My twin sister flopped down on her bed, a dreamy look on her face. She was clutching a beautiful down parka to her chest, hugging it like a teddy bear. I sat tentatively on the edge of the bed, swinging my feet that were snugly encased in my new leather boots. They were Christmas presents, unusual Christmas presents. Past Christmases never had expensive or thoughtful gifts, not for “the twins”. We got socks and new underwear and inexpensive clothing. But this stuff was quality! So unusual.
We were continuing a conversation that had been going on for three weeks at that point.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” my sister squealed as she buried her face in the parka. “See, Mom is changing. I think she finally wants us to have a happy family. I can’t believe how nice she is being to us. It’s like a dream!” Her blue eyes sparkled with hope, and I loved her in that moment as only a sister can. She was so beautiful, so happy. She was beginning to believe that mom might actually love her.
My heart hurt for her, and I wanted so much to protect her from hoping. It had never ended in anything but disappointment and heartache where my mom was concerned. And yet my sister was so happy right then, how could I crush that? I’d have to be as big a monster as my mom to crush her happiness.
“I hope you’re right.” I finally offered. “I don’t trust her. Something is up. It is not like her to be so kind and thoughtful. I think she’s plotting something new.”
I looked down at my sweet, tender sister’s face. A cloud had come across her joyous expression. Why, God, did my sister have to live with this too? Why couldn’t it just be me? I would have given anything to spare her from the pain I knew too well myself.
“But I’m cynical, you know me. You’re probably right. It’s just hard for me to trust her.” I flopped down next to her and stared at the ceiling.
We talked of other things for awhile, and then I crossed the hall to my own room and went to bed. As I lay there drifting off to sleep, I thought maybe, just maybe, my mom had grown a heart. Like the Grinch. Maybe.
BANG BANG BANG
“Get up and get dressed. We have company. Come to the den. Do it NOW!”
The old mom was back. The angry voice, void of anything resembling kindness, the abrupt demands, the expectation of bad attitudes on our part. Oh, God. I immediately thought of my sister. This was going to crush her.
Another piece of my heart broke as I pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. I put on my game face along with my clothes. This was going to be ugly, I knew that much.
I had no idea how ugly it would get.
As I opened my bedroom door and stepped into the hallway I saw my sister. She was so frightened and bewildered. I will never forget the look on her face. Tears are in my eyes as I type this. If God really means it about millstones and drowning for offending little ones, there will literally be hell to pay for what happened next.
Our house was small so it took very little time to get to the den. There in our little den, sat the elders of my mom’s fundamentalist church-the same fundamentalist church that took us all in buses to the Gothard seminar.
Oh God, help us! What has she done this time?
I took my sister’s hand. I have never seen a more wounded expression on a person’s face. I wished I could protect her from whatever evil was about to befall us, but I was as helpless as she was.
If only she hadn’t hoped, I thought. Oh sweet sister, why did you trust her? She only ever does evil.
I’m not sure when exactly my brain shut down. I remember the pastor standing up (wicked man!) with his big black Bible. I remember the sectional sofa full of men, all of whom I knew from church. The pastor began to speak in a loud voice.
First he went on about what a godly woman my mom was (Ha! If he only knew.) and how she had tried so hard to raise us for the Lord (Is he talking about the same person?). Then he began to go on about how rebellious we were (True of me, NOT true of my sister!) and finally he got to the Bible reading.
He read from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 21:
18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
Once he started reading, I checked out. I probably talked over him to my sister, telling her not to listen, that this was bullshit. I don’t remember exactly what I said and did, but I do remember shutting out everything that was going on around me.
Seems my mom, who was at best neglectful and at worst violent, whose righteous deeds pretty much consisted of going to church on occasion if she wasn’t hung over or spending the night at her boyfriends, had convinced these patriarchs that she was a helpless little woman in need of their protection. Could those big strong elders please come and rescue her from these rebellious ungodly teenagers? And they fell for it: hook, line and sinker.
The real story is that my mom feared my sister and I. She found out that we had recently renewed our relationship with our estranged step-father. She knew that might result in a new custody battle for my little sister. She had to discredit us, and do it quick. Otherwise, we might talk and someone might believe us and then where would she be? No one would leave a child in her home if anyone believed us.
The bottom line, pronounced the pastor, was that we deserved to die for being rebellious to our poor, helpless, uncovered-by-a-man overwrought mother.
But since stoning wasn’t legal, we were given two options. Call my step-father to come and get us or they would call the police and have us declared incorrigible (a legal status) by the state and we would go to juvenile justice.
I know enough now to confidently state that the second option was a bluff. We’d never been in trouble with the law for anything serious. I skipped a lot of school one semester, but was back on track at that time. The law in that state about incorrigible youth was intended to get the chronically criminal off the street. We were typical teens, not criminals.
But we didn’t know that at the time. The threat seemed very real that day.
We called our (non-religious)step-dad, who came and got us, and that was a temporary fix. My mom never stopped trying to destroy our lives, however, and my step-dad had no idea what to do with teenage daughters. He had been a single workaholic man for the past fifteen years! But he had a heart, praise God, so he showed up for us in our hour of rejection. I will always love him for that.
Eventually my mom would make sure that I wound up in foster care and on my own with nothing when I aged out. My twin sister was dumped on the street at eighteen with nothing, my mom having stolen all the money in my sister’s savings account since it was in her name as well. We were completely discredited- homeless high school dropouts. Mom wins again.
The truth is, my mom played those patriarchs like a fiddle. She loved the idea of absolute authority and total submission as long as she was the one in authority– LOL! In her personal life, she honored no one but herself. Not long after she got these people to do her dirty work, she moved on to another job and another city.
The thing about the NPD my mom suffers from is that my mom truly doesn’t care. She didn’t care if we partied. She didn’t care if we went to school. She did not care. She had never tried to win us over to a righteous way of life. It really did not matter to her at all what we did with our time or our lives as long as she was not inconvenienced.
The only thing she cared about was her reputation. It could never get out what kind of monster she truly was, because she has an unyielding need to appear perfect at all times. This was the source of all her rage when she was angry- we had negatively affected her life or reputation in some way and that must never, ever happen. It’s a mental illness; I don’t think she is capable of change. It’s just how she is.
No amount of “godly submission” or a “sweet spirit” on my part would have ever changed her. I don’t think there is a medication that could help, and it is the nature of the illness that she will never seek help. She can’t admit to anything less than perfection, or her whole psyche will collapse. The fear that people will find out the truth- that at her core being she is lacking essential human qualities like love and empathy- terrifies the NPD woman. Anger at having that veneer of perfection threatened and fear that she will be exposed are the only emotions NPD sufferers ever honestly experience.
The pain of that day never goes away. I recently found out that neither of my other two sisters ever knew what happened that day! My little sister was told we wanted to go live with my Dad. My older sister was already out of the house so that’s what mom told her too. Mom must always look perfect. According to her, she was the victim here as we just up and called our step-dad and LEFT HER! Out of the blue!(insert tears here) I only discovered this lie recently and here’s how I found out:
To this day my twin sister will have nothing to do with any church or Christianity as a religion. She is deeply wounded emotionally and has suffered greatly from depression and anxiety her whole adult life. My older sister was being very critical of my twin sister for refusing to go to church. So I shared this story with my older sister to explain WHY my twin wouldn’t ever go to any church ever again.
That’s when my older sister told me that she never knew! Mom kept it a secret for almost thirty years! Incredible. But it makes perfect NPD sense. My mom wouldn’t tell my sister the truth, that she had called the church elders and kicked us out complete with a religious ceremony. My sister knew my mom wasn’t exactly a devoted Christian and that the whole thing was a scam. Much better to lie and win my sister’s sympathy than tell the truth and be scorned.
This is where it continues to be twisted. Life with an NPD never changes. Mom spent a lot of time fostering mistrust between sisters. My older sister asked my younger sister if she knew about this incident. My younger sister did not, but had also heard that we left mom of our own free will. All those years of maligning my character had the intended effect. Even now my sisters hesitate to believe me.
Happily, my step-dad is still alive and he can verify these events. And my best friend at the time still lives in that city, and she can verify those events as she came over right away to say goodbye and help us pack. My mom gave us until my step-father showed up to gather our things and get out. There are witnesses other than those elders and my twin and myself.
So, does everyone get why the nice winter parka and the good leather boots? It was to “bless us” on the way out the door, her pre-emptive gift to the homeless for the coming winter. As a good friend of mine would say later, mom must have been singing inside, “These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do, one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”
I haven’t looked at the events of that day for a long time. I post them today in solidarity to every daughter who has been kicked out on the streets under religious pretenses.
I post them today in solidarity to every daughter who has seen her siblings suffer and been helpless to protect them from spiritual and emotional abuse.
I post them today in solidarity to every daughter who has been lied about to her siblings by manipulative parents who want to keep the truth hidden and the exiled daughter a pariah.
I am not a Quiverfull daughter. But I totally empathize with those who are. You have my unflinching support.
Comments open below
Shadow Spring blogs at Love, Learning, Liberty
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