of time either studying, cleaning, working or waiting for whatever unbelievable thing my husband would do next.To make things even more interesting, my 6 year old daughter was ummm…difficult, to put it mildly. I’d received a phone call from her kindergarten teacher 8 months before our move telling me that my little girl had run out of the classroom screaming that she was going to kill herself. It seems the children had all been given something earlier in the day and E could not find hers when it was time to sit down. She became hysterical and inconsolable. The teacher told me “I’ve never, in all my years of teaching, had any child behave like this and I think she’s run off the school grounds.” I quietly asked her why on earth she was talking to me on the phone instead of finding my girl and it was only then that she told me someone had gone to look for her. I’d like to say that was the first time my oldest child had behaved in such a way but it wasn’t. It did, however, begin her years in the mental health system in our city.Moving turned out to be a very positive thing for my children. The school where E began 1st grade was wonderful and she had some amazing teachers during her 4 years there. She was quiet and withdrawn and odd and weird and all those words that kids call other kids who are different. This girl read the newspaper by the time she was 2 years old. Her question to my aunt about the news was “Aunt Bonnie, what’s Afghanistan?” She was TWO. She knew more about Jehovah than most children and she was well on her way to feeling inferior and not good enough for anything or anyone like most good little Witness children.It makes my stomach cramp to think of it. I never felt like I was a good enough mother. I was jumpy all the time and irritable and convinced that I was a bad wife, horrible person, inferior christian, worthless daughter and much much more. Still I was determined to do more, to be better, to serve Jehovah and stay faithful. I had no idea that I was about to experience a complete meltdown. Time was marching on and my life, my psyche, my entire belief system was about to be turned absolutely, stunningly and unbelievably on it’s ear.added: I’ve had this part written and re-written for a few weeks now and keep looking it over and changing it. I have finally figured out that I need to stop doing that already! I just need to write it down and get it out of my head. So, no more editing for me. Whatever comes out is just gonna be what it is.

part twenty

During the next few years I ended up with a therapist. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this was not encouraged however a *sister* I knew referred us to him after I shared a bit with her about my husband’s bipolar disorder. This therapist was a Witness elder and while ordinarily that would be a difficult thing, he was different. Very different. He’d been to college before he became a Witness, became a therapist before becoming a Witness, encouraged his daughters to go to college, had a wife who finished college and was basically a well rounded, well grounded, reasonable adult male who just happened to worship Jehovah. It was weird. It was different. It was just what I needed.I made the initial appointment to discuss my husband. (yea, I know) I ended up two hours later taking a few tests and talking about some things I hadn’t thought about in years. He did set up an appointment for my husband before I left and I was convinced this would be the best thing for my husband too. (oy. I was ummm…clueless)This was also the first time I was diagnosed with depression. Chris worked closely with a doctor in our city and I got an appointment with him to discuss depression and treatments for it. I will admit that until this time I literally had no idea I was clinically depressed. That said, the worksheets they give you about the signs of depression? Every single item on them applied to me. Good grief. I left the doctor’s office with a prescription for an antidepressant and tears just rolling down my face. What an eye opener that was.I was exhausted. It was one thing to be a busy mother of three with a wacked out husband. It was an entirely different situation to be the one with ‘issues’. The process that would open the floodgates had begun. I was 28 years old.I tried to go to meetings. I tried to be a good Christian. I wasn’t very successful. I missed alot of meetings. I didn’t go in service although I turned in a field service report every month anyway. I reported a bible study with my daughters even though I never had one. I figured it wasn’t really lying because I did talk to them about Jehovah whenever it came up in a conversation.When I did go to meetings, I’d sneak in after it began and leave before it was over. I left my children at home with their father if I went to the meeting because it was more than I could cope with to take them. My youngest daughter, in fact, rarely ever went to the Kingdom Hall. She is a better person for it I think now. My oldest daughter would spend the majority of her time there in the bathroom screaming so it was definitely easier to leave her at home. The last time I took her to a meeting she was 9 or 10 and I left her in the bathroom screaming because she would not stop. I was asked to remove her from the building.I never put her in that situation again. Did I feel like I was dooming my children to certain death? Yes. Did it make me feel like I was a terrible parent? Yes. Did any of that change my actions? No. I simply could NOT do it. If I became determined to get to the meeting, I would get literally ill. I knew that I was displeasing Jehovah. It didn’t make any difference. I began to experience all kinds of physical issues. I was in pain. My lower back and my legs were hurting all the time. I had a headache every single day. Even with the antidepressant, I was crying all the time. I’d had a weird kind of pain in my arms since I was a very, very little girl and it became almost unbearable. I barely left my home. I kept the drapes and blinds closed all day. I was afraid to leave my house to even get the mail. The anxiety I began to experience was painful in the extreme. I thought I was losing my mind.I became more aware of things I’d never really thought about during my life. People would say things to me about stuff I didn’t remember, tell me I did things that I swore I did not. Whereas before I would brush it off like it was nothing and think to myself they were nuts, I began to wonder what on earth was wrong with me now? I mean, how could so many people say things like that? I must be stark raving mad was my thought. My therapist and I were doing some work. I still felt uncomfortable about the therapy thing but I kept telling myself he was an elder so it was ok. He did ask me about my meeting attendance but he never once gave me grief about it. He understood why it was difficult and had some issues with the way things were handled in the congregation. He was a good guy and I loved his family too.At some point during this experience I took an MMPI. It’s a test used by some in mental health professions to aid in diagnosing folks with a few screws loose. (ok, that was an attempt at humor…no offense intended) When my results came back, my therapist called to ask me some questions. I asked him if he did this with everyone. He said “No, but I don’t get many of these back that suggest two different people took them either.” I told him he couldn’t be serious because where the hell would I have gotten another person to take the damn thing for me. He told me we’d talk about it some more when I came in for my appointment later in the week.Later in the week came along with my appointment. We talked about the results of this test and I was not amused to say the least. I’m sure I have the copy of the report somewhere in all this crap in my house but I haven’t seen it in years. I remember it said something about being neurotic though. I also remember feeling like there was something terribly wrong with me and that it explained alot about my life. But I was pissed. Here I’d been believing that it wasn’t me all this time and this damn paper said it was. Of course, that isn’t what the report said exactly but for the time and place I was at, that’s what I believed it all meant. It was kind of devastating. I do remember that he kept saying to me “You act like this is a bad thing.” He didn’t seem at all phased by any of it. He simply told me it was a tool to be worked with.He was right of course. I know that now. But it certainly sucked hearing about it then.

part twenty-one

My husband did visit this therapist for quite awhile. I really think he knew he had no choice because I’d told him that if I was going to stay with him, he was going to go. Would I have left him at that point? I don’t know. I’d like to think I would have however I also remember being relieved that I didn’t need to deal with that particular kettle of fish at the time. Our youngest daughter was only one year old and, as odd as it sounds, it was *comfortable* where we were.I managed to finish school during all this and was a certified medical assistant at a birthing center in our area. I liked the job but began having some issues with getting my duties accomplished. I ended up leaving there after a few months to stay home again with my children as my beliefs, about myself, my family, my life, came crashing down around me. It was becoming more and more clear that I had some serious issues to deal with and I’d avoided them as long as I could.Several years later I ran into someone from the preschool the girls attended and as we were talking about the school and some experiences we’d shared there, this woman told me “You look like you’re doing well. You seemed pretty out of it then.” I remember thinking “Honey, you have no idea…” and simply told her “Yea, it was a pretty tough time for awhile.”I had been doing some hard work in therapy. I was experiencing lots of pain in my body. It would keep me awake most nights. I became familiar with anxiety attacks so severe it was nearly impossible to function. I remember very clearly the night in mid July 1994 when I woke from a nightmare, sat straight up in bed and said “Ohmygawd, it’s not me. It’s THEM.” For so long I’d been trying to figure out why I was nothing like my family and why things were the way they were with them. I felt guilty for being such a terrible daughter, wife, mother, niece, grandchild, cousin, christian, insert whatever word you want here, person.During this period my therapist and I talked alot about my thoughts and ideas and what it was like growing up. Some people might find it odd to know that whatever I told him (and what I believed) was not reality. It was the story I’d held on to for as long as I could remember to maintain some kind of normalcy I guess. I remember for a very long time I was certain that my family was wonderful and that they’d be there in a heartbeat if I needed them for anything and that we were all so close it was amazing. As I look back to that time while writing this I am stunned at the difference between the reality and what I believed for so long.I reached rock bottom in March of 1995. The 22nd to be exact. I’d been in pain for more than 24 hours straight. I had three young children who were being babysat by whatever was on t.v. as I called my therapist and left a message. His receptionist was a friend and when I called and begged for an appointment, she told me there was nothing available. I asked her to give Chris a message and she told me he wasn’t back yet and she didn’t know when he would return. I said, and I quote, “I guess I’ll see you at my funeral then.” and hung up.I had a plan. Between the meds I took and the meds my husband took, I had more than enough to crush up, mix with my children’s food, feed them (there was no way in hell I was leaving them alone with their father or anyone in my family) and then as they were falling asleep for the last time to take the rest myself, and we’d all four go to where ever it is we go when we die. I just wanted the pain to stop. But I refused to leave my babies.I sank to the floor and curled up in a tight ball and sobbed until I could sob no more. I was exhausted physically and mentally and as I began to realize I needed to check on my children, I heard sirens. I walked into my bedroom for a moment and then came the banging on the door. My little girls ran down the hall to me yelling about the door (those poor babies) and I managed to get there and open it. On my front porch were what seemed like hundreds of firemen, paramedics and police officers. Of course there weren’t anywhere near that many but dang my living room was crowded.One of the paramedics asked if I was Traci. I said “Yes.” He said “We had a call that you were having some trouble here.” My therapist had returned to his office, gotten my message, the receptionist told him what I’d said and he called 911.I have to say that all those emergency personnel were so good to me. They were very kind and concerned and checked me out well. I talked with them honestly and said I was ok now. I told them that I had planned it and had the meds in my hand and my two year old had come into the kitchen doing something sweet and I simply could not do it. That was the night my motto was born…::: I survived what it took to get me here and I will survive what it takes to get me out of here :::I thought I had convinced the emergency folks that I was ok enough to stay home. I was wrong. All the firemen and paramedics had left and two kind police officers remained. We talked and the guy in charge asked me if I had anyone who could come be with my children for awhile. I told him I didn’t know but could make a call. I got ahold of a friend and her husband who was an elder in the congregation that I didn’t attend frequently enough. I explained that the police were there and I thought they were going to take me to the hospital. To her credit, she came immediately. Now that I think of it, I don’t believe I ever thanked her properly. She took my daughters home with her to play. Her oldest daughter babysat my girls quite often and her youngest daughter was a year older than my youngest. My girls LOVED her girls. It was a good thing.

As Gloria arrived, I wrote a note for my husband that said “They’re coming to take me away, oh my” and also told him where the girls were. The officers escorted me to their car and kindly waited until my daughters were gone before hand cuffing me and placing me ever so gently in the back of their patrol car. What a odd feeling that was. By this time I was numb. Completely. I was also exhausted.

After arriving at the hospital, I got a first hand lesson in how mental health patients are treated. I was placed in a room just off the emergency floor and left there. For what seemed a very long time. Gloria and her husband arrived after quite some time and we talked. Paul was fabulous. He told me about his own suicide attempt and what it meant to him and to my children that I hadn’t carried through with my plan. He said “Traci, I understand the pain and I promise you there is a better way.” What a kind man he was. Together we convinced the social worker who arrived that I was not a danger to myself or anyone else and they eventually let me go home.

Paul and Gloria drove me home and my husband was there wondering where the hell I was. I said “You got my note didn’t you?” He replied “Yea but it’s a song lyric. That doesn’t tell me anything.” I told him I’d been arrested and escorted to the psych ward and he just looked at me weirdly and walked off. That. Was. It. He never mentioned it again. Not. Once.

part twenty-two

I’ve thought alot about what to write for this part of my series. The piece of this story that comes next has created issues. Issues for me. Issues for people who once claimed to care about me. Issues for people who I thought were friends. Issues for my family. I’ve lost alot in my life based on what comes next in my story.I enjoy writing this blog. I need to write my story. I need to say the words out loud and be accepted even though I’ve said them. I’ve said the words aloud before and let’s just say the response has not been stellar. So, I am at an impasse. I simply cannot say what comes next. I just can’t. I’ve lost too much and the pain of those losses is still too big for me. I thought I could do it. I was wrong.I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one. I absolutely loved having five days off in a row. It was heavenly.Peace.

part twenty-three

In August of 1994, I threw my mom out of my house. (This is a bit of a backtrack in my story. It’s an important piece of it though.)I’d been having some severe nightmares and not sleeping well at all. My mom showed up one day and invited herself in. I didn’t feel up to company but there was no telling my mom ‘no’. She was playing with the girlies and asking me questions about what I’d been up to. I guess I didn’t volunteer enough information because I could see her getting more and more frustrated.Finally, I broke down and just said “Look, Mom, I’m not sleeping well because I’m having nightmares that don’t stop. Let’s just leave it at that.” She couldn’t or wouldn’t leave it at that. I’m sure now that she meant well and really wanted to help me. I’m also sure she had no clue how to do that. She kept pushing me about what the nightmares were about. I ended up telling her.“Mom, you remember the husband you had who locked me in the closet while you were gone? Locking me in the closet isn’t all he did. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about.” She stared and me and replied “What?” I said “Mom, that guy wasn’t just locking me in the closet while you were gone.” It seems now that my mom was simply unable to comprehend or accept that someone she was married to would hurt me like I was suggesting he had. She kept saying “What are you saying, Traci?” over and over.I had to say at last “Mother! Your husband raped me!” I was shaking pretty badly by then. My husband was home and walked into the kitchen at that time. My mom looked at me and said, in one of the coldest voices I’d ever heard out of her, “So? You’re a grown woman now. GET OVER IT!”Even now, 13 and a half years later, I can feel the snapping that I felt inside me that day. I literally felt something snap inside me. I looked up, directly into my mother’s eyes and said “You need to leave now.” She couldn’t believe it. It was as if her face changed before my eyes. I witnessed the transformation in total disbelief. She began spewing the most vile words at me.I cannot write them yet. After all this time, I still cannot write them down. I’m not sure I even remember all of them. Mom was as angry as I ever consciously remember her being. As I’m writing these words today, I can ’see’ the dining room table and how the August sun poured through the window and played on the table. I can see my then 22 month old daughter playing with her Granny at that table and even what my baby was wearing that day. I can ‘hear’ my two older girls playing in the family room and ‘feel’ the breeze through the windows.I can also feel my determination; my resolve to take care of myself before taking care of my mother that day. It was an important turning point for me. Now, looking back, I’m sure the choice I made on that August day all those years ago, enabled me to finally hit bottom 7 months later and then choose not to give up.I reminded my mother that I’d asked her to leave. She stood up in stunned disbelief and said something about a religion that would allow it’s members to keep grandchildren and grandparents apart. I let her know that I didn’t believe this argument of ours had anything to do with my religion; told her I loved her; that I’d always be available for her; and that right now I needed to take care of myself. I advised her that if she showed up again at my home uninvited I would have her escorted away by the police and then I told her that R would escort her to her car. She protested the entire way out the door. My husband was in rare form that day. It was one of the fist times I’d ever had him back me up and help me in a way that was truly helpful. He walked my mom to her car, explained that yes, I did mean what I said and that he supported me.The next day I had our phone number changed and that was the beginning of what would be four years without seeing my parents or any of the family members that are now, in 2008, completely pissed off because I didn’t hold this year’s Christmas party. Life is weird.

part twenty-four

…toby was 5, maybe 6, years old. he was a sweet, chubby little boy who liked to follow his grampa around on the farm, helping him feed the cows and move the hay in the barn. toby wore dark blue jeans tucked into his black rubber boots with the red ring around the top and a big bulky tan colored cable knit sweater to keep him warm. sometimes he wore a stocking cap but mostly he forgot it inside. the cold outside made his nose run alot so he often had that little kid, snot nose thing going on. he didn’t mind though ’cause he got to help grampa and be his little man. toby took care of the little girl so she wouldn’t have to spend time with grampa and she could stay warm inside. lots of times toby would find himself in the hay loft in the barn and not remember how he got there. the loft was big and quiet in that noisy, farm animal kind of way. there was lots of hay there and the wood on the floor was uneven and dusted with what he thought of as ‘hay dust’. it was a fun place to play when the other kids were there but when he was the only one, it wasn’t so fun anymore. if toby lay on his back in the loft, he could see the top of the barn sometimes. not always though. there were times he couldn’t see it no matter how hard he tried. when grampa closed the barn door, it got scary dark inside. noises seemed bigger in the dark. toby liked it best when the barn door was open. he wished the little girl would come into the barn with him but she was too afraid and he would never make her do it. grampa liked it when it was just him anyway because he was his bestest helper and knew just what to do without being told too much. the smell of a barn takes toby back to those days with his grampa. it’s not always a good thing.

part twenty-five

I met Toby in April of 1995.He had a friend name Chrissy. She was 3 and so beautiful. She wore a long, t-shirt like nightgown and had the longest hair I’d ever seen on a child. Her face was angelic and didn’t match her eyes at all. Those eyes were big and dark and had this look of sadness in them that was almost painful to look at.I didn’t realize that I’d seen her several months before in my therapist’s office. He was just as surprised as I.Life was about to get interesting in a way not many can imagine. I am many years on the other side of these experiences and I still find it difficult to process sometimes.

part twenty-six

…Chrissy wasn’t aware of anyone else. All she knew was that it was dark where she was and there was a strip of light down by her feet. Every now and then she saw what looked like shadows crossing in front of the light and while she felt like she was screaming “Let me out! Let me out!”, now she is not sure if she actually uttered a sound. The dark was scary and Chrissy didn’t know why she was there again. She wasn’t sure how she knew that the shadows were from the man walking back and forth in front of the place she was in but, she knew it was him. Her stomach felt as if it took up too much space and made it hard to breathe. Chrissy was afraid. Very. Afraid. She wanted to bang on the walls so someone would help her but fear, or rope (she’s not sure now), stopped her. It was never a good thing to get too much attention. Quiet was always better but it sounded so loud inside the closet.For years I dreamed of being enclosed in a small space with a strip of light at the bottom of what I thought was a door. I could see the shadows of feet passing by the light. The dream woke me up more nights than I can count for most of my childhood. When I was 13, I was sitting at the table eating breakfast when my dad asked me what was wrong. I told him about this dream and how it often woke me up in the night. He literally froze in his seat. He slowly asked me a question I’ve never forgotten. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the guy your mom was with before me would lock you in the closet whenever she left the house?” I shook my head no and don’t remember anything else about the day or the conversation, for that matter. I do know that I never had the dream again…until many years later when Chrissy introduced herself. 

part twenty-six: addendum

You know how sometimes when you start talking, you’ll remember something else you wanted to say and by saying it, you remember yet another thing you want to add? Yeah, this is one of those times.Since posting part twenty-six two days ago, thoughts and pictures and stuff have been flashing through my mind. I’ve had two separate memories of chatting with my dad about my life before him. I’ve discovered those two memories actually go together. How weird. I was sure I must be mistaken however after piecing it all together and comparing the pictures in my mind, they really do go together and, well, completely piss me off.My dad was not a tactful man. He was also not very helpful. The older he got, the nastier and more bigoted he became. By the time of his death on April 14, 2005, I was done. Done with his meanness, done with his violence, done with his abuse. By the time he died, I’d already given him the benefit of the doubt for the last time and made my stand with him. We never spoke of it again but he knew. And. He. Remembered. I know he remembered because he never acted that way in front of me or mine again.That is really neither here nor there to what I have to add to part twenty-six except it is a bit of history (so to speak) for what comes now.When I left the story last, I was sitting at the breakfast table listening to my dad ask me if I knew about the guy who locked me in the closet. Of course, I had no idea. I don’t remember feeling anything about what he told me that morning except I, this body of mine, must have felt something because I never had the dream again…until many, many years later. What I left out of that memory was what my dad told me next.He said “When your mom and I got together, you were difficult. We had some problems with you and I tried everything to get you under control and finally went to see a psychiatrist about you. The psychiatrist told me it was too late to fix you. He said if I’d gotten you earlier, I could have made some headway but since you hadn’t come to live with me until you were 5 and a half, there was nothing to be done.”

2 responses to this post.

  1. Traci,
    Someone sent me this link. I have been reading for hours, I’m sorry that I looked at your private stuff. There are no words I could utter that would express my sorrow at how I have acted and treated you. I wish I could know what I know now and start over. I can’t believe how I was acting and how callous I was. The alcohol & pain meds I was on did not help the situation at all.
    My feelings for you have grown stronger as I read how brilliant, dynamic etc. you are. You are the best Mom in the world. Even if we had discussed this stuff, It would not have mattered at that time. I did not have a clue!
    I have been such an absolute ASSHOLE to you and the girls. The abuse stops with me. My mind has grown more clear and I think more about kindness and care. I will not ever go back to that life again. Youhave shown me longsuffering kindness, love & care. Most of which I did not deserve. It has caused too much pain for you and way too much remorse for me. I wish you could try to trust me once more, I will not let you down again. I will continue to heal and move ahead. I still want you as a partner and after we are out of the recession and property values go back up, I want to sell teh house and go travel with you, to all the places on your list.
    My heart is eternally yours Traci. I know now you need space and I will honor that. ~ Tim~

    Reply

  2. Posted by Becky Rog-Hood on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Good day Traci,

    I ‘googled’ my daughter’s name and found it on Debutaunt’s blog. I was very surprised to see her name especially with this spelling because I usually only got Malchijah as search results. All this on top of the fact that you were not impressed with her name – Malkaijah. I was curious – where did you hear of that name?

    Maybe I could enlighten you as to why I chose this name for my daughter. It is Biblical and it means ‘the Lord is my King’. We just call her ‘Kaijah’ for short.

    Thanks for your time Traci!
    Becky

    Reply

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