EHS and Lockdown: The Summers of Hell

My mother has always had a thing with trying to separate my sister and I from our friends, all the while assuring us how much more intelligent we are. We weren’t allowed to play with the most popular (aka, richest) girls on the street, after one of them was mean to me one time too often. As a result, all the other girls had to make a choice: and it was made to exclude the crybaby. And, by extension, her longsuffering older sister. Lucky for all of them, though, as the cooler sister she had the brains and guts to sneak out. The crybaby never did. Two awesomes for the price of one, right?

As a kid, I wasn’t used to having many friends, let’s just say. All the girls my age that I knew well enough (a grand total of three) never wanted to be around me. The older girls just took pity on me. Sure, I’m grateful for that pity, but sincerity was always preferable.

I was ten years old when I became friends with one girl I could trust—my best friend to this day. Together, My sister, our friend, and me were an inseparable team. Except how my sister would go to this friend’s house without telling my mom. Or stay out too late with this friend.

This was where the trouble in our newest paradise really started. Mom started being quick to condemn this friend as a greedy little brat, and paint me and my sister as two angels Too Good For This Sinful Earth. Since the greedy little brat was having such a bad influence on her two angels, Mom started forbidding us to see her, except at church activities. That didn’t last too long, though, as I recall.

But, when we started going to school, it got worse. See, my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved into the neighborhood. This aunt is my mother’s sister, who’s a Type A personality you do not want to mess with. You get on her bad side, she is terrifying. Oh, and around her, my mother goes completely (and very unnaturally) passive.

Well, my aunt supposedly overheard our best friend calling my cousin fat. And the crap hit the fan.

Now, first of all, let me point something out. My best friend is pretty overweight. And a nice person by nature. Her saying such a thing about my totally awesome cousin, whom she always liked, is totally implausible. But our protestations amounted to nothing. Even as the excitement of going to school for the first time loomed, my mother was chewing out my best friend and her father. There was a very tense scene in my best friend’s front yard where the three of us had emotional breakdowns while Mom argued with my friend’s dad, about why we were never allowed to see this friend again. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears of a crazy woman. And my sister was sent to school with my cousin, in a different city.

So, the only time they got to see each other, really (since during that time we were forbidden from going over to our friend’s house), was when we had church activities. And when our friend got a license, she would drive us to and from those activities. And she would take long detours so we could just hang out for a few minutes. That certainly didn’t help matters.

But school was an instant love for me. I was practically a straight-A student throughout middle school. I loved learning new things—like about paragraphs and cells.

With my aunt living so close, though, she decided the golden trio (me, my sister and her daughter) needed to work harder, because there was no way our parents could pay for our college. So, the solution was to graduate with our Associate’s Degrees. How were we to do that? Electronic High School during the summer, of course! My sister and my cousin, both being actually in high school, were immediately signed up, of course. Me, I was offered the opportunity.

Now, I could tell that my aunt thought this was a great idea, when she brought it to my attention. But I had my misgivings. I was just out of seventh grade, which I’d only had one semester of. I’d taken in a lot of new information. I couldn’t handle what was in ninth grade classes when I couldn’t even fathom what eighth grade would hold! So, walking on eggshells, I told her very carefully and submissively that I didn’t think it was right for me, and I’d really rather not.

The next day, she returned, literally cornering me and yelling about how I had to do it because I was smart enough, don’t lie to myself. And my dad wasn’t going to pay for college. And I was getting enrolled whether I liked it or not.

It seems so minor. But that day was the day I climbed my favorite apple tree, sitting high in the branches where nobody could see me, and started dragging a sharp piece of apple wood across my skin.

So, much of the summer consisted of going to a computer lab at the local university extension and getting on computers with my sister and cousin. I tried. I really did. I submitted a few assignments for the Earth Systems class. As in, the first two. But when it got to abiotic and biotic factors of the environment, I was completely lost. Besides, next to me on either side, my sister and cousin were playing around on the Internet. Of course, this was a classic thing with me. Everyone else played around while I got stuck with the short end of the stick—like when my sister always snuck out. I wasn’t about to let that crap happen again. So, I also began Internet playing.

But one day, my aunt came along, and sat beside me. Without thinking about it, the first thing I did was check my email. She glanced over at my screen and whispered, “Mac, what are you doing?”

“Checking my email,” I whispered back.

“No. Get to work.”

I blinked, about to say that my sister and cousin had been doing it too, and why was I getting blamed, but looking over at their screens, I saw strictly aunt-appropriate things. Traitors. But I wasn’t about to sink to that level. So I said nothing. I tried to do the work, I really did. But online classrooms are not my environment. I struggled (never making it past those darned abiotic factors) before they finally stopped taking me. Summer passed, and I started eighth grade that fall. I never said it to anyone, but in the back of my mind, I referred to that summer as the Summer of Hell.

While my sister was going to school in another city, I was allowed to go to high school at home. So, I got to go to school with our friend during my freshman year, when she was a junior. It was a great time. After school, she’d sometimes drive me home (again with the long detours), and others we’d go over to her house for a while and play Kingdom Hearts.

But, of course, the good times were not to last. Near the end of the school year, my sister got in trouble for staying out too late with this friend again. And now, my aunt was here to back my mom up. So, they devised the plan to put my sister on “lockdown.” She was sent to live at my aunt’s house (my cousin had moved out by this point), allowed no contact with friends, no computers, no phone, no TV, no music. Only books and school.

And then, my turn came. The last day of freshman year. Nobody taking roll, of course, so my friend, myself and some others decided to have a mini-party at A&W a couple blocks away. We were going to take my friend’s car, until she realized that was what had gotten my sister into so much trouble, so we walked. Had a great time. At the end of the day, I went home and took a nap.

Only to be yelled and shaken awake by my mother, who wouldn’t tell me what was going on, or what I had done wrong, just that I was getting in a car with my aunt.

Enraged with the dim disgruntlement of the half-awake, I grabbed my iPod (music always helps calm me down) and headed outside. I couldn’t argue with my aunt. I was too afraid of her. That’s the kind of woman who will steamroll you if you so much as look at her funny. Except, no sooner had I got out there than the iPod was confiscated. And it was a very quiet drive to her house.

There, I was told it was my turn on “lockdown.” Because I had been accepting rides from my friend when I wasn’t supposed to. And I had gone out with my friends, leaving the school grounds, without telling my mother. (Who had, actually, confiscated my cell phone when hers was broken a few months previously.) Never mind that I didn’t have her number memorized and didn’t know how to contact her without my cell phone. Or that I didn’t even think about it. My aunt assured me that yes, I did think about it, and I did deliberately spite my mother. No matter how much I protested my relative innocence in tears, I was assured of my damnation. And, realizing I was trying to break down a concrete wall, after that I just stopped talking. I listened silently as I was informed that I would not be going back to the local high school, but separated from my evil friend, and sent to the same high school as my sister. I cried myself to sleep, still trying to figure out what in the world I had really done.

Thankfully, the next day, I was taken to the library and told I could get one book. The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, as I fondly recall. That book was my escape—my refuge from the madness of real life. I spent all day reading it until my parents came to pick me up, out of the blue.

Of course, I still didn’t have a cell phone. And I didn’t have computer access, as I was still on a less strict lockdown. So, I was cut off from all the friends I’d made once more with one brutal stroke. Most of them, I haven’t seen since that day.

And that fall, I started at a new school. Discovered the escape to be found in working at the local haunted house—an outlet for my issues. Developed the Mormon Goth persona, so there would be no more crying protestations against what I was considered too young to understand. I learned my lesson. Shut up and take it. Suck it up and deal with it. You can’t fight crazy with tears. You fight it by yelling louder. Drowning them out.

So yes, I do have social issues. I don’t tell people what I’m really thinking or feeling, most of the time. I’ve worked very hard to separate myself from feelings. That way, it doesn’t hurt as much when I’m second-best to yet another person. When I’m invisible. When I’m treated unfairly.

It took me a while, but I realized the Summers of Hell were plural. More than I could consciously remember, with all Mom had put us through over the years.

Hi, my pseudonym is Mac, and I’m a Mormon. Believe it or not, my life in a “good Mormon family” was my own hell.

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Christian Weirdness: Mormon vs. Catholic

Tonight, I took the opportunity to expand my Christian horizons by going to a Catholic mass.

Now, there are those among the Mormon church who believe Catholicism is the whore of Babylon mentioned in Revelations. That’s incorrect. The whore of Babylon is not necessarily a denomination, just a state of mind. Opposition to righteousness.

That in mind, I decided that I needed to stop just thinking Catholics were weird (besides wrong, of course), and that I was so much better than them, and actually try to understand. Besides, I’ve always found Catholicism somewhat interesting. Maybe because the majority of demonic possession movies have a Catholic background. Plus, the stained glass windows and cathedrals are beautiful.

So, tonight, I attended mass, dressed as I would for an LDS service—in a skirt. I was advised by the Internet that it was the only way to dress for Catholics as well. Imagine my surprise when people started showing up in jeans!

In the LDS chapel, we have hymn books out for the congregation. In this chapel, they had three song books and a missal and a book for you to follow along. I was having a hard time switching back and forth between them all.

LDS church is composed of three different meetings: Sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and the age- and gender-specific classes (Primary for children up to twelve, Priesthood for males over twelve, Young Women for girls twelve to eighteen, and Relief Society for women eighteen plus). A total of three hours, sitting down except when traveling from one to the other. Our Sacrament meeting is most like a standard church meeting, gathering in the chapel, taking the sacrament. It’s really a very simple organization. Opening hymn, opening prayer, ward business, sacrament hymn, sacrament, first speaker, second speaker, hymn or musical number, third speaker, closing hymn, closing prayer. Mass isn’t anywhere near that simple. I couldn’t keep track of all the prayers and hymns and things sung! Most of it was routine. And plus, there was so much sitting, standing, kneeling. Good way to stay awake, I guess. Bravo to Catholics for figuring that out! Maybe us Mormons could use a little more of that, and a little less of the classic elbow in the ribs.

To say I didn’t feel comfortable? An understatement. All in all, I found it too formulated, leaving too little room for revelation. See, Mormon’s don’t really use formulated prayers very often. Just for things like baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, and so on. I guess you could say our prayers are free verse. Reciting something like a prayer will never feel right to me. Also, I found a bit of it was really showy—more of the body than the mind and heart. Beyond that, I was depressed by the limited amount of scripture: just the Bible. I’m so used to the classic Mormon quad: The Bible, the Book of Mormon (testament of Christ in the Americas), the Pearl of Great Price (miscellaneous things, including the books of Moses and Abraham, and the Joseph Smith translations of the Bible), and the Doctrine and Covenants (establishment of the LDS church, and related revelations). To be cut down to one. . . is weird.

Now, I can’t tell you I felt the Spirit there. And I can’t say I didn’t. I’m not very spiritually sensitive. But the pastor did say some good things, and I had good notes to take.

After mass, I talked to the pastor long enough to give him my name and tell him I was Mormon. He made sure I felt welcome, and introduced me to another girl, who introduced me to basically everyone else. To be perfectly honest, I was overwhelmed by how included they made me—how nice everyone was. I’m a Utah Mormon. Here, Mormons can be nice, but they can also be very judgmental and cliquish, for lack of a better term. But I saw so little of that in the Catholics I met tonight. They invited me to an activity later in the week, and I think I might have to go. Because, honestly, in my own ward I haven’t ever felt so included.

My conclusions: Catholics are still weird. Their religion seems to be as steeped in tradition as Judaism. And, of course, I won’t ever believe the Catholics have it right. But they’re wonderful people—far better than I’ve been led to believe by Utah Mormons.

Snowboarding: Not Just For Daredevils!

I was raised in a medical background. Daddy was an EMT, Mommy claims she was a nurse, but I’m not sure if I can believe that. And Mom made sure to let me know why I was never supposed to do any of the dangerous things. I’d break my bones if I took martial arts, because I have a delicate bone structure. So I had to take ballet instead. My teeth could be knocked out by a ball. If I rode my bike in open-toed shoes, I’d get my feet caught in the chain, and they’d be cut off. If I rode a horse I’d fall off and break my neck. If I went skiing, I’d be sure to break an ankle, and I’d never be able to dance again.

This fear—this anticipation of the worst—has followed me ever since. I’m terrified of trying anything remotely dangerous. It took a lot of convincing to get me to go rock climbing for the first time. Even then, if it’s not top roping, count me out. And I was sure I would never ski or snowboard, because I didn’t want to break an ankle. Besides, ski resorts are so expensive!

All that, of course, changed when I started my current job—working at the local ski resort as a lift operator. The easiest way to get down from the top of the lifts is via skis or snowboard, naturally. And riding the lift down is such a pain.

Besides which, I was suddenly exposed to a whole new world I’d never experienced before. Skiiers and snowboarders that weren’t in a movie. I’ve watched them, at all levels, getting on and off the lift, riding down. Falling. Every coworker encouraging me to try one or both of them.

Well, even then, I knew which one I’d try, given the choice. In my mind, snowboarding made skiing look almost dorky. But it was harder to learn, according to all accounts. So skiing would be a safer choice, right? You didn’t fall as much in skis—that I could attest to, just from watching people get off the lift every day at work. So, less injuries.

But snowboarding sounded like so much more fun. And I envied everyone I saw on those lifts, with a snowboard strapped to their foot.

Besides, we weren’t allowed to wear ski boots while working.

Of course, I made myself believe that after weeks of watching others board, I could do it. So, I rented a board on my day off, and tried it out.

Pain. Lots of pain. Fall after fall after fall. Not knowing how to turn, and running into nets and nearly lift towers, besides embarrassing falls off the lift in full view of my coworkers. Landing on my butt so hard I felt it in my skull. Riding most of the way down on my sore behind.

Even though that first day was a failure, I was determined. For Christmas, I got myself my own board, boots, bindings, wrist guards and stomp pad. Now I was ready to go!

. . . Except I couldn’t just bring my new board that I didn’t know how to ride to work, where the goal was to get down the run safely and quickly and get back to work. Especially not when I was randomly assigned to the black diamond lift.

One day, though, I was talking to one of my supervisors about how horrible I was, and how I needed to figure out how to board. She told me to just bring it to work. So, I did. Lucky for me, that day was on the bunny hill. The first run was as embarrassing as the last times, but after that, I started finally grasping the heel edge, and used it. After all, I’d been watching other boarders for over a month, with a little experience behind me to know what I needed to look for in their technique! Plus, I’d watched the instructors!

Well, it took a while, but having my board with  me, being able to get in at least one run per day, has been great for me. A couple days ago, I managed my first few runs with zero falls–which was HUGE to me. And also, I seem to be naturally able to ride switch. I was doing it before I knew what it was.

If only I could figure out how to ride the toe edge, now. That still eludes me.

And, next month, I’m going to be taking my sister with me—the abusive one. She’s been expressing interest in learning. And, as I will be the driver and teacher, the one in control, I have high hopes for that day. I can’t wait! (Please, feel free to start calling me stupid right now.) I’ll get to show off my knowledge (learned through hours of reading online about snowboarding, and longer hours of being in the environment).

To say I’ve fallen in love with snowboarding just might be an understatement. It’s not only incredibly fun, but not too hard for me. The dangerous side to it is a bit thrilling—challenging my mother, challenging my own unhealthy paranoia that’s led me to avoid so much in life. I like the way it makes me feel—like I can do anything. Like I’m not some awkward girl who will never get it. It’s so. . . freeing. I can see why some people are so addicted to it.

Homeschooling and How It Is Appropriate For Young Ladies

My mother was born in the fifties, and always taught how to be an appropriate young lady. Me, I’ve always considered the fifties to be a neo-Victorian age. So many rules. Women didn’t leave home without their hats, and their shoes had to match their purses. Family and husbands were the most celebrated things. Boring.

But growing up in the nineties, she was still trying to push these ideals on me and my sister, her two daughters. My half brother, her eldest, had already left home, the angry child of a green beret. So me and my sister were her chance to start anew and do it right. We weren’t girls—we were Young Ladies, and it was her solemn duty to teach us the Appropriate Ways to behave.

My sister, who’s two years older, was lucky. She got to go to public kindergarten. But, when my time came, I was not sent to school. Instead, my mother sat me and my sister down one day, and gave us a spelling test.

I was five years old. I had no idea of the concept of a test, and blinked in confusion as my mother handed us sheets of paper and pencils and started a stop watch. And she named off the first word—the.

Sitting there, frozen, I was still hopelessly confused as the seconds ticked by, and Mom called out another word. Then I noticed that my sister, sitting in the chair next to me, was writing them down, so I looked over at her paper, hoping I could glean the secret of this weird thing called a spelling test from her.

Of course, that’s when Mom yelled at me, thinking I was trying to cheat.

That was only the beginning. Except Mom had this horrible habit of forgetting about our schooling, believing that we should be able to keep a set schedule, ourselves. But how many young kids will willingly sit down and do school work when they’re left unsupervised? No, much of that time was used to develop my creative side, making up games that my sister and I would play, writing the stories before I’d ever thought of being a writer.

But on some awful days, Mom would crack down, forcing our noses into the incredibly boring Pathway Readers (lots of good morals, but lacking an interesting plot)—which were her main focus. Because she didn’t just want us to learn how to read, she wanted us to learn Amish values: girls wear dresses and work in the kitchen and house, boys get to work outside and be rambunctious. Her only other real concern (besides our religious education—we didn’t get enough on Sundays, apparently) was Math, which was only focused on every now and again, with an annoyed explanation of subtraction here, and a yell of “Do the workbook!” there. If we really didn’t get it, she’d send us to our Former Math Major dad—who is good at math, but was never able to teach it.

There was also music. We were started on learning to play a recorder. That didn’t last very long.

Oh, and because we weren’t getting and PE at home, Mother enrolled us in ballet and tap classes, overriding my quiet objections that I’d rather take Tae Kwon Do, because my delicate bone structure would never be able to handle it.

And how could I forget knitting and sewing! Mother, taking us with her to knitting classes. Buying us yarn and needles and all the things a beginning seamstress needs. She’d show us patterns of pioneer dresses and tell us how one day we were going to wear dresses like those every day, complete with aprons.

Our drama classes came every summer, when we participated in the local historical pageant, where Mom took great joy in making us several of the dresses she dreamed about.

If we were lucky, or if we fulfilled Mom’s varying expectations for the day, we got to learn from Dad when he got home from work. He’d teach us about computers, and let us watch him play computer games. He’d quiz us about geography, with a big map of the world on his bedroom wall, until we knew almost all of the countries and their capitals, as well as all fifty states and theirs. We got to watch him fix cars and do yard work, if Mom didn’t want us kept inside. And every Christmas, we got to help him repair and put up Christmas lights. When Mom was away, he was also the music tutor, teaching us the beauty of classic rock.

Before Mom began this insane indoctrination,  I’d been lucky enough to see outside that box. My grandmother was a huge fan of action movies, so when we went to her house, I’d sit in the living room with my parents and grandparents and watch such movies as Speed with a mouth open in awe. Sure, I didn’t understand them, but they were still awesome! On TV, I’d get to watch Spider-Man and Batman taking out bad guys by the dozen. Also, I saw a lot of Xena, Warrior Princess. The action genre, it’s fair to say, was my first teacher. And those values would not be uprooted by Mom’s traditionalist fantasies.

Still, she persisted. My most humiliating experiences as a child were when she would force us to go in public on a regular day in our church clothes. Once, we had to go to the city dressed like this, because we were going, of all places, to a computer store. Another time, at a church activity, I remember arguing with Mom hopelessly how none of the other girls would be wearing dresses. But those pleas fell on deaf ears. My sister embraced the experience with a bubbly smile, telling me it would be fine, and it was fun to get dressed up. In the picture of the three of us they took at that activity, my sister is on one side, beaming. Mom is in the middle, a calm smile on her face, an arm around each of her young ladies. I sat on the right hand, my face a portrait of misery.

But eventually, Mom started to give way, between me, my sister, and my dad—mostly because she couldn’t stop us. She decided that nail polish didn’t make us look trashy. She allowed our normal clothes to be those dingy camping clothes—jeans and t-shirts. And after years and years of rebuffing my sister’s requests, she allowed us to pierce our ears.

It took the persuasion of my overbearing aunt, though, to finally break through the worst of those bars, and get us into public school, where I rejoiced when I discovered that division was possible.

Here is the story of my mom’s failure. She tried to turn me into a lovely young lady of good worth and quality—a treasure for my future husband. Well, I’m not. I’m a half-goth metalhead who spends my summers working at a scout camp, my Octobers at a haunted house, and my winters at a ski resort. I wear men’s clothes unapologetically, and will not lower my eyes from anyone’s gaze. I don’t speak in half-truths and riddles, and I can be very loud. I play violent video games. I watch those evil horror movies. I drive too fast. I rock climb and snowboard. I can burp on queue. I tell my friends to get their minds out of the gutter so mine can float by.

How’s that for ladylike, Mama?