I was 16 when it began. I’d had the perfect, idyllic childhood. Raised in a close knit town, surrounded by caring people, the perfect nuclear family. Three kids, mother and father and a cat. Well, a dog at one point. Then another cat. I think ultimately we were cat people, that poor dog. I had (have) an older sister by two years and a younger brother of three years. We were very close, although not always best friends. It happens. We grew up in a very strict, religious environment. For many years I didn’t know any different, and for us, the kids, it was a great experience. Sunday school, summer camp, friends, playmates, neighbors. This was our life. But somehow, things spiraled out of control. I won’t repeat details, because my mother is truly the innocent party in what followed. Truth be told, I’ll never actually know the truth. But I have a pretty good idea. Accused of infidelity, by the Church, not by my dad, my mom was estranged from the Church. This was her life, our life. My dad was an elder in the Church, my mom led the youth groups. We were loved and beloved, the model family to so many others. I suppose models always break down at some level or some point in time. Perhaps others were jealous. Perhaps they were ignorant. Perhaps they made up stories that compound upon themselves and became The Truth. I don’t know. I do know that my mother took it hard, being cut off from what was, literally, her life. Other than raising three children, a feat I’m sure I will never fully appreciate, the Church was her life. Why do I keep capitalizing “Church?” Well, because the Church was a Cult. Capital “C,” notice. No, not a satanic cult or devil worshippers or even worshippers of false idols (those, I was told, were the Catholics). Not a suicide cult or a cult with its own compound in Texas. No. In fact, our base was in California, Anaheim specifically. It didn’t start there though. It started in China by a man who was jailed for being Christian in a communist country. He fled the country and came to America, where streets are paved with gold and Christians hold more power than politicians. Or is it one and the same? No matter. Upon reaching America, this man started spreading the gospel, his gospel to be precise. He had written many books, now translated, and was to write many more (he was almost divinely prolific). These books expounded on the teachings of the Bible. Well, his Bible to be precise. Only one version of the Bible was allowed – his version – and it was so heavily footnoted and “explained” the some verses spanned multiple pages. Like lay Christians in the Dark Ages, we were presumed not to know how to interpret the Bible for ourselves, so, like children, it was explained and expounded upon so that we see the Light. Where his knowledge of the Lord came from is beyond my knowing, that was never explained to me. It wasn’t quite Joseph Smith, but I’d be hard pressed to define the difference. One wrote his own Bible, the other annotated it so heavily that the words no longer mattered, it was the interpretation that was Correct. God, apparently, left much to be clarified, and this young man was well suited to the task of speaking for the Lord. Speaking instead of the Lord, to be precise. In addition to the teachings of the Church (which are loosely based on Christianity), there were Rules to follow. God only saves those, apparently, who don’t wear jeans, don’t go to movies or watch TV, don’t have secular friends and who don’t establish any foothold in the World beyond what is necessary to sustain themselves, in order to better use their time to spread the Word. Those rules, of course, did not apply to the man who owned the Local Church in Spokane, where I was raised. There, I said it, Local Church. Look it up. Anyways, this man was filthy rich due to some holdings of industries which were very much of this World (manufacturing jewelry that represented false idols is one example that springs to mind). He ruled, unchallenged, and rewarded his acolytes quite handsomely, in terms of money and/or importance and social status. Those who may have questioned his leadership were generally exited from the Church or otherwise made to see the Error of their Ways. You see, brainwashing is quite easy in an insular community dependent on one man for their salvation. In fact, as was the case for my mother, he held absolute power over life and death. Perhaps he was neglected as a child and developed a God complex. I say, and and repeat, power over life and death. For, upon learning of the supposed infidelity, which of course was not seen as a judicial matter but rather an offense against God and all that the Church stood for (the foundation seems to have been a bit shaky), the Elders of the Church condemned her. My father was an elder. To his credit, he believed she was innocent, but this did not seem to affect his (dis)belief in her, generally speaking. That sentence may require some explanation.
You see, as one is want to do when cast aside, persecuted and excommunicated from their Church, which is their whole life and whole desire for their life and for which they gave up all else, my mother suffered a nervous breakdown. Actually, a series of breakdown. The Church naturally saw this as the Devil inside her. One or two of the congregation came to her side, but no one offered or thought she should obtain help. It was, after all, a sin, what she did, and the Lord does work in mysterious ways, or sometimes direct ways, by slaying his believers. So I was told.
But these realizations came much later. Some may laugh at their inaccuracies, but I maintain they are as accurate as I was allowed to know, which was quite a bit, given it was my family that was under fire. If events were different, I apologize, not the people involved, never will I forgive them, but to the vicissitudes of time and space during which memories are formed and reformed. What I saw, at the time, was much different.
I was 14 at the time. Don’t quote me on that. I saw my mom being ripped apart from the life that she knew. I saw my father, ambivalent about what to believe or whatever to do. I saw the Church persecute her, especially, most cruelly, during her to-be-expected panic attacks and breakdowns. One, and I repeat, one, solo, single person believed her and saw the psychiatric crisis for what it was. He saved her life. It was not the elders of the Church nor the Members of the Congregation, but rather one single man. If there is a God, it would be him. My father didn’t jump to her rescue, as a good husband should, and a long period of fighting broke out between them. This culminated, and I don’t know why it was this time and this place, in my mother grabbing a knife and attempting to stab my father. She managed to rip his clothes before my sister intervened. She was always on my mom’s side in the events and accusations. So I don’t know who called the police, as I remember it being her, but it must have been painful to report her mother. The police came and took my mother away. My father was encouraged to press charges, because the prosecution could not go forward without his cooperation, but finally, and to his credit and my disbelief, he refused.
Somewhere in all this, quite probably beforehand, but stuck in the murky middle in my mind, my mother attempted suicide. This of course was quite hush-hush. I only know bits and pieces gleaned from quiet conversations, knowing glances, nurses scurrying around, doctors calling on the phone. In a heroic and valiant effort to end the pain and suffering, she slowly, painstakingly, eerily and quietly starved herself to death.
From here my memory is blurred. We moved to the other side of the state, where the Local Church of that town took us in, knowing, but not knowing, the events that had transpired. Perhaps the consensus was that the Devil had done his part and she had suffered enough for her transgressions. I don’t know.
Like I said, my memory is blurred. Because, before moving, I was seen by a psychiatrist. My mom’s psychiatrist, to be precise. And my sister’s. I had declared to my parents that I was depressed, saying that depression can be inherited, and that I was scared. What child wouldn’t be? The doctor was friendly and knowledgeable – both in terms of his medical knowledge and his personal knowledge of the situation. In fact, at several points throughout my care, he was gone on visits to DC to speak before Congress on various mental health issues. So I trusted him with my care.
He prescribed an anti-depressant and talk therapy.
Now, back to where I was. This all happened while still in Spokane. I kept him as my doctor for the next several years, flying back and forth across the state every few months. He eventually moved, and I eventually stopped going. I can’t remember if I sought care in Seattle, where we now lived. That seems like it would be an important memory, but this time of my life later turned out to be the least of my concerns.
I’m going to stop here for now. This concludes Part I, wherein we meet the Church, see my mother’s pain, experience life in my family, and see my initial start on the journey to insanity.