I can look back at pictures of those years, and somehow, I look happy in some of them. I know that somewhere in that time, I took a trip to Germany with my grandparents. It was one of the few happy times I can remember. In contrast, the rest of those two years, from 15 to 17, were very dark days for me. Our homelife was not happy. Besides my dad being depressed, which lasted at least a couple of years if not longer, the discipline that my brother B received continued, and in some respects, got worse.
Once Joe LaQuiere was not there to cow B into fearful submission, my dad had a tougher time getting him to toe the line. A now-teenage B became disrespectful, angry, arguing and talking-back to my dad. He cared less and less that he would be punished for it. My dad gave up using a wooden paddle on my brother. He moved on to more creative tools, searching for one that would put the fear of God into his wayward son. Sometimes it was a belt. Sometimes it was a thin rod like that used for caning. Then, he found himself the winner. I don’t know what it was made out of, but it was a length of doubled up flexible white line of some kind or other, about 1/8″ in diameter, and he used it like a whip, hitting indiscriminately whatever was in reach. This whipping hurt far more than a wooden paddle ever could, and it left no permanent marks, which all the corporal-punishment manuals, like the Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child, which was a staple in my parents’ bookshelf, all were quick to warn against. If it doesn’t leave a permanent mark, the books said, it was fine.
I would be on constant alert and tense when my dad and B started getting into it – I knew with inevitable dread, that it would end in a whipping, and I swear I hated them nearly as much as B did. My dad would hit his limit, grab B and push him to the basement stairs, and down they’d go. The next thing I’d hear is my brother crying, then screaming for my dad to stop, while my dad chased him around the basement, whipping him as he went. It seemed like it would go on forever. In hindsight, it was probably only 10 or 15 minutes each time. But it was enough. It was too much. With every beating I had to hear, my own heart was getting ripped to shreds, and my fear grew. My mom would calmly go about her business, ignoring the cries and pleading from below. More than ever, I tried to use my influence and experience to head off any altercation between my brother and my dad. I played peacemaker as much as I could, and I begged the children not to do anything that would set my dad off. We all knew how he got when things made him angry, but somehow I was the only one who tried to do anything about it. I had always been the one to try to placate my dad and walk the fine line to avoid his wrath, but now it became a desperate need – I HAD to prevent him from getting angry, or my brother would pay the price.
Meanwhile, the whippings had the opposite effect to the one my father intended. They made B even less tractable than before. With each beating, he grew harder towards my parents. He sneered more openly at them. He grew more rebellious and more angry. My dad continued these whippings until B was nearly 17. Then, one day, B stopped taking it. I remember it so clearly. That day, when my dad tried to shove him up against the wall, B pushed back. That was all. That was enough. He had grown bigger than my dad, and now, in that instant, he realized he was stronger. It took my dad just a split second to realize what had happened. He could no longer physically control his son by violence. He took his hands off my brother, and said B was so far gone in his rebellion that normal discipline had no effect on him anymore…since physical buffeting was useless, he was spiritually turning B over “to be buffeted for the sake of his soul”, as it says somewhere in the bible. I knew better, and so did B. My dad was simply afraid of what would happen. He never whipped my brother again.
It was some relief to know that I wouldn’t have to hear my brother’s screams from the basement anymore. But it didn’t change anything else. Life was something to be endured, long and weary, with no end in sight. I became obsessed with the color gray. I thought about it, wrote about it, all the time. My life was gray. Everything was gray; meaningless and gray. I felt like I was slowly being smothered by a gray pall, and I no longer had the will to resist it.
Then, finally, came the day when I couldn’t bear it any longer. I remember we were going somewhere in our big van, with the younger kids, and my mom driving. I remember the seat I was sitting in. It’s a crystal clear memory in my head. I sat there, with daily life going on around me, while a storm of pain and desperation raged in my heart, and I knew I couldn’t take even one more second of living my hated life; and in my despair I cried out in my heart, “God, I don’t even know if You’re there anymore – I know You don’t love me, and never have – but I don’t have anything left to turn to anymore! You’ve taken everything away, and I have nothing left – if You even can, just HELP me, please! Do SOMEthing!”
And in that moment, for the first time in my entire 17 years of life, I felt God’s LOVE. It was warm, and it engulfed me, wrapped me up in something indescribable. In that blinding second, I KNEW, for the first time, that God loved me. I FELT it. I had never felt anything like it before, and I never have since. It was an inescapable certainty. I had cried to God, and He had answered me.