It was Monday night, the once a week time-slot designated by the Mormon Church as family night.
My friends’ families used the night to go bowling together or head to Baskin Robbins for some ice cream. Our time was always spent in the living room, listening to some church lesson Mom or Earl prepared from the Family Home Evening lesson book.
The evening’s topic was obeying and respecting your parents and Earl, the jobless motorcycle mechanic who had wormed his way into Mom’s life by pretending to be a good Mormon, had taken over. He held court on the juice-stained green couch the Church had donated to us, quoting from the large lesson book spread open across his stubby thighs.
“Thou Shall Obey Thy Father and Mother,” he read, glancing around at all of us for effect.
I had become an expert at zoning out. I usually tried to revert into my daydream mode – the one where the Osmonds figured out they were missing a kid and had come to rescue me. But on this particular evening, I was too distracted to conjure up new family fantasies so I found a speck on the wall just above Earl’s head and focused all my attention there. It was amazing how many different shapes a speck could take on if you stared at it long enough.
After a few minutes, Earl’s drone stopped and I heard Mom’s voice breaking in.
“Ingrid, are you listening to me? I said we are going to start Father/Daughter talks!”
Her words felt like needles pricking my skin.
“Earl has decided to implement one-on-one talks with all of you kids,” she continued. “I think it’s a great idea. We need to start changing things around here.”
I looked at her in disgust, fighting the urge to walk over and slug her.
Earl stayed seated by her side on the green couch, not saying a word, just nodding his head in agreement. Every time he moved his head downward in a nodding motion, I could see flecks of dandruff caught in his greasy matt of black hair.
“We’re going to do these on a weekly basis,” Mom continued. “Ingrid, we’ve decided to start with you.”
Of course they would start with me. I glanced over at Connie and Heidi, who didn’t even try to hide their relief. I wanted to punch them both to wipe the smirks off their faces. My brothers snuggled next to Mom, free of the nightmare that awaited my sisters and me.
“Come on, Ingrid. Let’s go.”
I shot a final dirty look at Connie and Heidi before leaving the room.
I tried to get myself back into my zone-out state as I followed Mom and Earl into their bedroom, but I could feel the blood rushing to my face and my heart was pounding too hard to relax. Just the thought of being in such a close proximity of Earl made me want to throw up. Mom’s bedroom was tiny and between the double bed and the dresser, there was only about two feet of moving room.
I took a seat on Mom’s bed and glared at her and Earl. They both leaned up against the dresser in front of me.
“First of all, I would like you to address me as `Father’,” Earl started out. “Father is a respectable name and I deserve it.”
It was the same demand he had been making since he and Mom married a year and a half ago. I felt a switch flip in my head.
“You are not my DAD!” I snarled. “You’re Mom’s husband. That’s all!”
Earl turned to Mom. “Tell her to stop talking to me that way!” he barked.
Mom grabbed my arm. I tried to shake her off but she was digging in hard with her fingers and wasn’t about to let go.
“Ingrid! Stop it right now!”
“Just get away from me! Both of you!”
I thrashed around, trying to break free from her grasp. Then Earl grabbed me, pushed me backward and helped Mom pin me to their bed.
“Ingrid, listen to me,” Mom said, her voice suddenly filled with concern. “I think you have Satan inside of you. Earl’s going to give you a blessing.”
They still had me pinned to the bed, discussing where the sacred ointment was hidden so Earl could use his priesthood powers to bless the evil spirits out of me. Their voices became a muffled jumble around me. My head was pounding and I could hear a single word repeating itself in my mind: Escape. Escape. Escape.
Earl relaxed his hold. It was all I needed. I kicked him in the stomach, wrestled free from Mom and ran from the room. I blocked out their yells as I reached for the front door and slammed it behind me. I started sprinting down the block. I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew I had to get away.
I ran a few blocks into the dark night and then stopped to catch my breath. It was early October and already the temperature dipped below freezing. I was wearing only a long sleeved T-shirt and jeans.
I needed a plan. I didn’t have a place to go and I was scared to go too far from the house because the night was so dark I was having a hard time seeing anything.
The top half of our block was a large overgrown field nearly the length of a football field. I decided to head there and make it my hiding place until I could figure out what to do next. I retraced my steps back to the top of my block and waded through the weeds into center of the field. I used my hands to flatten some of the weeds, then plopped down and hugged my knees into my chest to keep warm. The weeds loomed about four feet high and I figured I was safe for a while. Tears streamed down my face as I rocked back and forth, trying to comfort myself.
Once I had calmed myself down enough to think, I played out my situation in my mind – trying to come up with an answer. But no matter how many times I went over it, my dilemma never changed. Life at home was hell and I wanted and needed to be with Dad. But Dad lived on the road as an independent salesman and I couldn’t be with him unless I wanted to drop out of ninth grade. During our most recent summer together, Dad and I had actually discussed the idea, though we both knew it wasn’t really an option. But this brought me right back to life with Mom and Earl, and I didn’t know how much longer I could stand it.
I wondered if Mom was sorry about what had just happened and if she was worried about me. I half expected to hear her voice calling out to me and sat waiting for it to happen. I thought about how I would react. I wouldn’t answer her calls at first; I would let her worry for a while and think about what she had just done. When I was convinced she was sorry, I would call out to her. She would make her way into the field, we would hug and cry for a while, and she would tell me how scared she was that I was gone and how sorry she was for getting so weird on me.
I waited for nearly two hours, hoping to hear her voice. But the only sounds I heard were my teeth chattering and the crickets chirping. I was freezing and alone. I couldn’t stand the thought of going back home; but it was too cold to stay outside any longer and I had nowhere else to go.
I stood up and slowly made my way back to the house. The porch light was on but otherwise the house was dark. I turned the knob on the front door and was relieved to find it unlocked. Straining to be as quiet as possible, I stepped inside.
The house was silent. Everyone seemed to be sleeping. It was as if nothing had happened earlier and no one cared that I was gone.
I tiptoed to the attic entrance, scaled the plywood steps to my room and quickly shut my door. Then I attached the hook lock I had installed a few weeks earlier, pushed my nightstand up against the door and crawled into bed in my jeans and T-shirt.
Though finally warm under the covers, I couldn’t stop my body from trembling. I stared at the ceiling for what felt like hours before I drifted off to sleep.
Thanks for reading! I’m in the process of making final edits to Hippie Boy, my coming-of-age memoir about a girl who escapes her abusive Mormon stepfather and the suffocating religion at home by joining her free-wheeling dad on the road as a tool hustler. If you are a publisher interested in a book proposal, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org