Through a set of seemingly unconnected acts of Providence, my family all left discrete fundamentalism at the same time. While Grant and I landed safely in a PCA church, my parents settled in a Southern Baptist church up the road here.
And they love it. Mom says, “After 39 years, I finally feel like I’m home.”
I have these recurring dreams about my church from high school. I’m crawling through some circuitous path that connects the gymnasium to the baptistry. Winding staircases, crawl spaces, tight squeezes. It’s bizarre. I’ve had the dream so often that its memory seems more real than my actual memories of that church building.
I wonder what my subconscious is trying to work through.
After graduating from high school 25 years ago, I can now admit publicly that my experience in that Christian day school was nothing short of terrorizing. I was mocked, humiliated, bullied, threatened, and shunned. By students and teachers alike.
My first grace-less experience was within weeks of arriving. We had moved from Tulsa to metro Detroit in the middle of my fifth grade year. I had been dropped right in the middle of Christmas program practice, and my class was performing “Stille Nacht.” I didn’t know the German version! So I told my mom, and we followed the same procedure that we had used in our Oklahoma school: my mom wrote a note. Something like “Can you pass along the words for the German version of ‘Silent Night,’ so that Camille can learn them?” My fifth grade teacher wrote back with, “What’s wrong? Can’t she talk for herself?”
Sheesh. Talk about passive-aggressive and unprofessional! We were doing what was familiar to us. I was ten! I was NEW! Can’t you put yourself in a kid’s shoes? Who’s the adult in this situation?
It didn’t get much better. The administrators were bullies. The (in)famous Les Ollila was the youth pastor at this church (just to give a snapshot at how ‘connected’ this church was in the IFB). Now the last principal I had was a decent albeit quiet soul. But he couldn’t recover what the former several had done. They were awful. The only time any of them spoke to me was once (in Junior High), and that was to yell at me for something he misunderstood. I knew my place after that — “Shut up, you fool.” And I did.
I remember being shamed for doing poorly on my school work. And being shamed for doing well on my school work. At 14, my Bible teacher asked me about my exceptionally preppy socks in front of the class with “How far did you have to chase a n—– down Eight Mile to get those socks?” And at 16, another teacher pronounced me not “marriage material” because I was too smart/strong/out-spoken, or if I did find one, he’d most certainly be hen-pecked. I nearly didn’t go on my senior trip because I didn’t really want to be put at risk for a week that far from home, yet I was shamed into going. Something about hurting my testimony, I can’t remember.
I got psoriasis that year. The stress was that bad. I cried every afternoon at home. I found graffiti in my home room that said “Camille Kaminski will die.”
I told myself that the reason this happened was that the class was so small (22), and that I didn’t have a “niche.” I told myself that once I got to college, it would be better because there’d be more people there who were like me. . . . And on some level that was true. I met my best friend in college, and he’s a peach! And if you know him, the last thing you’d call him is “hen-pecked.”
Two of my male classmates visited me in the years following high-school graduation to personally apologize for the way they treated me. “We were just terrible to you,” one said, “And I’m sorry.” Two different young men and two different times. So . . . there’s that. Really — it’s something. It’s validating and it was difficult for them to do that. I have always appreciated it.
I still get flashbacks. Somebody made a comment on my blog last spring that for some reason triggered a whole bundle of 25-year-old fears. And I was on a Fall trip to Gatlinburg recently and caught a commercial with the “your husband will be hen-pecked” teacher. No kidding! That was just bizarre.
I know now that that church/school was very, very broken. Multiple adulterous affairs among the employees, criminal embezzlement, even at one point housing a money-laundering front for the Mob — all those things contribute to a violent dysfunction that, of course, guarantees that the weak and the odd are mistreated.
For years, I told myself that that place was weird. But now I realize that the harshness and cover-ups that dominated that community persist throughout fundamentalism. The same treatment that I got there as a kid, I would get 20 years later at BJU as an adult.
No wonder we had to leave to find home.