I cut out my non-Christian friends.
I signed a contract promising that I would protect my virginity for my wedding night. My parents were nominal Christians, but not churchgoers. I deserved parents who would guide me into the Things of the Lord. They told me that sin could be passed down for generations and that people born into a spiritual legacy — generations of people who were believers — had a leg up on people like me from heathen families.
This came at just the right moment, developmentally speaking: I was leaving behind the childhood fantasy that my parents were perfect and coming to the realization that they were actually just winging this whole parenting thing, and that they sucked at it sometimes.
This is a very normal realization for a child, but at the time, it felt irrevocable and huge. Jessa offered to be my spiritual mentor, and I excitedly agreed. I spent many hours in their living room, talking about my hopes and dreams. Jessa stroked her frizzy hair and told me all about the incredible destiny God had for me if I surrendered everything to Him. I clung to every word she said. I wanted to be just like her. You are demonic.
We ate a meal of corn on the cob, cherries and grilled chicken, on a wooden picnic table a few yards from the water. I pushed the food on my plate around, sulking. I was thinking of ways I could convert them to my faith. Next to us, the river rushed constantly, filling the spaces between words.
As the sun set, we played cards by lantern light. I wanted to mention this, but I thought that it would only stir up trouble. My heart hurt thinking about what my Jacob and Jessa were up to that night. I imagined them praying together, or worshipping around a bonfire, or dissecting passages of the Bible around the dinner table.
I longed to be with them. I tried to comfort myself with reassurances that God was both all-powerful and all good and that human suffering was all part of His Plan. But for the first time since I joined the church, those answers came up short. Just 10 days after the fire, I left my hometown to go to a nearby Christian university. I spent that first semester in a fog, trying to make sense of my life.
I remember lying on the top bunk in my new dorm room a few weeks into my college career, wondering if my faith made sense anymore, while my roommate used our dorm phone to talk to one of the boys who wanted to date her. I held still and listened. I watched Snow White on the inch TV screen that somebody had donated to me, under a fort of blankets and pillows on the floor.
I allowed myself to be whisked away to a time before. A time before the altar calls, before the revivals, before the fire, before the fog. I hid for days in the fantasy of enchanted forests and fairy dust and singing fish, while my peers went to prayer meetings.
I stopped trying to read the Bible. None of it made sense anymore. I called Jessa, hoping for a lifeline. I confided in her that God felt so far away. She asked me if I had been praying and reading the Bible enough. I told her that I often tried, but that it all felt so forced. She wore a scowl on her face, and my stomach filled with dread. The whites of his eyes swelled, and dark blotches of sweat stained his shirt. They told me I had the Spirit of Rebellion. They told me my heart was evil.
I tried to push back, but they yelled and told me that God would abandon me if I continued to live in sin. I wish I could say I stood up for myself that night, that I ran out of the room and never came back, but the truth is I stayed. I stayed for what felt like hours, crying and letting them pray for my sins.
I finally drove home in a blur, my body spent. I knew in that moment I had lost my faith. I moved on with my life without much talk about those fiery Jesus years, as if pretending they never happened made it so. It was years before I began to talk about my experiences in the church and process them for what they were: The more distance I had from the church, the more I could see how brainwashed I had been by fundamentalism.
During my teenage years, I lived exactly how Jessa told me to — down to how I dressed and what music I listened to and what friends I was allowed to spend time with and how I spoke and how I approached the world. I believed that by following Jessa and Jacob, I was following God. They had the final word on salvation, eternal life and objective truth.
They leveraged my normal human fear of death, and my desire for connection, as power over me. While it hurt at the time, I now look back at their cruelty with gratitude because it was the catalyst for me to claim my freedom.
There are some lingering questions that may never be fully answered, but this much is now clear: They pulled up to him like they were waiting at a stoplight. Alcatraz had shaky electricity, a dearth of clean water, and it was frequently hit by strong offshore storms. The next year I began to suffer from excruciating stomach pain that left me unable to eat. After years of trying, we had finally caught my father soliciting sex from strangers.
I ran into an old friend from youth group while visiting my parents for Christmas, and she asked me if I attended church. No, I said, quietly, shifting my weight from one leg to the other as we stood in the produce section of my childhood grocery store. I saw sadness in her eyes. I remembered what it was like to be in that world.
For years, I believed that people who walked away from their faith would suffer eternally for it. I used to judge the backsliders, and now I was one. The words of my pastors that night so many years ago had been seared into my mind: You have the Spirit of Rebellion.
Most of them come from those spiritual legacy families that I used to long for. Often, they are the first to break away from generations of religiously devout people. Some of them have been disowned by their parents, while some are constantly pressured by their family members to come back to the fold, complete with warnings of impending judgment.
Compared to their journeys, I had it easy. My rebellion was church. M ichael Bates was caught off guard by a newspaper item he read in late July He and his parents, a retired couple residing in the seaside county of Essex in southeastern England, were being connected to the murder of Italian fashion icon Gianni Versace. Michael, then 44, is a stocky man with close-cropped hair and a tough demeanor. He runs a business harvesting cockles, an edible mollusk found in the North Sea near where he grew up.
He squinted at the paper and continued to read. The newspaper laid out the puzzling circumstances of the case. On July 15, , Versace was leaving his opulent Miami Beach mansion when he was gunned down on his front steps by year-old Andrew Cunanan. Allegedly distraught that a rich benefactor had cut him off, Cunanan embarked on a kill rampage across four states, murdering four people before coming back to Miami and shooting Versace for seemingly no reason. When police finally tracked him down eight days later, Cunanan led them on a chase, broke into a houseboat, and shot himself.
Reineck was a socialite who loved showing off his Sealand passport and was said to have diplomatic plates from Sealand on his car. Located in international waters and technically outside of the control of Britain, or any other nation, the country straddles a line between eccentric experiment and legal entity of uncertain definition.
Formerly called Roughs Tower, Sealand was one of a series of naval forts built seven miles off the coast of southeastern England during the Second World War to shoot down Nazi warplanes. The British government left the forts to the elements following the end of the war, and in the mids a group of enterprising DJs moved in and set up illegal radio stations.
The BBC had a monopoly on the airwaves at the time and pirate radio was the only way to get pop music to the masses.