“Are you ready Margaret?” My father stands, Bible in hand, at the front door. Beside him my mother’s face pales. She hates confrontations.
“I’m not going.” I say it the way I’ve practiced it, my voice firm and flat. I’ve decided to drop out.
“Stop talking nonsense and get your coat on. We’re going to be late.” He believes he has authority on his side; that I can’t afford to fight him. But I know I can’t afford not to.
“Go, then. Don’t be late.” I turn away toward my room, and hear the sound of his firm footfalls behind me. He grabs my arm, squeezing until it hurts. Tomorrow the black and blue bruise will be invisible beneath my sleeve. The narrow hallway closes me in, traps me like a rat in a maze with no way out.
“Get your coat.” I don’t look at his face. I can’t. I know it will be dark with rage. I know what will happen to me if I don’t give in.
“Fine.” I pull my arm away from his grasp and hurry to my bedroom. I pull my coat around me like a shield and lift my Bible from the dresser.
Outside the sun shines in a clear blue sky. I look back at the house. Shaded by tall fir trees, it looks shadowed and brooding even on this bright day.
The drive to church is silent, but the silence is full of my father’s anger, my mother’s fear, and my rebellion. Though my father and I each carry a Bible, he sees different words than I see. He knows a different God. I caress the leather cover of the Holy Book, the book that speaks to me of grace and love. My father’s Bible is a weapon to bring pain into our lives. Mine is a refuge from his pain. But I struggle with one verse: Honor thy father.
My friend Alana says that honor does not mean allowing yourself to be beaten and cursed. She talks about forgiveness from a distance. It is time for me to put distance between my father and me; to drop out of the constant face to face war. She will know when she comes by my house that I have lost my battle there.
I walk in the front door of the meeting house with my parents. The curtains are shut tight, sealing out the sunlight. Our lives are lived in the gloom. We sit in the semi-darkness as Brother Regis stamps and postures in front of us, raising his voice in shouts and moans. The holy words are twisted and turned until they can’t be recognized.
At the last prayer I walk out while my father stands, back turned, as he speaks to Elder Riggs. My mother watches me as I go. I must hurry. Alana will be outside in her gray Volkswagen.
Nearly running, I push open the heavy door and rush toward the car and freedom. As I open the passenger door, a hand grabs my arm. I turn to see my mother standing next to me, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“Wait! Wait, I’m coming, too.” She moves toward the rear door, pulling twice before Alana clicks the lock to open it. My mother stumbles and falls into the back. “Hurry before he comes.”
Within seconds we pull out of the parking lot, turning right, away from the dark place where we’ve been. The tight bands of fear that squeeze my chest release. I look back at my mother. Her arms are crossed in front of her, hands on her shoulders, and she shakes as if she will never be warm. I reach over the back of my seat and touch her. A smile breaks out on her face, though tears still fill her eyes. She has been very brave, this quiet mouse who is my mother. She has joined my flight from darkness.
The little gray VW feels like a chariot carrying us to freedom.
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