Monday, October 18, 2010

The Beginning of my New Book - WALKAWAY

Many leave of their own accord because they become disillusioned,
fed up or burnt out, or they realize the cult was not what it said it was. …
Cult members who leave in this way are known as walkaways.
Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D.

I celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday by fleeing from my husband and a fundamentalist cult I joined when I was fourteen. My mother and I and my two kids barely make the jet from Portland, Oregon to New York, afraid that someone will follow us. But no one does. We crowd into the fifteenth row, in the last available seats, and we seem to be safe.

The plane lands at JFK at close to eleven'o'clock at night. Two-year-old Joshua is just starting to wind down, having whined and thrashed since Chicago, tormenting not only his grandmother but all the passengers within earshot. Grace, on the other hand, at one month, slept peacefully the whole trip, crying only when she needed my breast.

The stewardess kindly allows us to leave first. We're that family on the plane whom everyone stares at, daggers in their eyes, for keeping them up for the last three hours of a transcontinental flight. No one offers a hand, not a single expression of compassion. It's not like in The Way where believers would be tripping over each other to help. The Doctor always said the world is like this - cold, indifferent and hard, just like the devil. I pass a row of adolescents dressed in green and white soccer jerseys and one of the boys says, "Cute kid, but try some Ritalin next time."

Mom exits first, pushing the stroller filled with a baby satchel, purses and toys. She maneuvers through the hatch and leads us into the tunnel towards the terminal. I'm carrying both sleeping children, Joshua who has finally dozed, and Grace in her Snuggly. My arms feel like sledge hammers but I don't want to wake up the kids by calling for help.

I straggle behind when suddenly, Mom stops and turns around. She seems tiny compared to the other passengers who have started to deplane. Her dyed black hair is mussed and flattened on one side from pressing it against the window.

"Where are you?" She says with a hint of irritation. Guilt rips through me. See how bad you are, some voice in my head says. You're bad for upsetting her. Bad for leaving your marriage, bad for leaving the believers, bad for being alive. The Doctor always said that if we left The Way, we might as well be dead. "The only way you leave is feet first," he would say.

I train my eyes on Mom. The avalanche of thoughts keeps coming and I'm in free fall. When she sees me, she circles back. She looks angry now, deep hellish circles etched beneath her eyes. Bad. Bad. The voice gets louder. She stops in front of me, empties the stroller and takes Josh. His head is lolling back and forth and Grace is beginning to fuss. We're stopped in the middle of the aisle and New Yorkers are starting to stream by at an alarming rate. A bottleneck is forming behind us.

"Come on!"

"Move it."

"What's the problem?" a man shouts from the crowd.

"YOU'RE the problem," Mom yells. She grabs the stroller and starts towards the terminal without me. I take a step back, holding Grace's head to my chest and someone bumps into me hard from behind.

"Watch where you're going," he says.

I move over as far as I can and hug the wall. The strangers rush past me. I'm rocking Grace against my shoulder, praying God will show mercy and get us through this alive. There's no sign of Mom or Josh. The sounds around me are deafening, feet pounding against the hollow floor, voices echoing off the aluminum frame, the roar of air in the tunnel. My heart is pounding hard. I close my eyes. Bad. Please God, help us.

"What are you doing?"

I open my eyes and Mom is staring at me, a quizzical look on her face. Josh is strapped in the stroller, calmly drinking from a bottle filled with apple juice.

"Nothing," I say.

"Well, come on then. We have to get home."


jeff said...

If the goal was to have us want to read more Kristen, for me, you nailed it! :)

Kristen Skedgell said...

thanks, Jeff. More to come...

Billy said...

My reading has never been very diversified. Given that, some of my all time favorite fiction works are those in which I can live the main character. Get a break from reality, I guess. Live what they go through as if I were going through it. Maybe too much. Two big favorites are Verne's "A Journey to the Center of the Earth". Whether written in the first person, as the former, or in the third person, as Orwell does, matters little.

"Losing the Way" allows me to live with the main character, the author, and it appears from this excerpt that "Walkaway" will do the same. This has been very important for reasons I have mentioned elsewhere on Kristen's blog. While in this case it is important for different reasons than in my above examples, the idea is the same. I was stubborn about being convinced of VP Wierwille's abuses, but trying to put myself in the place of someone undergoing such horrors at least compelled be to keep checking until I was convinced one way or the other. Kristen's writing style allowed me to live to some extent her trials, more anyway than just in my own imagination. That in turn, along with my own familiarity with so many people and events she describes, left no doubt in my mind...partly because it woke me up to a few things I knew but had before ignored. Funny how we all know how to ignore things we don't want to be true.

There is more to being a successful writer than I will ever know about, but I know this aspect of living with/as the characters I am reading about applies to either/any kind of writing, at least for me. If I ever get to read any fiction Kristen might write, I am confident it will hold me. But I am only a reader.

Wondering what comes next said...

I just read your post in my lunch break, it took me right back to the day we piled all out belongings into a truck with the three kids, fled from our farm and left the cult for good, my heart is just about pounding its way out of my chest.
You may end up writing an amazing book for a niche market that really understands, and therefore not sell that many copies, but you should still write it anyway.

April Galamin - Griffiths said...

Kristen, Just stopping by & wanted you to know that you are appreciated. I have wanted to leave an encouraging comment as I've been by this website before.

I too am a "walk-away"...from a non-denominational/baptistic/calvinist/ KJV only bible cult.

It is painful to "walk away" but I'm so glad you did!! I'm glad you write about your experiences, then others who have "been there" can see that people like you can walk away from abusive religion & move on to a better life.

bloggerist said...

I have a friend/roommate that is newly getting involved in The Way. She is about 28 years old and is schizophrenic. They have convinced her to go off of her meds. One of her frequent delusions is that multiple people are drugging her and raping her and then taking her babies. She has moved out and is now living with one of The Way members I believe.

Can you tell me how this scenario might play out? Any suggestions on what I could do/say to help her? I sent her a link to your site,

I see the former leader of The Way resigned, is there still a lot of sexual abuse going on in the organization do you know?