When I was kid, I was a victim of a cult from the ages of 10-16.
- I was subjected to extreme conditions.
- I lived away from my parents on a farm.
- I worked up to 14 hours a day.
- I received regular physical discipline.
- I was forced to do things against my will.
- I was incremental in helping to break up the cult when I escaped at age 16.
When I became an adult, I began to write about my experiences. It was a long slow process. Writing about your dark past is not always easy. It took me nearly 35 years to reach the point where I could truly find the emotional strength to create a published work about my childhood. Even then, I changed the names.
Face the Darkness to Find the Light
Writing about our past hurt and darkness can help us to deal with unresolved feelings. It can help us to move on. It can help us to find forgiveness toward those who harmed us. It can help us to forgive ourselves.
If you’ve had some hard situations in your past, I encourage you to take some time to write about them. It’s not easy, but you’ll begin to shed the darkness. You’ll begin to see that there is enough light to move forward.
* * *
I wake up. It’s afternoon. I’m feeling better, slightly refreshed, less fragmented. The voices, diminished, yet still here.
The trailer is growing warm in the summer heat.
My dictionary, pen, and paper slid off the bed while I slept. I pick them up. I dress in shorts and a tee-shirt and drink some cold water.
Deception: a deceiving or being deceived.
I run the meaning through my head again. I try to make sense of it. I think, mull it over. It only seems to work if one believes they are deceiving or being deceived.
I think about Peter. Peter Smith was the leader of the cult. Was he trying to deceive? Peter had a vision. He believed in his vision, at least, in the early years. He believed it was a vision from God.
I think about dad. Dad believed in Peter’s vision. Dad believed it was a vision from God. Is that deception? Maybe it’s self-deception. I wonder.
Deception: an illusion or fraud. I reckon with this meaning.
The cult wasn’t an illusion. It was real. I had the calluses and blisters to prove it.
Peter had us working all the time. We were working from sunup until supper time. We worked six, sometimes, seven days a week.
Something stirs in me. I’m angry now.
That son of a bitch! I was just a kid. I was a kid doing man’s work, I was pushed too hard. I was driven too far. There was no mercy regarding my size. I was used.
And what did I gain in the end? I’ll tell you what I gained. I gained back problems. I gained bad knees. I gained a head full of voices. That’s what I gained.
Still the question remains: Was it deception? I need to clear my head.
I have no car, only a bicycle.
Bonneveldt is a small town, population: 2900. It’s about 70 miles northeast of Seattle, in the foothills of the Cascades.
It’s not much. Coming in on Highway 9 from the south, there’s a traffic light, a couple of gas stations, a handful of stores, a school, a library, and a few antique shops.
Jared Jones, Peter’s friend, met us in town.
He led us to the property a few miles to the east.
A group of Peter’s friends purchased 40 acres. Dad donated $50,000 of mom’s inheritance. He said it was a “sound investment.” Mom wasn’t so sure.
There were three houses, a few barns, and a couple of old mobile homes on the south end of the property.
We followed Jared to an old red barn. Dad backed the truck up to the big sliding door. Jared slid
There were two men and an older boy standing there. Jared spoke to them, then to us.
“The boys here will help you unload. There’s not much room in mobile #2. Bunks are already set up. You’ll be sharing it with a couple from Texas. Most of your belongings will need to go into storage, until we can make other arrangements.”
Jared introduced Dad, Simon, Joel, and me to: Milt, Russell, and Mark.
We unloaded all the furniture and most of the boxes. There was a corner in the loft, roped off, and marked, “Burden.” My bike went into storage. Our sports gear went into storage. Joel’s guitar, Simon’s stereo, dad’s golf clubs, all went into storage. I felt stripped, naked.
After unloading, Jared pointed to mobile #2, and said, “That’s where you’ll be living. Right over there.”
It was an old, beat-up-looking place.
“There’s a meeting at Peter’s house at 7:00 sharp.” Jared waved toward Peter’s place. “Go see your new quarters and get freshened up. We’ll see you at Peter’s.”
I’m working at the Y-Easy Mart in Jocelyn. It’s not bad. It pays the rent, $50 a month, plus $25 for utilities.
Friday and Saturday nights get busy, weeknights are slow. There’s the highway traffic, the party crowd, the cops, and regulars. There aren’t many customers tonight.
I’m feeling alright, fairly calm.
In the summer, when my mind’s settled, I spend time outside between 3:00 and 5:00 in the morning. It’s still and quiet and the moon and stars shine with God’s beauty. It’s my favorite time of day.
On nights when I hear the voices in my head, I hide in the back room. I’m scared to death every time the doorbell rings.
What if it’s one of them? Here for me? What if they have a gun? To take me back?
Somehow, I always gather courage. It’s usually just a regular wanting beer or cigarettes, or a friendly traveler needing gas.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, I write poetry or song lyrics. Tonight I’m working on a song. Here’s the first verse:
“There’s a big old house on Beach Street where I used to live.
I can see a happy family
where I used to live.
But when I was nine years old,
the winds of change started blowing, and left me all alone,
in a place so far away.”
After 17 years I still miss Maine. I miss Camber Creek.
I think back to that first house in Bonneveldt at Paradise Farms. There were seven people in a small two-bedroom, one-bath. I always wound up with a cold shower. We slept on military-style bunks and kept our clothes in duffel bags.
That would change. It would get worse. Peter set up The Quarters, a home for the boys and the young, unmarried men. I’d spend several years there.
Songwriting helps me release my feelings. It’s therapy. I work on the second verse:
“So I’d lie awake at night and dream of where I used to live.
But I’d wake up to the cold reality that I could never go home.
And I was twelve years old, working like a dog for a stranger. He took away the childhood
that I should have known.”
Can you imagine that? Stealing someone’s childhood? What a jerk! At least I got out. I think
about the escape. I work on the bridge to the song:
“Then one rainy night
I packed my bags and made my break. Sweet freedom was sleeping
in an old abandoned car.
At seventeen I was…”
“Good morning Andy.”
The early morning crowd is starting to drift in. Orchard workers, loggers, commuters, getting gas, coffee, cigarettes, water, snacks.
Outside, sunlight peaks over the horizon. Morning is breaking.
“We’ve got some new folks with us tonight.”
Peter was speaking.
“The Burdens are here from Camber Creek, Maine. Peggy Cole, and her son Jack, join us from Tucson, Arizona. Please welcome them.” A few people applauded lightly.
We were in Peter’s basement.
Metal folding chairs were set in rows. I sat up front with the young people. The atmosphere was stern and serious. Everyone had been extremely quiet, waiting for Peter. When he arrived, I sensed awe from those around me. Everyone focused on Peter. They focused intensely. Eyes stared. Jaws dropped.
It was strange.
Peter continued, “Welcome to Bonneveldt. It’s nice country out here.
“You know, I chose this place because God led me here. And God has led each one of you here, too. You were called to be part of this group. It’s no accident. God doesn’t do accidents. You can leave accidents to the World. We’re not of the World. That’s why he brought you here. He’s pulled you out of that mixed-up system you called the World.
“Now, God says there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. This is it. We’re here, now. But there’s more. You wait. You’ll see.
“This land is paradise. We’re only in the first stages, you know. There’s work to do. We’re getting ready for the kingdom. I’m telling you, it’s coming. You mark my words.”
Peter stopped and had a drink of water. Then he motioned to the north.
“We’ll grow vegetables up on the north end. We’ll raise cattle right over here in the east pasture. We’ll make ponds, and stock them with fish, rainbow trout. We’ll plant all kinds of fruit trees. We’ll landscape the grounds. We’ll paint the houses and buildings. Believe me when I say, it will be paradise on Earth. We’ll call this place Paradise Farms. Paradise Farms! It’s got a good ring to it, doesn’t it?”
A few people said “Amen,” and “Yes, Peter.”
Peter continued, “You know, someday, others will beg us to let them join us. They’ll know we have something special here. Some day, we’ll serve the World. We were chosen by God. And God has led me to choose each one of you.
“You see, it’s darkness out there in the World. People are wandering on roads that lead to oblivion. They’re walking into death, every day. Their next step could be their last. They’re in the depths of hell.
“Do you know what happens if you go back out there? You’ll get sick, have a heart attack, get in an accident. I’m telling you, it’s bad news out there.
“I don’t want that for any of you. You’re my sheep. A good shepherd takes care of his sheep. Will you follow? Are you with me?”
A few heads nodded.
Peter raised his voice. “I want to hear you! Are you with me?” A bunch of voices rang out together, “Yes, Peter.”
Next, Peter picked up a Bible.
He started reading and interpreting scriptures as he paced slowly back and forth. He lowered his voice to a whisper and his people leaned forward in their chairs, straining to hear his words. He shouted, and his followers’ eyes and mouths shot open in surprise.
It went on like this, back and forth, soft, then loud, back and forth, soft, then loud, back and
forth, soft, then loud, back and forth, soft, then loud, back and… It was hypnotic. It was creepy.
Later, a man named Robert came to the front with a guitar. He sang some folk songs he had written. The songs were about peace and love. A few people hummed along, but most sat still, mesmerized.
Next, Jared Jones made an announcement about a work day. It would be the following Saturday. He asked for volunteers. We would start landscaping Peter’s place first. Dad signed us up.
Finally, Peter reminded us that we were the chosen ones, that we were building paradise. Then he told everyone about another 40-acre parcel adjacent to the first. He said it would be on the market soon. He asked people to consider giving money. Several people made offers.
At 10:30p.m., he dismissed us.
I have the night off work.
I feel restless.
I’m bored, lonely. I’m tired of thinking about my past.
I walk to The Crossroads, a small country tavern.
There are about 20 people here tonight. I know some. Others are strangers. The light is dull, the room warm, the air smoky.
Nicole’s tending bar. She knows me. She starts a tab.
I order a beer. I drink. I order another. I drink.
I bullshit with John. John plays the blues. We talk music.
I drink more. My head is gently buzzing. I feel good.
John offers some weed.
I tell him I quit but…
We go outside. We smoke. John leaves. I don’t. I go back in. I drink another beer.
Peoples’ voices start to blend together.
The room spins, softly, slowly at first.
Nicole smiles. She has mid-length, auburn-red hair, and soft, green eyes. She wears a silky, low-cut, silver blouse. Her smile melts me.
She’s beautiful. I’m lonely. I imagine things. She’s married.
The din grows. The room spins faster. I hear bits and pieces of multiple conversations, many voices, droning, simultaneously. Words get twisted, mixed-up, and angry.
I’m drunk and stoned. I’m tired and confused. I get up slowly, slightly unstable. I pay the tab.
I say goodbye to Nicole and leave. I walk home through orchards in the dark. Voices come with me in broken pieces of conversation, fragments of reality, confusion of consciousness.
In my head, Peter screams, “It was you, Andy. It’s your fault. You betrayed me, Andy.”
A woman’s voice cuts in and says, “Andy, you dirty man. I saw you look at Nicole that way. Her husband will kill you.”
I try to make them stop. Why won’t they shut up?
The voices continue, mostly dark and sinuous: “I know you did it, Andy. You can’t hide, Andy. I’ll find you.”
Yet sometimes in the midst of chaos, a peaceful voice of comfort speaks directly to my heart. “Andy, everything is going to be alright. I am with you. I am always with you.” But that voice does not speak tonight.
* * *