Someone was trying to control every aspect of my life … including my clothes

by Erika

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Me and my youngest brother, 1991

After being made to quit the basketball team and the FHA group, I was trying to find any way that I possibly could to stay close to my friends. I called them when I could, I would wait outside on my porch after school ended so that I could talk to my classmates that lived on my street as they walked home each afternoon, I would try to get down to the school or a friend’s house when the chance came available. In the meantime, my parents were withdrawing us from as much as they could to be able to cut off as much outside influence and friendship as possible.

I remember Mr. Thompson feeding my father the line, “Take away everything that is important to your children and eventually, you’ll be the only thing left that’s important to them and they’ll cling to you.” My father gobbled up every bite that Mr. Thompson fed him, as Mr. Thompson supposedly had a perfect family. As my father and mother were being “fed” by Mr. Thompson’s horrid beliefs, I felt like I was dying a starvation of the soul.

As I look back at myself as a soon-to-be 15 year old girl, I see now that the depression that was to rear its ugly head at the age of 19 had taken seed in me when my life started to unravel at 14 years old. I only realized the climax of that depression when it hit later on, but in hindsight, I can see so clearly that it was a long process of eating away at my spirit over those long years.

I wrote in Part 3 about the first boy I had kissed. It wasn’t long until he was my boyfriend. I kept it from my family because I knew I would be under a sort of “house arrest” if I were to be found out. I tried to be around him as much as I could, but with an older sister who found it her duty to always be watching me, simply so that she could tattle on me, I had to become evasive, elusive and secretive. It was quickly an art that I had mastered…..for a while.

One of the teachers at the public school was excited to hear about my trip to Africa and wanted me to share with her elementary classroom about my adventures. I immediately agreed to do it and got my stuff together so that I could do my presentation. A few days later, I left my homeschool work on my desk at home and walked down to the school with my backpack, packed with all sorts of trinkets and treasures that I had picked up on my travels. I shared the cultural and huminatarian aspect of my trip with the children, as I wasn’t allowed to share the spiritual part of my trip with them. I had two of the kids dress up in the outfits I had brought home and let the boys bang on the little goat skin drum. I showed slides and part of some home video that one of my team leaders had taken while there.

After my presentation was done, so was the school day. That enabled me to walk into town with the new boyfriend and my other friends. I would take the long way to the boyfriend’s appartment since the front door happened to be RIGHT across the street from my parents’ bakery and that would not have gone over well. I hopped off the end of the bridge and scooted behind some other buildings, crossed the main road where I couldn’t be seen and then backtracked behind some other buildings to head in the backdoor of the apartment building. The boyfriend and I weren’t alone all the time and there were three or four of us that would hang out together and I would help my friends with their homework.

OF course, there were times that we were alone and those were spent listening to classic rock music, talking and make-out sessions. Nothing incredibly heavy, as his mom and step-dad were right on the other side of the door in the kitchen (we were in the living room). Because I had to have a reason for every time I walked out of the door at my family’s house, I couldn’t just say, “Oh, I’m going over to my boyfriend’s house,” so there were times that I had to settle for phone calls. I would use the phone out in the garage and hope that no one picked up on the other line inside the house. No one ever did.

In the fall of that year (1991), my parents decided that my sister and I were no longer allowed to wear pants. Of course, this also went for my mom, as well. Pants just weren’t proper for godly, young Christian women to wear. They were male attire and took away from our femininity. This crushed me. It wasn’t so much that I hated dresses and skirts, it was the fact that I was being told what I could and couldn’t wear. I loved wearing pants. It’s what I felt most comfortable in. I was told that if I wanted to continue wearing pants, I would have to wear them under a dress or skirt, which seemed absolutely ridiculous to me. I hated feeling so exposed under those dresses and skirts. I felt naked and COLD. It always seemed to me that it would make more sense for a woman to wear pants so as not to be so “accessible,” if you know what I mean. I always wondered if that’s why these men wanted their women to be in skirts and dresses. If they had some sort of secret agenda. Not that I ever thought that of my dad because he was certainly not of that mindset….but I wondered that about whoever decided that about women’s attire in the first place.

I took to wearing leggings and shorts under my dresses and skirts because I hated the feeling of exposure. I also hated crossing my legs when I sat in a chair and I loved climbing trees, being outdoors, skiing and sprawling out on the floor and didn’t want everyone to see my “business” when I sat down.

Being made to wear dresses and skirts constantly felt demeaning. It made me feel like someone was trying to control every aspect of my life, including my clothes. It was utterly degrading. Even to this day, whenever I see a woman in a skirt or dress that looks even slightly conservative, I feel that invisible legalistic noose tightening around my neck. And to this day, I don’t wear dresses or skirts to church or anywhere else for that matter (unless it’s to a wedding and I happen to be part of the bridal party).

Because we were going to the “new” ultra-conservative “church” in southern Vermont, it was expected of us to dress like everyone else did. I had a few funky skirts but not enough where I wasn’t wearing them out every other day. We were a family of 6 and didn’t have a lot of money, so out came the sewing machines. My mom and sister are wonderful seamstresses so they started making jumpers, skirts and dresses from the bargain fabric shelves. I always thought it was such a shame that their amazing talents went to waste on such frumpy and doudy clothing. Their work was always well done, but the patterns and fabric left much to be desired. My sister made the biggest attempt to look like every other girl in the “church” and pretty soon, her wardrobe was filled with denim and calico jumpers and blouses with big collars. My mom’s wardrobe was quickly filling up with the same.

I was looked at like the outcase and rebellious one by everyone in the church, as I would show up with mis-matched patterns, funky designs and my high-top sneakers with the bright red laces. Everyone pretended to humor me on the outside, but I heard the whispers and saw the sneers. Families would never let their girls get very close to me, as if I had some sort of rebellious inducing disease. Any time I was let close, there was always a parent around to make sure I wasn’t heathenizing their daughters. It got to the point that I wasn’t even allowed to play in the pick-up basketball games with the guys during family weekends because it just wasn’t proper. All that grabbing of the basketball and those physical fouls that might stir up emotions and other such horse crap that these families could come up with just to keep me out of the games.

I found sanity back with my “heathen” friends that I hung out with back home and felt like every Sunday, I was stepping into another world, a bizarre world of shackles, rules, regulations, hypocrisy, void of grace and compassion and full of legalism. My world of friends back home seemed normal and sane, yet those were the things that I was being told were wrong, evil and dark.

I have found, over the years, that the world that the “Grace Bible Fellowship” existed in was actually the one that was wrong, evil and dark. There was no good, right or light there. The darkness had only just started to descend on me.

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