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

 

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