The Piano: Adventures in Recovery

by Calulu

Reading through the many different stories at NLQ of how we were enmeshed in the unhealthy lifestyle that is patriarchy, fundamentalism, quiverful, dominionism, evangelism, name your ism, has led me to wonder why we all so readily embraced that which was so clearly illogical and dangerous. There must be something in us that went off in that direction that’s significantly different than the average person that likes regular movies and beer plus other forbidden things in our old religious lives.

This isn’t about those that were raised in the life. Growing up to emulate your parents is perfectly understandable, be your parent Charlie Manson or Billy Graham. I’m talking about those of us that willingly signed on as adults, who should have known better in the first place.

I did notice during my own frustrating years toiling in fundigelical land that the truest bluest believers seem to have some quirk or oddness. It usually didn’t show at first but once you delved deeper you could discern some brokenness inside. Significant brokenness. Like they were using their extreme flavor of God to plug some holes filled with deep neediness. Like a drug.

And I can relate to that because for me I think I felt empty in some ways. Serious ways. My years at PCC were an attempt to correct that empty painful place. I’d been raised by a beautiful alcoholic that spent much of my childhood drinking alone in her bedroom, one very glamorous shut in. When I entered adolescence she divorced my father and took a job, going from ignoring me for liquor to ignoring me for a job and her lover she’d left my father for. My father moved out, leaving me, stripping me of the only adult in my life who loved for me unconditionally, took care of me day to day. My father is the reason that to this day I can do things like use a skill saw, swing a hammer or paint and wall paper a house.

Our circumstances were reduced. A woman leaving her bank vp husband for lover in the early 1970s wasn’t going to get away with the house, servants and belongings. We moved from a large gracious home to a small apartment on the edge of town. I lost my beloved parent surrogates, my dog and my piano. I changed schools, I lost all my friends. This all changed me, not for the better. I was stripped of most everyone and every thing I loved and thrust into another existence.

Losing my piano was one of the biggest emotional hits I received. It took me until I was in my forties to recover the sense of trust after the piano incident.

During my growing up years my mother enrolled me in all the classes a well bred young lady was supposed to take in able to take her place in society. I took ballet, I took tap, I took baton, I took jazz dance lessons. I took fencing and riding lessons. I took art lessons. But my favorite was piano, I took piano lessons on the family piano, a huge mahogany monstrosity that stood six feet tall. The front was carved in elaborate whorls and patterns. Even the knobs you turned to tune the strings were decorative and gilded. I loved that damn piano. I loved to play.

Just before my parents split they took me to Disneyworld and one day out in park as we were exiting the Teacups ride one of my parents let it slip that they were splitting up. The first thought I had was if I was going to be allowed to keep my precious piano. Yes, yes, they both assured me. It was the only thing that made the changes bearable. I played more often and poured my rage into my music, doubling my lessons as they fought over who got what dishes and silver.

When we started packing for the move to the apartment I was frantic to know about my piano. Yes, yes, my mother assured me again, the moving men were going to move the piano too.

Then Saturday came and my father showed up, with his parents and assorted relatives and took my piano. I keep screaming and asking why in that same melodramatic way that thirteen year old girls favor. The only answer my father could give me was that my mother had called up several weeks before and demanded he take the piano because she wanted nothing from his family in the home, plus it was going to cost a fortune to move. (I can attest to that, it’s in my living room right now. It took five men and taking the french doors out of the wall in the back to get it into my house) Dad told me that they were scrambling to find a family member that wanted it so the piano would be going to my cousin Debbie and her husband. They left. I stayed in the living room weeping after losing my piano, waiting for my mother.

My mother had left me alone that Saturday at the house while she went ‘shopping’ – (code word for meeting the lover in a hotel I found out years later). I waited for her for hours. She finally came home around ten thirty that night after having left more than twelve hours before. I think she thought I’d surely be in bed but I wasn’t, I was tearfully awaiting her to ask why she’d given away something that meant that much to me. I angrily confronted her and she sighed, told me that my father had called and demanded it back since it had been in their family since the late 1800s.

I didn’t know who to believe and I decided I couldn’t believe or trust people. People would hurt you, disappoint you every single time. This one incident had ugly repercussions for many years later. It affected my ability to be emotionally intimate, to trust or to believe I had any value or worth. In the ensuring years I turned that incident over and over and over again in my mind trying to figure out who was lying. Neither would back down from their story. It was at that point in my life that I started to self medicate with drugs. I drank but didn’t much like it. Hangovers sucked but pot smoothed off the edges, coke made me feel like a million bucks.

I was set adrift in a dangerous world alone. My mother left for weeks at a time. I didn’t see her, I was alone in apartment, left to my own teenage devices. Because I’d done very well in elementary school I’d skipped a few grades so I was a few years ahead of the kids my own age, among kids older than myself. I had older friends and you know where that leads. Especially when you add in drugs and rock and roll.

For me it led straight to a relationship with a man older than myself, someone above age of consent. I think I fell for him because he was so forbidden, a local musician in his twenties always surrounded by women. I just instinctively knew he would piss off my parents, from his long hair to his occupation. I fell for him hard, that painful hard first love. We were intimate, and from the first he asked me to do things I was very uncomfortable with but gradually I started to do as he wished, after all, he really loved me. He, Dan, could be with all those other gorgeous sexy older than me women yet he’d chosen me. Me!

Looking back now I can see he was grooming me, grooming me as carefully as any cult leader or pedophile grooms their followers. Naive, inexperienced me fell for every romantic, seductive, honeyed word dripping from Dan’s mouth and sought to be that sixteen year old Lolita he wanted. And then I got pregnant. At sixteen.

My parents were something less than thrilled. In fact I was threatened with being put in the insane asylum and forcibly aborted. Dan’s family took an instant dislike to me as well, both families eyeing each other in mutual distrust and hatred. But I stood firm, promptly married Dan and we bought a trailer to start our little family in.

The marriage didn’t work from the beginning even I was trying to be the sexiest pregnant woman in the world. It was obvious early on that what Dan wanted was a loving innocent sex pot waiting at home with child to cook for him and make mad passionate love to him. But also to sleep with each and every attractive vagina possessor around the band when they were out on the road. It took me quite a while to discover this was his ideal set up. Again, I was crushed that I’d allowed someone close and they’d hurt me badly. A year into the marriage I left Dan and I filed for divorce as soon as I could afford it.

The good thing about my time with Dan is that I knew I had to get it together, get my shit together we used to say back in the 70s. My leaving him left me with a baby, a high school diploma, no car, no job skills but I moved forward anyway. I went on to college, worked, raised my child and tried to toe the straight and narrow. Hard years but good years. Part of getting it together was going into therapy.

Ten years and 14 days to the day that I’d married Dan I married again, to Jim, my husband of the last twenty five years. Even committing to marry him was a difficult thing, we dated for over three years. I’d had to let my desire to be Jim’s wife be stronger than my fear of trust before I could say yes.

We married, and you know the rest. Good jobs, nice house, kids, good life. But I still felt like something was missing. When we first attended church in our town I was turned off to Christianity because I felt it was a social club filled with people sitting around in their good clothes mouthing boring prayers and platitudes. I didn’t know what I wanted exactly but I knew I wanted something else.

How did we arrive at fundigelical patriarchal quivering Possum Creek Church? By way of a local acquaintance who’d been bugging us to visit the church. I used to tell Jim when he called, “Ned Flanders is on the phone for you.” because this guy struck me very much as a in the flesh Ned Flanders from the tv show “The Simpsons” Little did I know how big a role in our joining and leaving PCC he would play.

At first all my buttons were pushed visiting. People were over friendly, too space invading, too questioning and every visit seemed an assault on my senses. But it was the worship music that pulled me in. I would go and worship and be pulled in.

From the great distance of now from that early day I have to conclude that the trauma I experienced as my parents divorced plus being used by Dan made me susceptible to being pulled in. The hole in my heart, the piano shaped one, was at least temporarily assuaged by whatever it was I was getting in those early days.

From my experience and many I’ve observed I have to conclude that being a hurting broken person with inner wounds seems to make it easier to get intrinsically involved. After all, those at the church seem happy, they seem to know it all, have the answers, be without inner pain. You see that. You want that. Unfortunately it can take a long time to realize you’re being put in a situation of abuse again.

I’ve love to know everyone elses reasons for getting involved with Quiverful or the Patriarchal movement. Was there some defining moment that make you likely to be open to that? Or did you just aspire to be like the others? Why? Please leave me a comment or come on over to the Forum and reply in the thread.

Eventually I did get my piano back. When I turned thirty five, shortly after joining PCC I was telling a close friend the piano story and he challenged me to call up each of my parents and ask why they’d taken my piano away. Ask again. I did. My mother changed her story to how it would have been too big for the apartment plus the apartment management didn’t allow big musical instruments. My father sighed and told me the same thing he said originally. A week later he showed up at my house in Virginia unexpectedly, told me happy birthday and revealed he’d gotten my piano back for me from the family member who’d ended up with it. That piano bounced all around the family before coming to rest in my living room around fifteen years ago. I still play it and I have a good idea who the liar was. My mother is the one that lied to me but I’ve moved past that. I know that not everyone is untrustworthy now.

Discuss this post on the NLQ Forum. Comments are also open below.

Sex Confessions ~ Cult of Personality ~Cereal Killers ~ Thirty One ~ The Piano ~ Barbie’s Head ~ Scaredy Cats ~ The Help ~ The Kids ~ Service Somebody ~ Circus ~ Fish ~ Boo! ~ Hi Ho Trigger ~ Surfing ~ SOS ~ The Big Truth ~ Pearl Clutching ~ Rolling ~ Can’t Dance ~

Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago.  Her blog is Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

  • APRIL

    My piano was a set of hundreds of dollars worth of Barbie Dolls and all the assesories. My step mother went crazy for a few short years with the IFB movement and homeschooling (and my dad let her.) She thought everything had a demon and Barbie especially! I cried and cried and was upset for YEARS before I could forgive. I had so many collectors and planned on passing them to my daughters. I was devestated to have my things treated that way and just given away at a yeard sale. I felt like I had no say in my life at that point and I HATED it! Which is why I ran away and NEVER went back!

  • Meggie

    Peer pressure has an effect on pulling people into this lifestyle. When my son reached school age, my friends all asked “Have you enrolled him in the Christian school?” When I explained we were sending him to the public school we got both criticism and, more surprisingly, offers by members of the church to pay the fees so that my son would not “suffer” in the public school system.

    Attending the Christian school is a commitment by both the child and the parents. My friends left many of their “worldy” activities such as sport as they became more and more involved in the school. Initially this was simply a time issue but it became about separating themselves from the world. They slowly became more extreme in their views and being more Christian almost became a competition. The original argument that had been used on me for the Christian school was that it would protect my child. Now my friends were saying no school could protect their child and they began pulling their kids out to home school. As they mixed less and less with non-Christians, their views became more and more extreme. They stopped attending our mainstream church and formed their own evangelical church.

    This process – mainstream Christian to isolated evangelical – has taken fourteen years. They pushed each in their attempts to be better Christians. I do wonder whether I would be the same if I had sent my children to the Christian school.

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