The morning after the accident I was in a lot of pain, stiff all over. My muscles had grown remarkably tight; my whole back could’ve been mistaken for a large rock.
When Krystal asked me where I had been, I told her there were a lot of call offs at work and the close took a long time. This was also a good excuse for my exhaustion and staying in bed well past my usual rising time. I was amazed at how easily I outright lied to her. Lying had been unceasingly difficult for me throughout my life as I’ve always held honesty a virtue above all others. I had mastered avoidance of specific topics just so I didn’t have to lie if questions were asked. But when it came to a matter of survival, I had no choice and luckily she believed me.
Krystal, her husband, and I had secretly planned our escape from The Exodus House one afternoon that past July. We had a meeting planned a week ahead. Krystal & Michael would leave the House to go out on the regular Wednesday grocery run a little later than usual and I would meet them at a coffee shop on my way home from work. We didn’t have much time. If I was too late getting home, Bill might suspect something. I don’t recall the words we exchanged that day. The vivid memory is only the tangible feeling of fear, certainty, and sense of urgency that linked us together. We found an apartment the three of us could afford in Plain City, about 30 minutes away. We had managed to liberate ourselves and had lived together without many issues in this tiny apartment for the last several months. Now, I was hiding things from them.
I tried to go back to life as usual, tackling all the mundane things one at a time. It wouldn’t be that easy, I was changed. By letting the tears free fall that night I had opened a dam that was previously sealed shut. Life was trying to force me to deal with what was inside. Instead of doing that, I fell into a dark emotional place. I numbed myself to others. I walked around more like a robot than a human, ignoring all my feelings because as I then learned, you just can’t selectively numb them.
About a month went by like this, me spiraling deeper into nothingness, before Krystal said anything to me. One afternoon I was sitting on my bed staring at the ceiling when she walked into my room.
“What’s going on with you?” she asked with deep concern.
I tried to look at her as if I had no idea what she was talking about but this time she wasn’t fooled.
“You’re not yourself. Something is obviously bothering you. Please just talk to me.”
She seemed genuine. I did want to talk to someone but our past created distrust between all of us, amongst any prior member of The Exodus House. I wondered whether or not she truly cared for me or if she just cared if I was sinning. Her eyes were soft and her arms were open.
“I was in a car accident.”
“WHAT?!” She threw herself onto my bed, wrapping her arms around me.
“When? What happened? Are you okay?”
I divulged all the details to her. I told her about that day, the IV, Brandon. I explained why I kept it a secret from her. She understood but felt lousy about it. I was relieved just to have told her so I didn’t have to walk around with this burden, feeling like a deceiver every time I saw her face. My sincerity brought us closer together for a while. There were a few weeks of movie nights, deep conversations, at home mani-pedi parties. It was so nice. For most of my life I’d been aching with desperation for this kind of affection from my big sister. I relished every moment of it. Then there was a sudden change in the wind and Krystal turned cold towards me. I knew had what happened; She had talked to Bill.
He wasn’t pleased when we moved to Plain City. He believed we were turning our backs on our faith, allowing doubt to penetrate our unity. He still needed us, though. He had no job, no more congregation or disciples, no way of affording the house, and with Mom gone, my three little siblings were his responsibility now. He followed us to Plain City, choosing a place to live not far from our apartment. Until this time, I had been allowed to see Hope, Hannah, & Josiah freely whenever I wanted. After Krystal told Bill of my misadventures, my time with them came to an abrupt halt.
“You know what you’re doing is wrong, Kayla. You’ve given in to the devil’s temptations and you’re allowing him to use you for his plans. I cannot have that influence around the kids.” He was matter of fact in his delivery.
If anyone on the outside had heard that, they’d think I was building an altar to sacrifice babies in the name of Lucifer; I WAS JUST IN A RELATIONSHIP! But, you know, out of wedlock and therefore not ordained by God and therefore of the devil.
I accepted this as my fate. He still let me have supervised calls with them so we just tried to talk on the phone more frequently. It turned cold outside and the snow began to fall. Krystal was still icy with me, keeping me at distance but always watching as if she were suspicious of me. Once the holiday season had set in, I implored with Bill to let me spend Christmas morning with the kids. He gave in and even allowed supervised visits after that. It was infinitely comforting to have that access back. I only wish the comfort had lasted a little longer.
“By having sex out of wedlock, you’re allowing demons into our home.” Krystal’s words were definitive.
I wish I could say I was more shocked. “Are you serious?”
“Don’t act like you don’t know this, Kayla. Sexual sins are serious and the demons are strong. You having sex with your boyfriend lets demons come in and out of our home freely and that could cause my husband to cheat on me.”
She was kicking me out. The realization set in. This is the very reason I did not call her when I was lying in that hospital bed after the Miata calamity. I never should’ve told her about it. I could but also could not believe it. We left The Exodus House together only 6 months before. Although no one dare speak of it, we were just coming up on the 1 year anniversary of Mom’s death. Bill was still waiting for her to rise from the dead and hadn’t yet told the kids she wasn’t coming back. I was only 19. I had no one else in the city. My heart turned from a cautious but tender sponge to a solid impenetrable mass in a matter of moments.
I didn’t even try to make sense of what had happened the last year of my life. There were too many insane and unresolved issues and no one trustworthy to lean on. I could not face these things on my own so I willingly dove deep into the cavernous black hole inside of myself.
I think most people don’t understand that when you spend a lifetime trapped being brainwashed and controlled, the physical escape is only half the battle. Everything doesn’t stop and get better after you remove yourself from the situation. There are years, decades even, of mental and emotional undoing, of unlearning and relearning absolutely everything, of finding the courage to face the distress and confusion, of actually rewiring your brain. There are years of sorting through the wreckage trying to make sense of what happened, trying to find the bits of yourself that have been scattered about.
And if you have loved ones, especially young ones, still trapped in the madness, the pain does not go. It stays constant, looming over the present, vigorously threatening your life and the lives of those you love.