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Cult, Rape, and Pregnancy: An Unbelievably True Story
An Unbelievable Story of Survival
There is no lack of books on the market that share experiences of people battling addictions or overcoming other adversities. Yet No Crying for Elena, sets itself apart sharing a story that is somehow more powerful and human than others. The author tells a story being born into a cult, Yahweh ben Yahweh and the adversities she faced growing up in an authoritative all-controlling community separated from her parents. As if that wasn't enough, when her family finally left the cult in her early teen years, her obstacles and challenges only increased. Raped twice by different men, the second time leading to an early teen pregnancy, all while trying to care for 8 brothers and sisters, and being moved near constantly were only a few of these. This truly is an unbelievable story of survival.
Sometimes all you need to hear is one small voice
Individuals who join cult organizations certainly can be seen as victims lured with false promises. However, at some point it was their choice to join. Yet the children of those who joined should universally be seen as victims as they had no choice to join or stay inside. This was exactly what happened to the author N. Meridian. At age 5 her parents brought her into Yahweh ben Yahweh, an organization led by one man who made his own religion combining components of Judiasm with his own beliefs on religion. He spoke of how white people have subjugated blacks as well as brought evil and barbarity to the world. The only way to survive with integrity was to set yourself apart and live a pure life. Thus, Yahweh ben Yahweh had his followers sequester themselves into communal living and working places. Children were sent to a special school, separated from their parents and raised by other community members. This also freed up the parents to have more children (aka followers) without the pressures of their previous children in the home. This is partly how N. Meridian ended up with 8 brothers and sisters. Life in the cult for the children was extremely authoritative, with extreme punishment for misbehavior and very few opportunities for self-expression or normally curiosity. Seeing the outside world of Florida through gates and hearing occasionally music of a passing car, but never being able to experience led them to be horribly unprepared when they were to enter that world.
At age 10 the worlds combined violently when the police SWAT team raided the compound, arresting many and forcing the others to flee out of the community (Yahweh ben Yahweh had been ordering the murder of followers who had left the cult). Living with her mother who ended up working a string of menial jobs and thus struggling to pay for her large family, N. Meridian took the role as the oldest daughter seriously and became a surrogate mother for her siblings. Helping to get them to school which sometimes required waking up as early as 4am to get the youngest to day care while then walking the middle ones to elementary school and only then getting herself to school. Then of course picking them up from school and preparing dinner and ultimately to bed, only to do it all again the next day. A neighbor who was a friend of her mother, was extremely friendly with the family and invited them over frequently to spend time with his family. One horrible day he invited N. Meridian over and while only barely a teenager, took advantage of her trust of a family friend, and raped her while the kids were outside playing. Without anyone to trust, feeling it was possibly her fault, she hid the event and felt shamed inside while fearing all the consequences a young girl could imagine (disease, ridicule, pregnancy). The only outward sign of this rape was the new obsession with cleanliness as she tried to clean what could never be cleaned.
A chance for a better life?
She caught a break and was able to live with her Aunt for middle school enough to get her grades up and get into a special high school for gift and talented music and arts. While she thrived in an environment with a mother figure who made sure she did her homework and provided a stable home, she also struggled with the overly authoritative, lack of trust environment. She found ways to avoid going home after school usually with a plethora of after school activities including choir. At one choir trip a 23 year old friend of a fellow classmate took a liking to her and luring her into an abandoned hallway, and then forcible raped her. Since she had initially liked him when she met him a few hours earlier she feared that if she reported the rape others would say she had flirted with him and thus it was her fault. She told no one of the rape and simply went home and continued to shower and try to clean herself. Unfortunately this rape led to a pregnancy. Telling both her aunt and her mother that she was pregnant but not about the rape, her Aunt kicked her out of her home and her mother treated her with complete disdain and even anger. Everyone including her teachers wanted her to get an abortion to 'solve the problem' but she just couldn't do it, so even they started to write off this extremely talented student. She felt there was something wrong with getting rid of her child and wanted to keep this life that was growing inside her.
The story continues with life after she delivers her child and the struggles of not only being a single mother, but a single mother and rape victim. If that wasn't enough emotional turmoil she still had all of the challenges with her mother who continued to run through boy friends at a rapid pace, moving near constantly and demanding money from all of her children who found jobs to support her. She struggled with the ability to build any emotional connection with co-workers or neighbors and especially with men that might lead to a physical relationship. This was not going to be an easy life, and just getting through the day was sometimes oppressively difficult.
Does the book have a happy ending? Its hard to say. N. Meridian has found her own way to not only survive and thrive in this tough world. With an attitude of trying to seize the day and taking care of her daughter she continues to persevere through all the challenges that she faced. Perhaps living is the greatest success one could hope for, but she has done so much more than just live; she has found the strength to tell her stories to help others who might be struggling.
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My overall review of this book
When I am asked to review a book by an author or publisher I usually try to keep the book at arms distance knowing I will be asked for my thoughts. I find I don’t let myself get drawn in as much to the story as I take notes and prepare for my review. This book tore down every wall and drew me into the emotional life of the author. The heart wrenching story and ability to overcome everything that happened to her is an inspiration for each of us. Do not be thrown by the size of this book, while appearing thin, it packs a massive punch on every page. This author faced so many adversities that each individually could be enough to an emotional biography. Being raised in an oppressive cult, child of mother who rarely focused on her children instead on her own self destructive behavior, being raped twice, becoming a single mother without any support from family or friends, and trying to be a parent for 8 siblings when barely a teenager herself. How she was able to carry-on is truly a blessing and a wonder.
I would strongly recommend this book for not only causal readers but also those who have faced any one of these adversities. This is not a Cinderella story, but a real story by a real woman who still struggles but has put herself into a good place by sheer willpower and strength of character. An unbelievable story of an unbelievable woman.
What we can learn from this story
I think there are two key items I picked from this book that I would like to shine a strong light on. The first, and perhaps the most obvious is on the subject of rape. Even in this day and age in different ethnic groups or social/economic groups, rape is still something extremely difficult to report. There is still a stigma that perhaps 'she was asking for it', 'she likes it rough', 'she wanted it and now she regrets it'. Unfortunately, there is a feeling that going to the police might set off an uncontrollable chain of events that will lead to public humiliation for the victim. I think it is critical for ALL of us regardless of race, religion, age, or gender to be extremely sensitive to this topic. Educate your children that if something happens you will ALWAYS love them, support them. Let them know that if they report this heinous crime, it will NOT be their fault and the police are there to protect and will not embarrass them. If you see a change in a woman or girl, try to be that friend and find out why the change. Perhaps they will feel comfortable opening up to you. According to the NY Times in 2011, 1in 5 women had being raped or victims of attempted rape at some point in their life. That would average out to approximately 1.4 million rapes each year! Rape is a horrible unconscionable crime and we all must try to educate ourselves to support victims in any way we can or ideally prevent it from ever taking place.
The other, perhaps subtler lesson that I feel we should focus on is an attitude that I admired so much in the author. She speaks often of Carpe Diem or seizing the day. There is a large percent of the population around the world who goes to work for most of the day, comes home to cook dinner for the family perhaps clean a little and then collapses with just enough time to get some rest to do it all over again. Finding the time for anything out of the standard daily requirements can be quite difficult, yet life also needs to be enjoyed. Those with the toughest lives who live paycheck-to-paycheck sometimes find it the hardest to find the means to take a day to spend with the family or friends. For those who might have the time or the means, perhaps this is where we can help another. Do you have a neighbor that you can offer to watch their children letting them have a night off, or perhaps you know of a charity that helps provide day care services for those who need a night off. It might not seem as important as feeding the homeless, but it can make the world of difference to someone. The pressure of providing for a family and being the support system, especially as a single parent can become almost unbearable for even the strongest of parents. If as friends or family we can help maybe just take the kids to a movie and give the parent a couple of hours of time, that can possibly be the greatest gift. While Yahweh ben Yahweh took to the extreme the concept of a community raising children, the concept of friends and family coming together to help their own is still quite valid. Even the strongest parent needs some help occasionally to help them keep moving forward.
An interview with the author
Q) Now that you have published a book on your story, has it changed your own therapy or had an impact on your relationship with others?
Honestly, publishing my story hasn't changed my relationship with my family and friends as I once thought it might. If anything, I think a few of them understand me a little better now. So I'm glad that people aren't as judgmental as I thought they might be towards me. My sister, Sarah, on the other hand, wasn't fond of reading the book after viewing the cover, but she is still speaking to me, so I guess that's all that matters.
Has it changed my therapy, you ask? Healing began years before and continued further during the writing process. In fact, it continues daily. The other day, I was brave, maybe even crazy, enough to thumb through a few pages of my book, just to get a sense of what the reader encountered and I'll admit, it made my heart race reliving it all. Although these things happened some time ago, I am, at times, in awe of how my life is so drastically different and how much my life has improved. The memories that shouldn't phase me still do, more than can I say, but it gets easier every day.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing this story for others to read?
The hardest part of writing my own story were the moments of clarity. It was unsettling, at first, knowing that others would know my story, my shame. Wondering if every time a reader comes across my blog posts, my stories and the works to come, that they might always minimize my accomplishments by remembering what I endured really bothered me. That they may never enjoy my works without first thinking me a victim, instead of recognizing me as the author of one of their favorite stories, was probably the hardest thing to accept. Eventually, though, I manage to recall the reactions I've received so far and that puts me at ease. I reason that if they hate it, if they are appalled by it, at least they are nice enough not to tell me so.
Q: What was the most fun or favorite part of writing this book?
A: The most fun I had while working on this project was grilling my dad and seeing if our memories lined up. I remembered many things without his help. But since The Nation is something we just don't mention, it was disconcerting, yet freeing to ask what pushed him to get involved with something that was so hideous, so twisted in the first place, then being surprised with an answer so simple: love. After all, love can motivate us to do things we'd never consider. Not to mention, my dad and I weren't close until much later in my life, so being able to talk to him about things I never could made us both uncomfortable; still, we grew closer in our discomfort.
Q: What are your goals moving forward?
A: As far as my goals moving forward, I'm working on launching my website, www.ascandalouslyfabulouslife.com (A Scandalously Fabulous Life) in the next couple of months, which focuses on the lighter sides of life, family, love, news, travel and entertainment. Also, I'm working on a novel series I began before I ever had the audacity to write my memoir because I hope to polish my manuscript and make it ready to send out to publishers soon. Now that my daughter is in high school, I'm enjoying that whole experience while trying not to pull out my hair. And when I'm not struggling to work on myself, I try to give my time to others through volunteer work. With that said, looking back isn't something I do often. With everyday, in every way, I'm always moving forward.
Support sites for rape victims and those thinking of suicide
- Rape and Sexual Abuse Survivor Message Board
A place to share your story and talk with others who have also gone through sexual assault.
- Rape Crisis Center
A location to find out what are your options and choices if you have been raped or attempted rape.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
A place to go if you are even thinking about suicide