A Kingdom Kid Grows Up
Mommie Dark was a Kingdom Kid. Watchtower Society literature was always in her family's house. Her grandpa had studied 'the Judge's books' until he died, and then Mommie's mother inherited boxes of his books.
One Sunday when she was eight years old her mom, dad, and oldest sister went away for several hours, all dressed up, and when they returned they announced that henceforth the entire family would dress up on Sundays and go to the wonderful Kingdom Hall, where mom had found Absolute Truth. Round little blind little silly little Mommie Dark (not yet Mommie, of course, just a kid without a clue) was dragged into the Tower's influence and fell under its thrall at once.
Mommie was a smart little kid, and books were her natural element, and the nice elderly couple who came to study with the new family were pleased that all the kiddies were so quick to learn the study method and to show off their new knowledge. The book was the big orange Paradise book, the one with all the lurid descriptions and drawings of Armageddon's rampant destruction of the entire world (except the faithful Witnesses). Mommie took the message to heart at once, and soon guilt became her constant companion, supplemented by fear, as her childish efforts at preaching and following the many restrictions and rules never seemed good or pure enough. She was mortified at being set apart by her religion, especially at school where she was already set apart by her bookishness and her thick glasses and her fat, and guilt-ridden at her inability to overcome that mortification for Jehovah's sake. She began to brood over the pictures in the Paradise book and to pray for a new heart that would joyfully accept this bloodthirsty vengeance as good news.
In many ways the transformation to Kingdom Kid seemed beneficial. Mommie's family was huge, rowdy, eccentric, and highly erratic. A wide thread of insanity was woven into her genetic matrix, evidenced by the numerous hysterias, paranoias, and even occasional suicides among the Kentucky and West Virginia branches of both parents' families. Mommie's aunts on her mama's side both told their supernatural experiences casually, over coffee, and both claimed that spirits lived intimately with them. H'ants and spontaneous trances were matter-of-fact occurrences in their upbringing, and they passed on their superstitions to their children. Mommie's early years had been a stew of these stories told over her head, while on the ubiquitous television her mama's favorite supernatural stories reinforced and underscored Mommie's growing demon fears with their minor-key soundtracks. A riotously chaotic hillbilly home life thrummed under Mommie's bare feet even out under the wondering sky, so that she felt jostled and teased even while playing alone with her manageable imaginary friends. The routine of meetings, study, and Kingdom Hall socializing was far more stable and regular than the structureless chaos of home. Her father was moved to obtain a house with indoor plumbing, so home became cleaner and far more orderly. It appeared that becoming Kingdom Kids had been a pretty good thing for the general welfare of the family.
For little Mommie, however, each day brought fresh feelings of inadequacy. The first year without Christmas, she went through agonies of self-loathing because she could not lay down her love of the warmth and music, and give over her childish disappointment at the loss of presents, giving as well as getting. Mommie loved to sing, and Christmas carols filled her veins with hot joy as she put all her effort into singing with the angels---but now that particular joy had been relegated to the garbage where worldly desires belong, and Mommie felt she must be a very bad person indeed to still want to feel that transcendent happiness singing "O Holy Night". Kingdom Melodies fell flat and clunky on her ears, and the strained rhymes and stilted meters never soared from her throat , and besides, Mommie had already been counseled about showing off her voice too proudly: we aren't a church, there is no choir, we have no soloists, my dear child. Sing to Jehovah's praise, not your own. Mommie wanted to be a writer, but that desire, too, was worldly and sinful and totally unbecoming in a Christian. Mommie hated going door to door selling Watchtowers, and hated herself for being so wicked. She knew she ought to be proud and glad to be sharing the warning about Armageddon and she was desperately afraid that probably she would not be concealed in the day of God's anger because her wicked heart wanted to stay home and write a story about a girl and a horse instead of reading John 17:3 to some angry night worker she'd just awakened. When Mommie read the Watchtower descriptions of the world (one that stuck in her mind was 'a demon-filled void') she was filled with sick dread, sure that her childish heart was incurably wicked and that she was doomed to share that howling emptiness.
Her prayers were confused inarticulate yearnings, and she wondered if anyone was listening.
So life unrolled for Mommie, trying and failing to be a Kingdom Kid, until the first day of summer vacation at the end of seventh grade.
Mommie was awakened in the pre-dawn hush by a weeping big sister. Mama is dead, she blurted, and went off to wake the other kids. Little Mommie, irrationally, could only think, 'I have to tell Mama.' The world turned upside-down at that moment, as it does for any grieving family, and for Mommie all stability and safety were shaken out and away into the pit of black fear in her guts.
Six months after Mama's death the family home burnt to the ground. Miraculously, none of the family were harmed, but they were left homeless in winter's bleak heart. The community responded by offering housing in the local tenement project, two small apartments separated by someone else's home. Every morning Mommie and her brothers and sisters got into their coats in the 'bedroom apartment' and trekked through the snow to go to breakfast in the 'kitchen apartment'.
About six weeks after the fire Mommie was awakened by her father's hands on her breasts. She was terrified by the blissful leer on his face, his bulk looming over her, his beloved hands fondling her. She thought, 'Oh, no, he's gone mad with grief!'
Mommie was thirteen years old.
By summer, the oldest children had made places for themselves to escape the decaying cement-block tenement. Mommie became a mommy in earnest at age fourteen, given sole responsibility for three younger brothers while Dad exercised his new freedom by indulging in a dating spree. Without explanation, Dad rented an old creepy house far removed from familiar places, and moved his underage children there in one afternoon, disappearing to his girlfriend's house before sunset and staying there for most of the next five years, coming home once or twice a week to drop off groceries and cop a quick feel. A new school, a strange town, and the care of two of her three younger brothers were thrust on hapless Mommie.
Father's predations were regular, though thankfully not too frequent, punctuations to this existence. Mommie became obsessed with hiding her body, locking doors, dressing in trembling haste lest Daddy walk in and be tempted to touch. The hideous fear that she somehow invited his advances ate at her every waking moment; she believed his crooning comments on her resemblance to her dead mother as proof of her essential wickedness. She desperately wanted her old daddy back, needed his parental strength, and instead she had this mad-looking masher trying to stick his hands in her pants.
And where were the good folks from the Kingdom Hall while all this was going on? Mommie asked herself this question for the first year or so after her mother's death, but eventually she began to believe that they all somehow knew that she was unworthy of Jehovah's provisions for His people, and so were leaving her in a hell she somehow richly deserved. The only contact she had with any Witnesses after the move was with her sisters, of whom two were newlywed and having babies, and the other had alienated Dad and the youngests by sending a series of hysterical and accusative letters detailing everyone's failings in strict Kingdom terms. While Mommie and her twelve-year-old brother were left in sole charge of their six-year-old brother, going to school from the nasty old house, shoplifting essentials that Dad never seemed to remember on his weekly visits home, the only Kingdom Kontact they ever had was accusative diatribes from Sis on their increasingly 'worldly' behavior. After one abortive 'family meeting', where the older children told Dad he was consigning his youngest children to eternal death, the littlest boys were packed off to rotate between big sisters, and the two teens were left to their own devices.
By the time Mommie was sixteen, this arrangement had fallen through, and Dad moved all four of his underage children into another old cold tumble-down house, this time far out in the country on a dirt road, with no telephone or car to access to the outside world. Mommie was left in charge of the house and her brothers, and all their accumulated angers and fears. She became accustomed to being summoned out of her high-school classes to take calls from the elementary school when her little brothers skipped school. It seemed to her vastly important that no one know how horrible life had become. Although she felt abandoned and hated by God, and by this time was not living the life of a good Kingdom Kid, in her heart she believed that her little brothers still had a chance at Paradise and that Social Services intervention would be their eternal condemnation. She packed them off to her sisters' homes whenever possible, so that the sisters thought she was shirking her obligations to her family, but actually she thought she was ensuring them a fate better than her own dark one. Chaos and filth were everyday companions. She sought refuge in books, in alcohol, in music, in drugs. She suffered near-constant headaches and brooded morbidly on the imminent battle of Armageddon, counting down with the good Kingdom Kids, despairingly, to 1975.
Under these conditions Mommie finished high school, and graduated twenty-seventh in a class of about two hundred, in May of 1972.
A year later Mommie moved in with her high-school sweetheart. It was a passionate relationship that had grown from adolescent intellectualism and a mutual love of poetry. She was roundly condemned by her siblings for living in sin and for abandoning her little brothers, still in grade school. One sister said that Mommie as the youngest girl child was obligated to put aside her own interests and stay home to care for her brothers until they reached their majority. When Mommie became pregnant, they made a Greek chorus of disapproval. When she miscarried, she received not one message of condolence. Mommie, grieving, terrified of Armageddon's imminence (as all good Kingdom Kids knew, it would all be over soon), drove her lover away with her frantic insistence on an immediate rush to the safety of the Watchtower. Before she was totally recovered from the miscarriage, he was gone forever from her life.
At age nineteen Mommie called a Witness and asked for a Bible study. Soon she was back to the old routine of meetings, preaching, and hawking Armageddon to bored and hostile householders. Her cigarette addiction clung to her despite all her prayer and effort, and she was remorseful and guilt-ridden at her inability to give it up (since Watchtower literature and elders' counsel claimed that Holy Spirit would make it possible, she assumed her natural evil was keeping her enslaved to her addiction). The conviction that she was entirely deserving of awful destruction clung to her like scent: she stifled her aching heart, despising her grief as sinful weakness, and walked through her Watchtower world expressionless, lightless, pretending to be joyful while in despair. Her one attempt to discuss her recent past with a young and 'spiritually strong' peer was met with a stern admonition to 'quit dwelling on your sinful past and make your mind over.' and the observation that a little humility would help her accept things more readily.
Within a year Mommie had fled the Tower once more, still believing their version of Truth but unable to meet the rules and schedules and social expectations of the closed JW world. She rocketed off into the world convinced that she was human garbage, waiting for the Almighty clean-up crew, hearing the big gears of the Armageddon trash truck grinding on the broad road behind her, fully expecting to be mashed flat with all the other worldlings.
In spring of 1976 Mommie went with friends to live on a farm in Missouri in an experimental community. Her year there led her to begin serious inquiry into other religions, but she still believed in her heart that Truth (TM) was to be found only in the Watchtower world.
In Missouri Mommie met a man with eyes of ocean, a rough-hewn hippie fisherman, who swept her into a salty embrace and adorned her body with jewelry he made of delicate fishbones and feathers, leather thongs, and hand-carved shell beads. Shy fat Mommie was overwhelmed, flattered, grateful that this gorgeous and powerful man had chosen her. She knew that he drank too much, partied too hard, but her attraction to him, and her inner conviction that her own end was imminent, helped to drown any qualms.
Mommie became pregnant in fall of 1976. Her hippie lover took her on a cross-country odyssey that ended in Southern California where she gave birth to a beautiful brown-eyed baby boy. The little family relocated as Papa tried a job away from the sea. Before her body was recovered from the pregnancy she was pregnant again after barrier birth control failed.
During her sixth month of pregnancy her lover was killed in a car accident. Mommie, babe in arms and one on the way, was plunged into a period of intense fear and grief that was totally ignored and discounted by her friends and family. Her second son was born a month early after she fell on wet floors at a local mall. She was grieving and in physical pain for weeks after the birth, and the baby didn't thrive. She went to a religious commune seeking comfort for her broken heart and soul but was met with hippie rhetoric and empty catchphrases. She tried to escape her grief by running away again, this time to Arizona where her lover's friends were holding out promises of comfort and love.
As so often happens in real life, her lover's friends did not become her friends, and soon Mommie was living with roommates and finding their free-for-all lifestyle at odds with baby safety. Her accumulated grief stewed in the banked coals of her Armageddon terrors, its odor clinging to every moment, an oily tang, penetrating even her dreams. Vivid memories of the morning she, at age fourteen, found her baby niece blue and cooling and quite dead of SIDS replayed, despite her best efforts to squelch them. She kept sleepless vigil over her own tiny struggling infant, worrying when he slept lightly, panicking when he slept deeply, checking his breathing with a mirror and a few times actually disturbing him to be sure he was still alive. She sat and prayed for her babies on those sleepless nights, asking God what to do, despairing of an answer.
During this time people from several churches passed through the neighborhood, offering tracts and Sunday school, advertising revivals. Mommie, believing the Watchtower Society had the only revealed truth in the world despite her inability to understand some of the logic, refused the invitations and forgot about them.
Early in November an elder from the local JW congregation knocked on Mommie's door, and within a few minutes he had kindly and skillfully drawn Mommie into tears and full confession of her many fears and troubles. A genuinely compassionate man, he truly believed that he was doing Jehovah's will, and when he heard that Mommie had been praying for release from the intolerable aching in her heart, he used her fear and grief carefully, thoroughly, and reclaimed her for the Tower. He brought his wife and daughter, both pioneers, and together they began a systematic overhaul of Mommie's life.
For the next ten years Mommie immersed herself in a campaign to put off her personality and become the meek biddable patient sheep that the congregation expected her to be. She put meetings, study, and field service as her first priorities. Whenever she found herself questioning she would pray for Jehovah to fill her with a desire to do more without question. She worked to exhaustion trying to keep a clean house around two tiny whirlwinds of chaos. She dragged both boys with her in hours of field service, some afternoons spending as long as five hours mostly riding in a car between farms and ranches in rural territories. When the children became restless and fussy Mommie, a captive audience, would be offered unsought advice on new ways to 'keep those rowdy boys in line.' She prayed constantly for Jehovah to give her a new heart, a new attitude, toward doing his will. She yearned for a mind and heart that could accept joyfully, without question, the whole cloth woven by the Society.
As a struggling 'good Witness' Mommie went through several unpleasant incidents with public school teachers regarding holiday celebrations. Teachers not outright hostile to Witness teachings appeared to pity the children, often overcompensating with treats for the boys, sometimes embarrassing them in front of their classmates by further emphasizing their religious oddity thus. Each such episode was like nettle stings on Mommie's heart; she remembered her own school humiliations with agonizing clarity, how could she justify putting her children through it? She hid behind the bulwark of congregational smugness, telling the boys they should be happy to suffer for God. She was a sheep sending her precious lambs to learn in the goat pen but keeping them hobbled and shorn to keep them separate and socially isolated, so they could never blend in and act like a kid.
During their school career Mommie's boys were diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder, but not until after six years of constant frustration and endless teacher conferences over their increasingly angry behavior. Mommie was accused of parenting too strictly, parenting too leniently, expecting too little of her children, expecting too much of them... her personal life was discussed among teachers and counseling staff, and speculation on her moral character because of her single-parent status got back to her when a counselor was fool enough to ask Mommie's oldest about her personal life. Mommie's religion was at one time targeted as the cause of her sons' problems. She was obliged to defend teachings she found increasingly unsupportable. Some of the religious discussions were somewhat acrimonious, especially where previous Witness parents had heavy-handedly gone before. School and meetings were becoming equally punitive for Mommie's once-cheery little guys as the pressure on them to perform increased. Before the diagnosis, school personnel insisted the boys were normal healthy kids in need of a really good whipping, kids who did not meet their potential out of willful malice. After the diagnosis, attitudes diverged widely: some teachers worked with the child's limitations and glossed over the religious difference, but most were if possible even more hostile, as their years of punitive and sometimes cruel response to the frustration of working with ADD kids became clearly identified as a form of abuse against handicapped children. Resenting medical and psychological advice on undoing some of the grievous harm done to the mentally handicapped boys by such abuse, these teachers retaliated with anger, one even telling Mommie's oldest, in front of the class as she trashed some papers from his doctor, that his only problem was his crazy JW mother!
As Mommie became involved in obtaining basic civil rights for her children, criticism within the congregation, always pointed at her as a single parent, heated up. Time spent creating a support group for families of ADD children was referred to as a 'waste'. Mommie was admonished to just get through each school year and 'wait on Jehovah' to provide relief from the growing problems at school.
Mommie knew how to wait, having had lots of practice in her JW life. Mommie waited while Jehovah apparently let congregational politics play a role in the deportation of some missionaries who got in the way of a powertripping elder. She waited while a sister dying of cancer refused prescription marijuana for her treatment side effects because 'that would be a form of spiritism' whereas Percoset and morphine were not. She waited while nobody could explain why a young Bethelite was sent home on a bus to his impoverished rural Texas family when he developed a funny-looking but not dangerous neurological disorder, although his family had no money and the nearest free clinic was 300 miles away from his home and his treatment was such that any competent doctor could have dealt with it. She waited while a sister who had cheated a brother out of hundreds of dollars' worth of home repairs got away with it because he was advised that Christians don't take Christians to court over debt. She waited while the blood issue became obviously more murky and incomprehensible as new factors and preparations were allowed. She waited, and waited, and nothing changed, no relief came from the waiting, and hope, always hiding behind fear, began to fade.
Any time she hesitantly brought up a problem, she was admonished to do more in Jehovah's service! Pioneer, but don't ask others to help you with transportation. Work if you must, but don't let single parenthood or exhaustion keep you from moving that literature! Go in service more and your problems will seem much smaller. Do more for the congregation---how about helping us clean the Hall next weekend? Armageddon is coming any day now---we can wait on Jehovah until then! Your kids don't need that counselor, they need a brother to study with them! They don't need counseling, they need a good whacking to teach 'em Godly fear!
After ten long years of waiting, Mommie began to realize that there was a basic flaw in her reasoning. She began to feel ashamed of the fear that tied her unquestioning to the Society. She was beginning to suspect that there was something entirely wrong about a system that has to use fear as reinforcement for belief. As she quit making excuses for the wrongs she saw daily among the congregation she found herself less and less able to stand the hypocrisy and false smiles fronting some of the most malicious behavior she had ever witnessed anywhere. The sister sleeping with her best friends' husband, the brother who never paid any self-employment tax on his cleaning business, the gossip mill that churned viciously through the congregation, the young brother who bragged about his bondage sessions with his worldly girlfriend on his way to give a talk--- when airing the merest hint of these doubts, she would invariably be told that all these things were just human imperfections and Satan's way of testing her. No one seemed to understand when Mommie asked about a moral imperative, a desire to do what is right, not out of fear of punishment or hope of reward, but just for the sake of doing what is right.
In the summer of 1987 Mommie was incapacitated by a viral infection, requiring numerous trips to 'big town' for consultations with specialists. She spent most of the summer lying on the couch watching CNN and talk shows between naps. That summer she watched, awed, as thousands of people assembled in state and national parks in Texas to commemorate the 'harmonic convergence' and to pray for world peace. The wholly peaceful Rainbow Family Gathering of the Tribes appeared to Mommie, even through the disapproving filter of the media, to be a far more united and peaceful society of brothers than any congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses had ever been! All summer, as her body slowly fought off the systemic infection, she watched the world through the eyes of news and talk celebrities, and saw much more hope and charity and genuine principled love in worldly culture --and counterculture-- than she had ever seen inside Kingdom Hall walls.
During her illness, her fellow Witnesses seldom called or stopped by. The usual exhortations to get to the meetings and to turn in her field service time continued, but very little in the way of real help or encouragement was forthcoming. People her fellow Witnesses disdained as 'worldly', however, offered Mommie real support during her long recovery. None of her kind 'worldly' cleaning clients let her go, although she missed work fairly regularly for weeks. 'Worldly' friends made during ADHD support work were willing to run an errand, help with homework, or take Mommie's restive boys to the park.
During this time, Mommie had several conversations with a new friend about her growing dilemma regarding the religion of her childhood. This woman related her own conversion from Lutheran to Episcopalian, and the ingrained prejudice, catechized from early childhood, that she had to reject in order to find her free expression in a different church. Then she gave Mommie some advice that liberated her: "Sometimes you just have to be quiet and wait for God to move your heart."
Oh, bliss! To just be quiet, and wait, without preaching at anyone, without watching petty personal politicking among the pioneers and elders, to truly 'wait on Jehovah' within the quiet of her own skull! Jumbled and restive thoughts began to cohere, become convictions, become imperatives. Mommie determined to break free of what she suspected were deliberately-forged chains of fear and hatred. She prayed to God for the patience to wait on Him, and for the first time in her memory she felt unburdened, and confident her prayers were heard.
After ten adult years of struggling, Mommie decided that it would be far better to die in Armageddon, even assuming that somehow that lunacy was true, than to live forever with such narrow-minded and often frankly vicious people. She had had enough of pretending that everyone in the world was evil and Satanic except Jehovah's Witnesses. She had had enough of the smug self-righteousness of undereducated drones who usually had little or no understanding of the weird chronologies they parroted . She had had enough of the humiliations of preaching that stuff with some of the most ignorant and arrogant people she had ever met anywhere., watching them choose which fine homes they would take after God destroyed the worldlings, biting her tongue through endless superstitious demon stories. She quit going to any meetings and began to withdraw entirely from association with local JWs.
Shortly after this crisis of conscience, Mommie, insomniac one hot Texas night, was channel surfing when she heard the name "Jehovah's Witnesses' on the John Ankerberg show. Although her previous experience with Ankerberg's program had been limited to marveling over his hair helmet as she surfed by, she paused and listened, finding herself for the first time giving real attention to what a detractor might say. The panel, all former Bethelite women, was discussing scriptural changes made in the NWT to justify some of the JW doctrine.
Skeptical, she got out her bible and began to try to debunk what the panel was saying. One woman was comparing the KJV with the NWT, so Mommie got both translations and followed along. She next got out her NIV and did more comparison. Finding no falsehood in any of their scriptural discussion, Mommie began to wonder what else former JWs might have to say, and how she could confirm the veracity of such claims.
Mommie never made a formal disassociation. By the time she was convinced that there was no truth to 'The Truth' it seemed irrelevant to care what any JW felt or thought about her defection to sanity. It seemed to her that there was no way any good could permanently reside in such a smug and self-righteous mindset as is fostered by the Society, and that even if, horribly, God were the ravening jealous monster she had believed and preached, she must now as a moral human being reject such an angry and insane God. Still heavily conditioned by her childhood indoctrination, but determined to overcome her visceral terror of the 'demon-filled void', she set off to make a satisfying life right here on imperfect planet Earth among imperfect humans.
Ten years later, Mommie has completed her deprogramming from ingrained KingdomKultFear, largely through the incredible efforts of former Witnesses who have diligently researched and proved the many things Mommie had hitherto merely suspected. She is working toward sanity one day at a time. (Mommie's life post-deTowering is another story altogether, and, although equally action-packed, one not altogether relevant to this tale.) She struggles with recurring bouts of depression, a variety of physical ailments, and the rigors of helping two brain-damaged young men into self-sufficiency. Although her life is full of equal amounts of pain and pleasure, she treasures every sunrise, each moment of family chaos, every stray, human or animal, that is led to her door.
She has not found The Truth. She feels no compulsion to fill her life with frantic activity designed to appease an angry God. She finds happiness in simplicity, especially in matters spiritual. She is confident that what she needs to know will be revealed in God's due time, and until then she is content to divide her time between debunking the myth of WT holiness and caring for her Darklings, her own and assorted drop-ins in need of no- nonsense mothering. She is happily married, learning to write without compulsively destroying her work, and lives in relative poverty in middle America.
Mommie Dark is happy to be alive, and no longer afraid of the human condition.
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