Departing, Dark Places

Author Bridget Gaudette

I'm an ex-Jehovah's Witness with a focus on Black atheism, humanism, and sex-positive dialogue. | @BridgetGaudette

Around the age of seven, a friend of mine, along with her brother and sister were murdered by their father. To this day I don’t know the justification he used, but later learned that he was schizophrenic. I have vague memories of the murders having a religious element to them but it happened so long ago that I can’t be certain.

I can still remember when I heard the news. My mother received a phone call from someone and was immediately hysterical. She was sitting on the sofa with the yellow corded kitchen phone. I hadn’t dealt with death before on a personal level but I had a rudimentary understanding. Still, somehow I just knew that someone had died. When she got off the phone she told me that Shawna was dead. Suddenly my world was dark. This confused me because she was a kid like me. Kids didn’t die. Old people die. My mother didn’t tell me until later that it was by her father’s hands and that he had also killed my friend’s siblings.

I was devastated and I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard. If my friend’s father could kill her, then obviously no one was safe. My father, 6’7’’ and 230 lbs was my hero, my protector. Fathers killed their children? Nothing made sense. My friend’s father killed himself after murdering his children so no one will ever truly know his motivation. Now mind you, this didn’t make me afraid of my father, but my world got darker.

I got darker.

I had nightmares. I distinctly remember a dream where I was in a dark room in a white chair with men circling me. They wanted to kill me. I became obsessed with thoughts of murderers. I vowed, at a very young age, to figure out why people killed one another. Throughout of my life, even today, I often read about serial and mass murderers. I’ve read too much about the Nazis,  and people suffering from Munchausen by proxy syndrome (which often leads to death). Being raised in a very devout Jehovah’s Witness household, I was taught to believe that all of this was somehow the result of Eve eating the forbidden fruit or because Satan had a hand in human behavior. As I think about it now, I never really bought that line of reasoning but if it were true, there was absolutely NO reason to feel safe. Ever. If Satan wanted us dead, or if the fruit that Eve ate had some kind of murder gene in it, then we had to always be on guard.

As I sit her typing this, I think this might explain why my mother was super overprotective of me as a child. She must have came to the same conclusion. I think she was always sure that someone was going to kidnap me at any moment. I wasn’t allowed to go past our yard to play and even when I did, she would sit in the doorway and watch me. I was rarely allowed to go to sleepovers because the world was full of child molesters. Because of Satan, people wanted to hurt me. To date, I have only spent a handful of nights alone. I’m still that 6 year old whose friend was murdered by her father.

My mother wasn’t able to truly comfort me either. See, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) don’t believe in the traditional heaven that many other Christians subscribe to. So I wasn’t told that my friend was in heaven and happy. JWs believe that only a very select few get to go and it was my understanding that they were all adults. Everyone else (JWs only) might get resurrected and live on a perfect paradise Earth. Might. In the meantime.. my friend was just in the ground.. rotting away (she was buried in the same casket as her brother and sister). It took years for me to not cry at the sound of her name and I never felt truly safe again. After all, fathers sometimes kill their children.

When I started college, my major was psychology. My goal was to be a profiler for the FBI or to be a researcher who focused on inmates and convicts. I changed majors a few times after, to Forensic Science to Criminal Justice. I became less focused on why people killed because I realized the factors were too vast to nail it down to a root cause and by this time I was an atheist so I didn’t blame Eve or Satan. I then thought enforcement was the way to go.. but still it didn’t fit. I worked in the courthouse for a little bit and the hearings in divorce court were often “bloodier” than murder trials. When I got my masters I decided to focus on helping people instead. I have worked in the nonprofit arena ever since and for the first time I feel fulfilled.

I still get scared a lot. I’m probably more paranoid than the average adult and strangely enough I’m the first person to see a scary movie or buy a book that’s frightening. I’m very cautious about my surroundings when I am alone and mace is my friend. I’m still fascinated with the criminal mind and I watch shows like Deadly Women and Snapped. I still find myself going to dark places mentally, but I quickly snap out of it. I no longer want to figure out why people do bad things, instead I want to help people out of their dark places.