One auspicious morning in 1912, two female ministers knocked wearily on the door of a ramshackle farmhouse. My great-grandfather answered. Two 4-year-old girls with messy blond hair (my grandmother and her twin) peered at the women from behind their father’s knees.
The two women, tired from proselytizing the good word from house to house to any neighbor who refrained from slamming the door in their faces, asked for a glass of water. “Sure, in fact, you can have a glass of milk,” my great-grandfather answered jovially. To offer milk to a stranger was the ultimate act of goodwill in this poor farming community.
From that day on, my great-grandparents and their six children became zealous followed of The Truth. And it was then, when the ministers of The Truth were kindly offered milk instead of water, that my story begins.
Hi, my name is Beatrix and I was raised in a cult. Not a scary cult, the kind with malicious leaders and human sacrifice. No, if you were to step inside of its world, you would find it to be so benign that it would remind you of a friendly dog that melts your heart and makes you want to scratch it behind the ears. And I still do, want to kneel down, scratch it behind the ears, and stew in all of the fond, if not sometimes bittersweet memories of the tightly-knit, puritanical community in which I was raised.
My sister and I were fourth-generation members of this community, that is, until we both left like the errant goats that we are. The members are called “friends.” If a member were to inquire about an individual’s membership to the community they would ask, “Are they one of the friends?”
The cult also self-references itself as “The Truth.” If you google search it, it is also referred to as “two by twos” and “cooneyites” although these are foreign titles to the actual members who pride themselves on being non-denominational and having no name at all other than, of course, calling it The Truth.
The Truth vehemently claims to be the only correct interpretation of The Holy Bible – as all Christian-based religions do. The Truth claims to be as old as God himself. One quick google search, however, will reveal that it was founded by a Scottish evangelist named William Irving in 1902. In 1914, Irving entered into ideological conflict with the regional overseers he had appointed, and was excommunicated from the church. Irving is never mentioned within the church walls.
Ministers in The Truth are homeless and bounce from house to house of the church members. “Worldly” attitudes and activities are discouraged. On the forbidden list is TV, divorce, pre-marital sex, jewelry, makeup, women in leadership roles, and tolerance of other religions or ways or life. Women are to obey their husbands. Tithings are expected of all members but are given in secret to regional ministers.
When I grew up in this community, it was a Quakerism-meets-Mormonism environment where people dressed so plainly you’d almost expect to see covered wagons among the congregation. Today, women are still, for the most part, long-skirt-wearing, makeupless, and bun-headed, however the invention of the internet has allowed some “worldly” influences to infiltrate the dress-code and general puritanical behaviors.
But I grew up as sheltered as a potato-bug curled up under a rock. My Friday nights as an adolescent consisted of hymn-sings instead of parties and soda instead of booze.
My parents, whose marriage was little more than a business contract made at the tender age of 19, stiltedly played their roles of husband-and-wife while sleeping in separate bedrooms and refraining from engaging in goodbye kisses or any general acts of affection.
I was encased in a protective bubble against the world which could potentially bite, sting or slay me…rape my virgin mind or lure me into a dubious realm of fleshly pleasures and spiritual suicide.
It was a “Pleasantville” of sorts, a black and white reality designed to eradicate the highs and lows of life due to its lack of color. Just like in the film where Reese Witherspoon attempts to fit into the 1950’s town where residents are seemingly perfect, so did I attempt to play my role as a perfect daughter and young woman. I played this role with acting chops so precise that sometimes I convinced myself that this Truth was my Truth. But at the end of the day, I always knew I was an outsider, a “Doubting-Thomas” to use a biblical reference. I counted down the days to when I would enter legal adulthood and could venture out into the world of color.
But I didn’t leave without some nostalgia. The people in my childhood cult wore genuine smiles. Not the contrived smiles of saccharine waitresses, but the smiles of the pure of heart. The smiles of the untainted. The smiles of those feeling goodwill towards others. I miss the way “the friends” smiled.
I miss the 5-day-long church conventions that were held in late August. I remember them so vividly. The days were scorching hot. Three church services were held per day in giant tents. Here, 300 or so people would be fanning themselves and popping hard candies. The elderly would be dozing off and the little ones would be squirming and fussing. Silver-haired “elder” ministers would be preaching monotonously about New Testament miracles and the straight and narrow path to salvation.
And here there was a energy that was undeniable. It was an electrical charge that enveloped the whole congregations. It was a kind of peacefulness, a contentment, if not bordering on mundanity. And it was/is sacred. I know this, even though I have extricated myself from this group of individuals.
Perhaps these strong community ties that I broke away from when I left my childhood home in “Pleasantville” at the age of eighteen are why I have spent my adult life forging my own community. It is why I have sought out and found my own motley assortment of tribal members I have met along my brave journey into the “big, troublesome” world.
Perhaps this is why the people I have christened as my own “friends” are a small handful of individuals who I would take a bullet for, and I know they would do the same for me. And perhaps this is why everyone I have dated since leaving this community I have stayed close friends with. My exes as well as my friends have become, in a sense, my family.
Because when I ventured out from under my rock and faced the dark forest of “the world” without my community as my refuge, I knew that I needed to find my own allies. I knew that human-ties were sacred and not to be taken lightly.
So now, when I find an ally in the world, they forever become an earth angel for me, and I for them. This is how I live – friend to all of the pure of heart who I meet on my wondrous, solo journey. And my friends are my right-hand knights. They help me slay my dragons, and I help them slay theirs. #thesearemyfriends #thisismytruth