On Blasey Ford, Innocence, Evidence and #MeToo

Since September 13th, when Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she possessed a letter alleging Judge Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to rape a woman while they were both in high school, I have been riveted to the news, to each breaking item, and to the investigation that followed.

Initially, I believed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wholeheartedly.

By Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, in one of the fastest-paced news cycles in my memory, my opinion shifted from one firmly on Blasey Ford’s side, to one that questioned whether she ever believed Kavanaugh had been her assailant at all.

How did I get here? It’s been a wild ride.

When I first read Dianne Feinstein’s letter, I was flippant: “Oh, an anonymous accuser. Guess we’ll have to wait and see if her name is leaked.” (Yeah, I saw that coming. I’ve been in politics for too long.) In my view, if the author was not willing to put her name to her allegations, her allegations were worth the paper on which they were written.

The next day, the Washington Post published its interview with Ford and because she provided her name and the account she offered seemed plausible, my initial reaction was to believe her. I read the article to my boyfriend and said something along the lines of “Damn it… I guess Kavanaugh assaulted someone in high school, but the victim’s only just reporting it. Guess we should have appointed Barrett [Amy, a conservative woman that had also been on Trump’s shortlist of potential nominees prior to his selection of Kavanaugh] instead. That’s not gonna be good for mid-terms.”

I took her seriously her because I recognize that women accusing men of sexual assault are not frequently lying. I believed her because she put her name to the allegation, which meant severe blowback if her claims were false. I believed her because she named other classmates at the party– people that I immediately recognized could likely be tracked down for confirmation of her claim. I believed she was unlikely to make up a party with other known people in attendance, knowing the media would immediately find and question them. I believed her because she is a professional, with a life and career other than chasing the media spotlight (read: Michael Avenatti) and with only her testimony and Kavanaugh’s denial on which to base my decision, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I took her seriously her because I know what it’s like to have your abuse dismissed and had I been in her shoes, I would have wanted to be believed (or at least had my allegations treated seriously).

Trust but verify. We must take women’s accusations seriously and be unafraid to follow the evidence where it leads.

Immediately, the Senate Judiciary Committee invited Ford to speak to them– publicly or privately– and Kavanaugh called for a hearing to clear his name. Quickly, Ford offered the names of every person she alleged had attended the party: Leland Keyser, PJ Smyth, and Mark Judge.

In short order, these individuals provided sworn statements (under threat of perjury) to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that they did not remember the party or having known Christine Ford. Christine Ford’s friend (who she later claimed was the person with whom she had arrived at the party) Leland Keyser likewise claimed to not recall having ever mett Brett Kavanaugh nor attended any party with him at any point in time. That was the first moment I hesitated, though I didn’t immediately think too much of it. I did make a mental note to remember that Leland Keyser didn’t remember having met Kavanaugh, because that ruled out her being with Ford at any party, at any time, where Kavanaugh was present. It seemed far more likely she’d remember a guy she hung out with sometimes than whether he was at a particular party three+ decades earlier.

Then Kavanugh scrounged up a calendar from 1982 (who does that?!?!) that showed he was out of town most weekends (cue another shift in Blasey Ford’s claim, from, “The party probably happened on a weekend,” to “It also could have happened on a weekday.”) and that he listed the parties he attended and the friends that were there. Christine Ford’s party wasn’t listed.

This was influential to me for a couple of reasons:
1. Why dig up a calendar that old unless you’re 100% certain it will contribute to your innocence? This was the moment I became convinced he was never blackout drunk in high school, regardless of how drunk he was. Occam’s Razor: If he was guilty of attempting to rape Ford, there was no reason to find and present the calendar. No one expects a person to keep a calendar for decades or to keep such a detailed calendar. No one would have ever questioned whether he retained a calendar for 36 years. It was 36 years ago– there’s no way he remembered whether he had inscribed a particular party on his calendar. The only reason it made sense to search for and present the calendar was if he remembered every moment of high school and thus knew for a fact that he never partied with Dr. Ford and thus no such party would be listed.

2. The calendar showed other parties and listed the friends in attendance, but did not include this party in particular. Nowhere in Blasey Ford’s claim did she seem to allege the attempted rape had been premeditated, nor did anything about the alleged crime suggest that. Ergo, the party should have been recorded in his calendar if he’d attended.

At this point, I became convinced that her assailant was not Kavanaugh. I believed that she believed he did it, but the calendar convinced me she was mistaken.

On Thursday, before/during/after her testimony,  more changed. In rapid succession:

  • Sen. Feinstein released her entire letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the FBI wherein she finally turned over Dr. Ford’s note, along with the letter itself.
    Dr. Ford had been on vacation in Delaware when she wrote the letter and had flown home, in contradiction to claims that she was too traumatized and afraid to fly. In her questioning, Rachel Mitchell quotes media reports referencing Dr. Ford’s alleged fear of flying and Dr. Ford says that it’s true, friends helped her “get up the gumption” to fly. She then follows it by noting that she actually flies to Delaware every year. We found out that she also spent a year flying around Hawaii for her PhD studies.
  • Dr. Ford changed her testimony regarding the number of people at the party. The therapist’s notes reviewed by the Washington Post had said there were four attackers involved in Dr. Ford’s assault. Dr. Ford told them that was a mistake in transcription; there had been four boys in total at the party and two involved in her assault. In her letter to Sen. Feinstein, she stated that there were four people present at the party other than her. She testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that a female friend had also attended: Leland Ingham (now Keyser).  On the stand, she stuck with that claim: Four boys + Leland, who denies remembering the party or having met Kavanaugh.
  • Dr. Ford changed her story about the layout of the home where the party took place. She testified in her letter to Feinstein that the home had a “short “stairwell that cut up from the living room. To the Washington Post, she described leaving the family room to head upstairs and running through the living room on her way out the door. On the stand, she called it a “narrow” stairwell and described the living room/family room area as being small and combined. This change came after the Senate Judiciary Committee published a schedule detail indicating its investigators had visited the two party homes from that era in the geographic area she specified and concluded that the floorplans did not match her description. 
  • Dr. Ford changed the breadth of the geographic area in which the assault could have taken place. In her letter to Sen. Feinstein, she claimed the party took place in a “suburban Maryland area home.” To the Washington Post, she said the party took place in “Montgomery County, not far from the Country Club.” On the stand, she updated that to say that the party may have taken place anywhere within a 20-minute drive radius from the country club and her home.
  • The PaloAlto Post dug up Dr. Ford’s remodel permit that allowed her to add doors to her home and found it was filed in 2008. They thought this would defend her: A friend told the WSJ that she needed a second door out of her bedroom because of the assault and it was true! She’d added a door to her bedroom. Problem: On the stand, Dr. Ford testified that the door she’d added because of claustrophobia was a front door. However, the second front door was added to allow for an ADU (Additional Dwelling Unit) that can be and often has been sealed from the main residence. That door does not create an additional egress for Ford; it is the primary egress and mail-receiving door for tenants. This contradicted her testimony that she and her husband were fighting over the irrational addition of this unnecessary second front door in 2012, leading them to a marriage counselor where she disclosed the attempted rape.
  • Dr. Ford lived in a 500 sq. ft. apartment in Palo Alto prior to her marriage to her husband and purchase of their home.  An ex-boyfriend of eight years sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a letter noting specific years that he and Dr. Ford had been friends, then dated, then had a long-distance relationship. He noted in the letter that she had lived in a tiny apartment with just one door for a portion of their relationship without ever complaining about claustrophobia. This also contradicted her testimony that claustrophobia arose as a result of her attempted rape in high school.
  • Dr. Ford helped her best friend (Monica McLean) prepare for a polygraph she took prior to beginning work for the FBI. Though Monica McLean’s lawyer disputed this after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Dr. Ford has not disputed it (despite her lawyers disputing other claims made in sworn statements) and neither Ford or McLean have disputed any other portion of his letter. I thus think that it is safe to surmise that McLean believes it unlikely the Senate will pursue perjury charges against her and that Dr. Ford’s ex-boyfriend is telling the truth. This contradicted Dr. Ford’s testimony under oath that she had “never” provided anyone with tips or recommendations for taking a polygraph and belies the claim that she was extremely stressed by the polygraph, didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t even sure what to call the sensor attached her for the polygraph.
  • Dr. Ford did not name Kavanaugh in the polygraph statement on which her polygraph results were released, nor did she specify any time more specific than the “80’s.” Her lawyers will not release the series of questions she was asked in response to her interview or whether she passed them.
  • Dr. Ford’s attempted rape was alleged to have taken place across a variety of contradicting time frames. In Dr. Ford’s text to the Washington Post, she said it had happened in the “mid-80’s.” In her 2013 therapy notes reviewed by the Washington Post, she alleged to have been assaulted in her “late teens.” In her letter to Sen. Feinstein, she said the assault happened in the “summer of 1982 when she was 15.” In her polygraph statement, she crossed out “early” leaving only the “80’s”. Her lawyers refuse to release her therapy notes so others can independently verify what they may have said.
  • Finally, Dr. Ford testified that she was driven home from the party but cannot explain who drove her, how someone knew to pick her up, or why her best friend at the party didn’t think it was weird she left early, didn’t question how she got home, and never followed up to ensure Dr. Ford was okay. So she left a party early, unexpectedly, by her own account under oath, did not stop to gather her things or call anyone, and was magically able to immediately get in a car with someone and drive home. Her best friend didn’t follow up with a phone call to ask where she went. No one asked why she left the party early or whether she got home safely. No one has come forward to say they drove her. No one noticed she seemed uncomfortable.

Here’s where it gets conspiratorial. Remember Monica McLean, the FBI agent she helped with a polygraph?

  • McLean was the “beach friend” that encouraged Dr. Ford to send her letter to Senator Feinstein.
  • Dr. Ford was visiting McLean’s current city (McLean is now retired) in Delaware when she wrote the letter.
  • McLean texted Leland Keyser, after she submitted her written statement, pressuring her to “clarify her story,” according to the Wall Street Journal. 
  • McLean signed the letter of Holton Arms students supporting Ford.
  • McLean was with Ford during her testimony on Thursday.
  • When McLean was in the FBI, she worked as a PIO for the Southern District of New York, sometimes in cooperation with Preet Bharara, a district attorney fired by President Donald Trump, who was previously Senior Counsel for Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer.
  • Dr. Ford’s delay (alleged to be due to an inability to fly) of the hearing between her and Kavanaugh allowed just enough time for Deborah Ramirez to finish deliberating whether to come forward and for Avenatti to find a trash human willing to lie about horrible things.  I will not be naming Avenatti’s client because she clearly sought only the spotlight. I will not be granting her that.

Like me, Senator Chuck Grassley would now like to know: How much of Dr. Ford’s timeline was conspiracy?

If she really disclosed the assault because of a dispute over doors, why was that door permitted four years before her disclosure? Why was it not set up to alleviate her trauma?

Why did she lie about having helped someone with a polygraph? If she really told her therapist she was assaulted at 15 in 1982, why won’t she release her therapist’s notes?

If she really passed the polygraph, why won’t her lawyers release the questions she was asked in relation to her interview and her answers to them?

Even to a completely rational mind, this all sounds very strange and deceptive.

That is how I, a survivor of child abuse and a woman whose abuse was dismissed because I wasn’t old enough to be believed, came to disbelieve another woman. I believe she suffered abuse at the hands of men and I believe she’s telling a true story, but her shifting timeline and changing details have led me to believe that someone besides Brett Kavanaugh was her attacker.

Many women will not have corroborating evidence because their abuse takes place in secret and they are too ashamed to confide in anyone, too afraid of being blamed. This must change. 

Dear friends, have courage! Share your experiences! Report evil men, if not for your own sake, for the sake of other women that may be abused by them in the future.

Treat every allegation seriously (nearly every woman has a story) but please, be courageous enough to follow where the evidence leads. 

Advertisements

The Worst Memory

I know I haven’t written about my escape in a while… I will finish my outline eventually, but to be honest, I’ve had other things on my mind.

There’s been one memory in particular that continually haunts me and at last week’s therapy session, I tried processing it using EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). I was extremely impressed by the depth of detail I remembered from a decades-old experience.

Still, it left me unsettled, for I remembered this incident nearly in its entirety but cannot remember a small bit in the middle.  When I was younger than ten but old enough that both of my brothers could play ball (I’m guessing I was around 7, Christian was 5, and Joseph 3) and we still lived in Port Orchard, Mom kicked Christian out.

We were playing in the livingroom because it was raining outside and decided to throw a rubber ball between us. Mom came in and told us not to throw the ball in the house because we would break something. I remember we disobeyed and threw the ball inside anyway and one of us broke a vase on a top shelf.

I remember Mom walking in from the kitchen at the sound of the crash, holding a towel.
And then… nothing.

I remember understanding that she was calling the police on Christian. I remember her saying something about his behavior having been so atrocious that the police would arrest him so that no one else would have to deal with such a naughty child. I don’t remember exact words or her face or volume for this. I only remember my impressions and understanding of what she said.

Then, vividly, I remember her making a phone call and wrapping myself around Mom’s legs, screaming wildly, sobbing, trying to pull the phone from her hand, throwing a tantrum the likes of which I hadn’t done since toddlerhood. I desperately tried to interrupt her phone call, to make enough racket that the police would be unable to hear where we lived or take her report. It wasn’t working. It didn’t work. She announced the police would be at our house soon to pick Christian up.

~7-year-old me became the responsible one, as had already become my role. I retrieved a small green suitcase that I used for my baby dolls, and sobbing, I packed it with items I thought he’d need. I helped him put on a raincoat because it was pouring outside and cried my eyes out as Mom sent him out to the end of the driveway to await the arrival of the police.

Inside the house, I remember sobbing and screaming uncontrollably, begging Mom to call the police back and tell them not to take my brother away. Finally, fed up, she dragged me into the office that still doubled as Joseph’s bedroom (he wasn’t on a junior day-bed yet), slammed the door behind me and pinned me to the back of the door by my shoulders. She got in my face and told me that she hadn’t really called the police– she’d just called Dad– and she’d let Christian come back.

More than a decade later, the whole family was sitting in a restaurant when Christian asked if we remembered, “that time Mom called the police on me and kicked me out of the house?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “Though you mean when she pretended to call the police; she just called Dad?” Christian’s face told me that he had not known that.

“You didn’t know that??? Mom, you never told him??” I had assumed she’d told him when he was allowed back inside.

Tonight, I asked my brother about that day. I asked how long he remembered being stuck outside. He remembered eating the neighbor’s figs because he was hungry. He remembered that our dad wasn’t home that night. He remembered because he spent the night on the porch, staring up at the moon as he tried to sleep. Outside. In the rain. In the cold. At around 5 years old.

Edit: I remembered Christian having been let in eventually, but not when or how long it was. After talking to my youngest brother about it, (who also remembers this event and remembers Christian being let in the same day) I think he was probably left outside until bedtime (around 8pm). Late enough to see the moon and feel tired and need to sleep. /edit

—–

We were both under ten years old. My therapist pointed out that I was already taking on the role of responsible adult. I was terrorized that day, terrified I would never see my little brother again. Horrified that Mom would send him away. Terrified that he would get hurt in jail. That I would have to live without my brother (we were still so young that he hadn’t even graduated to tiny terror!). Still, I was there, in the midst of my fear, setting my fear aside to try to stop what was happening and when I couldn’t prevent it, try to protect and help Christian the only ways I still could.

Welcome to my childhood. This was my life.

Therapy

Let’s talk.

I know, I’ve been silent for a good while. Life is completely amazing right now, I’ve been super busy, and the times I’ve felt inspired to write have not matched with when I have had time to write.

I’m just going to delve into this topic headfirst.

I’ve been attending therapy weekly (more or less) since the middle of June. I started attending when Mom hit me up for lunch with Dad to celebrate Fathers’ Day and I realized that:
a) I didn’t have any idea what response was most likely to result in positive change, and
b) None of my friends were qualified to answer that question for me.

I had three days to figure it out, so I spent half a day Googling therapists on Bainbridge (S/o to my new hometown for having a thousand professional therapists and counselors with decades of experience and dozens of specialties within a couple mile radius of my house.) and calling/e-mailing the ones specializing in my family’s type of dysfunction and begging them to schedule an emergency therapy session on a weeknight after 6pm or a Saturday.  I finally hit paydirt and found someone that could do a Saturday session, had 25 years of experience and thought he could help me. I explained that this would be an emergency session because I wanted specific advice for this lunch, but that if we clicked, I would want to schedule regular meetings to “unfuck my brain.”

He proved to offer good advice that helped me decide how to proceed with lunch and we clicked well enough (and his dog was adorable) that I decided to keep going.

Current takeaways:
1. I have C-PTSD (Childhood Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It’s not that bad (anymore)– I’m not regularly experiencing panic and anxiety attacks just living my life– but enough that there are memories I couldn’t talk about without crying and events in my life that cause panic and shouldn’t.

2. Blogging is good for my recovery. Though writing is hard (I relive the memories), when writing is complete, I stop reliving the memory and disassociate so that I can observe the post through a critical observer’s perspective. I only do this when other people can read it. When I read from an observer perspective, I am better able to process the good, bad, and ugly of the experience separately and use it to alter how I live life moving forward.  In doing that, I move the memory from RAM (where the attached emotions easily cause panic attacks) to long-term storage (where I have to actually concentrate to bring back the emotion associated with it) in my brain.

3. My boundaries are reasonable and for my protection, not for control over my parents. When your childhood was traumatic and you recognize its effects on your adult life, then set boundaries accordingly, it’s hard to be certain that your boundaries are reasonable. People that know your relationship with your parents is strained encourage you to un-strain it, insisting that boundaries mean you couldn’t possibly have forgiven or that your parents couldn’t possibly have done anything so bad as to require your estrangement. You question yourself: Is it okay not stay with my parents on a vacation to see family? What’s the worst that can happen if you let them in again? Am I overreacting?

It’s been extremely helpful to share my boundaries with a professional along with my experiences and have him tell me, “Yes, that sounds completely reasonable,” and beyond that, to ask me whether I am giving too much credit to my parents and holding out too much hope for change.

Journey to Independence | VI

When we left off, my family had been seeing a couple at our church for counseling and they were actually helping.  My brothers were maturing; my dad had cut back on drinking and started hearing our concerns again.

Unfortunately, this was not to last. The couple counseling my family had crossed an invisible line in asking my mom to change. Within a very short time, my parents quietly informed my brothers and me that we would not be counseling that couple anymore– they didn’t understand what my mom was going through as a Navy wife– and were “undermining her authority as a parent.” Thereafter, my parents began meeting with yet another church couple, this time an associate pastor, who was former military, and his wife.

By this point, I was a full-time Running Start student with classes every day and used the excuse of studying to stay away from home as much as possible. Dad deployed in August of that year for Afghanistan but left for briefing a month earlier in July. Without Dad around to provide balance, Mom rapidly lost any semblance of sanity she’d previously maintained.

Have you ever seen a herd-bound horse react to being separated from its herd? The horse panics, screaming and running the border of whatever pen they are in, tosses their head and froths in particularly severe cases, unable to cope with even temporary line-of-sight separation from its herd. That was our home life without Dad.

We all found excuses to stay away from home as much as possible. I took refuge at the barn, feeding breakfast at 9:30 and staying until dark– 9:30pm during those long, summer days. My brothers took refuge at friends’ houses, spending the night as frequently as allowed. Sometimes even that was unpredictable. Writing this paragraph, my memory flashed back to a time Christian was at a friend’s home and had planned in advance to spend the night, but late– 9:30 or 10 at night– Mom “forgot” that she had given him permission to stay and texted him, demanding he come home immediately or be grounded.

I had all of Mom’s computer passwords so that I could print things out for school. Since she used the same passwords for everything, I did what I felt was necessary for self-preservation and took to reading her e-mails and Facebook messages on weekdays while she was still at work. I didn’t want to invade her privacy and I didn’t feel good about doing it but that was the only way I knew to be prepared for the ball of emotion that would walk in the door late at night. As the oldest and self-appointed protector of my brothers, I was responsible for managing Mom’s emotions and thus I had to know what to expect before they hit me. We never knew whether she was going to be in an okay mood, or primed to explode because the kitchen sink wasn’t clean enough (that actually happened).

Mom’s e-mails and Facebook messages revealed a rollercoaster of emotions from day-to-day. I read virtual epochs accusing my dad of abandoning her, of not loving her, of not supporting her, of cheating on her, and of not being attracted to her anymore– all while he was in Afghanistan, sometimes outside the wire. 24 hours later, I’d be reading sexts (trust me, you DO NOT EVER want to read your parents’ sexts) and at the same time, she’d be sending e-mails to the wife of the Navy couple they had been meeting with, claiming that my dad was an alcoholic and abusing her. Once convinced to stay with dad, she flipped to the other extreme.

Suddenly, she was SUPER NAVY WIFE. She did what she should have done earlier and found a hobby; she started working out to lose weight and surprise Dad when he got home. Unfortunately, the hobby wasn’t distracting enough to keep her sane. She forbade my brothers and me from talking to Dad without her present. We had to cc her on any e-mail we sent him, we couldn’t Facebook message him, and we were only allowed to videochat with him on her computer with her sitting front and center. She ran the house with an iron fist. Challenging her was out of the question because she’d threatened our deployed dad with divorce unless he backed her up (read: went along with literally anything she said).  They were “a team,” something that is generally good parenting but in this case was unquestioningly abusing us. She held sexy videochats with Dad in the open family room while we were getting ready to leave in the morning in spite of requests to keep it in her bedroom. (There are things I cannot unsee.) She repeatedly lied about Christian’s behavior to elicit Dad’s sympathy, drove a wedge in Dad’s relationship with us, and we were helpless to change it.

In conclusion, the year Dad deployed was nightmarish. It wasn’t nightmarish because we missed him or because he was in a war zone in frequent danger. It was nightmarish because Mom lost her mind and three kids were left to manage her meltdown by themselves as our friends and church family looked the other way.

 

Journey to Independence: V

When we left off, my mom had returned to blaming her favorite scapegoat, since our new counselors didn’t accept that my brothers and I were to blame for her awful temper, extreme discipline, and lies.

That moment was the beginning of the end of counseling for me. There was good news and bad news!

Good News: Our new counselors didn’t buy the bullshit. This guy I met at 14 and dated for a year and a half couldn’t possibly be responsible for coolness that began when Mom kicked my six-year-old brother out of the house for breaking a vase. Mom screaming at us, daily telling us to “stop bitching,” screaming at my younger brother that he had the devil inside him– none of that was caused by my ex-boyfriend and none of that would have been corrected by courtship.

Finally, someone asked my mom to change her behavior. The wife of the couple told Mom that it sounded like she needed to take responsibility for some of the distance between us. Mom defended herself by saying that she had tried to do mother-daughter things with me and I refused! I wouldn’t go to chick flick movies, I didn’t want to get my hair or nails done, and I wasn’t interested in going shopping with her, so obviously, I hated her.

I need to stop here and explain some things about myself since I haven’t written about my hobbies or my personality. 

  • I am fairly tomboyish now and was even more strongly then. I have always hated chick flicks. I do not watch movies or television shows with highly predictable outcomes that are one giant cliche. I love the outdoors. 
  • I have my hair trimmed around once a year. I have paid to have my hair styled exactly once. I have had four manicures in my life and only one of them was before I moved out on my own. I keep my nails short because I ride horses and exercise regularly and any manicure is ruined within days.
  • I shop like a guy: I make a list, go in knowing exactly what I want, and leave immediately if I can’t find it. My mom meanders aimlessly up and down every aisle. 

My mom begged me to do stereotypically girly things with her because my mom expected me to be like her. She preferred to believe that I hated her over accepting that we had very different personalities.

The wife of the counseling pair gently nudged Mom, “Those sound like things that you would enjoy doing, but is there anything you have offered to do that she would also enjoy?”

Mom retorted, “I’ve spent my entire life doing things for her– she should want to give up a day now and then to do stuff with her mom!”

Bad News: Thus ended our foray into family counseling. I wasn’t required to meet privately to address my relationship with Mom again and a few weeks later, our parents informed us that we were no longer attending counseling with that couple: “They didn’t understand the things [Mom] went through as a Navy wife.”

My dad was a reservist at the time and wasn’t activated until a month after this break with the second counselor pair. Until his activation, Dad was gone one weekend per month and two full weeks a year.  He had not been active duty for 13 years and had not been deployed for longer than that.  It was a transparent excuse, but we didn’t have time to dwell on it because it was all downhill from there.

Journey to Independence: IV

I returned from the youth pastor’s house disheartened and certain of nothing except that my home life was a mess from which I needed to escape with my brothers. Mom lied about the incidents I had cited to the youth pastor and his wife, so I thus reasoned, clearly, what was happening was wrong.

I thought about running away– straight up living on the streets– but ruled that out as dumb pretty quickly. I thought about calling CPS, but I was afraid my brothers and I would be separated and my brothers wouldn’t know how to grow their faith to thrive into adulthood.  I knew I could go to college and get away, but that would mean abandoning my brothers and protecting them was the most important thing to me. At 15, I didn’t know how to protect them without being physically present.

Unsure of what to do next, I approached my middle brother and discussed my talk with the youth pastor and his wife, Mom’s lies, and my conviction that something was very wrong in our family.  I didn’t know what we would do with the collection of information, but I knew that more written testimony was a good idea. I convinced my brother to join me in writing down problems as they occurred. Our youngest brother was still too young to really understand what was happening or assist.

Roughly six months later, our parents shared that they had started attending weekly counseling with a couple from church and invited my brothers and me to accompany them. Mom and Dad even told us that we could share things in confidence with this couple and it wouldn’t be passed along to them. I had my doubts, but I was young and naive then and still hoped my family life would change if only someone else told my mom she was wrong.

For a few months, my burden was lightened. These counselors were different. They started by asking questions of us:

“What have you done to sin against your parents?”

“What can you do to prevent your mom from becoming angry?”

“How can you respond to her anger in a way that is God-honoring?”

When we met as a family, they asked the same questions of my parents, but with “kids” in the place of “parents” and “mom.” I started to see change as my brothers, my Dad, and I all worked intentionally to follow instruction, go above and beyond to help as needed, be calmer, and to mitigate conflict as often as possible. My brothers’ interactions with me and with each other changed in front of my eyes and my middle brother became someone I liked again instead of the annoying pest I thought he’d been from 8-14ish.

Still, at home, we couldn’t win. We did dishes without being told; they were done wrong. We folded extra laundry, but it wasn’t folded and put away quickly enough.

With my brothers and I corroborating each others’ experiences and our mom repeating at meetings with the counselors that, “They made me yell at them! and “If they just did things right the first time, I wouldn’t have to yell!” the counselors realized they needed to work on correcting the dysfunction in the relationship between Mom and my brothers and me. They targeted me, as the oldest (16 by this point, nearly 17) and the one usually leading the complaints about Mom, as the one with the most “bitterness and negativity” toward her. Mom and I subsequently began meeting one-on-one with the wife of the counselor couple and were assigned homework to complete.

After another couple months of completing Bible reading and counseling homework about grudges and holding onto anger,  I was 100% certain that while I thought Mom was terrible at stress management and didn’t respond well to rational questions, I didn’t hold a grudge against her. Mom’s complaint against me was that I “never talked to her,” and for that, she blamed…. My ex-boyfriend.

Just like that, I was back at the youth pastor’s house. I was talking to different church people about the same concerns, now with my brothers’ corroboration, but we had come full circle from a discussion about why she was a bad parent and how she could improve to a discussion about why my ex-boyfriend was bad and her version of courtship was good.

Journey to Independence: III

I know, I know… it’s been over a year since my last blog post. For all my pronouncements about self-advocacy, and speaking up even when it’s hard, I’ve been afraid. I have drafted post after post, written dozens of paragraphs, and left the post in my drafts.

I’ve been following the USAG scandal and read Rachel Denhollander’s testimony, then her interview with Christianity Today. It burdened me to share again on this topic I’ve desperately desired to address but terrified to reveal. I’ve known for some time that I want to help others who share my experiences within the church. I’ve known too many people that have abandoned their faith when the church failed to protect or defend them.

Flying high after validation from the youth pastor’s wife, I was excited for the meeting with my parents, the youth pastor, and his wife. I thought my family would get help. I thought the youth pastor and his wife would share some insight to drastically improve my life and my brothers’ lives. The meeting did not go as I expected.

My parents brought their courtship books: Boy Meets Girl and I Kissed Dating Goodbye and a partial transcript of online chats with my then-boyfriend. I had no privacy at 15, so my parents read every word we wrote to each other online and frequently watched over my shoulder as we chatted.

Mom asked to see the list I’d put together of incidents that concerned me about her parenting. I only had the original, hand-written pages, which the youth pastor’s wife dutifully handed over to her. She broke down crying and insisted that she didn’t remember most of them. She wasn’t “saying [you’re] lying,” but that my then-boyfriend was distorting the reality of the situations, and I had exaggerated her responses.

It was as though I had said nothing of my brothers being beaten repeatedly in anger, unaimed, with a leather belt, until my mom’s anger was exhausted. As though my mention of a letter one of my brothers wrote at 13, nearly identical in content to a letter I wrote to my parents at 11, had gone unnoticed. All that was important was that 15-year-old me liked a guy that my parents didn’t.

In those chats, I talked about wanting to leave home (for college) far away so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my parents anymore. They used those transcripted chats to show Youth Pastor and his wife that then-boyfriend was “poisoning my attitude” toward my parents, that I wanted to “run away with him” because I was haplessly “smitten” and that he was “pushing me away from my family,” distorting my views, and that that’s why she and Dad needed to “protect” me from this “17-year-old manipulator.”

The concerns I had voiced over abusive punishments, co-dependence, emotional abuse, and control were all dropped so that the youth pastor could look me in the eye and tell me my dad was just trying to protect me and I should be grateful to have such a wonderful father. He shook my dad’s hand and told me to read Philippians and James again, and that even if I thought I was being mistreated, the Bible says to endure under an unjust master as though living for God, not for man. He reminded me that it’s my dad’s job to protect me from guys that try to steal my heart before its due time and that my then-boyfriend pushing me away from family was a sure sign that he was a threat. The youth pastor and I discussed college, and I mentioned worrying about my brothers when I left. Youth Pastor responded by sharing two things I had nearly forgotten, but thanks to contemporaneous Google Docs, are recorded for posterity:

“Leaving your father’s house doesn’t mean you stop living by his rules. It’s a father’s job to protect his daughter until he passes that protective authority off to the man she marries. The Bible doesn’t place an age limit on ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.’ When you leave for college, your dad is still responsible to protect your heart, even when you’re not physically under his roof. You should be grateful your dad loves you enough to teach you these things.”

He followed this up with gratitude to Dad: “Thank you for guarding your daughter’s heart. It’s an honor to meet such a dedicated father.”

That was the day I discovered that the church I’d grown up in and the people I loved would only hinder my escape and enable my family’s abuse.

That was the day my trust broke.