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I was a tender fourteen when my world fell apart. My parents had become entrenched and enmeshed with The Movement and because of this, The Movement had become everything in our life. The Movement had become a feudal lord, demanding everything from us: time, money, and resources. My family felt that The Movement WAS our family and it was The Movement that we served- from the rising of the sun to the setting of it.
John and Candi, and their four children, had become to us closer than blood. It was The Movement that joined us- heart, body, mind, and spirit. We lived and breathed for The Movement, and followed John and Candi’s every lead. My mom and dad were John and Candi’s devoted second-in-command leaders. Our two families were a potent force, having climbed The Movement’s social ladder to the head of the State of Missouri’s homeschool organization in just a few short years.
But through all of cult-like demands of The Movement, and my family’s worship of it, there was a teenage girl who longed to be free, understood, and accepted.
I had been shunned and rejected by John and Candi and my own family as well. (You can read about this on my last installment at NLQ). I had been battling something called anomie for several years (anomie is a psychological term used when a person feels utter abandonment, isolation, and rejection from their social circles and world around them). What kept me going though was eternal hopefulness- hopefulness that somehow, some way my family, my best friend Heather (John and Candi’s daughter), and our homeschooling support group would accept me back with loving arms if I “could just make myself into the ‘quiet and gentle’ that they all desired.” But their idea of a godly, homeschooled girl and the way the My Creator had wired me were two entirely different things. I simply could not be and do everything that they wanted. Not only were their demands unattainable, my family had also gotten to the point where it wouldn’t have mattered what I did- they needed someone to fill the role of scapegoat because deep down they knew that The Movement was not everything that they had promised to others. They knew it was Kool-aid.
I thought that I was “getting better,” which was something that I would daily tell myself. I wanted to be accepted and loved, and to me the only way to do that was to demonstrate what my mom and Candi were telling me that they wanted. I felt like that little, naked, diseased baby robin whose mother decides it will contaminate the others. She pecks and picks at it for its flaws and imperfections, kicking it out of the nest, and the baby robin slowly dies. That is very much how I felt. But somehow I also thought that I would “get better” and maybe, just maybe, fly back into that nest.
So this is how I felt when March of 1995 happened. My mom had scheduled a meeting with Candi do discuss me, to see if there was any way that Heather and I could become friends once more. Mom did this at my unceasing insistence. This meeting, taking place at Candi’s house, took a full day. The entire day I was hopeful and expectant, waiting eagerly to at last have a friend restored, my family restored, and to once again be accepted into the community of believers (this is what we called our homeschooling support group). Finally near the end of the day, Mom pulled into the driveway, and without so much as a hello, locked herself into her bedroom, discussing with my father in such hushed tones that even my eavesdropping ears could not detect.
I knew this was not a good sign. This was a very, very bad omen of things to come. My mom refused to tell me what the outcome was of their meeting, saying that she would tell me “when you are ready.” I didn’t quite understand that, it was my life that they were talking about. But for the next week, my mom barely spoke to me, pouring herself into the Bible and walking around with a mixed air of depression and anger. I knew that to ask what was said at “the meeting” was an act of futility on my part and the best thing I could do was wait this storm out.
A little over one week later, my mom said that we needed to sit down that night and “discuss some things” after my little brother had gone to bed. Little alarm bells were going off in my head when she said that because that felt a good deal too close to some sort of court hearing. My dad would also be present she proceeded to inform me. That made me even more uncomfortable because I never shared anything personal with him and the thought of just having him there made me unsettled. I was so nervous I about puked.
Finally the time had arrived and the feel in the room was about as sterile as a doctor’s office. The set-up was bizarre. My fluffy white and gray cat and I sat on the couch, and my mom and dad were in chairs pulled up across from me. This was not a warm talk with your daughter; no, I was about to go through an intensive interrogation.
My mom proceeded to inform me that I had let The Movement down by “certain instances” of ungodly behavior— which ranged from “degrading Heather’s hair and winter coat,” to “gossiping about other leader’s, even when told not to.” She proceeded to tell me that Candi had been keeping a record, a written record, on an 8 ½ x 11 yellow legal notepad (to this day, I can’t stand the sight of those things) of every “instance” that I had committed against Heather, their family, and more importantly, the homeschooling support group. My mom had spent the entire day at Candi’s home, copying down everything that Candi had written. And then my mom pulled out her own legal notepad…and proceeded to read it to me.
This is not an easy thing for me to write about. My entire world literally came crashing down around me. The anomie that I had been trying to stuff and ignore reared its ugly head. My thoughts were in a cyclonic whirlwind, making absolutely no sense. My head spinning, my chest tightening, my world was bleak and black as night. There was no hope of reconciliation with Heather, I had lost not only her, but any hope of ever having a friend. Candi had told my mom that she had warned all of the other families “about Chandra” and what is worse: my mom agreed with her decision. I had become the bastard child of the homeschooling movement and true to form, they needed to peck me until their problem went away.
I don’t know how one can feel much lower. By the end I felt so low, so angry with myself, so unworthy of anyone’s love that there was just no point in going on. I had been told as well that evening that to discuss any of this with my grandmothers (who most assuredly would have come to my rescue) was out of the question. For some reason I still don’t fully comprehend, I listened to that Kool-aid. My life had simply become worthless and not worth living for, and I really believed that no one cared about me. No one.
I remember my mom coldly staring at me through her icy blue eyes, with just a hint of hatred in them at me for having put my family through this hell. She was reading my reaction to see how I would respond to this newest information. I went into serious panic-mode. All of the thoughts that I had, everything that I had done- to myself, my family, The Movement- came crashing down on me like a two ton brick. Flinging my sleeping cat off of my lap, I ran to the kitchen and slammed every single cabinet door that I could think of. I was so angry with myself and I felt so worthless, and unloved. I think I broke a drinking glass before I ran to my parent’s bedroom and locked myself in there. It was the only room in the house that had a lock on the door. But there was also something else in that room.
My dad’s handgun. He always kept it loaded and locked. I yanked open the filing cabinet, tears streaming down my face, screaming, blabbering, completely incoherent. Shaking and trembling all I knew is that I wanted my life to be over. Ended. Done with. I had let myself down and I had no one left who cared. What on earth do I have to live for? The answer came back in a haunting…nothing. I took the gun out of its case.
My dad is no small man, towering at 6’8”. He could have knocked down the door, but all he did was knock. I pulled the gun out, while screams and pounding ensued from the other side of the bedroom door. My hand shaking, I put the gun into “unlock,” my slender finger on the trigger, and pointed it at my throat.
Then I heard a voice. It was unlike any voice that I have ever heard, and it was as audible as Someone sitting on the bed. It was calming and compassionate.
“Don’t do this Chandra. I have great plans for you.”
I dropped the gun, screaming, “I am going to do this!”
I picked the gun up once more, fully determined to end my misery. My finger once again on the trigger, I began to pull.
“Don’t do this Chandra. I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”
I dropped the gun, hands shaking.
I chose to believe Him. And even though I knew that my parents hated me, and that they did not care what they had done, I knew at that moment that my purpose in this life was not done. I knew then that I was meant to tell my story- someday- and that I was to be a rescuer to the weary hearted. I also knew that this Lord of Mercy was not the one that my mom had been teaching me about. I knew that the religion and the version of the Bible that she had been teaching and training me up in were false. The Lord of Love had saved me, not the lord of condemnation.
I opened the bedroom door and fled to my room. My parents had seen what I had done; they knew what was going on behind that door. Yet my heart was hurt once more, when they chose to think that it was nothing more than a plea for attention. They brushed my suicide attempt under the rug; even though my little brother had awoken from his slumber and was screaming and crying inconsolably at me through the door, begging me to never, never try something like that again. His response to my suicide attempt melted my heart, because I knew that he loved me. And for now, that was enough to keep me going.
Family counseling was never looked into, and no calls for help were made on my behalf. Because of how shaken my brother was, my mom and dad focused all attention on consoling him. I went to bed, shaken by what I had done, depressed and crying. I did not know how I was going to pull out of this depression that I could begin to feel was cloaking me in its darkness. I did not know if I would ever have parents that would care for me. I did not know if I would ever find a friend again. All I knew, as I cried myself to sleep late that night, alone, was in the words of Scarlet O’Hara: “Tomorrow is another day.” I finally drifted off into a fitful slumber.
Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Chandra blogs at Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Homeschool Cult
Chandra Hawkins-Bernat, was homeschooled K-12 (1986-1999), and is currently enrolled to get her Bachelor’s Degrees in Secondary and Art Education. She is also authoring her autobiography, Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Home School Cult and is seeking to have it published in the near future. She is happily married to her best friend and is also the proud mother of three sons, two of which have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.