Two nights ago, my father abruptly ended a phone conversation with me after three minutes. I hadn’t spoken to him in more than a year after he had disowned me.
Last night, my brother told me he didn’t want me in his life.
About two weeks ago, my mother texted me that she didn’t think it wise to spend time with me.
I’ve been asking myself this same question lately too.
I’m about to move to Lihue, HI and thought it would be in my best interest to make amends with my family before I take this giant leap across the Pacific. Maybe I’m naïve.
In 1984, my mother started reading literature from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and in 1987, one year after I was born, she was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness.
I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. I never had a choice. It was put in front of me and I just had to do it.
Here is an excerpt from the memoir I’ve been slowly writing:
I had learned about God before I went to kindergarten. I was told that if I didn’t serve him and his kingdom, I would be punished and not be able to enter his paradise after the world ended. A lot of information for a child to take in.
I grew up in the kingdom hall. I got baptized when I was 13 years old. Jesus didn’t celebrate birthdays, so neither did we. As a child, I never celebrated a birthday, a Christmas, an Easter or any other “pagan” holiday. I only watched other children celebrate. I never quite understood why I wasn’t allowed to, but I never questioned it. I just did what I was told.
That’s how things were when you went to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I did this until I was about 19 years old. I got married to my brother’s wife’s brother. We double dated. It worked out, because as a JW—slang for Jehovah’s Witness—you had to have a chaperone for dates.
We just double dated. And our parents were none the wiser.
So after we married, our witnesses Joel and April Lopez, who signed out certificate, had a huge falling out with us.
I say huge. It was more like colossal. Joel was one of my husband’s best friends at the time. They had grown up together. They were practically family. Joel was also in my brothers’ band, Afterday.
He was like a brother to me. He was in his late 20s?, I want to say. When you’re 19 years old, everyone in their 20s is an old man.
I thought he was old man. Anyways, I wasn’t attracted to him.
Here’s an excerpt from my memoir:
That March, on a Friday, I was sitting on my parent’s torn-up couch with a girl—a Jehovah’s Witness friend I had made—named Ruby. The phone rang, and I answered it.
“Michelle? Michelle, it’s me. I need to talk to you. It’s very important.”
It was Joel.
“Joel? What is it? Ruby and I are here just waiting on Louis…,” I said before he cut me off.
“No! It’s about us. I need you to listen to me. I’m leaving April. I’m leaving her, Michelle. I need to know if you are coming with me,” he said. “I know you feel the same way about me. I am leaving tonight. Will you come with me?”
My face flushed. I didn’t understand.
“Leave with you where…” I said.
“It doesn’t matter where we go. We can start another life together,” he said. “We can get away from these people who want to stop us. We can be ourselves. I want you to come with me. I can’t be with her anymore.
“I want you to come with me.”
I didn’t know how to react. How would you react?
“Joel. Joel, I think you are drunk,” I said. “I am going to hang up the phone now.”
I put the phone down. I was shaking.
I told Ruby everything. At first, she asked me if I had feelings for him. I was certain I didn’t. I was repulsed by the idea. Without directly mentioning how unattracted I was to him , I’ll say this: Joel was married to someone I considered a best friend, he had a toddler and he was one of Louis’ best friends.
Ruby then convinced me that Joel hadn’t been in his right mind and that I shouldn’t tell anyone.
“Everything is going to be fine,” she said. “Tomorrow, it’ll go away.”
When Louis picked me up that afternoon, I didn’t mention it. We drove home to La Marque, Texas.
At 4:30 a.m. the following morning, April called. She wanted to know if we had heard from Joel. I panicked and tossed the phone at Louis.
Once their conversation was over, Louis turned to me and said, “April said that Joel never came home last night. He hasn’t called her. He hasn’t answered the phone and the last number dialed out from their house phone was to your parents’ house.”
She had hit the redial button! Of course she would do that.
I felt sick. I couldn’t keep it from him. I told him that Joel had called me. I told him what he had said, and I told him what Ruby had said. He immediately called April back and explained what had happened.
The weekend dragged on. By Sunday night, Joel had returned home. An Elder from my congregation called Louis and told him that he wanted to set up a meeting between both of our families. He wanted me to face Joel. I didn’t want to go.
Louis went alone and he sat down with April, Joel, and an Elder. During the meeting, Joel said that I felt the same way about him and that all these years that we had been friends, he knew that I secretly liked him. He said that I had “given him signs” and that I had seduced him.
Louis even questioned me one day, asking me if I had seduced Joel.
“Of course not!” I said. I don’t know why I had to defend myself.
I was so ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know.
But word got around.
Joel and April told everyone in the congregation what had happened. The Christian friends I thought I had were all convinced that I had seduced Joel and destroyed his perfect union under God.
April confronted me one night in a park, and after question upon question, she slapped me and proclaimed me guilty of everything. Louis’ sister paid me a visit one day at work. She cursed at me and called me a whore.
The congregation ostracized me, and I stopped going to the kingdom hall. I was shunned by them.
Two months into our marriage, Louis and I began to distrust each other. That’s when I decided that I wouldn’t pretend to be something that I was not. Religion is a façade of faith and happiness. I needed the real thing.
10 years ago I stopped going to the Kingdom Hall. I told my mom this year that I wasn’t planning on going back. That I had finally made that decision.
She told me that me saying that was like me saying that I was totally rejecting her. As if I had just told her I didn’t want anything to do with her. Or didn’t love her.
And she started to cry. I still love her.
My dad, also a Jehovah’s Witness and divorced from my mom, hasn’t talked me since I separated from my husband more than a year ago.
Two of my brothers are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The one from last night said he doesn’t condone my lifestyle and if something is not spiritual, he will not let even an ounce in.
For me, if something is negative and not making me happy, I won’t let that in. So I guess we want the same things.
The other brother, the one I used to double date with, said he loves me and would like to have dinner. That’s promising.
My other two brothers and sisters are there for me at least.
I have a huge complicated tangled mess of a family.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t make my own.
I’m planning to have a small going away dinner with close friends and some family on Saturday to celebrate me and my accomplishments.
I miss Las Vegas. I miss the people there. I miss the newsroom. I miss those stories. But I’m sure I will see all of them again.
So many things have happened in the last few weeks. I’m transitioning from city to city. I don’t even have a place to stay in Lihue yet.
I’m sure things will work out.
I’m sure I’ll figure out how to love all those disgusting beaches and that nasty weather and that horrible breeze. Eventually. I’ll just HAVE TO get used to it. Right? A good reporter learns how to adapt to even the worst of climates. GROSS. It’ll take some time getting used to.
PRAY FOR ME. HA.