Sharon’s Story

Hell on Wheels!

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you – Jeremiah 1:4

What is Hell? A place regarded in various religions as a spiritual realm of evil and suffering, often traditionally depicted as a place of perpetual fire beneath the earth where the wicked are punished after death.

Life began for me on March 8, 1950 in New Orleans, LA. I was the 2nd of 6 children born into a Christian home. I remember Sunday school, vacation bible school and home prayer meetings but I also remember feeling abandoned and rejected at an early age.

My mother was an only child and grew up in a dysfunctional matriarchal family.  Her mother died when she was 6 years old under strange circumstances. The family “legend” is that she was the victim of voodoo. My mother told me that my grandmother sang in a musical group and one of the women was so jealous of her that she was determined to bring about her demise. Over several months, my grandmother began to grow weaker and weaker and finally became bedridden– for no apparent medical reason. Prior to dying, it is said, my grandmother threw up a lizard! In New Orleans, these stories were commonplace and they were used to chastise and correct wayward behavior. They filled me with fear! I was afraid of the dark and always slept with the covers over my face.

After my grandmother’s death, my mother was raised by the oldest of my two great aunts.

At 16, my mother gave birth to her first child and endured the shame of having to drop out of high school.  While attending night school, she met my father and they married when she was 18. Their marriage was short-lived. It didn’t help that, according to my mother, my father was a philandering, “woman chasing slickster”. I never knew my father and what I was told about him never led me to seek him out. He was “no-good” as my great aunt often referred to him. She had a strong dislike for him and me since I was, in her words, “just like him”. Her opinion of my biological father shaped my young life and even my adult years. When I was in my 40’s, my mother informed me that my father had died. I wept—not sure why but I think I mourned a loss that I could never recover. In the years that followed, I learned about the devastation that occurs in the emotional lives of fatherless daughters. I found it difficult to accept any authority in my life and especially God’s authority—wasn’t He a man?

As a child, I was not especially close to my mother; she was a nurse and worked second shift. She was still asleep when we left for school, at work when we returned home and we were asleep when she came home.  In later years, we talked about how unhappy I was as a child and my mother’s response was that she too felt lonely and insecure. She felt responsible for her aunts and they depended on her for everything. Neither of them was educated and my mother told me she felt she needed to take care of them; especially her aunt who raised her after the death of her mother.

“Aday”, as we called her, was very religious—always singing hymns, reading the bible and praying. The memory of her making up her bed and singing: “I’m Going Through” is always “fresh” in my mind. I remember the lyrics were “I’ll pay the price whatever others do….I’ll take the way with the Lord’s despised few; I’ve started in Jesus and I’m going through”. The other song she sang was “In the Garden”….I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses…and He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own…and the joy we shared as we tarried there, none other has ever know.” Aday taught us about the God she knew. She held us “captive” every Monday night at 8:00 pm when it was time for “Prayer Meeting”. We all gathered in her bedroom and prayed, sang hymns and listened to stories from the Bible. Unfortunately, to her, God was a vengeful God who only loved you as long as you were good. Her words brought little comfort to me because she instilled such fear in me that God would “get” me and I would pay for being a disobedient child. I grew up with a great fear of God and Hell because I believed I was destined to spend eternity there. In the words of Aday, I was “going to hell on wheels”! She had a frightful picture in her bedroom of a train bound for hell with all sorts of people on it and it terrified me every time I looked at it.

I accepted Christ at the age of 12, driven by fear of hell and the Baptist doctrine of 13 being the age of consent—meaning that my sins would be on my head! Despite this “healthy” fear of God, it did little to deter my evil ways and bad behavior. I was disrespectful to Aday, my mother and my siblings. My adolescent mind determined that I was willing to pay the price of a “butt whipping” as long as I got to do what I wanted!

 

Broken Heart, Broken Life

Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either.–Erich Fromm

Not sure when it happened, but my Mother met a man who she would later marry. This marriage would change my life completely!

I know now what I did not know when I was a child…those years should have been the best time of my life! Children don’t have bills and no life threatening responsibilities–the only requirement is to invest in yourself!  I wasted my youth being rebellious and full of evil thoughts.  My behavior was my immature response to the strict rules of my great aunt and mother.  I often wondered why I refused to obey when everyone else did–what was “wrong” with me?  As a child, I chose to exhibit bad behavior, I chose to be unhappy and I also inadvertently chose to receive the consequences of my actions.  

When I was 12, my mother married my stepfather–everything changed!   We were adopted by my mother’s new husband and, despite my verbal protests, my last named was changed to Thompson. While I certainly didn’t know anything about my biological father, I also knew almost nothing about my new stepfather. In 1963, we moved from New Orleans to Shreveport–7 hours away. The adults in my family adhered to the “children should be seen and not heard” policy.  There were no discussions, no questions, just three statements–we’re getting married, moving to Shreveport and you will have a new baby brother or sister!!! What?!! I don’t even know this man and we’re leaving the only home I’ve known to go where, how, why???

I concluded in my rebellious mind that I needed to retaliate in the only way I knew– doubling down on bad behavior. I was determined to be a disruptive force in this new household no matter the cost– I believed it was the only way to get my voice heard. Of course, this decision led to more appointments with “the belt”!

I “discovered” that making other people feel bad had become one of my “gifts”. In a way, it was very satisfying–I know that sounds strange but “hurting people hurt others to make themselves feel “better”. Also, in a very dysfunctional way,  people were drawn to my wry sense of human and general “like-ability”. At the same time, I had very little respect for their feelings and would use anyone for my own selfish purposes. I would interrupt any peace my family was experiencing–it was as if I was allergic to JOY! I loved an environment filled with confusion and anything that upset the norm.

My stepfather became one of my favorite targets; after all, wasn’t he responsible for my current situation? I continually reminded him and anyone else who was listening that he was not my “daddy” and therefore, could not tell me what to do. I was rebellious and knew it–but since I was going to hell anyway, why not have fun on the journey?!

At 14, I met a boy that I thought was “interesting”–he wasn’t exactly cute but he seemed “sophisticated” in a nerdy sort of way.  He was a junior in high school, I was in 8th grade.  Of course, I was not allowed to date but I managed to coerce my older sister who was also a high school junior to go out with his friend so we could hang out together.   My older sister was an introvert and bookworm.  I, on the other hand, wanted to be the life of the party!  I greeted each day with excitement and a sense of mischief, especially during the summer.  By 8am I was dressed and ready for the day’s adventure.  My sister was very smart and always on the honor roll; I struggled to maintain a B average.  She was always reading a book; I was always reading romance magazines–we were total opposites!  Our relationship was a one-way street–either she did what I wanted to do or would pay the price.  Usually that price was torment!

In the beginning,  “Mr. Nerdy”, his friend and my sister amused me with their lofty discussions about school, the world and other boring stuff.  When they would come to our house, we played cards and board games.  As usual, if I began to lose, the game was over!  Their cries of me being unfair or not following the rules were usually met with cards being scattered and boards being overturned!  I craved excitement and the thrill of hurting Mr. Nerdy’s feelings.  I justified my actions by agreeing with myself that it was what he wanted or else why would he keep coming back!

On my 15th birthday, Mr. Nerdy bought me a beautiful cashmere sweater.  While we were eating ice cream and cake, I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to do something evil.  As he brought the ice cream bowl to his face, I pushed his head forward.  Everyone was stunned–Mr. Nerdy was embarrassed as he raised his head and wiped off his face.  My mother was very angry and immediately reprimanded me for such a despicable act–the party ended on that note!

I retaliated by telling Mr. Nerdy never to call me again.  He repeatedly asked me why I did that to him.  I could not articulate a reasonable answer because I didn’t know why I did it other than my internal pain needed to be directed somewhere and he became the target.

For weeks, he called and wrote letters telling me that he forgave my actions and still wanted to be with me.  I would read the letters to my sister and make fun of his declarations of love.  She said I was mean and cruel.  I could not understand how someone could love me–I didn’t love me, my family didn’t love me so what was wrong with him?  I finally relented and told him I would see him.  I was silent for most of the time we were together.  He talked, I looked at him wanting to understand what he saw in me.  I couldn’t understand it–loving  the unloveable–only God could do that!

At summer’s end, Mr. Nerdy went away to college and I began my freshmen year in high school!  I was excited about this new chapter in my young life.

Revenge:  DIY for Beginners

broken heart love sad
Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

Revenge is a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance; be it real or perceived

Was it love?  How would I know…I had no experience with love.  However, I convinced myself that I was in love with “Mr. Jazz”!  We met in the summer at the community swimming pool–he was a lifeguard and one of my swimming instructors.  He was, as the cliche says–tall, dark and handsome!  He was also cocky which made him even more attractive to my 16 year old immature mind.  I call him Mr. Jazz because he was the drum major in our high school band as well as a saxophone player in the school’s jazz quartet.  His “profile” also included being a popular church boy with his own car!  What’s not to like–right?

We had a wonderful beginning!  He invited me to share his school locker and I started going to Mr. Jazz’s church.  After the first year, he became even more cocky and started pressuring me to have sex.  I told him that would never happen.  He gave me an ultimatum.  I gave him one back!  A few weeks later, I came to school and found my “belongings” on the floor in front of his locker.  The look on my face was indescribable–he announced to me and all who were listening that it was over!  I silently picked up my belongings and walked away.  I guess I never thought anyone would do to me what I had done to others.

Mr. Jazz and one of the band’s majorettes started dating; she moved her “belongings” into his locker and I was relegated to “the girl he dumped”!  Even though I was hurt I refused to show it–I told everyone I didn’t care.   He flaunted her in front of me and my friends.  This was unfamiliar territory to me–no one had ever broken up with me–that was my job!  By the end of the school year, my hurt had boiled over into anger.  I didn’t know it, but my time for revenge was on the horizon.

The phrase from the famous opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities,  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..best describes the fall of 1967.

Fall has always been my favorite season–the crispness in the air, the golden hues of red, orange and yellow leaves.  Fall 1967 brought some “news” that would make my days brighter!  Mr. Jazz’s majorette girlfriend was pregnant!   Back in the day, teenage pregnancy was  looked upon with shame and degradation.  Girls had to drop out of high school and stay “out of sight” until they had the baby–of course, there was no punishment for the boy!

It was the “best of times” because I felt vindicated; it was the worst of times because I had an opportunity to exact my revenge on Mr. Jazz.  That’s right–he called me!  Of course, he claimed the baby was not his and he had broken up with her months ago–yada, yada, yada!  As I listened to his “confessions”, my plan for revenge began to take shape.  I sympathized with him and said we could be friends.  All of my friends thought I was crazy but I knew that to charm a snake you first have to “hypnotize” them.  I was no longer “in love” with Mr. Jazz but I told him I was and that we could rekindle our relationship.  I never told my mother he had gotten a girl pregnant, in fact, I never told her we broke up because he was pressuring me for sex.  I kept that to myself.

Mr. Jazz was a freshmen in college about 125 miles away so we spent a lot of time talking on the phone and saw each other on occasional weekends.  After I felt he was thoroughly “hypnotized” I began treating him with the disrespect I thought he deserved for humiliating me in front of my friends.   I broke up with him multiple times and each time he asked to be forgiven which I did only to break up with him again!  It brought my evil heart great joy and became my most important past time.  That summer, my stepfather was transferred to Huntsville AL and we left Shreveport for good.  Of course, Mr. Jazz was heartbroken–damage done, case closed!

Huntsville, AL in the 60’s was a small, country town with one main road.  It’s only industry was the US Army.  If I thought my life could not get any worse, welcome to Hunstville!  This was my first experience attending a mostly white high school.  The dialect alone annoyed me.   We lived in military housing that had been previously used for “sharecropper” families.  It was a nightmare.  I know God answers prayer because after six months, my stepfather received orders to relocate once again–this time to El Paso, TX.