Stand beside me

Now that Jenn is gone, I have no friends. There are the older girls, to whom I am not to befriend, for I may become arrogant and think that I am older. There are the younger girls, to whom I am not to befriend, while the reasons aren’t clear. Recess is lonely, lunch is lonely, I am awkward and don’t know what to do with myself. I hang out with brother as much as I can, but he hangs out with the boys and if I hang out with them too much then I get in trouble for wanting attention from boys. So I sit and read books.

I think about Jenn. I worry about her being a new school. Public school. The pastors and teachers are always warning us about public school, and how dangerous it is. I worry about what will happen to her, I wish I could call her. I also worry about what happened between her and Ted. Did Ted do to her what he has been doing to me? Or worse? What was she trying to tell me that day? That something really bad had happened between her and Ted? I was afraid something bad was going to happen to me. But what? She had said that she had done something bad, but I don’t believe that. Jenn may have annoyed me sometimes, but she was my friend, and I don’t believe that she would do anything so bad as to feel traumatized. Now I’m alone and she is still out there somewhere, feeling awful.

When Jenn and her family left the cult, it began a new lesson for me. I needed to “find out from the Lord why there were no girls in school my age.” I put that in quotes because those were the exact words said to me for four years until I graduated. It is burned into my brain. The pastors called me into the office shortly after she left. They had noticed that I was the only girl my age. I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong for things to be this way. They suggested to me that it was because I wanted all the attention, especially from the boys. I felt the knots in my stomach in protest, but I was starting to believe them. I was disgusted with myself. They told me that when I made it right with God, then He would allow another girl my age to come to school.

Our school consists of ¬†approximately 35 students, grades K-12. 30% of the school are boys ages 12-18. I am 14 and my body is maturing. The boys are paying attention to this and I feel very uncomfortable, but I also DO like the attention. I don’t know how to stop liking attention. As long as they are paying attention to me, and I’m liking it, then God won’t allow another girl in school. I find myself becoming very frustrated. I cannot control my emotions. The teenage girls are also paying attention to my obvious physical maturity. Just to get a rise out of me, they will ask me my bra size, or if I’ve started my period yet. I feel like they are letting me know that they notice me too. I don’t want to be a threat, and I feel like the girls are watching my every move. I feel shame, embarrassment, and I feel exposed. I have no friend to stand beside me.

I wish that Charlie would stand up for me, but he stands with the crowd, laughing at their jokes and mocking. He shows no affection or even friendliness. Weren’t we supposed to be building our friendship? Maybe I am not sure of what friendship consists. And yet, when we are alone…. he tells me to lighten up, that he thinks I am beautiful and hot. To be told I am hot makes me feel so grown up. I must not tell anyone though, for that is my lesson. I keep his words a secret.

Once every couple of years, a girl around my age would arrive. They would last less than a year, then move on to another school. I would feel a flash of hope, only to have it ripped away. I graduated in a class of three, of which I was the only girl. I graduated feeling that I never had learned why I was the only girl in school my age. Now I realize that it didn’t matter. The situation was a way for the pastors and principals to control my mind and emotions.

Now I have come to that realization, I can reflect on what was taught to me for years. I can reject their teachings. I recognize the steps in life, and that my feelings as a teenage girl were normal and okay. I don’t wish to go back and change things. I am grateful for clarity now, and now I tell my reflection that her feelings are valid.

Be kind to one another, and especially yourself.

~E

Teardrops from a friend

Jenn is my best friend, despite my growing jealousy of her. While I am constantly feeling held back, I see her being pushed forward. I cannot help but constantly compare our situations. I got in so much trouble last year when I turned 13. She and I had a plan to get our ears pierced together when she turned 13. I am 14 now and she just turned 13. She got her ears pierced without me as Mom and Dad think it will go to my head. I have just chosen my boyfriend, and the pastors have also called her in and she chose her boyfriend. She chose David. David is Charlie’s younger brother. Her and I are excited to be sisters someday. She is physical with David, they hold hands and when we are hanging out she will jump on his back. I long for this type of comfortable relationship.

Charlie refuses to hold my hand when I reach out. I understand that he is more shy than his brothers. I do not know if he likes me or feels stuck with me. Upon the suggestion of Pastor W (Charlie’s dad) we start writing letters to each other. It gives me a ticklish feeling of excitement to get a letter from him. I love writing him back. I became very cautious when I found out that Charlie was sharing my letters with his parents. I was so embarrassed. There was never inappropriate content in the letters, but I was still embarrassed. All four of us, Jenn, David, Charlie, and I, worked for the car wash at the church. I would get there early since Mom had to drop me off on her way to work. While laying with my eyes closed one day, I heard Charlie say “she is so beautiful” to his brother about me. This would be the only compliment that I would hear from him out of our four year relationship.

Jenn lives at the church, and I have been spending a lot of time with her there. We would go for walks sometimes, but mostly just hang out and talk. One day we were in her bedroom and she got really quiet. I asked her what was wrong. She wouldn’t tell me, but she looked like she was going to cry. She refused to look in my eyes. I asked her if everything was okay with her and David. She shook her head, no. Jenn told me that she thought Renee, Ted’s girlfriend, was mad at her. She said she was in trouble. I asked her why but she would only say that she had done something she shouldn’t have. She looked so sad. I tried a bit more to get information out of her, but she wouldn’t say. I had a pit in my stomach that something had happened with Ted. Just then, one of the five women that she shared a bedroom with came home and we couldn’t talk about it anymore. I learned the next day that Jenn’s mom decided to move them out of the church, and she took Jenn and her brother out of the school. I didn’t get to say goodbye, and the last memory of my friend is her feeling shame and regret.

A few months later, Jenn’s mom reached out to my mom. She told Mom that some awful things had happened to Jenn. She wanted Mom to take us kids out of the cult. She warned of danger. Mom saw the church as a safe haven and refuge from the rest of the “world”. This is how the pastor’s described the “church”. I am grateful for Jenn’s mom for reaching out. I am also grateful for my life and experiences that I can share with you now.

I can now view my suffering and experiences as a beautiful work of art, full of shadows and light, depth and breadth.

~E