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

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