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My best friend and I have since concurred, that even though the state of Missouri had laws on what we had to achieve in order to graduate school, we both knew that neither of our mothers had done a thing to help keep us up to date and within the bounds of one of the nation’s laxest homeschooling laws. We both understood that in order to graduate, we had to meet certain requirements within our high school transcripts. Though both of us pleaded for help, our mothers ignored our pleas. We took matters into our own hands (just to have freedom!) and forged our own transcripts. Not my proudest moment, and I am sure that I did myself no favors. However, to borrow a cliché’: Desperate times call for desperate measures. If every state had strict oversight of homeschooling families, and a social worker assigned to each family in order to catch neglect and abuse, then this would not be an issue.
I can say with a great amount of confidence that based on my preliminary research, nearly 80% of homeschooling graduates that I have spoken with never completed 100% of the requirements that were needed in their state in order to graduate (if that state had no oversight or accountability written into their laws). The only ones who have met these standards, within these lax states, were the ones whose parents either a) enrolled them in an on-line learning school or b) their parents’ had a higher degree (e.g. a Masters) and a great amount of emphasis was placed on academic achievement (not character achievement). Someone needs to intervene on behalf of these children, and something needs to be done to rework the current laws on homeschooling. Yet again another reason I write.
I was pretty lonely in my senior year, and really regretted the fact that when I spoke to my Grandmas they would frequently ask me if I ever wanted to attend a senior prom. Wanting to please my parents, and escape the brainwashing of my mom, I gave them the answer that my parents needed to hear. I was happy being homeschooled, and “saving” myself for that one special person. Dating in high school, I told them, was wrong. Deep down, I wished that my mom had been out of the range of hearing so that I could have a private conversation with one of them and tell them just how unhappy I was. Not only was I not allowed to tell them what was really going on in my life, I was never trusted to talk to them apart from my mom. I was deeply saddened that I was missing out on such a big part of high school. I would look at my cousins’ prom pictures and my heart would cry. I longed to have a formal gown, longed to dance, longed to just have fun. And more than anything, I longed to have a friend.
My homeschool graduation was fast approaching and my mom was in charge of orchestrating the entire event. Homeschool graduations are…weird. They are a big worship service, talent show, and speaking event all rolled into one. The idea behind the musical ensembles, solos, speeches, and worship, is for the parents (again, its all about the parents) to showcase to skeptical extended family members how well rounded and well-educated their offspring are. Graduates are expected to showcase a talent in some way for the audience and this is yet another example of how little the parents within The Movement know about adolescent development. Rather than feeling respected, most graduates feel like they are on display during these ceremonies and feel somewhat humiliated that they have to perform, on some level, what they know. I felt like a disrespected teenager whose mother was still trying to show off the academic achievements of her grade-schooler.
Though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with this weird conglomeration of a graduating class, I was excited about the possibility of finding a friend within the mix. Regardless of the level of involvement within the homeschooling community, graduates and their families would find out about the ceremonies and come out in the droves. Deep down, every parent desires his or her child to have a diploma, even if that diploma is completely illegitimate and not recognized by any college or university.
While I was still looking forward to graduation in May, I still did not have a driver’s license. I let my desires to earn one be known, but I wouldn’t be permitted to drive a car until I was nearly eighteen and-a-half. It was frustrating to be controlled so implicitly. Looking back I see how my parent’s lack of money influenced nearly every decision that they made on my behalf. My grandparents wanted to give me enough money for a car for my graduation present, but my mom put her foot down, saying that I didn’t need one. They ended up giving me their home computer that they had just purchased, which quickly became our family’s computer.
It’s funny how trials and hardships can adequately display a family unit’s true colors. Five months prior to my senior graduation, in January of 1999, the degree to which I had been controlled and devalued as a person hit an all-time low.
It all began with a cough and a really bad cold that just wouldn’t go away. It started unalarmingly enough; I was prone to get the croup anyway. Had been ever since I was a little girl. But there was this cough that I just couldn’t kick. I started running a fever and began to feel very fatigued and short of breath. Because my mom was completely controlled by paranoia and governmental “tracking,” neither my brother nor me had been to see a doctor in well over ten years. My mom began the frantic search for a doctor that fit her criteria: someone who was adamantly opposed to government intrusion would not require me to have my immunizations updated and was supportive of homeopathic remedies. She did end up finding one such doctor, recommended by another radical homeschooling mother. I went in and saw a very old, needing-to-be-retired doctor who sent me home with some general antibiotics.
I wish I could say that they worked. Due to my mom’s paranoia of medical practices and her ignorance, when my symptoms worsened, she did nothing. Slowly, my health deteriorated to a pathetic low. For nearly four weeks after the initial trip to the doctor, I began to have a great deal of trouble breathing. I could not sit or stand for more than the time needed to use the bathroom. I could not keep anything down and perhaps worse of all, I began to violently cough up blood and a severe amount of phlegm. My mom told herself that I would get better.
I had been sick for so many weeks, that my mom, who was far too consumed in Movement leadership and responsibilities; frequently left me at home nearly every day to fend for myself. I could not stand up, because if I did, I would pass out. I crawled to the bathroom, alone in a quiet house. I slept and struggled to fill my weak lungs with oxygen with every breath, alone. And no one in the world cared or knew. One time, I had become so dehydrated and oxygen-deprived that I passed out on the bathroom floor. I am not sure how long I lied on that cold, dirty tile floor. I somehow made it back to the couch. I was literally languishing away.
Perhaps the saddest part is that my extended family knew that I was sick, and my dad’s mom would call and check on me. But still, there was a refusal to treat me at a doctor’s office on the part of my parents whenever Grandma would mention it. My eyes had grown sunken and I had lost so much weight that my clothes just hung in folds around me. To be a teenager, stuck in a home where no one cared about you, waiting to die is incomprehensible to even the most compassionate soul.
My young body was about to give up. I had grown so weak and breathless that to talk was impossible. It took every once of mental effort that I had left to fill my lungs with what little air they could hold. I have since viewed my medical history, and it was on this night that I developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. My body had gone into shock.
That night, when all were in bed, I was unmoved and untouched on the couch. Every breath I took felt like a 200-pound bag of flour was placed on my chest. Each breath was painful, rapid, shallow, and absent of any amount of oxygen that would do me any real good. As I lay there, the tears began to trickle slowly. There I was, alone once again, unable to breathe-unworthy to breathe. My fever had spiked once again and I drifted in and out of consciousness.
They say that those who are close to death see visions of the afterlife. During one of my bouts of unconsciousness, a fiery gate came into sight. Beside the gate sat a figure of a man, outlined in embers. My soul cried out, “Jesus I want to die now!” I was ready to give up. I just wanted to go home. I begged to die, pleaded to die and to these pleas was His reply: “I will save you and I will heal you. I have made you for great things.”
Though my dad abused me horrendously as a little girl, and then grew to hate me later, he did understand what it was like to not be able to breathe (he had asthma). Seeing how sick and pallid I was on the couch the next morning, he did the first and only thing that ever told me that he even cared about me. He became, in that one small instant, my advocate that I so desperately needed. He told my mom to get me the help that I needed. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, he had to argue his point across to her as she put up a steady resistance to his suggestion.
I was incapable of speaking up and communicating my need to get the treatment that I needed to continue to live. All I could do was lay there and pray that somehow she would agree to let me go. Reluctant, at last she agreed.
The Quack that she wanted me to see was off for the day, that day being Saturday. Mom was left with no other option than to have me seen by his much younger partner. She was not a happy individual when she heard about this, but somewhere, deep down, she knew she had to take me in to been treated. Together my parents loaded me into the car and my mother drove me to the doctor.
Once there, he ran a battery of tests and x-rays that confirmed my diagnosis: severe pneumonia. I was incredibly sick, he stated to my mother, and firmly stated I needed to be seen in the hospital. My mother refused.
Again, lying on the doctor’s table, I was completely weak and unable to speak. The x-rays that they had done on me left me unable to voice anything, and it took everything within me to breathe and not begin a violent coughing episode. I listened to them argue, and finally the doctor made my mother sign a “Refusal to Treat” document. The agreement was that I would be treated with what he could do there in the office, and should I not improve within 24 hours, I would have to return to the hospital to be further evaluated and treated.
Long story short, my mom lied to the doctor about my actual improvement, though what he prescribed and did for me did help. I improved slowly, slowly, over the course of the next sixteen weeks. I had made up my mind that I was going to survive this abuse and hatred and when I did, I was going to do everything within my power to leave this home. My parents may have wanted me dead, but God had bigger things in store for my life. I had come to understand some things: my parents did not love me, I was not going let The Movement have the satisfaction of destroying my life, the best years of my life were still ahead of me, and the abuse, neglect, and heartache that I endured were meant for me to experience so that one day I could use my story to help other girls who were caught in a similar situation. Solo deo Gloria!
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.