Another Sisterhood Story… despite how primitive this story sounds, it happened right now, not 100 years ago. It happened to a woman in a modern faith community, whose abusive and controlling ex-spouse remains well-respected and active in her former church.
The rain pelts against the metal roof.
It was never a sound I particularly liked – I found it annoying, not peaceful. But now…
Now every time I hear rain, a tight knot forms in the pit of my stomach.
I am angry.
In my mind I visualize myself today, screaming irately, desperately, at my younger self.
“What is wrong with you? Get out!! Leave! You don’t have to stay here! He doesn’t control you. Look at you, you’re going to die like this!” But she can’t hear me. She doesn’t know there are other options. And, truth be told, back then, he did control her.
The strongest bonds are not chains or bars.
They are the lies we believe.
The false perceptions we hold as truth.
Those are our true chains.
The rain pounds louder and comes down harder. The air feels humid and very heavy. Time is counting down.
I pull on my mud boots and coat and toss some toys onto the mattress for the kids.
“I’ll be right back.”
Outside, I trudge to the creek bank. The water is rising. The currents move rapidly, faster than normal. That is all I need to know. I have about one hour.
I clomp back to the shed and up the steps, poking my head through the door.
“Mom needs to do some stuff outside. I’ll be back in a little bit.” They are playing with plastic toy dishes.
“Ok! I’m cooking eggplant!” Emma announces as she pretends to slice a plastic vegetable.
“Great,” I reply and disappear out the door.
I have to move fast.
I scan the wood line where the creek is rushing. Everything has to go. I grab the wheelbarrow and start piling things into it. Anything remotely close to the water will be washed away if it is not moved now.
My stomach grows tight. There is so much stuff, so many random things! How can I ever do this?
I grab the laundry buckets.
His construction tools.
Garden shovels and car parts he just bought.
It all needs to be moved to higher ground, which means the other side of the 5 acres. The field never looked so big. I pull the kid’s tricycles and doll buggy across the field, hoping water won’t reach them there. All the seedlings sprouted in their plastic cups get moved up on the steps to be brought inside.
I haul the buckets of spring water, one by one, up the stairs of the bleak little shed, and swing them through the door, with a “thud!” onto the floor.
The quiet wintery trickling of the creek has now turned into a roar of rushing whitewater. It is so close to spilling over the banks. The generator must be moved higher or it will flood. It our only source of electricity. When it works… that is.
The generator is so heavy.
I carefully grasp the cold metal bar and heave. It barely moves. I scrounge around and find two scrap 2×4’s, then position them like ramps against the back of a trailer. I clamber onto the trailer, heaving the generator again, trying so hard to pull the 150-pound beast upward. In spite of the wheels that are supposed to make it easier to move, it weighs much more than I do, and I stumble.
The wood jars and topples to the ground. The generator starts to tip.
I force my body against it, trying to steady it, attempting to balance the remaining wheel on the wood, as I carefully ease it back down the ramp. I position the wood again, and slowly… slowly… drag the machine up.
It takes me four tries.
My legs ache.
My abdomen aches.
My arms and lungs ache.
My face and coat are soaking wet. Water seeps through my skirt and leggings and chills my legs.
It is not the rain that causes the the biggest flood threat. It is the flash flooding from the mountain. The valley where we live catches the overflow not only from surrounding hills and pastures, but also whatever spills down the mountain. We are within walking distance to the base of the mountain range. We get it all.
I realize the creek bank has overflowed and water is now streaming across the gravel drive. It sloshes down into the hole where our sewage bucket gets dumped. Soon that sewage hole will also overflow. I look away, ignoring what this means.
The rooster! I race to the chicken coop near the tree line, which is really just a round fence of chicken wire with a tarp covering it. I carefully pull aside the wire and duck inside. The rooster is panicked and racing around the pen.
“Come on, dummy, I’m trying to save you! Come here…”
He flutters and flaps, narrowly escaping my efforts to grab him.
“You want to die today? Is that your plan?”
I have no patience right now. The water is surging and I’m out of time.
The muddy water swirls two inches deep in the coop. It takes another five minutes for me to catch him. Five minutes of time means a few more inches of water to stand in; it is flooding that fast. The rooster splashes about in the water, not understanding why his usually dusty pen has now become a chicken-sized swimming pool.
I’m out of breath. I grasp him tightly as I squirm out of the chicken wire. It catches my coat and snags. I try to pull free, clutching the chicken in both arms. The loose wires tear a small hole in my coat and down feathers flutter in the wind. The water comes halfway up my boots in the deeper sections of the yard. It is flooding the road, the grass – everything.
I am slogging through a lake, which, minutes before, did not exist. The water is traveling fast and pushing against my legs. I had no idea it could be this strong. I wade carefully, calculating each step so I don’t slip. It is hard to keep standing against the currents. The rushing water is all I hear. The rain continues to beat down.
Slowly, I inch my way back to the stairs of the shed that we call home. The bottom step has disappeared under the flood. I climb up, inside, and slam the door.
“Mama! Why’d you bring the chicken in??”
I’m panting. Anxiety swells in my chest, though the immediate danger seems to be over. Water drips to the floor in small puddles. “The creek…” I don’t have energy to explain.
I head to the junk room for the wire cage where we kept rabbits and chickens in the past. I deposit the rooster, wet and cranky, and secure the door spring so he can’t escape.
I glance out the window at the rushing water.
God, please make it stop. I can’t get out of here with the kids.
The shed is completely surrounded.
Between feeding the wood stove and minding the kids and food, I spent the rest of the day watching the front stairs. The water creeped up until it covered the second step, too. We were in the center of a vast expanse — a tiny ark in the middle of an ocean. The water flowed under and around the shed, making me wonder how strong it had to get before the shed would be dislodged. It was not so much the water itself that scared me, it was the power it held.
I was no match for the currents, much less while carrying children. And where would I carry them, anyway? We were in the middle of nowhere. It was cold outside and they were tiny. There was nowhere safe, dry, or warm to run. The car had an electrical glitch and would not start in the rain. Even if I did manage to make it out to a remote neighbor, I knew exactly what would happen next.
He would eventually show up, and make me out to be crazy. He would say I exaggerated the danger, that “It was just a little bit of water, no big deal. Nobody is going to melt!” And then he would laugh as if everything was okay, as if his wife was just being her typical neurotic self. He would covertly shame me in front of them, assure them everything was totally fine, and then unleash his anger when he got me back to the shed.
My subconscious mind decided it was safer to stay put.
As night settled along the woodline, I strained my eyes to see if the waterline was climbing. Thankfully it seem to hold steady about halfway past the second stair. I lit the lantern and hung it on the nail by the door. The dim light shed rays on the churning water and I prayed fervently for it to stop.
The rain let up and pattered lightly on the roof. The children had fallen asleep. I laid down on the bed, and tried to relax my tense, nervous energy. Tried to calm my racing thoughts. The only sound I could hear was the surging waters.
I am a resilient person.
I am resourceful.
I have survived brutal days of heat exhaustion, no food, muscle breakdown from overworking, outdoor manual labor in freezing temperatures until my fingers are so stiff they won’t bend. I have given birth to three babies in the bathtub, unassisted, and without pain medication. I have survived physical, emotional, and other abuses unflinchingly.
But now… now I stay because of fear. Fear I won’t be able to “make it on my own.” Fear of his threats. Fear of abandonment without resources.
How do you keep your children safe and fed if you have no way to protect them and nothing to give them? Where do you go when you are not aware that help exists?
I am angry.
It could be prevented.
We don’t have to live like this.
I don’t need to live with constant fear and exhaustion.
There is a reason I hate the sound of rain.
What keeps someone locked in a horrible situation, when they have options to change it?
Why do people feel “stuck” when in reality they have choices?
How come I lived captive in backwood sheds for years, barely clinging to life, when other options were probably available to me?
I now believe it is because most abuse victims don’t see their options as real.
My trauma counselor helped bring this to my attention years later. “You did the best you could with the resources you had,” she reassured me. She prompted me to think about my thought processes at the time. What would my life have looked like if I had left that situation? What if I’d finally said, “I’ve had enough of this,” and loaded my kids into the car and driven to my sister’s house, or a friend’s house, and asked for help or a place to stay?
My response surprised both of us, I think.
“It never even occurred to me to leave.”
Something that confuses, and often annoys, people who have not lived dominated by abuse, is the everlasting question of why the victim does not leave the abuser.
“What does she stay with him??”
“If any man hit me, that would be the last time he ever saw me!”
“I wouldn’t tolerate mistreatment!!”
“I’d get out the first time he ever touched me!”
What they don’t understand is that the victim does not see leaving as a viable choice, nor as a safe one. The one option that might gain her freedom and bring relief, often does not appear to be any option at all.
This is a real story. This Sisterhood survivor remains anonymous for the safety of her children. She is publishing a memoir of their years living captive in the shed.
People of faith everywhere prefer to believe their faith communities are immune to domestic violence, sexual addiction, and abuse. I know it’s not true because I hear the stories percolating behind perfect facades.
- the Sisterhood of victims currently in crisis.
- the Sisterhood of survivors who are building lives from the rubble.
- the Sisterhood of warriors who are raising their voices to bring an end to the misrepresentation of God’s character in God’s name within the faith community.
One of the ways we change culture?
By telling these stories.
Is your church really as safe as you think it is?
- If someone was abusing a child close to you, could you tell?
- Don’t victims often make up accusations to get attention?
- God tells us to forgive and forget, but does that include letting a sex offender attend church with children present?
- How can faith communities effectively protect our most vulnerable members?
Paperback coming soon!