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My sixteenth birthday was fast approaching and something unusual was going to occur: I would be allowed to have my second birthday party, and this was no small matter: It would be my first co-ed party. I had sufficiently stuffed my depression and became exactly what they wanted: quiet, gently, reserved, and pious. In fact, I became so good at playing this game of theirs that I had eventually gained respect because I was so vocal in support of The Movement. Never a complaint was uttered again from my lips about how much I hated my situation. I learned to adapt so that I could survive and escape the abusiveness. Granted my father and I did not get along, but at least my mom’s spiritual abuse subsided. I learned to accept that this was simply my lot in life.
I actually regret that. I was telling my husband just the other day that if there was one regret that I had while in my parent’s home, it was that I allowed my personality to be squelched to such a level that even I barely recognized myself. I wish that I would have been a stronger person and simply refused to listen to their Kool-aid. I wish I would have talked to my grandmas and my aunts, I wish I would have been true to myself and been the person that I was created to be. I suppose hindsight is everything.
The big nagging question in my life was how on earth would I meet someone to marry out of this family? And how on earth would I do that when I was never allowed to be around guys? I knew that I had missed the boat on scholarships, and whenever I would bring up to my mom about going away to college or taking the ACT or SAT, I was pushed aside.
My family had risen to quite the level of power and status in our area, though the homeschooling groups themselves were riddled with infighting and politics. I listened daily to my mom giving advise to those who would call asking for help on applying for scholarships, when to begin applying for colleges, and when to take the ACT or SAT. I knew the answers. You apply for scholarships at the end of your sophomore year, apply to colleges in your junior year, and take the ACT or SAT every year from your freshman year on.
But I was a Daughter of The Movement, and those types of girls just simply did not do those things. It did not matter that I requested, nagged, and implored them to let me go to college, I was to remain at home until I married. I was to remain under my father and mother’s tyrannical reign, and then my husband would rule me. At that point, that actually sounded appealing. I wanted to take the ACT or SAT exam, but that was where my mom and Candi’s sick paranoia kicked in. They believed that “the government” used those tests as a means to “track” individuals and “come after them.” Think extremist and conspiracy theorist paranoia. That was who they were and that was Mom and Candi’s reason for not allowing us kids to take the exam. And there was no convincing otherwise, not by us girls or by our dads, because we all knew who really wore the pants in the family. Their idea of biblical submission was all for show.
So I knew that I would be left with very little options, other than to marry. My parents were all over arranged marriages, courtship, and betrothals. Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler and Norm Wakefield were frequent visitors at our homeschooling conferences. With as dysfunctional as my family was, that concept caused me great cause for anxiety. I knew that if they were to spend any amount of time with my family that my chances of securing a courtship-proposal were as good as over. While for some girls, this concept may- and I emphatically stress, may- have worked to their benefit, I knew that this simply would not work for me. I knew that I was going to have to take those matters into my own hands.
Candi had a dream…a clear vision to secure her power, prestige and status on a national level. And that was to orchestrate a courtship that would later lead to marriage for my former best friend, Hannah. She was unmoved in this resolve and sought to bring in any national speaker that she knew of that had young men. To her, this would be the ultimate success and show “her people” that homeschooling really does work. Every year, her and John would court these families, bringing them into their home, talking to them, taking them out for dinner, and escort the speaker and their families to and from the airport.
With the dawn of the Clinton administration and the approaching Y2K scare, Mom and Candi began to preach to “their people” to head for the country. Survivalist and stockpiling strategies became the topic of concern at every homeschool support group meeting, conference, and conversation. They were terrified of the Clinton’s implementing communism in our country and preached of a world collapse because of Y2K.
This led up to a big survivalist conference in October of 1997. I so did not want to go, they were not making Hannah go, but my parents did not trust me and kept me on a very tight leash, even at 16. Our support group was to have a table at this conference to represent our State homeschooling organization, and I was needed to be present to “be an example.” I went, but they were not about to keep me behind that table for two whole days.
Wondering around from booth to booth, I was nothing short of feeling eerily spooked by all of the doomsayers. The rifles, the pamphlets on how to obtain illegal weapons (of which John and Candy bought several), the generators, the canned goods, the Missouri militia sign-ups, the prominent display table of The John Birch Society…. was enough to make my skin crawl and my stomach feel queasy. I needed to find an escape and fast.
Down a couple of booths from where we encamped handing out generous doses of Kool-aid, there was television playing a video of Michael New’s court marshalling. He refused to wear the blue beret of the United Nations, displaying a flagrant act of rebellion to authority. This young man was hailed as being a hero in our circles, so naturally this video drew me in.
I stood mesmerized by the drama of this documentary and a winsome, squatty man spoke up.
“So have you heard about Michael New?”
True to form I replied that I had and that I really respected his act of “patriotism.” I noticed the Texan flag hanging behind this man’s booth and I was instantly drawn to his twinkling, kind eyes.
“I’m his dad.”
This brought on a non-stop conversation that lasted the remaining of Friday night and on into Saturday. He was so easy to talk to and so kind. I told him of my dreams to one day open a school and teach The Principle Approach. This was the current method of teaching that my mom was using and I actually enjoyed it, although looking back it was unabashedly revisionist in its “history.” This caught his instant attention. He kept asking me all sorts of questions, questions that never seemed odd or misplaced. It was a relief to have someone to talk to and someone whom I didn’t feel judged by. Later he showed me a picture of his second son, Gabriel.
Wrapping up later that Saturday afternoon, he informed me that he was coming speak at our homeschooling conference the following June. And then he informed me that he had been looking for a “special girl, a godly girl” for his son and that he intended on bringing him to meet me in June with the intention of starting a courtship.
My heart soared on the wings of freedom and bliss for the next several months. My mom and dad knew that I was talking to Mr. New, and they wondered of course what it was about. There was no way on earth that I would let them destroy the one chance of freedom that I had had from them, by telling them what I knew. I understood that if they found out, they would stop it cold in its tracks. The truth was that my parents wanted to remain in control of me for the unforeseeable future and they had a sick need to control an individual.
I determined that it was not going to be me.
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.