Things ratchet up a few new levels of tension. 9/11 happens. I’m sitting in front of the television having coffee and folding clothes when CNN shows the coverage of the first tower getting hit and I’m still watching when the second plane hits the other one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. By the time the plane hits the Pentagon and there are rumors on television of another plane being spotted on the way to Capital Hill where my husband works I was pretty wrung up. My phone kept ringing off the hook from friends and relatives wanting to know the status of my husband but because the entire cell phone network on the Eastern Seaboard crashed that day I had no way of contacting Hubby, the phones he could be reached at gave out of order messages.
So I sat and I waited and waited and waited and waited in a state of semi hysteria watching the coverage from DC of all the federal workers walking out of the city because all mass transit had stopped. The pastor and some friends from church came to sit with me while we watched reports of the State Dept rumored to be on fire and other inaccuracies that were reported that day.
While this is all going on Tom starts calling and demanding to know in an angry voice if his best buddy, my husband, is alive or dead. I have nothing to tell him because I can’t reach Hubby. So what does he say? Gee I’m sorry, is there anything I can do to help? Or something supportive? Nope. He keeps telling me if Hubby dies it means that God is punishing me for being non-submissive to Hubby. I hang up on him again and again until the Pastor, who was with me, takes the phone and tells him to stop calling and get a grip on himself.
Many times when Tom starts braying out hateful things, be they in the words of knowledge time at church or in public or just whenever our Pastor has to tell him to shut up. Usually this effectively shuts him up for awhile, at least until the next thing sets him off on his telling everyone what to do mode.
I think it was at this point that Tom became obsessed with the idea that he couldn’t control me, or force me to allow him back in my life and it became his goal at that point to control and correct me as much as possible. He chases me in the weirdest ways, like on Wednesday evening at church as I wait for my kids in their classes he tries to talk to me, I tell him that I have to go, he grabs my upper arm hard and shakes me, hissing that he’s tired of my attitude. The pastor has to tell him to let go of me. I go home with the finger marks of his hand dug into my arm, coming in perfect bruises around my arm. I don’t tell my husband because I don’t want to make this worse, plus the pastor said he would take care of Tom. I do take a photo of my arm and document what happened in my journal just in case.
Sunday after 9/11 Tom stands up in church during worship and proclaims that God told him personally that He was punishing America because this country allows abortion and Godlessness and if we didn’t ban all abortion, kill homosexuals and all return to fundamentalist roots the country would be wiped off the face of the map soon. Women working and wearing pants, not be submissive enough to their menfolks has brought this about. Repent, for the end is nigh!!!!! Pastor cuts him off in mid rant by cuing our worship band to start playing loudly as Tom rants.
That’s another bone of contention. I am on the worship team playing keyboards and Tom is not even if we both applied and auditioned at the same time. Tom was rejected for not living right. When you join you have to sign a contract stating that you will behave, no infidelity, no drunken orgies, no smoking weed, very common sense things really that benefit you and no one else.
It becomes a bigger deal once the Pastor asks me to host our area bible study, teach the study and lead the worship music at the fellowship gathering weekly. Tom starts showing up with his guitar and trying to take over leading the music even as I’ve been officially tasked with it. It was always awkward when the Smiths showed up. Many many times Tom would take out that guitar and start singing out crazy songs he’d written, demanding everyone sing along, try to steer and control the direction of the meeting just like he tries to control everything and everyone around him.
It had taken quite a while but it finally dawned on me that Tina was as manipulative as Tom and that she told everyone your personal business, but only after screwing up exactly what it was you said to make it sound much much worse. By this point I’d developed enough sense to know that they were both not a good example for anyone to emulate, so I tried at every turn to ignore them, avoid them, limit any access to me and mine. We even stopped allowing our kids to play with theirs most of the time.
We try mightily to evade and ignore Tom and Tina but it wasn’t easy at all. I even got careful about what I put on the church prayer list because one time I had a miscarriage, put on the prayer list a vague reference to wanting prayer for reproductive problems only to hear that everyone was gossiping I’d had an abortion when it was actually a miscarriage followed by a D&C to control the excessive bleeding I had. Traced the rumor starting point back to Tina.
It gets even crazier once the Pastor assigns me to lead our group in a new study called “Walk Across The Room” which was that we took turns telling each other in our small group our life stories and how we got where we were at the time. I was first scheduled and Tina was second. As we gathered at my home and I was busy putting out refreshments while Hubby talked to those arriving Tina cornered me and told me in no uncertain terms that she thought I should not participate in the study. Her reasoning? “Your story is only going to glorify sin.”
I was so aghast at her words I broke out crying and locked myself in the master bathroom for awhile until I could get a grip on my emotions. Once I came out Tom had already whipped out his guitar and was attempting to lead worship singing “Jesus Likes me… I like Jesus..” and so on..musical pablum. I started up my keyboards on eleven to drown him out after he refused to yield the floor.
When I finally gave my testimony I could not stop crying I was so impacted by Tina’s accusations of glorifying sin and how I was going to corrupt all the young folks there. I cried the entire time until my emergency Xanax kicked in. Oh, the things I was suffering to try and keep the unity of the body, to walk in peace and harmony with the church, to try and be quiverfull like our church demanded, to be humble, to not sin, to not cause others to sin. My beliefs from that time in our extremely patriarchal church were forcing me to not tell off Tom and take permanent steps to rid my life of him. I tried to be “nice”, forgiving, keep short accounts all the while everything Tom did started to feed the rage inside of me. Good quivering praying submitting women aren’t supposed to feel rage!
Home bible study started turning into the Tina and Tom Show. I’d be tense the entire day leading to the meetings, wondering why God was punishing me so badly for opening my home and providing hospitality to our area church members. Every week was a new battle with them. I started to get stress headaches every Wednesday afternoon and would always take a Xanax about an hour before everyone showed up.
When Tina started giving her testimony and life story she told us the craziest of tales, about how when Tom and Tina were first married and she was 6 months pregnant with their oldest disabled child they decided to fast for a month, pray and ask God how He would use them. Tommy felt like they were to go on a missions trip to Kenya so they got out a map of Kenya, threw a dart at it and went to the spot the dart landed on. I had to restrain myself from shaking my head and laughing because even then in my Koolaid drinking days those actions struck me as the height of stupidity.
At this same particular home bible study group one of our closest friends had brought their twenty year old daughter who’d been struggling with mental illness and substance abuse for a long time. She was eight months pregnant out of wedlock at the moment too. We all welcomed her with open arms, just happy to see her again and glad she seemed much more stable.
Once things started to break up and people started leaving I noticed as I was cleaning up the refreshments in the dining room that Tom had that poor girl in the kitchen alone. He was haranguing her about her pregnancy, telling her that he could not BELIEVE she would dare show her shameful self in public, that she was a BAD witness and influence to the younger gals of the church. For shame, go hide yourself IMMEDIATELY!!!!! I broke that up and told Tom to leave, leave now and his answer was, “No bitch tells me what to do.” I told him again to leave except this time I was calling the cops. He left and an hour later I got a long threatening ranty email saying that I was a snob and a Jezebel spirited woman that was going to hell. I forwarded the email to our pastor and elders board insisting they deal with this idiot.
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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