As a child, I lived in an environment of constant abuse and neglect; aggressively trained to be obedient to my parents without question. Our own home-brew of extremist Christianity was used to control me. I was taught to fear authorities or anyone from “the world” as dangerous, evil, and not to be trusted. If I disobeyed, I was whipped with a leather strap.
Rules were many, ever-changing and not to be questioned. I was to be modest, and a strict dress code was usually followed. Whatever I wore had to be approved. Blouses buttoned to the throat, no jeans, no shorts, coulottes were ok, skirts below the knee. I had to have long hair. We had nightly devotions, reading out loud from the bible, two chapters, every night, for years. Prayer before EVERY meal.
Absolutely no music but traditional church hymns (I’ll never forget the first time I had free access to a radio when I was 16 – I thought I was going to overdose on the top 40! I listened to the local pop station All. Night. Long.)
From the age of 13 years to nearly sixteen I was virtually isolated from the rest of my family and the world, withdrawn from the public school system without being homeschooled. It was my job to care for my disabled sister and the household while my parents worked a sawmill they owned at the time – or whatever else it was that they did. We moved around frequently, every year or so.
Social outings were limited to trips to town to go to the bank, highlighted by dumpster diving behind grocery stores.
From time to time my parents would attempt to join a church or be part of the world, and before you know it I’d find myself on some street corner holding scripture sign while my dad screamed and thumped his bible at his captive red-light parishioners, but before long we’d retreat deep into some woods in Arkansas.
Eventually, I began to insist that I wanted to go back to school. And there’s only so long you can hide a 16 year old girl in the woods without the rest of the world asking questions, so – they let me go.
My parents lied and said that we’d lost all of our records from moving so many times so as to keep from getting into trouble with the state. (They INTENDED on homeschooling me when they first pulled me out of school – they just never followed through.) Despite missing nearly three years of school, I managed to test back in and make up a few missed required classes.
Before graduating, my parents once again attempted to regain control of me – I would have none of it. I ran away from home, stealing the car that I had been allowed to use and driving cross-country in an attempt to finally get away from them once and for all. Navigating with a Rand-McNally Road Atlas in an era before GPS or even cellphones, I made it from the tiny town of Kingston, Arkansas to as far as Las Vegas before turning around.
On the return drive I was pulled over by a state trooper for not wearing my seat belt and ended up in a juvenile detention facility in Gallup, New Mexico. I was terrified and spent several days there with two other girls as I awaited my release to my parents.
As my day in court arrived, I was placed in shackles and handcuffs, put in a van and shuttled to the courthouse. A judge asked me in front of everyone – including my parents – “Why are you doing this to your parents?” and went on to ask as an afterthought if I was being abused. I of course said no. How could I say anything else. I was delivered back into the hands of my abusers.
But not for long. I was 17, and after returning home and a beating I told them that he would have to kill me to keep me. I was not staying. They didn’t try to keep me.
And so I was gone.
I returned to high school, negotiated with my teachers to allow me to make up for the time I had missed by coming back after school and running the track – and still managed to graduate with honors. I went on to college to finish nursing school.
I am now married with two beautiful children, and still in awe of this wonderful, beautiful world that I never new existed.
I am not broken – but a little bent. And that’s ok. The longer I live, the more I understand that there are a lot of us like that. 🙂