Today I’m going to tell you a story. Because that’s what writers do, right? They tell stories. But I’m going to preface this by saying that for the five or six of you who know me in real life, this story is not for you. Don’t read it; go back to reading Narnia posts. This is a story that I’m telling to the internet, and not to face-space people, and I need you to respect that. Thank you.
[Content Note: Rape, Homelessness, Religious Abuse]
I will tell you a story. It is neither true nor false. It has no moral, no lesson, and no point. It simply is.
This story is about a little girl named Nan.
Nan was raised in a conservative Christian environment by her moderate Christian parents. Nan’s parents had both been raised in conservative Christian environments, and they’d turned out alright, so they thought the experience would be good for Nan. Plus, everyone knew that Christians got less conservative as they got older, so it was best to start Nan on the really conservative stuff to begin with and she’d naturally ripen and mellow out into a moderate Christian. Not one of those Christmas-and-Easter folks, mind you, but she’d probably ditch the Sunday evening and Wednesday night services and just stick with the weekly Sunday morning ones. And she wouldn’t grow up to be a pastor’s wife or anything hard-core like that, but Nan would at least marry a nice Wesleyan boy and not any of those Calvinists from across the street.
Nan was raised to believe that the Bible was God’s literal truth, dictated to people with parchments and feather pens. She read the Bible from cover to cover on a two year cycle, and she remembered the things she read. Nan got to eat bacon (though very rarely) and shellfish (though she didn’t like it), because those rules were only for God’s people when they were in the desert, but she knew -- because the pastor at the church said so -- that the rules about sexual behavior were true and absolute. Nan didn’t realize that the pastor was only talking about the homosexual bits, and accidentally memorized all the rules about not marrying your wife’s sister.
When Nan went to a conservative Christian college, she got her first boyfriend. She liked her boyfriend, and stayed out late with him and held his hand in his car and watched the stars. But her parents didn’t like her boyfriend: he was the wrong kind of Christian, and he preferred blue-collar jobs to white-collar work, and they didn’t get along very well. Nan’s parents told her to break up with her boyfriend.
Nan didn’t know what to do. She loved her parents and wanted to respect their wishes. But she was also enrolled in psychology courses at school and had heard about things like “boundaries”. Nan thought that maybe it would be better for her relationship with her parents if she didn’t leave her boyfriend just because they said so. Nan wasn’t trying to be rebellious, but she did want to have a healthy relationship with her parents and it seemed like this was something they would all look back on and laugh. So Nan told her parents that she wasn’t going to leave her boyfriend.
Nan’s parents were surprised at this, and maybe a little panicky. Nan had never disobeyed them when she lived at home, but now that she was in college, she wasn’t listening to their advice. They started calling Nan four or five times a day, crying, pleading, shouting. Didn’t Nan love them? Didn’t Nan care about them? If Nan really cared, she would do what they said! But the more they explained this to Nan, the more she resisted. They didn’t understand how uncomfortable they were making her by crying and shouting at her.
Nan’s parents went to their pastor. They went to their prayer group. They went to their family. They went to the conservative Christians who surrounded them and were part of their life. And the conservative Christians shook their heads and clucked their tongues and said that this was what happened when you were a moderate Christian parent. And they told Nan’s parents that if they really loved their daughter, they’d show her Tough Love. Tough Love, they said, was the only way to save Nan’s soul, and the only way to preserve their relationship with their daughter. Otherwise, without Tough Love, she’d be lost in sin forever.
Nan’s parents called her. They told her that if she didn’t leave her boyfriend, they would never talk to her again. That she wouldn’t have a home anymore. That she wouldn’t have a family. Nan’s parents thought that this would finally convince Nan how serious they were. They thought that Nan, who loved her parents very dearly, wouldn’t throw away her relationship with them for some boy she barely knew.
They didn’t realize how deeply they had hurt Nan. They didn’t realize that from her perspective, it was they who were throwing her away. They didn’t realize that their ultimatum made Nan feel unloved, made her feel like the boy she barely knew loved her MORE than her own parents, because at least he had never thrown her out on the street. And so Nan sadly hung up the phone and moved in with her boyfriend’s family, because where else could she go? She had no home. She had no family. Her family hadn’t loved her enough to not throw her away.
There’s more we could say about this story. I could tell you that when Nan’s boyfriend raped her, she had nowhere else to go but to continue living with him. I could tell you how Nan went to the government health clinic after her rape because she was afraid of STDs and pregnancy, and how the nurse told Nan that she was a “slut” and wouldn’t need to worry if she would just keep her legs closed. I could tell you that Nan’s school counselor decided that rape and sex were the same thing, and he tried to have Nan expelled from the school for sexual immorality. I could tell you that Nan remembered all those passages from the Bible -- especially the one about marrying your rapist -- and how she believed for a long time that God wanted her to marry her boyfriend because she wasn’t a virgin anymore.
I could tell you how Nan nearly died from a combination of depression and anxiety-based eating disorders. I could tell you how Nan’s doctor medicated her for severe depression but never once asked about her home life or tried to determine why she was depressed. I could tell you how Nan’s boyfriend dumped her -- possibly the nicest gift he could have given her, since now she couldn’t marry her rapist no matter what the Bible said -- and how Nan left town determined to drive until she ran out of gas, but thought she would call her parents one last time, and how her mother cried and told her that she really could come home again, now that she’d left that boy they didn’t like. I could tell you how Nan's parents never wanted to talk about all this, especially not the rape, because it was all in the past and such an unhappy time for them, and how Nan never, ever received any closure.
But I won’t tell you those things because they hardly seem worth mentioning. I will tell you that even though Nan went on to graduate from college, to have a loving and deeply meaningful relationship with her parents, to leave her religion and find one that suited her better, and to marry a kind and loving man, she still -- more than a decade later -- sometimes cries at night into her pillow, wondering how her parents could so easily throw her away, and what that says about her self-worth. And I will tell you that Nan quails inside when she sees or hears stories of other teenagers being cast out on the street just because they didn’t live up to the wishes of their parents, because Nan knew, for a very short time, what it was like to live at the mercy of strangers, to be abused by the people she trusted, to be hungry and thirsty and lonely and frightened and lost.
That is the end of the story, the story that is neither true nor false. It has no moral, no lesson, and no point.
Take from it whatever you will. I'll see you all on Monday.