Accept, Acknowledge, Forgive, Embrace

I have been working hard taking care of this little girl inside of me. Here are the things I would like to tell this little girl.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the questions. I’m sorry for your tears. I’m sorry for your sorrow, that lasted all those years.

I’m sorry, for you missed so much, so much you didn’t know. I’m sorry that you lost your youth, when you were forced to grow.

I’m sorry for the darkness, I’m sorry for the plight. I’m sorry for the nightmares, each and every night.

I’m sorry for their laughter, mocking your beautiful song. I’m sorry that they couldn’t just sing along.

I’m sorry for their cheering, every time you fell. I’m sorry for this story that you have to tell.

I’m sorry for your reflection, that never smiled back. I’m sorry for the sadness you carry on your back.

I’m sorry you miss your family. They are searching for you now. I’m sorry they can’t come get you. They would if they knew how.

I’m sorry you were beaten. I’m sorry that you bled. I’m sorry that they hit you, hard upside the head.

I’m sorry that they watched you, waiting for you to fall. I’m sorry that you felt that you never had anyone at all.

I’m sorry that they held you back, when you were determined to fly. I’m sorry there were no answers when you questioned “why”.

I’m sorry for your heartbreak, and that they stole your soul. I’m sorry that when you told someone, they threw you in a hole.

I’m sorry you are driving, looking for your death. I’m sorry you can’t call me, and that you have no breath.

I’m sorry that he raped you, that evil evil monster. I’m sorry that you can’t just scream and tell him “don’t come closer!”

I’m sorry that they call you a whore, and put you down each day. I’m sorry that you believe them, in each and every way.

I’m sorry that you hurt yourself, when no one else is watching. I’m sorry that you do not know, that leaving is an option.

I’m sorry for your guilt, a cross you need not bear. I’m sorry that you always felt, that you couldn’t be there.

I’m sorry for your anger. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry for your sadness, I’m sorry for your cost.

I’m sorry you are poor. I’m sorry you are weary. I’m sorry you can never cry, you don’t even get teary.

I’m sorry that you do not know, that better days are ahead. I’m sorry that you think that you would be better off dead.

I’m sorry you can’t see the future, but then again I’m not. I’m sorry that they hurt you an awful awful lot.

I’m sorry that you lost your babies, too early to know why. I’m sorry that you never heard, the softness of their cry.

I’m sorry for memories, I’m sorry for them none. I’m sorry that you do not know, your work is not yet done.

I’m sorry for it all.

For those who made it through to the end. For my family, for my friends, and for myself. I want you to know this one thing:

I forgive you.

~E

I choose life, I choose love, I choose to embrace, I choose to open my arms wide and fly.

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Six apple trees

I am feeling more distance from my parents. Brother, Sister, and I are spending long days at home with the babysitter. I find myself becoming irritated and feeling cooped up. I am realizing how easy it is to get in trouble with the M pastor. Brother and I are not spending as much time together. He is enjoying watching TV. We would play video games to pass the time, but that would mean we were “showing off” what we had and what the other kids didn’t. Mom and Dad put the video games in storage to remove the temptation. I spend my days doing chores and hanging out with Samantha, Jenn and Renee. However, when Jenn and I hang out with Samantha and Renee too much, we get in trouble for trying to act older. I am bored, I have read all my books multiple times, I would ride my bike, but I can’t do that when Mom and Dad aren’t home. Jenn and I are getting tired of each other. What am I supposed to do?

More changes are coming. One day, while Brother and I were riding in the car with M pastor and Renee, M pastor saw a house for sale. He pulled into the long driveway. As we were rolling along, we counted: one, two, three, four apple trees! A big red barn met us at the curve of the drive. As the driveway turned to the right we saw two more apple trees, a plum tree, a walnut tree in the back with a rope swing attached, and a cherry tree in front that shaded a huge rock. There were two houses on the property. One was obviously very old and uninhabitable. The other was a rambler with a concrete patio in back. Out the front window was a view of the entire Snohomish valley. It was a five acre property. The front half was fields and the back half was woods. I remember being in love instantly. It was so beautiful. This property held the freedom for which I was longing. After we looked around, I couldn’t wait to tell Mom and Dad that evening. Of course, that wasn’t my place to tell them. I would get in trouble with M pastor if I told. I would be acting older or getting a big head or something. So I waited anxiously for M pastor to tell my parents. They had a meeting that evening in M pastor’s trailer. I asked them about it when they came in the house. They seemed hopeful. A few days later, Dad and Mom saw the house and did the paperwork right away.

The move was very quick. Mom and Dad told us that we had to move because Edward and Chris wanted to live in their house. That is understandable. They told us that Edward and Chris were done working at the church in Eastern Washington. I was a little afraid for them to come back because I remember how angry Edward would get. And he was my “grandpa” now. When they were in Eastern Washington I had felt a little safe with some distance between us. I was sharp enough to realize that there was definitely a heirarchy in the church. The pastors and their families on top, the elders and families middle, everyone else on the bottom. The people on the top were always right. While those in the middle were sometimes right. I remember voicing this one time. I was told “there is no wrong and right, there is only sin and not sin”. So now I couldn’t even say the words “wrong” or “right” without being corrected. I learned to avoid many words this way.

Overall, I was very happy for our family to have their own house again. We didn’t have to share it with another family that we hardly knew. I was so excited. It was a three bedroom and one bathroom house. Sister and I shared a bedroom, and Brother had his own bedroom. All of us shared a bathroom, but that was okay. The house required some work, but my Dad was a contractor so that was not a problem. Less than a month of us working together, and we had a few huge projects done.

Did you think we were alone on the five acres? No. The M pastor and his family, as well as Samantha and her family, moved on to the property with us. They hooked up electrical, water, and sewer. This was okay because there would be more people around our age to hang out with. I was a little nervous at the thought of getting in trouble with the M pastor. The thought was usually fleeting. I was too busy. I would spend my days climbing apple trees and eating apples while sitting on a branch, swinging on the rope swing, exploring the woods, and sunning myself on the giant rock in the front yard. Dad had Brother and I clean out the barn and the old house. They were full of old treasures. We found magazines and photo albums dating back almost 100 years, old farm tools, and lots and lots of hay. We had a great time hunting for cool stuff.

The fall came and it was back to school time. I did not want to leave our new safe haven. But it was time to go to school. Mom would drive the van full of kids. This drive was only half an hour, so that was nice. We would arrive at the church in Everett and shuffle down to the basement of the church. We couldn’t go upstairs yet because they were still doing work up there. It was dark downstairs, with only tiny windows at the top of the walls to provide us with daylight. Most of those windows were shaded by bushes. I longed for break time and the daylight. We would go outside for fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen in the afternoon. There was a small lawn in the front of the church for us to play. One of the teachers would go out with us and usually had to go along the side of the church and ask a bum to leave. This was a little scary to me. Those bums did not look happy, or in their right mind. This was a time at school that I felt relatively safe, because the principal (Edward) didn’t really have an office at the church. So if anything had to be said, it was in the main school room, and usually wasn’t so harsh. But if you were in real trouble, everyone would know about it. One of the girls from another family had a problem of picking her nose then eating it (gross). She was around my age. I was always being told to hang out with her more. But I was so afraid she would touch me with her booger fingers. Anyway, one day I guess Edward had enough. He had her stand up on a table in front of everyone. He told her to pick her nose then eat it. She was crying and protesting. I couldn’t look. She finally did, then got to get down and go back to her desk. This was my introduction to public shaming. I was beginning to realize that you could be put on the spot in front of everyone for things that you were doing (wrong?) that was a sin. I felt sorry for her, standing up in front of everyone and crying. I didn’t care if she wasn’t my friend, she was really sad. But I sat, like everyone else, I didn’t say a word and I let that happen. I weighed the consequences. I knew that I didn’t have a choice. This was happening and there was nothing I could do about it except wait for it to be done and go back to my school work. Thankfully, this event happened after lunch.

~E

Food

Before we moved, Mom and Dad never worried about food. There was a drastic change after the move. We started going to the food bank frequently and hardly to the store. We froze almost everything we got from the food bank. Even the milk. I was aware of this situation, because Mom really didn’t like going to the food bank. She seemed very stressed every time we had to go. She looked so sad. Next to the food bank was a clothing closet. This is where we got our clothes for school. I do remember being unhappy about this. I am sure that I voiced it to Mom. I was used to her taking us shopping for clothes. Once we were there it was kind of fun though, like a treasure hunt.

I would get in trouble from the pastors when I voiced my unhappiness about these things. I was told that I thought I was better than everyone else. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about anyone else. I was having a hard time adjusting to so many changes. I didn’t understand that we didn’t have any money. And all of Mom and Dad’s money was going to the church. The church leaders took everyone’s money and left families with none to even feed their children. You could say that the parents had a choice. In a way you would be correct. The W pastor would tell stories about how his family didn’t have a lot of food in the past. They would dig in dumpsters for food, and there was an infamous story about how all they had once was taco shells and ketchup. So that is what the kids ate for dinner. But “God saw them through” those situations. See how God brought them through (living off of other families?)? He would do the same for all the other members of the church. We had to go through the hard times first, like they did.

We had a system: Go to the food bank, hurry home, put everything we could in the freezer, and arrange it with the newest items in the back with oldest things in the front of the freezer. We knew that once we thawed the frozen milk we had two days to drink it. That was easy since there were four kids in the house. I started to feel possessive over the food that we had. If any of the teenagers who lived in the trailer came over, I would hope they wouldn’t eat any of our food. I was worried we would run out and I didn’t know what Mom and Dad would do if that happened.  Sometimes Jamie would bring fast food home for Jenn and TJ. Jamie worked at Taco Bell. Jenn would share with me. I would give some to Brother. Sister was too little. I felt guilty taking some away from her, but we had promised to take care of each other. I trusted her, I didn’t feel possessive of food around her or TJ. They were our “family”.  Samantha (babysitter) taught me how to make the most of our resources. She showed me how to make rice, potatoes, cookies, and pies. She showed me how to add frozen vegetables and eggs to top ramen to make it more like a meal. We also started a garden together (just flowers). I had always wanted a garden and it was a good distraction.

Jenn and I are eleven years old. Samantha and Renee (M pastor’s daughter) were fourteen. We looked up to the older girls a lot. They were just starting to wear makeup and Jenn and I really wanted to wear makeup. All of the women in the church worked for a direct sales cosmetic company. Some of my favorite memories from as long as I can remember; from the Carnation house and every house; has been to watch my Mom put on makeup. I would stare at her, she is so beautiful anyway. But the careful way she would apply the shadow, liner, blush, and mascara. She would curl her hair. The final touch was lipstick. It was a beautiful transformation and I could not wait until the day that I could do the same for myself.

Mom was driving Renee, Jenn, and I in the car one day. Renee has this bright pink lip crayon. Positively Pink. I am watching her apply it to her lips. It looks awesome. Renee asks Mom if she can let me try it on. Mom said yes, I was so excited. I carefully applied it, Renee coached me through. I loved it! I could not stop staring at my reflection in the car window as we drove. We got home, I couldn’t wait to show Dad. Before we got in the house, the M pastor saw us get out of the car. He asked where I had gotten the lip color. I told him that it was Renee’s and Mom had said it was okay. Then I looked at Mom and Renee. I had the realization. I had said the wrong thing. They looked suddenly sad and nervous. The M pastor was not happy about the situation for some reason. He was yelling at them. He took away Renee’s lip crayon. She was crying. He said she was trying to be older than she was letting me try the crayon. That Mom should not have let me do that. I felt awful. Renee didn’t get makeup privileges for the rest of the summer. She didn’t seem to mind, but I knew she was sad and that it was my fault. I was also beginning to question everything my parents did. The M pastor said Mom was irresponsible letting me wear makeup. I should probably start watching out for myself a little more. I didn’t want Mom or Dad to get in trouble, and I wasn’t sure if I could trust them.

~E

The Wolves

I wanted to take a minute and reflect on myself. What is going on inside the younger me?

Moving was hard. I gave up most of my belongings, which I held dear. I lost the only home I had known. I lost the comfort of our biggest and strongest dog. I lost my cat. I lost the privacy of my own room. We lost the privacy of our family having our own space. The move was another step away from our surrounding family. I felt I had lost most of them. After the incident with Lance and the spanking, I did not feel safe in my own bed. It was the beginning of many times that I would be pulled out of bed to go to a “meeting”. I would lay awake at night, listening. “Were they talking about me in the living room?” I never knew. I would listen for cars to come up the driveway, the phone to ring, or a door to open and shut. I was beginning to feel like I was being watched all the time. I was a kid. At this point in time, I was not aware of how these things were affecting me. I would be scared at night, and fine during the day. Most times. I always found a way to move forward and be happy. It was not until the early teen years that events started affecting me. I can see how they prepared us in childhood for future abuse. This was our new normal.

As an adult looking back, I can see how some of my “symptoms” were caused by this conditioning. Waking up in a panic. Always feeling like something bad was about to happen. When I did sleep: nightmares. I would cause problems where none existed because I needed that feeling of adrenaline. To be mad meant I had control and power. This was not a conscious decision. My adrenal glands were shutting down, but they were used to being overworked. I would have huge reactions to small situations because that was familiar. My anxiety manifests itself in my throat. I am told it is because I did not have a voice for so long. I start to feel like my throat is closing up and I can’t breathe. There were a few times we had to call the ambulance because the anxiety would consume me and I would hyperventilate. Some methods that have changed my life: positive affirmations, meditation, lucid dreaming, and counseling. I am so thankful of the support I have from family and friends. I would like to share a reoccurring dream with you, and how lucid dreaming changed this nightmare:

“I am walking down the street where I live. Away from my house. I am approaching the W pastor’s house. In the yard are two wolves chained to the ground. The wolves are lunging and barking. Drool is flying from their mouths from the force of their voice. I think to myself “”I am ok, they are tied up, I can walk past”” Just then , the chains break and the wolves are free. They are chasing me. I run into the woods and look back while running. They are not slowing down. I look forward, into the darkness, there is no where to go.” Then I wake up. I had this dream almost every night for years. I would wake up in a panic, not able to go to sleep.

Then I started practicing lucid dreaming. Here is how I was able to form my dream: “I am walking down the street where I live. Away from my house. I am approaching the W pastor’s house. In the yard are two wolves chained to the ground. The wolves are lunging and barking. Drool is flying from their mouths from the force of their voice. I think to myself “”I am ok, they are tied up, I can walk past”” Just then, the chains break and the wolves are free. They are running toward me. I stop in the middle of the road and stand firm. I think to myself “”let them come, it is a dream.”” The wolves charge, and jump on me. They start licking my face. I laugh and bury my face into their thick, stinky (yes, I could smell it) fur. We are having a gigantic moment of love and joy. They are happy and singing. I am joyful and laughing.”

I firmly believe that if you want to change your life, you can. Decide it and do it. If you need help, seek it. You are the one who has the power to decide. Daily practice, tools, and support are key. Embrace those who support and love. Release the ones who cause grief and disturbance.

“I deeply and completely accept myself unconditionally. I am lovable and deserve to be loved. I have a perfect right to all of my feelings.”

~E

Secrets

Tabby, my kitty cat. I used to stroke her face. Run my finger along the grain of her fur on her nose. Up, down, left, right. She would close her eyes, purr, and rub her cheeks on my finger. Gray cheek, brown cheek. She was a calico/tabby mix so she was multi colored. She would come running anytime we opened the utility drawer in the kitchen because she thought we were getting out the can opener. She loved wet food, and that required a can opener for opening. In our house in Carnation, she would walk down the hall toward our bedrooms at bedtime. She would stand in the stream of the light that Mom would leave on for us, Brother and I could both see her. We would both start calling her and she would make us wait an agonizing amount of time before she chose her sleeping place. Even if she initially chose Brother’s bed, she would always end up in mine by morning. When she was happy, she would knead my sheepskin blanket and pretend to nurse on it like a baby kitten. I thought that was the most adorable thing to watch. Tabby had three litters of kittens before Mom was able to trap her and get her fixed. I loved all those kittens, but we never kept one.

When we moved to the Monroe house, Tabby ran away. I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to cry in front of anyone. I didn’t know them well enough yet. I would find a time when Mom and Dad were both in their room. I knocked on the door, sat on their bed, and cried. I cried for weeks. Mom and Dad told me that sometimes animals run away when you move. Why didn’t anyone tell me this might happen? I missed my kitty. I missed her sweet purr, her soft fur, and her company. No one else seemed to be as sad as I was about Tabby. Even Brother, who had competed with me every night for her affection. Maybe he too didn’t want anyone else to see him cry. I did know one thing; I didn’t want another cat. No kitty would replace Tabby. (I didn’t have a cat for 15 years after Tabby ran away) One day, while walking down the street, I saw Tabby at a neighbor’s house. This neighbor had multiple cats and fed them all wet food. I was glad to see Tabby lived in a house where the Mom gave her wet food every day.

Things were going okay at the new house. We celebrated Sister’s first birthday. All the kids seemed to be getting along. But I was afraid of getting in trouble by Jamie. She worked a lot, so we didn’t see her much. When we did she seemed tired and just wanted to watch TV in her bedroom. The kids were in charge of chores. We would clean the kitchen together every evening after dinner. I used to complain about loading and unloading the dishwasher at our old house. This one didn’t have a dishwasher. While washing and cleaning, we would sing songs together. I have fun memories of this.

Shortly after we moved in, the M pastor, his family, and another family all moved on to the property. They lived in two travel trailers. The M pastor’s family consisted of: M pastor, wife, daughter (Renee) and son (Lance). The other family was: an elder, his wife, daughter (Samantha) and son (Mike). The daughters were both three years older than Jenn and I. The sons a few years older than them. I looked up to the daughters. They seemed so happy and confident. They wore pink lip gloss. They talked about life in Eastern Washington and how they would put on shows for people. I loved that. I dreamed of being famous. At our old house I would listen to Paula Abdul and dance on my bed pretending I was her. I couldn’t do that at the new house, I thought someone would make fun of me. The shows that these girls talked of were skits acted out to music, and puppet shows.

Not long after these families moved on the property with us, Samantha started babysitting us almost every day. Mom and Dad had to go to work, and she was there. It was convenient. Samantha was fun. She would help us do our chores, teach us how to cook, and play with us. I didn’t like not being the one in charge. I wanted to tell my brother and sister what to do. And I didn’t like feeling like a little kid that needed to be babysat. I feel like Samantha understood my feelings.

More changes. On top of going to church once a week, Mom and Dad started going to meetings at the church two or three nights a week. They called it “Institute”. They were learning about……I never really knew. They would not get home until after we were in bed. Sometimes I wouldn’t see Dad in the morning, then not all day, and not at night either. I didn’t like this. I wanted to see Mom and Dad more often. I was having fun with Jenn, Tj, Brother, Sister, and Samantha. But I wanted to see Mom and Dad whenever I could. I felt strange in a new house. I was bored a lot of the time. The TV was always on, but Dad didn’t like us to watch TV. He wanted us to play outside. I loved playing outside. This yard was smaller so there wasn’t much exploring to do. There was a playhouse, but I was too afraid of spiders to go inside.

One night, Mom and Dad were at Institute. We were in bed and I was almost asleep. Samantha came to our door and told us to get out of bed and go to the M pastor’s trailer. I asked if I needed to get Sister up and Samantha said no. But we had to hurry. She looked serious. My eyes fuzzy, we all walked over in silence. It was dark outside, but not too cold since it was summer. We followed the glow of the light from the window in the trailer door. Knock knock knock. We opened the door to see Lance bent over the M pastor’s knee. His pants were pulled down with his rear facing the door. It was red as if he had been beaten before we came over. I looked quickly then looked away. Why were we brought over for this? I knew kids got spanked, but I had never  been spanked in this manner or position. The M pastor started talking to us, then hitting Lance on the bottom. I don’t remember what was said. I wanted to go away. I looked everywhere except there. When M pastor saw me looking away, he told me that I was to watch. Why? I don’t remember. I remember Lance crying in pain. I remember M pastor yelling. I remember wondering if the neighbors could hear, it seemed really loud. What would they do if they heard? What if they decided to come over and see what was happening? I almost wished they would.  I looked at M pastor’s wife, Lance’s mom. She was sitting and looking sad. I don’t think she liked what was happening. Then finally, he was done. We were told we could go back to bed. As we were walking home, M pastor called from the door, Samantha. She walked back. I lingered in the shadows, wondering what would happen to her. M pastor said, “It would behoove (necessary of) you not to mention this to anyone.” At the time, I did not know what this meant. Now I know. They were keeping secrets. I thought my parents knew everything that happened when they were gone. They didn’t. Things were happening to us while they were away, “Learning about God”. Would it have made a difference had they known? Maybe. Maybe not. These people were good at explaining their way out of situations. I went to bed that night, but I could not sleep. I was afraid. Was Samantha going to come back and say that one of us was next for spanking? I stayed awake until I heard Mom and Dad come home. It was very late. I saw their shadows in the doorway looking at us. I pretended I was asleep. I waited until I felt safe, then I fell asleep.

~E

It takes a village

This was not said a lot in the cult. However, it was their way of life. Raising children in this “village”. To parents who were worried for their children, this cult gave the appearance of a safe haven. A place for your children to be surrounded and raised by people who loved them. Your gifted child would flourish in our school since there was no measure to how far they could go on their own. As a bonus, your child’s eternity in Heaven would be secured.  But first, before it is all good, you must go through the process. “A pot made of clay has to be fired before it is complete.” These are things they would say. When I was in a “lesson”. Things like we had to be “molded” like clay and “fired” before we were complete. When it gets hard, then it is all part of the process. Hang in there, it will be worth it in the end.

Last quarter of school year 1994- Principal (Ed) keeps telling me that he is my grandpa and his wife (Chris) my grandma. This is confusing to me. I already have grandparents. What is going to happen to them? Why do I need more grandparents? He tells me that my family is a part of the church. The church is the body of Christ. Christ makes all things new. When you join the church you get a new family. Sure, you can still see your old family. However, unless they are a part of the church, they are not your true family. Because we (the church) will all spend eternity together in Heaven. Don’t you want your family to go to Heaven too? I did want to spend eternity with my family. I loved them so much. How do I get them to understand this? I was  sad and scared that I would not get to see my family forever. I also did not want to admit that Ed and Chris were a little scary. Ed was from England. Sure his accent was cool, but he never smiled. And he always yelled. Since the school was in his house, he was always yelling at people if anything got dirty. No one seemed to ever know how things got dirty or broken. They just happened. Many times we would eat lunch at our desks in silence until someone admitted to causing the mess. Such as a time when someone “threw yogurt on the wall”. A lot of the kids would make fun of him with a fake accent “Whoo threw yoguht on the woll?” they would say. It was rather funny. But I was still scared of Ed. Chris seemed mad all the time too. Maybe it was just her nostrils that gave her this appearance. They were flared all the time. I was afraid of having these people as grandparents.

Ed and Chris had an adult daughter named Jamie. Jamie had two kids, Jenn and TJ. Jenn was the only girl in school my age. Her and I had become quick friends. TJ was her little brother. He was younger than my brother. Jenn had curly blonde hair, big blue eyes, long eyelashes, and a rosebud mouth. She was very skinny and chewed her fingernails. Those quirks about her enthralled me and I don’t know why. She and I would laugh all the time. I don’t remember our conversations, just the laughter. I was glad to have her as a cousin. Her mom Jamie was a single mom and she worked a lot. So Jenn felt responsibility for her brother. Jamie was a smoker and I know that bothered Jenn. She would talk to me about it. She didn’t talk to her mom about it anymore because her mom got mad when she did. Jenn did not talk about her Dad at all.

The church always seemed to be changing. In the spring, we were called to a meeting at Ed’s house (where the school was) for a big announcement. The whole church body was there. The church was buying a new building in Everett, which was another half hour away from Monroe. All the adults had given large portions of money to purchase this building. Also the church would be getting a new name. Why would the church change it’s name? I had told my friends the old name of the church. Now they wouldn’t be able to find me. Pastor M and family had been in Eastern Washington for a year starting another church, they were scheduled to come back in the Summer or Fall. Everyone seemed excited for this.

After the announcement of the church moving, Mom and Dad told us kids that our family would be moving. We were going to move into the house in Monroe where we currently went to school. We would live with Jamie, Jenn, and TJ while Ed and Chris lived in Eastern Washington, running the new church over there. I did not tell Mom and Dad this, but I was heartbroken. I loved my woods, so many secret worlds were out there that they didn’t know about. Our old stump that was a castle. The skinny tree that we would climb all the way to the top and swing back and forth. The path where we found the skull of an animal and never went back. The place where we found the baby ducks. So many more, endless worlds out there. Brother and I had so many toys and books. We would be sharing rooms at the new house with the new family. Dad said I could keep one bag of stuffed animals and just a few books. My stuffed animals covered my bed. Every morning I would arrange them from tallest to smallest and pick who would go with me that day. I rotated fairly so no one felt left out. I kept the ones that were the oldest and most sentimental. I kept the series of books that I had: Babysitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and American Girl. Jenn and I would talk quietly at school during break about living together. We didn’t want the other kids to hear in case this was something we would get in trouble for talking about. She was excited that I was bringing books. She didn’t have any books of her own. I was surprised and sad to hear this. I wanted to help her and take care of her. We would take care of each other, we promised.

I was also having feelings about living at the house where we had gone to school. I felt weird about it. In my mind I had always separated home, school, and church. Each had their own perimeters. The thought of moving in to that house broke down the boundaries. I had always felt safe at home with Mom and Dad. I worried that I would not be relaxed in a home with another family. What if I wanted to talk to Mom and Dad about something private?

School ended and moving began. It felt like we were endlessly moving things around. All the church families helped out with moving the church and school in to the new building. Then our family moved out of our house and into the Monroe house. Our dog Barney had disappeared the week before our move and we never saw him again. Our other dog Lady, and my cat Tabby made the move with us. I have cemented in my mind the last time I backed out the driveway with my family. Dad driving the truck. With my eyes wide, I took it all in. The tall trees, the large rocky yard. Maybe I would see Barney and he could come with us. I didn’t see him. I remember the sun shining through the trees and lighting up my childhood house. I did not want to leave it. I wanted to run back into my bedroom, lay on my bed covered with stuffed animals and read a book. I wanted to run into the woods until no one could find me and then my family couldn’t leave. I wanted to throw a big fit, scream and cry until Mom and Dad listened to me. Instead, I held it all inside. I squeezed my stuffed dog, Benson. I trusted, but I was scared. Goodbye magical world of trees. Goodbye rope swing. Goodbye secret paths. Goodbye bedroom. Goodbye my safe haven and protection. Goodbye.

~E

Early 1994

There seems to be a shift taking place. The happiness is fading. Mom and Dad seem tired. Could it be baby Sister? I wonder if I helped more. I could do that. I can cook and do dishes. They seem to be having trouble with getting the baby to sleep. I know Mom and Dad get frustrated when Sister cries in her crib sometimes.

One evening, Mom and Dad tell us that we are going down to the W pastor’s house. I feel a little nervous. When we get there, Mom and Dad tell brother and I to go play in the kids’ rooms while they talk to the pastor and wife in the living room. I am uncomfortable. The house is not very big. The boys are not wearing shirts. They are all running around in shorts. But they seem okay with that. I don’t know where to look. Even though my brother and I share a bath, I don’t feel comfortable seeing that much of those boys’ bodies. All the kids seem happy that we are visiting. We play for a little while, and I start to get bored. I walk out to the living room to see what the adults are doing. Maybe I can ask how long we are planning to stay. It is dark outside. I saw the W pastor sitting on the couch, facing away from my parents, who were sitting on the couch that was against the perpendicular wall. Pastor is watching TV, holding my sister. It is strange the way he is holding her. Just her face in his hands while she sits on his lap. She is being forced to look at him while he watches TV. She looks unhappy. He says he is breaking her will. She is a strong willed baby and she needs to be broken. Sister is trying to turn her head and look at me, but all she can do is look out the corner of her eye. I am told to go back and play. As I start to walk down the hall, I hear Sister start to cry. I stop. I want to hold her. To tell her it’s okay. I don’t. Something inside tells me to keep walking. My first betrayal of my own family member.

It feels like hours go by. I can still hear her crying in the living room. I make up excuses: I have to go to the bathroom, I need a drink of water, can we get a snack? Each time, I check to see she is not being hurt. She’s not, just held against her will. Mom looks very very sad. Dad has a blank look. Finally, we get to go home. Sister’s will must have broken. Yet, it does not feel like a happy event.

The next night, the oldest W boy comes over. Jesse. Brother and I have always liked him because he is funny and fun. He seems serious tonight. Jesse asks Brother and I to go in the sun room with him. The room that Dad made out of windows so we could look out into the woods. It is dark now so we can’t see out. Us kids are sitting on the couch that looks into the dining room, which is right next to the kitchen. Mom and Dad start talking in the kitchen. Jesse starts talking to us, telling us that we may see things that we are uncomfortable with, but that it will be okay. That Dad needs to break Mom’s will. I am holding Sister with Brother on my left. Voices are escalating. Jesse keeps talking, I am not hearing what he is saying. I am only listening to my parents now. As their voices become still louder, I am thinking of Brother. He hates yelling. Is he going to run and hide under his bed? He would probably get in trouble for that. The yelling does not sound like it is going to stop. I put my arm around Brother while Sister is still on my lap. A mug flies out of the kitchen and breaks against the dining room wall. Mom and Dad are really upset. Jesse is trying to distract us. I hear nothing now. It is silent. Yet I know they are still yelling. I can feel it pulsating through my body. Then I see Mom appear from around the corner. She was pushed. She’s on the ground. Body looking crippled up and crying. Did Dad push her? Why did he push her? So many questions going through my head. I can see Mom crying, and I know Dad is yelling at her, but I hear nothing. Nothing but my own heartbeat. I want to shelter Brother and Sister from this. They can’t see this. Dad comes from around the corner toward Mom. I can’t look. I close my eyes. Then it all goes black. I don’t remember Jesse leaving. I don’t remember going to bed. I remember waking up and Mom is making breakfast. Mom looks up, but not smiling. She has bruises on her arms and legs. I feel very sad. This is when the darkness begins. I know everything will get better. Isn’t that what Jesse said? For now, no one is talking. It is still silent.

Winter 1993

I have pneumonia, again. I am starting to recognize the signs- the pain in my side. It feels like someone is stabbing me with a knife. This is the fourth year in a row. By now, Mom and Dad know what to do: take me to the doctor before it gets too bad, force that terrible medicine down my throat, and pray it doesn’t get worse. Last year, the doctor was talking about putting me in the hospital. I know that scared Mom. The year before that, I had hallucinations from having a high fever. The year before that, I just remember laying in bed a lot and watching movies around the clock. I hate the way the pneumonia makes me feel: light-headed and sore all over. Mom has to turn me upside down and pound on my sides to keep the stuff in my lungs loose. The medicine is awful. Smells like cat pee and tastes slightly like lemons. But I know if I put up a fuss then Dad will yell at me. Mom used to sneak the medicine into my food, but I always spit it out. It also usually means I need to miss school. This usually makes me sad. This year, I want a break from the bullying.

I didn’t get to stay home from school this time. I got to ride to and from school because someone had to drive the W kids to school, and that was Mom. Once at the school, I got to lay down. I thought once I laid down, far away from everyone, I could just rest. The principal and pastor came and talked to me. I was incoherent from being sick, but I remember they were saying something about my illness. How my pneumonia was a sign that I was “stuffing my feelings”. I wasn’t being honest with them. I needed to tell them everything that was inside, before it killed me. I had no idea what they were talking about at the time. What am I hiding? I am ten years old. But now I realize it was a way for them to prey on my weakness, my sickness. It was another step in getting me away from trusting myself, my parents, my doctor, and trusting them. Excuse me, trusting “God”. Perhaps the feelings that I was stuffing inside was bitterness. The bitter seed was growing. I was sick with pneumonia and I couldn’t stay home and have my Mom take care of me. Because she had to drive nine other children to school.

Halfway through the sickness, I can make it. I feel strong enough to go to the bathroom. Mom is at the store getting more soup, Dad is home with me. It is Saturday. I go to the bathroom, and there is blood in my underwear. Oh my God, I am dying. The pneumonia is killing me this time. However, this is too embarrassing to tell Dad. He’s going to want to look “there” to see what happened. I don’t want that. Mom will be home in a few minutes. As soon as Mom got home, I told her. She exclaimed “Oh my God!” I said “I knew it, I knew I was dying” and start crying uncontrollably. Mom says, “You aren’t dying, this is normal.” I must be hallucinating again. How is this normal? Then she starts drawing me pictures that I don’t understand and talking about eggs and sperm. I have no clue what is going on. I just do what she tells me to do and go back to bed. Grateful that I am still alive.

*the doctor concluded that I am allergic to Christmas trees. We have used fake trees and no more pneumonia for me.

~E