Story of my Life: Part the First

Posted: April 18, 2008 in Drama, Headspace, Journal, Memory Lane

So, I’m going to have to approach this in a linear fashion. Those of you who are familiar with me in more than a passing sense know that this is the only way I can tell a story. I’m having to fight myself to write it here, in a series of entries, rather than write it all out in Word or some such thing so I can go back, add, delete, multiply, divide, and have a perfectly sensible and finished product that says everything I want it to say and doesn’t say everything I don’t want it to say.

That, my friends, is my struggle and my gift to you. So if I repeat things that you long-time readers already know, please be tolerant for the new friends we have acquired on this modest little website. The story of my abusive naive horrible fucked-up (let’s call it what it is, shall we?) relationship with my ex has tentacles in other stories. Repercussions. Waves upon waves. A butterfly flapping its wings in Taiwan a week ago gives me a bad hair day this morning. You know, that kind of thing.

I was born a poor black child in 1974 to a modest little family in a modest little home in Gray, Maine. Three years later, my parents divorced and my father was never heard from again. Five years after that my mother passed away, and I became my grandmother’s responsibility. I moved from a town that was rural to most people’s standards, to a town that was rural to Maine standards. That, my friends, is rural. With the exception of a close friend and neighbor who passed away when he (and I) was eleven, I had infrequent “sleep overs” with friends from school, my dog, my cat, and my grandmother for company.

I’ve always been an introspective person, and I believe my solitary childhood was responsible for that, at least in part. Note that I say that my childhood was solitary, but it wasn’t lonely. I never really fit in at school – I had no patience for adolescent and teenage drama. But I had acres and acres of land to explore with my Golden Retriever by my side.  Forests, fields, and streams to wander. Bright days filled with sunlight and fragrant breezes; silent dark nights with skies full of stars. I had a healthy imagination, a passion for the outdoors and nature, and a loving if stern grandmother to steer me in the right direction.

However, not every direction she turned me in was the right one for me. My grandmother was a Jehovah’s Witness, and while this is a very LONG topic for another very LONG entry, suffice it to say that it was my becoming a Witness as well that shaped the path my life took, for years to come. My entire family (well, what there is of it – my sister and my two uncles) were violently opposed to me becoming a Witness. But I did so, at about eleven, because it was such a big part of my Grandmother’s life, and I wanted to make her happy. AND I wanted the elders of her congregation to stop harassing her about “bringing me to The Truth”. They felt it was her duty to get me to become a Witness, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the tactics they used on a little old woman and a little girl.

Like I said, another epic for another day.

So. I went to meetings on a very, VERY regular basis. Two hours on Sunday, two hours on Tuesday, one hour on Thursday, and “going from door to door” on Saturdays (which I HATED with the red hot fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. Can you imagine being twelve years old and talking to strangers about religion on a Saturday morning, accosting them unsolicited at their homes when they’re still in their jammies? Oh, good grief.) (Oh, and remind me to share with you a funny story about the couple of times that Witnesses have come to the door when Calvin and I were home.) We were taught to be very insular in our associations with people of “The World” (non-Witnesses). Only make friends within the congregation. Only trust those within the congregation (and what a joke that turned out to be).

(Sorry about all the parenthetical comments.)

Guess who else was part of our congregation? My ex’s family – mother, father, sister, and my ex. When I first joined the congregation I recall seeing my ex as a periphery walk-on in the grand orchestration of the congregational meetings. His father was an Elder (there are twelve of them to each congregation), his sister was planning on going into the missionary service after high school… basically, they were a very influential family amid the politics of the congregation. I had no interest at all in any of this – I was horse-crazy at the time, not boy-crazy. So I kept my head down, studied what they told me to study, believed what they told me to believe, and desperately tried to fit in with these people, while at the same time my inner sense of spirituality was diminishing, getting severely suppressed. They called it teenage rebellion that needed to be crushed, I realize now it was my inner self KNOWING that not only was the religion wrong for me, the religion itself was very, VERY Not Right.

All of this has relevance, trust me.

A few years went by, during which my ex was sent by his family to live with a paternal aunt residing in Maryland. Not until many years later (long after our wedding) did I learn that he was sent away because he (at sixteen or seventeen) was stalking a fifteen year old girl and disregarding the restraining order her family had on him. He said they were in love. He said her parents forced them apart. But when, on the WITNESS STAND (mind you), she said she was terrified of him and just wanted him to leave her alone, he was convinced her parents made her say that. He showed up at her house in the middle of the night, tapping on her window. He followed her to her high school. He kept it up and kept it up until, in a desperate bid to keep him out of jail, my ex’s parents sent him away.

Would that he had stayed away.

Eventually, he returned home. I had gone from being a horse-crazy teen to, at fifteen, dipping my toes in the boy and marriage craziness effecting all the females of my age in the congregation. You see, Witness teens are not allowed to date. No one is allowed to date without the “intent” to marry. An unmarried female and an unmarried male cannot be alone together, for any length of time, for any reason. Any expressions of interest have to be pretty much made in front of the entire congregation (before and after meetings, during conventions, during the “get-togethers” that were occasionally planned for congregation members), and dates have to be accompanied by a chaperon.  To violate any of these rules is to risk being publicly shunned by the entire congregation by being announced as “bad association”, or even “disfellowshipped”, which is to be kicked out of the congregation (and ALL Witness congregations) altogether.  And they DO make these announcements over the podium during Sunday service.  I’ve seen it happen, and in the end of it all, it happened to me.

On top of this nonsense, teenage girls are taught from the very beginning that they are “less than”. The man as husband is the spiritual adviser, head of the household, and superior to the woman in the eyes of God. The woman as wife is to be her husband’s “helpmeet”, and is to defer to and obey her husband in all things. ALL THINGS. Remember that, because it has bearing on the rest of the story.

It was in this poisonous environment (and trust me, I’ve only described the merest sliver of the whole horrific pie) that I developed during the formative years of my adolescence. It was all I was exposed to, all I was taught, all that was demonstrated to me. Even my former mother-in-law, during the times I would approach her in tears over what her son, my husband, WAS and HAD DONE, would only say versions of, “It’s God’s will,” and, “It’s our duty as the wife.”

It was to effect my self-esteem, my perception of myself, my mental health, and my relationships for the rest of my life.

To be continued…

  1. Jeanette says:

    Long ago when I was a stay at home mom I did a brief little bible study with a couple of Jehovas Witneses. It was for me only some other adults to talk to. You are so right, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that that religion is very, very not right! Looking forward to reading your story.

  2. Jayne says:

    I know some of your story from reading your journal but this is rather gruesomely fascinating. I’ve only had one brush with the Jehovahs but they reduced me to a gibbering wreck at an extremely vulnerable time in my life. I’m already shocked to hear your description of their attitude towards women and what frankly sounds like brain washing. We should all hear more about this and then we’d all know to give them a wide berth.

  3. Rai says:

    WOW. I remember reading bits and pieces of your relationship with the ex, but I had no idea how much being a JW was involved.

  4. Jean says:

    Reading this (it’s kind of like window peeping)will be my guilty pleasure!

  5. Taoist Biker says:

    Wow. This is all new to me. My own trials with the Southern Baptist Church were definitely harsh and ultimately a forge of my later character, but I’ve got nothing on spending adolescence in a rural JW Kingdom Hall. And with a psycho to boot. Holy crap!

    Oh, and I totally laughed at the “poor black child” reference, and I’m wondering if our being the same age and from seriously rural parts of the country are part of the intangible reasons that I was first drawn to your writing.

  6. Laura says:

    Jeanette – I hate making a sweeping statement and saying that ALL Witnesses are bad – there are some good, Christian people amongst the bad. But in general, overall, the whole thing is poisonous.

    Jayne – It’s uncanny how they come around right when you’re vulnerable. They actually encouraged Witnesses to “visit” people they’d heard of that had had a death in the family, or illness, or some tragedy that would render them vulnerable to the “message”.

    Rai – Well, now ya know! It’s not exactly a lighthearted subject, so I’m reluctant to touch it. It’s good for me, though.

    Jean – Good triumphs over evil!

    TB – All in all, I believe in faith but I do NOT believe in religion. And the atmosphere bred psychos, though I’m pretty sure my ex would have been crazy in any religion. I’m glad you got the reference, though if you (or anybody) hadn’t, you’d have to have been living under a rock. And you’re right, our similar backgrounds is probably one of the reasons we enjoy one another’s writing! Us boondock goonies got a special sense of humor.

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