I have told my story to many people verbally. I have written it down in bits and pieces on social media sites such as Facebook. I have even shared it with other victims in forums for those trying to recover from sexual, spiritual, emotional and physical abuse. In light of recent events with Bob Jones University firing G.R.A.C.E. from their independent investigation, I feel the need to share my story publicly. I, like many victims of the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, are outraged that BJU has slapped the faces of victims. Their cowardice shows by their lack of courage to hear what G.R.A.C.E.’s findings would be. Just weeks before the final report was to be delivered, at the time of this writing, G.R.A.C.E. had no knowledge as to the reasons behind Bob Jones University’s decision to fire them.
It is very hard for a victim to tell their story. To give it in detail, in a public forum, takes a lot of courage and strength. My hope is that my story will help others realize that they are not alone and that they do not need to walk the path of validation by themselves. I have walked that path. It is terribly lonely, frightening and exhausting.
While it is terribly hard to find anything in my story that can be criminal or even prosecuted today, what I endured was heinous. What I endured is considered child abuse by today’s standards. It could also fall into that category when it occurred. Sadly, I have to say that the abuse continues to this day because it is not being addressed and it is still swept under the rug. Since I opened a Facebook account a little over four years ago, I have spent much of this time diligently trying to right the wrongs, expose the truths within the lies, and tell MY story. My only hope is that my story gives someone else courage to address what needs to be addressed in their life.
I grew up in what appeared to be a normal, loving home. My mother was and still is a very loving mother. She tried to give the best she could to my brother and I. She was an outstanding mother and I loved how we would go shopping every Saturday after we cleaned the house. Almost every time we would go to the mall, she would buy me a scoop of bubble-gum ice-cream which I would lick so hard that it always landed on the floor in front of my feet. We spent a lot of time together.
The first 13 years of my life were pretty much considered normal. I would have fun with my cousins during the summer. I was in a public school. I went roller skating with my friend every Saturday. My grades were average. I was well-adjusted. I was happy. My parents always got compliments on how my brother and I behaved in public places. But, there was always a fear that my brother and I had of our father. He was quick with his hand and we were fearful of angering him. My mother was fearful of him. He threatened her with bodily harm on numerous occasions. Various incidents happened during their marriage that caused them to realize that the marriage was not what they wanted. My brother and I were forced to realize that our parents were going to divorce. I was in 7th grade at the time and I was so stressed about my parents that I had forgotten to do my homework one day. I never forgot to do my homework. I went to school and told my teacher at the time that I had forgotten to do my homework. She gave me a detention. I ran out of her room and went directly to the girls bathroom to which I began sobbing a body wrenching sob. It scared me that my emotions had taken over the way that they had. That made me cry harder. My teacher entered the bathroom and asked me why I reacted the way I did. I told her everything. I told her that my parents were divorcing and that I had to live with my father and that I did not want to. I felt that I was stuck. She was not a heartless woman. She took the detention away. That was a relief because had I gone home with that news, I was surely going to suffer for it.
My brother and I came home one day from school. We had to take the school bus as we lived in a very rural part of New Jersey. We came home and we noticed that all the living room furniture was gone. Our mother’s clothing was gone. All her belongings were gone. We were stunned. I cried for the longest time and the only person who could comfort me was my paternal grandmother. I loved my grammy. I begged to have my father drive me the 45 minutes from our house to hers on the night my mom left. I just could not understand why things happened the way they did. I share all this with you because it builds the reason why my father decided to begin his religious journey. At least in my mind, this is where it started.
When my parents were having their troubles, my father would attend church more regularly than we had in the past. My grandparents were very religious and they told him about an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in a town not far from where we were building a home. I think that there was an effort to incorporate more religion into our lives in an attempt to save a failing marriage. It was not that we were not religious. We were. We just became more so with this disaster in our lives.
My brother and I were forced to answer questions asked by strangers who appeared that they were interested in us. It is now, that I realize that these people were lawyers and court appointed psychologists. They wanted to know who we wanted to live with and why. But, I always felt this horrible pressure on me to say that I wanted to live with my dad – even though I wanted to live with my mother. I kept a diary at the time and all my pages during this time-period state just how oppressive it was to live in the house with my father. He was never happy. He put on a facade for the outside world, but at home, he was grumpy and just never a happy man. At the tender age of 12, I was able to notice this about him and noted it in my diary. I still have this diary today.
The divorce finalized and my brother and I were awarded to our father. My mother was devastated. Her story is a much more horrible version. I will say that my mother was not painted in a complimentary way. My brother and I were enrolled in the IFB school that was a ministry of the IFB church that our family attended. The tuition was a lot for my father to pay, but he paid it – somehow. There were times where we could not even afford a gallon of milk, but he paid the tuition. There were many winters where he could not afford to fill the oil tank to heat our home, but he paid the tuition and gave his tithe. We heated our home with kerosene space heaters. It is a wonder I am still alive. My clothing smelled so badly of kerosene.
Our IFB church had what was called, “Paycheck Sunday”. During this Sunday in late November, my dad gave his full week’s pay to the church. Everyone did. A full week’s pay for a single income parent during the early 1980‘s in blue collar New Jersey was not an easy task. But the same mantra was uttered by everyone, “God will provide”.
I guess the realization that having two teenage children with activities was too much for my father to handle alone so he began dating right away. Every woman he brought to the house, my brother and I did not care for. He eventually married someone just 8 years my senior. I was horrified. My brother and I were immediately no longer part of his life and it was shown with many actions. My brother and I began experiencing changes in how we were disciplined and we were treated extremely different. By the time I was a Sophomore in the IFB school we attended, my brother and I were extremely miserable. We were realizing that what we were going through was not normal. We were so miserable that we would tell people that things were not right. Later that year, my brother had had enough and asked to have my mother sue for custody of him. She won and he went off to live with her for a while. I was alone in a house with a step-mother who despised me and a father who placated to her every whim and need. I was forgotten.
When my parents divorced, my mother had a boyfriend. This man gave her the attention that she felt she deserved. She was so starved for attention that it was nice to be the center of it without having to worry if she was saying something wrong or doing something wrong. It was very well-known that there was infidelity in the marriage and that ultimately caused the demise of my parents marriage. My mother decided she had enough and that was when she moved. This boyfriend of hers took great strides to get to know my brother and I. We were, after all, going to her apartment every other weekend. He was living with her after she got settled from the divorce. I was about 15 years old when his affections turned to more than just genuine interest. He was more touchy with me as my body began to develop. I was not sure what these advances were. I know now he was grooming me.
My father was never kind to my mother when she would come to pick me up to go to her home on the weekends that she had visitation. He would avoid her. He would state things to me that my mother was worldly. He was trying to taint my perception of her and trying to make it so that I would be less inclined to go visit her. This made me want to see her more often.
One particular weekend, my mother’s boyfriend wanted to take me four-wheeling in the woods. I was 15 years old. I loved going four-wheeling as that was a highlight and I was finding that my freedoms were becoming less and less living with my father and his new wife. They were now pregnant and a baby was on the way. I still had a voice at my mother’s house, but even that was being quieted because by the time I would break out of my shell and start talking, it was time to get in the car and head back to my father’s house where I would have to get ready to go back to the IFB school I attended. I was in the truck alone with my mother’s boyfriend. I really don’t think my mother had any idea that it was not a good idea to allow her teen daughter with a man alone. Maybe she was incredibly trusting. I am not sure. We drove out to the woods and started going through mud puddles. This was in the mid 1980’s, so there were no cell phones. I was in a truck for 8 hours out in the middle of the woods – far from any civilization – while this man raped me repeatedly. He was stronger than me and he was drinking. He made threats to me that if I told, he would kill my mother. I believed him because he said he was with the Mafia. I was a 15 year old girl and so naive because of the things that I was being “sheltered” from. Finally, we went back to my mother’s apartment and he raped me one last time while parked next to the dumpster in the apartment complex. He always made advances toward me. Now that I am a 44 year old woman and I think about it, he was very calculating in his plans for me. He would send my mother off to go buy him potato chips (Wise Brand). While she was gone, he would expose himself to me. Again, the threat that if I told, I would lose my mother or that I would be harmed too. He raped me in my mother’s bed while she bathed in the tub in the next room. One night, he raped me in my bedding on the floor of the living room while my brother slept next to me. We did not have our own room when we visited. This constant advancement on me made me not want to spend time at my mother’s house. I was trapped.
I knew that I could not tell anyone my story. You see, I dealt with the fear that the boyfriend would kill my mother and I dealt with the fear that if I told my father that he would forbid me to ever see my mother again. Add to this stress, a girl who is defiled is always guilty. She either wore something she should not have or she walked a way she should not have. We were taught in the IFB that the woman was the cause of all men’s sins. My home life was becoming less and less normal. The lectures we would get would go on forever. We were not bad kids. We obeyed every letter of the law laid down before us. However, I was never good enough. I tried so hard to be a good daughter, but it was the same thing – I always failed to meet expectation. I was to be seen and not heard. It really got bad when my half-sister was born as it was now my responsibility to raise a baby.
Around my Junior year in high school, my brother wanted to move back to my father’s house because he was promised material objects if he did move back. He was told that if he moved back home he would get a bb gun, a motorcycle and weights. He wanted so much to have a relationship with our father and our father made claims that things would be better. His visitation with my brother was always so fun. He was a different man around my brother when those weekends came. He allowed freedoms that we normally never got. We actually were able to have friends over. So, my brother, desiring a relationship with his father, really believed that he would get all the things he was promised. He moved back “home”. There were no court documents filed and no attorney’s fees paid. He moved back and everyone was happy – except my mother. She was stricken with grief, but she allowed my brother to do what he thought he needed to do. She never once uttered a negative word about our father. She always felt that it was our observation to make. Her opinions never muddied our perception of our father. It was not the other way around. Rarely was a kind word said about our mother.
My brother went back to the IFB school and graduated 8th grade that year. He wore a borrowed suit because money was so tight. I was wearing borrowed shoes that were a size and a half bigger than my feet. I stuffed them with toilet paper to make them fit. I was wearing my step-mother’s clothes to school. Skirts that were 3 or 4 sizes larger than my small frame were pinned on the sides to keep the waist band up. I never got new clothing unless my mother bought something for me. We were the children of the ex-wife and we were reminded daily. Little incidents, like not turning my brother’s socks right side out, became an issue. His socks would not get washed if they were a balled up mess. To this day, I see my sons’ socks and I think of that. Of course it takes only a second to turn socks the right way, but a fuss was created and meanness ensued. It was constant meanness and vindictiveness in the home. I was told that I was to always be available to watch our half-sister. I was the live-in baby sitter even though I had intramural sports that I was involved with and homework that took at least 2 or 3 hours a night. We were expected to be in church every Wednesday evening, Sunday school, Sunday morning service and Sunday evening service. There was no time to just be a kid. I started going off alone into the woods just to get away from all of it.
I walked the halls of my high school with my secret of the rapes and just tried to be the best daughter I could be. I made no noise because we were taught to never bring attention to ourselves. We were told that we were never to argue anything. We were told that if our father said that the sky was black and it was as blue as blue could be without a cloud, we had to agree that it was black. There were no opinions allowed. I was smacked across the face with a mouth full of braces when I voiced my desire to move to my mother’s home. I had had enough of being taken for granted and treated horribly. By this time, my mother had grown wise of her abusive boyfriend. My brother voiced that he did not care for the man and the two of them kicked him out. Because he had moved back to our father’s house, I could not leave my brother in this environment so I did not try to move to my mother’s house. I also was beginning to drink the IFB Kool-Aid by the gallon and was reading my bible daily. I had my own little monthly Daily Bread booklet. I would do my devotions from them. I read all 66 books of the bible. I was doing all I could do to be the daughter I thought they wanted me to be. My brother was not tolerating the lifestyle. He just could not handle the constant badgering and the oppression we were experiencing. We began telling people that we were having troubles, but nobody listened. We were told to read our bibles more. We were told to “honor our mother (stepmother) and father”. Today I know that that commandment is taken out of context a lot in the IFB. There is also a bible verse that says, “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” – Ephesians 6:4. We tried to tell people that we just could not live the life we were living. We were being ignored and treated very badly. My maternal grandparents felt there was an issue and they tried to help. CPS was called to our home and they were turned away. My brother and I were never interviewed by the agency.
Things got so bad that my brother and I began making plans on how we were going to run away. We talked many hours in his bedroom. I still remember a conversation we had. I remember the way his room was set up. I was laying across the foot of his bed and he was next to me on the floor. We were talking how we could not tolerate it anymore and how we were going to get away. We were thinking of who to tell and who we could trust. He finally said that we just have to settle down and let things take their course. I remember specifically a time when we were thrown into the back of our family car and I was so upset that I was going to miss something that I wanted to do with the school. Our father was notorious for throwing everyone in the car not telling us where we were going with the explanation that we were just “going for a ride”. This ride happened to be 12 hours long down to my grandfather’s house. I was so upset that my only escape from my family was being taken from me. My brother calmed me and said, “It will all be okay in a little while.”
For a 14 year old boy, he was so much stronger and wiser than his years. I was 17 years old at the time and I had just started my Senior year in the IFB high school. He was starting his Freshman year in the same school. He just got picked up onto the Varsity soccer team and we were so excited that we had an escape through our respective sports. These sports took us from our abusive situation at home. Every hour away from there was an hour of freedom that we gleefully relished in and felt free. As the days progressed, I did not notice my brother getting depressed. He was always the one lifting me up. Now, he was losing it. I was involved in my cheerleading and was involved with my Senior year now, so I never saw the signs. He began telling people in his class that he hated his life and that he had to end it. His friends were all either 13 or 14 years old so they never really thought that his words would come to fruition. They were innocents. They were children. One night, September 16, 1986, we went home after practice and we had to do our homework and nightly chores. We were so accustomed to not talking because we would get in trouble if we woke our half-sister. Any speaking we did was normally in the form of whispering. We also had to be quiet when walking out to the garage because there was an alarm on the door that would beep every time the door would open. My brother told me he was going to feed the dog. His last words to me, “I’ll see you in a bit, sis”. We were expecting company that night. Our uncle was coming to see us as he had not seen us in a while and was coming by to catch up. I watched from the kitchen window while I worked on the dinner dishes as my brother went out to feed our German Shepherd, Bear. He came back into the garage.
My brother was always tinkering on something. At this particular time he was working on a bike frame that he was in the middle of repainting. He had it hanging from chains that held a heavy weight bag from the rafter of our garage. The chains were not long enough to have the heavy weight bag low enough to be used properly, so our father suspended the bag with extra length from a rope. On this particular night, he removed the bike off of the chains, wrapped it in a towel or blanket and set it on his weight bench. The same weight bench that he was promised if he moved back “home”. I heard the dog barking and realized that my uncle had arrived. I ran out to the garage to go meet him at the door. What I saw forever changed my life. What I saw forever changed the image that I see when I close my eyes each night. What I saw is the reason why I am so vocal about abuse and abuse within the IFB today. I saw my brother hanging from those chains. The chains were deeply embedded in his neck. He was gray. He was motionless. He was dead. I ran over to him, and tried to raise him by lifting him so that the tension of the chains would release from around his neck. They were interlocked by S hooks. They were so deeply imbedded that I could not release the tension. My uncle must have heard me or looked in the window, but all the sudden he was next to me trying to lift my brother up. He screamed at me to go get a knife from the kitchen so that we could cut the rope that was attached to the chains and to tell my step-mother to call an ambulance. There was no such thing as 911 in 1986. I ran in the house trying to be quiet to not wake the baby and I whispered to my stepmother, “call an ambulance, Scott hung himself”. I whispered it. Why did I whisper? I whispered because I was so conditioned and oppressed by this woman that I knew I would get into trouble if I screamed. My screaming should have trumped all regard for her rules. But fear stopped me and I whispered. I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and ran out the door. As I got back to my uncle, I noticed my brother’s grey sweatpants had a wet spot on them. I began screaming inside, “NO”. I knew what that meant. My uncle got him down and removed my brother’s shoes. My aunt started CPR. I did not know what to do and was starting to freak out. My exterior was stoic, but inside I was screaming.
My home sat off of the main road. This main road was not well lit and we lived three miles down from the first stop sign. As I already mentioned, it was a very rural area. I ran down our gravel driveway in my bare feet to get to the road so that I could flag the ambulance to the house. Anyone going down my road would drive right by the house. We were always told to go to the end of the driveway to flag company in. On this particular night – it was no different. I ran and stood in the middle of that road – still warm from the heat of the day. I still feel the warmth of that road on the bottom of my feet. I looked up to the sky and saw every star. I cried the most soul crushing non-human cry I have ever heard come from my body. I pleaded with God that night to not take my brother. I cried for hours it seemed. The ambulance took forever. I do not remember going back up to the house. I do not remember the ambulance coming. But I do know they came because my next memory was talking to a police officer. I told him everything I remembered. Our father was working a second job, so he was not home at the time of the incident. I told him the story when he came home. I told my mother the story when she arrived. I told the whole story as I have just written it here. My story is written in a police report.
As the night progressed, I was telling my story over and over. Then things started to change. All the sudden I was told that I was not going to tell the story like the way I have just recounted. I was going to tell the story that it was an accident. That Scott did not hang himself. I was even coached to not talk about it at all. I was told that I was not going to talk to a therapist. I was told that I did not need to go to the hospital for what I witnessed. The policeman asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. The EMT kept looking at me for signs of shock. My mother told my father that her boss would pay for a therapist to speak with me about what I saw and endured. I was just told to not talk about it. I was told that things will get better. I was told that Scott was just was messing around and that it was a horrible accident. I was told by my father that my brother was playing with the chains and they came back and hooked around his neck. His words still echo in my mind today – “don’t you think he was just playing around and they came back and hooked around his neck?” “Don’t you think that the stool next to him was knocked over because he was trying to frantically reach it with his feet?” “Don’t you think he died because he wanted to die?” The last question is the hardest one for me. This question was asked of me when I last tried to speak with my father in January, 2012 about allegations of abuse that have come to light regarding the IFB church and school I attended. That was the last time I spoke to my biological father. He promised to call me back and talk about these allegations that were starting to surface within the IFB church and school I attended. I am still waiting for his phone call.
I was told that if I ever tell my story that I would get into trouble. I remember a friend coming to my home a day or two after my brother passed. I tried to talk to her in my room, but I was so scared that I would be heard. I tried to get the words out. I was so fearful that I would get into trouble. She reminded me of this story and the fear I had. I know that what I experienced was real. I needed help. I got no help. I was denied any form of help. I was told that the children in the IFB school we attended were told that my brother died of a weightlifting accident. The pastor had decided that was the best way to handle this story. I was bold enough to ask my father, many years later, if the pastor told him to lie about my brother’s death. My father’s answer was “yes”. He never even hesitated in his answer. I can not even think about lying about something like that. Why he did not stick up his middle finger on each hand to that pastor is beyond my comprehension. Why he did not put his familial duties as a father above the laws of this man, I will never understand. I can only guess that my father’s following of this man was greater than the love he had for his family as this was the pattern that has been repeated over and over to this day.
On the day of the funeral, I stood outside and met every single person who came to see my brother. The IFB school we attended had a “field trip” that day for all the 7th -12th grade. They were to go to the funeral home and pay their respects to my brother. I met every single kid that got off that bus. Where was the person for me that day? Where was the person that was supposed to comfort me? I was the one who found him – why wasn’t I being comforted? Standing outside in my step-mother’s too big, pinned-at-the- waist black suit with toilet paper in my shoes so they would stay on, I greeted every single person with a smile on my face. I was trying not to bring attention to myself. What was wrong with me?
The eulogy was the most disgusting thing that I have ever heard repeated to me. I did not hear the eulogy that day as I was too busy trying to keep my mother from jumping out of her chair and hitting that pastor. He stood up there and bragged how his son was thriving in this world while my mother is burying her own. This was the man of God that we were following? No compassion. No love. Just pretentiousness and narcissism. My step-grandparents felt that they were the maternal grandparents that day and denied my maternal grandfather the right to ride in the limousine with my family and his grieving daughter. Instead, he had to drive himself to the cemetery. There was so much hurt and I just had to hold it all together for my mother. I had to keep her calm. Nobody kept me calm – but something made me strong that day.
Our school was involved in an annual event each year where we would compete with other Christian (IFB) schools in the Tri-State area. We competed in what was called Academic Day. A day that included going head to head in debates about topics such as creationism vs. evolution (a difficult topic to debate when everyone in the room believes in creationism). Schools vied against each other for the coveted position of the best choir. There were sewing (textiles) competitions for the girls to enter. Sewing showed the best of our academic caliber. There was a competition to see who had the best score in solving an accounting business model. There was competitions about speeches and which school delivered the best impromptu or recited speech. My event was the speech under the line of Dramatic Interpretation. I had to recite a speech with feeling and draw my audience into me. They needed to feel what the speech was saying and hang on my every word. My speech was entitled, “I Hadn’t Time” by prolific Christian author, Ethel Barrett. The speech was taken from her book, “There I Stood In All My Splendor, Chapter 4”. It was a 10-12 minute speech on which I was graded for articulation, posture, style, proficiency, and memorization. I was slated for first place. This story as I was telling it to my audience, was about a young mother who is alone with her son, Kip, for the last time. She is sitting in front of his coffin and she is recounting all the things that he was trying to get her attention for. He wanted her to sew a patch on his shirt or to see a frog that he brought home. She recounts the things that her son wanted her to do and realizes that her being busy was routine. Now her child is gone and she has all the time in the world for her son. But it is too late.
This speech was the most heart-wrenching, tear jerking speech. My father insisted that my mother come to the school and hear it because my school was hosting Academic Day that year. When I saw my mother, I begged her not to come into the room that I would be delivering the speech. I knew that it was not for her to hear. My brother had just died months earlier and here I was delivering a speech about a mother grieving over her dead son. The teachers in the school should have forbidden that I do that speech. My father should have forbidden that I do that speech. I did deliver it and to this day, I ball up with tears because I remember the opening words verbatim. Staring at my mother as I delivered this speech was one of the most horrific things I have ever had to watch. The pain that crossed her face was, without question, unremarkable. I could not deliver the whole speech without breaking down in a jagged cry at the end. I did not win 1st place because I had to be prompted and because I lost control. If only the judges knew what I had just endured. To this day, I still have my third place ribbon and the grading sheets that the judges filled out on me. They are a reminder of the hell that I should have been saved from, but was forced to endure.
I finished my senior year with all sorts of christian leadership awards and a scholarship to attend Pensacola Christian College. Dr. Robert C. Gray Jr of Trinity Baptist from Jacksonville, Florida preached at my commencement in May, 1987. Two months later, allegations about his involvement with minor girls in his church were brought. Turns out he was a pedophile and this man was in my church. This man shook my hand. I still can not believe the proximity I was to him. My skin crawls at the thought.
During the summer of 1987, I was to turn 18. My life just was not the same life without my brother. I went through the daily motions. I still did my devotions and still tried to be the best daughter I could be, but there was not enough love for me – even after the loss of a child. I was not living. I was simply existing. On the morning of my 18th birthday, I decided to change all that. I woke that morning packed what I could and stashed it. I told my father as he was taking me to my summer job that I was going to be moving in with my mother after I finished my work day. I called my mother from my job and told her to be at my home to get me when I got off work. I got home and in my driveway were my mother and my pastor. The same pastor who lied to everyone about how my brother died and delivered the eulogy. This “man of God” told me that if I leave to go with my mother that I would end up just like her. I would be worldly and I would not be the woman of God that I should be. I left without ever looking back.
I still attended the church, but I was looked at differently. I was to go to Pensacola Christian College in the fall and – in reality, I was following my then boyfriend. But I also realize that the Christian Leadership awards and the scholarships that I won were a way to keep me quiet about my brother’s death. I thought that following my boyfriend to PCC, one of three colleges that I was to choose to attend, was my ticket out of the hell I was living. I started preparing for my move to Florida and asked for help from my father. He would not help me. He told me that as long as I am living with my mother that he had no obligation to help me. My mother bought all my books, all my bedding and all my PCC approved clothing. My mother sent me money for expenses, care packages and other expenses that I am sure she would never tell me about. I never once got a dime of financial support from my father when I went away. I tried to call him to inform him how I was doing, but there was never any interest. I attended PCC for my Freshman year and hated every minute of it. A person was guilty until proven innocent on that campus. It was very oppressive. I was beginning to see that I just could not live this way.
Summer came and I went back to my mother’s home. I would see my father at church, but had no desire to go to the his house and visit. Things were very awkward. My step-mother was pregnant and I felt it was so soon after my brother passed away, in my opinion. I worked that summer and gained some cash. I told my mother about the rapes. The boyfriend was long gone. I still have never told my father – though he probably will find out now that this is posted on a forum. I broke up with the boyfriend I had followed to PCC and started tasting freedom a little more. I dated a boy that I really liked that summer and I knew that I was finally starting to live. The veil was lifting. There was life to be lived and I was free. I went back to PCC for the fall of my Sophomore year and I called home every weekend crying to be picked up. I had recurring nightmares. I began purging everything I ate. I hated it there. I was a 19 year old woman and I was being treated like a 12 year old child. No touching someone of the opposite sex or you would be “socialed”. You get socialed too many times and you get “shipped”. You get shipped, you are blackballed from your church. No walking on the same sidewalk as the boys. No using the same stairwell as the boys. No music with a beat. No Christmas music before the Christmas decorations were up on the campus. Lights out at 11 – even during exams. The never -ending ear worm of a song we sang every day at the beginning of chapel: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, creatures here below. Praise Him above heavenly host. Praise Him Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen”. My world was not what it should be. This is not how a 19 year old ADULT should live. The freedoms that we were supposed to have were non-existent. There were no freedoms. Every move was monitored, scrutinized, judged and calculated.
Finally December 20, 1988 came and I left that campus for what I thought would be the last time. I actually returned a few years later to see my half-sister receive her degree in nursing. My half-brother was now attending PCC and was a security guard for the campus. He would not hug me when he saw me. He would be socialed. I was proud of my half-sister on the day she graduated. I had concerns that her degree would not provide her much by way of a job and voiced these concerns with her. Ultimately, this was her decision and I was proud of her for accomplishing a task and for her life moment that she wanted to share with me. This pride had to be stifled, however. Nobody was allowed to “hoot and holler” because anyone who showed their pride for their graduate was being prideful in the Lord’s house. The audience was given a very stern warning by Dr. Joel Mullenix (present when I attended PCC in the late 80’s) to not “hoot and holler” or the commencement ceremony would be stopped. Someone did “hoot and holler” and it was stopped and we were all chastised from that pulpit – a full auditorium of adults chastised for being proud of their child’s or loved one’s accomplishments. I just could not believe what I was hearing.
I was able to break free from the PCC environment and lucky for me, my mother was moving across the country to begin a new life with her soon-to-be husband in California!!! A quiet little girl from New Jersey was moving to California! Starting my life free from all control, all judgement, all religion – that was my plan. I arrived in California and the world was so fresh. Everything was new. I was new. I was living. I managed to get a great job. I wanted to go back to school. So I tried to enroll in my local community college. The woman registering me that day laughed at me when I showed her my high school transcript and the transcript from PCC. Her words still resonate with me today. She said, “you don’t have enough credits to graduate high school let alone have these credits from Pensacola transfer.” My jaw dropped. My mother could not believe it. PCC is unaccredited and the IFB school I attended is only recognized by other IFB schools. The education that I received was sub-par at best. I always knew that, but now I had confirmation. I had to do most of my high school credits over and I had to redo everything that I had done at PCC. I was now back at square one. I would have to say that it was in a negative position that I was in as I had to capture enough credits to be considered eligible for the local junior college. I worked while going to college. I worked as a bookkeeper for a tiny law firm in California. I learned a lot about probate law and criminal law. I also studied my heart out. I wound up enrolling in a Jesuit college not far from my home so that I could continue to work at the job I loved so much. I graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Business Administration. I did this all on my own.
During all of this, I would still call home to talk to my dad and see how he was. I wanted to check in on a family that had now grown to three half-siblings. I sent them gifts to let them know that I trying to be a part of their lives. I am 20 years older than the youngest sibling. It was important to me at the time to be a part of their world. Unbeknownst to me, they were not allowed to ask about me. I have learned recently that every time my name was mentioned that my father would get angry. I was even threatened that my arm would be broken if I tried to convince any of the children to move out to California. My birthday would come and go. Christmas would come and go. I would not get any acknowledgement that I was a part of their world or that I was welcomed. Gifts – if they did come – always arrived late. I was not part of my father’s life any more. When I graduated college in California, he was there. I was over the moon that my dad traveled to California to attend my graduation. I also had a grandmother who traveled from Boston and an aunt who traveled from Texas. However, my father took all my attentions. I willingly gave them thinking that this time with him would bring him back into my life and that he would be proud of me, finally. I was wrong.
A year or so later, I was about to get married. I asked my father to walk me down the aisle. Without any warning, he flew to California to see me. I was amazed that he was in town, but had to scramble to rearrange plans so that I could spend the weekend with him. I had a brand new home with my fiance and I was proud to show it off to him. I showed him where I was getting married and went through all the plans with him. I really thought he would walk me down the aisle. The day before he left to go back home, he told me he was not going to walk me down the aisle because the boy I was marrying was not saved. I was broken hearted. The familial duties were once again put on the shelf for religious reasons. For appearance sake, his appearance, he chose to not walk me down the aisle. He broke the cardinal rule for every father. He destroyed the visions I had of walking down the aisle with my father as he gave me away to my husband. Dreams dashed and heart broken, I sought the next best thing. My maternal grandfather walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.
That marriage did not last long. It was 10 months of pure hell. I was physically abused, emotionally abused, and threatened with death. I finally got the courage to leave this abusive environment, which before I was married never had any physical abusive signs. There were emotionally abusive situations, but I played them off. I called my father for help and I was told to talk to my pastor. The same pastor who lied about my brother’s death, delivered the eulogy, told me that I would end up being a whore just like my mother, was going to give me marriage advice. His advice to me was, “Steffers – you need to go back to your husband. You need to be submissive to him. Show him through your submission that you are saved and lead him to Christ.” That was the last time I have ever spoken with my pastor. He condones spousal abuse.
I have discussed numerous times with my father about my upbringing and how the education I received was below average. Each and every time, I have been told that he did what he could for me. As a parent, I understand that. But if my child were to tell me that my decisions had set them up for such heartbreak, I could not handle that without apologizing to them. I don’t think I could defend what I did if it was brought to my attention that my actions actually hurt my children in any way. I have never received an apology from him – only more excuses.
I have tried to address why I am not important in my father’s life. The issue is always skirted around. In January 2012, I tried to discuss these things and now other issues that I have been made aware of within my church and school. Issues that have been brought to the attention of a detective because many voices screamed and they were finally heard. Issues that many people have known about and many have talked about. To this date, these issues and allegations still will not be discussed with me. I have tried. I have tried as respectfully as I can. I suppose the ostrich with its head in the sand is the best analogy here. If it doesn’t see anything, nothing is there. But, I am here and I am not going away.
I have been vilified. I have been denied as being a child of his. I have been told that I was dead just like my brother. I have been told that family members were told that I ran away and can no longer be found. My three children have been held by this man. He has met my loving, supportive husband of 15 years. I am not a person who has done anything but speak the truth. I am not the monster here.
I am strong because each of the things I have shared here, in this long story, will not destroy me. There are a lot of events in my life that have shaped me. All have been handled by me, alone. This is MY truth. This is MY story. I am who I am today because I chose to thrive. I chose to not let my past end me. I chose to let my past shape me. I have found courage. I have left the darkness. Every day, I get stronger.
I share with you who I am. I have no agenda. I have no motive. My only hope is to help those who are learning to find their freedom. My voice is for my brother. I avenge his death. I will not let anyone cover up his death anymore. I avenge anyone who has had their death covered by lies. I am sad today, but I honor my brother’s memory by speaking for him.
In honor of Scott Edward Reger
March 28, 1972 – September 16, 1986
February 9, 2014