It was the summer of 2004. I had just turned 19 years old. Johann was in from Germany. It was one week till our wedding.
”Get out of my house!” yells my stepmother as she throws Johann’s suitcase out of the front door. His saxophone came flying right behind.
Johann took his things planning on taking a walk around the block and coming back after everything had cooled down. But he never came back.
I later found out that my father drove up behind him and said, ”Get in the car. I’m going to take you to the airport. And if I see you at my house again I’m going to call the cops.”
Today I am married to Johann. We live in Germany and have three children. What happened back then was 10 years ago and I am only able to write about it now.
This is my true story. It’s about following my heart, persevering and forgiveness.
The music was playing loud in the other room. I was using my break to fill out my application. I wanted to spend one school year in Germany. Only a hand full of high school students would be selected to go. Sweat covered my body. I had been dancing for 4 hours straight. The clock ticked away as I scrambled to finish, skipping dinner and then it was time to go back out.
I spent four to five days a week dancing. My mother had always supported me. Sending me to dance class from age 6 until I moved out. She or my stepdad drove me faithfully to every class, even after we moved making the drive much longer. Both worked full time jobs away from home and my mother finished collage by going to night classes, then went on to receive her MBA. She spent her hard earned money on my school, my cloths and my dance. She never put a limit or condition on my dancing. (Thanks Mom…and Stepdad) They came to every TPAC performance and my mom never failed to help me with hair, makeup and outfits.
My dad supported me by coming to my performances until he got married to his third wife. At an age where girls are self-conscience about their weight my step mother managed to make it worse by voicing her opinion after one the best shows of my life. I was very proud of myself. Then here she comes, ”No one could concentrate on the dancing. Ever one was just staring at that fat girl. Why do they let her dance?”
Who makes comments like that? Realy? And she was serious.
Well, there was a dance class close to where my dad lived, around the time I was appling for the exchange year in Germany. I asked him if I could stay the night at his house one night a week so that I could attend this class.
Now keep in mind my father had been wanting me and my sister to live with him ever since my mother left him. That was in 1989. So I figured he would be thrilled. But no, he would only take me to the class if I got all A’s. I was going to a private catholic school, not the easiest in the world. So when I got a B it was over.
On a three week trip to Germany with my schools German class I received a letter, letting me know, that I had made it. I was selected to spend my senior year in Germany. I didn’t know then how this letter would change the course of my life forever.
My German teacher who was with us did the same exchange program when she was in high school and was the person who told me about it. I gave her the letter as we stepped into the bus. ”I made it.” I said. This was so crazy. I was in Germany, letting my German teacher know, that I would be returning in just under 2 months to spend a year with the same exchange program, that she went with, when she was in high school.
The bus took off. Taking us to an unknown place. A new adventure lay ahead. What it would bring, we did not know. Just as I did not know where my one year journey would take me.
My stepmother took me on a jog with her before I left for Germany. She ran regularly. I disliked running. I’m more of an aerobic girl. She made me run closest to the curb where the road dips down on one side so that rain water can smoothly flow away. After a while my leg started to burn and I needed a break. Why did I go jogging with her? She wanted to hang out with me. I thought she wanted to bond. I told her, I’m not into jogging, but she insisted. I felt sorry for her. So I went. I thought she would take it easy on me, knowing, that I don’t jog.
So my leg is burning. I stop for a minute and tell her, that if we are to continue, that I don’t want to be on the slanted side of the road.
”Oh, now see there. You are weaker than you think you are. You don’t realize how weak and unfit you are until you start to work out. Then the truth is revealed to you. Just like when you go to Germany. You think you are strong in your faith, but when you get to Germany where temptation is high, that’s when you will realize how weak you are. But it will be too late. You should reconsider going on this exchange year. What you really need is to be around strong Christians, who can show you how to follow Christ.”
I’m thinking ”What is she trying to prove? I’m not hurt because I’m unfit rather because I’ve been running at a tilt for about two miles. Neither do I claim to be a supper fit Christian at age 18. But what do I say to this woman who wants to prove a point and make me feel bad?” So I said I just want to run on the other side, that way I won’t be in so much pain.
”See there, you go making excuses for yourself. The truth is that you are not in shape and you don’t want to admit it. Just like you are not ready to spend a year in another country and you don’t want to admit it.” says my stepmother.
Wow. I don’t even know what to say. Shortly after this whole ordeal, my dad asks me to move in with him. To explain how crazy this offer is, I would have to explain what happened just two years prior… I was at my dads’ house for the weekend visitation. These visitations were every other weekend for 10 years. I had never missed a weekend not even when my dad lived in another state.
I was sitting at the table having a conversation with my father when my stepmother yells something from the couch. She come storming over and starts talking loud to me. My dad just sits there and does nothing. I have no idea what we were talking about. I remember being confused and thinking this has nothing to do with you. My sister says what I was thinking. She starts yelling at my stepmother for disturbing the conversation between me and my father. My stepmother started yelling at my sister. There was no room left for my father or I to say anything. The two just kept yelling at each other. My father and I never finished our conversation.
My sister drove home that night begging me to come with her. I said ”No, I want to stay. I’m sure we’ll talk calmly about it tomorrow and figure things out. I’m not going to give up by leaving. Tomorrow is Sunday. I’m sure we’ll figure this out. But if you want to leave then I won’t stop you. I understand.”
My sister left. I went to sleep confused but hopeful. I just knew we would all be laughing about it by tomorrow night.
The next day came. The house was unusually still. I didn’t see or hear my stepmother and my father didn’t say a word to me. I knew that we would go to church, so I got myself ready. We went to the car and then I say my stepmother scurry out of the house and into a separate car. Unusual, we normally all ride together. My dad normally used car rides to lecture me and sister about uncomfortable topics such as sex. So we can’t just get up and leave. I figured he wanted to lecture me in the car so I didn’t say anything. I just waited for him to begin. He didn’t say a word. We drove and drove until we can to the interstate and I realized he was not taking me to church. I asked him where we were going. He just smirked.
We continued to drive for a while before I realized he was taking me back to my mothers’ house. Of course she was not there. She was not expecting me to be brought home early. As we sat in the drive way I asked why he took me home.
”Devlin and I think it is best if you don’t come back to see us for a while.” says my dad.
”What? Like skip a weekend?” I asked ”Why?”
”More like two months. We need some time alone.” replies my dad as if two weeks between visitation wasn’t enough.
”Ok but why?” I asked
”I’ll write you a letter explaining everything.” he says.
”A letter. Just tell me now then we can work it out.” I plea.
”No I’m going to write it in a letter.” he says coolly.
”But I don’t understand, did I do something wrong. Just tell me what it is.” I plea again.
”I also won’t be calling you. If you want contact you need to call us. The ball is in your court now. You are in high school and if you want to talk to us you can call.” He says.
I ask myself again and again where this is coming from and why. What does he mean by ”the ball is in my court.” He never calls me anyways and now it is ”in my court.” What?
Two months come and go. No letters. I call my dad and ask him if we should come and visit him or not. The two months are over.
He says no. He thinks the break should be longer.
I asked him why and he said I could read all about it in the letter. I said ”what letter we haven’t received any letters from you.”
That’s right the letters were never sent. That is because they are not finished. I asked when they would be finished and he did not know.
Four months later, I received my letter, along with my mother and sister. I figured after waiting for a total of six months these letters would be the size of a short story but they were only one to two pages each. And there was a paragraph cut out of mine and pasted into my sisters letter. That would have been ok except the paragraph started like this, ”Rebekah, you and your sister Kelly…” That was my sisters’ letter. My name is Rebekah not hers.
After getting over the initial shock of these unthoughtful letters that explained nothing to me about why I my father stopped visitation, I gave him a call. ”I just read the letter you sent. I don’t understand. Can you explain them to me.” I asked him.
”Everything is explained in the letter.” My dad replies.
”So you are telling me that you stopped visitation because I didn’t send thank you cards to my stepmother after we visited. I didn’t know, that it was expected of me to send my stepmother a thank you card after visiting every other weekend, considering we have been visiting you our whole lives. Fine. But then you write, ‘you notice improvement in me because you heard from your mother, that I sent her a nice letter.’ I always send her nice letters. That is nothing new. I don’t understand what you are trying to say here.” I say in confusion.
”Well that is not all I wrote in the letters.” he tries to explain.
”No, you are right. That is not all. But nothing in this letter explains to me why you stopped visitation. We had an argument. No Devalin and my sister Kelly had an argument. The two of us were just talking. And anyways arguments can be worked out. We could have just talked about it and worked it out. Kelly left that night but I stayed so that we could get things worked out. You gave it no chance. Then told me you need a break from me, your daughter. You have been doing nothing but telling us how our mother ruined your life when she left you because she took away the most precious things in your life, me and Kelly. Then you just the throw us out the minute it gets hard.”
I’m on the verge of tears. ”You said it would be two months. That you needed a two month break. You said you would write letters in that time explaining everything. This explains nothing. And it took you six months to write it. I can’t believe that. There are mistakes in these letters, big mistakes. There are accusations that make no since. For example, you pouring orange juice for my friends and I at the breakfast table after they stayed over for the night. I should have poured orange juice for myself. What? What does your pouring orange juice, have to do with me?”
My dad, ”I shouldn’t baby you. You are in high school.”
”I don’t see pouring orange juice as babying. Where is this coming from? And I could have poured it myself. Why should I, if you already have? This is non since. There is no way that you put even a little thought into these letters. How do you think that makes me feel?”
Silence, then, ”I did spend a lot of time on the letters.” I start crying. ”I put a lot of thought into them. I’m sorry if you don’t understand. And I am sorry that it took so long.”
At some point I forgave him. That is why I started visiting him again. It never turned back into a regular, every other weekend, visitation. But I convinced myself to be happy with being able to visit my dad and Devlin whenever they felt like having time for me. My sister stopped visiting, she was angry for a long time.
Now you can see, why my dad offering me to live with him, just kind of threw me off guard. He didn’t really ask thought. He kind of told me that he is my father and knows what is best for me. He started attending a church that later turned out to be a cult. But none of us knew that at the time. He told me that his role as a father is clearer than ever now. He really is a Christian now and just thought he was before. He said that he and Devlin are the ‘strong Christians’ that I need in my life right now. Remember that I attend a catholic school. I attended church every Sunday with my mother. And had been confirmed not to long ago. But that did not stop my father and Devlin from thinking they know what is best. Especially now that they have a ‘church’ to back them up.
Let me think…stay in the USA with my mother even thought I have been selected to spend a year in Germany when she supports me, is happy for me and willing to pay the 200 a month necessary for the trip and fly me to DC where we are to meet the other families and leave for Germany. Or stay in the USA with my crazy stepmother and unreliable father. Or go to Germany, have a new experience, meet new people, a new way of living, master a second language, and gain a new world view before starting college. What would you have done?
I chose Germany. Although I must admit I considered staying with my father. He and my stepmother where very persuasive and pushy. I was almost afraid he would disown me, like he disowned my sister for marrying her first husband, if I didn’t move in with him. He refused to walk her down the isle. I’ll admit, Kellys first husband was a jerk, but in the end, it is my sisters’ life. She has to make her own decisions. It is the families’ job to give support, advice when asked for, and to love unconditionally.
Isn’t loving unconditionally the quintacential message? The most important message of Jesus? If you claim to be such a Strong Christian, start loving first.
While this post does not explain why I moved to Germany for good, it does give insight into why it wasn’t hard for me to leave my home, my country and my family for a year.
I notice that it leaves the question open, why did Devlin throw Johanns’ things out of the house? And how did I end up marrying him?
I realized that in order to answer these questions I would need to go back even further and that it would take a book to explain every detail.
So I started a new blog called Ten years in Germany, a story of a young girl following her heart.
In order to protect people I have changed names and some information. It is not totally a true story. The events are as true as I can remember. No events are exaggerated to make a good story.