The Kid Strikes Back
Well, I seem to have kicked up a small ruckus. My personal history seems to have interested a few, and my rebuke directed at many of the adult joiners of the church appears to have irritated many more. Not my intent. Not what I came to this site seeking. I was actually trying to track down an old acquaintance with whom I lost contact when I left the church.
When I initially read some of the responses to my original post though, I considered replying to them in detail, but I've decided against it, other than expressing my appreciation to Sharon for her comments and intellectual honesty (had I seen even a smattering of similar sentiments on the site, I would never have felt the need to sharpen my spurs). What I would like to do instead though, is tell you a little bit about the person I was looking for and what I've discovered over the past two weeks. Perhaps those who have suggested that I was a kid who *didn't* get away will find it illustrative of what that truly means.
Truth is, the 'acquaintance' I was looking for was actually the first girl I ever fell in love with. Back then, she was fifteen going on sixteen, very attractive, sweet-natured, kind, spunky, and, by some miracle, very much in love with me. I was fourteen going on forty and I was absolutely crazy about her. We lived many, many miles apart and met initially only because we both attended Worldwide Church of God. We were both taken with the other the first time we met and from then on we met at regular church services, bible studies, and at every special event where we could conspire to end up together. With these meetings, stolen telephone calls, letters delivered with the assistance of a variety of accomplices, and the rare occasions when our families got together for 'fellowship', we managed to carry on an illicit romance for the better part of a year.
I suppose many of you will assume that this was a 'crush' or a juvenile romance. I won't argue it. Still, even from the perspective of much older eyes, I believe we had an unusually strong bond and tend to suspect that given the slightest chance we would likely have lived out our adult lives together, or, at the very least, begun them together. Of course, it didn't work out that way. I was desperate to get out of the church. She was desperate to get out of her father's house. He was divorced, physically and emotionally abusive, and the fact the church didn't allow him to re-marry probably contributed to his beginning to show signs of taking a type of interest in his daughter, which, if the reports are to be believed, would have made HWA proud.
When I left the church, and subsequently left home and went on the road, I refused to try to take her with me, even though she wanted to come. At the time, I thought it was the practical, and responsible, thing to do; although my parents were willing to allow me to empancipated and go, her father would not, and I knew 'kidnapping' would provide a handy legal pretext for having us picked up wherever we went. More importantly, I knew it was going to be rough taking care of myself and I just couldn't bring myself to ask her to put up with some of the conditions I anticipated (and did in fact experience). Despite a fair amount of misery and all the days of going hungry, the nights spent under bridges or in abandoned buildings, and the constant need to keep moving on before attracting too much attention from do-gooders or social service types, I now wonder if I made the wrong decision. I've only ever seen her once since then...
I had a pretty rough go initially and it was some time before I was able to find out what was happening with her. I was unable to contact her directly, but eventually heard from my parents that she was expected to get married shortly. When I heard that, I stopped trying to contact her, so I didn't hear the whole story till many years later.
Apparently, a number of months after I left, she took up with one of the church 'bachelors', a man several years her senior whom she presumed might stand up to her increasingly abusive father, or a least make him more cautious, given that the man was a member of a family prominent in the local church. Instead, the guy 'date-raped' her, got her pregnant, and then refused to have anything more to do with her. Naturally, the compassionate congregation, sided with the young man against the 'carnal', unbaptized young slut who had 'enticed' him. However, the father couldn't stand the idea of having an unwed teenage mother in his house and began making noise about lawsuits and criminal charges. In the end, he and young man's family brokered a deal, which ended up having her and her rapist get married.
All I knew at this time was that she had gotten married. Not knowing the circumstances, and even though I was the one who had left her behind, I felt confused and even somewhat betrayed, and I stopped trying to contact her.
She was married at fifteen and had her first child at sixteen. Over the couple years, she had two more children, and a constant heaping helping of scorn from the local congregation which never failed to remind her how 'lucky' she was to have been accepted and married by a fine baptized church member.
When I was twenty, I returned home for the first time. My parents had said they wanted to reconcile, and I was fresh out of military training and had a few days leave available before being assigned to my first post. My parents and I did manage to mend a few fences, at least to some extent, and the last evening home, I even accompanied them to the rented hall where the church held bible study. I didn't attend the study, naturally, but I did meet and talk briefly with a handful of my old friends and acquaintances as they drove up. A few of them snubbed me or just ignored me, but most couldn't wait to meet me and find out what had happened to the kid they used to know. In fact, I was just out of one of the military's most rigorous training programs, was extremely fit physically, and generally had a 'in-charge' attitude that made me quite an unusual attraction at that particular get-together.
When everyone went inside for services, I stayed outside in the cool night air, smoking cigarettes and feeling rather pleased with myself. I couldn't help thinking that the intervening years had changed me from someone who was once intimidated by this crowd to someone who didn't give a fig for their opinions and who, if called to, could probably whip the lot of them single-handed. Nothing they had done or could do would ever effect me again, I thought. I was wrong.
When I heard a voice call my name, I turned around and found myself facing an incredibly gorgeous but sad-faced young woman with three small children clutching her dress. Her smile was as sweet as I remembered, but she seemed a lot more hesitant and unsure of herself. Her words came out in a broken rush. She had seen me in the parking lot on the way in. Her husband was inside. She had snuck out on the pretext of taking the children to the 'mother's room'. She said she only had a little time to talk before her absence was discovered. She told me what had happened to her in the intervening years. She said that she had accepted the marriage because she was bullied, didn't feel that, at 15, she had any real choices, and because, if nothing else, it put her beyond her father's reach. She said she loved her children, hated her husband, said he smacked her around occasionally but not as badly as her father had, said she hated the church, didn't have any job skills, had dropped out of school in the 9th grade to care for her children, felt robbed of any chance to get an education, didn't know what she should do, felt she had to do something, had to change her life.
I was stunned, overwhelmed. I didn't know what to think, let alone what to say. I asked her to think very carefully about what she truly wanted, not what she thought her options were limited to, then let me know, and I would support her in her decision and help her, however I could, whatever she decided on. I made it clear that I still had strong feelings for her. I also made it clear that I was willing to accept any role she needed me to play. As I couldn't easily contact her at her house, we quickly agreed that if she wanted me to be involved in her plans, she could write to me in care of my parents as they could drop ship any mail to me as soon as I knew where I was going to be posted and had let them know. As she turned to hurry back inside, there were tears in her eyes and her last words to me were a simple: "it could have been so different... maybe it still can be."
The next day, I returned to my training station and was re-assigned to a position based in Europe, where for the next three years I was kept very busy, and largely secluded, shuttling around between various NATO countries, playing the shell game with nuclear warheads and mobile missile systems during the height of the cold war.
I never heard from her.
When I got out of my European post and got back to the U.S., I went to see her where I believed she was living then. Married or not, a possible future together or not, I wanted to find out what was going on and at least be certain that she was doing well and was in charge of her life. I wasn't going to make any assumptions the second time around. What I found instead was that a few months previously, without an advance word to anyone, she had left the church and, shortly thereafter, left her husband and her three children and had disappeared, leaving behind only a note addressed to her kids saying that she loved them but that she was going and wouldn't be back.
A couple of people speculated to me that she had left the area in the company of a biker group called the 'Gypsy Jokers'. Occasionally, in the years that followed, a few people let me know that they had received postcards from her; containing only a brief line or two, they were mailed from various locations all over North America. I made a number of attempts over the years to track them down and find her, but could never catch up to her. She had become a nomad, in much the same way I had years before.
A few years later, I married and settled down. Eventually, the small picture of her I had carried in my wallet for twenty-odd years faded to near invisibility and I finally gave up on ever finding her, and concentrated instead on trying to provide a life for my family more loving and secure than the one I personally had known growing up.
However, not long ago, on his deathbed, my father confessed to me that, while I was in the military, he and my mother had received a number of letters addressed to me. They were from her, and she had asked that they be forwarded to me. Instead, my parents 'consulted' with the local minister and together they decided that the right course of action was to destroy the letters. Apparently, she had tried to contact me several times during those years. I never knew. I still don't know what she had to say.
Well, when I learned this, I renewed my search and eventually ended up at this website, and many others, hoping to find some mention of her.
In the couple of weeks' additional research I've done since my original post, I found and confronted her ex-husband who led me to one of her now-adult children who, in turn, was able to provide me enough information to help me discover what had happened and where she is now.
Apparently while she escaped her early life, she never escaped the classic cycle of low self-esteem and relationships with abusive men that it engendered. As a result, after may years of such relationships, one of the most inherently compassionate people I ever known is currently incarcerated in a Florida State penitentiary, doing a five year sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; specifically, going after a boyfriend with a knife after he hit her one too many times.
I haven't been able to contact her personally yet. I've never had much to do with the criminal justice system and I am finding out that it can take some work to make contact with a inmate who is not a relative. All things considered, I don't even really know if I should contact her. Probably, I will though I suspect I owe it to her.
When I found the online prison record, complete with a photograph of her hardened and once lovely face, I knew I couldn't just turn away from her regardless of what may have happened in our lives since I last knew her. The prison record that is available to the public is very brief. It gives a brief snyopsis of charges and conviction. It also details a number of scars she's picked up over the years. Under the same category of 'Identifying Marks' is listed one other item; a small tattoo on her right hip my name, and a fading heart.
-To those folks who have posted here objecting to my rebuke of the sheep as well as the shepards. All I will say is that, in my heart, this story too, likely more than my own, should be laid, in part, to your accounts.
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