Cherished:The Mountain Man's BabiesBy: Frankie Love
When we were four, I made him a mud pie and he told me I was as sweet as his mama's lemonade.
When we were seven, we sang in the choir together and he held my song book and I told him his voice was as clear and beautiful as a sunny day.
When we were ten, we pinky swore we'd be best friends forever and when he held my hand I vowed to never let it go.
When we were twelve, the Pastor told us we could no longer whisper in the back pew. That we could no longer practice duets for service unless an adult was with us. That we could no longer roam the woods alone, guitars in hand, and sit in our spot by the edge of the creek, singing until the sun set.
His hair was light, and mine was dark. His eyes shone, and mine were heavy. They always were, even when I was a little girl. But where I was hard, he was soft, and where I wavered, he always believed. When my mother died, he wiped away my tears and told me to hold on to hope.
That all was not lost.
He kissed me when we were fourteen even though they told us it was sinful—for my lips were supposed to be saved for my husband alone—but he didn't care. Not about rules, at least.
He said he only cared about me.
I believed him.
His kiss was the sort of kiss I could write songs about. And I did. We were poor, our families always on the verge of losing it all. Not that we had much to lose. Electricity and hot water were never guarantees.
But there was one thing that could never be taken from me, even if there was no extra money.
No one could take the journal I hid under my pillow each night.
And I wrote pages and pages of lyrics on his lips alone. One single kiss, under the shade of an old oak tree, the branches swaying in the September breeze, but my heart was sure and I wrote the song of my heart, binding it to my chest.
But when my father found the blasphemous words, he handed them to the Pastor, who burned them in front of all the other youths’ eyes. We were the example, the dirty ones.
He told us to repent.
He held my hand.
Everyone we grew up with in the church bore witness to this public humiliation.
He said he wasn't ashamed.
He said he loved me.
I told him I didn't love him back.
It was weak, I know––but I feared the wrath of my father. Of the pastor. Scared of them breaking me in ways that might never mend.
I can look back now and see that it was the final nail in the coffin, but back then we were still the Lord's Will Assembly, not the cult we became a few years later. He wasn't sent away—not then. Not yet. Instead, he was called a sinner like his older sister Harper. They made him make his wrongs right by constructing the church buildings. He would hammer nails into the wood until sweat dropped down his neck; until his hands bled.
It still wasn't enough.
The elders saw him as a marked man, though he was still a child.
I would see him working every time I entered the church... his eyes would find mine. And even though I was just a girl, I was no fool. I was a woman in enough ways. My body was alive, it had woken when he kissed me.
It would not go to sleep.
He loved me and I loved him and that should have been more than enough.
But it wasn't.
Because I was living in a world that was so small, so constricting, that I didn't know how to think on my own—how to stretch my wings, let alone soar.
Soon I was eighteen, and so was he. And he wanted me to run away with him, but I was scared.
"Let's go," he whispered, pleading with me. "Take my hand, and let me take you somewhere—"
I shook my head. I may have loved him, but we had no money, no car, and no education. My father told me daily where I would end up if I turned my back on God.
I may have been a woman... but I was a weak one.
He had been my lifeline when we were small—problem was, I'd never learned to swim. And suddenly I was drowning, I didn't think I could make it to shore.
If I'd been stronger, my story would have ended up differently.
His would have too.
But I wasn't. And when he asked me to go, I was too scared to follow. So, he stayed too. Refusing to leave without me, even if it meant he was at the mercy of elders who thought of him as a sinner, and of themselves as saints.
For three years he watched and waited, making sure I was okay. Three years of never turning his back on me. In stolen conversations, he would tell me that I was his and he was mine and that he'd never leave. He was patient and he was relentless. The church changed my name from Abigail to Cherish, and I was more lost than ever about who I really was.