What Is CLEvangelism?
I started writing CLEvangelism to promote the preaching I’ve heard on Radio 1000, an AM station in Cleveland, since I became a Christian in 2014, but this blog/memoir easily could’ve been called “The Reluctant Christian” because I never intended to become one. I’ve always believed God exists, but who wants to be disregarded as a Bible thumper, holy roller, or religious nut — especially if you were an outcast as a kid? Furthermore, I wasn’t God’s biggest fan after growing up with a father who attended church every Sunday and sang in the choir but beat and choked my mom for 15 years until he beat her so badly that she buckled my mentally disabled, diabetic, and epileptic brother into the white Bronco he’d bought her during the O.J. Simpson trial and fled to a domestic violence shelter. But my violent upbringing is partly what led me to him. As Dr. Darrell Scott said during one sermon, “You didn’t get saved because you wanted to get saved. The lord let so much hell in your life you said, ‘God, I surrender.'”
Childhood Chaos, Enumerated
- Until age 4, when my brother was born, my mom and I were inseparable as my father worked the night shift at Ford and slept all day. Thanks to her devotion, I learned how to read and write by age 3, but I also became shy, suctioning myself to her leg like a starfish at the grocery store, which was about the only place we saw other people because my parents had moved to northeast Ohio from Pennsylvania and my mom, who was shy, hadn’t made friends yet.
- After my mom’s OB/GYN botched my brother’s delivery by squeezing his head with forceps, causing brain damage, diabetes, epilepsy, and autism, my mom laced me into roller skates, set me on the sidewalk, and sent me down Forest Lane to make friends because he needed her and I, in her eyes, did not.
- When she needed someone, because learning how to care for such a sick child at age 27 was stressful, my father opted to work on muscle cars instead.
- At some point, his best friend decided to fill in for him because, as Bishop T.D. Jakes has said, “[T]he devil will always sow discord in your relationships. … The moment you get married, make a team, make a family, join a committee, join a church, Satan will send division. … [And] your Judas is always at your table.”
- Approximately four years after my father walked into our half of the duplex and saw him “rolling around on the floor” with my mom, my father bought a house four miles away, where, tucked far from the road behind a full and towering willow tree, he began beating and choking her, often pinning her against the freezer door by her throat. And this is when my childhood ended because it’s impossible to go back to playing with Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls after your father nearly kills your mom.
- It was also impossible to concentrate in class. My father had pointed a gun at my mom and made her beg for her life, he’d told her that he wanted to hang her from a deer hook and skin her alive — slowly, and then one day I stepped off the school bus to two police cars parked in the driveway. So although fifth- and seventh-grade proficiency tests showed I could read at a sophomore and senior level, respectively, my GPA dropped to a 1.7 because I spent the rest of elementary school in the nurse’s station with a stomachache, zoned out in middle school, and blew off homework throughout high school even though my mom went to the office every week to pick up to-do lists from teachers.
- Instead of considering how beating my mom, pretending to kidnap my brother and me during an argument, and threatening to drown my cats — i.e., my only friends — in our swimming pool was affecting my grades, my father blamed drugs, ransacked my dresser drawers in search of them, and started forcing me to go to his Baptist church, where he sang in the choir, after he found a Guns N’ Roses tape, unraveled it, and set it on the top shelf of a kitchen cupboard so I would see it every time I reached for a dish or bowl.
- Sunday mornings, I yawned. A lot. As I wrote in chapter 7 of this memoir, as far as I was concerned, the framed Bible verses hanging among deer heads and hooves on our wood-paneled living room walls meant as much as the words printed on the newspapers stacked next to my mom’s rabbit’s cage.
After my father punched my mom in the face, knocking her out, when I was in fifth grade, I raised myself in my bedroom, where I could monitor what was going on without having to see it. Mom didn’t seem to notice or care. So, at age 19, I began working at Macy’s, hoping to find the love, attention, and stability I hadn’t gotten at home.
The first guy who asked for my phone number was a Marine stationed in Virginia Beach. When he sent jewelry and a mixed tape that would’ve prompted my father, who’d been recording phone calls for years, to drag me to church again, I asked him to stop calling. In response, he sent a sheet of paper asking, in giant, scrawling letters, why I’d led him so far. He said he was going to kill himself. When I didn’t reply, he sent another sheet of paper saying he was going to kill me when he came home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks.
The next guy who showed interest was 6-foot-5, gorgeous, and nine years older than me but made me nervous. I couldn’t pinpoint why so when one of our coworkers, a chain-smoking alcoholic who was also nine years older than me but had a journalism degree, invited me to a Halloween party, I went and spent much of the next two years regretting that decision as he started arguments about the gorgeous guy, got so drunk in restaurants that he fell asleep and slid beneath the table, glamorized the movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” and guilted me into staying with him by intimating that he’d kill himself if I broke up with him. I drank to drown out the baritone voice that had attracted me to him.
Toward the end of our relationship, I started spending time with the 24-year-old former coworker we’d been bringing on dates to carry the alcoholic to the car, and, after my father ordered me to start paying rent or move out at age 21, moved in with him, not knowing he was a porn addict who had a joint checking account with his mother because he owed over $10,000 in credit card debt or that he would flee to her arms anytime I confronted him about his habits.
While drinking with coworkers one Friday night in the Flats, I passed out, and one of them carried my limp body to my car, felt me up, and later brought Japanese swords and a grenade to work when I refused to leave my live-in boyfriend for him.
The Downward Spiral
The night my mom gave me a jewelry box along with sentimental pieces of costume jewelry and asked me to take our Siamese cat home with me, knowing my father was about to kill her, my boyfriend shoved me so hard that I nearly fell out our kitchen window, where I would’ve cracked my head open on the driveway several feet below.
This was the first time the martial artist had laid a hand on me — and the last. The next day, he moved to his friend’s townhouse in Columbus while I was at work, leaving me with rent and utilities I couldn’t afford on my $19,500-per-year salary as a legal secretary for a patent firm.
Walking in the door and seeing everything gone tripped a wire in my head, sending me into a two-week non-eating, non-sleeping, and nearly catatonic depression. Having to move to a cheaper apartment was both the best and worst thing for me. On one hand, the guy beneath me screamed at his girlfriend or wife and pounded on walls, making me feel like I was living with my parents again. On the other, the attorney I’d been working for and staying late to talk to for months helped move the mattresses my ex had left behind into my new place, and we began dating.
Unfortunately, he turned out to be a player who gave every indication that he loved and cared about me but flirted with a bank teller two buildings down the street from our office while I stood in line watching, took her to a work-related dinner-dance because he couldn’t take his secretary — i.e., me — and deliberately blindsided me with lipstick-stained wine glasses on his kitchen counter.
The night before he flew to Japan for three months, he attended his best friend’s wedding reception solo and called me from a table where a guy asked, “Is that your girlfriend?” before yelling, “He’s flirting!”
After he left, I fell for a lawyer at my new law firm who looked at me like no man has ever looked at me, told me he couldn’t date me as long as we worked together, and waited until the last day of my two weeks’ notice to tell me he was moving to Chicago.
Stability was nowhere to be found.
So, three weeks before my 25th birthday, upon the invitation to what would be our second Depeche Mode concert together, I resigned myself to playing mama bird to the gorgeous guy who’d fallen in love with me and called me “the gold” since a friend had introduced us at work six years earlier. From a male teacher who’d molested him to a coworker who’d conned him into marriage by telling him she was pregnant with his child to a genetic test that showed the baby hadn’t gotten a disease that runs in his family because she wasn’t even his, he’d been through a lot. And now that he was caring for his father, who was dying from that disease in a first-floor room of the house he still shared with his mom and a brother at age 34, I figured he could use someone taking care of him for a change.
It wasn’t until he became unreachable on his birthday the first week of July that I learned he was bipolar and schizophrenic, had a tendency to check himself into a psych ward when he got stressed out, and took nine meds, including lithium.
A week before Thanksgiving, he stopped taking all nine at once, began trembling, refused to go home and take them, and, after embarrassing me at Best Buy by donning headphones and orgasming along with KMFDM loudly enough for half the store to hear, among other public and private drama, asked me why I couldn’t love him before he got this bad.
Those words would wake me up each morning for years.
Adding to my guilt, when he told me that my face was melting and he could see bone, I stood up from his lap, extended my hand, and asked for his set of keys to my apartment. In response, he asked for a hug, and I refused. He was 6-foot-5 and built like a linebacker. I was afraid of what he might do to me since my mom had been clipping newspaper articles about schizophrenics for months. One guy had kidnapped a local woman and driven her to Texas, where police found her esophagus in his shirt pocket.
The second he left, I called his mom. Then, I faxed his social worker from the library.
I emailed him a few times over the next few days in an attempt to reach the person I knew, but he cut me off, saying it was too hard to keep in touch. Twelve years later, he would resurface like no time had passed and tell me his grandfather had died two years earlier and left him a house where he’d planted me a tulip garden, knowing they were my favorite flowers.
The summer after his meltdown, I tried dating a newly separated patent attorney I’d worked with years earlier, but he’d turned into a 37-year-old hypochondriac who thought a three-month stint in Japan had given him mad cow disease. It became impossible not to make jokes like, “Got milk?” or to feel like I was just a placeholder between his wife and a deli clerk he had a crush on, but playing Mario Kart and watching WWE with him distracted me from thinking about my ex and my mom.
By then, she’d fled from my father and moved into a coworker’s loft with my brother, but she’d become so accustomed to fighting all the time that she created rifts with me, totally disregarding the fact I’d stayed in Cleveland — a city that made me miserable — all my life in case she’d needed me.
HPV, Cervical Cancer Surgeries, and the Nervous Breakdown
During an annual exam December 2, 2002, my gynecologist diagnosed me with HPV and said I needed to have surgery as soon as possible to remove cervical cells that looked cancerous. Stunned, I took the pamphlets she handed me but didn’t hear a word she said.
Feeling sorry for myself, thinking, “I survived my childhood to die of cancer at age 27?” as I drove to work, I broke down crying and couldn’t stop. Something told me I wasn’t going to be able to stop, so I drove to Lutheran Hospital and went to my primary physician’s office. He’d prescribed Zoloft two years earlier after I’d stupidly gotten back together with the porn addict, endured another year of bullshit, and sobbed so hard the day he broke things off by phone to pursue someone else that it scared a friend/coworker into telling HR we had to leave so she could take me to her social worker, who diagnosed me with PTSD and said I’d probably had it since childhood.
I figured my doctor would prescribe another antidepressant and send me on my way, but he asked whether I had a family history of suicide and whether I’d ever considered killing myself, and I’ve always been too honest for my own good, so a “yes” to both prompted him to walk me down to the emergency room where a nurse asked me to point to the emoji I felt like most as I continued to cry.
About an hour after I took a urine test, changed out of my sleeveless turtleneck and into a hospital gown, sat at the foot of my gurney to get away from the wind whipping through the brick wall behind me, and downed three Ativan pills, a woman maybe 10 feet away began crying hysterically. As my tears shut off and my brain fogged up, her husband arrived, a priest walked in to read the patient his last rites, and the guy flatlined. I stared at the curtain someone had yanked shut between us, unable to believe any of this was happening.
The Psych Ward
Eight hours later, at 6 p.m., a woman told me that I had two choices: sign a form to admit myself to the psych ward overnight or the hospital would have me committed for three days. I signed the form and called my mom to tell her what happened, beginning with the cancer conversation. She cried and apologized, blaming herself, while I uncovered and quickly recovered a foul-smelling slab of meat the cafeteria had delivered.
“I can’t do this right now,” the Ativan told her.
After hanging up and wolfing down the brownie that had accompanied the Salisbury steak, I called the 37-year-old hypochondriac to let him know I wouldn’t be able to hang out because I was in the hospital.
“Okay, well, call me when you get out,” he said.
I never called him again.
Thanks to the Ativan, I fell asleep by 7 p.m. but woke up briefly in the middle of the night when orderlies brought an obese black woman into my room and strapped her to a bed because she clearly hadn’t signed herself in voluntarily.
Like Robin Williams shouting, “Gooooood morning, Vietnam,” a speaker above my headboard woke me up the next morning when someone ordered everyone to line up in the hall for a blood-pressure test.
Pancakes and pills came next as we watched back-to-back episodes of “Behind the Music” in a glass-enclosed conference room. I wouldn’t become a Christian for another 12 years, but I couldn’t help but think, “Very funny, God,” as VH1 played episodes about Whitney Houston, who was a mess thanks to Bobby Brown, and Mariah Carey, who’d suffered her own breakdown a year earlier.
“What happens now?” I eventually asked a guy who’d burned down his house and reminded me of a 50-year-old coworker I’d played wingman for in gay bars when I was 19.
“We pretty much watch TV all day,” he said. “If you smoke, they let you go out for smoke breaks.”
As we talked, the biggest, broadest white guy I’ve ever seen watched us from a couch before interrupting with, “Hey, Miranda. If I was president, I’d let women castrate men who raped them,” for no reason at all.
During art therapy, he went on a tirade about how stupid art therapy is and had to be restrained by several people. The old guy I’d talked to all day made me a coin purse and placed a pink heart-shaped mosaic tile inside of it.
“You don’t belong here,” he said.
The doctor who discharged me basically said the same thing but for a different reason — like my father, he thought I was on drugs because my pee tested positive for amphetamines from the diet pills I’d taken to combat my binge eating disorder since a coworker had introduced me to Mini Thins eight years earlier.
I didn’t care. I got to go home, unlike everyone else I’d encountered that day. Armed with a Celexa prescription that would incapacitate me to the point I’d have to take a two-week leave of absence from work, I went home thinking, “This will never happen again.”
Twenty-three days after my nervous breakdown, I bought three boxes of sleeping pills on my way home from the player’s house Christmas morning. He’d prevented me from sliding down a rabbit hole by taking me to an Oakenfold show at the Metropolis the week my ex had stopped taking his meds a year earlier, and, after shopping, laughing over pizza as we had the first night we’d spent together, and listening to him read the book “Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd” out loud all night, it seemed like a nice note to go out on.
I didn’t take them for three reasons:
- The blue-green pills reminded me that I hadn’t seen the Caribbean yet;
- I was afraid of what would happen to my mom if I weren’t around; and
- Three years after we’d started our on-off relationship-turned-friendship, I still held out hope that the player would reflect on the fun we always had together and stop philandering.
Four months later, a former mutual coworker mentioned the player’s impending move halfway around the world via email.
“What?” I asked.
“He didn’t tell you?” he replied.
The Date Rape and Desperation to Be Loved
I spent the rest of that afternoon crying in my cubicle. When an attorney I’d been exchanging life histories and song lyrics with via email for months saw my face, he cajoled me into going out for drinks after work to cheer me up — and date rape me after spiking my drink while I was in the ladies’ room.
And this is how desperate I was to be loved: I continued to email with him, went on a date with him, and had sex with him. When he left at 4 a.m., saying he needed to get home to walk his hound dog, I wrote a one-page story about him, applied to college, and swore off men — and antidepressants.
My first day on campus, I started dating an Italian/Egyptian guy who’d grown up in Dubai and offered to tutor me in math after he graded my proficiency test and made fun of me for testing out of English 101 but bombing basic algebra. We never touched a book, but he did get me over my post-9/11 anger at Muslims. He was the kindest, most chivalrous guy I’d ever met and, unlike the guy who hadn’t shown one ounce of concern while I was in the hospital, dropped everything he was doing at school downtown to pick me up from a mechanic in Westlake when my convertible broke down.
Unfortunately, like his predecessors, there was a problem: he never spent the night at my place and never invited me to his, causing me to wonder whether he was married. After finals that semester, I questioned him, got vague answers, and ended the relationship.
I also submitted the story I’d written about the date rapist to a journal in Hawaii that Writer’s Digest had listed in its top 30 short story markets. September 7, 2004, as a professor told one of my writing classes that we’d get a lot of rejection letters before we ever got published, the editor emailed me to say she was publishing it that winter.
Overjoyed, I swore off men again to focus on school and my writing career but kept running into a coworker four floors above mine day after day. I could go months without seeing someone on the opposite end of my own floor, but no matter what time we arrived in the morning or what time we left for the day, we wound up in the same elevator.
“Okay, God. What do you want me to learn this time?” I asked.
As the guy and I got to know each other via email, I learned he was a Libra.
The hypochondriac who’d thought he had mad cow disease was a Libra.
The guy who’d date raped me was a Libra.
And the probably married guy from Dubai was a Libra.
“I can’t date another Libra,” I told him.
He sent back: *kicks computer,* which made me laugh and date him anyway because I needed to laugh more. But over the next year and nine months, I spent more time depressed than laughing as our relationship rehashed everything I’d already gone through with the porn addict/mama’s boy. This time, the porn addict/mama’s boy smoked weed, spent holidays with his parents, and traveled with his mom to Amsterdam, where he may or may not have had sex with a hooker.
After breaking up with him dozens of times, I became single again at age 31 when he dumped me via email because he couldn’t deal with “all the bad things that seem to plague” me. In fairness, I’ve always said that if it weren’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck — for example, I got laid off along with 40 other people while he and I were in the Bahamas, but he came home to a job — but he meant my family. My mom and brother had moved out of the loft and into their own place, but my brother broke his hip and then fell in the hospital bathroom, bending the rod in his leg, making it inches shorter than the other. If that weren’t bad enough, home healthcare aides kept screwing up his catheter, causing painful infections. When we visited my mom and brother at the hospital, she told my boyfriend, “When he goes, I go,” meaning she’d kill herself when my brother died. Then, she began telling me that my father was giving him too many shots and refusing to let him use his wheelchair during their weekends together. Then, she had to put her 14-year-old dog to sleep. It was always something. But my now-ex didn’t have room to talk. His drug-addict brother had broken into his parents’ house, totaled a car, and gone to prison.
“This is what I get for dating someone five years younger than me,” I thought, Xing out of the email.
Eight months later — and six weeks before my mom would blindside me with her suicide, forcing me to unplug her life support three days before my birthday like she’d unplugged her mom’s when I was in second grade — I began dating someone 18 years older than me, hoping he’d be more mature than all the other men I’d dated who’d been nine, seven, and four years older than me. He was also another “What do you want me to learn this time, God?” thing. That morning, I’d stopped in my boss’s doorway to say “good morning,” and she’d complained about the guy she was dating.
“Men are only good for carrying your groceries up three flights of stairs,” I’d said, having lived on the third floor of my apartment building for six years.
After work, I went to the grocery store, bought 30 boxes of Lean Cuisine fettuccine Alfredo because it was on sale for 5 boxes for $10, and drove home. As I opened my trunk to drape half a dozen blue plastic bags over my wrists, the 50-year-old appeared and asked if I needed help.
We’d met three months earlier when a pre-Valentine’s Day blizzard forced me to park in front of his front stoop because every other spot was taken. February 15, the day after his ex-wife had filed divorce papers years earlier, I shoveled three feet of snow away from my tires with an ice scraper, and he grabbed his own and helped. I hadn’t seen him since, but he’d been watching a “Frasier” episode with a character named Miranda when he saw me pull in, so he ran downstairs.
Instead of helping me haul groceries up to my apartment, he walked my dog with me and dropped two red flags. First, he spent a great deal of time talking about his boss’s blonde, 20-something-year-old (or so he thought) wife. Second, he told me his daughters, who lived with his ex-wife, weren’t as interested in spending time with him now that they were teenagers, and the older one, a 19-year-old who shared a birthday with my date rapist, stopped speaking to him anytime she didn’t get her way. The fact that I hadn’t spoken to my own father since the day I moved out 11 years earlier lorded over our relationship because he didn’t want to suffer the same fate. For the next seven years, his fear and her manipulation fed each other, creating the sickest relationship I had ever been involved in — literally. My cervical dysplasia came back, I developed lumps in both breasts, I became allergic to every food I’d ever loved, and then, after an email argument with him, I woke up to a forehead tumor that sent me running to God, thinking I’d better make amends because I was obviously about to die.
I expected him to help me. Make my tumor go away. Make my ex go away. Instead, over the next four years, he took everything I had left after my mom and brother died within weeks of each other in 2007.
First, while I vacationed on Kauai, I lost a $4,000-per-month writing client who was also my only writing client because I hadn’t felt compelled to look for other clients while I was making $4,000 per month.
Then, my cat Titus died the morning of New Year’s Eve.
Then, working a near-minimum-wage job, I had to start taking out cash advances on my credit card to pay rent. My 751 credit score plummeted to 435, and because I was so broke, I had to return my car to Toyota when my lease expired, forcing me to walk everywhere for the next four years because I couldn’t afford the bus.
I also lost my ability to go to the gym — i.e., my happy place — or travel, which I’d been doing solo since 2011. In hindsight, this was for the best since I’d been sexually assaulted on trips to St. Maarten, the big island of Hawaii, and Portland, Maine, but Hawaii had felt like home every time I’d stepped off the plane.
Knowing this, because my ex had sent her my travel blog after I’d asked him not to and she’d stalked my Facebook page with a fake profile, his older daughter moved there, giving him a reason to vacation there. The day Taco Bell employees waved away my money, giving me a free meal, because I had become the increasingly skinny poor person that compassionate people felt sorry for, he flippantly asked if I wanted him to bring me anything from Oahu. He didn’t mean it, of course. It was just his way of telling me he was going.
During a call from my dermatologist while he was there, he learned he had melanoma.
When he came home, I spent five days and four nights spackling bloodied stitches on his head and chest with Vaseline. While I slept at 12:30 a.m. the night I left, he sent an email thanking me for being “a godsend” but said he was cutting off all communication with me and deleting my contact information because his daughter, who’d starred in her own VH1 reality show and turned our relationship into one, meant more to him than I did. Although that’s true, the real reason was I had asked him to help me with first month’s rent and a security deposit because I was about to be evicted and I was afraid of losing my cats, who are my kids.
July 15, 2018, on my father’s birthday and the 11th anniversary of my mom’s death, my cats and I became homeless, and God sent me running to my father for help. A year later, I gave him the following card:
By that point, it was true.