The Aftermath of Friendship Lost

After the initial shock of being kicked out of Debbie’s life, I spent a few weeks feeling deeply wounded. After a while, the hurt turned to a bitter anger. How dare she take away her friendship, and by default, my connection with her entire family!

She had three young nieces who I’d known since they were babies. I’d attended birthday parties and countless Sunday dinners, after which we’d sit on the floor and play, or snuggle on the couch while watching Disney movies. I had a pile of construction paper cards they’d made for me with markers and glitter.

It broke my heart to think that I wouldn’t get to see them anymore. They would grow up thinking I was a bad person for deliberately turning my back on the Truth. I knew this, because I’d once had their perspective – I’d seen adults leave the Truth and never be heard from again. I always thought they had just wandered off into darkness and I couldn’t imagine why they’d do such a thing.

A few months later was the wedding of a Christadelphian couple we both knew. I had been looking forward to the wedding simply because I’d get to reunite with friends from afar. Plus, the bride and I had a long history (even longer than my history with Debbie) and we had been very close friends.  After Debbie’s ultimatum, however, I began dreading the event because I knew I’d have to interact with her at least a little.

At the wedding, Debbie greeted me as if nothing had happened. I politely commented on her dress and then quickly excused myself. Fortunately there were so many people there that I hadn’t seen in a long time, I had plenty of others to talk to and I was able to avoid interacting with her the rest of the night. That would be the last time I saw her… for a few years, anyway.

That fall, I went off to UConn to start a new chapter in my life. I formed a nice circle of friends there, although I discovered that my emotional wounds kept me from fully connecting with them. I had this fear that if I revealed my true self, they would find something to not like about me. I never told any of them about my weird religious past, and I never talked about my hands, or my scars. I pretended none of that stuff existed.

In my final year of school, Debbie tracked me down on Facebook. By then it had been 3 years since I’d had any kind of contact with her. Oh, I’d spent plenty of time thinking about her, and I’d written multiple rage-filled letters, but I never mailed any of them.

She was very cheery in her message and lamented about how long it had been since we’d talked and how she was so happy to have found me on Facebook. I held back from pointing out that I still had the same cell phone number and email address that I’d had three years before, so it was entirely possible for her to reach me if she’d really wanted to. Instead, I gave myself a day to contemplate how to respond before replying to her.

I had a sneaking suspicion that she was contacting me because she wanted to tell me something. Something awesome about herself. Lo and behold, in her next message she excitedly proclaimed that she was pregnant. She was hoping I would come to her baby shower, because she would love to see me again.

Now you’re probably hoping for me to have responded with a resounding “Go &@#$ yourself!” but that is not what I did. No. My tender heart still ached for her friendship, so I agreed to reunite at her baby shower. Luckily for me, I was still friends with the aforementioned bride, so I met up with her to carpool to the shower. I was glad to have someone with me when I walked through that door into a room of women I hadn’t seen in over 3 years.

It was actually a pretty good day. Debbie was happy to see me, and the other women all greeted me warmly. The only awkward moment came towards the end, when my long ago ex-boyfriend’s mother pinned me against a wall, and proclaimed “Jesus will be back soon!” She looked at me fiercely, her eyes mere inches from mine. I had to control myself to keep from laughing nervously in her face. I couldn’t think of any response, other than “Okay!”

Afterward, I relayed the story to Debbie and a few other women, expecting laughs, but they just looked at me seriously and one said, “Well, she’s got a point!”  I’d forgotten what a tough crowd they could be.

A few months later, after Debbie had her baby, I actually did darken her doorstep once again so I could meet the little one. In fact, we made some effort to rekindle our friendship then. I joined them for dinner a few times, and we walked that old familiar route, this time with a baby carriage, but, as she had so ominously predicted years before, without that Christadelphian connection, we had nothing in common.

We remained Facebook friends and got together occasionally for lunch, but it finally became obvious to me that I didn’t even want to be friends with her anymore. There were so many off-limits topics during our lunch conversations – mainly, because I couldn’t trust her.

I knew anything I told her would be reported back to her family, who would lament about how far I’d fallen (in their opinion). What with my nontraditional living arrangements, a transgender sibling, a gay brother, divorcing parents and major depression all being hot topics at the time. I couldn’t even talk to her without blatantly lying, and I am a terrible liar. What kind of a friendship is that?

I didn’t give her the courtesy of taking a long walk and listing my gripes with her.  I just stopped reaching out. I removed her from my Facebook friends, along with everyone in her family, and most of the Christadelphians I had long ago been friends with but who I no longer felt comfortable sharing with. It was hard to do this, but I hoped it would help me finally close the door on the painful, long-drawn-out process.

Years later – I think it was 2015, but I can’t even remember now – Dave and I went to the local mall the weekend before Christmas. We ran into several people we knew, mostly co-workers past and present. I said a silent thank you to the universe that we hadn’t run into any Christadelphians, and marvelled about this once it was time to leave.

As we were walking out the door to the parking lot, I saw a couple with two kids on their way in. Without giving it a second thought, I held the door for them. “Thank you!”, the woman said laughingly, as their group ambled through. Our eyes met and we instantly recognized each other. It was Debbie.

Of course we stopped and said hello. Her daughters both eyed me shyly. The older one wouldn’t have remembered that I’d held her as a baby. Jason was holding the younger one and said to her, “This used to be Mommy’s friend.” After we exchanged niceties, we stood for an awkward moment before, “Well, we’ll let you get on with your shopping”, and then farewell.

As Dave and I walked toward the car, I was thrilled to note that I hadn’t felt any pangs of emotion at seeing them. It was almost like we’d just had a pleasant conversation with complete strangers. Just as Jason had said – I used to be mommy’s friend. And now I wasn’t. And that was okay.

Losing My Religion – Part 5, The Bitter End

How she wishes it was different
She prays to God most every night
And though she swears it doesn’t listen
There’s still a hope in her it might
She says, “I pray
But they fall on deaf ears,
Am I supposed to take it on myself?
To get out of this place”

Dave Matthews Band,  Grey Street

During that year following Jonathan’s disfellowshipping, Debbie and I did a lot of walking. I’ve long felt that walking with someone is a good way to talk intimately – kind of like when you’re in the car and one of you is driving. You’re both looking straight ahead, with maybe some occasional glances at each other, but no need to hold eye contact during moments where you may be nervous about saying something.

I desperately wanted Debbie to understand what I was feeling during that time. Even though we’d been friends for nearly a decade at that point, our friendship maintained a level of casualness that I found frustrating. We hid a lot of our true feelings behind humor. It was hard to talk about anything really serious, because one of us would burst out in awkward laughter if it became too heavy.

Eventually I worked up the courage to tell Debbie I wanted take a break from the Christadelphians. To have some space to think. Aunt Jenny had told me that sometimes it was helpful to step away from something when your feelings on it weren’t clear. Being away from it could help you see things better, and in a different light.

In August, I wrote up a resignation letter to send to the Arranging Brethren. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to make an official statement. I wanted them to know I wasn’t being flaky anymore – that I really meant it. I was out.

Mom proofread my letter for me and encouraged me to mail it, rather than email it, since it would be more official. I mailed it on a Friday and on Saturday night, my phone lit up with calls from Debbie’s father and a few others. I nervously let the calls go to voicemail. I wasn’t sure what I would say. Hadn’t my letter said it all?

I did end up having a series of dinners and discussions at Debbie’s parents’ house in the weeks that followed. As I recall, I didn’t get to say much. I would bring up an issue and her father would go off on a series of tangents. Her mom would sit, smiling sweetly and adding a few thoughts here and there.

Debbie’s parents were much older than mine and they had always reminded me of a 1950’s couple. More like my grandparent’s generation, where the woman did all the housework and child-rearing, while the man spent much of his time away at work or in his study doing important manly things and coming out only to eat supper and relax in the evenings.

While I loved them and jokingly referred to them as my second parents, I found it hard to relate to them sometimes – especially her dad. And while I enjoyed the one-on-one time with them during these dinners and discussions, I began to feel a void growing between us. I was no longer buying what they were peddling.

Debbie and I continued our walking routine, and I spent a lot of time socializing with her family. It seemed like a good compromise to me – I would still hang out with these people who were like family to me, and I would just avoid the boring parts I didn’t like.

This went on for about 6 months. I was thinking that this whole resignation thing wasn’t so bad after all. I was making it work. As time went on though, Debbie and I began to see each other less and less, and I was spending more and more time with Dave.

That spring, I was accepted into the Landscape Architecture program at UConn. I’d finally realized that I was nuts about Dave, and planned to move back in with him and start over. I was feeling pretty good about things.

In early spring of 2005, Debbie and I got together for an evening walk. We hadn’t been spending much time around each other at that point, but I was busy planning my next steps in life, and I figured she was busy too.

We walked and caught up on recent news as usual, and then, just as we were at the farthest point from the house, she turned to me and said, “We need to talk.”

Oh crap.

I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was not going to be good. I crossed my fingers and hoped that she was having marital problems, or was struggling to get pregnant and needed a listening ear. I was good at being a listening ear.

The topic of choice was my lack of interest in going to meeting, that I was no longer breaking bread, coupled with the fact that I was a fornicator. Oh, and by the way, every time I mentioned Dave’s name it made her cringe with disgust.

She told me that our friendship had crumbled because the foundation of it had been that we were both Christadelphian and once I decided I didn’t want to be one anymore, we no longer had anything in common. (Totally disregarding our mutual love of Dave Matthews Band, scrapbooking, laughing hysterically over anything, and clearly, taking long walks together… but I didn’t think of that then.)

I didn’t know what to say in response. I was stunned. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. While I’d noticed she’d become more distant over the months prior, I hadn’t even thought that this was the reason. I’d been giddy with the prospects of my new life – of finishing my degree, of playing house with Dave, of seeing where my life would take me.

The entire walk back to her house consisted of me struggling to think of something valid to say, while she spewed forth the appropriate bible verses to support her case. When we reached her house, we sat together in her living room and tearfully continued the conversation.

Her solution to all the problems she saw with my life was for me to break up with Dave, stop spending time with my family or the Tebbs, stop befriending non-Christadelphians, come back to meeting, and be happy about it.

She understood it wouldn’t be easy, but ultimately, I would have to choose between my relationships with Dave and my family (aka, “the world”) and my relationship with Christ. If I wanted to continue being friends with her and being part of her family, I would have to do this.

I wept bitterly as I drove home. (Luckily it was a short drive.) I felt like I had been dumped. My best friend of nearly 10 years had given me an ultimatum I couldn’t meet.

I knew that her family had put her up to it. I knew she’d been coached on what to say, and my possible reactions. I felt bad for her. She didn’t have much confidence in her own thoughts and was always afraid of doing the wrong thing. She did whatever her father or her brother, or by then, her own husband told her was right.

I don’t know if she really understood that as I stepped out of her house that day, I would not return again.

Losing My Religion – Part 4

Dark Days

In the late winter of 2004, the arranging brethren (the group of baptized men who’d been elected to govern the ecclesia) determined that my friend Jonathan had become too influenced by worldly affairs. He’d been dating a woman I’d introduced him to (she was one of the “worldly” influences) and now it had come out that they were going to get married. She wasn’t interested in becoming a Christadelphian, and this was the last straw.

The ecclesia had a special meeting to vote on whether Jonathan should be disfellowshipped. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever been involved in. It was on a Saturday afternoon. Debbie’s father, who was a pillar of the ecclesia, gravely read a statement about how Jonathan had been falling away, and that although the brethren had reached out to counsel him, he didn’t agree that his actions were wrong. He hadn’t repented or changed his ways.

Jonathan wasn’t at the meeting, nor was anyone from his family, that I can recall. We were all given little slips of paper that had a statement regarding disfellowshipping him on them and then little checkboxes for yes or no. I checked a box and folded my paper and put it into the collection box.

My head was buzzing the entire time. It was surreal to vote on something like this, especially when I was guilty of nearly all the same things Jonathan was being accused of, and especially since he was my friend. I hadn’t voted or gambled at that point (yes, those were some of his offenses), but I’d been shacked up with Dave for nearly three years and somehow everyone had just looked the other way.

After the votes had been tallied, Debbie’s father announced the results – the majority had agreed that Jonathan should be disfellowshipped. I wasn’t surprised, but I also felt like, at this point, why would the guy want to come back anyway?

I can imagine that Jonathan was hurt by this rejection. It was clear his father was enraged. I forgot to explain this earlier, but in Christadelphian ecclesias, the baptized men (brethren) would take turns giving the exhortation (sermon) each week. A few weeks after the disfellowshipment, Jonathan’s father gave a scathing exhortation about the hypocrisy in the ecclesia, all while glaring at Debbie and I. I don’t remember the exact time frame of events, but they withdrew their fellowship shortly after that. Now we were down an entire family.

I was heartbroken about losing Jonathan as a member of the ecclesia, but more so as a friend. His soon-to-be wife was furious and kicked me out of their wedding party and out of their life for that time. I felt horribly guilty, because we’d previously been on the same wavelength about these things, and I hadn’t defended him or joined him in solidarity.

I didn’t know what to do. In the interest of self-preservation, I slipped into my Good Sister role and kept quiet. I was too afraid to do anything else, although secretly, I was questioning like mad.

Next up… I persevere a bit longer before trying to negotiate my leave…

Exploring Ectrodactyly with EEC Chick

Fun times in our pool!

Check out my crazy toe!

As the name implies, ectrodactyly is a prominent feature of EEC. Ectrodactyly just means missing fingers (or toes). If you ask me about it, I’ll say that I don’t think about ectrodactyly much and that it really hasn’t been that big of a deal in my life. Which in some ways is true. It has not caused me much physical discomfort, and in general I have not let it affect my self-confidence or social life. I had no difficulty learning to walk, tie my shoes, write, draw, play the piano, sculpt clay, or even type. Ectrodactyly never holds me back! Except that at times, my perception of it does hold me back. I have never had a professional mani/pedi because I don’t want a stranger touching (or even looking at) my feet. I’ve never found a pair of high heels I can walk in without agony. In fact, most ‘cute’ shoes are uncomfortable for me. I’m still timid when it comes to baring my feet in public, though I’m working on that one.

I just walked down these stairs with two different sized feet... no big deal.

I just walked down these stairs with two different sized feet… no big deal.

I was lucky because my ectrodactyly did not limit the function of my hands or feet. I only needed to have surgery on one foot, and that was because the “big toe” stuck out so far that wearing a shoe was a challenge. The surgeries were done when I was really young, before I started school. I have tons of pictures of little me walking around the house with a huge boot on my foot. It’s amazing I was able to walk without tripping, when I can barely do that now without a cast on my foot. . . .

The first toe surgery didn’t work, so we went to another doctor and I had a second surgery. The doctor was really nice and the day of my surgery he actually came into the pre-op waiting room and picked me up and carried me into the operating room. It was much more comforting than being wheeled in on a gurney. That may also have been the time that they offered me different fruity scents for anesthesia. Regrettably, I chose banana.

The procedure was simply to cut a wedge of bone out of the toe and fold the toe inward a bit. They stuck a surgical steel pin through the tip of the toe to hold it in place while it healed. I still have the pins from both surgeries – I’ll post pictures of them in a later post devoted to the various medical paraphernalia I have collected through the years.

I seem to have misplaced my bubble wand.

I seem to have misplaced my bubble wand.

I’m sure I was aware that my hands and feet were different from a young age. I would look at my mom’s long, graceful fingers and wonder if mine would ever look that way. I knew I was different, but everybody was different in some way or another. My hands and feet weren’t a big deal, especially since my cleft lip and palate issues required much more attention.

The first time I remember becoming acutely aware of my hand difference was when I started school. There were probably instances before that where someone might have noticed my hands or feet and asked about them, but nothing sticks out in my memory. What I vividly recall is walking down the hallway at school and seeing kids pointing and staring. It was the first time I saw anyone look at me with fear in their eyes. It hurt to be called names and to be feared by other kids when all I wanted to do was make friends and learn.

Of course, not everyone treated me differently. Some kids were able to look past my outward appearances and were friendly to me right away. Before long, kids got used to me and stopped noticing my hands at all. My feet were always covered by socks and shoes, and so it was easy to forget about them.

Hey kids! Are ya freaked out yet?

Hey kids! Are ya freaked out yet?

One of my favorite places to go as a kid was Sesame Place. I loved the water slides most of all. One year, my cousin Karen took me and my friend Joanna there for my 9th birthday. It was a Saturday, and the park was more crowded than usual. The lines for the water slides were long, and looped back and forth on each other. Karen waited while Joanna and I went on the slides. As we inched our way up the stairs in line, there was a group of boys right in front of us. They were being typical boys, talking roughly and pushing each other around. After a few minutes one of them noticed my feet. “Eww!” He shrieked, “Alien feet!” My heart lurched. The other boys looked and made exclamations of disgust and laughed. They lost interest after that, but this kid wouldn’t give it up.

The line moved agonizingly slow, giving him plenty of time to torment me. In hindsight, I don’t know why none of the other people in line told him to shut up, or why I didn’t use one of my alien feet to kick him in the groin. All I remember is the feeling of shame, that I was gross and scary and shouldn’t be showing my feet in public. When we finally got to the top, I had to get on the slide right behind him. I was so flustered that I didn’t wait for the attendant to tell me to go ahead. I just went, and the cruel forces of gravity pulled me right up behind him. “Eww!” he shrieked again, as my feet brushed up against his back. “Don’t touch me with those monster feet!”  he yelled. Miserably, I grabbed at the slippery sides of the slide, trying to slow myself down somehow. I bent my legs to try to keep my feet from touching him, but our fate was sealed and we slid down together, hating every second of it.


Weeee! (This picture is from a happier day.)

Once I escaped from that nightmare and met up with Karen again, she asked me who the kid was that I’d been talking to. Did I know him from school? I feigned ignorance. I didn’t feel like going on any more slides after that. I dried off and put my shoes back on. We had lunch in the park and then we went home.

I didn’t talk about that moment with anyone after that, but from then on I was hyper vigilant about who I saw my feet. When we went to the beach, I would wiggle my toes down into the sand to shield them from the eyes of strangers. I was embarrassed about the footprints I left in the wet sand as I walked down to the water. I dreaded occasions where I’d have to expose my feet at school. I eventually learned that no one was going to make a scene like the kid at Sesame Place did, but I still felt ashamed and did not want to give people any more reason to think I was creepy.

As I grew up, as a teenager and a young 20-something, I only let a select few see me barefoot. I had such anxiety about my feet that I always kept them covered in public. When I was 28, I decided that I wanted to take swimming lessons again. I’d always loved to swim and thought it would be a great way to get exercise. So I took a class at the YMCA. I wore Crocs in the locker room and on the pool deck, slipping them off for only the time it took to get from the bench to the pool. No one ever commented on my feet, and most likely not that many people even noticed. It helped me build a little confidence, but I wasn’t about to parade around town in a pair of sandals.

It wasn’t until I went to the NFED Conference in 2011 that I really showed my feet to anyone else. I was inspired by the kids I saw running around barefoot or in sandals. Kids whose feet were just like my own. I remembered how good it felt to wear sandals and to feel the breeze on my feet. I went home and bought a pair of flip-flops. I was still shy about showing my feet, so I only wore them around the house and around people I was comfortable with. But it was a start. The next year I brought the flip-flops to the conference and I wore them the whole time. Of course, as soon as the conference was over and I had to return to the “real world”, I covered up my feet again.

Throwing EEC gang signs with my homeboys.

Throwing EEC gang signs with my homeboys.

Each summer I grow a little braver. Last year my company had it’s summer picnic at an amusement/water park (not Sesame Place). I decided to go in the water park. It was the first time in 20 years that I showed my feet (and my thighs) in a really public place. Most people didn’t even notice. In fact, most people were far from perfection in their bathing suits.

It might seem silly that I could be so affected by that kid at Sesame Place. Of course, he wasn’t the only kid who ever commented on my digits (or lack thereof). Maybe he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite all the physical pain I’ve been through with my oral/maxillofacial/dental surgeries and my ear surgeries, it seems like the hardest thing for me in this life is accepting that I look different, and that people notice. It is something I have battled as long as I can remember – this feeling of not looking the way I’d really like to. I have come a long way in terms of accepting my looks, but I still have a long way to go.

I am always grateful that my hands and feet work so well. Not everyone with ectrodactyly is so lucky. I have enjoyed compliments on my drawing and penmanship skills. I can walk for miles and hike mountains without my feet giving out. I am fortunate, I know. Feelings of shame about one’s appearance are incredibly powerful and difficult to break away from. I know I am not alone in struggling with this. I have had friends who struggle with body image for other reasons, and so I know it is a common struggle, especially for women.

So there it is. My experience with ectrodactyly. I forgot to write about being called Ninja Turtle hands or Three Fingered Monster, but the moral is the same. Pick on someone about their looks and they get a complex about it. Don’t do it. Don’t make fun of fat people, or people with crooked faces or disfigurements. They didn’t ask to look that way. Look past whatever outward flaws a person has. You might just find that they are worth getting to know.