Trapped in a Cycle of Pain

And you call yourself a Christian!”

I noticed how tight and white my mother’s lips were when she spoke. She was standing on the stair landing above me, hands on her hips.

“You’ll never get into heaven with an attitude like that! God knows all the evil thoughts you’ve ever had about me. Not one is hidden from him.”

She continued down the steps, her index finger pointed at me. Her footsteps were heavy, the stubby heels of her black shoes thudding. The thin pale lips were moving again.

“You’ll never please God the way you are. Don’t think you won’t reap the consequences of your evil thoughts. ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord!’” She was upon me now.

I was eleven. I had vacuumed the house and, according to my mother, not done a very good job. I was not fond of vacuuming, and when she ordered me to do it over, I had pushed back. I thought I had done a great job, and besides, it was a daunting task. Our house was a historic faculty home on the campus of a well-endowed institution for higher learning. There were fireplaces in every room, and the rooms were immense.

Maybe she was angry because I had spent time with my father that morning listening to his lecture. He had read it to me with his glasses balanced on the end of his nose. She didn’t like it when Dad and I spent time alone. But I wasn’t really sure what had set off this episode. I never was.

“If you knew the truth—that I am the apple of God’s eye—you would treat me differently!” She was building momentum now, her voice rising. “You are spurning God’s chosen one when you look down on me!” The words shot through the air and whizzed through me with their familiar pain.

The culmination was at hand, the consequences imminent.

“You are a hypocrite—full of evil thoughts and lies. A whitewashed tomb. Everything you do and say is a lie, and Satan is the father of lies, so you must belong to him!”

I could hear the cicadas buzzing outside. There had been a rash of them that summer, and when you walked on the lawn you could scarcely avoid the sickening crunch they made underfoot. I was aware that I was crying.

“Go to your room!” she ordered, flinging her arm out to point up the stairs. “I don’t want to see you again, and I don’t want you to talk to anyone. Have nothing to do with your sister either. This family will not associate with someone who refuses to respect those God has put in authority over them!”

I ran up to my room and lay across the bed, sobbing. I cried like this almost every day. I sometimes wondered if other kids cried all the time, but I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to. Outsiders weren’t welcome in our home. When they did gain access, after a brief honeymoon the relationship was always cut off because of “questionable motives” or a “spiritual oppression” they brought with them.

Even my little sister’s friend, a seven-year-old, was forbidden to come to our home to play. The tears and pleas of my sister, eight years younger than I, did not sway the decision. Friends were not easy to come by under these circumstances, and though I was only partially aware of it, I lived an isolated, lonely life. I was less favored than my sister, and I never had a real friend at all. I told myself I didn’t need friends, that I was fine the way I was. I deadened myself to the circumstances, neutralizing any hopes and expectations. I said “Whatever” a lot.

Mine was a precarious life as well as a lonely one. I was constantly on edge, vigilant, able to emotionally prepare myself instantly for what could come my way at any second. You learn quickly when the only thing predictable is the unpredictable.