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During my 15th year, Mom and Dad gave me a keyboard, and gave Brother a guitar. They knew that I dreamed of playing the piano, and that Brother loved the guitar. Mom and Dad listened to a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Santana, and Elton John while we were growing up, so we had an ear for that type of music. Our parents told Brother and I that we had to play for at least half an hour every day, and that would be the way we would “pay” them back for the instruments. This was a way to hold us accountable. I discovered that the keyboard was a great escape. I had a book with a cd, and taught myself how to play and read music. The time spent playing music was my time; I could let go of everything and focus on the music. Mom and Dad would listen to me play then offer praise and encouragement.  I could see the pride and joy in their eyes, and it made my heart burst with happiness. I discovered that I liked the blues. Every Sunday morning I would wake up early and listen to NPR because they played jazz and blues.

I discovered that I liked waking up early. The early morning before the sun came up became my time. Everything was quiet; everyone was sleeping. I would read, write, or draw and watch the sun come up over the walnut tree. This was my time to breathe and enjoy being. As soon as I heard the others stirring, I would get busy making breakfast and lunches for the day. I made sure to get myself, Brother, and Sister ready for school. I enjoyed these activities, for I was able to show love to my family. I was not supposed to be alone with Dad, or show much affection to him. But I could make him coffee and lunch; that was my love. I worried that if the Pastors found out about me doing all this in the morning, they might say that I was thinking I was better than Mom; that I was trying to do her job. Thank goodness they never found out, and I didn’t think I was better than Mom. I thought Mom looked tired, and I wanted to make her smile. Mom would say that she wasn’t good enough, which wasn’t true. I thought if I could do some things for her then she could see that she is good enough. She was worthy of love.

The morning memories seem magical, as if for a brief time we lived in another dimension. For a few hours we became a “normal” family: rushing around in the morning, eating, getting dressed, brushing our teeth. There was no talk of abuse, hurt, or pain. We were just being, together. There were arguments about “why didn’t you dry my pants?” and “where are my socks, why isn’t there ever any socks?” But that all seemed awesomely normal compared to the life of which we were subjected. We would rush out the door “bye, Dad, have a good day”, then we would meet Samantha and Renee by the minivan. Mom asked us what music we wanted to listen to, and Sister usually got her way, which was okay with us. She had good taste in music.

As we would get closer to the church I would feel more nervous and quiet. The peace I had found that morning would shrink, and the thoughts of what was waiting for me would overcome my mind. Many times I wondered what would happen if I just threw a big fit in front of the church instead of going in to the school. What if I screamed at Mom that I didn’t want to go in because I didn’t want Ted to grab me anymore? That I was tired of getting in trouble every day? That my legs feel tingly and my stomach hurts all the time. Would someone else hear this and try to help me? I had already told on Ted and I got in trouble, so the odds were that no one could help me. What if I just ran up the street? Would Mom chase me? I’m sure she would, but then she would feel worse about herself than she does now; because now she would have a runaway teenager. One day while in the office during a trouble session, I had told the Pastors that I wanted to run away. They told me that if I ran away, my Mom and Dad would get in trouble with the cops, and it would break up our family. I did not want this to happen. It would break my heart to hurt my parents that way. So I stayed, and obeyed. To fight the urge to run and scream, I would think of the sunrise, and wonder what color tomorrow’s would be.





September ’16

My depression has affected me stronger in the last two weeks than it has in a long time. That’s the thing about depression; you will start to feel better until you almost forget, then it hits you from behind like a train. Sometimes there is a trigger and sometimes there is not. Coping skills definitely help, but the train is still there, and it won’t be ignored. This time there was a trigger. Someone very close to me was sexually assaulted two weeks ago. When they started to tell me what happened, I just ran out of the room screaming. That was terrible of me. I should have been there for them when they were feeling traumatized. Instead I ran out of fear. I didn’t want to hear details, and now I feel guilty. I thought that when I got out of the cult I would be able to protect myself from abusers. I thought I could protect my friends and family. How could I have been so foolish? I am just one person against an entire culture of abusers. I’ve been physically ill most days since the event. I feel unmotivated, exhausted, distracted, I can’t catch a breath and my stomach hurts. I used to punch myself in the stomach each time after Ted took a hold of me, and I think that thinking about this most recent abuse is triggering that old pain. I feel weak, as if the day-to-day requires so much energy. My friend has a lawyer, detective, and counselor. She will most likely be okay. I am angry. I’m angry that I couldn’t protect her, I’m angry that this evil man found her. She didn’t deserve this, no one does. I’m jealous that she has a lawyer that will take her case when I never got the chance, and never will. That thought racks me with guilt. She deserves justice and this man deserves punishment. I hope they each get what they deserve.

It is interesting that September is suicide awareness month. Every day I see posts from a Facebook page about mental health; ways to cope with suicidal feelings and thoughts. These posts help me. By the age of 18 I was suicidal. I thought after I decided not to choose suicide I would never feel that way again. I haven’t felt like dying again until this week. I did not think about self-harm, I just felt like giving up. I had the thought of seeing no reason to live. I could see that scared Husband when I told him. I keep on living for my family. I keep on living for love, light, and kindness. I know I will get through this, I am not scared. I have just had a hopeless two weeks. I felt that the last 9 years I have done so much work to remove myself from that abuse. After this incident being so close to me, it all came back. I felt that I was right in the middle of it again. I saw no escape.

Tonight I did yoga for the first time in two weeks. Yoga helped a lot, but it wasn’t quite enough. I ran around the track, I just kept running until the tears were streaming down my face. I long to move forward, I will move forward. I have overcome so much, I will do it over and over again, because I am here.

I am not caged, I am free.





I could feel a shift in power after the arrests, and jail time was served by Pastor M. Both Pastor M, W, and their wives seemed more guarded, held back. They appear to have felt violated. Pastor W’s wife cried on more than one occasion when recalling the details of being booked into jail. Their kids are more serious too. The leadership seemed more vulnerable, and in a sick way, I kind of liked it. I thought “they must have had a small taste of how they treated others”. I would never say this to them, or anyone else. Pastor M and W both decided to take a step back and “let” the elders and associate pastors start running day to day operations. This would allow them to oversee everything without being deeply involved in the congregation’s lives. This is when the church became more complicated. The leaders came up with the idea of “counsel”. Each adult was assigned a counselor. They were to “check out” with the counsel certain decisions in their lives when they felt they were hearing from God. Some people asked about EVERYTHING. Seriously, like what they thought God wanted them to eat for lunch. There were certain things that counsel knew the answer to right away (yes, I think God wants you to have teriyaki for lunch), while other times they had to check out your request with the pastors (I think God wants me to go on vacation). I could see my parent’s frustration with this system. Sometimes it would take days to hear an answer, and sometimes it was not a “yes” or “no”, but a questioning of their intentions. Mom looked as if she were shrinking away from stress. I did what I could, and asked very little of my parents. This allowed them to ask less of their counsel. Dad just didn’t ask very much, because he didn’t care about counsel. I liked that about him, but could never say it for fear that my admiration would be twisted in the leaderships’ eyes.

I am becoming more resigned to this life. I know that when I babysit, Charlie will come by. He will want to do things to me, and I will resist, but he will eventually win. I don’t want to know, but have some curious thoughts,”what would happen if I stopped fighting?” I couldn’t, for I would truly hate myself for giving in to him. I know also that when I babysit, Ted will come down stairs to where I am. He will want me to go to the other room alone with him. I stay with the children when I hear his footsteps on the stairs. I won’t leave them. However, he finds me in other ways. He still works for Dad and comes to the house while the others are in the barn. I do my best to watch out the window. When I see him coming, I will rush out the front door, or busy myself elsewhere in the house. He still finds me; in dark hallways at the church, he hides in corners and waits. As much as I watch, I still fall victim. I must find a way to beat him at this game, he will not win.

Just like Mom, I am becoming more withdrawn. During social youth events, you will find me sitting by myself. I don’t make an effort, because I am tired of the “game”. It is the system of feeling happy and then getting in trouble. One night during a ping-pong tournament at the church, I am sitting alone, watching everyone play. It is not that I am sad, because I will laugh along. I am entertained. I notice the older girls at the other side of the room talking behind their hands and pointing at me. They keep smiling, yet I refuse to engage. The end of the night, I am helping to clean up the room and reassemble for school the next day. Renee says “Hey Erica, what size bra do you wear?” loud enough for everyone, including Charlie and Ted, to hear. “Oh great”, I think “THAT is what they were laughing about? My fucking bra size?” I refuse to show my embarrassment or shame in front of everyone. Besides, half the boys in this room have either looked in my window or felt down my shirt, so what do I care? I say, loud enough for everyone to hear “I’m a 34 C, why?” Renee says “Oh, I was just wondering.” I still don’t know why they would do that. I figured they were just in training to be the next leaders of the church. They will do excellent at public shaming.

I am finding music and writing as a solace. I will find any opportunity to be alone: walk in the woods, find a quiet spot, listen to my walk-man, and write. These opportunities are rare, but important. Mom and Dad have bought me some cds. My favorite right now is Smashing Pumpkins. The first song on the cd is the name of the album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I love the piano. I have dreams of playing freely one day. I have a strong memory of sitting on the log under the giant walnut tree, while Jenn swings on the rope swing. Time stood still while I listened to this song. Her golden hair flashed while the sunlight shone through the leaves. She smiled, and we all smiled. I miss her joy. She was the only one to which I could say anything, and she would understand. The rest of the cd is loud and “angry” as Dad calls it. The tone is perfect for my mood lately.

One of the ministries of the church is music outreach. Since I expressed an interest in music, I have been enrolled for music support during shows at retirement homes. My job is to help load and unload the church bus, set up the supports for the speakers, and set up Dad’s drum set. This is somewhat tedious and physical work, of which I enjoy. I had not gotten in trouble yet during a show, so I felt pretty good about myself. During this shift of power, Pastor M’s daughter was showing more of a leadership role in the music. She was a singer in the church band, and quite talented. While helping take down after a show one day, she asked to speak to me in the bus. I was instantly nervous. Upon entering, I see that Pastor W’s oldest daughter is with her. I don’t remember exactly what they said to me. Something along the lines of: I was being arrogant, everyone could see it, I wasn’t showing a good example of God to the retirement home… I started crying, I was so frustrated. I had thought that this job was the one thing I was good at, but I was obviously failing. I was pleading for them to help me find out what was wrong with me because I kept doing the wrong thing, and I couldn’t seem to stop. Just then they both looked out the window to see Pastor M approaching. They told me “Stop crying, go sit down in the back, and don’t talk to anyone. We would talk later”. We never did talk later, but I never forgot this. I saw the fear on their faces and I knew they were puppets. The new leaders were doing what it took to survive, and part of that was tearing down others to keep themselves held high.

I write because I am free, I am loved, I am strong.