The picture in my head
The picture in my head
You know those old 80’s movies that depict the end of days? Mad max type stuff?
Okay let's go a little newer, "Book of Eli"?
That ones a better fit anyway. That's kinda what my future life was projected to look like in my head. I swear I am not crazy, just hear me out...I do know how some of this sounds, again, that's the point of telling these stories. I'm starting to realize how insane some it really was…where was I?
I was given a “mission” very early in life, like 10? I was told that I had to watch my back at all times, and then in a sense, I guess I just kept… going. Each day I kept moving forward, doing what I was told. Days turned into years very quickly; so much just blurred together. I was following a man I thought was a new leader of freedom; well, as far as he said,and he seemed to have everyone else following orders as well. Everyone spoke so highly of him to me, telling me stories of how great he was, and I was his kid,I was to be his “apprentice”, the daughter of the Gun God himself. It was just expected. I also can’t lie, it made me feel big. Much bigger than I was, and like I had a lot more power than I did. Though deep down I knew he was the only one with real power. I felt like as long as he had my back it would all be ok, I’d always win. For the most part it was true.
-He promised he’d have my back as long as I had his…
I guess at some point you have to realize you are not the bad guy for turning against those who are abusing you, and that these pacts and promises did nothing for you and were never really meant to, outside of manipulating you into doing as you were told.
This whole way of life started so long ago I don't remember a time he wasn't that man and I wasn’t “that girl”.
He was always in the shop, Hephaestus, bellowing away at raw metal. The sounds of steel grinding to bits, and that smell.
I don't think I’ll ever forget the smell. Dark, earthy and thick.
The smell was that of a cave, laced with aluminum, cigarettes and black coffee. These are all smells that to this day will drop me back into that room.
I smile most times, if I don't think on it for too long. I spent so much of my life in that cave; like Persephone trapped in the darkness, you start to love it. You tell yourself that you are there by choice. You are truly convinced that you are a queen in an underground world. No matter how badly it hurts at times when you are made to do things unlike other children…
None of my friends had heavy lifting jobs at 12.
The mission was clear however, and a mission makes you feel important.
Prepare for “The coming war”. He would describe the impending doom differently each time but always with the same message:
A physical and spiritual war was coming and we were going to play a very important part in it.
I guess in a way we did.
This war had been pushed to the back for decades by monsters in cloaks. They did not want to be seen in the light for fear that they would be shown for the true evil they were. I would have never thought it would've happened the way it did though. I thought he was going to be beside me, with guns blazing. Fighting some foreign enemy, not that I would be fighting my own past and family... I was so young and so naïve. He would tell me,
"Baby, if they ever come for me, and I'm sure they will, they ain't gonna let me walk outta there."
It's not like over the years there were not a few close calls that felt very much like the future he told me was coming. Being forced to run, to save ourselves… I saw a vision of that playing out every time he had to appear before the ATF, or the FBI came to the door accusing him of some terrible things and holding possible felonies over his head. Even worse when he was chased down with a bunch of machine guns in his van after...well...I suppose that’s a different story and I should check the statute of limitations before I go much further...
That's not all he'd say, whole talks of what to do if "they" ever came where had. I didn't know who they were, he said "They" were “anyone who’s comin' for us”.
I still feel guilty.
I still have days the dreams rip me open with screams. I should've known. I should've dug deeper, been less afraid.
I should've stopped him then.
I should've told everything to anyone.
He was untouchable in my eyes though. All the talk of evil people coming to get us felt more like preparation for an invading army than the police because of something he had done wrong. The police were all his buddies. Every cop, judge and government official he could rub a shoulder with became his shooting companion, even the guys who came in hot first, accusing him of crimes. Once they had spent a day with him, two max, he was offering drinks and telling war stories… of a war he never fought, again a story for another day. To him people were just more for the army, more allies. What could I really do? Who would believe such crazy stories anyway? Was it even wrong? What was really happening?
I told myself to just stay outta the way...just stay out of trouble...
Now I know that thoughts like this are not normal for an 11-15 year olds, or really anyone for that matter, but that was my world. Most kids have play time fantasizing about being princesses or knights or Kings. I guess that I did too. I thought I really was someone special; I had to be, I was always right in the middle of all the big men. All the talks of government paperwork and building up barrier walls around the houses, the guns and ammunition being traded. Blasting caps and spools of wire. I knew how every bit of it worked, why we had it, what it could do if we did as he always said and
“Add a lil bit O’gasoline!”
It felt so much like a story from a book. It was my reality though, crazy, imagined, but to me, very real. When I went out into the world, I felt like some spy kid, in a world I'd have to defend my family from. Way too much for any child to have on their shoulders, worse that it was literally all in my head...hindsight being 20/20 and all.... I mean look, really, I know I use a lot of metaphors but this isn't one of those times.
I literally helped add bars to the walls.
The vehicles were modified to hide weapons and take damage.
This was real.
We didn't talk about why "they' would be coming. I didn't really ask. Part of me thought that maybe
“he's joking, it’s all just an ongoing inside joke thing...right..it's just because we sell guns and that's a crazy thought? Right????”,
but the other side of me knew he wasn't. I always assumed that maybe he was running some shady sales, as a kid with a huge imagination you can picture him as the Al Capone kinda guy, don't ask don't tell types, and I was 15ish by the time I started to kind of see the truth about what he was doing. Not to mention that by that time he had already committed his greatest sin against me and all I felt was… used. I wanted a way to take my life back but I didn’t see it.
You know the saying it's better to be at the right hand of the devil than in his path?
No? Well I did.
-Stay low, stay quiet, do your job.-
I don't know why I assumed that if they came for him that they were coming for me; I just took us as a pair by then. I felt guilty by association even though I didn't know of anything illegal he was actually doing, nothing provable anyway. I kept the gun books, I never saw anything wrong there, well, nothing we couldn’t fix… again, I did what I was told, and besides, it was his name on the license.
-[*As advised by my lawyer, this does not mean we did anything illegal with the books, it was common in those days, because it was all paper records, to have small meaningless mistakes and I would fix things based on what Will told me to fix. If he did any fixing that wasn’t legal, I do not have that proof.]-
However, I knew he had a slight drug and drinking problem after a few years of growing up, bringing friends around and learning what those things he had tucked away in pockets even where.
Nothing big stood out though.
-It had to be the guns…
Maybe it was the people, maybe he just wanted an army of like minded people at his fingertips just "In case." Maybe he was collecting blackmail… He did say “it's not who you know but what you know” an awful lot.-
He always said he hated the term “prepper” but that's what I considered him. That's what made me feel like it all was kinda normal; I mean, I knew it was weird but not necessarily crazy. He was preparing for a "What if?" and that was ok by me. Stories of the cold war and Vietnam, I was properly informed and given just the right amount of fear to fall in line and feel like this was something I may actually have to face one day.
I stayed there mentally, in that fear of an unknown, outside of his words and rule until he was locked away a decade or so later. I worry about how many other “preppers kids” could be in a similar position while simultaneously knowing that I don’t want to lump them all together as being like the ones I knew. Truthfully I didn't even live with him full time but school days at my moms started to feel like the “Cover life”, my grades reflected it too, so did my record for needing to see the guidance counselor - who by the way could have used being less “Fake smiles and It’ll all be ok” and more “What do you do with your time? Who are your influences?” Maybe even a “Has anyone touched you or hurt you?” type questions, without being super obvious because teens don't like to talk about all that with strangers anyway. Even less so when it's a mentally twisted teen with a strong conspiracy theory father figure pressing the idea of dangerous authority into her mind weekly… while she walked the school halls with a bullet in her mouth.
(How did a kid with all black clothes, needles in her skin and a bullet in her mouth not get more attention? Like real attention? Like “No, don't just ask her a few questions, we should do something” kind of attention? I digress...)
Reality is-I still have a "Go bag" in my house, and my car is still set to just go. Maybe some things never change once they are fully ingrained into you, and hey, it's not really a bad thing to be prepared, though the constant fear of an invading army is likely less than healthy. Sadly, I still feel like I can't blame him for this fear hanging on for so long. There are lots of contributing factors available to add to those fears... right?
It’s scarier even now to me to ponder my actual mental state. When I find myself watching the news and still wondering if the plane overhead is going to be the last thing I hear because the pictures on the screen are telling me he, my father that is, may have been right.
This is an effect of long term PTSD. I know this, but it doesn’t stop my heart from racing out my chest and prayers leaving my lips when I hear certain sounds. I KNOW it's not real. I KNOW I’m ok, just not at that moment...
So what's the idea here? Why tell you all these seemingly asinine thoughts that trampled my mind throughout my childhood? Well, I think it's important to note that not all manipulation of the mind is something you can pick out easily. To outsiders and even most of the time to me, he was a good dad just showing his kid around the guns and fields, teaching her the dirty history of the world so I wouldn’t be fooled by the existence of Hollywood glamour. Educating her on real business, record keeping and accounting. I guess he needed someone working books he knew he could control. I have found peace with the little girl I was, the one that let him use me that way; I am still angry though. Years pass, but that kind of anger will burn for a lifetime.
To the world he was a true country boy, just a Marine and his baby girl.
Be mindful of your children, of friends and family that want to be close to them. Even the closest of relatives, those who you’d slap the preacher for speaking ill of, they can do things you wouldn’t believe. They may have already. I’m not saying not to let them be close and loving and affectionate with family or friends; obviously healthy family relationships are important. I’m just saying to be mindful, ask questions and really listen to the answers. SO much in my life would have changed if someone had just asked a few more questions… or taken me seriously when I answered. I wasn’t trying to be edgy, or cool, or rebellious. The quiet kid, they may just be too afraid to talk.