I was born in the 1970’s to a deaf father and a hearing mother. The clash of deaf and hearing cultures reverberates in my mind even now as it lives on in my memory. Especially since I was born into a Jehovah’s Witness family.
The deaf were not looked upon as equal members. They were shouted at as a hearing person tried to over-enunciate their words as if they could then be understood better. The deaf were pitied, and their children left out to only know socialization among themselves. A polite ostracization existed, of which the deaf parents were blissfully unaware, it seemed.
In my own house, discord between cultures brought out fits of rage between my parents.
I first realized I was different when people at the Kingdom Hall talked to other children and then they didn’t talk to me. My childhood mind couldn’t understand why.
I was born with what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome, but is now considered to be under a broad umbrella called Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
This gave me a much more sensitive and awkward sense of sociability. Not to mention being physically more sensitive to all of my senses. Another reason to treat me differently than the other children.
Assemblies were especially difficult for me because everything the speaker said was loud and the break for lunch was even louder with thousands of people all in one space talking to each other making a seemingly deafening roar.
But being the child of someone who was deaf in the organization would prove to be a much bigger challenge than my social and sensory predisposition.
My first memory of logical disgust at a concept put forth from the platform was when this man (I refuse to use the terms brother or sister) said, “And after Armageddon, there will be thousands of dead bodies that we will see, and we shall leave them where they lay because of their evil, and we shall feel true joy for the first time.” I was 7 years old.
This instilled in me terror and disgust at the same time. How could you see a human dead on the ground and feel joy?? What kind of god would make the survivors of such a horror as Armageddon so heartless?
This proved not to be an isolated incident. It was drilled into me: don’t feel sad for the slain enemies of god in the Bible or those doomed right around the corner.
But the interpreters for my father wore smiles on their faces, not reflecting the varying tones of the speaker. They still do this. To my dad, it would indeed be a joyful day. For me, I was convinced I would be among the dead because I didn’t agree.
The only thing I was certain of was that I had to keep my thoughts to myself, because nobody ever questioned. Nobody ever publicly disagreed.
I became the perfect, at times embarrassing, parrot of whatever I consistently heard from the adults. That it didn’t come from my heart at all made me more unhappy than words can describe. I thought to myself often that maybe the churches had it right and there was a hell because I was living it.
Fast forward to my teenage years, I had justifiable angst and wanted to tear the whole organization apart so there’d be a little hole where I, and hopefully others like me, could escape into unknown freedoms.
A friend, my best friend, finally freed me in my 20’s from the fear of Armageddon and the foreboding wrath of Jehovah by speaking to my logical, autistic sensibilities with facts he had found. Inconsistencies. Lies. Blatant cover-ups using “new light” as the reason for such drastic changes.
Freedom from the terror of my childhood has been a struggle. I have PTSD, and severe depression for which I must take medication.
But I was saved, by a true friend, from a much worse fate – continuing to be a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.