When I was 9, my mom graduated with her doctorate, and she, my sister Esther and I moved to Iowa. I didn’t want to go. Though the man who had molested me still sometimes visited his children living on our block, I loved the house we rented, and our big back yard. I loved going to school with my cousin and being raised by my Giggy. I remember the day the entire extended family came over to break apart our library and take it home with them in bits and pieces. The floor-to-ceiling book shelves wrapping around the converted 2-gar-garage that was our living room would never again be all together, and I cried that we couldn’t take all of the books with us.
Esther & I had gone with our mom to look at apartments with a realtor, an expense covered by her new employers. We had learned that nearly every local store involved the word “Hawkeye” into their name somehow, as it was the local college sports team. Movers took our furniture while we flew to Iowa with our cat Jessie-bel (mispronounced Jezebel.) We stayed in a hotel for three days, bored to tears.
Finally, the movers arrived with our things. The very first things they took off the truck were our bicycles. After securing permission from our mother, Esther and I took off around our new neighborhood on our bikes. Florida is a very flat sea-level kind of place, whereas Iowa had rolling hills like we’d never seen before – angles as steep as 45 degrees! (Insert pause for mountain-dwellers’ laughter.)
We rode past pretty quadraplex and duplex homes, up the hill our apartment building sat at the bottom of, and off into the greater world. We came to the top of a hill, and stopped our bikes to look at the downward descent of the sidewalk. Feeling nervous, I hopped off and began to walk my bike down the slant, but Esther took off. In Florida, Esther hadn’t even realized her hand brakes were faulty; she could just drag the soles of her shoes along the ground to stop herself. With hills, this technique was worse than useless. As she reached the bottom of the curve, Esther’s front tire took a bad fall off the curb. I watched, stunned, as she flipped up over her handlebars to land face-first on the opposite concrete curb.
I ran down the hill to her side. I rolled her over but she was unconcious; cars started to approach the intersection. I jumped up and threw my arms out, immitating a traffic police officer and trying to stop anyone from running over my sister. They all stopped, and a number of driver’s hopped out of their cars. Someone yelled out, “Call 9-1-1!” and I screamed, “No!” terrified of what some evil doctors might do to her if they got their clutches on my sister.
A middle aged woman approached and knelt beside my sister. I grabbed my bike and raced back home as fast as my legs could propel me. I ran up the stairs when I got to our building, and threw open the door. My mother stood in the doorway, one screwdriver in her hand and another held between her teeth, tightening the door plates on the front closet.
“Esther’s bleeding!” I screamed. For a moment my mother was nonplussed, doubtless thinking I was referring to one of my sister’s countless nosebleeds. I struggled to catch my breath so I could better explain, when the sound of a siren outside reached our ears. Grabbing nothing, my mother and I ran downstairs to ride with the police officer to the accident scene.
We got there in a fraction of the time it had taken me to ride the distance, and by then Esther was awake and surrounded by EMTs. A young female medic tried to help secure my sister into a neck brace.
“Get behind me Satan!” my sister screamed at her, swinging and punching her in the face. Esther was a sweet, gentle child and while she’d certainly tattle on a sibling, I’d never heard her speak like this. After a few more moments of confusion, Esther was secured onto a board and loaded into the ambulance. My mother rode in back with her, while I was relegated to the front. I prayed the entire way to the hospital.
Once we got the hospital, the second time in my life I’d ever set foot in one, Esther was whisked off for emergency care while my mother and I were ruthlessly left to the mercies of the waiting room. Four hours passed, five, six. It was a teaching hospital and a man with absolutely no bedside manner whatsoever kept pressuring my mother to enroll my sister in his head injury study, terrifying us further. Finally someone came to tell us: Esther was going to be okay. She had suffered a hairline fracture to both the front and back of her nasal cavity, and more CAT scans were going to be needed over time, but she was okay. Finally, we could see her.
I walked into the cold beeping ICU room and saw my sister on a hospital bed, IVs stuck in her arms, her face and shoulders covered with bruising. Neither one of us had been wearing a helmet; we didn’t own them. Till about thirty people informed me of them that very day in the hospital, I’m not sure I’d heard of one. No one on our block in Florida used one, but here in Iowa it was a law. The police weren’t charging my mother with anything because it was our first day in town, and because she told them absolutely nothing of our faith healing beliefs.
Sometimes people ask why I didn’t try to get help when I was younger. With all the medical neglect and trauma I endured, why didn’t I ever just tell a teacher or police officer or a doctor what was going on? The answer is simple: I was terrified that anything outside our home would be worse than what I endured in it.
My sister and I both believed in demons. We both believed that doctors were agents of Satan. We believed this because we had been told it by our mother’s mother. Our mother raised us as faith healers, and allowed us to feel tremendous distress and guilt as a result of it, but I don’t think she ever believed in it. When I asked her at the time why she let them take Esther to the hospital when we didn’t believe in medical care, she told me she hadn’t informed them. “They would take her away from me,” is all she said. I was very confused about this prospect, which no one had ever raised before. I knew several girls in the foster care system, fellow survivors in my child sexual assault therapy group for girls aged 8-10, but had not considered the idea of being placed in it myself. However, since the only view of foster care I had was from girls sexually assaulted while in it, I never once considered self-reporting my mother’s neglect. What – was I asking to get raped again?
Jesus, this is a terrifying story. I had heard of of religious groups rejecting medical care but, as it that wasn’t chilling enough, I had not thought about the psychological effects, which seem almost as crippling. This brings a new sense to “being afraid of hospitals.” The immoral aspect of the physical neglect is so evident and self-explanatory, that I had never went beyond that, trying to put myself in the shoes of the kid suffering it. Also, hearing it from the horse’s mouth, rather than from some press release on an episodic trial somewhere in a far rural town, brings some questions to mind. How large do you think these groups still are in the US? How many kids are still growing in these conditions?
Thanks for joining my blog Luis 🙂 It would be incredibly difficult to get real numbers on families like this. Many have a large dose of anti-government paranoia and so don’t report the births and deaths of their children (although failing to report a death is a crime, and I indeed have known people who were imprisoned for it.) I was 4 before I got my birth certificate and social security card, so there is no legal record of my existence prior to that point. If I had died of medical neglect before then, I imagine my mother would have simply failed to report my death. I actually don’t know what she would’ve done. Many families we knew simply buried their dead children in the back yard or the woods (which is again, highly fucking illegal.) By their very nature as paranoid off-the-grid isolationists, they are difficult to account. My best guess would be that 10-40,000 children are growing up in conditions similar to or worse than mine in faith healing sects.
That is an extremely depressing thought. I have been checking and could not find any organization aimed at helping children in that situation (I think that’s pretty clearly child abuse.) An issue too hot to raise due to the “respect the religious beliefs” thing? I hope not, although the whole home-schooling thing, for example, would never be tolerated without religion being involved (imagine somebody asking to homeschool their children just because they think the earth is flat or they might catch germs if exposed to other kids). Do you know of anybody working on that line?