[Content Note: descriptions of religious abuse]
By Jessica Newsome
It’s midnight, and I call her, frantic. “E hasn’t slept or eaten since. She’s still crying in the living room and I need you. Please come.”
She was my mother’s best friend when I was little. My mother met her when I was six months old, and ever since there had never been a time when I doubted she would be there for me. When my parents separated briefly in elementary school, I spent a week with her family. “To give you the chance to be a kid and not the mom for a while,” she said.
I didn’t understand what she meant until much later.
In high school, my parents separated again. My mother found herself a single homeschooling mom of four, with little work history and no way to support herself. So we all moved in together with her best friend, who by then we simply called “aunt.”
Two months later, my mother packed us up again to move back home with my dad. My aunt gave me her email address, and reminded me that she would always be there. When I needed to apply for college, I had no idea what to do. She dragged me to college visits with her son. She edited my essays, emailed me websites for scholarships. She pushed me to do something every day, no matter how impossible it felt that a white trash fundamentalist homeschooler would finish a college degree from anywhere.
I asked her about everything.
I fell in love for the first time at the end of high school, with my best friend from our homeschooling group. He told me about a month after we met that he was gay—but I had never met a gay person before. I didn’t know what that meant, other than that he was absolutely going to hell.
So I asked her what to do. I asked her why my mother stayed. I asked her why I had to dress the way we did, why I had to pray in tongues, why I had to hope that my parents would stay together, why I had to pray at all. I asked her about bright nail polish and blue jumpers and how to raise my teenage brother. Later, when I was in college, I would ask her about sex. I would ask her about boyfriends and classes and money and what it means to “be a grown-up.” By that I didn’t mean the kind of “grown-ups” I had seen in our church—I meant her.
And that night, November of my senior year of high school, I asked her to come. To drive three hours after midnight in the dead of winter.
One week previously, my best friend’s little brother died. That night, the church held what I would later describe to non-religious friends as a ceremony—a prayer meeting. They prayed for God to raise my friend’s brother from the dead. Hours passed, and as the adults started to lose hope, they brought in “the youth” to pray. My younger sister sat in the corner of the bedroom, staring at her friend’s body. I watched her lips pinch as the boy’s mother held out his favorite teddy bear to her.
“He won’t mind if I show it to you—he won’t be embarrassed if you’re holding it for him when he comes back.”
My sister held onto the teddy bear with all her might and prayed with all her faith (far more than a mustard seed) that her friend would come back from the dead.
And when he didn’t, she didn’t eat or sleep for a week.
“I need you. Please come.”
I have no idea what she said or how she did it. I just know that she left our house the next morning, early enough for her to start homeschooling lessons with her own children. I just know that that morning, E ate for the first time in a week.
My aunt never pretended to have all the answers. She encouraged my questions, to the point of telling me it was better to ask the right questions than to think you know all the answers. A few days after she left, I got a condolences card in the mail.
It read simply, “There’s nothing I can say that will make it better. But I love you, and I am there when you need me.”
Jessica Newsome lives in Chicago, IL and is proud to have finally written something for The Flawless Project that didn’t need editing due to her constant swearing. She is not attached to any other writing projects at the moment but to read her outdated blog you can visit renaissance-muse.blogspot.com. Or you can try to follow her protected Twitter, @jess_news. She’s currently working on a better way to connect with readers.