“I’ve been trying to justify you
In the end, I will just defy you.” –Dream Theater, ‘Honor Thy Father’
It started with fights, and I’d never heard my parents yelling. I would be in bed already. Alicia had missed her curfew again. Dad was yelling at her. I crawled out of bed and hid at the bottom of the stairs, listening.
“You’ve made your mom worry sick about you.”
“Dad, I just barely missed it.”
“Where were you? Out partying with your friends again?”
“My youth group friends, dad. They’re Christians…”
“Because our family church isn’t good enough for you, huh?”
Alicia was the person I loved most in the world. When I was a child, I hated getting my hair brushed. Mom would tug at the knots and snarls, and she could move my head by my hair, making me scream and cry. Later on, if my mother ever grabbed my hair, I’d freeze and obey her commands instinctively. Alicia brushed my hair gently, working up from the ends.
I also fondly remember helping with laundry, because she let me clean the lint filter in the dryer, which was fun. When we made Kraft macaroni and cheese, Alicia let me pour the cheese pouches. With these little acts of consideration, she won my affection.
When my family attended Kevin Swanson’s church and my friends there pressured me into wanting a simple life, Alicia fed my love for music. She took me to concerts, and helped me buy my first tall black boots and a jacket with red and black fabric. I wore cool clothes because of her. All of the kids who remember when Alicia still lived with us have sweet memories about why they loved her.
One day in 2003, when I was listening at the bottom of the stairs to my parents arguing with Alicia, I heard dad say, “Get out of my house. You own a car. You can sleep in that tonight.”
She yelled back, “Fine! I will!”
Horrified, I ran upstairs and hugged Alicia. I knew I couldn’t keep her here by wrapping my small, thin arms around her, but I clung like I could. I started crying and begged her not to leave.
I became the device for the argument. “This is why you can’t treat me this way!” Alicia said.
“No, this is why you need to stop being such a bad influence!” Dad said, pointing at me. “Look, they’re attached to you. They’ll do everything you do.”
I cried louder, drowning out their voices. Then I was scolded and punished, but at least I’d made a distraction from the unbearable fighting.
Through more spying and listening in on adult conversations, I learned more of what Alicia had done: at first, she just wanted friends who didn’t go to our parents’ church. My parents said her clothes were too immodest, and once she got in trouble for sitting on a boy’s lap for a picture. Alicia brought Christian guys home, to see if my dad approved of them as friends. My parents didn’t like the friends she chose, and dad didn’t like her first boyfriend.
“No matter what I did, I was rebellious and in trouble,” she told me recently. “So I gave up trying. I thought, ‘If I’m going to be accused of being a bad kid, might as well make the most of it.’”
That’s when she took a housesitting job when she was 18, and hosted parties there. She drank alcohol and she had sex. This was the worst thing she could possibly have done, according to the standards of the world I grew up in.
As the story was told on The Learning Channel, Alicia tried family counseling, and then chose to move away from the family.
What actually happened was that my dad gave her an ultimatum: live in Kevin Swanson’s basement until she’d repented of her ways and submitted to her father’s authority in every way, or she could never see her siblings again.
My parents both cried on my shoulders when I was eleven. They told me all about the pain and heartbreak they were feeling, and I comforted them as best I could. I’d lost my sister, but I told myself that my parents were in more pain than I was. Alissa moved out soon afterward (a different story altogether), and I became the oldest kid in the house, and I became responsible for far more chores than before.
Between the ages of 11 and 14, I learned that mom and dad could express their emotions, but I could not. That was puberty for me.
I was determined to never turn my back on faith and family, as Alicia had.