(As some of you might have recognized I name many of my posts after songs or movies. I usually pick out a song that suits the mood of each post, usually googling “songs about XY” and then listening to my options. This time, I was torn between two song: Chris Isaak – Wicked game and Johnny Cash – Hurt. I ended up with Hurt because, well I think it sums up a lot of how I felt. I know that some of my readers are just as unworldly as me, so here’s a link to the song on youtube in case you don’t know the song.) Harry’s mother seemed a lot more excited than usual. She made compliments about how I looked, how nicely we decorated the house, how amazing the prepared food smelled. Everybody had a huge smile on their faces, a smile I immediately thought was… retarded. It felt as if the universe had shifted. I was no longer in the real world but in some weird dimension, full of retarded people who don’t even know that some sort of magical boss is shoving lies down their throats. I felt as if they looked at me like I was about to join their sect, go through a weird ritual where they’d take out parts of my brain to make me smile just as stupid as they did. I can’t recall much of this. I was in trance. I talked but it wasn’t me who talked. I heard myself speak and my voice was different, strange, not mine at all. My words didn’t come out of my brain – I didn’t know what I was saying and at the same time wondering how I came up with the things I said. Cold sweat was covering my entire body, my skin felt cold and tacky, but I still felt like that person wasn’t me. There must have been some sort of small talk, some sort of prayer, some words of encouragement but I memorized nothing at all. The only thing I can remember was looking at my shaky hands, covered in freezing sweat and desperately trying not to throw up all over the place. My insides were rotating and I was truly afraid my heart would stop beating any second out of sheer fear. I remember at some point Harry asked me to go outside with him, sit in the garden for a bit. I agreed, my face frozen in I don’t know what position and a very strong, sudden urge the really throw up. I think I held my hand in front of my mouth for a second, because my Dad gave me an encourage stroke on my head and opened the door to the garden for us. As soon as I was outside my mind started screaming: “RUN! Now’s the chance! Run away and don’t turn back!”. But I didn’t. Instead, I followed Harry to the bench in the garden and sat down. I was completely quiet and the sweat started to run down my neck and back. My hands were so wet, they sparkled in the evening sun as if they were powered with diamonds. Harry spoke up: “Do you like the flowers?” “Yes” I said, “Lilies are lovely. My favourite flower.” That was true. “I think so too. You know, you’re like a lily to me. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” “That’s true” I said, not knowing how to react. “Lisa, you know, I have been watching you for such a long time. Years now. I can’t imagine that there is anybody more beautiful and lovely than you.” He said and took my hand, squeezing it, which embarrassed me because my hands were freezing cold and soaking wet. “I didn’t have to think much about if you were the one. I knew it all along. I would’ve done this so much earlier but I felt I needed to wait and be patient on you. I was doubting your feelings for such a long time but now I feel like it’s different. I feel like we’re made for each other.” Harry looked at me, but I just started into the grass next to my shoes. I hadn’t looked at him during this entire conversation and I couldn’t find the courage to look into his eyes now. He was silent for a few seconds, but then let go of my hand. He stood up, slowly. My stomach twisted, making me feel sicker every second, my heart skipped at least 10 beats. Harry stood in front of me. And then, he did it. He got on one knee, found a little box in his pocket, opened it with shaky hands and presented a lovely ring to me. I stared at the ring and the universe shifted yet some more, completely separating my body and my mind at this point. And as I stared at the ring with my body, and my mind stared at myself sitting there, not knowing what to do, Harry finally said it: “Lisa Franziska Bennet, will you marry me?” I didn’t say a thing. I stared at the ring in Harry’s wet shaky hands and almost heard my mind laughing. This is crazy, this is unreal. “Lisa?” he said after some time which could have been hours for all I know. And for the first time I looked into his eyes and what I saw there I will never forget. I don’t think one can describe the horror and fear I saw on his face that moment. I looked back at the ring, then back into Harry’s eyes. Terror. An entire world crashing down, hands shaking violently, tears starting to fill his eyes. My, a lot worse than I could’ve possibly imagined. I still hadn’t said a word but I felt the need to react somehow. I took the ring in my hand, not putting it on and looked at the pretty little diamond. I could almost feel Harry dying inside and wanted to hold on to him, to make sure he wouldn’t just stop breathing. I put my hand on his hand, then on his cheek, stroking through his hair and while I did that I just slightly shook my head. I was still a mute. “Does that mean no?” he asked and I nodded just as slightly. Harry now sat in front of me, on his knees, staring into nothingness. “Do you really mean no? Why not? What’s wrong? What did I do wrong? I can make it right, just tell me what I have to do, I’ll do it. I’ll do anything.” I shrugged, silent, just staring at Harry sitting there in the grass, at my feet, not knowing what he or I should do next. Finally I found some words somewhere in the back of my head: “I’m so sorry”. There were some tears on Harry’s face, but he wasn’t really crying. “Well, tell me why you’re saying no. I thought everything went well.” My cheeks were burning as I tried to explain. That I felt like I wasn’t ready for marriage, that I was doubting practices and beliefs in the movement, that I didn’t feel quite right about marrying him. He took a seat next to me again, thought about what I said for a bit and then asked me “Ok, so what do you want? I’ll give you anything you ask for if you marry me.” I told him how I wanted an education and maybe a job, how I was afraid of having so many kids, especially right now, and that I wanted a different life, not as set apart from the real world and other people. I wanted to have friends. I wanted to be normal. Harry was quick to answer. “You can have that. You can find yourself some friends once we settled down. You can go to school if we can afford it and you can work until we have kids.” I told him that by our beliefs, we’d have a kid within the next year. He told me that I couldn’t say that. God would time them. And if we did, God’s way would still be perfect. That he thought if I kept following God’s plan, I couldn’t possibly be happier. As he told me all that, the truth started sinking in, the truth Beth predicted: I couldn’t change his mind, I couldn’t make some sort of deal with him that our marriage would be different. He was too convinced of his beliefs. “This isn’t going to work” I finally said. “We’re too different in too many ways. You’re sure that your beliefs are right while I’m doubting everything. You can trust God while I can’t. You dream of a biblical family, I dread it. How can we possibly be happy together? It might just be a phase for me, but I don’t know that yet. If it is, and we are meant for each other, we will be together eventually. But if it isn’t, you’ll be stuck with a wife and family you’re too good for. Is that really what you want?” Harry was quiet, crying and so was I. “If that’s what you want, if that’s what you can deal with, I’ll marry you.” I hadn’t said that because I wanted it. I said that because at this point, I realized what I got myself into. Two families were waiting for a happy, engaged couple. They weren’t going to get one. I was very, very afraid of what waited for me back inside. I was clueless how to explain all of this. I think at some point I wished he’d agree and still want to marry me so that I could avoid what was sure to come: Anger, hate, disappointment, being kicked out of the house into a world I didn’t know, cut off from my family. I realized the extent of what I just had done and it was just as scary as my other option. I was trapped with no way out. “No, I think you might be right. You’re obviously not in the right state of mind to make a good wife. You need time.” Harry’s answer was partially a relief and partially the scariest situation I could imagine. I took his hand again and for whatever reason I said Thank you. I was emotionally broken down to bits and pieces and started crying violently. “What do I do now?” I asked him. “What will we say?”. Harry just shook his head. “I don’t know.” I cried even more at that and Harry must’ve felt sorry for me, because next thing I know was that he put his arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t resist and hugged him, crying harder, begging him “Please don’t let me do this alone, please help me, please do something, I can’t do it.” We sat there for a few more minutes, until I found a tissue in my pocket, cleaned up my face as well as I could. “We should go back in. I bet they’re wondering what’s going on.” Harry stood up, but I just couldn’t find the strength to do it. He took my hand again and pulled me off the bench. “Come on, we’re in this together.” He didn’t let go of my hand, which I’m deeply thankful in retrospective. We slowly walked over to the back door of our house. My mind was empty, fear struck me but somewhere deep inside I felt that I had done the right thing. Harry held the door open for me, and inside I went to wash away those stupid smiles off my parent’s faces.
I spent a few days thinking about the little hint my mother gave me. Close to an engagement? My mom didn’t say that just out of a mood. No parent in the movement says that out of a mood. They don’t give us any idea of what’s going on until the last second. When a guy is interested in you, but they don’t like him, you’re not being told. If a guy has interest in you, and they tell you, you can be sure that they have been in contact with him for weeks and sometimes even months, examining him, and actually giving him permission to enter a relationship with you. As a daughter, you are usually the last to know about your own love life.
Now, the fact that my mother said something about a close engagement meant that Harry must have asked for permission from dad already, and that dad agreed and gave him permission to ask me. My mother would be involved in this process of evaluation at a very late time, about when dad had already decided to give Harry the permission to ask me, then he would ask for my mother’s opinion before telling Harry what his decision was. I now knew that Harry had permission to ask me, and he’s probably had it for a while. He might have even already bought a ring.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Within the next few days or weeks, I would be asked to marry him. Engagements were typically kept very short, and Harry’s and my courtship has been pretty long due to the big distance. Just to give you a short reminder: Harry and I’s courtship started when I was 18, almost 19 (I’m born in March and the courtship started December before I turned 19) so we were courting for over 3 years. That’s a crazy long time in the movement. I know it might have felt just like six months or something when you read my posts about my courtship, but they were condensed, not bothering with the time between the visits and big events were effectively nothing happened except for my daily routine of being a stay-at-home-daughter while Harry was on different mission trips and preparing to make a living and save up some money in order to be fully prepared to support a wife and a baby within 9 months of marriage. I didn’t even describe all of Harry’s visits because they were simply uneventful. So let’s get this back on track: My mother made the remark about the engagement some time at the end of March.
I knew I didn’t have much time left. Engagements are typically short. A three-month engagement would be a long time in our group. The average engagement time is around 4-6 weeks, and all of that time is used for marriage preparations as the majority of the “falling in love” and “making the decision” was supposed to be made prior to engagement. My insides were in a constant state of burning, my mind rattling. I saw the beginning of the rest of my life right in front of me. Once I was married, there was no way out anymore. I’d have to be obedient to my husband. I’d have to have kids, if I wanted or not. I realized that within the time of just one year at that moment, I might be sitting at home with a 2 month old. The thought alone made me dizzy. I was NOT prepared for any of that.
On the other side, I also started seeing things that were wrong in the movement. The engagement remark which left me so helpless, and feeling strongly in a position where every decision of my life was already made and agreed on didn’t suit me at all. I started dreaming of what I would do if I had the choice.
I wouldn’t get married for now. I’d started to regret hating school, so I also wished I could somehow go back to school and learn something useful. I always loved art, history and geography. I loved the universe and watching all the stars, wondering what they would look close up. I always loved big masses of ice and cold climate. I started to think that if I didn’t get married and wasn’t in the movement, I’d become a Nasa person, observing and calculating stars, thinking about big events in the universe. Or maybe I could become a geologist somewhere cold, like Antarctica, and research the processes in the ice and what happened a long time ago. I even considered becoming something like a paleontologist and study dinosaurs and climate way back. That was a thought unheard of in our family. All of these three professions were ungodly and against the bible, utterly humanist and naturalist. I was so curious to know things that are veiled to humanity, like times way before our time. But I was bad at math, I thought I might not be the right person for each of those three. If I couldn’t do it, I might just settle for some ancient culture studies. Egypt maybe, or south american ancient history.
During this process of thought I realized that I’d never make it anywhere close to that. I’d never be allowed to consider whether there’s life on other planets, or if the big bang is true. I’d never be allowed to think that humans and dinosaurs didn’t meet. I’d never be allowed to think that an old culture was anything but ungodly behaviour which died for a God reason – because God hated their unspeakable blasphemous acts.
I was getting frustrated with the life ahead of me. I knew I would die stupid and unhappy if I followed that road. The narrow path got really narrow, like walls coming closer and closer to each other, crushing your chest, leaving you unable to breathe. I decided that I had only one chance to escape this life. And that chance, funny enough, seemed to be Harry.
I went to Tiffany’s house with a plan in my mind. I needed to call Beth and ask for her help. After all, she was Harry’s sister, so she knew him much better than I did. Tiffany gladly agreed to let me call her. Beth was happy to hear from me after a rather long time of silence between us. She asked me a bunch of small talk questions but finally got to the point where she asked how things were between Harry and me. I explained her what my mother said, and she agreed with me that Harry proposing to me was very near, just within a few days range. I told her about my thoughts, that I wasn’t ready to be a wife and mother, that I wanted to be something else, that I wanted to decide some things on my own. Beth immediately suggested running away. I didn’t think of running away as the only chance for me yet, so I disagreed.
I told her about the plan I had come up with: I would ask Harry to leave the movement with me. We would keep the act up for our families, as I didn’t want to be cut off, but we’d live like the other people did. Normal. I’d tell him that he would get so many benefits from that lifestyle. That I’d make money, that we wouldn’t have to have that many kids, that we could have so much fun together as a worldly couple.
Beth didn’t sound convinced at all. “You know, Harry is deeply rooted in his beliefs. Some things he believes are outright stupid, but he believes that he loves Jesus more than anyone, that the movement is the only way to be saved. I don’t think he’ll give that up, no matter how much he loves you.”
“I can try. Maybe he secretly feels the same way.”
“Yes, Lisa, maybe, but then what? You’d still marry a man you don’t love. Do you know what that means? You’ll have to put up with his little faults every day. You’ll have to care for him in sickness, in poverty, and all that without love? Is that fair to you, or him? Can you really sleep with somebody you don’t love – every night? And act like you love him? That’s just a horrible thing to do.”
I hated how right Beth was. I was deeply ashamed that I had already acted like I was in love. My cheeks burnt at the realisation that the damage was done and I’d have to keep up this terrible act for the rest of my life. Out of sheer frustration, I told Beth:
“Well, then I’ll tell him the truth. And that he can have a girlfriend on the side who really loves him, so he gets the love he deserves and we’re both out of the movement!”
“Lisa, that is possibly the dumbest idea you’ve had since… ever. You know that won’t work. He could never do something like that. Not even worldly people do something terrible like that. That’s absurd and so crazy, I can’t even tell you just how stupid it is.”
She was right, of course, and I saw that I could never ask for such a thing from Harry. Too far was too far. But I still couldn’t give up.
“Yeah, you’re right.. I just don’t know what else to do. I’ll have to try to ask him though, that’s the least I can do.”
“Sure, go ahead and try, but you won’t get what you want. Just don’t break his heart more than you already have to. And if he says no, just run away and come to me, please. I’ll help you out.”
Beth gave me her address just in case, but I was sure I wouldn’t need it. I didn’t feel like I could sacrifice my family on the altar of my own desires just yet.
The next few days flew by, weekend came around. But something was different. Something was going on. My mother bought some expensive groceries and things we usually eat only for important events. She baked a lot of stuff and let me eat it. She kept hugging me constantly. My dad was nagging a lot about how I looked, how I acted. That it didn’t suit a grown woman. He’d never call me a grown woman. I knew the weekend would bring a change. Mom spent all friday cooking, preparing, baking, decorating, cleaning. She asked me to wear something pretty for dinner. Yeah, my parents were always terrible at surprising us kids. I knew that Harry and his family were coming over for dinner, even if they tried to keep it a secret from me.
Around 6 PM, the doorbell rang. In my mind, it sounded much shriller than it usually did. My mom asked me to open the door. I walked to the door in nervous, short-breathed steps. I slowly opened it, my face frozen in a helpless grimace, as if I had just watched an elephant eat sushi, and then fly away with his umbrella. In front of the door was Harry, flocked by his entire family. All of them had huge smiles on their faces and, almost simultaneously, they yelled “Surprise!”. I looked at Harry. He was wearing a rather fancy outfit. Dress pants, sparkling shoes, a white shirt and a tie. I stepped to the side in order for them to come in, still with my shocked expression on my face, murmuring something like “I didn’t expect you at all…”. Harry came in, looked into my eyes and gave me a little bouquet of flowers. Lillies. The ultimate engagement flower. I stood frozen until everyone found their way in. I pushed the door closed and the clicking sound of the lock reminded me that today was the day my sentence might be sealed.
I’m sorry for such a big delay. The last few days have been so incredibly busy for me! I had a lot of work to do and well, things that happen in a normal life just happen 😉 I’ll be keeping you updated!
Harry and I just kept standing there, looking at the pretty surroundings, not letting go of each other’s hands. After a few minutes, he pulled me towards the house. “Come on, I think I need to get going!” He made a funny sad face and we walked back to the house. My parents were outside waiting for us. I could see my dad’s eyes, how he squeezed them together more and more, how he made a sour face from which I was able to tell that he didn’t approve of the hand-holding. My mother just looked at us, surprised but not angry. “Since when is it ok to hold hands?” my dad barked. “Well…” Harry stuttered, “since Lisa and I decided to go a step further in our relationship…”. My dad’s face turned from a slight angry red to another shade, one between tomatoes and red beet. “I don’t approve of that type of physical relationship.” I got very annoyed and I simply felt sorry for Harry being in trouble for something I initiated earlier. “Dad, you don’t have to approve because there’s nothing to approve. You didn’t mind Harry playing Tag with the girls, he touched all of them and there were no concerns about their purity. This is nothing. Just quit that double standard.” I pulled Harry by his hand towards the house, leaving my dad standing, like he wasn’t sure what to say, or simply decided to delay the trouble until Harry was gone. “Come on Harry, you still need to pack some stuff. I’ll make you a snack for the drive home.”
We went inside where we finished up packing and getting Harry ready for the drive. When we said our goodbyes at his car, he grabbed my hand with both of his for a second and squeezed it.
Back inside, my dad pulled an act that was typical for him: Let’s call it “Let them suffer in silence”. It’s one of his favourite bits that he liked to pull with everyone on occasion. He usually just sits some place, like the sofa, quiet, staring, shushing people around, staring at his victim and, perfectly timed, shaking his head only very slightly when the victim looked in his direction. When I was smaller, I would try to please him as hard as I could. The silence was terrifying for me and my siblings, the feeling of really having disappointed him and God. We actually prefered being beaten over the silence, because after a beating, it would be over and normal again, while the silence could last for days with no clue what the outcome of it would be.
And after about two hours of the silence, I lost my temper. My entire body was burning with shame, regret and the feeling that I had treated Harry wrong. Not because we were holding hands, but because I felt like he loved me on a very different level. All of it was too much for me and I was close to tears. I just couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“Dad, you can stare at me all you want, I’m not going to apologize. You have pushed this relationship all along, now you deal with the fact that it’s actually turned into a relationship. It doesn’t say ‘You shall not hold hands’ in the bible.”
“It says CHILDREN OBEY YOUR PARENTS and I DID NOT ALLOW YOU TO HOLD HANDS!” he yelled.
“I obeyed you the entire weekend. Actually, all I did was obeying you. You want me to marry Harry, now I’ll tell you what, he told me that he thought I was the wrong one because I showed so little affection. Now he’s sure I’m the right one and you get your wedding and me out of the house, so I’m obeying all you ever said about my relationship and this is all I’m going to say.”
With that, I left the room to hide somewhere safe to cry at. My mom, who was running around the house, cleaning and tidying, only caught pieces of all this. After a while, she found me crying in my room. She sat down next to me, hugged me and just let me cry.
“Are you crying because of Dad?” she asked.
“No, not really.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“All I was supposed to do was love Harry. Before I wasn’t good enough, and now that I’m doing what everybody wants, it’s not good enough either. What am I supposed to do with everything?”
“Sweety, I don’t think it’s that bad you held hands. You’re close to an engagement anyway. I’ll talk to dad and try to make him understand. Now get some rest, then clean yourself up and join us for dinner.”
She hugged me again, smiled and left the room. Her words were still burning in my mind. Close to an engagement… I always knew this was the goal, but now that the time came closer with huge steps, I felt like a hamster in a cage, trying to run, but really, you’re not going anywhere. Life is going to happen, whether you like it or not. And nothing I could do would stop that.
This chapter has been particularly hard for me to write. Up to this day, I’m ashamed of what I did to a good person, out of a fanatic belief that only my “biblical” way was the right way. I realize that none of this was actually biblical. I have apologized many times to the person and I apologize again here to him as well as to everybody who feels like me, that a terrible thing has been done and the pain probably can’t be fixed.
While I was sitting on the couch with Tiffany, I slowly formed a plan. I was convinced Beth was wrong, and even more, I was convinced that she tried to pull me into her world of sin. She might just be so sinful that she herself wanted company in her sorry state. I felt like I needed to prove her wrong, no matter the cost. I was so hurt and confused, feeling betrayed by the only person I ever felt I could trust in. I gathered my emotions from Tiffany’s living room carpet, stuffed them into my little box and locked it up tightly. The only thing I decided to keep out was betrayal.
After I went home, I quickly excused myself from family life in order to pray and study. I sat down with my bible, rereading the passages which usually put me back into place over and over. Praying frenetically. I simply needed to prove Beth wrong. I needed to love Harry. And the way I figured out was the only way I ever learned about love: Love is actions, not emotions.
I started pacing things up with Harry. I wanted to prove, by actions, that I did in fact, love him. My first step was to call him more often. I chewed on my parents until they would allow me half an hour each day. They were a bit sceptic at first, but seeing that things were moving closer to engagement and marriage, they finally gave in. The first few days, Harry didn’t comment it at all but seemed very pleased. After a week or so he finally asked me why I called him that often. I had waited for that question like a predator for its’ prey. “Well, because, you know, I like talking to you. A lot. I just want to hear your voice more often.” He went quiet but somehow, through the silence, I could hear his excitement. He was very cheery after that, laughing a lot, telling a lot of funny stories. I laughed like I had never heard anything funnier. Manipulative? Yes, a lot. That’s what you get from raising your kids to be emotional nutjobs.
The following weekend Harry visited again, for the first time without his family. Due to lasting stress with Beth, they wanted to stay at home, settling things. Harry had gone through a fight to be allowed to stay at my house for a night.
We had quite some fun on that weekend and I had prepared a number of things (actions) that I could do to show him my “love”. I made a very special snack for him. You need to know that my mother actually isn’t American but an immigrant and I know how to cook a lot of stuff from her home. He was ecstatic, a huge smile on his face while eating, not getting enough of telling me just how good of a chef I am.
After that, we spent some time doing garden work which he helped me with, lots of talking and just sitting around with my siblings, playing games. In retrospective I have to admit, these times were bliss for me too. The fact that he was alone there and everything went great made me feel… right. I felt so superior to Beth with her boyfriend, living in some what I imagined could only be a rat hole, probably doing things I couldn’t even imagine.
One of my sisters, a very wild, energetic personality, came up with the idea that we should play Tag outside. We all agreed and went outside to play. It was a beautiful evening with warm, orange light shining. Harry was just great with kids, giving everybody the chance to tag him and acting extra slow to make the slower runners feel good about themselves. It was a lot of screaming and laughing going on. There was somewhat of a silent agreement that Harry and I wouldn’t tag each other as we weren’t allowed to touch at all. Whenever either of us was tagged, the other didn’t run but stand somewhat in the middle watching. I ended up being tagged (the smaller ones always tagged either Harry or me) at some point, kind of out of breath, standing in the middle holding my sides and watching over the field of giggling siblings running close and off again. Harry stood a step or two from me, obviously not in the least out of breath. I decided to do something wild, knowing that both of my parents were neglecting to watch us. I took a step to the side and just slightly brushed Harry’s arm with my palm. He looked at me somewhat shocked. Not sure what to do. “Well Harry, I’m guessing I just tagged you…” and ran off with the smaller ones. It took him a moment to realize the situation and he started laughing again, chasing the smaller ones down, making funny noises for them.
As dinner was ready, we ate together and spent some time with a short bible study. As it was getting dark outside and my mom brought the kids into bed, my dad got busy doing some more (unnecessary) garden work in order to be able to watch me and Harry while we sat outside in the garden on a bench. We just watched the sun set and the stars rise, not talking at all. I thought about the day we spent together. We had a great time and Harry was everything a woman could ask for and more. And he seemed to love me. For the first time ever I realized that I actually did care about Harry. It was what I today can only consider a form of love like you love somebody you admire their qualities. A person who’s your friend with qualities you wish your lover had, but that person isn’t quite your lover, if that makes sense. After what must have been an hour we went to bed.
The next morning was quiet and calm. We went to church, something we did only on occasion when my dad thought the sermon was good for us. We ate lunch and Harry still had some more hours left before he had to drive back home.
Sunday was relaxing day and I managed to convince my parents to let Harry and me take a walk on the field at the back of our house. They could still see us from the garden and after some objections agreed.
We walked around talking about this and that, plans for future visits, his schedule at work, when the best time for our phone calls were. At some point he looked around as if he was trying to make sure nobody was watching us too closely. He lifted his hand to stroke a bit of my shoulder. “You’re tagged. It’s your turn to say something now.” he said. I didn’t get what he wanted from me at all but I tried to come up with something. “I really enjoyed the weekend. It was great getting to spend so much time talking. Doesn’t work with all the siblings around like usually.” We both went quiet and the silence felt uncomfortable to me. I touched his arm and said “Tag, your turn now.” He smiled and went on talking about the snack I had made and how much he was hoping that he’d always get good food like that. We stopped walking was the way before us would have been our of sight for my parents. Looking around again, he took my hand and I felt for the first time how hard his skin was, worked down hands, now sweaty from what I can only guess what his nervousness. He looked at my fingers in his hand, fiddling around on them with his thumb. “You know, you have pretty hands. I like pretty hands on women. I was really doubting if this courtship was a great idea. I liked you before but you always seemed distant, like you had a hard time dealing with me. And now it’s so different.” “Yes” I said because it was really the only thing I could say. “Was it because of my family?” he asked me. “It’s always because of the family. Everything is because of the family.” I figured that was a smart way to avoid a real, honest answer. “Do you love me?” he wanted to know. I thought about it for a moment and came up with the only answer possible for a woman in the movement. “It’s not my job to go hunting for you, confessing and asking things a man should confess and ask.” He nodded and said “Well, I do.” I nodded and smiled but didn’t know what to say. After what felt like minutes, I blurted out the only definition I could come up with. “I call you a lot. I like talking to you. I made you a snack and I will do that and a lot more if we get married. So what do you think?” And poor Harry, who grew up believing just the same crap about love, smiled, thinking that I just told him that I really did.
Note: All of this is written with Beth’s permission.
The moment I heard Beth’s voice, my head completely blacked out and was flooded with millions of questions at the same time. I blurted out the first question that came to my mind: “What in God’s name are you doing, Beth?”. A big sigh came from the other side as she went to explain the whole story.
Beth had been struggling with the movement for about 3 years at that point. At first, she started doubting things in the bible. Some things just didn’t make sense to her anymore. How everything set up women to be unable to deal with the real world. That women are sinful, much more than men. That they can’t really have a relationship with God but need a man for that. She started wondering why God would allow a soul to be born into such a miserable state.
She tried sharing with her family, but was immediately put down. It wasn’t her place to ask, after all, she was just a woman. Beth was disappointed that her family treated her like that. In her frustration, she turned more and more “rebellious”. She picked up friendships with people outside of the movement. They were still christians, but not radical ones. A lot of her questions seemed strange to them, even dangerous. Their thinking was much more after Beth’s taste and she slowly changed her views on many things the fundamentalist QF movement had taught her otherwise.
She didn’t want to leave her family or make them sad. When they approached her with a courtship, she submitted, hoping that it would turn out well. That it would be a man who was on her side. The opposite was true. Knowing that his daughter changed her mind on many things, that she was rebellious, her father picked a man after his taste. All other men who expressed interest in Beth were sent away, not even telling Beth that there were other guys. The man her father had picked was a maniac to say the least. Note here that I don’t want to make anybody look like a monster, I’m just telling you Beth’s version of the story. According to Beth, he had views that even the fundies considered extravagant. One of the views was that sex is never fun for a woman and if it is, you’re doing it wrong. Pleasure in sex was inherently wrong. It was to make babies, period. The wife was also to fully submit to him. That meant no arguments whatsoever. Beth said that whenever she disagreed with him, even if it was only over dinner, he told her that would have to stop once they were married. Beth came to fear the man, and rightfully so. Their engagement wasn’t romantic at all. He casually told her that he thought it was time to get married. She asked him if he was asking her to marry him, his answer was “No, I’m telling you I’ve decided to marry you.” He grew more and more possessive of her, telling her what to wear, how to wear her hair, what she could or couldn’t do. He gave her a list of skills he thought needed improvement.
During all this time, Beth was still hanging out with her outside friends as often as she could. She ended up falling in love with one of the guys from that group of friends and so did he. While she didn’t admit this at first, a few days after her engagement they ended up kissing. From that point on, she decided to leave somehow. She and her boyfriend worked out a plan where she could stay, what she could do, how they’d save her.
Once they had everything set up, Beth decided to try one last time with her family. She talked to her parents how she didn’t want to marry this guy, how she disagreed with some of their views and what she wanted to do with her life. Her dad freaked out and got all crazy-bible-verse-thrower on her. She however took the phone, dialed her fiance’s number and told the first person who picked up (his mother) that she was breaking off the engagement. Her dad was in a wild rage, screaming the worst things at her, and she screamed back. Beth had set up a time with her friend where she ould come to pick her up, so she held out through the fight until that time came. She ran out of the house and into her friend’s car, who brought her to an apartment where they could live together as roommates. She still lives there.
I was listening silently until I regained some thought. I had thought about what to tell her before I called her, and now was the time to tell her all of my thoughts. I told her how I thought she made a mistake, that there certainly was a solution, that she needed to come back and work it all out. I said she was throwing away her savior for a boyfriend who didn’t really love her – after all, he kissed her, robbed her and her future husband of her purity.
Beth got really angry at that. “You’re telling me about love? You don’t know anything about it. You’re courting my brother, and why? Because he was the first man your dad presented to you. Because my brother is a good enough guy for you. You don’t love him and we both know that. You don’t know what love is because you don’t love anybody. You’re marrying my brother because he’s good enough and that’s as far as you’ll ever get, good enough.”
That on the other hand deeply hurt me. “I DO love your brother. Harry is THE BEST man I can image as a husband. He’s NOT good enough, he is the BEST. I love him and I’m honored that he considers me a potential wife. YOU don’t know what love is because you fell for the first horny bastard who told you that you have pretty eyes.”
You’re free to join me in being surprised that Beth didn’t hang up at this point. I’m telling you, she didn’t.
“Lisa, do me a favour. Take some time and REALLY think about it. Think about love and the feelings you have for my brother. If you can make me believe that you love him, I’ll be quiet for the rest of my life. Just make sure you really test it.”
“How am I supposed to test it?” I said, in a very annoyed and hurt voice.
“I don’t know. Just do something so you can feel if he’s right for you. And then tell me about it.”
I told her that I would have the answer she wanted of me soon enough, made up an excuse to hang up and was saying goodbyes as Beth asked me “Promise you’ll call again. You know I don’t mean to hurt you.”. I agreed and hung up, sitting on Tiffany’s couch, staring once again at the wall, tangled up in my thoughts. After a few minutes of this, Tiffany came in.
“Are you finished?”
“Yeah, pretty much” I said.
Tiffany came to sit next to me, hugged me quietly and stared at the wall with me.
“Tiff, how did you know Steve was the one?”
Tiff thought about it for what must have been ten minutes, just to tell me “I don’t know. I guess you just know for sure and that’s how you know. If you know that stones are hard and the sun is yellow and that this guy is right for you, and all of those three things are equally true to you, then you know it’s the one.”
(For the curious readers: Beth and her boyfriend are still together up to this point, and very happy together. They don’t have marriage plans yet. Thanks to Beth for allowing me to post this part of the story.)
“Beth left the family.” Those words caused time to stand still for a moment. I my entire body started to burn with a feeling that I still can’t describe. I have heard of daughters leaving many times, but I never actually knew one until that moment. I didn’t want to know them anyway, they were ungodly sluts for me, rejecting the Lord and salvation, rejecting everything I so strongly believed in. The information Harry had just given me wouldn’t sink in for a while.
“Oh, when is she coming back?” I said. “No, Lisa, she left. She packed her stuff and moved out. We don’t know where. A girl picked her up, but she said she won’t come back.” I still didn’t get it. “Where did she go?” – “I don’t know Lisa. I really don’t. She broke off her engagement without asking anybody. Dad was unspeakably upset and they got into a huge fight, yelling terrible things at each other. She stormed off, still screaming, packed up a bag with a few things and called somebody. They kept screaming and fighting. Dad wanted to lock her in a room but I thought that was a bad idea, so I tried to settle things between them. At some point, she just stormed out of the door and ran down the street. I tried to follow her but a car with a girl showed up, she got in and they drove off.” It felt surreal. I was convinced that Harry knew where she was, or that she would come back, but decided not to hurt him by asking again. I later found out that my thoughts were completely wrong and Harry really didn’t know anything.
I forced myself to keep the conversation up for a few more minutes until I told Harry I needed to help my mother out. As soon as I hung up, I went upstairs to the girls room, sitting on my bed, staring at the wall.
I just didn’t understand. Why did she leave? Where was she? Why didn’t she tell me? Wasn’t I her friend? I felt so betrayed, left back, angry at Beth for throwing away everything the Lord had blessed her with. The entire evening was a fight to get through. Fighting tears, fighting anger, fighting fear. I spent a lot of time reading my bible, marking verses that clearly proved to me that Beth was wrong, in rebellion and that I needed to bring her back on track.
The following days were a drag. I felt like my brain cells cut off all their connections to the outside world and were doing their own thing.
After two days of this, I had a moment of enlightenment. I was in the kitchen, cleaning and scrubbing pans and pots. I could almost hear my thoughts click. The piece of paper she had given me, I finally had an idea what that was all about. It must be a phone number. Most likely the phone number of the girl who had picked Beth up. My hands started to shake, incredibly nervous about the thought that I might be able to fix everything up. I left everything standing, dried my hands and jumped upstairs. I had the piece of paper well hidden in my bible, acting like it was merely a marker for a page I found important, one piece of paper among many in my bible. My shaky, sweaty hands unfolded it to take a look at the number. I was right, it must be a phone number. The amount of digits made sense. I stuffed it into a pocket of my dress and headed downstairs into dad’s office, where our phone was. I picked up the speaker, started dialing, one number after the other. As I was about half way through, horror caught me.
This phone wasn’t safe. It saved numbers. All phone calls were on the bill. Full number, length, everything. The area code was a strange one, probably an area we never called. My dad always checked our phone bills thoroughly. He would see it, wonder who it was and call the number. My promise would be worthless. When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. Numbers 30,2. How could I call her now, from this phone? It just wasn’t possible. I folded up my precious piece of paper, stuffed it back into my pocket and hung up on the half dialed number. I sat there for a minute, trying very hard to think. I couldn’t use a public phone. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without my parents. All cellphones we had were checked through my dad. I couldn’t ask anyone from outside because everyone would tell my parents. I had no way of contacting Beth. A phone number was worthless to me.
Another few days passed. I desperately tried to figure out a way to make this phone call. I couldn’t trust anybody.
Sewing day came around and my mother dropped me off at Tiffany’s house. I tried to seem as normal as I could but I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. Tiffany quickly recognized that something was wrong. She asked me what was on my mind and after short hesitation, I figured she’d hear anyway, so I told her about Beth leaving her family. Tiffany listened without a word, and as I was finished, she said something that I didn’t expect from a member of our church: “You know, Beth is an adult. She should be able to follow her own calling, not be forced into what her parents think is good for her. You girls, I feel sorry for you. You never get to do anything remotely normal. How are you going to grow up into reasonable adults?” I was shocked. That was a very worldly thing to say, but my hopes went up. Maybe I could trust Tiffany after all. “Tiffany, if I told you that I needed your phone for a call, but I can’t tell you what for, would you let me use it? And not tell anyone you know?” Tiffany looked surprised, but smiled. “Yeah sure, go ahead. It’s in the living room.” – “Not right now. I don’t know the number. But next time I will. If that’s ok.” Tiffany agreed and told me I could use her phone whenever I wanted to. “I wanted you to be a bit more normal all along anyway. Call your friends whenever, I’ll be quiet. I know that your family wouldn’t be happy about it.”
The next few days again were a blurry mix of anxiety, fear, hope and excitement. I couldn’t wait to get back to Tiffany’s house. The day came around and I checked many times if I had really put the number in my pocket, if it really was the correct piece of paper, if the number really was still on there. Tiffany welcomed me as always. I didn’t want to be impolite, but my emotions got the better of me. “Can I make that call right now?” I asked as soon as I heard my mother drive away. “Sure. Do you want anything, coffee, cookies, cake?” I asked her for a coffee and some cookies, hoping they would come in handy and call me down. I sat down next to the phone, waiting for I don’t know what. The courage I guess. Tiffany came into the living room. “Are you done already?” she looked at me puzzled. “No, I didn’t call yet.” Tiffany looked surprised. “You DO know how a phone works…?” she asked. She was serious. I cracked up laughing. “Yes I do! Of course! I’m not living on the moon!” “Ok, just making sure”, she giggled. She told me she wanted to do some laundry quick and left the living room.
Silence all around me. I pulled out my piece of paper, straightened it out, making sure I could read every digit correctly. I picked up the phone and started dialing. Very slowly. Held the speaker to my ear. I hear a click. Another one. It was ringing. Ringing. Ringing. Again. Then somebody picked up. A girl. I didn’t know that voice. “Hello?” she said. “Yes. Hello. This is Lisa. I’m calling because I’m looking for someone.” I didn’t dare say Beth’s name, fearing I might be doing something wrong and breaking my promise. “You looking for Beth?” She said. “Yes.” “Just a minute, I’ll get her for you.” “Thanks” I said. Silence. The girl calling Beth’s name in the background. Beth asking what’s up. “It’s that girl you’ve been talking about.” Steps getting closer. Beth picked up the phone. “Hey Lisa, wow, I didn’t expect you to call that soon!”
The days and weeks passed by and things went the way they always went. Tiffany and I became good friends, especially with me going to her place on my own more often. I was working on my housekeeping skills and progressing. My parents were relatively satisfied with me. Harry too grew happier and happier. I was recognizing that he started to make real plans for our future. He was planning to rent a house the next year, looking into buying property and even asked me for my opinions.
The weekend where Harry and his family came to visit came around. We prepared the house as we always did and I was actually looking forward to it. I was looking forward to seeing Beth, hearing her engagement stories, I was looking forward to Harry, who I began to like in a friendly way, though it was far from love. I was still hoping that magically I’d be crazily in love at some point.
As the family arrived, the good mood at our house changed. Something was wrong with Harry’s family, but I couldn’t tell what it was. We welcomed them, the kids were sent playing, the men went to discuss in the living room and the women and older girls of both families went ahead to do some cooking and preparing for tonite’s dinner. Beth hardly talked, but her mom and my mom went chattering away. When we were finished with the preparations and weren’t needed in the kitchen anymore, us older girls were dismissed to look after the children. As we were about to leave the kitchen, Beth’s mom told her that they forgot something in the car, asking her to get it. Beth went outside. Her mom held me back from leaving, talking quickly. “Lisa, listen, you and Harry are having such a good relationship with each other, and Beth is having somewhat cold feet. Could you talk to her and reassure her?” Of course I agreed, now eager to find out what Beth’s worries were. Beth returned and we left for the garden.
After a few minutes of talking to the smaller ones, Beth and I sat down out of hearing distance of the smaller ones. I told Beth that I knew something was up, asking her what exactly went wrong. She said, “I’m just not sure if I should get married. I’m not sure at all.”
I started telling her that from my point of view, everything about her courtship was very biblical and seemed to be God’s plan. Beth just listened silently, nodding here and there, as I explained her how she’s doing the right thing. After a moment of silence, Beth said “I’m not in love, I don’t love him.”. I told her that she of course loved him. “You know, love isn’t this fuzzy emotion that the worldly people talk about. Love is so much deeper, it’s God’s plan and doing everything he tells us. You’d be a great housewife and mother. You’d love him.” I was still defending that love was only actions, not emotions. Beth again said “But I don’t love him.” I went on telling her how I thought she had been deceived and blinded by worldly impressions and that she needed time to find her path again. I told her not to throw away what God had planned for her out of some wicked heartfelt emotion.
She went quiet and so did I. Then she stared at me and said: “I need you to take a vow of friendship for me.” I was quite shocked at that. You shouldn’t vow. “What…? I can’t do that…”. Beth answered “You can, you can keep it, it’s not hard. Harry can release you from it once you’re getting married.” Beth was right, it was biblically possible for a woman to take a vow and be released from it by her husband. I was ready to listen to it. “So what do you want me to vow?”. She explained: “I will give you something that you need to keep for me. You can’t tell or show anyone. If you and Harry marry, he must release you from it and you will destroy what I’m giving you. If you need it, you can use it. But only you, nobody else. And you can’t tell anybody. Can you do that for me?”. I was scared. “What is it that you need me to keep?”. “It’s just a piece of paper” Beth said. “It won’t hurt you.”
I thought about it for a while. All of this seemed beyond strange to me. I couldn’t place anything Beth has said the entire day. But at the same time, I was afraid that if I did not make that promise to her, she and I would never be the same. Out of blind fear of losing my best friend, I agreed. “Ok, I promise I’ll do what you want from me.”
Beth fumbled around on her dress, and held a tiny piece of paper out to me. She said: “Vow to me that you will keep this paper secret until the day you get married. On that day, you will be released of this vow by Harry and you will destroy this paper. If you need it, you will know what it’s for.”
I said “I promise, I vow to you that I’ll do that.” She gave me the piece of paper. “Can I look at it?”. Beth smiled and said “Sure, go ahead.” I unfolded it and on it, it had nothing but a lot of numbers. “What’s these for?” I asked. Beth just smiled again and said “You’ll know when you need it.”
I stuffed the piece of paper into one of my pockets, very scared of what I just had done. I realize that this seems like a childish situation but looking back, Beth did the smartest thing she could do. She knew I couldn’t say no. She knew I would talk if I didn’t vow to keep silent. She knew I’d need it. Yup, Beth was definitely out of my league when it comes to smartness.
Dinner time came around and we all sat down on the table. Beth’s dad stood up to say the prayer for everyone. But instead, of just saying a prayer, he gave us a small speech. It went something like this:
The devil is after us. He’s trying to win our souls over, away from God. He comes when we don’t expect it. Even in the midst of godly families like ours, he sows his seed and comes to reap. As you know, women are especially easy for him to win over. That’s why he mainly attacks women. Young women.
Just a few days ago, I heard of yet another family whose daughter has left to live in the world, to delight the devilish seed of sin inside herself with a worldly life, filled with abuse, fornication and drugs. It breaks my heart to see godly daughters turning into women of the world, leaving the narrow path God is showing us. We aren’t safe either. Let’s pray for the lost daughters, that they may be freed from their sins and evil desires to return back to their families and live the life God has planned for them.
This wasn’t a very uncommon thing to pray about. We heard of many daughters who left their families. In our minds, they committed a terrible sin and needed all the prayers they could get. It didn’t raise any suspicions in me.
Our family meeting was relatively quiet for the rest of the weekend. Harry and I spent a lot of time talking, Beth kept rather silent. I was still confused and puzzled when they left.
A few days later, Harry and I had one of our phone talks. He sounded strange and tense. “Harry, you sound bad. Are you feeling ok?” I asked. He answered “Yes, well, I’m not sure, we’re just having family problems.” I didn’t want to be nosy so I told him I was there to listen if he felt like talking. He went silent and then said “You’re right, you’re almost family too. Well, yesterday, there was a huge fight at our house. Beth left the family.”