To return to that dismal Chicago morning, I was completing my slow return back to the center, with the newspaper that I had been achingly desperate to attain. Now, a normal 15 year old ought to have been able to execute the task with relatively little to no emotional harm. I, on the other hand, returned emotionally haggard. Something about that small, slow journey had unravelled the last thread of my composure.
When I found the simpering leader back at the center, he accepted the paper without a glance and with a haphazard "thank you." No further direction was issued and I was utterly without purpose. So I returned to my room until I was summoned to begin the work that I had been attained for.
That morning I was the sole occupant of a large room, crowded with half a dozen bunk beds. There were few signs of live-in occupants, but the house itself seemed to go on forever. Despite a crushing loneliness, I was grateful to be alone. The tears that had been leaking out of my eyes on my newspaper sojourn couldn't take the bottleneck anymore and I took full advantage of my solitude to indulge in weeping.
It was the kind of gut-wrenching, snot-dripping cry I'm rarely capable of. It terrifies me, because it overwhelms. The tears that had begun as small rivulets down my face came with more insistence and it became a struggle to breathe, as though my soul was trying to vomit out the memories and horrors that had unfolded in our lives during the past six months.
My sister and I, though we had turned the events over in in conversation a hundred times, had kept a brave face to each other. We knew that we were a team; we hid things from each other like our boyfriends and our doubts. But we had presented a united front of strength and solicitude to our brothers, and a defiant resistance to the persistent insanity of our parents. I missed her with an ache, like a missing limb; I felt selfish for being removed from the situation and not being there to help her protect the tiny corner of sanity we had been able to salvage.
My sobs became retching and underneath the sorrow I was surprised that I hadn't actually vomited up my breakfast. After two hours of carrying on this way, an older first generation found me huddled up in the corner. She crouched down next to me, put her hand carefully on my shoulder and said, "Jenny, here I will be your mother figure. I can see you are unhappy. Please tell me what's wrong."
The words tumbled out of my mouth. My parents were separating; I was devastated and scared, was my hiccuping G-rated confession. The media relations director joined us shortly there after, and with slightly-less maternal care declared that it was probably better if I stayed with the group. "We'll pull you out for interviews," she lied.
To untangle me from my funk, they put me to work on the fax machine for the duration of the day. The newspaper-requiring leader gave me a perfunctory handshake and a platitude laced with "guess you weren't the candidate we were looking for" before I was driven back to the church where the rest of the group had been sleeping.
No one actually addressed the issues that I had brought up. I was expected to simply wipe my face and go back to the group and rally around the message we had been spoon-fed. I was asked to give one of the opening speeches for our first rally; it was to be written around a number of talking points that we were to memorize. In my diary I wrote about feeling oddly disconnected from everyone and from reality. "I know I'm not the girl who goes up and gives speeches and believes in abstinence to the deepest core of my soul. That's the fake me I try to make others see. I feel like who I really am is way too depressing for anyone to ever like. Even I don't like myself."
After two weeks we ended up in Barrytown, NY for a few nights before flying to Europe for another two weeks of rallies calling for Pure Love, Pure Life - One Man, One Wife. Before making the transatlantic flight, I called my grandparents back in Arizona to ask where my family was and to find out where I was coming home to. My grandfather, with a sigh of resignation, said that my mother had taken my siblings to a church school in Bridgeport, CT where she was going to be a dorm mom.
New Eden Academy was going to be my new home.
There was one girl on the tour that I had shared my story with. Incidentally, she attended New Eden and, after my conversation with my grandfather, I informed her that she was going to be my new schoolmate.
"My mom is going to be the new dorm mother for the boys," I said.
"Oh My God," she shouted. "Your mom's going to commit suicide!"