Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sharing Secrets

Whether spoken or not, there was a strong understanding amongst the women in my family that the secret we bore was not to be shared. We all understood that it had far-reaching ramifications if word of the skeletons we were harboring in our closet was to get out. Having recently been torn from the only stable social situations we had ever been in, neither my sister nor I had many people we could even turn to.

We had a small church community in Arizona; it was the first time in our entire lives that we had ever lived close enough to church members to be able to have them as a part of our social lives. Before I had always walked a very delicate line of trying, desperately, to make friends and be a normal kid at school, and also maintain the social distance that my mother seemed to deem necessary. I fought a constant internal battle in my younger years when my mother would criticize me for not socializing more, and yet always seemed to find fault with my friends because they were just not of "high standard."

In a sense, living in proximity to other church members provided its own problems. Often times kids in the church found it easy to bond with one another; we had a shared culture and understood each other's difficulties. We tended to form an instant type of camaraderie. My mother had sent me to church camps and workshops every summer since I had been eight years old; I knew that Blessed Children were easy to bond with and often I longed for those summers of fast, close friendships. It took me many years to understand what an important catalyst shared culture, and even shared alienation, could be for friendship.

That alienation was a strong presence in my life. More often than not I was lonely. And while for the first time my sister and I were living in close proximity to people that we ought to have shared that immediate bond with, we were all going through a time in our lives where our own hormonal desires were in direct contrast to our shared culture. Instead of having the open, safe relationships where we could admit our struggles with our desires to be normal kids and our attractions to the opposite sex, we tended to alienate ourselves from each other as we let our self-judgement and guilt consume us.

The summer of 1999, before year before the desert heat drew our family's poison to the surface, my mother had sent me away to the East Coast where the church was holding a tour of something called the "Pure Love Alliance." Essentially it was a large group of young church teens who were taught the principals of abstinence before marriage, and fidelity within marriage, and then were sent out into the streets to preach the good word. 

Armed with dubious statistics, such as "one in ever six condoms fail," we were deployed on buses across the coast to do community service in the name of Pure Love.

Even at 14 I wasn't sure how I felt about the entire event. While I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends whom I had met at summer camps years back, and finding that fast connection with new friends, I never really assimilated the purpose of the "Pure Love Alliance" with and great degree of comfort. However, when the older teens who were leading the tour across the country discovered that I was relatively articulate, I was chosen to give a speech in Miami and a testimony at the close of the tour.

My testimony had no real depth or emotional timbre. It followed a relatively generic structure that many of us in the church had utilized before: "I struggled but then I overcame and realized the value of the blah blah blah." What I didn't tell my "brothers and sisters" was that I had a boyfriend waiting for me back home and that I really had no opinions on Pure Love or Abstinence . While I felt a certain amount of guilt about having a boyfriend, living a double life created a bit of compartmentalization that allowed me to play the part of active participant with relative ease.

That compartmentalization also allowed me to be involved with my boyfriend and removed at the same time. He had been my first kiss and that had ultimately been a letdown. It was dry and dispassionate and I kept waiting for that feeling of walking on a cloud - instead I walked around asking myself "So is that it?"

Despite the dispassion, I found that fatalistic part of me already disconnecting myself from the church. While I hadn't fallen, my first kiss would no longer be for my future husband. But none of my "Brothers or Sisters" needed to know that.

The one person I did tell about my then-boyfriend was a boy named "S". He had been on my bus and had caught my attention. There was danger in his eyes that seemed to try to hide a vunerability. Instantly I was attracted and did my best to ignore that feeling that rose up in my belly when I caught site of him from the corner of my eye. We did our best to ignore each other mutually for more of the duration of the tour. But by the end we found ourselves sitting across from one another at lunch, staring each other down.

The years have blurred the conversation, but I do remember my admission of having a boyfriend. He smiled, made a gun with the fingers of his right hand and drew the trigger. The bullet was my first pang of guilt. My eyebrow raised in an expression I had worked for years to perfect. That should have been that.

But it wasn't. We stayed in touch. My boyfriend dumped me when my family moved across the city. In my young teenaged pain I reached out a little more to "S". Lying to myself, I said I didn't want him. We were just friends. He was in love with a hot mess named "Y" who had supposedly lost her entire family to freak accidents and disease. He pined for the young woman he would never be able to save.

We weren't supposed to love until we were told to. We were never supposed to pine. In my pain I did both, fooling myself the whole while. Whoever "Y" was, she would never let "S"in the way he wanted. But I was "available", and as he got to know me through the seductive medium of the internet, he realized how desperately I needed saving. In those days I wanted to be saved. Somehow I imagined that a man's arms around me could shield me from the barrage of pain that the world seemed to launch.

Many nights we would stay up late into the night and greet the early morning, talking on the phone or chatting on the internet. While my life unravelled, those late nights when everyone else was asleep were the eye of my storm. Eventually I told him everything.

"God never gives us anything we can't handle," he told me. "Before we were born we chose our lives. We came here knowing we could live through the things we had chosen."

I could have killed him that night. The rhetoric was alien to the religious upbringing we had had, and it ripped me apart. While I had always cast myself as a victim, he told me rise above. That night I lay on the floor sobbing, angry at God, angry at my parents and angry at "S".

When that storm had passed and I dried my tears, I was still confused but somehow stronger. While I knew nothing about contracts made in pre-existence, I knew that in essence "S" was right. I was resilient. Nothing inside of me would die. That was when I made a pact with myself that no matter what abuses we would suffer as we endured the backlash that my parents' lives would incur, it would not be allowed to injure the inner essence of who I believed that I was. Another piece compartmentalized.

To that end I protected myself more than I ever had before. "S" became the only person I allowed in to see the beauty, the frailty and the humanity. This, I thought, must be the person for me. Who else would be able to see through the evils that surrounded me and still be able to offer love?

Quietly I became convinced that "S" was the man I was ultimately destined for. But a murmur of fear also began to echo inside of me. "Would Rev. Moon know?" In the church we were raised to believe that Sun Myung Moon had a certain clairvoyance which he would utilize in matching members of the church, especially with the Second Generation. Yet to me it still seemed like a strange gamble. Could I trust that Rev. Moon would be able to see me and "S" through all of the other people and photographs and applications?

Further seeds of doubt were planted in fertile soil.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dead on Arrival

The sight of dense green trees made me cry. I had somehow accustomed myself to the browns and khakis of the desert, how front yards had red pumice-like stone gravel instead of grass and that nearly everything was landscaped. We were in a red Chrysler mini-van that belonged to the headmaster of New Eden Academy, the Unification Church run boarding school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where our mother had taken a job as the 'Dorm Mom' for the boys dormitory floor.

Upon my parents split, I knew that our mother was taking us to Connecticut where we were going to start our new life away from our father, but somehow I still hadn't fully processed we'd be leaving Arizona. I hadn't thought about how much it would destroy our grandparents if we left, and what desecrated hell hole we'd be existing in for a year.

The headmaster picked us up from the airport and drove us to what would be our new home, and apartment on the 3rd floor of a large brick building. I remember crying in the van. I must have been loud or obnoxious enough that the headmaster insisted I settle down, or maybe to shut up. I can't remember.
Headmaster Dr. Spurgin 

Perhaps, our re-introduction to the east coast wouldn't have been so traumatic if it had been any other location than Bridgeport Connecticut. Immediately outside the University of Bridgeport campus where the boarding school was located was ghetto. Or rather, a severely economically depressed area prone to violence and vandalism. One of the many rules of the school was that we were not allowed off-campus without the supervision of an adult, as it was perceived as unsafe. It was all sprawling, crumbling, ugly brick structures to me - even the dormitory building where we lived.

Four floors of long cement block hallways painted in white with fluorescent lighting, connected by dingy blue-green carpet. The common rooms smelled like urine due to their proximity to the uncleaned bathrooms, the dorm rooms were arranged like cell-blocks, and looked like prison cells with larger windows.

Our 'apartment' was an area at the end of the hallway sectioned off by a heavy metal door. One room across the hall was where my three brothers slept, which also housed our family couch and television. Across the hall was the kitchen, 'living room', and my mothers room. The main living areas were mostly empty other than an abandoned stained arm chair and a small table. The remnants of our furniture were being driven cross-country by a drug-addict acquaintance of my parents that they knew from the church. With nothing to really unpack, my mom and I got our brothers situated into their room and put them to bed in the evening. My sister was away on PLA, a Unification Church organization that took Moonie youth across the globe to rally for purity and chastity, so I was just left in a large empty, filthy space with my mother.

As night set it, my anxiety had me panic stricken and pale. I felt trapped again and there was no escape. I didn't want to be there, I wanted more than anything to get back on a plane and return to my friends in Fountain Hills or to my Grandparents. But I was thirteen, and the despair of being so hopeless where we were was making it hard to breathe. I can't imagine what my mother was going through at that moment, and part of me justified not caring because I hated her more than anything for the situation we were in. She must have noticed me staring at the stains on the walls, or the uneasiness of settling into the filth of the room. In a delusional optimistic moment, she suggested we focus our energy on something more positive. Left in the kitchen was a yellow sponge, an hourglass shaped purple sponge with a white scrubby side, and a bottle of potent blue dish detergent. My mother and I stayed up till 3am sweeping and scrubbing the walls, the fridge, the sink, the floor, and the counter-tops. To this day, I become anxious when I come across the same dish detergent fragrance.

It took more than a week for our furniture to arrive, it would be a few weeks before I would set up a room for my sister and I on the 2nd floor on the girls dorm level, and it would be about a month until students began to arrive for the school year. I remember wandering the empty halls, sometimes popping myself down on the floor with a yellow legal pad to draw anime characters while listening to the radio on a black stereo. There was no real pop or rock stations to speak of in Bridgeport, and for the next year I would become overexposed to over-processed R&B and Hip Hop. I would eventually emulate my peers 'hip-hop' style of baggy pants, hoodies, and a foul mouth.

There was a library on the first floor, a small room with three or four bookshelves filled with old paperbacks and 1970s olive green couches. I would try to pass the days reading, one day I picked up 'The Amityville Horror: A True Story" by Jay Anson off the bookshelf and buried myself in the macabre for two days. Later in the week, our apartment became infested by flies and the hallways started to reek of fecal matter. When my mother mentioned how puzzling/annoying these events were, I sheepishly mentioned they were occurrences that appeared in the book I just finished. My mother flipped out, convinced I had attracted evil spirit world by reading just a book and that must have been the cause of it all. This was the usual response that was bred in the minds of church members; if something unfortunate happened to you, your family, or your friends, it was 'spirit-world attacking' you.

When my sister returned from PLA, she was exhausted and jetlagged. While she slept I sat anxiously in our living room waiting to talk to her, as if when she awoke she would have the power of perspective on how we had ended up here. I wish I had more insight on our situation at the time, or words of preparation for what it would be like living at New Eden for the next year. No words of warning would have prepared us for the verbal, mental, and physical threats we'd receive from our future peers and instructors. Nothing would have prepared us for the isolation we'd feel among our fellow students, reinforcing the belief that we were destined to feel alone despite being among fellow 'blessed children'. Among the sex, drugs, lying, and drama, the only reprieve was our locked bedroom door.

We had created a safe haven in a cell where we decorated the room with our white wooden desks, wooden bunk-bed set, and artwork covering the cement block walls. At one point, I would abandon my sister and fling myself into the belly of the beast, vying for attention and acceptance by sharing rooms with students who I thought were my friends, trading my familiar furniture and sister for brown metal bed frames and backstabbing.

It was a year before the Summer of Cheesecake would even begin, but it was a year I regret with every ounce of my being.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Running Away - An Overture

Despite our mother's frank conversations with myself and my sister regarding her suspisions, our family life still remained trapped in a world of skeletons in the closet, elephants in the corner and ultimatiums secretly slipped into a briefcase.

Weeks after revealing her deep, dark concerns to us, my sister and I were still the keepers of the heavy secrets. We took long walks, hoping that somehow we might not have to return back to the darkness that our home had come to represent. We turned the information over 100 times, anaylzing it for possible truth or a way out.

What we did not do, however, was discuss the impact that this secret would have on our respective futures. Our confined society was archaic in so many ways, and revelation of this secret would easily ruin any potential for my sister and myself to ever be married.

While our dedication at 15 and 13 to the future that the chuch demanded was tenuious at best, it was really the only future that we had ever been raised to fulfill. Nothing else in church doctrine mattered so much as fulfilling the Three Blessing. These first two of the three, be fruitful, multiply, have dominion, essentially boiled down to grow up and have babies. In between the growing up and the having babies we were also supposed to be matched by Rev. Moon (the Unification Church's equivelent to an engagement) and get Blessed in one of the church's mass weddings.

At the time it was relatively unheard of for one to reject their match, or to "break" the Blessing, I was pretty sure that anyone who knew the secret my family was harboring would reject us simply on those grounds. These days, having left the church far behind in my past, it becomes a little difficult to sympathize with those 15 year old's concerns. I've lived in a broader world and learned that people will accept me based on the contents of my character and not hold the past I emerged from against me. But in those days I had not yet asserted my independence and removed my mind from those cultural confines. It seemed to me that any chance of my ever being loved by a man had been stolen away from me - on so many levels.

The biggest catastrophe contributing to that erosion was my mother's decision to leave our father. He had been invited to present a paper at a conference in South Korea and was leaving for an extended period of a few weeks. Instead of confronting him in person or verbally, she wrote him a letter of accusation that was slipped into his briefcase, which enumerated her suppostion of his guilt and told him to stay in Korea and get a job. She ended it with telling him to leave our family alone.

Shortly after his plane took off, my mother had us pack up our entire house. We were running away. Our lives were safely taped away in boxes, suitcases were packed and we left everything behind. Living off of a credit card our grandfather had given our family, we lived in hotels for the next two weeks in constant fear that my father would read the note, come right back home and hunt us down.

Those few weeks our mother kept us in nice upper-scale hotels that, for our younger brothers, seemed like an surprise vacation. There were pools to play in, beds to jump on, and an unexpected break from the norm. My sister and I, however, couldn't see the sparkling water of the pools or feel the softness of the beds. If life had been unbearable before, this was like living in a constant state of terror. Our father had been turned into a villian from a nightmare.

During our sojourn across the desert hotels, my mother told my sister and myself that she would lie awake at night when we were younger, listening to my father when he would get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Ears straining, she would follow his footsteps to make sure he returned directly back to bed and was not engaging in any kind of abuse.

Today I think back on that letter and my heart breaks a litte. The truth of the accusations still remains unknown, but in a world of innocernt until proven guilty part of me wonders what reading that letter would have been like for our father. If, indeed, he was innocent and these accusations were simply the ghosts of our mother's childhood come back to torture her...I cannot even imagine the pain that that would have inflicted on our father.

Eventually guilt about the hotel bills piling up must have made our mother return us to that empty house in Mesa. We were living there in a strange, temporary style, when my father arrived back home. The confrontation was explosive. Our three younger brothers ran into the room my sister and I shared to take cover. As the volume of shouting between our parents increased, my sister and I dismantled the screen on our bedroom window and helped all of our younger brothers climb out into the safety of the summer heat.

Running as though we could lose the trauma that our lives had become, we left our neighborhood behind and crossed the traffic of Gilbert Road, to the safety of the local convenience store. My sister and I dug into our pockets and found enough change to buy each of our brothers a coke or a sugery treat to ease the pain.

My sister and I couldn't calm down. Visions of my father potentially hurting my mother kept flashing across my eyes. I needed to be there to protect her, I told myself. "I'm going back," I told my sister.

"We're coming with you," she replied.

So like lost ducklings we walked back to the house with a weight on our hearts like we were approaching our own execution. Upon return we found the situation unchanged and no champion to defend. So we sat against the walls, staring into the nothingness as our brothers finished their treats.

For several weeks we lived this way, under a pressure like unbearable gravity that worked to crush us all. Our lives were packed away and in storage. We were sleeping on matresses on the floor, and "the enemy" was under the same roof. It was the most inexplicable torture we had experienced up until that point.

My mother scrounged up enough money to send me away to another month-long church activity. Leaving my family behind in their turmoil killed me. When I phoned home to check it, I always called my grandparents first to ask where my family was. The first few times they were still in the nightmare house. Two weeks after I had left, I found out that my mother had yet again run away from my father; this time she had taken my siblings to "New Eden."

I've seen the nightmares,
And some counsellors,
I'm not going,
Back up in that house again.

In that house again.

I'm not sorry,
For what I'm feeling,
Blow the walls out,
Bring the ceiling to the ground.

I've had the nightmares,
Seen the counsellors,
I'm not going,
Back up in that house again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hey Jude

Because Koreans founded the Unification Church, there was a prevailing racial hierarchy present in all communities of Moonies. Jews were no longer ‘the chosen people’ as they lost their rights to the title after crucifying the Messiah. Koreans were now the chosen people and became the supreme nationality. Reverend Moon, who was supposed to be the second coming of the Messiah (or at least take up Jesus’ mission) demanded his followers learn Korean, as all the holy doctrine he wrote was published in his native language. Our holy robes were essentially hanbok, traditional Korean garb that we wore on holy days. Koreans held higher positions in the church and within it’s subsequent companies. Japanese church members were forced to pay a tithe called kodan, which were reparations for the violence and evil deeds done to the Koreans during the Japanese occupation, but they were still better than Westerners as they were not Asian at all.

Despite the brutal history between the Japanese and Koreans, Asians as a whole were perceived to be more pious than Westerners. Korean cultural elements of filial piety and male-dominance were prized, and Western men were encouraged to be matched to Asian wives: Korean being the most coveted. Even my own father had expressed that he had originally hoped for a dedicated Korean wife.
Children born to parents of any nationality were given Korean first names, which would plague them through every year of public school. While most of my siblings lucked out on being given only Korean middle names, my youngest brother was given a Korean first name. During his pre-school years, the teachers and other children were incredibly confused by his name, Shinsung, and it took my sister and I a lot of effort to convince our parents to have him enrolled in school by his middle name, David, upon reaching kindergarten. His name was never legally changed, and upon joining the air force at eighteen he was legally obliged to go by his Korean first name since it was what appeared on his birth certificate.

Most of the second-generation or ‘blessed children’ I grew up with (children who had been born to parents who had joined the church) were full Asian or half-Asian. The Asian and half-Asian children were esteemed for their blood lineage and beautiful genetics, while enjoying the ability to progress through childhood without being questioned why they had Asian names. Most Americans can’t tell the difference between Asiatic nationalities anyway.

Despite wearing a hanbok at holy day gatherings, having a Korean middle name, or knowing bits of Korean from reciting pledge, I was lamentably white. I wouldn’t have minded being a mixture of European nationalities, but my mixed Jewish and Arabic heritage left me with both my father’s prominent Judaic nose and spaces between my teeth so large that they could accommodate Popsicle sticks. I looked nothing like the beautiful mixed children I attended Sunday school with, and in the outside secular world I was called ‘big nose’ and ‘ugly’. ‘Gap-toothed Jewess’, is my most recent favorite; a slur that sounds comically Shakespearean because ‘Jewess’ is so archaic.

Adolescence into adult hood I suffered from severe self-loathing and confidence issues. Ninth grade, the year I spent in Bridgeport Connecticut in a Moonie boarding school was the worst for me, as I was overexposed to the tri-state church community after a somewhat alienation in Arizona. Despite the fact that the teens that attended boarding school all took drugs, drank, and fucked each other (all three prohibited in church doctrine), there was still a sense of self-righteous, smug superiority that outshone their licentiousness. Ones who had grown up with Westchester were especially cruel, as they all were mostly Asian and claimed more devotion to the church because of their proximity to a large Moonie community. The most attractive of them enjoyed liaisons with each other, while still being prized as the best candidates for future marriage matching.

Bred socially awkward, having no suitable taste in music or clothes, and sporting inelegant facial features, I crashed and burned in 9th grade. Despite trying in vain to fit in, I remained an outsider and made no friends in boarding school. The school bully informed me I looked like a weasel, and the junior I had a crush on made a point of putting me down whenever I encountered him. Crushes I had on the boys in school festered in my gut, and I was utterly convinced I had no chance of obtaining a suitable match; I was from a white family, grievously ugly, and severely unlikable.

I no longer considered myself apart of the Unification Church by my 17th birthday, but the anger and resentment toward the way I was treated remains as scars to this day. I was raised to believe the only honorable women were descended from east of China. I was not educated to love myself or to value my abilities a person, but rather, my value was based on my blood lineage.

I tried to combat my insecurities with hobbies. I was an avid reader, and fiction took me away from the real world, love and adventure were finally accessible even if they only existed within the confines of book covers. I also got involved in theatre, which allowed me to be something other than myself. Eventually, I trained to be a makeup artist, hoping it would lend me beautifying powers. Because I couldn’t afford to have my nose and teeth fixed I could try to distract others by accentuating better facial features, such as my eyes.

After leaving boarding school and eventually ending up in Dutchess County, New York, I had unconsciously hoped that the outside world would be more accepting of my ethnicity, and that it wouldn’t matter I wasn’t a petite, small featured Asian girl. Some of my resentment bubbled up in the form of a terribly racist game I played called ‘Asian Girlfriend’. Similar to ‘Punch-Buggy’, my friends and I would silently deck each other on the shoulders when we would pass a white male with an Asian girlfriend. However, once I reached my twenties and moved to New York City, I realized the preference for Asian women still prevailed outside the unification church.

A large percentage of white men in New York City dated Asian women; I passed them on the street in Manhattan, and practically every other family I saw in Park Slope was made up of this combination. While broaching the topic in public conversation was considered racist, online conversations and theories were published in forums and studies, often where the merits of Asian women were broadcast by white men. While white men wrote about how they valued their femininity and submissive nature, resulting from their Asian traditional patriarchal family backgrounds (the same values we were raised with in the Unification Church), contrarily, Asian women wrote about how they were not defined by these values and that they were just as independent and moderns as any other non-Asian woman.

American women were dis-valued in the Unification Church for their outspoken nature and sense of independence. I grew to abhor this idea, as I believe American women earned their independence and suffrage through 235 years. Descendants of colonists, homesteaders, slaves, and patriots, they had to be just as strong as their men to survive. I remember reading one story about a Kansas pioneer woman that lived in a sod hut, equipped with a rifle she fought off the wolves that chewed into the hut, while she was experiencing labor of her second child as the first was tethered to the bedpost. I couldn’t see how those women like that could stay diminutive and submissive. The right to own property, the right to divorce, the right to vote, the right to equal wages and sexual equality were all pushed to success in the USA by American women. American women were made up of women of every nationality, yet they valued themselves enough as independents, despite racism, sexism, and their cultural backgrounds.

I made the assumption that Asian woman born after the 1970s were raised with the benefits of both cultural family traditions, and the freedom of independence that being an American brought with it. They could still be valued for having strong family ties and cultural practices, yet not be tied down by them as they pursued their own careers and lives like an American woman. Buried by anger, I thought that these women were just reaping the benefits of progress made by American women over hundreds of years. Even Asian women who lived abroad still existed within a society of western influences, where they no longer had to abide by the traditional cultural practices of becoming dutiful wife and mother. I hated Yoko Ono, she just peed on people while on top of ladders and called it ‘art’, when all she did was mooch off of (and eventually help break up) the Beatles. But there was no one out there who would write me my own ‘Hey Jude’.

Eventually, I had to give up being angry, as the resentment of seeing another cute white boy with an Asian girl didn’t make me any prettier or desirable. If a man ever fell in love with me, it would have to be because I was an honest, caring, independent and loving person, and being angry that I wasn’t half-Japanese or Korean wouldn’t make me that way.
I’m still trying to learn to value myself, which is a constant struggle. My hope is to be able to afford both therapy and plastic surgery so that I’ll be fixed both inside and out.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blessed Family

How does one describe what it is like to be born into a fringe religion? It has only been in the last few years that I have become comfortable calling the Unification Church a cult, and even when that word passes over my tounge it still tastes dirty. But it was only after years away from the church that I realized how outside of the mainstream we were born.

To fully understand what it is like to be born into this insular world, one must understand the ideology and the makeup of the religion. To boil it down to essentials, Rev. Moon taught that Eve had a sexual relationship with the Archangel Lucifer in the Garden of Eden, and that was The Fall of Mankind. This act constituted a change of blood lineage based on Satan, rather than God. Therefore, when Eve gave The Apple (had a sexual relationship) with Adam, this too was based on Satan and therefore they were under Satan's domain.

Therefore the children of man were also under Satan's domain.

The only way to be removed from Satan's Blood Lineage, according to Rev. Moon, was to be Matched and married (or Blessed) by him. Then there was a Three Day Ceremony, which was a sexually ceremony that couples performed in order to complete their lineal transition into "God's Domain."

The couples that went through this Matching, Blessing and Three Day Ceremony became the First Generation, and they dedicated their lives to working for what Rev. Moon called "God's Providence." Many of them gave up college educations and well-paying jobs in order to live out of vans and fundraise for the church, some doing this for up to ten years. Some went on to work for church organizations, dedicated to "dialouge between faiths" and "world peace," although books like Nan Sook Han's In the Shadow of the Moon reveals that many of the organizations were akin to money laundering endeavors.

The First Generation have always been strange creatures to me. Many of them left their families and their lives behind to dedicate themselves body and soul to an ideal. They tend towards fanatacism, but I suppose that a "black and white" mentality was needed in order to exist in the closed world that they created for themselves.

To exist in the church one must live within a Il-Logic Loop. If Reason is the enemy of Faith, then the Unification Church chased Reason into exile, and instead replaced it with their Sacred Text, The Divine Principal, which is littered with diagrams and statements that do a decent job imitating logic.

But there are holes and passages in the text that refer to the Bible, which don't end up holding up to their bold statements when cross-checked. The Il-Logic loop begins to go into full effect when one begins to ask questions that shed light on some of the holes or the unanswered questions in church history. If you question, you are "being invaded by Satan" or by "evil spirit world." Therefore in order to fight off evil spirits and win a victory for Rev Moon or True Parents, one might fight the logical mind. This loop continues in an ever tighter spiral until the mind is fully trapped within a warped belief system.

For the children born into the Unification Church, The Second Generation, we were at somewhat of a disadvantage. Without being given a choice in choosing our faith, we were expected to be born in the image of God and uphold the doctrine forced upon us. Afterall, we were the generation that God has been waiting for through all of Human History. We were born without Original Sin and born in God's lineage. Somehow, many of our parents simply assumed that we were absorb their strict adherence to faith through osmosis in utero.

We were different. We were Blessed Children. We were expected to be perfect.

Despite that fact that many of us grew up in unhappy families, where the parents didnt love each other but stayed together because "the Blessing is for eternity," it was a shock for many of the First Generation when their children began showing signs of dysfunction. My mother once admitted to me that she had no concept that her children would be anything other than perfect - that somehow by the grace of True Parents and the Blessing, we could have direct conduits to God's love. Therefore, no matter how ill-equipped our parents were to be parents and raise children, the rules of child psychology shouldn't apply.

But my mother seemed to have forgotten the diagrams of her own sacred text:

The above diagram of the Four Position Foundation is to illustrate that both a man and a woman are intended to have a relationship with God, in order to then give God's love to one another in a conjucal relationship. These are the preconditions by which a child is supposed to be born. Both of these parents are then intended to be able to be conduits of God's love for the child, so that the child can then build their own personal relationship with the Divine.

For many of us Second Generation this Four Position Foundation was more of an ideal than anything we could ever conceive of in reality. And yet we were judged by our parents by our own inability to comprehend and develop this relationship with God. If we were to know God by our parents' examples, then my God was an angry one whose love was conditional and who wouldn't hesitate to verbally or physically abuse me when I didn't live up to his divine expecations.

Infact the most painful memory I had during my time in the Unification Church, was when an elder Second Generation tried to insist that God did, indeed, love me. Instead, I determined, that somehow based on my utter failure to reach a semblance of perfection, and my parents' mercurial love, that I must have existed in God's blind spot.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Shame is what keeps up quiet and hidden. It is what makes us feel undeserving of the air we breathe and the sunlight on our faces. The shame we endure drives us deeper into the shadows.

My mother waited to tell my sister the deep, dark revelation of our family life until she graduated from eighth grade; she didn't want to taint her last few months of school with the dark burden that had suddenly descended. That meant that my mother and I were to carry it alone.

We were like prisoners of our dark secret, and sometimes prisoners turn on each other. It seemed as though my mother became my enemy as the future of my family quickly dissolved. In the madness of "could this possibly be?" I no longer knew if I could trust her. But more than madness, shame had a roll to play. And with a few small words my mother was able to take away everything that she had taught us would comprise our value.

My siblings and I were raised in a religion that emphasized purity - especially that of the sexual nature. The Unification Church taught us that sex before or outside of marriage was a sin worse than death. To sin in that way was to Fall, and it was considered an irrevocable fall from grace.

Our mother had once said that God could not forgive sexual predators, because that was a pain that even God didn't know how to heal for the victim. I was agonized with the thought that I might have lost some form of sexual innocence without even remembering it, and without even having had the power to stop it. You see, my mom was convinced that IF our father had sexually abused myself and my sister, that we must have been very young. Too young to remember

In fact, my mother would sometimes say, she was almost convinced that I couldn't have been part of the abused. I was too normal. My grades were too good. It just didn't add up.

My depression and inability to socially normalize, therefore, were my own fault I decided. And I wasn't sure how to handle the "what if" question as it pertained to myself. Part of me felt guilty that I somehow might not have been subjected to this same awful, potential trauma while my other siblings had almost definitely endured it. But at the same time part of me resented that my straining to stay afloat in a life that seemed painful beyond endurance indicated that somehow I was normal and okay - when I was certain that I was not.

That's when the shame began its slow burn. But like a tiny ember, it grew into a flame that would engulf my being over the coming years. The fact that this question had even entered into my family life felt like a brand burned into my chest, an open seeping wound for the world to see. It was a mark by which I knew that my world would judge me.

We lived in an "under rug swept" world. It was an unspoken law that not only was I not to speak of this to my sister, but once my sister knew we were not to speak of it to anyone. Not a single person.

When my mom finally told my sister, it felt like one more comrade had come to the part of the sinking ship. Somehow the thought that we were all drowning together held little comfort. But she and I held up marvelously, keeping our heads down and our eyes tear-free during church.

It's hard to exist in a world of absolutes. There was no such thing as forgiveness for falling in those days, although the culture of the church changed years later. Without having committed any crime, we were marked as guilty and that was an unremovable burden.

Somehow, worse than that, was the mark of damaged goods that we bore simply by coming from a dysfunctional family. Though there had always been pain, screaming and abuse, those were all things that we had been complicit in covering up in order to save face. The world need not know about the dirty laundry and the bruises that might fade over time.

But this, this held far greater implications for our future and had the potential to mark us as outcasts for the rest of our lives. Because if God could not heal and forgive, then why should anyone else even attempt to forgive us these collective sins that had been bestowed upon us?

For this we faced the future as untouchables and we realized that we would no longer have a place in the world, certainly not in the world we had grown up knowing. We were taught that we were in the world, but not of it. We were different, as children of the Unification Church. The church was to comprise our entire community; we were not encouraged to associate with the Outside World.

Suddenly we realized that we no longer had a world in which to live.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Scorpion House

Eighth grade was my favorite year in school. I had begged my parents to remove me from the local public school in our neighborhood of Mesa, Arizona, which was largely populated by Mormons. It had taken me less than a day to be identified by the students as an outsider; I didn’t know how to respond when I was asked if I was LDS.

A friend of mine from our church was attending a Charter-Montessori school 25 minutes north of us in Fountain Hills, and somehow I had convinced my mother to drive me across the Indian Reservation and past the landfill to what would become my adolescent shelter.

I was among an eclectic mix of ragtag seventh and eighth graders who were taught in a single room all day, with a specialized curriculum, and an awesome teacher who would bring us back Kinder eggs from Austria and sing along to Shaggy in her car. I finally felt comfortable in school; I made friends, got good grades, and had my first boyfriend (which would be my mother’s foremost regret bringing me to that school.) I still keep in contact with a handful of people from that year in my life. Back then, I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and go to school, it was an escape for me into what I had hoped was normalcy. Eighth grade was my safe bubble.

Before we had been living in a townhouse complex in Awatukee, right on the outskirts of Phoenix, and I had finished 6th and 7th grade as a complete outcast. My family had been moving every other year of our lives. No, my dad was not in the military, he just couldn’t hold a job or hold a house. Never actually having owned one, we moved around anytime we could no longer afford the rent or if the owners were selling the house. As I was entering eighth grade we moved into a large house with a walled-in backyard on a quiet cul-de-sac in Mesa.

Even when we were viewing the house, there was this intangible sense I had of suspicion. At thirteen I still lacked the ability to articulate specific feelings, but something felt off. How could my family ever afford a house so big? It certainly seemed to be the largest we had lived in yet. And what was the awful smell in the house?

Turns out, thirteen-year-old intuition isn’t far off, as the smell was the residual essence of a scandal that had occurred in the house within the past year. Luckily for the realtors, Arizona State Legislature had just passed a bill allowing non-disclosure regarding information about property. Three days after moving in, a neighbor wielding a baked confection stopped over to welcome us, and to inform us that a man twice convicted of sexual molestation had lived in our house. After being released from jail the second time, he ended his life in the kitchen by blowing his brains out by the refrigerator. Lacking accuracy, he apparently dragged his bleeding body into the adjacent laundry room, where he laid down to die. His ex-girlfriend found his body there weeks later, after a concerned neighbor had contacted her about a strange smell emerging from the house. Not only did it explain the smell, but also it explained the residual stains left behind on the 1970’s tulip wallpaper in the laundry room and kitchen; tiny splatter marks that couldn’t be hidden by shiny new appliances.

If the horror story and accompanying smell weren’t traumatizing enough, the cul-de-sac happened to be built on top of a scorpion nest. Every house was infested with Arizona bark scorpions that ranged from teeny tiny (like the one that snuck into my bed in the middle of the night and stung my knee-pit) to huge (like the one who stung my right ring finger when I tried to flick him off my brother’s sandal). Our amused neighbors would take black lights out and go hunting for them in the backyard, but we lived in constant terror of them - they were everywhere.

Our trusty midget chicken, Pollita, would consume her fill of scorpions and cockroaches outside, but that didn’t stop the scorpions from being on the bathroom wall when you were in the tub, crawling into your bed while you were sleeping, or walking around the house and dropping unexpectedly from ceilings. The second time I was stung, my mom gave me an odd mix of Nyquil for the antihistamines, and an Aleve to help with the pain. Afterward I sat in a half-full bathtub of lukewarm water, shivering with a strange drug reaction and a pain in my arm that felt like it’d been slammed in a bank safe door. To this day, I sometimes wake up startled from a dream where I was back in that house with scorpions everywhere.

It was then at thirteen that I began to have panic attacks. I felt as though I was losing my mind, I felt trapped there in that house with nowhere to go. I became afraid of being at home. It was a disturbing result of my parent’s volatile relationship, the stressful, constant vigilance against being stung, and the ambiance of a dark house that had been a man’s own mental prison. One moment, I’d try to calm myself down by crawling into bed on my bottom bunk. But I couldn’t breathe; I still didn’t feel safe. So I’d jump out of bed and pace around the house, clearly disturbed with anxiety. Eventually I would walk with my sister to the playground of the local school or to the convenience store across the street to get a soda. The longest I could stay still was in front of the family computer, reading online anime fan-fiction (PG-13) or IMing my school friends on AIM through our dial-up connection. Somehow, the wealthiest section of Mesa became a dusty-brown, stucco prison. I would look forward to school with a more sincere need than a child waiting for Christmas morning. Weekends were akin to a life sentence, and Mondays were sweet reprieve.

Two or so weeks before graduating from eighth grade, my mom (who had been suffering in her own disquietude) informed me she had to have a serious sit-down talk with me after my graduation ceremony. The expression on her face and the thick tension I’d felt at home for months connoted that it was to be a discussion of severity. While I was drowning in panic that my safe haven of friends and school would forever disappear in a matter of days, my mother would remind me of the foreboding meeting we were to have.

Graduation was over all too soon. My teacher and assistant teachers cried and hugged us goodbye, telling us how proud we were of them. I made rounds talking to my friends, trying to stall leaving my sanctuary by initiating conversations about high school, since the Charter school ended at eighth grade. Somehow, I ended up in a booth across my mother at a Mexican restaurant in Mesa, trying to force down tortilla chips and salsa even though my stomach couldn’t bear to hold down anything.
Over what I think was a bean burrito, my mother informed me that along with my father’s porn addiction, she suspected my father had been sexually molesting my brothers, that my sister and I may have been molested when we were younger. Due to the severity of the situation, and the fact my father had lost yet another job, my mother felt it was necessary to leave my father and take us away.
Apparently, she had refused the shelter of my Grandparents, her parents, who lived in a neighborhood called Arcadia near Camelback Mountain. My grandparents who loved us dearly had offered to support us, even offered to buy us our own house. Instead, my mother had found a job in Bridgeport, Connecticut as a dorm-supervisor for the boy’s floor of a Moonie-run boarding school called New Eden.

Problem was, we had a month or so until we were to move, and those long drawn out days were like being trapped in a nightmare. Telling your kids that their father is a sexual predator is a fucked up thing to do, regardless of it’s legitimacy. Most of us resented our father anyway; the way he’d initiate fights with my mother, verbally abuse us then neglect us the rest of the time. He used to hit my mother, but she’d keep it secret until we were old enough to witness it for ourselves, to which he would deny to others with the utmost sincerity. He became a more pronounced malevolent presence in the house, and we hated and feared him for what he may have done to us.

My sister and I would vacillate between shepherding our three younger brothers at home, to spending hours in the 100+ degree summer heat at the playground, turning over the facts in our heads and trying to process the situation we were all in. My mother had checked out library books about the symptoms of sexual molestation, and in the hammock of our backyard pointed out my brothers’ exhibited symptoms, neatly checked off in pencil. In the obvious turmoil she was undergoing, she took my sister and I as confidants and retold us conversations she had with my younger siblings about inappropriate touch scenarios that might have occurred with my father.

In the last few days of our time in Arizona, I remember lying on my bedroom floor in front of a small radio-cassette player, trying to make a mix-tape off the radio. After all, isn’t that what normal kids did? Make mix-tapes? Anything to distract me since the computer wasn’t free. I couldn’t stand Ben Fold’s ‘Rockin’ The Suburbs’, but I remember taping Sugar Ray and that graduation song by Vitamin C.

I don’t remember packing. I do remember the last night I spent at my best friend’s house, staring at the items on her bedside table and thinking it would be a very long time until I saw her again. I don’t remember getting to say goodbye to my grandparents, who would swiftly decline in health after our leaving. I do remember LaGuardia airport, and thinking what a shithole it was. And I remember crying like a baby in the back of our new boarding school headmaster’s red van, watching blurs of lush green trees breeze past on the highway through Connecticut.

My sister and I now refer to that point of our lives as the time spent in the ‘Scorpion House’. Nothing was ever resolved from the sexual molestation accusations. After unsuccessful family ‘therapy’ sessions with an unqualified Moonie counselor, she came to the conclusion my father was a wholesome man and that my mother was out of line. Any previously induced answers my brothers had given about what had happened to them were withdrawn and denied. Later in life, I would learn that a male friend of my grandparents had sexually abused my mother. Whether my mother sincerely felt her children were abused, or perhaps her projecting issues of her own abuse, nothing ever came out of the conflict and it has dropped from the pages of our family’s past.

When I had finished high school, I flew back to Phoenix to visit my ailing grandparents and visit three friends from my Charter school days. A friend brought me to the gates of my old school, and I peeked through the warm bars at the bright courtyard of the only place I had ever been happy.

A Beginning

It's hard to say when the Summer of Cheesecake really began. In one sense it has always been and always will be. But if forced to pinpoint an actual beginning, it would be the winter of 2000. The entire world had just been in an uproar over Y2K and the world potentially ending. There was the frenetic countdown to doomsday as the world imbibed enough champagne to soften the blow of The End.

But the world hadn't ended - at least not in the conventional sense. However, in a dark house in Mesa Arizona the tiny shreds of my family's existence were about to unravel in a way that rivaled the end of the world. At 15, I was a catalyst for that unraveling - a fact that I still have not found a way to forgive myself for.

It was my sophomore year of highschool and I had just dropped out of school after being moved across Phoenix and into my tenth school in eleven years. By this time, my family was used to my inability to handle the social interactions of public school and just tended to look the other way when I declared that I was leaving school to "homeschool." The schoolwork had never been an issue - I was always a straight A student.

But from about first grade on, there seemed to be an evident design flaw in my internal makeup that made me absolutely crumble and fall apart in the school systems. It didn't help that every year my family moved, thus forcing me and my siblings into new school systems where we had to search out new friends and rebuild our lives from the ground up.

Kindergarten had been great - shortly thereafter a move from Fairfax, VA to Charlottesville showed me how difficult it was to begin again. As the only child of five in school at that point, my mother was at a bit of a loss as to how to deal with this struggling six-year old. Often she would take me to Dunkin Donuts for a treat and a pep-talk before dropping me off. Those would usually get me through, until I discovered the art of playing hookey.

By fifth grade I was a master and I missed as many school days as I could without coming up on any one's radar. Those days alone with my mom were paradise - I had her attention, and even if it meant laying on the couch watching "The Price is Right," I looked forward to being able to monopolize her time.

She was no fool either and understood on some level that I was taking the equivalent of "Personal Days." Soon she let me give up the sick act and I was able to leave my post on the couch and spend real time with her.

But every paradise has its shadow - and my time with my mother was colored with darker clouds than I ever could have comprehended at that time. Once in a car-ride home during those elementary school years she asked me, out of the blue, if I had ever inappropriately touched my little brothers. Given our strict religious up-bringing I knew that any touching in the "holy places" was considered inappropriate - and my young self was shocked by the question.

Part of me felt accused, and the other part of me wondered why she would ever ask such a question. My fumbling answer was that I might have accidentally touched them while cleaning them up during a diaper change, but my mind reeled to remember if I could have done something horribly wrong.

At that point in my life I began to question whether I had committed certain atrocities with no memory of them - my father had an incredible ability to have absolutely no memory of hitting us or cursing at us when we would tell our mom. Perhaps, I thought, I might have inherited this disease - but that was a thought I kept locked tightly within myself.

Another time during my hookey days my mother confided in me that she thought my father might be touching my brothers. She said that she had been seeing a counselor to talk about it, but had stopped when the psychologist had "begun shouting 'penis! Penis!'" At ten I didn't really comprehend what she was talking about and was frightened by the information, and the potential that people might randomly begin shouting words that I liked to pretend didn't exist.

Over the years these memories faded and became something half-remembered, like dreams and the things one reads in books.

After years of playing hookey, and spending significant time recovering from a broken collarbone in fifth grade and a devastating bike accident in sixth grade, the time with my mother had begun to be more like a strange other-world of gloom. I watched her suffer from depression in an unhappy marriage, I watched her struggle with her self worth and I saw her ever increasing battles with her health.

By the seventh grade my own structure was so damaged that I could no longer deal with school and I dropped out in my second semester. The "homeschooling" I did consisted of lackadaisical readings of the library of Encyclopedias my family had, with some drawing and reading to pass the time as my family didn't have the money to afford a accredited curriculum.

When I was twelve my family moved from Virginia to Arizona and another part of me caved in. While I managed to get through the first semester of eighth grade, the culture shock of the cross-country move had reverberated through me so deeply that I began falling apart again. My mother was too tired to fight me and I stopped going to school again. By the time high school rolled around I had found an inner reserve and managed to enroll again.

It was the only year I was ever happy in school. For the first time I easily found friends and even managed to find a kind, supportive boyfriend. Surprisingly, despite having made no real academic progress in the past semester, I didn't struggle and managed to come home with A's. Family life was a constant source of pain, but for the first time I learned that school could be an escape and friends could be a surrogate support system.

Then my family decided to move again. In part it was based on the fact that my mother found out I had a boyfriend. In our church it was strictly forbidden to date, as your spouse would be chosen for you from within the church. Sex before marriage was the deadliest sin, and my mother saw an opportunity to save me from what she considered a living death.

And that's how we found ourselves in Mesa Arizona. It was far away enough that my boyfriend broke up with me, and I was safe. My siblings and I all began new schools, and began rebuilding our lives. But this time I couldn't rebuild and I found myself in constant mourning for the life I had been torn away from. Bringing home C's and D's, I stumbled through the first semester before calling it quits. Our dad had been interviewing for a job in Hawaii anyway, so what was the point of trying? I simply went back to my encyclopedias and into a deep depression.

Looking back, I suppose that the depression eased its way into an insanity of sorts. A few shorts weeks after we had moved into our new house in Mesa, a neighbor came over to tell us that the previous occupant had shot himself inside. It took three weeks before anyone discovered the body - that, she said, was that lurking smell the house seemed to still have. Not long after I discovered the blood stains behind the refrigerator and the tiny, almost indiscernible, trail leading into the laundry room. There, I confirmed, was where he must have met his end.

The house seemed to bear the marks of his despair, just as it still retained the droplets of his blood in the wallpaper. It seemed to imbue and penetrate us all. We all sunk a little deeper into our own forms of madness that year. My father began to scream more, threatening us all more often with both verbal and physical violence. That year was the first time I remember him hitting my mother. My sister pulled away, my brothers were strung out on tension and chaos. I began to embrace that hungry feeling that settled into my body shortly after dinners made to stretch for a family of seven. Knives also began to have a haunting appeal as I began to wonder what it would be like to dig into my skin.

The madness culminated on a dark afternoon. My mom was laying on the bottom bunk in the room I shared with my sister; I sat on the floor facing her. Our eyes were wide, as though by straining we might be able to see some light in the gloom. She asked me what was wrong with our family. It was a conversation we had had many times before in the years I had stayed home with her. Never before had I had an answer.

But that afternoon a thought, long supressed and warped after years of hiding, inched its way from the back of my brain and to the tip of my tounge. Holding it back, I began to shake with the effort to fight it off. Finally it spilled out:

"I think I know."

Monday, January 2, 2012


I first learned I was different at five years old. When I was younger, my family would rise at 5am every morning to do Pledge. In our Winnie the Pooh footie pajamas, we’d be woken from bed to head to the living room, where we’d bow to True Parents, sing hymns, and read from scripture.
Despite being exhausted, we were woken up before dawn to kyung bae (bow) like zombies and sit cross-legged before a cheap Sam’s Club coffee table holding a picture of the Moons. Feeling guilty for missing my bed, I’d close my eyes while listening to my father recite emphatically from The Divine Principle or one of the other dozens of books every Moonie was supposed to own.
Pledge was named (I think) for a list of 10-12 pledges where we’d swear to uphold the heavenly kingdom by a reciting a list of holy laws. Updated lists translated from Korean would often re-word the pledges once a year or lengthen the list, but the recitation of these began every morning ceremony. We would fully bow to the photograph of Reverend and Mrs. Moon three times; from standing position we would kneel and press our foreheads to the floor. My parents would pick some hymns or holy songs as they were called; often translated Korean songs or rock n’ roll socks from the 1960’s with ‘Lord’ replacing ‘baby’ (this version of the Beatles’ ‘8 Days a Week’ was popular at church camp.) My parents would select one or two sections of Unification Church published literature and read aloud for a half an hour, afterward we were all expected to pray for five to ten minutes.
My parents would open pray out loud in a low speaking voice or a whisper, sometimes crying, pleading with the lord to help us make the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth and ‘bring the victory’. I had no concept of hypocrisy at that age, but I remember feeling uncomfortable watching my father pray so ardently. It felt like he was putting on a show; a competition to be the most emotional while praying so you could he more lax in his behavior later. I felt my mother was more genuine in her prayers, though certainly no less fanatical. Even at five I could feel the loneliness my mother carried inside her like a lead weight, and that her kneeling and praying before the coffee table shrine was the closest thing she’d get to leaving God a voicemail.

As a child, I can’t recall actually understanding or absorbing most of the information. Core ideas like honoring your parents, saving your purity until marriage, and battling Satan’s many temptations were re-fed to us throughout our childhood, whether at Sunday school, church camp, or religious workshops. I can’t specifically remember them from solely from Pledge; however, the tunes and manically pious lyrics were engrained into my subconscious:
“Gratefully I give, offering to him. Triumph and glorious love!”
Among my parents book collection of religious doctrine I recall a large paperback book with a kelly-green cover. Within its pages of teaching it held colorful diagrams that were meant to assist in explaining theological concepts. One in particular illustration that stands out in my mind had oblong ovals labeled: God, Man, and Woman. Arrows directed how God connects fully with man, and that the woman only receives God’s love and influence through a man. I’d only pull the book off the bookshelf to look at the pictures; I figured I’d make more sense of the colored diagrams since I didn’t have the attention span to delve through the pages of text. Yet somehow, my kid brain couldn’t process that God wouldn’t talk to me or love me directly because I was a girl.
I don’t remember praying as fervently as my parents did, I would often sneak glances at my better-behaved sister and make silly faces at her while my parents prayed. I couldn’t wait until they finished; two glorious promises of cinnamon toast and bed awaited me. After Pledge, my mom would make us cinnamon and sugar toast as a reward for getting up early and sitting through 45 minutes of prayer. One morning as I watched the sky lighten in gradual shades of blue, I munched on my toast and thought about the houses across the street with their living room lights turning on. I asked my mother if our neighbors got up as early as we did for Pledge, and without much of an explanation as to why, she answered that not all families do Pledge. I was confused. Why not? While ‘normal’ is not quite a formed idea in a small child’s mind, what their families are like is the basis to compare the rest of the world on, and I had simply assumed that every other family on our cul-de-sac got up to pray the same time we did.
It was the first of many lessons on how I was different from every kid in all the neighborhoods we’d live, all my peers in school, every friend I’d ever have, and that I was far from normal.