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.


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