It all started on my younger brother Joseph’s 18th Birthday. At the time, there was no way of knowing it was the start of anything, but in retrospect, it is clear that is when it started. But I guess I need to go back a little bit farther for that to make any sense.
My name is Anna Thrush and I grew up under very strange circumstances. Since before I was born (and I was 20 at the time this story unfolds), my parents had been members of a strange religious cult. Now, at the time I had no idea that we were the members of a strange religious cult. When you are born into something, it just seems normal. It was only later in life that I realized how different it was for the rest of the world.
I guess I can’t just skip ahead; you need to understand some of the ways in which my community was so strange. We called ourselves “The Light and The Way,” and we were ostensibly Christian. We read the Bible and celebrated Christmas and all that (although our Christmas was much more subdued than the strange carnival that you ‘regular’ Christians call Christmas).
Anyway, what really sets us apart from other Christians isn’t so much about the Bible or anything like that. I mean, the church leaders SAID that all of the rules were in the Bible, but I’ve never seen any evidence that that is true. No, what really set us apart was the strict way in which we live our lives, especially women.
For a woman, from the time you are born until you are married you are supposed to stay in your parents’ home or on their property at all times. In fact, every person in our community has big privacy hedges around the outside of their property to prevent people from outside of the Light and the Way from seeing women. Now that seems so strange, but growing up that was just the way life was. My parents owned about 25 acres of land in a secluded area in Idaho. And I stayed on that property.
Despite our seclusion, both women and men were encouraged to dress modestly. Every day I wore a big, billowy dress that went down to the floor and a bonnet. Both had very dull colors. I wore no makeup and had only one pair of shoes.I later learned later that I would be considered an attractive girl. At that age I was around 5’2 and 115lbs, but I had no idea what that meant in relation to other people. I had medium-sized breasts (although I didn’t know that either) and flared hips. My hair was very long and chestnut in color and my eyes were green. For what it is worth, men wore long black pants and long-sleeved white shirts every day. My brother was taller than me, around 5’9 and stocky in build. He had a square chin, short cropped brown hair, and blue eyes.
In addition to our simplicity of dress and modesty about appearance, we were fanatical about personal hygiene. We brushed our teeth three times a day, we shampooed our hair every other day, and showered every day. For religious fanatics, that is pretty good. From the time I was a little girl I was encouraged to wear deodorant and my mother told me from the time I first got my period that I was required to wax off all of the hair below my head once a week. Apparently, one of the prophets of our religion had taken the homely saying “cleanliness is godliness” to be a literal truth and our church had continued that tradition thereafter. I would later learn that rule only applied to women.
Of course, I was homeschooled. My mother provided the lessons and they were almost exclusively on the Bible. I learned to write well (or so I have been told), but my math never progressed much beyond arithmetic. Science was rarely discussed. For what it is worth, my brother got largely the same education that I did. So, despite the various weird things the church did to keep women down, education wasn’t one of them.
But there were very unpleasant aspects about being a woman. The only time women leave their homes was on Sunday, for Church. For church, my father would put my mother and I in a car with the windows blacked out and we would go into the Women’s Entrance to the church. There we would worship with the other women, the only man in the room being the Women’s Preacher, John Davis. All my life he was an old man with a prodigious gut. There would be about 100 women in the church and the four or five hours we spent there would be the extent of my socializing for the week. After church, one by one mothers and daughters would leave the Church and get back into their black-windowed cars. It was set up in such a way that when we got outside, my father was already there.
The long and the short of all of this was that women never saw a man that was not their father or their brother (Except the preacher). According to the teachings of the church it was sinful for non-family members to see an unmarried woman. Even married women had very little contact with men other than their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. By the time I left the community I had only ever met three men in my life. My father, my brother, and the Women’s Preacher.
Obviously, in a repressed society like this, sex was not discussed. I must’ve been curious about it at one point in my life, I mean where did I come from? But my parents only had two children so I didn’t see babies much. Even in Church, there were only occasionally pregnant women. It just did not come up. I knew that according to tradition, at some point after my 20th Birthday but before my 21st, my father would take me by myself to church. A man would be there, probably ten to fifteen years older than me, and he would be my husband. I would know his mother and his sisters, but it would be the first time I’d ever see him. And then we’d make a family. I really didn’t know how, but that was what would happen (The only animals we kept on our farm were birds, mostly chickens, and so I’d never even seen animals have sex). It was always a nagging fear that I would marry someone who was awful, although I could not really make strong opinions about what that would mean. But it was a distant fear.
Life for my younger brother was largely the same. He only left the farm for church, he only saw men, and the only women he knew were my mother and me. He was my only companion growing up and while in other circumstances we might fight, it was not an option for us. We had to be friends because otherwise we’d be totally alone. I still have fond memories of playing the barn growing up and making silly faces at one another. Despite all of these oddities of my childhood, I was pretty happy.
But things in our community changed for boys when they reached 18. The men would drive into the city every week to sell our farm produce at markets. This was how we made extra money, by selling hand-made butter and things to others. The bulk of our money (and the money of everyone in our community), I would later learn, came from leasing mineral deposits. We just sort of played farmer while we collected the royalties that actually paid the bills. Not that it seemed that way; life was an unceasing list of chores and farm routine.
That is what made my brother’s 18th Birthday so exciting, and how it began the most important change in my life. Joseph and my father woke up very early and met up with the other men to drive to the city. I was still sleeping by the time they left. But that entire day was a blur. I got up, ate breakfast with my mother, tended the chickens, weeded the vegetable garden, and did some sewing. These were all normal activities. But I wasn’t really thinking about them, I was just thinking about Joseph’s trip from the farm. My Father never told me what the rest of the world was like. Joseph had already sworn to our Father that he wouldn’t tell me anything either. But he’d also sworn to me in secrecy that he would share everything that he learned.