Daughter of the Patriarchy: Ripping the Moorings Part 1

Daughter of the Patriarchy: Ripping the Moorings Part 1 July 19, 2012

by Sierra

My family’s most diligent deceit never worked on me. My father told me not to worry about money. My mother told me that my focus should be on getting an education. They both told me that they didn’t want me to end up the way they did, ensnared in a financial trap. They told me to let them worry about the bills and that it wasn’t my responsibility as a daughter to support us in the first place. But I knew that my going off to college would take a financial toll on my family, and I was right. After all, I was the one making the car payment.

The first semester of college was both euphoric and terrifying. I worked around the clock on my coursework and established myself as the president of my college’s History Club. I vowed to do everything in my power, to sniff out every opportunity and seize any that dangled within reach. I was pegged an overachiever before the first grades were in. But I still struggled with the knowledge that I had been an essential contributor to the family income. Within months of my departure for college, our car was repossessed. I took the news like a hard left to the nose. I had seen it coming, prepared myself for it, tried to prevent it by talking to my parents, but ultimately took their advice and plunged ahead into higher education. And we all had a price to pay.

Alvin, Simon, Theodore; in that order.

Another blow came a month later. My mother called in tears to tell me that one of our three kittens, Alvin, had been killed – hit by a car on our terrible street. We had nursed the kittens from the age of three weeks, when my father found them abandoned in his industrial shop. I’d bonded with one that I called Theodore, a little black kitten with a very long tail.

Theo followed me everywhere. He sat on my lap when I played video games. He would gaze up at me with happy eyes and drool on himself a little, bumping his head against my chin in that silly way cats do. He was ridiculous. He was adorable. He was mine.

I had promised myself from the moment he lay upside down in my arms, suckling on a doll bottle filled with kitten formula, that I would never show him anything but love. This kitten never heard a disapproving word in his life. He was never pushed away. He was never left alone. I kept him indoors, so he would never be exposed to the dangers of the great big world. And then I went to school.

As soon as my mother’s words sputtered through the staticky phone line, I felt my heart turn to stone. Alvin was a black kitten. My mother could never tell the two of them apart. I asked for a ride home and found what I had most hated to suspect was true: Theo was dead. Hit by a car. The moment I left, he was gone.

Theo as a little bottle-fed baby kitten.

Did he die trying to find me? I thought, sobbing hysterically. (This thought has never gone away, or ceased to hurt.)

My parents had already buried him by the time I got home. I stared vaguely at the woods where they said he rested, arranged some stones as a memorial. I felt empty.

Eight years later, I still wake up crying for him. My perfect, adoring, silky black kitten had never lived to see his first birthday. If I hadn’t gone, he would have. He would be with me right now, purring on my lap and probably drooling on my knee like a happy fool. The first little creature that loved me and depended on me completely. I had failed him in the worst possible way, left him in abandonment and death.

Going to college was my escape. It was my only way to survive. But it came at a cost I can’t forget. A little creature I had nurtured nearly from birth, who had loved and trusted me completely and spent every waking moment in my arms, was dead. The car my mother and I shared had been taken away. The church bought my mom a $300 car so she could go to work, and there were reasons it cost so little. Soon afterwards, my father became sick. Not just sick, but utterly incapacitated. Bedridden. Unable to eat. After weeks of endless vomiting and the loss of half his body weight, he lost his job, and with it, his health insurance. Then the landlord took the doors off my parents’ house in the middle of the night.

I looked at this train wreck from my precarious perch in a college dorm and felt crushed with guilt. I had made this happen. If I had stayed home, I could have stopped all of it. As I sat, hyperventilating, on my bed, I decided to reach out to the only person I knew who cared.

Sven answered the phone in surprise. I had never called before unless we were arranging to meet, with pre-established plans vetted by his mom.

“Theo is dead,” I blurted, bursting into tears despite my carefully crafted composure.

Theo on my lap, playing with my hair. (Yes, that’s a denim skirt.)

Silence greeted me.

“I don’t know what to say. I never know what to say in these situations,” he said uncomfortably.

More silence.

Something hardened in me. I forced the rock in my throat back down to my chest, straightened my shoulders. I apologized for bothering him, and snapped my phone shut. I had launched out into the ocean on my own, and there was no one else to help me through the storm. My only choice was to confront the waves head-on. I still had my rudder, but I was decidedly alone on the sea of dreams.

Then the final mooring snapped.

And the sea of dreams started to look more like an inky black pool of nightmares.

My beloved Theo, giving me kitty kisses.
I will probably never stop saying this:
Theo, I’ll always love you. I’m so sorry.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14

| Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21  | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25

Comments open below

Read everything by Sierra!

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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



Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Aaron

    Incredible! I stumbled upon your Daughter of the Patriarchy series this morning and haven’t been able to do anything but read it straight through. This installment, like a few others before it, brought tears to my eyes. You are a gifted writer, and thank you so much for sharing your story with the world. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian community and I can relate to your experiences. It has taken a long time to shed the poison of some of those teachings and see myself and the world through clearer eyes. All of the self-doubt, self-hatred, and shame I felt because of the way a few people have chosen to interpret the Bible. So much condemnation and hatred of others, with apparent ignorance that the greatest commandment is to love. You bring that to light with such clarity and eloquence. Thank you. Looking forward to future installments and wishing you the best.

  • Saraquill

    *hugs* There’s only so much a person can say or or do when she’s just words on a screen, but please don’t beat yourself up over Theo’s death. I know full well how easy self flagellation is, but there’s better ways to serve the memory of a beloved kitty. At least you gave him many happy experiences.

  • lisbet

    I am trying so hard not to cry at this post. I know how it feels to feel as though you have failed an animal. But of course I know you must know that he might have ventured out anyway, that there are too many ifs and buts in a situation like this to warrant self-torture. Someone once said to me that animals don’t do guilt. I think Theo would be mystified by your guilt if he could understand. None of this helps, I imagine though. I hope maybe someday you can have a new kitten and you can maybe feel a little bit like you’re redeeming yourself and honoring Theo’s memory.

    My beloved dog got loose and was missing for a week this past January. I was at home, and turned my back for a minute at most. We got her back, but it could have ended the other way as she crossed a major road in her travels. She is tiny too- only 7 lbs (super runt of her litter). I tortured myself for so long… but what did it change?

  • Jen

    Your story is fascinating and well-written. I’m awaiting Part 2 of this one. I was raised in a Baptist household, but the rules were fairly lax. However, I’ve come across a few people with similar stories to yours. It’s so sad and distressing that there are people out there that think judging and looking down on others makes them closer to God. Perfection is an unattainable goal. No one should put that pressure/expectation on anyone.