When we went to visit the house in Pennsylvania, it seemed remote, dark and expansive. At the inquisitive yet reticent age of seven, I hovered behind my mother’s leg as we looked around the basement of the long ranch house. It wasn’t quite a finished basement, but there was a bar installed with Heineken cans lining the ceiling. A child about my age was sitting on the floor playing with some ugly 1990s toys. We shared a mutual glance of childhood understanding: we were not agents in this business of buying, selling and leasing real estate (I couldn’t yet wrap my mind around what “real estate” meant in the first place). We were the dolls in our parents’ dollhouses, and I was displacing this other child. I felt the distinct urge to leave, as though I had stepped unbidden into this little boy’s territory and threatened to take away his home.
My parents and I had already moved about fifty miles west, an unheard of stretch from the perspective of my extended family. Now, a year later, we were moving just a few more miles, into a house where my father wouldn’t feel the landlord’s constant presence; after all, in our current house, he and his wife lived right next door. Since they’d invited me over for tea once or twice and had been perfectly agreeable to me, I couldn’t really relate to my father’s sentiment. All I really knew, or cared to know, was that moving was terribly exciting. I loved the way the teetering towers of packed goods transformed our living room into an alien landscape of artificial mountains, trails and caverns. I rescued a few stuffed animals from being boxed, and we escaped together to explore the cardboard jungle.
The forest of boxes had taken root in the plains of sorrow, however. Not long before we began touring the insides of other people’s houses, a fateful night had shaken our reality. It was the middle of a warm May night when I was roused by hands shaking me gently and then picking me up. I sleepily clutched a stuffed cat as my father loaded me into the front passenger seat of our Chevy sedan without shoes on. I contemplated how weird it was not to be wearing shoes in the car. And then we were following the ambulance.
My mother would later tell me that she’d died on that ambulance, but God had sent her back to take care of my father and me. I wasn’t sure why she wasn’t in the car with us, nor was I particularly aware of the reason those blue lights were flashing ahead of the windshield. We softly glided through the countryside, ghostly and diffuse in the moonlight. I wasn’t afraid, exactly – I didn’t know what to fear. I watched the trees go by, numb.
Once we arrived and I was carried in socked feet into the dingy emergency room, the waiting began. In my sleepy stupor I registered only the fact that Anna and her son were sitting in those dull plastic chairs, keeping us company. I never really noticed whether Anna’s husband was there or not. Our first friends in Pennsylvania, they were a family of three, just like us – and they too homeschooled, which meant that we automatically shared a lot of activities. I had been taken out of kindergarten after mere weeks of suffering repeated panic attacks and insomnia. My father insisted that I was just shy and needed to adjust to the school environment, but my mother took pity on my predicament and argued that just one more year at home might give me the chance to mature and transition more easily. I was already reading far ahead of my class anyway; even if my progress was stunted, I wouldn’t fall behind. We became involved in the local homeschooling community soon after moving to Pennsylvania, and there we met Anna’s family. Anna and my mother liked to bounce teaching ideas off one another and increasingly delved into long, emotional talks on spirituality. Anna’s only son, Sven, just six months older than I, shared my sense of adventure, and we busied ourselves running imaginary villages and building rock forts in the forest outdoors.
I dimly remember finally escaping the grey-tinged, boxlike waiting room in order to hold my mother’s hand. She smiled weakly, not yet able to explain what had happened. I was just glad to know she was still there. Little could I know that this sense of relief that saturated my mind as I watched her breathe would become a recurring theme running into my teens.
Later I learned that my mother had gone to the hospital expecting my younger brother and come home without him. She’d only been three months along, but already our home had been bursting with anticipation. Well, at least my parents had been; I was less than thrilled. We knew that it was supposed to be a boy, and someone uttered with pleasure that our family name would not die out now. I stared at the speaker, aghast at the idea that I was genealogically irrelevant. It was my name, too!
Weeks before the miscarriage, my mother had taken me to a fast food restaurant, bought me a milkshake, and turned my world upside down. “Mommy’s going to have a baby,” she said proudly. I just gave her a fake smile, knowing that it wasn’t nice to shoot down someone else’s happiness. Still, I couldn’t grasp why she needed one and especially resented the idea that she needed a boy to “complete” the family. Why am I not good enough? I screamed inside. Why can’t you be happy that you have me? I learned that the baby’s name was going to be Samuel, a name that would have been mine if I had been born a boy. That afternoon, I hid in the play tent outside and angrily accosted God for what was clearly a stupid mistake. I hate babies was all I could articulate in my silent raging prayer. I hate babies. I HATE BABIES. But I knew there was no avoiding it now. I was going to have a brother whether I liked it or not.
Now he was gone, and I found myself suddenly in possession of a horrible secret. My thunderous cries must have shaken God’s resolve: he had taken the baby back. My mother had delivered the object of her dreams, perfectly formed but only the size of her fist in the bathroom, and all but bled out in a speeding truck – but I’d got what I wanted, hadn’t I?
This was all my fault.
Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Unspoken Words: A Non-Prophet Message.