Continued from Part 1…
In early 2000, Debbie and I dropped out of college and got an apartment together in CT. My parents were less than thrilled that I was giving up on college after just 3 semesters, but I was antsy and eager to get out and get a real job and get on with my life! (Dumb!)
College wasn’t really encouraged for Christadelphian kids in my circle – especially the female ones. We were just going to get married and start popping out kids anyway, so what would be the point?
That’s something I should mention here – as young Christadelphian women, we really did eagerly anticipate getting married and starting families. Debbie was definitely more excited about this than I was – she’d been ready to meet her match since she was about 15. Personally I was more interested in just finding a man who would sweep me off my feet and take care of me. I figured I’d have kids, because that’s just what you did.
Neither one of us had career ambitions. I vaguely wanted to be an artist or a writer, but saw myself doing that later on in life, after I’d raised a brood of children. It seems so silly to look back on it now, but at the time it was all we knew. We were aware that women could work and have successful careers – it wasn’t forbidden – but the majority of Christadelphian women we knew were full-time mothers. It was seen as a sad and even shameful thing to be single, or to be married but childless.
The apartment we rented was part of a huge house owned by an older Christadelphian couple. The first few months living there were a lot of fun. We’d have CYC on Friday night and then go to the bowling alley, or to Friendly’s and hang out with our friends for hours. The house had a big attic with extra beds, where we’d have the guys spend the night. The girls would have to sleep on our futon (girls and boys had to sleep separately, of course), and then in the morning we’d make breakfast and hang out some more.
My social life was at its peak – I was hardly ever alone (it was a one-bedroom apartment, so there was really nowhere to escape to!) Despite being near my friends, it wasn’t all fun and games. One of those friends was my previously mentioned boyfriend. We’d broken up by then, but continued to have a very intense love/hate relationship, which was emotionally exhausting.
Meanwhile, I was working at a daycare for $6.25 an hour, living paycheck to paycheck, with occasional supplementation from my parents. I was sick almost all the time, thanks to the runny noses and other bodily fluids I encountered on the job. Plus, I really missed my family. Once springtime rolled around, I decided to move back home.
Debbie’s and my friendship had become a little strained from living on top of each other, so she wasn’t terribly upset to see me go. We would still talk on the phone and get together over the summer anyway.
I spent that summer and fall living at home with my family. I worked at Staples and tried to figure out my next move. My mom hoped it would be something smart, like going back to college, or joining the peace corps, or, just staying Vermont and saving money!
But, no. The pull of life in CT, and the hope that my future love was waiting for me there enticed me to return once again. Through an employment agency, I was able to get a real, grown-up job as a customer service rep at a dental supply manufacturing company.
I eagerly returned to CT right after Thanksgiving. Debbie and I had discussed me moving back in with her and she’d said it would be fine. I naively assumed that it would be just like before, but I was very wrong.
While I had been away, she’d begun dating a guy she met at work. Somehow, she convinced him to join the Christadelphians and he was all for it. They were crazy about each other to the point where I felt like I was in the way any time I was around them. Which was often, because he ended up sharing our apartment. In fact, that very first night I was back, I had to sleep on the futon, because he was sleeping in the bedroom!
It was very awkward. In hindsight I really should have put up more of a fight about the whole situation but as it was, the moment I suggested that we start splitting the rent and the bills three ways, you would have thought I had been an extortionist. (Ultimately, we did come to an agreement… I mean, was that not fair?)
Being back in CT, I was more involved with the Christadelphians than ever. Since we lived five minutes from the ecclesia, so there was no excuse for missing Sunday services, Wednesday bible class, Friday CYC, and whatever else may have come up. Going to bible study weekends was easy too, because there were many within driving distance, and always at least one other person to carpool with.
I despised the midweek bible class. The chapel smelled especially musty and was cold on the dark winter evenings. The older men who gave the talks seemed out of touch with the real world. Each one had their favorite topics that they loved to delve into and discuss at length regardless of whether or not the audience was engaged or interested. I passed the time by drawing elaborate doodles on my notepad and contemplating my life choices as they expounded on the possible meanings of a particularly cryptic bible passage.
The level of unhappiness and discomfort of my living situation, with the person who had once been my best friend but suddenly no longer had much use for me, was soul crushing. I really began to doubt I belonged there. Even her family had stopped inviting me over for dinners because now she had a future husband to bring instead.
Fortunately, my friend Jonathan moved to the area for an internship. He and I began to spend a lot of free time together, which made up for the lack of love I was getting from Debbie. Many nights I dreaded going back to the apartment so much that I would spend the night on Jonathan’s futon.
Although it was a sad time to see the demise of my friendship with Debbie, it was nice to cultivate the friendship with Jonathan. He and I could openly discuss our feelings and misgivings about being Christadelphian. We talked about things that I never would have been able to admit to Debbie.
That spring, after only 3 months at work, I was promoted to an export sales position. I was making friends and gaining confidence in myself. I was learning a lot about how people functioned in the real world.
That June, I turned 21 and Dave and I began dating. By then, Jonathan’s internship had finished and he moved away, so I was stuck back at the dreaded apartment full-time.
In July, I went to Shippensburg bible school, which was the bible school my family had gone to every year while I was growing up. I’d always loved it there, and felt very at home. However, that year it was the worst bible school experience of my life.
My roommate was a girl from Texas that I’d never met before, and she ended up having some kind of breakdown and leaving after the first day. I don’t even remember her name or anything. For all I know, we were going through the same struggle, but she left before I could get to know her.
A lot of my old friends were there, and I was happy to see them, but by this time, many people had paired off. It wasn’t the same as hanging out when we were teenagers. Now it felt serious, and I found myself being shamed for some of my silly behavior during the week.
For example, I’d gotten a card for a friend’s birthday and was passing it around for everyone to sign. It had a buff, bare-chested man posing sexily on the front, for which I was reprimanded for it being inappropriate. Some people even refused to sign it. I had not thought it was anything other than silly when I bought it, but suddenly I felt like a whore.
I felt an incredible loneliness and feeling like I did not belong there anymore, even as I was sitting among people I once felt a deep kinship with. Fortunately, I did have good company with Jonathan and my longtime friend Kristina. The three of us had talked a lot about our distaste for Christadelphian life, so at least I knew I wasn’t totally alone.
Another thing that made me feel yucky was that many people were asking me about my parents and cooing sympathetic words about how sad it was that they’d “fallen away.” It was like, instead of genuinely inquiring about their wellbeing, they had already come to a conclusion about them. Meanwhile, I was about ready to fall away myself.
It wasn’t long after bible school that I hastily packed up all my stuff from the apartment and moved in with Dave. It was too soon, of course – we’d only been dating for a month – but at the time I felt like he was my only refuge, unless I wanted to move back to Vermont again.
Of course, moving in with a guy that I’d basically just met was cause for uproar from everyone. Even my own mother wouldn’t speak to me at first. I got letters from other women in the meeting telling me I was “casting my pearls before swine” and that I was setting a bad example for their daughters, who had looked up to me. The shaming was intense. It was a terrible feeling, yet it did not motivate me to change my ways – in fact, it just made me want to get farther away.
At that point I stopped going to meeting. I worried that I was making a horrible mistake, but Dave was so kind to me and supportive through it all. From a young age, he’d decided not to put up with any religious b.s. His family had been strict evangelicals, attending church even more often than I ever did, forbidding him from listening to heavy metal (the devil’s music), and basically never having any fun at all. As soon as he was old enough to avoid going to church, he did. I really admired that he’d had that kind of sense so early on in life.
Even as I was desperately wanting to break away from Christadelphia, I still had this fear that I would face eternal damnation for my choice.
Stay tuned for Part 3 – when damnation comes a little too close for comfort.