In the Spring of 1999, long before I made the choice to officially and permanently leave the JWs, I was excommunicated. I was 24, at the end of a wearisome, disastrous 5 year marriage, made more wearisome and disastrous because it should not have taken place to begin with. But when you’re a horny, confused teenaged JW with no sexual outlet but to get married, that’s what you do.
Then one day, you wake up to realize you’re married to someone you don’t love, and probably never did. And then an inevitable chain of events begins to unfold:
You fall in love with someone else.
You end up seeing that person secretly.
You end up doing things with that other person that breech the dogma of your religion.
You face a JW tribunal who decide your fate.
18 months later, I was diagnosed with PTSD because of the things the elders asked me in that 6 hour closed-door meeting. Every Spring since this happened 15 years ago, my body remembers. It remembers the coldness of those elders, their leering glances, how obvious it was to me that they were getting off on the details of this brief sexual interlude with a man I truly loved. How they were quick to decide that I was an evil, plotting, master of deception trying to escape an unfulfilling marriage. When I was just a 24 year old in love with someone not my husband, exploring a sexuality I didn’t even know I possessed.
And so, I was excommunicated. Kicked out of my religion and shunned. During which time I had to do penance, which meant attending JW meetings three times a week while being shunned and looked upon like I wore a scarlet letter. In hindsight, if I’d only known then what I figured out later at the age of 31, I’d have left the JWs permanently at that point. But I still believed it was the true religion. So I did my time, and a year and a half later, the elders let me back into the JWs.
As difficult as that year and a half was, there was also something incredibly freeing about it. Since none of my JW friends would speak to me, I spent a lot of time alone. Reading, writing, listening to music, seeing movies. For the first time, I went to the theatre to see movies by myself. One of which was ‘Magnolia’. It was a matinee and if I recall correctly, I was alone in the theatre. It was just me and the characters on the screen.
And this was the first time that I consciously recall seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman. Which brings me back to 2014…February 2, 2014…the day Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Something in me broke when I heard that PSH died. I instantly remembered sitting in that theatre seeing him for the first time. And I remembered how he, and all of those characters, spoke to me. Spoke for me.
When you grow up without a mirror for the deepest emotions you feel, when you grow up with the message that your emotions are to be controlled as harmful, and further, can actually be manipulated by the devil, well you find it hard to know that those emotions are in fact normal and okay. Magnolia gave me that. PSH gave me that.
Up until that point in my life, I’d rarely seen a man cry. And here PSH was, on this big screen in front of me, crying. And then everyone starts crying. And singing. And crying. And their emotions are real to me. They’re real to me. More real than most of the people I’d yet known in my life.
So, when PSH died, I remembered all the portrayals he gave that spoke for me. That shone a mirror up to some part of who I was and said Hey, it may be ugly and hard, but it’s real and it’s yours and that’s okay. It’s all okay.
I cried for PSH. I cried as though he was a friend who’d stood by my side during some really difficult times in my life, holding the space for everything that I was feeling. Because he was.
I still have flashbacks of that period of my life as a JW. 15 years later and I still can’t get through Spring without some recollection of it. I can’t say it gets easier with age. ‘Time heals all wounds’ is a lie the old tell the young to disguise the fact that nothing actually heals, the mind just slowly forgets. But the body...the body remembers everything.