“How are you dealing with the abuse?” A simple question. I do ‘okay’ on most days. I was taught in the cult that everything I was going through (abuse) would lead to ‘something’. This generic thing floating out in space waiting for me to get there. I just had to do the work. I had to let my will get broken, give myself fully over to “the Lord”. I would get ‘there’ someday, as long as I followed the path that God and the pastors laid out for me. The day I decided to get off the path was the day I let go of the ideals. But the mysterious ‘something’, what happened to it? Is it still out there? Oftentimes I feel like I’m still waiting for it. How will I know that I am there? I am sure that the ‘something’ was just a tool the pastors used. Since I was working toward a high reward ‘in the end’, then I was willing to bend personal boundaries (or maybe forced to bend personal boundaries, either way the boundaries were broached). It was surreal how the cult ended. Instantly it was almost as if it had never existed. I tell people about the cult, they ask the name. I say the name and no one has heard of it. It feels imaginary. We weren’t even a blip on the world’s radar, and yet many experiences left me and others shattered.
This week I have been reaching out to Pastor W. I’ve been telling him things like how much he hurt my family and myself. I saw him hurt his own children, wife, and countless members of the church. Even though he hurt me, I still wanted his approval, I wanted him to be proud of me. I felt nervous being around him a lot of the time only because I wanted him to be happy with me. For a while he was the only teacher at the school that was able to help me with math. There was a time when I thought I would be part of his family. I always wanted to be considered that way. It is such a strange thing to remember because of all the abuse we were going through, yet I still wanted to be close to him. In a way I am still seeking that approval because I never settled it in my mind.
When someone dies, their presence remains for some time after, then it seems they slowly fade. Pastor W died a few years ago, and I have not felt his presence fade in my mind. He is not close to me though. It is as if he is standing at a safe distance, not wanting to push, but he has something to say. Before he died, he wrote a letter to my parents. It seemed as if he wanted to apologize. There was a confession in the letter that he had no business consulting my parents in their marriage or anything else. He told them that he loved us kids; Brother, Sister, and I, as his own, and he always would. At the time of receiving the letter, we were all so bitter and angry that it almost seemed too late for forgiveness. Yet, I feel that he is still waiting for a reconciliation, but his time here was cut short by his cancer.
After the cult fell apart was when Pastor W was diagnosed. The doctors found a very large tumor on his kidney. At the time I thought “How could he have not known that something of that size was growing? That would have been painful.” But this week I have been remembering. He was in pain, and I would characterize it as chronic pain. Every day his back hurt. We all looked at him like a strong figure, but I remember incidents. Like watching the guys play basketball, and he would suddenly wince and double over in pain. Sometimes it was for a foul, but other times it seemed random. One of his boys would ask if he was okay, and he would seem to shake it off, but he was sweating profusely with a pained look on his face. As the years went on the pain seemed to worsen tremendously. Every time we went to their house he would spend hours in his easy chair with the laptop. Maybe that is why he liked movies so much, because it was comfortable for him to be reclined.
The pastors always prided themselves on never being sick. If anyone in leadership fell ill, it was because they were “under attack”. In other words, there was a spiritual battle going on; Satan was fighting ‘something’ (they really liked this word). They hardly went to the doctor, not even for checkups. If he found out that he had a disease like cancer, I can only imagine what it would do to their facade of never being sick because they held the power of God’s protection. All of the protection aside, I can only imagine what it must have been like to live in chronic pain. To have a tumor slowly growing inside you, especially on a main organ like a kidney. Kidneys filter waste from the bloodstream, among other things. I fear that I am making excuses, of which kind of upsets me. But my curious side wonders if part of his extreme nature didn’t have to do with the fact that he was in an extreme amount of pain and mental anguish, but didn’t want the cult or family members to see.
Pastor W performed the ceremony of marriage between Husband and myself. We had to do marriage counseling with his wife and him before getting married. We remember going to them, and then being confused because they would tell us things like we had to fight in order to be able to work through things. We didn’t want to fight with each other. So each week we would try our best, but the fighting didn’t work for us. He performed the ceremony anyway. In our wedding pictures he does look proud and happy. Mom joined the church when I was 7 so Pastor W had seen me grow up.
I think that Pastor W knows I will not accept any excuses. I know that he must have been in an extreme amount of pain for a long time. Many scenarios are inexcusable, many abuses unforgettable. I mourn for valuable years lost due to advice he gave my parents for which they followed. I wish so terribly that my extended family had been able to watch us kids grow instead of the pastors and cult members. I watched as my parents gave the church all the money they had; while the pastors drove brand new cars and went on two-three cruises a year. I watched as he beat his children when they became teenagers, and then adults, because he didn’t want their age to go to their head. I felt fear wash over my body anytime I heard his voice echo through the hall upon arrival at the school. I heard yelling through closed doors, and church floors, many times. He frightened me for a very long time.
What if he was the most frightened one of all?