This story is by Miriam Nicholson and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The keys to my apartment felt unnatural in my hands. I wasn’t used to having my own place. Walking in I let out a deep sigh, setting the keys down like a big weight off of my shoulders. Some things are never easy.
My new room was four times bigger than the hole my parents had stuffed me into, finally giving me room to breath, away from that box in the basement.
Dumping my bag felt like I was offloading the entire day, but one final task remained: the last box. The cardboard box was a sore thumb, sticking out like the chest at the end of some video game.
Opening the box, I smiled. A few of my oldest pieces of writing almost seemed to glow as I picked them up and held them. The real me showed through here, unfiltered no matter how much my parents said writing wasn’t a viable career, always asking what I would do in the meantime. I’d written and grown more than they ever did. I still loved it. It still set me free. Free from their constrictive bindings, and narrow path.
Next was a family picture, front and center. There we all were, my parents and their seven children, all smiling, all hiding behind a mask. I was near the back, as if they were trying to hide the shame I had supposedly brought upon them. My oldest sister was married and my brother was on the streets, yet somehow I was worse because I couldn’t keep the mask on.
Shaking my head, I set it to the side to reveal the stuff from my past life. My LDS quad, which contained the bible and three books written by a fraud. I shuddered as the memories cut me with their passing.
There I was, the perfect little mormon to be, with a medal of conformity and ribbons to boot. I ticked all the boxes, the golden child. Everyone expected me to do great things within that cult. For my parents, good was never good enough. With every accomplishment there was a failure. Every aspiration I had, there was one of theirs not being fulfilled.
It was expected of all girls to get married. If I wasn’t recruiting new members to the church I was expected to be producing them, bearing tithe payers for the elders to retire on. Going on a mission would have given me bonus points, and I had every intention of doing that. Everything changed when I realized the truth. My parents weren’t healthy people; in fact, they were emotionally and verbally abusive.
All of this was normal growing up in the LDS church, but after senior year, I woke up. I found out the truth – that the church wasn’t what I believed, but had been created by a con-man named Joseph Smith. This new knowledge tore me up and brought me to a breaking point I didn’t think I would survive.
I tried to save my parents, but they refused to see the truth, saying Satan had led me astray. The rift between us had started from a crack, when they wouldn’t believe that I had depression. Now, with the attack on their religion, it had grown into a chasm. It broke my heart, knowing they were in a cult and not being able to save them. My breath caught in my throat as the tears pushed at my eyes. I failed them.
But what if I was wrong, what if they weren’t abusive? I thought back through my life, trying to find a redeeming thing about them. They kept a roof over my head, fed me, didn’t hit me. My heart hurt, an infected wound again leaking puss. No, it was true, they were abusive; I wouldn’t hurt like this otherwise.
But how can you love someone who’s hurt you so deeply? My train of thought caused me to curl into the fetal position. I couldn’t hate them. They’d rejected me and wounded me, but I couldn’t hate them.
All the emotions poured through me as I cried silently. They never wanted me to cry, and they thought they’d made it impossible – that I couldn’t cry. I shouldn’t cry.
My therapist’s words started to take over. “I’m going to teach you how to ground yourself when the emotions get too much. List Five things you can see, name them and take a moment for them; four things you can feel; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; one thing you can taste. I suggest creating a panic attack bag. it’ll help you through this healing process.”
I worked on grounding myself to slow down my thoughts. I wouldn’t need to do this if my parents weren’t abusive. I got hurt, but I wouldn’t let them hold me down anymore. I uncurled to finish unpacking; my eyes still stung but I had to get this finished. I needed closure.
I put the book to the side along with the religious jargon. They didn’t help me anyway. When I left the church, all that glory, all that goodness turned to shame, and disgust. I was no longer the golden child, turned to fool’s gold by my decision. But it would no longer bind me down.
The last item in the box was my old school bag. It had survived throughout school. Through all the bullying, and books and hurt. It showed me that though it’s been beaten like me, I can rise from it. This bag would go with me to college once I had the money, proving my parents wrong. I wasn’t a baby factory. I wouldn’t be using the money they set aside for marriage or an LDS mission. I’d use it to make a new life for myself.
This new place is my new start. Away from the faith, from the family who shunned me, from everyone who told me I can’t make it. I will go forth from my past, unbound by expectations. I’m an adult now, and it’s my time to write my own story. Unlimited by anyone but myself.
And well, my parents were wrong about one thing; I wasn’t the single troll that had lived in their basement, shrouded from God’s eyes, never seeing how far I had risen above them. They weren’t worthy of knowing anything about my life, not my online friends, nor the family I met on the way.
“That you, honey?” it was my roommate to my parents, but to me, he was my boyfriend. He had saved my life.
“Yup just got home,” I smiled.
We embraced and all the love I had missed in my childhood rushed through me. Yes; this was a new start, with the family I had met along my journey. The people who loved me as I was, and not as they wanted me to be.
The past can’t be changed, nor would I want it to. It’s made me who I am and I will continue to live my life, unlimited.