June came in on the wings of a splendid spring for Darren and I. My world had never been sunnier. It was a hopeful season full of the amazing gift of love between a man and his woman. We both knew we were going to become engaged, the question was one of timing.
The lease for the sugary little condo that I was renting with my friend was going to be up at the end of June. Due to the situation of my relationship with Darren, and the seriousness of it, this was going to render me without a place to live. My two dear friends were going to be moving in with three other girls, and due to occupational ordinances there was not room for one more person. I knew what my options were: either try to find a place to live on my own, move in with Darren, or move back in with my parents. I couldn’t afford to rent a place on my income and I didn’t want to sign a lease, and I had always dreamed of marrying in the church where I grew up. It was a magnificent facility and the envy of those who could marry there: you had to be a member in order to wed. With those dreams of a beautiful ceremony and wedding nestled deep in my heart, living with Darren would put that dream out of reach for me. My life had been filled with so much pain and heartache; I couldn’t bear the thought of relinquishing my dreams of the happiest day of my life. So I did what I never should have done: I moved back in with my parents.
Darren proposed on the front steps of a darling Catholic church that we would walk by every night. The Church of the Little Flower looked like it belonged in Austria and it was the perfect setting. Dropping to one knee, he pulled out the biggest diamond solitaire I had ever seen. After tears and kisses, three ladies down the street applauded. I think we made their day.
Darren’s parents, who were not churchgoers, were wonderful and supportive and thrilled that at long last their son was getting married to the girl of his dreams. My parents who were devoted members of this church, actively worked to un-do our relationship and sought to control what they could. To say that they were displeased with my engagement to a man that “they didn’t know” would be an understatement. My mother was convinced that this was not God’s will for my life and so with that conviction came a war looming on the horizon. But the throes of love kept me naive regarding what the two of my parents were plotting and Darren and I forged ahead knowing that nothing could separate us from one another or the Father’s love.
We progressed ahead planning our future. Neither one of us had ever been happier, especially not me. And then, one week in mid-July it all fell apart.
My best friend at the time was still working at Twin Oaks. We had grown very, very close over the last several months. We shared a cubicle and we loved working together. She always had my back.
She called my cell. “Chandra, you need to know something. Your wedding date was just pulled off of the calendar.”
I was angry and frozen all at the same time. I had been in charge of scheduling weddings, and I knew the policy. The only way that this could have happened is if my parents decided that they did not approve of my marriage to a God-fearing, financially secure man that they “did not know.” They had pulled out their ace card: Parental blessing.
They had gone straight to the top and successfully communicated that they were not comfortable with this marriage, that I was marrying the wrong one, and in the name of protecting me…the church listened and pulled my date.
In a few short days, I lost everything. My dreams of a lovely wedding, my dress, my photographer, and my invitation company. Everything.
To shorten a lengthy story for the purposes of blogging, Darren and I planned on eloping at the courthouse the Thursday after my world became wretchedly unraveled. I moved all of my belongings in to Darren’s over the next few days. Screw the wedding.
This of course did not stop my parents from insisting- yes, you read that right- insisting on a wedding that they had complete control over, at a time they were “comfortable with.”
We said hell with it.
They wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I had pastors, elders wives, and the whole gamut calling me, sending me emails, writing me letters about how I needed to do what my parents wanted, that I was robbing my mom of an opportunity to share a wedding with her daughter, and not to elope.
I don’t know what brand of Kool-aid they fed their friends, but it was nothing but lies in an attempt to control and manipulate their daughter.
The problem was that my parents had wanted the wedding date pulled off of the calendar so that they could control the entire process, and force us to wait a year and a half to get married (rather than in a few short months). They thought that they could bank on the fact that they knew how much I had dreamed of getting married and that they could use that dream to manipulate me.
Well, not any more. I relinquished my dream. It was important to me yes, I would never fully recover from the loss, but it was not near as dear to my heart as the man I was about to marry. He was my world and I gladly gave all that up for him…and for self-respect.
My best friend was a great party planner. She knew about my dreams of a wedding, and she was not about to let me go and just give all of that up. She knew a pastor who could perform our ceremony, she said, so why not plan a wedding anyway?
We met with the pastor, and he agreed to marry us. We called the proprietor of the Church of the Little Flower and he OK’d us to be married on the front steps of the very church where he proposed to me. I went to JCPenny’s and bought a wedding dress (or confirmation dress, not sure which!) off of the rack. Darren’s parents paid for the ceremony site and pastor. I bought my own gown.
My BF and I kept the ceremony under wraps. We were about to spring a massive surprise on my bridal party. On the night of the ceremony, my BF met them at our house which was right down the street from the church and drove everyone to Little Flower. You could hear the screams coming from the van.
It was a surprise wedding, and we were the couple surprising everyone else!
I wasn’t strong enough emotionally or mentally to fight the mental burga that my parents had covered me with. I allowed them to be present at the ceremony. It was a dark bloody stain on the white dress that I wore. And when I think about one of the happiest days of my life, there they are, with their pompous attitudes and obvious disapproval, looking on in judgment and hatred.
At the time, I cared little whether they were there or not. But when I look back, it pains me because I still remember the look on their faces. I wish those memories were not even there.
They insisted on paying for something at the last minute. We had planned to go to a fancy French restaurant with the understanding that everyone would pick up his or her own tab. Not wanting to be shown up by Darren’s parents (who were already paying for the champagne), they gave me their credit card and told me to charge the meals to it.
They left with my grandfather. And we went on to celebrate the beginning of our married lives. I was free!
Or was I?
In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think about an unexpected conversation that I had had with Hannah, not a month before our wedding. She had found my number through a friend of a friend and wanted to reconnect. She said that she had a lot to tell me, a lot that she wanted to apologize for. And when we met, I couldn’t believe my ears. And on my wedding day, I couldn’t help but think about what it was that she had told me.
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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.
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