I grew up in a church where my father was the pastor. Because my father was the boss I felt empowered, but because too much was expected of me I felt worthless. I was the fourth out of five children and felt lost and invisible. We grew up in a cult-like setting. Everyone in the church went to the same private school. Outside friends and secular music were forbidden. Very few TV shows were allowed. Food and TV fasts were a normal and regular thing.
By the time I was in sixth grade, I realized I had had enough of this way of living. I learned to watch my back around the adult men and women at the church. I hated how anyone had permission to spank me. I despised how the police were never included in times of need. I knew there were many adults abusing children. I was so sheltered; the outside world was scary and terrifying, but also intriguing. I flipped off my teacher, threw a chair, and demanded to be put in public school or I would run away again. It worked: I got kicked out of the Prince of Peace school.
My first day at a rough, rural middle school was a huge culture shock. Female gang members threatened to fight me after school. My clothes and looks mattered more than ever. That day I realized I had no self worth: I was ugly, lost, and poor. I floated through middle school, barely making it. I dropped out and said I was sick multiple times. I was longing to find another me, one that I could lean on and trust, one who would be tough and angry when I was alone and scared. Since I had no one else, the second me got stronger. No school clothes? I stole them just so I would not get in a fistfight. I learned to talk the talk, to scare the girls trying to jump me. Everyone thought I was tough, but I was hurt, lost, and broken. Most of all, I was confused.
When I was 13, my older sister got me drunk for the first time. She took me to an army base where I was raped. I realized then that not even my siblings valued my safety or my life. So when I met Phillip at 13, when he said he loved me, I believed him. What was sex at this point? It was nothing. I was not a valued person. Apparently sex was just what happens and my feelings or thoughts did not matter. That was what I had been taught. I was just a woman.
I craved any adventure that detoured from my real life and situation, so sneaking out from my friend Emily's house in Lake Oswego felt risky and fun. Her boyfriend and Phillip met us. We walked around, puffed on a few Marlboros that Phillip had, and kissed. It felt reckless and exciting, and made me feel invincible. Once it got too cold to walk and the excitement wore off, we went back to Emily's garage where she had a room in a loft.
Emily and her boyfriend started making out. I just sat there, not really knowing what to do. Phillip got on top of me as if it was normal and started making out with me. Then all of a sudden, I felt something in me. I definitely did not like it, but I lay there frozen. It did not hurt this time. I just felt numb. It was over quickly. I wanted to run away but when he got up I just curled up in the corner.
I started hanging out at Phillip’s house. My parents let me go to California with his family. I have no idea why they let me go when I was so young, except that they did not care about me, that I was a bother. When I was 15, I missed my period. No one had ever taught me about birth control or sexually transmitted diseases. This was not talked about in my home. You did not have sex until marriage.
I was attending high school at the time. I worked until 6 p.m. and then spent the night at Phillip’s. The bus from southwest Portland where I lived, to north Portland where I went to school, took almost two hours. I stayed at Phillip’s house instead; he lived much closer to my school. Since my period still had not started, Phillip and I went to Fred Meyer. We took a test and I snuck it into the bathroom. He waited outside. It had two lines. Yes . . . it had two lines. I sat there in the bathroom for a long time.
I came out of the bathroom and told Phillip. We walked to Burger King and ate burgers. We agreed not to tell anyone, but Phillip told his Mom without telling me. When he finally told me, it was a Sunday and I had only a few hours to tell my parents. We were at church, so after church I told my Mom I had something to tell her. She ignored me until I pulled her aside and said it was huge and urgent. We went on a walk around the block and I told her to guess. By the second guess she got it. I asked her how she knew. She told me she knew I had been vomiting every morning. She immediately told me my options: adoption or keeping the baby. Abortion was not an option. She recommended I give up the baby for adoption.
I was firm from the beginning that if pregnant, I would keep my flesh and blood, my baby. My baby did not ask to be born; it was my action that created her. Phillip and my entire family wanted me to choose adoption, but that was not an option to me. The next week I had to stand up in church in front of almost 400 people while my dad, the pastor, told everyone I was pregnant, but that I would still live with him and my mother. Most of the church members left and never returned, outraged that my parents would support me in this way. The congregation quickly dwindled to 30. As my father’s congregation left church that day they called me horrible names like whore, Jezebel, and slut.
My family endured tremendous humiliation because of me. My father never treated me the same. Nevertheless, I kept my daughter Antoinette. I do not regret this. I finished school at Portland Community College and went to Concorde Career Institute. I was forced to marry Phillip. We flew to Nevada—the only state that would let 16 year olds get married, got married, and flew back. If I had not married Phillip, my dad would have kicked me and my daughter out of the house.
I am now 41 years old with four children and three grandchildren. Phillip left us when I was 20, just as our third child was born. Phillip visited every two years. I got full custody of my children. Phillip became a gang member and drug addict.
Everyone judges teen moms, but many times the challenge makes a stronger, wiser, and more empathetic woman. My career has been successful after years and years of struggling and poverty because of one reason: I never gave up. That other Carmel stepped up for me when I could not, when I was broken, ashamed, lost, and wanted to give up.
Thank you to my four beautiful children who healed my wounds and taught me what love is.