There’s a new girl in school, and she is my age! I am so relieved. I am tired of constantly getting in trouble for being the only girl in school my age. “Erica, you need to ask the Lord why you are the only girl in school your age. There must be some sin you are hiding that God won’t allow you to have any friends.” or “Erica, you are untrustworthy and incapable of being a friend. You need to ask the Lord how you can be a friend.” The fact that there is a girl in school my age means that God must finally be able to trust me. I must remember to stay humble and right with God, otherwise He will take her away. This new girl is not really interested in being exclusive friends; she wants to be friends with the older girls as well. I like the older girls too, but if I hang around with them I end up getting in trouble for trying to act older than my age. As long as this new girl just hangs around me then I’m okay, but when she goes and hangs out with the older girls then I leave them to find something else to do.
Ted is old enough to have gotten a job. He works at McDonald’s with some of the older, graduated guys from the church. He has talked about partying, and the girls at the parties. I’m glad he has the job because he isn’t at school every day, which means less unwanted touching for me. His girlfriend is one of Pastor M’s daughters, and she doesn’t seem to care or notice when he flirts with other girls. He is paying a lot of attention to the new girl at school; all the boys are paying attention to the new girl. I don’t blame them. 30 kids in one school, there are only three teenage girls and all of them have “boyfriends”. Of course they are paying attention to her. I felt the need to warn her about Ted. After Jenn leaving because of something with him, and then of course my own experiences. But I didn’t. I didn’t know how to tell her without sounding like an idiot and of course I thought all the things that happened to me were my own fault.
I went to the new girls house a few times to hang out. It was really nice to spend time with someone that wasn’t so involved in the church. Her family had a nice house, in a nice quiet neighborhood in town. They had a big fluffy dog, and soft-cushioned couches. I felt like maybe we could start becoming close friends. But after a few months she was spending more and more time with the older kids in the school. It wasn’t long before I heard them referring to parties they had all attended during the weekend. I felt more and more left out and I slowly removed myself from that group because, even though I longed to fit in and do what they were doing, there was no way I could since we lived in the country, and I absolutely did not want to spend more time with Ted than I had to. The new girl stopped spending time with me, and she also seemed to be getting more and more sad.
She was only at our school for a few months before she confided in me. We were in the bathroom downstairs during break time, it was just her and I. She told me that she had been going to a lot of parties. She had been drinking and doing drugs, and was afraid of what her parents would say because they had previously sent her to a boarding school for doing those things. She was distraught about this but she was also distraught for another reason. She suspected she was pregnant, and didn’t know what to do. Before I could respond she ran out of the bathroom. I didn’t know what to do or who to tell. I did not want to get her in trouble. So I told no one. I had not had many friends, and I felt at a loss to help her in this situation. I was so frustrated at my lack of experience.
She didn’t come to school for a week because she was sick. I was afraid maybe she had told her parents everything and they were sending her away again. We were not close friends, but I was still very sad for her. Ted seemed worried. I wondered if the baby was his. He had lately been talking about sleeping with girls, and I was afraid he would ask/force me to do this with him. There is no way I would ever want to do that with him. My friend came back to school. She looked pale, weak, and very sad. It was as if she did not think she would make it through the day. Again in the bathroom I asked her if she was okay. She told me she was not okay. She had not told her parents anything that had been going on, but this would be her last day at school. She had gone to Planned Parenthood and found out that she had indeed been pregnant. She had an abortion and told no one. I was the only one she told. This was the last day I saw her.
I still told no one. I never told anyone. I went back to being the girl that was a terrible friend and whom God would not allow girls my age to come to school because of this reason. I gave into being this girl, it was who I believed I was. It seemed that every girl that came to this school left sad and had horrible experiences. They should all just stay away from me. I was happy to be alone as long as I didn’t have to watch others suffer.
It was after she left that I stopped caring about there not being any girls in school my age. I was starting to help out more in school with the younger kids. There were a few kids in school of which English was their second language. I had learned a little Spanish from the CD Rom course that the school provided. I did not know much, but I was able to help one of the boys learn to read English and help him through our curriculum. I enjoyed helping him because he was often frustrated, but I liked to make him laugh. When he was able to laugh then he was able to let down his guard and learn. He learned much in the one year that he and his siblings attended school. Maybe not as much as he would have learned in a public school with actual teachers (which is where they ended up going to the following year), but I was proud of the work we accomplished together.
At the age of 16 I had finished the entire high school curriculum available through our school. I wanted to continue on into the higher levels of curriculum (apparently the curriculum went up to the equivalent of the first two years of college). The problem was that none of the teachers could help me. Pastor W said he could help me with math, but he was hardly there and even when he was he seemed unable to figure out the answers. He would take my books and go back to the office for hours to work on the problems. I didn’t understand why, as he claimed to be highly educated. I entered the chemistry curriculum, and required a lot of help. One day I was called back to the office by an associate pastor and his wife. They asked me what I wanted to do with my life. Since I had already given up on the dream of becoming a veterinarian, I said that I didn’t know. The conversation went the way of that I most likely would not use chemistry or advanced math in my future, so I should stop worrying about the curriculum and start working. I had already done so well with helping the younger children that I should work in the preschool, and also start cleaning and painting apartments, and washing cars for the church businesses.
I could see how this made sense, and I was excited to work with the kids at the church. One of my dreams as a child had been to work with my Dad. He was a woodworker and very talented. Though I didn’t want to do exactly what he did, I wanted to work alongside him. I had dreams of becoming an architect or a designer. We could go into business together as woodworking and design. That day when I was asked what I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t tell them these dreams. They had already taken away the dream of being a veterinarian, and taken away my relationship with my Dad. I did not want to have this dream taken away as well, so I kept it inside where it was safe. If no one knew, then no one could take it away. I wanted to hold on to my dream.
I babysat a lot for the associate pastor and his wife; they lived downstairs at the church. The day after we had the meeting about my future careers, I was down in her kitchen while she was getting ready to leave and I was to watch their four boys. She told me that she thought I would make a great pediatrician since I was so good with children and I was very smart. The thought of this excited and confused me all at once. She seemed encouraging and offering belief in me and could see a bright future. Yet in the meeting with her husband the day before, she had agreed that it would be best not to pursue a career that required college education. I was beginning to see the oppression of the women in the church. She wanted to encourage me to follow dreams and be strong, yet not stand up for me in front of leaders.
I’m weighing my future, and it looks bleak. How long will my dreams sustain me?