Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tania's Story 1990-1991

I was a "student" there in 1990-1991.

My name at the time was Tania (I have since changed my name). I was the first "new girl" in the Jay, FL school.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Christina and Katie, "helpers" from the California school. My stuff was searched, I was searched, changed into "appropriate" clothes, and said a very formal and unemotional goodbye to my parents.

Evening chapel that first week was obviously directed toward me.

I "got saved" every night in hopes of stopping the pointed attention to my sinful, disgusting self. (How I was made to feel- NOT what I actually think of myself!)

I had such a hard time with "the rules"-the unspoken, unknown rules. You didn't know a rule until you broke it. I lost the "privilege" of my two week break-in period when I said "yeah" instead of "yes ma'am" too many times, and rolled my eyes too many times for Mrs. Palmer's liking. I started writing lines before my first week was up.

I was force fed my first meal. There was a DESSERT I didn't like. I was made to finish it. After a long stand-off at the table, I was fed the remainder of my food. Then, made to clean up.

I had very short hair (had shaved my head) and I often heard comments from staff about appearing to be homosexual or various other comments. (Not the case. They should have been more concerned about my insane desire for a boyfriend!)

I feared the Palmers. They were calculated and unforgiving.

I was relieved every time they left to tie up loose ends in California. The Browns (both couples) were much kinder. "Ma", the Mexican lady that cooked for us, was so sweet.

When the Palmers returned, she and I both got in trouble when she comforted me for crying. She was in a lot of trouble for teaching me to say "Good Morning, How Are You, Well, Thank God" in Spanish.

Our new dorm mother, Connie, was the only person who seemed to really "get" God. Not religion, but JESUS.

Brother and Mrs Sullivan were wonderful people. I used to love hearing Mrs Sullivan come into the school room to ask if I was done with my work or if I could be spared, to go work in the yard.

For as much as I hated the school, I LOVED Mrs Sullivan, and owe being a hobby farmer to that woman.

She was one of the only staff that LOVED the girls, and showed that often.

I got my "year" started over around 6 months or so. I was sent to the GR room- a walk-in closet that was locked- for being disruptive in school. I was stripped of all my clothes except a tshirt and underwear, and given my Bible. I snuck a chapstick in with me. I kicked 13 holes into the wall, used the chapstick to write offensive stuff on the walls. I was "restrained" (tied to a chair) until I talked to the pastor.

I spent a week in that closet.

When I was allowed to rejoin the group (on "silence" restriction, of course), it was obvious the other girls were afraid- if not of ME, then of what would happen in they showed even a hint of sympathy or a kind smile.

It stayed that way until I "got saved" again.

I remember a scare tactic "lesson" on abortion. We were all told what "murderers" we would be. One girl left the room, crying hysterically.

No one was allowed to comfort her. No one was allowed to ask her about it.

Her bed was close to mine, and I listened to her cry herself to sleep that night.

After my little episode in the GR room, my mom worked it out with the Palmers to keep me until I was 18. (I was 15 when I started attending.)

I didn't stay that long.

I eventually "got with the program". I "got saved" enough to make it appear to the staff that I had repented of my sins, and followed enough of the rules to work my way to "dorm helper" status- the highest "helper" position.

I made "remarkable progress", had agreed to abandon all my old friends and ways, and was told my parents would allow me to come home to start my junior year of highschool. (total time at Victory approx 18 months)

A few weeks before going home, I panicked. Completely freaked out. To the point of losing helper status and going back on "buddy" and dorm silence.

School was bad. Home was going to be bad. There was nowhere to go.

I was sent home. Actually took a plane by myself. I contemplated running away in NC, where I had to change planes, but went home.

Ironically on homecoming, my parents told me I needed to drop all the boarding school "crap", but "better behave".

I was SO confused.

The rules of boarding school were so STUCK in my head. I failed Gym Class for refusing to wear pants. I abandoned all my "worldly friends". I tried to evangelize my parents and my siblings.

When I couldn't mesh back in to the "real world", I begged to be sent back. When my parents refused, I went the opposite direction. Back to my old lifestyle, back to biding my time until my 18th birthday. The day I turned 18, I packed a backpack and walked out, living on the streets.
That was years ago.

It took years of hard-knock life and therapy to undo my mess.

Some things still confuse me.

I hated God for a long time.

It wasn't until YEARS later that I realized they never introduce me to GOD, they introduced me to mind-control cult religion.

I eventually came to God, the REAL God, as a Christian. I DO believe in Jesus, and I want to be like Him.

Nothing about that school looks like the Jesus I've read about in the Bible (NOT that blasted King James Version, either!)

I still struggle with "religion".

I still struggle to tell the difference between FAITH and religion.

The Bible tells us that faith without love is useless.

There is no love in that school.

It's not allowed.

I remember having an argument with Brother Palmer about how the Bible says "God is Love".

He laughed at me, and told me love based faith was "out of the will of God." and that maybe I wasn't really saved.

End of argument. Back on buddy. Dorm silence. And more of those pointed sermons, determined to "save" me. Until I once again, "got saved".

Not all my memories were terrible.

There were some fun times. (Well, when you hadn't gotten so many demerits for saying "yeah" that you weren't allowed to participate in Friday Nights.)

And as sad as it is to admit, that school WAS a better, more peaceful existence than my home life (another story and more therapy!)

I hate that we weren't allowed to keep in touch with the other girls.

I've often wondered what happened to Christina and Katie. Are they still militant helpers? Did they "keep the faith"? Did they leave and look back on their time at the school fondly? Did they hate it?

I saw Sharlene's story.

I wonder what ever happened to Diane, the second new girl at the Florida school.

Or any of the other girls I knew there- though we never really were allowed to KNOW the other girls, were we?
Did we eventually turn out "normal"?

And the staff.

Did all of them believe in this school?

I always wondered if Connie thought the school was something different when she took the job. She eventually left, and Virginia (Sullivan) took over as dorm mother.

What of Brother Jimmy?

I'll never forget him spitting out, in that southern accent, "Before you lay yer head down on yer piller tonight, you'd better make sure you know Jeezus." and the lyrics to "I'll Fly Away".

Oh, music! Do you know I once got demerits and got the entire dorm's music priveleges taken away for "dancing" (swaying) to an acapella rendition of "Beulah Land"!?!?

What of Amy and Niko?

Or little Mike Palmer and his wife?

When I googled VCA, I was mostly just wondering if that place still existed.

I didn't realize there was a whole BUNCH of people who felt like that place was something they "survived" in their childhood.

I have moved on.

It took years of therapy, years of figuring things out, and years of some hard knocks.

I'm married now. I have two teenage boys (14 &16) that live with their dad- I didn't get my act together until many years after they were born.

I also have two young daughters (2 &3), and expecting another in June.

We live in Alaska (thousands of miles from my past!).

We homestead and run a small hobby farm.

We have FAITH, minus religion.

We love our neighbors as ourselves.

We live a quiet life.

It took a long time, but I learned to like me.

I wish I could say I've forgotten about VCA or Jay, FL or the way things were.

I haven't.

I probably won't.

I hope any of the other "girls" I went to school with at VCA are now living content lives.

Most of all, I hope you know the one lesson we definitely did NOT learn at VCA-

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and LOVED.