Being back in New Hampshire has been a mixed bag emotionally.
I love the mountains, lakes, the small—but very significant—11 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, the fattening comfort food (we won’t talk about the weight I’ve gained being back in my home state), and goddamn do I love all the friggin’ trees—Autumn foliage or not.
What I don’t like are the countless childhood memories, and traumas leering at me from familiar street names and well-known decrepit landscapes. The record player clicks on, the needle finds a groove, a slight crackle is heard, and Madonna’s voice pierces my brain… “This used to be my playground…” she sings.
Coming home to NH, after moving and living around the country for the past ten years, has been bittersweet. I’ve been back for over two years now and I thought with each passing day it’d get easier. Boy, was I wrong.
Some things have become a bit easier. After much practice, I’ve been able to hush the uninvited conversations that take place in my head without warning. Conversations, arguments, and past knock-down-drag-out fights play relentlessly every time I drive through towns I once lived in, or places I used to know.
Recently, I’d been at a work assignment and had the opportunity to take two car visor cards—for Deaf or Hard of Hearing (HoH) folks to use with local authorities if they’re pulled over, stopped, etc.—and give them to anyone I knew who might need them. I knew of two people near and dear to me that I wanted to give these placards to. Having an undying obligation to care for my Deaf parents was all I needed to quickly snatch a few cards.
There I stood at the doorstep of my childhood home, ringing the doorbell, with high hopes the flashing light would blink enough times for someone to know I was there. Mom answered the door. To my surprise she let me inside. I went no further than the doorstep.
She hugged me and smiled. I handed her the placards and learned she already had some. Good. They can never have too many. Keep some in the car and some at home just in case the police come to the house for any reason, I signed. We’ve lived here for 40 years, they know we’re Deaf, she said. Still, mom.
She told me Dad was getting some paperwork straightened out because he planned to sue the reckless driver who hit him head-on, resulting in an emergency room visit and subsequent injuries. That poor man. Someone is always hitting him. Believe it or not, the accidents are never his fault. Yes, never.
I didn’t want to stay long. I didn’t want to see my dad. It wasn’t because I didn’t love or miss him, and it wasn’t because I was angry.
Being back home, while reliving past arguments and fights in my head (that played more like a horror movie), I’d unsuspectingly done some growing up. Coming home allowed me to heal in a strangely comforting, albeit, painful way.
I didn’t want to stay long or go any further into my childhood home because I wanted them to respect me and my life choices. The only thing that could possibly accomplish that was to respect their choices; and I knew my dad. He wouldn’t want to do anything that rocked the calm waters surrounding his rowboat-of-spirituality, or deter him from obeying Jehovah.
“I better go. I love you,” I signed to my mom.
Too late. My dad had just pulled into the driveway. The excitement I used to feel as a child when my mother shrieked, “Daddy’s home!” had been replaced by a deafening loud buzz, echoing in my ears. Shit. I looked over my shoulder and saw him coming up the front walkway. I waved.
He approached me, lips pursed in a half-smile, and threw one arm around me for a weak hug.
“I bring card for car if cop pull over,” I signed.
He nodded. Then he hesitated. I could see the internal struggle all over his face. Jehovah and Governing Body say not supposed talk to you—you disfellowship, his thoughts told me… But you my daughter, his heart screamed loud and clear.
His heart won.
He invited me upstairs into his office and closed the door. He sat in his office chair, butted up against a futon and I leaned on his desk, standing close to the door—ready to make a run for it if necessary. We exchanged a few awkward glances and light fair-weather chinwagging. Then he said what I knew he’d say eventually.
“I want you come back truth,” he said. His voice cracked and without blinking he started sobbing uncontrollably. His shoulders danced and he covered his face with his hand.
I stood there looking at him, and to my surprise, felt nothing. I’m not a cold, heartless bitch—on the contrary—but for the first time in years, I felt nothing. I didn’t cry. I didn’t sigh in frustration. I didn’t get angry when he told me to come back. I simply stood until he waved me closer. He wanted a hug.
I got down on my knees, between his legs, and hugged him while he cried all over my shoulder. That did it. Before I could stop them, tears fell down my cheeks. Dammit!
I pulled away. He wiped a tear from my cheek. “Please. Come back for Him,” he said, pointing to the sky.
Him. You mean the Him I don’t believe in? The Him that is nothing more to me than a cartoon doodle resembling Santa Claus? That Him? How can I explain this to a man that doesn’t see his own thoughts, feelings and very lifeblood separate from a religious farce?
I wasn’t looking for a fight. I didn’t want to hurt him. I expressed the only thing that felt right. “I don’t want be hypocrite,” I signed. There. That’s neutral and mollifying.
“You not hypocrite,” he said.
He doesn’t get it. I am not a hypocrite, right now. If I were to “go back” I would be. I can’t live like that. I sighed. Our father/daughter duo will forever be wedged uncomfortably at this impasse, where we don’t understand each other.
He asked if I’d be willing to talk with local elders. Sure, I tell him, being careful not to tease him or get his hopes up too high. I didn’t tell him what I was thinking. Yes, I’m willing to talk because, you know, Dad…I’ve got a few questions about the JWs sudden use of branding, child molestation allegations, and the drinking habits of one of your Governing Body members. Does he drink while writing life-saving godly direction? Yeah. Sure, Dad. I’m willing to talk.
I hug him and leave. Once in my car (that had been running the whole time) I released a huge sigh. I love my parents. I miss them. And my brothers. I miss being part of a family. My family. But damn am I happy to be free from that straight-jacket.
A week later I received a text from an unknown number.
Brother so-and-so wanted to know if I’d be willing to chat with him, and a visiting bigwig, after a Saturday meeting. I text brother so-and-so back, “I’m unable to attend Saturday…I am willing to talk, but I’d never be willing to reinstate. I’d be nothing but a hypocrite since I’m now an atheist; not to mention, I believe it to be morally wrong for a group of men to rule millions, claiming to be God’s mouthpiece. I mean no disrespect—this is just where I’m coming from. Thanks so much, Rebekah” and I added a smiley-faced emoji.
Well, I’ll be damned. Look who just grew the fuck up.