THE WORST THING MY mother’s ever done is kidnapping me when I was 19. That sounds really dramatic, doesn’t it? It feels really weird to say. Who kidnaps their legally adult child? My mother. What made it even worse was that she took me because she was hoping she could find a way to pray away my gay. We haven’t spoken in so many years that it hurts to count them, as if I were numbering her sins.
The story starts like this: I’m 19, living on my own, and employed as a barista at a busy coffee shop in the Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska. I loved my life, I loved my new cool friends, and I loved not living with my parents. I was really happy. I lived in a huge house — a triplex, actually — with six, seven or maybe even eight other people. Rent was cheap. We partied all the time. I had a fake ID. I had a cool loft bed. I didn’t have a girlfriend, but I had some crushes. This was a few years before I transitioned to being male so I was visibly queer, and the best thing was that in my new environment, I was allowed to be so.
My mother bluntly asked me if I was a lesbian when I was barely 15, then she forced me to break up with my girlfriend of nine months, even threatening to call the police. When I was 18, I was asked not to come back home a couple days after I graduated high school, all for refusing to remove a necklace covered in rainbow beads. The threat was probably idle, but I obliged. My mother told everybody that I ran away. When I was thirteen my stepfather told me I should commit suicide. This was before they even knew I was queer.
Though my mom and stepfather met at a metaphysical store and taught me to do Tarot and cast runes by the time I was nine, they found Jesus a few years later and turned into worse people than they already were. Jesus didn’t want me to be gay, so for years it was just never discussed and I lived in shame and I was very, very, very depressed.
When I was 19, I thought I had a perfect life. Then my mother and stepfather decided they were going to move for the 89,773,827,432th time. My mother asked if I would come along and help out with driving. Even though my mother had hurt me and rejected me countless times, I said yes because I love her and I was a lot sweeter and more helpful (read: naïve, overly-trusting and stupid) back when I was 19. I packed a bag and brought my boom box that had detachable speakers and my CD book. I wasn’t quite sure how long I would be staying. I thought maybe two weeks at the most. My mother had promised she’d pay for a bus ticket or an airplane ticket home after they were settled in. And then the week turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Two of them.
According to the 2009 U.S Census, Dove Creek, Colorado is a town with a population of 689 people. Its nickname is “The Pinto Bean Capital of the World.” It is hot and dry, located in the Four Corners area. That is where they took me, along with my little brother and sister. At the time my mother may have been pregnant with my youngest sister whom I’ve only met a few times, back when she was an infant. The actual town was about five miles, give or take, from the ranch my mother and stepfather had rented. The closest town that had more than 689 residents in it was Cortez. It boasted a small downtown shopping area full of antique and cowboy kitsch stores. It was about 35 miles away from Dove Creek, which were both located off of what was then called Highway 666 (it is now called U.S. Route 491).
The drive out there from Omaha wasn’t terrible. We took the scenic routes. It was actually kind of fun while I was still unaware of my mother’s intentions to keep me there. We made pit stops and drove through mountain passages, and I got to drive the U- Haul part of the time. We snacked on beef jerky and fast food, and I almost forgot during the trip out there how screwed up things actually were. It was easy to pretend that we were a “normal” family (which I’ve since realized do not exist) and that they weren’t running from Omaha because they probably fucked somebody over; their main source of income came in by conning people in fake business arrangements.
As time progressed and I realized that they weren’t going to send me back to Omaha anytime soon, I tried to enjoy my stay on that rustic ranch while secretly plotting a way out. I fed the chickens (which are disgusting, filthy, and loud creatures) and helped my stepfather build an electric fence to keep the horses in and the coyotes out. I touched the fence every chance I got because I have a weird thing for getting shocked. I spent hours explaining my problems to the wise goats in our charge on the property, saved a hummingbird that was injured and quickly went through the meager bag of ditch weed I’d brought with me — smoking it in the barn while my mom thought I was shooting hoops. (I don’t “shoot hoops.”) We somehow acquired a bunch of kittens. I watched my little brother proudly help with chores on the ranch. He was so cute.
We had family excursions sometimes. We saw Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez. We went to the Four Corners and I got to be in four states at the same time. We’d go to the tiny ice cream and burger joint in town and sit in the desert sun drinking milkshakes and eating cheeseburgers. One of my favorite things to do was to go to the feed store in town and look at all the tools and smell the different barrels of grains. We liked to go on drives and explore the Southwestern terrain. Even though I hadn’t come out as trans yet, I was perfecting the art of passing as male, and out there in the rural southwest I usually passed to strangers, much to my mother’s chagrin.
At night I would drink my mother’s box wine, which always seemed to mysteriously be full, and go online and talk to my friends back home. I’d sleep until noon and wake up with a hangover. That was when I started drinking seriously, and it fucked me up in a major way. Looking back, I have a hunch that the wine was there and that 19-year-old me was allowed to go to town on it in “secret” because it kept me somewhat placated.
During those nights drinking wine, I was also trying to make arrangements to get back home. Friends offered to come and get me or send me money to get a bus ticket. When I sheepishly brought these options up to my parents, having figured out that their intention was for me to continue to live with them, my ideas were shot down. The internet history and my chat histories were searched. After that, I was banned from the internet. I still stealthily logged on at night, making sure to erase my history, and I managed to start building a plan that included my biological father, whom I’d only met the year before, driving out from his home in Iowa to come get me. It took a while to figure out logistics and to carry it out. In the meantime, things were getting really bad between my parents and me. The fights were getting worse and worse, I was sinking into a deep depression, the night drinking was getting intense, and I felt hopeless. I couldn’t do anything without my parents. I didn’t have any friends there and then my mother started suggesting I get a job in town and stay with them indefinitely.
As our fights escalated, I ran out of the house one day. It seemed random to my mother, but I had been planning it for a week, after getting an email through to my father without my mother’s detection. In the message, my father told me to start a fight, let things get really bad and then storm out to go for a walk. I headed south on Highway 141 and then east on U.S. Route 491 (666, back then) to walk the five miles or so to the actual town of Dove Creek. I was probably about two miles into my journey, in the glaring sun, walking on an interstate that had heavy freighter truck traffic with barely a shoulder to walk on. The town sheriff, who would prove to be very helpful, stopped on the side of the interstate to ask me what I was doing out there, chastising me about the danger of walking on that particular interstate.
We’d met him several times. We were the new family in a town that didn’t get many new families. He’d driven out to the ranch to welcome us personally. I was scared, and I didn’t want to tell him that I was walking into town to find a payphone from which to call my father. I’d stolen quarters from my mother’s wallet to pay for the long-distance call, and my father was waiting at home that day, all day, for my call. Dad and I were setting up a time for him to drive out and a day to try to come get me. Something was off about my story, and I could tell he knew that, but the Sheriff drove me into town and waited for me to use the phone. Then he drove me back home but respected my request that he drop me off a half-mile away on Highway 141 so that my family didn’t see me coming home in a Sheriff’s car. I would be forever grateful for this man.
The call set our plan in motion. I was to stage another argument the coming Sunday, and in the meantime, my father left Iowa that night and started his drive to Dove Creek. He got a hotel room and waited. And I waited, my stomach nervous all week, knowing that after this things would never, ever be the same. My ear ached knowing I was abandoning my siblings; without my presence they’d never have a link to anything close normalcy.
Sunday came around. As my orchestrated fight progressed and I refused to go to church with them, my mother gave in and let me stay home out of her own exasperation. After making reservations the day of the phone call, my father had emailed me the details that night when my parents had gone to bed. So that Sunday, I called him from their home phone, hurriedly packed my duffle bag and left my boom box with a note on it, saying that it was for my brother and that I loved him. I left another letter for the rest of the family explaining that I was okay and that I couldn’t stay there.
I waited for my father to pull into the driveway. My stomach felt sick. I was afraid he wasn’t going to show up, or that he would show up when they were coming home. I anticipated the worst.
My father had gone straight to the sheriff as soon as he got into town, unbeknownst to me. He told him the whole story, and the sheriff agreed to accompany him out to the ranch to pick me up. I panicked when I saw the sheriff’s car, thinking that I was in trouble and that I’d somehow been tricked, but when he got out of the car and saw me he hugged me. He said he thought that there was something peculiar about my family since he first met us and that his suspicions were confirmed when he picked me up on the side of the interstate that day. Anticipating my parents possibly freaking out, he had decided that he would wait for them to return home from church to explain where I had gone, and to let them know that there was nothing they could do since legally, I was an adult.
It was over. And we left.
We headed straight back to Iowa. It was an adventure, and I was saved. My dad and I bonded during the trip back to the Midwest because up until that point, we had only known each other for a year. We were still basically strangers. When we got back to Iowa where we stayed for about a week with his mother, I decompressed and worked on getting my job back at the coffee shop in Omaha. I started putting my life back together after it had belonged to someone else for two months. While in transit, my mother called and left threatening messages on my dad’s answering machine, and when my grandmother attempted to reason with her over the phone, she accused my father of kidnapping me himself. She said that I was a runaway. Threatening legal action because they were “harboring” me, she blamed her actions on my “lifestyle.” She said that being gay wasn’t the real me.
Slowly I have recovered from the experience, and I even visited my family for Christmas one last time. I went with my maternal grandmother (to protect me from another kidnapping), and my friends were aware of their new address in Oklahoma in case I turned up missing again.
That was a few years after the kidnapping — and right before I decided to transition. Once I came out as male, our relationship was over. I eventually stopped trying to get her to love me. I still ache for that love, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that she doesn’t really know how to love if the given affection doesn’t benefit her directly — meaning that she doesn’t really know how to love at all. I found out later from my maternal grandmother (who is totally accepting of me as a trans man, as is the rest of my extended family) that my mother had planned to take me to an Evangelist church to have hands laid upon me, a grip she never wanted to let go. She thought that after years of me being queer that she and her nutty friends would be able to rid me of whatever demon it was that was making me that way. Yes, she thinks I am possessed. She also thinks she’s a prophet, too, so there’s that.
That was 13 years ago. I’m no longer a lonely teenager trying to escape a family that hurts them. I’m 32 now and still scared and still trying to escape the things that hurt me, but at least I’m in control of my life and I am safe and okay. I’m still working on the healing, and I will be for the rest of my life. And I know that I’m never going to feel as happy and as whole as I did when I was first out on my own, before Dove Creek, but I am free at least.