I’ve been trying to erase myself
By trying to be someone else
They say there’s no hope for me
I guess this must be hell… – TFK, In My Room
“I have to go, my dad’s calling me again.” I head for the door of the campus library.
My friend rolls her wheelchair closer to me. “What’s wrong, honey?”
I fidget. I’d never told anyone. Not even a pastor or coworker.
Pause. Deep breath.
“I…I…My dad, sometimes, he gets really angry. He doesn’t hurt us, but if anyone in the family makes him mad, he takes it out on everybody.”
There. I’ve said it. My friend doesn’t shrink away. “Have you thought of talking to TESSA or Social Services?”
“But…won’t they take away my siblings?” I had trained myself to fear any outside interference, to protect my family and their reputation above all.
“No, honey. They don’t just come in and haul people off. They try to help.”
// // //
My friend pointed out the tip of the iceberg. I knew my ship was sinking.
From my earliest memories, my family’s unity wobbled on tiptoe, depending on careful balancing. My mom taught us all how to survive.
Don’t do anything to make Daddy angry. He’s the head of the household. God wants us to respect him.
Daddy’s displeasures were arbitrary. He didn’t like any of us girls wearing green, and he said we couldn’t have friends outside the family, even at church.
Until I was nearly seven when my sister was born, I was an isolated only child.
The smoldering, bitter 9 year old who bruised herself to ease her guilt became the submissive 13 year old with separation anxiety too severe to attend the only slumber party that met parental approval.
Weekly panic attacks before Sunday morning church were the norm through adolescence. And our cross-country moves between Texas and Colorado led to attending churches with more and more rules, insulating us from the wider world.
By 14, I wanted to die daily (not in the religious sense) for an entire year. I clenched my arms around myself, blocking out the incessant voices telling me to jump.
My mom read us an HSLDA email newsletter winter 2004 about the homeschooled kid about my age who shot and killed his entire family and then himself. My insides went cold, because part of me is him.
I found some relief when my dad allowed Awanas during my freshman year of high school. I memorized the book of Ephesians with the youth group, and was often allowed phone conversations with Kathleen, my first close friend, for our regular accountability Bible Buddies sessions.
Halfway through 10th grade we moved again. I filled the long, lonely hours between A Beka Academy DVD lessons and homework with lengthy prayer journal entries addressed to Jesus and reading all the Gospels over and over. And twenty page handwritten letters to pen pals and church friends back in Texas.
I went back to cutting senior year of high school. Only blood could wash away sin, right? Jesus’ blood didn’t seem to cover it.
Graduation isn’t enough when you’re decaying from within. I dreaded college.
For a year, my dad had told me dentistry was the best and only valid occupation. He ignored my arguments, even though I devoted hours to researching salaries for other jobs and interviewing people with established careers for a required 12th grade “Vocation Project.”
He said I’d never make it as a high school English teacher or a translator. He ridiculed my desires with off-hand comments.
“You won’t be able to buy clothes like this if you’re just an English teacher.”
“You know, that’s the sort of car an English teacher would drive.”
I graduated, took a gap year to rest for resistance. I worked full-time as a receptionist at my dad’s office, so every waking hour was micromanaged. I gained 20 pounds because my dad didn’t like leftovers in the fridge.
I asked my parents to send to me to Bob Jones or Pensacola Christian College, because I wanted independence but feared the secular world. My dad said I had to study at least two years locally and commute.
When I applied to college, I declared my major in English literature, after a huge fight with my parents in July 2009 when I nearly left home.
Two years in, I’d added a minor in pre-dentistry and I had to be at the house whenever I wasn’t in class. I worked for my dad whenever I wasn’t studying.
And I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.
I hoped maybe I’d be free to make my own choices after dental school, after 6 more years of…well. Hell.