Headlights

It was during my 15th year of life when I started thinking about running away. To be honest, the thought never left my head until I actually did run when I was 25. Fear held me back. Although I knew I could go to Grandma’s house, I didn’t know how I could get Brother and Sister down there with me. I thought about just running down the street like a crazy person, but one of the W sisters had already done that, and the police brought her back. I knew one thing was I could never leave Brother and Sister behind.

With the return of Fall and Winter meant no more car wash, thus no more money. With what little I had made, it was impossible to save for a bus ticket, or even a meal, if I did escape. I still cleaned house with the woman from the church, but I didn’t get paid for vocational training. I wanted out. I was tired of the fear, the invasion, all the work. My parents were looking tired. I didn’t want to work, but I thought if I could work for money then I could help them pay the bills.

Our family had lived in a travel trailer on our property last summer, but we were back in the house now. There were three trailers on the property. Pastor M and his family had moved to Everett, so now Henry (the boy I chose not to date) and his family lived in their trailer. Samantha lived in the second trailer with her parents, and her older brother Mike had gotten married and lived with his new wife in the third trailer. I felt more relaxed without Pastor M watching us all the time, but he would randomly stop by to check on us, so nervousness was a constant. Brother and I had a lot of fun with Henry living on the property. He was my age, so he was an approved friend. Henry’s mom was a really great chef. She made the best scones, biscuits, and gravy. She was really crafty as well. I think I still have a pair of her knitted slippers in my closet. I liked spending time with Henry’s mom. She encouraged me to learn a craft, and experiment with cooking.

I started to feel safe at home. Mom and Dad were always at work and three nights a week was Institute (Bible study that they paid for). Samantha has started Institute as well, so I was the babysitter. I started to feel good about being home with Brother, Sister, and Henry. Three nights a week the property was quiet while the adults were gone and us kids spent time together.

Mom and Dad returned home from Institute one night, along with the rest of the adults. I would watch for headlights from my seat in the bay window. From that seat I had a view of the front of the property and the entrance to the driveway. In the daytime you could see across Highway 2 to the Snohomish valley. It was a beautiful view. I learned the shape of each family’s car headlights. First to arrive was always Mike and wife, next Samantha and her parents, third and fourth was either my parents or Henry’s. There was a pattern. I would get nervous after the sun went down and looked forward to parents coming home. After Mom and Dad come home, I would take Sister to our bedroom and tuck her in to her bed. Since I usually hadn’t changed yet, I would do that and get in bed.

One particular evening, I was undressing when I heard a thump on the window. It startled me. I put on my shirt and lifted the blinds. I saw Mike’s hand on my window, but his head was down. When he saw me open the blinds, he put both hands down and by the time I opened the window he was shushing me. I knew what he had done, and yet I was so confused. I said “what are you doing?” He kept shushing me and looking around, hoping no one could hear. Dad heard me opening the window and talking, so he came rushing in my bedroom. Dad said “What’s going on?” I thought ‘now is the moment when everything will fall apart, and it could be our way out.’ I told Dad exactly what Mike had been doing outside my window, and I didn’t think this was the first time. Dad was extremely mad. Samantha’s whole family was called over and they talked for a long time in the living room. There was a lot of yelling, and Dad wanted him to move off the property as soon as possible. I had always thought Mike was handsome, but not anymore with this type of violation. Dad made Mike apologize to me and Mike moved away with his wife. Dad never spoke to me about it again. I still saw Mike at church. I did not feel safe.

I started to feel paranoid. I felt that I was always being watched. I questioned every move and started acting as if I were being watched all the time. I would try to change my clothes without revealing anything too much, even if no one was home. When I got out of the shower, I would quickly cover with a towel and get dressed under the towel. I had just started to feel more relaxed at home because Dad had a lot of jobs that didn’t require Ted being in the barn. Now Mike was watching me. I so badly wanted to run away.

Winter break came and I was home a lot with Brother, Sister, and Henry. I avoided everyone else on the property. I was not sure what type of behavior I had been encouraging by being nice to people, so avoidance seemed reasonable. I couldn’t even look at Samantha, which was really difficult. I had to shut myself off from everyone for protection. It was just us four kids home one day when I saw a strange car come up the driveway. I was the one in charge so I went out to meet it. I didn’t think about putting shoes on because year-round we walked around barefoot when at home. My Uncle’s (Dad’s side) wife and his two daughters (my cousins) stepped out of the car. I was instantly nervous. I had not seen them in a long time. I had been lied to by the pastors saying that extended family didn’t really love me, and they would lie to me if they said they did. The pastors said our family was unhappy and selfish and they would try to take me from my parents. I think I tried to be polite with my Aunt and cousins, but I remember looking around for anyone in the trailers. I was remembering what happened when the babies were taken from my arms in the basement of the church. I was afraid this would happen again with Sister. My mind was racing, were they going to try to take us? Or just take Sister? Deep down, I did want them to take us, but I was overcome with fear. I knew that I would have to tell Mom and Dad that they had been here, and I knew they would be upset. Aunt said they had been in town for a movie. That sounds like such a special treat, I longed to spend time with them. Maybe Mom and Dad would let me do that one day. Aunt gave me her phone number and said that if I ever needed to talk, I should call her. My heart feels like it is pounding out of my chest for fear and longing. I long for an alternate life, and yet I fear being ripped away from my parents. How can I leave them when they are so weary and sad? I watch Aunt’s car drive away, and walk back in the house.

I want to cry, I want to break things. This is not the way life should be. We shouldn’t be stuck in a house all day and most nights while Mom and Dad work and go to Institute. We should be going to movies, and lunch. Our family hasn’t eaten out in 5 years. Sister has never been to a restaurant. This is not right, this is not life. This is survival with a broken heart.

~E

 

Advertisements

Shape defined

For so long I was labeled many things: sinner, follower, whore, stupid, ugly, arrogant, I lost my sense of self. I lost my shape. I let those words define me. I didn’t know who I was, and as soon as I did, life changed again. This is a short piece I have written tonight while thinking about shape:

When you hear the word “shape”, don’t think circles or squares. Think of yourself and how many friends have said “I’m so out of shape.”

What does this mean? We all feel it. It’s not just what you see. Distraught over losing emotional shape. Giving ourselves away through the years.

100%= jobs, kids, husband, pets, family, friends, the list goes on. Everyone gets all of me until I don’t recognize myself.

Then I think “who defines my shape?” It’s egotistical of me to think I am the one to define my shape, my soul?

I feel I have given it all away. This act hasn’t taken my shape, it’s changed my shape.  I am different than I was 10 years ago, doesn’t mean I am “out of shape”, it means I changed. Fixing is the instinct when faced with the unfamiliar.

Fixing would not be honoring those who have helped define my shape.

Opposition: shape strengthened

Hard work, sweat, blood, and tears: shape earned

Sweet whispers from Grammy “you can do it”: shape nurtured

Loss: shape faded

Mom’s homemade cooking: shape nourished

Loving embrace: shape warmed

All of this, and self-realization: shape defined.

I am grateful.

~E

Vocational Training

I am aware that my relationship with Charlie is different than “normal” teenage relationships. It just doesn’t feel right to me, I feel that he always holds me at arms length when people are watching, yet he is being sneaky with his intentions. A normal teenager might like being sneaky, if everything was consensual. I felt dishonest and that we were lying to everyone. I also knew that if anyone found out, that it would be my fault. I was afraid of public shame, public or private beatings, isolation, or the unknown. I longed to talk to someone about Charlie doing things to me that I didn’t want him to do, but I didn’t know who to trust. I told myself “he doesn’t do that much, it’s not a big deal, he’s not hurting me, so it must be okay.” I kept all the worries and fears inside, and held a strong front.

I am 15 and it is getting more difficult for the teachers to give me help with school work. The motto of our school is “Training Young Men and Women for the Work of Life”. This is how they get free labor for the church businesses. As soon as a student is old enough, they start “vocational training”. You will work for the car wash, painting business, cleaning business, and for a while my Dad had kids working for his remodeling business. The kids kept messing things up, so he couldn’t have them help anymore. I would have loved to help my Dad. It had been my dream to run a business with Dad. I was interested in architecture and design. I thought we could call it “Willsie’s Woodworking and Design”, since the current business was Willsie’s Woodworking. However, if you were a girl like myself, it was more appropriate to work in the preschool, cleaning business, or car wash. The teachers told me that since I was getting so far ahead in my schoolwork (I was almost finished with high school curriculum) that I would start vocational training. They assigned me to cleaning houses and washing cars.

For the cleaning business, I went once a week with a woman and we cleaned one house. I thought it was great to be out of school and out from under the microscope, but also kind of weird. I always had this feeling like I was being watched. So I would always just do what the woman in charge told me. I was afraid that I would mess something up in the home. I never was assigned the dusting, she was afraid I would break something. I got to clean the toilets, showers, and mop the hardwood floor in the entire downstairs. We didn’t have a mop, so I cleaned on my hands and knees. I didn’t have any idea of square footage then, but from memory I would say it was approximately 1200 square feet.  The woman we cleaned house for was always working from home in her office. I thought “Doesn’t she think that it’s weird that I am a kid cleaning her house on a school day and that I’m not in school?” I secretly wanted her to ask questions. I guess subconsciously I was looking for an escape. I wanted the people in charge of me to be forced to answer questions. I was afraid to ask questions, so I wished someone else would.

I worked more for the car wash than I did the cleaning business. There are many memories of the car wash, as I worked during the school year and for two summers. As long as it was nice outside we had a car wash. Renee (Ted’s girlfriend) is in charge of the car wash. The church was on a busy street corner, so it was a prime location for drivers to pull in and get their cars cleaned. Most of the time, they would put the teenage girls on the street corner to hold the sign and call to drivers. Since I was one of two teenage girls who worked there (Renee was the other one) I got a lot of cat calls, and that made me feel a little exposed. I had gotten in trouble not too long ago for wearing a tank top and trying to get attention. Now I am confused because the associate pastor’s wife told me to wear short shorts and tank tops so that I can draw attention for the car wash. I feel like I’m being tricked. That one day the pastors will see what I’m wearing and I’ll get in trouble again. I couldn’t then tell them that the associate pastor’s wife told me to wear it, because that would mean more trouble for me. Thankfully, the pastors saw what I was wearing and didn’t say anything about it, but I was nervous every time I saw them. Sometimes Charlie would stand and hold the sign with me. I liked an excuse to be alone with Charlie, in public, so we could actually talk. The other half of my time was spent washing the cars. I am not very tall so Renee always had me wash the wheels or clean the inside of cars. I once was vacuuming and found a rifle under a driver’s seat. That was the first time I had held a gun, and it was heavier than I had imagined. I just put it back and acted normal.

I wondered what the customers thought of the car wash. If you didn’t drive by every day, you might think we were doing a fundraiser. But when it goes on for years, did they think it was a business? And why only teenagers working? I guess it didn’t seem suspicious to them. At the end of the day, Renee would count the tip money. The teenagers working at the car wash got to split the tips, the fee for washing the cars went to the church. If she felt that you had a bad attitude that day, had missed a spot while washing, had left a streak in a window or not done a good job vacuuming for example, then your pay got docked. When you got docked, the money went to the church, not to the other teenagers. I felt that this was a balance. I understood that we were in training for work of life. I understood that if Renee didn’t dock our pay, then that showed that she wasn’t teaching us anything. I understood that she had to balance docking our pay so that she would not get in trouble and lose her position. Yet, I wanted to save money. I thought, “If I could get enough money to buy a bus ticket to grandma’s house.” But then I would also want to buy one for Brother and Sister. Then I’d have to get them out with me. An officer or someone might see us and we would get caught before making it to Grandma’s house. I never came up with an actual plan, I couldn’t save enough money because I kept getting docked. I would usually get docked for not being enthusiastic enough on the sign. They wanted me to kick my legs and yell at drivers as they drove by, and I wouldn’t do that.

During summer, Mom would drive Brother, Sister, and I to the church. Samantha would watch Sister while Mom went to work and Brother and I worked at the car wash. These days were long. We would get dropped off sometimes a few hours before the car wash started, and if it rained then there would be no car wash and we would be left to just hang out at the church until Mom got off work. One morning I was laying down on a bench inside, closing my eyes before car wash started. I heard Charlie and Brother come in the door. I wasn’t in a mood to deal with Charlie, so I acted like I was asleep. I heard Charlie say to Brother “she’s so beautiful” talking about me! I was shocked! I had never heard him say anything like that before. The entire length of our relationship, four years, he never did tell me that when I was conscious. I always wondered why. Wasn’t he supposed to love me and say things like that? This day, I continued the act of sleeping. I was very happy, but also very confused.

~E