Maraschino Cherries at Church
by Akara Skye
Trigger Warning: Mention of childhood sexual molestation
My father was quite religious in an unassuming way and was dedicated to the Episcopal church. My mother replicated his dedication so as to not disrupt the family dynamic. It was her place to support her husband, including his desire to adopt a baby—a girl, specifically. In 1960, I was delivered to their doorstep, four weeks old, four pounds, bald head taped with a pink bow. My mother feigned excuses to send me away. She’s too small. She won’t survive. But there was no return policy, and I remained in the home of my elated father and my dismissive mother. My mother eventually warmed to me. I don’t know why, when, or how, but eventually I felt her love. My father’s love was always there, strong and protective. I was Daddy’s little girl.
We attended church every Sunday. I sat in the middle of the front seat in the car, my mother to the left driving, my father to the right. Cool air blew through the vent into my face, along with the cigarette smoke from my father. My father smoked incessantly. I can’t say it bothered me; I just remember it. I also remember my father’s death, an excruciatingly painful end from lung cancer. My father died at a young age; I was a mere child. Afterwards, material gifts from my mother became more bountiful, as if to make up for not having a father, the parent who wanted me.
As my hometown grew, so did the parishioners at the church. It was decided a second Episcopal church should be formed. My father had been instrumental in making this come to fruition, raising funds, acquiring land, and laboring over construction.
During that time, church services were held in a makeshift house, the inside adorned with paintings of the saints, created by my father. The minister donned the intricately detailed cross my father had made with silver from his dental practice, which was used to fill cavities.
Sunday school was held in the bar of a nearby motel. We listened to bible stories while sneaking maraschino cherries hidden behind the counter.
I didn’t see my family as churchgoing; religion wasn’t forced, just expected. I received my prayer book at age six, my name etched in gold.
When I was nine, I came home from school to find a stranger, who explained that my mother wasn’t home but was expected to return later. I played in my room until my mom came home. She held me by my shoulders. Your father is dead. I am leaving for St. Louis tomorrow for his funeral. You will not be coming with me. You will stay with your godparents. I said nothing; she said nothing more. I fled to my bedroom. No one came to offer comfort or conversation. When I woke up the next day, she was gone.
I was awarded a day off from school—not exactly a fair trade. I was ushered off to family friends and treated to lunch at the Bluebonnet Café. I was promptly discarded at the house of my godparents, my mind frantically replaying the incident of when my godfather sexually molested me two years earlier.
In less than 24 hours, my father had died, my mother was gone, and I was living with a sexual predator. I had been abandoned. I felt fear, shock. Would my mom return? What would happen to me if she didn’t? If I ran away, where would I go? Am I worthy of a protector? I hadn’t even had time to process questions from the night before. Why would my dad leave me? Why didn’t he fight to stay alive? Why didn’t he tell me he was dying? Why didn’t he say goodbye? I questioned if I was worthy of love. I thought I was a terrible daughter. All the emotions of a child, all the truths of an adoptee—though at that time, I didn’t know I was adopted.
As if my godmother knew about her husband’s predatory inclinations, she slept next to me during my stay, although it didn’t alleviate my panic. She made me memorize the Lord’s Prayer, which I recited to Mom when she finally returned. Mom, the parent who didn’t want me, who tried to turn me away. And now, I was her responsibility.
We continued to attend church, but it felt more like an obligation. I felt incredible guilt over my father’s death. Above the altar, Jesus was nailed to an imposing cross. He sent lightning bolts of grim discourse toward me, scorching my skin. You killed him. It is all your fault. You must be punished. I passed out, fell to the floor, and everything went dark. This happened several more times. More embarrassed than anything else, Mom took me to a doctor. He pondered that perhaps I locked my knees when standing, which cut off my circulation.
Eventually, a disconnect grew between the church and my mother. The minister asked if he could stop by. My mom thought it was a call of condolence. Upon arrival, he was ushered into the living room, which was only utilized for company or special occasions. His motive was NOT to offer solace, but to ensure that my father’s generous monetary contributions would continue. My mother threw him out of the house.
We never went to the church my father built again, and although Jesus was no longer in front of me, God was everywhere, condemning me.
Perhaps one day, the load of condemnation will lighten, the taste for maraschino cherries will return, and my father’s forgiveness will come.
This piece was originally posted in the Adoptee Voices e-zine, Body edition, which can be found at adoptee-voices.com. Reprinted with permission.
Akara is an Adoptee Rights Advocate. She was born, adopted, and raised in the heart of Texas. Frustrated with not being heard, and done with being polite, she writes to help heal the trauma of relinquishment. She is currently serving on the AKA Board of Directors
Leave a Reply.
Back to Main Blog