Continued from Part One:
The envelope was thick and so I knew that it had to contain pictures. When I opened it, faded snapshots
fell out into my hands; childhood vacation pictures of me with a smile on my face that belied how I really felt. My siblings too wore similar smiles; one a psychotic looking "Runaway Bride-esque" type expression, totally vacant in the eyes and only resembling a true smile in that the lips curved up at the edges. Oldest sister, that one. Second sister; a smirk or worse, a glare that said that not only wasn't she happy, she wasn't going to pretend she was, screw you, thank you very much.
Then little me. So small, so eager to please. Like an eager puppy dog I just wanted someone to pat me on the head and tell me I was a good girl. Something my parents could not do.
Before I left the JW's I'd gone into therapy to sort through the emotions left behind by the toxic environment that I had lived in growing up. "No woman should have children with a man she hates." is something that my sister (the smirking/frowning one, who still speaks to me and has faded out years ago but is still hostage of the JW mindset in so many ways) just said to me on the phone this week. We are living proof that "staying together for the kids" is a horrible, horrible mistake when a couple just needs to call it quits.
I went a few years without speaking to my parents because they refused to believe that they had made any mistakes at all in raising us. I distanced myself, but then after my child was born I tried to smooth things over with varying degrees of success. I set boundaries, which worked better with my father than my mother; and they got to see my daughter when I was there, we began to heal some things. I grew up and realized that parents are not gods, they are fallible. We were doing 'okay'.
But no one wanted to know how bad my marriage was. They wanted me to live the lie, to pretend, to tow the congregational line and behave myself. When I thought suicide was my only way out of the emotionally abusive and physically threatening environment, I planned it knowing that my family would rather attend my funeral and hope for my resurrection than ever see me leave the cult and the marriage.
Then as I was ironing out the plans for my exit, someone who knew I was at the end of my rope said "Hey wait a minute, you think you deserve this?" and I realized maybe I could do better, could have better for myself and my child. This person whom I had only known online for quite awhile, told me that he, for one, would like the chance to show me that I deserved better despite what I was told. That if I did decide to get out, when it was over, he'd like to meet me.
With the emotional support of this friend and others, I did find the strength to dig myself out. It was not easy. My husband controlled me in every way including financially; I had no vehicle, I had bad health and a small child. But I did it. I managed to get out and about a year later, I was divorced, disfellowshipped, and yet, realizing that I was reborn.
When I announced that I was going to file for divorce as soon as I had saved enough money and stopped sleeping in the same bed with the man I was married to, he immediately rallied my family around him to try to coerce me into staying. They pulled all manner of emotional blackmail on me; cousins as close as sisters cried and begged me not to "abandon Jehovah and the family," the best friend I had had since I was a teen wrote to me and tried to tell me that leaving Jehovah was never the way to do anything, that if I divorced my daughter's father she would never believe that I could truly love her because I left her father. My elder uncle sent me a condescending (and misspelled, which for some reason annoyed the living hell out of me) letter (he had never written me in my life) saying that I was being "Succored into believing the lies of the world and that I shouldn't be fooled" followed by his 1-800 cell phone number and the instructions to "CALL ME!"
So distraught was I at the time that I wrote a letter and faxed it to the family telling them that any more such mail would be destroyed without being opened because if they were trying to kill me, they were on their way to succeeding. I realized that despite the fact my soon-to-be-ex called me a "stupid b**ch" at every turn and said I was a "horrible mother" that my child deserved to have me around so she could decide for herself.
The letters stopped.
Somehow, this one got through and I ended up keeping it, I can't remember why. Maybe I thought at the time that it was a perfect reminder of why I needed to get away from all of it; why I had to fight for my life and keep eyes forward.
When I left the cult, I still believed my days were numbered but at least I might live a little and be happy before the Big A came. It took almost two years after my disfellowshipping (which is another story in itself: basically my ex demanded to be able to remarry in the KH and I wasn't going to risk his propensity for violence by holding him up) for me to have the courage to type Jehovah's Witnesses into a search engine. That took me to Freeminds (love you dearly, Randy!) and H2O. That was the beginning of another life, too.
This is a letter from my mother. It's very telling that she addressed to "********'s Mother" and not my name. She wrote a poem, too wrenching and personal to post here, with almost every word underlined and capitalized; about how much she "loves" me. It made me sound more like a possession than a living being with a heart and needs of their own.
Then she wrote the following:
"Please reach down into your heart, honey, and give us another chance- these are just a few of hundreds of pictures, boxes full, a lot grandma and grandpa too. All those happy smiles must mean something. We were a blessed and beautiful family no matter what anyone says. I'll fight for what's mine as long as my heart continues to beat, it's the right of a mother and a dad too. Please do think about all of this your future days but if you really don't love us then I guess that's just the way it is, so sad for us tho. Don't throw us away, don't throw your beautiful and precious family away. The new Family Happiness book will definitely help you focus on your situation if you will please read it, better yet go to the book study with ***** and ******, your family no one will ever love you and ******* (child's name) as much as ******* (ex's name) does. Believe me, I know! I love you with all my heart- Mom"
Then at the bottom, there is a name label that was from one of my childhood school books, where the hell she dug that up I have no idea, with my given name on it (which I stopped going by years ago and she knows it). Dig, dig dig!
Somehow, typing the words out and seeing them here helps me to see just how selfish and manipulative she was: still is to this day.
It's been almost ten years since I got that letter from my mother. She is still nagging me, every time we happen to speak, to "return to Jehovah." though she has admitted to me at times that she has known for years I won't ever go back. She said "Your grandmother told me before she died that you weren't coming back, she knew it."
That letter couldn't have been wrong in more ways. She has, herself, even said to my face that my second husband (the friend who said he wanted to meet me after I was divorced? Yeah, he did, and yeah, we did, and yeah, he's still the best thing that ever happened to me and very literally saved my life.) treats me better than the first one ever did and is an amazing dad to my child. He is the one, of all the sons in law (JW or otherwise) that has been there every single time my parents needed help in the past decade. He has seen them through major health crisis and me also, and has done so with more love and devotion than any JW husband I have ever seen.
I'm still the black sheep/disgrace of the family (though if some of the folks in my family lurking in the closet ever come 'out' then I will be relegated to 'minor gossip' from 'major scandal'). My ex-succeeded in destroying my reputation, latching on to my family,though they have in years since distanced from him, and has even begun in his own way to fade from the JWs much to the chagrin it seems of his second wife.
As for my child, she thanked me again recently for doing what I did so we could be free. She doesn't, and if I have my way will never know how bad it really was. All she knows is that she's free to dream of her own future, the way she would create it for herself without the limitations of a cult based on the fantasies and unproven theories of an ancient tribal-based religious ideology. She has seen what JW beliefs have done to the family through clear eyes, and she wants no part of it.
Maybe it's finally sinking in to me that I am free from it too. I don't have to, don't deserve to be anchored to the past by unhappy mementos.
I think of what I would say to my daughter, as a mother, if she was in a marriage that was literally killing her. How I would be there for her any way I could, that I would remind her that her happiness was the thing that mattered to me. Things my mother still cannot do.
The garbage dumpster is a lot heavier today, but my heart is a lot lighter than it was 24 hours ago. I still have some more to go, a few things I have to do in doses so I don't get totally overwhelmed by the backlog of emotions. Several New World Translations and other articles of JW literature went into the trash, too, I thought they had all been thrown out long ago.
As for the letter from my mother, excuse me now, please, becaue I have to go tear it up. I won't be keeping it any longer. She was wrong, about me, about my choices, and about my future. She could not have been more wrong. Maybe that's why I was supposed to keep that letter until now, so that I could know now, looking back, just how right I was and how wrong they all were about what I needed.
I am so blessed to be where I am. With whom I am.
Sweaty, tired, sore, and overheated, my husband still showed his sense of humor last night amid the vaccume cleaner cord wound round our ankles, the trash bags and remnants of a past we are both more than ready for me to leave behind.
He pulled the farthest out of reach, longest-stored and dustiest box from beneath the foot of the stairs and looked at me quite seriously. I thought maybe he saw a big bug or worse...but he held up the box as if to his ear and looked the box, then at me as if to say "hear that?" I leaned a little closer, and he whispered.
"Thump Thump! Thump Thump!"
I burst out laughing. Davey Jones heart? No, that wasn't in the box. Neither was mine.
My heart is still alive in me, ready and meant to be used to give love and receive it, not to be locked away in boxes, bins, or old letters. As I stood there counting my blessings, I realized that after all these years, the man standing before me still holds the key to it, after all we've been through together.
A blessed and beautiful family, indeed.
While writing this, I listened to a song on a loop, and I share the words to it here with you in closing. I italicize the lines that especially speak to me. Perhaps they will to you too.
"Stranger than your sympathy
This is my apology
I'm killing myself from the inside out
And all my fears have pushed you out
I wished for things that I don't need
All I wanted
And what I chase won't set me free
All I wanted
And I get scared but I'm not crawling on my knees
Oh yeah everything's all wrong yeah
Everything's all wrong yeah
Where the hell did I think I was
Stranger than your sympathy
I take these things so I don't feel
I'm killing myself from the inside out
Now my head's been filled with doubt
It's hard to lead the life you choose
All I wanted
When all your luck's run out on you
All I wanted
You can't see when all your dreams are coming true
Oh yeah it's easy to forget yeah
You choke on the regrets yeah
Who the hell did I think I was
Stranger than your sympathy
All these thoughts you stole from me
I'm not sure where I belong
Nowhere's home and I'm all wrong
And I wasn't all the things
I tried to make believe I was
And I wouldn't be the one to kneel
Before the dreams I wanted
And all the talk and all the lies
Were all the empty things disguised as meYeah stranger than your sympathy, stranger than your sympathy"
No more "empty things disguised as me". Not anymore. No make believe.
Be real. Life is too short not to be.