If you have not read Part 1 of this series, it will be very important to read first. Read “The ‘Christian’ Home for Teens (part 1 ) The Hazing” HERE.
I picked at a wart on my finger, making it bleed heavily. Relaxing into the pain, I drew the relief I needed to drown out the burning sensation roaring up my legs and across my face. I had been in the Christian home for a couple of weeks and what had started as a small itch on the inside of my knees had spread to my legs and part of my face; I had caught major poison ivy. Like they had done when I went to them with my injured knee, the staff had told me to ‘give it time.’
The blood spattered on my home-school lesson book, reminding me that it was still largely blank. Pulling my textbook closer, I filled in a few more blanks. I wasn’t learning anything in eight hours of pin-drop silence every day; the isolation was testing my sanity. Even though it was forbidden, I stole a quick glance around at the other girls. They were all sitting silently at their tables facing the wall, staring at the lesson books before them. I noticed few were actually working, and I wasn’t surprised. The silence in spite of twelve of us sitting in the room was eerie. I turned back to my workbook before the teacher noticed from her office where she watched us.
The last two weeks had been a couple of the worst in my life. After being beaten by Jess, I’d crawled to the staff office begging for help. Anne, the staff on shift, had stared down at me coldly with a glint of satisfaction in her eye before telling me to stop pretending and get back to work. She had, after all, promised they would get to me. I failed my chores that day and after loudly protesting about my quickly swelling, crackling knee, was placed on QT (quiet time). Walking was nearly impossible; each step shot knives into my joint as I felt something crunch. Beating back tears, I walked anyways. Any show of strength, I thought, might show them I would be too much to break.
The schedule ran like clockwork: We woke at 6am and had thirty minutes to shuffle through the bathroom, make beds and get dressed. Next we had breakfast, prepared by one of the girls. As soon as the dishes were stacked in the sink, cleaning assignments were doled out and everyone spread out to work all over the house. Certain duties were harder than others, and I found myself time and again receiving the tough assignments from a grimly smiling staff member.
Once chore time was over we would file into the worship room, where we were all on Quiet Time with our Bibles as the two senior girls checked our chores with a staff member. After roughly forty-five minutes, we were required to launch into crazed worship with the staff. The music blared, Bibles were waved, sometimes thrown and if no one burst out into tongues, sobs or screams, the music pounded on until someone let loose. I sat sullenly on the couch, sometimes growing alarmed by the Bibles whizzing past my face. From time to time they connected with my jaw or cheek, but the sound was lost in the wailing.
Once ‘worship’ was over we filed out of the house and into the cabin basement, where the schoolhouse was located. There we would sit, again on QT, and work four hours until lunch. Still on Quiet Time, we would return to the garage, which was remodeled as a sun-room, where we would eat before returning to stare either at our lesson books or at the wall each of us faced.
After four more hours of silence we rushed to get changed into our gym clothes. Meeting in front of the sun-room, we would exercise however the staff member preferred that day. I dreaded run days; I could only limp painfully along the asphalt path behind even the slowest girl. Each time I passed Cathy, she would call to me about how sinful it was for me to not use the body I had been given to its full potential.
Each day of the week had a different evening activity. It rotated between deep cleaning the house, more Bible study time, group talks and going out with family. Being in my first month, I wasn’t permitted any contact with my parents or siblings. While the girls were out with family, I was kept in the house working on extra duties with staff. The group talks were especially unsettling. We were each handed a book about dating Jesus and were required to discuss a chapter every week. One chapter discussed the claim that a breast was the most wonderful of God’s creations, and the next pulled verses from the Bible to indicate that Jesus wanted us to ‘romance’ him. I was silent during the talks.
The staff managed to inflict harm through religious pressure and neglect, and compounded with the aggression of Jess and two of the other girls, I was constantly looking over my shoulder. For moments, I wondered if Jess and the staff worked together. Sometimes the girls would smuggle drugs in and smoke them on the roof. Other nights, they would crawl into bed with each other, having sex while I huddled in my bunk. In this place, I didn’t have the capacity to feel sorry for myself or acknowledge the intense loneliness; surviving consumed my focus.
Continuing to pick at my finger, I heard the staff office door swing open and knew I’d been busted. The teacher looked down in disgust at my bloodied hands and workbook. I didn’t care; I had gotten enough relief from the pain to last me through the day.
“Why can’t you be a normal Christ-loving child and be dutiful in your stu0dies? Do you realize how offensive you are in God’s sight?” She seemed more tired than angry.
“It just started bleeding. I thought maybe I could pull it out and it would get better.” I lied.
“You little liar. That is nasty. Get cleaned up. You have a doctor’s appointment.”
I started. I was actually seeing a doctor? I couldn’t believe it. Maybe they could fix my knee or give me some relief from the poison ivy covering my body. I pushed back my chair and slowly pulled myself into a standing position, automatically stifling the groan of putting weight on my knee. I dragged myself to the bathroom, letting the cool water run over my fingers. I looked at myself in the mirror.
My long brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and my braces stared crookedly back at me. I suddenly realized how young I was. I wondered why I had been through so much when my peers were probably chatting in the hallways of my high school without a care. Did any of them wonder what had happened to me? I stared hard at my reflection, trying to see what I would look like as an adult, but it didn’t come to me. Taking it as a sign that I probably wouldn’t get to look in the mirror as an adult, I shut off the water and dried my hands. I decided that if I didn’t make it to adulthood, no one would get the pleasure of taking my life but me.
The front desk receptionist was waiting for me when I exited the bathroom. I made my way over to her and followed her out of the school house, where she began talking. She was the mother of a program graduate and was the only one who showed kindness on staff in the program, but I had actually never gotten to talk to her before. I knew her name was Shelley but little more. She chattered away as we climbed into the green program van and took off. Finally I asked her what doctor we were going to see.
“I think we are going to your usual doctor, Dr. Fox.” she said, unsure.
I wondered why on earth we would be going to see him. I wasn’t naive enough to believe they were actually taking me to get my injuries handled. I suddenly remembered that morning when we had been required to wear our sweatpants to school that morning, which was unusual. Looking down at me knee, I noted that the baggy fabric completely hid the massive, swollen lump that was my knee. Clever, I thought.
We pulled into the parking lot roughly forty-five minutes later.
“Don’t even think about putting on your limp.” she warned. “You walk straight while you’re in there. You’re not going to get away with your antics on my watch.”
I knew it; They were taking me for a different reason and wanted to hide what had happened. I sighed. Given the chance, I was going to tell the doctor everything, but not if the staff heard. I needed a game plan.
Before I could think of one, we were in the waiting area and were instantly called back into an exam room. The space was long and narrow with sickening pea-green walls. I sat in the far corner of the room and Shelly sat in front of me, facing the door. Dr. Fox entered after just a few short minutes.
“Good morning Skye. Who is your friend? Do you want her to step out?” His demeanor was reserved yet kind as usual.
“Actually, I have very specific instructions to stay in the same room with her at all times. She is a bit of an escape artist so we want to keep close track of her.” Shelley butted in anxiously. She didn’t like being in this situation, I realized. I suddenly realized that she wasn’t facing me; she couldn’t see me at all while she faced the doctor. An idea began to form in my mind. I may not be able to escape, but I could pull something else off.
“I want to be able to talk to you alone though.” I said as nervously as I could.
“I’m not leaving the room. Those are my instructions.” Shelley was adamant, but I had gotten the information I needed: even when I spoke, she hadn’t turned to look at me. Perfect, I thought.
“Well we are here for a medication evaluation upon your father’s request. If you want to speak privately maybe we can work with the school and set up another appointment. In the meantime, I want to do a quick welfare check.”
YES. I thought. This was going to be easier than I thought.
“Are you happy at the school?” Dr. Fox looked at me, but Shelly didn’t turn.
“Yes.” I shook my head no. For a moment his surprise showed and I panicked. He managed to hide it from Shelly’s gaze before she noticed and he continued.
“Do you feel safe?”
“Yes.” Shaking my head no, I pointed to my knee and made a breaking gesture with my hands.
“Do you feel like you are learning from the program?”
“Yes.” I twirled my finger by my temple, still shaking my head.
“Do you feel like the staff have your best interests in mind?”
“Of course. They’re very nice to me.” I shook my head vehemently.
“Ok. That’s all I need to know for this session. I’ll call your father and call the school to see if we can set up an appointment for one-on-one time.” He gave me an almost invisible nod. My message had been delivered, but if he was only going to relay it to my father, it was useless. Maybe if I got alone time with him I could show him my knee and poison ivy.
Shelly turned to face me, smiling; she had no idea what conversation had actually taken place. We stood and left.
As the car flew through the country, leading us back to the hated home for teens, my thoughts turned. Shelly continued to chatter but I was focused on unfolding a new plan. If I couldn’t escape, maybe I could be rescued.
That evening we were required to work on our Bible study assignments. I had already completed mine. Keeping the papers on the top of my notebook, I began writing letters for help on the pages beneath. I had memorized the number for Cindy, my best friend’s mom. She was the only adult I knew that had advocated for me with my interests in mind and if anyone could save me, I thought maybe she could. I managed to write seven copies of the letter before study time was over. They read something to this effect:
Whoever is reading this, please deliver this message to Cindy Romero. Her contact information is below.
It’s Skye. I’m in the home and it’s really bad here. The girls beat me up and the staff let it happen. I think my knee is broken. I’m not allowed to contact anyone and my parents don’t care. I need help. Please get me out of here. I’m not allowed to talk or make any noise most of the time so please don’t try to call. It will only make things worse but please get me out of here. I don’t know who else to ask. Please help me.
The next day was Friday. Some of the girls on higher program phases were allowed to go out with their families and the rest of us were permitted an incredible treat: We were going mini-golfing. I was in no condition to run away, but I was prepared for something else: With the seven letters folded up into little small squares addressed to whoever came across them, we packed into the car and went into town. I dropped a letter by the front desk, lagging behind the girls. Along the golf course, I dropped another for the people behind us; so it went until I was out of letters. I prayed that one of them would end up in Cindy’s hands. I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to keep myself together in this place.
The next day, we were told we were going to rake someone’s yard who was out of town. We loaded up the extra-large green van with yard equipment including five rakes and two leaf blowers, then piled in. During the hour and fifteen minute drive, we drove past the neighborhood my family lived in, and I scanned the road to see if anyone was heading up or down the drive. No luck. Once we arrived, the girls scrambled to grab the best equipment to work on the large yard. Somehow, I managed to seize one of the precious leaf blowers. Jess sidled over to me, hefting a rake. Even with the staff around, she managed to convey her intent easily.
“Give me the leaf blower. I’m senior to you.” Her tone was sweetly dangerous.
I couldn’t imagine using a rake. Standing was difficult, and I didn’t want to entertain the agony that would come with all the stepping required to rake. I didn’t want Jess to hurt me, but the pain she would inflict on me was less certain than what I faced using a rake. I brushed past her.
The yard took several hours to clear. Dirty and sweaty, we piled the equipment back into the van and began to climb in. I was exhausted, shaking from pain. I had done it, and I still wasn’t broken. As the days had crawled by, the pain in my knee had slowly begun to dull. I had learned how to carry myself in the most painless manner and had even started to get somewhat used to it. I realized my chances of my knee being the reason I gave in were starting to fade, and the thought made me smile broadly.
When I felt a hand on my elbow stopping me from getting into the van, my victory grin vanished. Jess pulled me backwards and I tumbled out. Jane, the staff member on shift, called for us to stop ‘goofing off’. I waited until everyone was inside before clambering in. I was seated directly in front of Jess, next to the only door. Apparently it was exactly what Jess had wanted.
The van buzzed along the main road, entering the town we usually passed through on our way to and from the house, and I stared greedily out the window for a glimpse of anything familiar; a face, a friend’s car, anything. We sat at a light not far from the park my cross country team had met at all summer for practice, and I wondered how they were doing in the running season. As the van began to roll forward, I felt something sharp on the back of my neck. It was Jess, sitting directly behind me.
The van was beginning to accelerate and I only had a split second. If I didn’t jump, I would be undermining Jess and the beating that night would be unbearable. If I jumped, maybe I could get help. My thoughts sprinted through my mind in less than a second: it wasn’t a choice to me. In one smooth motion, I unclipped my seat belt, leaned forward and pushed the door open, jumping as far from the moving vehicle as possible. I hit the ground and tucked myself into a roll, stopping just before hitting a tree.
I stood, bruised but unharmed, and ran.
TO BE CONTINUED….
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