By Jon Michael Bell
Over the Wall at Westboro
Listening to Fred Jr. pretend he doesn't remember a girl named Debbie Valgos is an eerie experience. It's as if one were listening to a teenager deny he borrowed the car while his parents were gone. "They're all still children," observes Mark. "Still trying to please their father because they're afraid of him." What are they afraid of?
"They've been conditioned all their lives to cringe at his anger or disapproval. Even now, with families of their own, they'll conform. In fact, a lot of what your article reveals about my siblings that my dad didn't know-my sisters taking lovers, the details of Debbie and Fred, and Jonathon stealing on candy sales-my brothers and sisters are going to panic at that. Even today, they're still frightened of his judgements."
Research indicates that three out of four children in criminally abusive families will be unable to surmount their experience. As adults, they will rationalize their past and will accept abusive behavior as the norm in both the outside world and their personal lives. As adults, they will rationalize their past and will accept abusive behavior as the norm in both the outside world and their personal lives.
It is instructive that nine of the 13 Phelps children, almost exactly the predicted ratio, continue to embrace the pastor's abusive world and ways. But this chapter is not about the ones who tried to climb their father's barrier and slipped back. It's about two who made it over the wall at Westboro; who went on to lives that are beacons of hope to others who have survived abusive families.
Mark Phelps might be his father's pointman today but for a pretty 13 year-old named Luava Sundgren. In May of 1971, a few months after Fred and Debbie had been dragged back from their aborted elopement, Fred and Mark met Debbie at the skating rink. His brother and Debbie paired off, and Mark remembers he was rolling along alone on his rented skates, wishing for his hundred dollar pros his brother had sold, when suddenly a petite girl, slim and shapely, with long dark hair hanging halfway down her back sailed by, fixed her beautiful blue eyes on him, and smiled. "You're a good skater," she said. And she pulled Mark's heart right off his sleeve. He was only 16, and she, 13, but for Mark the search for his life's mate was over. Only two months after rescuing his eldest for the moment from the charms of the 'whore-extraordinaire', the Pastor Phelps found another wily ally of the serpent threatening his second son. Except this girl was no fragile psyche, vulnerable and clueless, as Debbie Valgos would be. Raised Catholic, Debbie had no criteria by which to identify Protestant heresies, and, coming from a broken home, she had no expectations of esteem or consideration from the outside world. Luava Sundgren came from a conservative Lutheran family firmly grounded in unconditional love. "Even as a young teenager," says Mark, "my wife had high self-esteem and a very clear idea of right from wrong. Her parents were as firm about their god of love and their love for her as my father was about his hateful god and his hate for all." The pastor had met his match. This girl, though slight and shy, was not going to accept the pastor's interpretation of the Bible as his personal myth; nor would she take to being called a 'whore'. But, at first, things went well between the two.
A few weeks after the teenage couple had met to skate again and Mark had been calling her secretly by phone, Luava came to church. It was on that Sunday in early June that Debbie first came as well. Things went better for Luava because the pastor believed her long hair showed her subjection to God and man. And her naturally shy and quiet way belied the stout heart within her.
If his boys had to have mates, here was a good example of the kind of girl Fred Phelps wanted to see joining his church. Not the sassy, rebellious, Catholic, blonde sex-rocket with the page boy cut Fred Jr. had brought home. In high school, the disfavor of their family name, combined with the pastor's refusal to allow his children any participation in extracurricular activities, assured the Phelps kids were the pariahs of Topeka West. Across town under the gothic vaults of Topeka High, Luava was quite the opposite. She had many friends and became one of the school's cheerleaders. It was a mystery to everyone why she insisted on dating a member of the Addams family over on 12th Street. Luava remembers the curious questions and the biting comments she got.
So why did she? She laughs: "At first? Because he was a good skater, and he was cute-but remember, I was only 13. That's what 13 year-olds notice. Later, it's not so important if they skate or not-" she laughs again. "Seriously though, he had so much energy and he was very smart and he was really sweet to me. What chance did I have? Even my dad told me I wouldn't find a better one!" Because she was just 13, Luava's parents at first would only allow Mark to visit her at their home. He would sneak out whenever he could, or drop by while on candy sales. After a year and a half, her father agreed to let them date. He even offered to give Mark enough for dinner and a movie out. (Luava had been attending services every Sunday at the pastor's lonely keep, and she had invited her parents several times-enough for her dad to feel sorry for Mark.) The Pastor Phelps knew nothing about Mark's home courting advantage, nor the teenager's plans to date. Mark refused Mr. Sundgren's offer to pay for their date and instead found a weekend job as a busboy in a steakhouse. That lasted one shift. His father found out about Mark's endeavor to expand his independence and promptly beat him. After, he forced Mark to quit the job and forbade him to take another. As was shown in Chapter Five, it wasn't his son's study hours the pastor was concerned about; rather, any time spent working elsewhere was time one could be working for 'The Place'.
So, Mark had to shave a dollar here and there off his candy sales and summer yard work to court Luava. When his dad shut himself in the master bedroom for days, eating and watching television, Mark would sneak the car for a few hours and take Luava to a movie or dinner at a fast food restaurant. Once, they were in the Taco-Tico at 15th and Lane around 9 p.m. when the place was robbed. Two men ski masks came in, and the young teenagers ducked under the table. "After the hold-up," says Mark, with Luava laughing in the background, "we ran out too. We didn't want our names involved as witnesses because my dad would have heard about it and the jig would have been up-my secret life of dating."
Luava is still laughing. "Trouble was, after we hit the sidewalk running, only then did it occur to us everyone would think we were the ones who'd just robbed Taco-Tico." Despite Luava's quiet demeanor and biblical mane, Mark soon realized she was not plugged in to the world according to Fred.
For example, one day after Debbie had died, Mark, Nate, and Jonathon were out in the car selling candy. After his older brother's habit, Mark had brought Luava along with them, and they sat and smooched while the two younger boys worked in the neighborhood. When Nate came back to report scant sales for that day, Mark gave the command by reflex: "Chin- chin!" And Nate put his chin on the back of the front seat.
With Luava sitting beside him, Mark punched his little brother painfully in the face. In equal reflex, one from another moral world, Luava immediately slapped her boyfriend hard enough to bring stars. "Why did you..." he asked in stunned bewilderment.
"Why did you do that?" she demanded. Soon the esteem Mark had for this petite firecracker-five-two, eyes of blue, and with a fist like his father-caused him to begin opening his heart to her radically different view of human relationships. For several years before he met Luava, Mark had been his father's assistant master-at-arms: when there was a whipping due one of his siblings, sometimes the pastor would order Mark to do it. "At first I thought it was a great idea," says Nate, who received most of his elder brother's ministrations, "because he didn't have my father's violent spirit when he swung the mattock. However, that was short-lived. After a few less than satisfactory beatings-from my father's viewpoint-he threatened to beat Mark instead. Suffice it to say that afterwards I couldn't tell the difference between one of my dad's and one of my brother's beatings-except maybe in their angle of attack." "My dad would tell me to do it," agrees Mark, "and then he'd go upstairs and yell down to us in the church: 'If I don't hear it up here, it's you who'll get the beating!'" Now, however, confused by his new feelings for this remarkable girl, Mark began to slam the mattock onto the pew cushions instead. "It sounded exactly the same as it did when I hot Nate," he recalls, with what must be a smile at his end of the line. "And Nate would just howl in pain every time I hit the pew. It worked perfectly. "But it wasn't until Luava that it would have ever occurred to me to do that. I've been told children from abusive homes never develop empathy.
Boy, that was us. It was survival...period. Save yourself. "Remember how I said I felt when Mom used to drive off with everyone in the car, and Nate would get left behind, running alongside my window, begging not to be left alone with my dad? I literally could not feel for him. I didn't even know how to consider what he might be going through. I was just glad I was getting out, and that was all that mattered.
"But, after I'd been around Luava, what was going on inside other people suddenly started to matter. I guess you could say she kissed me and changed me from the frightened little frog my father had made me..." They laugh. "But after I fell in love with her, it made me want to care about others."
Little wonder Mark's wife is Nate's favorite sister-in-law still today. Though Luava refused to join the pastor's church, she continued to attend Sunday services there for nearly two years. "I knew if I didn't, Mark's father would make it even harder, if not impossible for me to see him," she says.
"During that time, I learned things about Fred Sr. I didn't like." Such as? "That God hates. It seemed to me he was putting his own words in God's mouth. I mean, Mark's father was a pretty disturbed guy. I could see that and I was only 15. It's just sad he didn't have the self- knowledge to leave religion out of it and get some help. "Also I didn't like his attitude toward family. His belief in beating children and that women were servants to men. As a future wife and mother, that left me little motivation to join his claustrophobic community." Toward the end of Luava's two-year ceasefire with the pale-hearted pastor, she arrived for services early one Sunday-too early. Kathy Phelps was getting beaten with a mattock upstairs. In shock, Mark's girl listened to his sister's screams of pain and sobbing pleas for the good minister to stop. He didn't. Luava turned on her heel and walked out. Shirley Phelps, who always wept hysterically whenever her father went into his whipping mode, ran after Luava. At the door she grabbed her arm.
"Please...please...," she sobbed. "He doesn't mean it...he doesn't know what he's doing..." Mark, who was there, remembers Luava "stopped and looked Shirl dead in the eye. 'No, Shirl,' she said, 'you're wrong. He does mean it.' And she left." Shortly after, the pastor decided to dish Luava some of the abuse he'd used on Debbie Valgos. Following Sunday services, while Luava waited within earshot in the church, the pastor collared Mark for a 'talk' in the law offices adjoining. "He was punching and kicking me," remembers Mark. "And yelling in crude anatomical detail everything he said he bet I was doing to her when we were alone. He knew she would hear, that's why he did it."
And that was Luava's last Sunday at the Westboro Church. She walked out and down to the shopping center on Gage Boulevard where she called her father to come pick her up. When she told Mark it was over, Luava says she never asked him to leave the church. She didn't believe he could. She knew he had been taught that, if he left, he would be taken by God during the first night while he slept and that he would wake up in hell.
Mark, for his part, was in despair. The 19 year-old flung himself face down in Luava's yard and cried. And there he remained for two hours, embarrassing her parents in front of the neighbors. Luava's dad even came to her and told her, "I didn't realize you were so hard-hearted,"
Such emotional firmness in a 16 year-old was remarkable. But Luava didn't know what else to do. She had no intention of joining the Westboro family cult and raising children in that kind of environment, she says. And she Mark wouldn't leave. Meanwhile, one can only imagine the kind of talk this generated among the deeper keels in Luava's cheerleading set. She was certainly a girl with a foot in both worlds.
After the break-up, reportedly neither Mark nor Luava slept or ate for days. "I walked around in a fog," says Mark. Then he found out he would get a 'B' instead of an 'A' in one of his courses at Washburn. "That meant I was in for more trouble," he adds. "Somehow, the idea my father might now hurt my body after making my heart so miserable...it just seemed insane and ridiculous...and if all this misery was to please God, I was beginning to think it was awfully mean and petty for a Being that had created such a majestic universe... "And that's when I began to hope Luava might be right. That God was a loving God, and not full of hate like my father...and that if He was made of love...then he wouldn't send me to hell for loving her so much, would He? "So I did it. "I just grabbed some clothes and went to a friend's house. He'd told me if I ever wanted to leave, I'd be welcome to stay with his family the first few days. I just showed up on their doorstep and they took me in."
Mark pauses. "It might seem funny now, but those were the most terrifying hours of my life. I lay awake most of the night in their guest room, in cold, absolutely cold terror. Waiting for God to take me. Afraid if I fell asleep, I'd wake up in hell. Literally. The ultimate nightmare. "But I didn't. I woke up in the same bed the next morning. It was then I realized God might be nicer and the world bigger than my father had taught." Mark landed on his feet, renting a room from a retired couple and working, first as a busboy, then as a salesman in a downtown shoestore. He and Luava were re-united, dating on weekend and talking every night on the phone.
However, Mark was in a serious car accident six weeks later and miraculously escaped injury. "That shook me up," he says. "I thought God was giving me one last chance before He did what my father said He'd do. So I high-tailed it back home." And Luava broke it off again. "This time I wasn't so strong," she recalls. "I was totally miserable. I almost went over there many times."
By this time Fred had taken to calling her 'the Philistine whore', so life with father and a broken heart soon had Mark willing to play tennis with death once more. After a few weeks, he returned to his new life. Only to have the pastor swoop in to snatch him back, as he had with Kathy.
"That time, however," says Mark, "I was lucky. Just as we pulled up to the church on 12th, some of my dad's law clients pulled up too. "It was like a Hitchcock film: my father couldn't do anything in front of them, so I just got out, walked through the front door, and out the back. Nobody stopped me."
After that, Mark held on to his independence and his dreams with an impressive tenacity. "I knew I made enough money for only two of the following," he says: "an apartment; a car; and college tuition. I needed the car; and-now that it was for me and not my father-I wanted to finish college."
For two years, Mark slept in his car or in the backroom of the print shop where he worked all day. In the evenings he took classes, and on weekends he worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He took his showers at the gym. Luava completed her junior year and senior years at Topeka High, dating Mark on weekends.
Despite the pastor's curiously vivid and explicit imagination, the young couple's relationship remained chaste and unconsummated. When his brother Fred asked Mark to be his best man at his wedding, Mark was thrilled and agreed. But when he showed up at the Westboro church for the ceremony, the pastor demanded Mark recant or depart before they went forward.
"It was a trap," says Mark wearily. "If he ever missed a beat at being a jerk-he did it before I was born." Mark departed. He has never been back. Nor did the pastor miss his beat damning his second son to the fires of hell. When Mark refused to die in his sleep, Phelps sent him his notice of eviction from the assembled elect of The Place: Mark was cast out and "delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh". The pastor then tore up both Mark and Kathy's pictures in front of the rest of the family. (Kathy was also gone by then: she was working as a waitress and living with a soldier on 12th and Topeka; apparently the GI took a dim view of anyone kidnapping his girlfriend, and the Phelps quick-reaction team left her unmolested.)
Mark did see his father again however. At the YMCA gym one day, the pastor took the time to stalk up to Mark, close so no one else could hear, and whisper, his glittering with hatred: "I hope God kills you." God didn't.
In May, 1976, Mark graduated from Washburn University with a business degree. In August of that year, he married his childhood sweetheart after a courtship that had lasted since 1971. He was 22. She was 19. Though the family Phelps were all invited, none of them came. Many of them might have wanted to be there, but they had been forbidden to attend. Pastor Phelps had threatened anyone who did with being "delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh".
If Fred Phelps is ever granted the preponderance of his wishes, old Satan will be burning the midnight oil, destroying all that flesh. But, devil knows, weddings are a lot work. The newlyweds cramped apartment on 15th and Lane quickly became the headquarters for Phelps exiles. At one point, both Nate and Margie were living within its tiny confines alongside Mark and Luava.
"We didn't have much time to ourselves," laughs Mark's wife. "He brought half his family out with him. Fortunately, Nate and I have always been friends. And, back then at least, Margie and I were too." Later the dissident couple would be the consolation and support for Paulette, Jonathon's mistress driven from Westboro when she became pregnant by him. Abandoned by Jonathon and rejected by his family, "she went through some pretty tough times," remembers Mark. Nate's departure was more dramatic. Inclined towards the freethinker and sceptic, and long the family's designated scapegoat, Nate was initially not so torn about leaving the assembly of the elect. "He constantly told me I was worthless," says Nate about his father. "That I was a son of Belial (Satan); I was going to end up in prison; I was evil. That message came through loud and clear. For years since, I have had to struggle to achieve any sense of worthiness in the eyes of God or man. "My father often opined I was such a loser, I'd never even make it through high school. Two weeks before the end of my senior year, when it was apparent I would, he decided my weight needed constant watching. Instead of being allowed to take my final exams. I was pulled out of school and made to ride a stationary bicycle six hours a day. Now...there's a rational act...a real daddy-non-compis-mentis. "So I didn't graduate. I had to take the GED later for my high school diploma." Nate clears his throat.: "A few weeks before my 18th birthday, I bought an old Rambler for $350. I parked it down the street and I didn't tell anyone I had it. I took my things out to the garage a little at a time, and I hid them amid the mess out there." On the night before his birthday, around 15 minutes to midnight on November 21, 1976, Nate pulled his car into the drive, opened the garage, and loaded his few personal belongings in the back. Leaving his keys in the ignition, the black sheep walked into his childhood house of fear and pain. He climbed the stairs to the room where his father slept and he...screamed. At the top of his lungs. And left. That night, Nate slept in the men's room of an APCO gas station because it was heated. He found work and eventually ended up living with Mark, Luava, and Margie (who was also experimenting with adult independence).
When the couple moved to St. Louis, Margie and Nate took an apartment and jobs in Kansas City. The Nate went to work and for Mark at a print shop in St. Louis, and Margie returned to the Westboro community. She would become one of Pastor Phelps' staunchest defenders. In 1978, Mark, Luava, and Nate returned and opened their first copy shop in Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City. It was a success. In 1979, the couple opened another shop in Topeka, and Nate stayed in Kansas City to manage the first. At that point, says Nate, "it hit me." It was the first time he'd ever been totally separated from all of his family. Though he held no illusions about his father, deep down Nate had always wanted to be a part of the rest-his mother and brothers and sisters-in some other capacity than the bad seed. Now, he felt cut off and alone. It was exactly then that his sisters began calling him, pressing him to return, saying they could call be one family again, and that their father had stopped his beatings.
So, three years after his Jim-Morrison-exit, the prodigal returned. However, the pastor's idea of a welcome was to draw up, not a feast, but a document. Nate remembers they had him sit down and pen a letter to Mark-which they dictated. It was left on Nate's desk at the shop in Kansas City, and it informed Mark he had lost his manager without notice due to Mark's serving as ballast for that manager's slide into hell. In August of 1993, in a desperate attempt to discredit what she must have imagined was going to be devastating testimony from the 'bad' son (as much or more of the evidence against the pastor came from the 'good' son), Margie Phelps announced to Capital-Journal investigators she had "the smoking gun to prove Nate is lying".
It was a copy of Nate's sign-off to Mark of 14 years before. The letter, she said, proved Nate was on good terms with his family three years after he'd claimed he'd cut his ties to them. Curious as to why the copy of a letter written by Nate and delivered to Mark would find its way into Margie's possession so long after the fact, investigators then heard from Nate how Shirley and Margie had given him the paper and dictated the letter to Mark as one of the terms for Nate's return. The fact that the Westboro Church kept it on file, as a potential lever on Nate at some point in the future-even if that future came nearly in the next generation-can only finds its parallel in the handbooks of the KGB.
The Phelps family congregation may not be able to place the name or face of the girl the pastor drove to suicide, but they never misplace a letter-even if that letter was never addressed to them. For Nate, rebirth into his family came with the pastor's umbilical drawn tight around his neck. He was hazed like a plebe at Fred's West Point.
Though he got his meals now, Nate was expected to work in the law office full-time for that and a room. He was also expected to complete college and attend law school. "And, in return for my work, my father would pay my tuition," says Nate. "But I had nodesire for law school, and I had debts to pay. I needed a cash income-not just room and board." Nate declined the work in the law offices and found employment outside the compound.
In the meantime, his father refused to talk to him, handling any business through intermediaries. Nate attended services, but was excluded from the adult male congregation. Instead, he worshipped with the women and children. "Every Sunday, just prior to services, all the men in the church would congregate in the old man's office to sit and chat. When they filed out nd took their seats in the auditorium, it signaled services were beginning. It was a rite of passage for the older boys when they were allowed to join. You know, then or before, I was never included." During the ensuing months, his father still refused to speak to him. Instead, envoys were sent to inform Nate the pastor was displeased he was working 'outside'. Again and again, it was suggested to Nate he ought to give up the 'outside' job and work in the law office; that his father ould pay him for this by sending him to law school. Nate always refused. He didn't want to go to law school. And he needed cash to pay his debts. He was 21 at the time. "If my dad had paid a wage, even a small one, it would have been OK. But money in your pocket, to him, meant less control over you. It implied mobility and independence, something he was not going to tolerate."
All of the loyal Phelps children and their approved spouses followed the pastor's formula: they worked as law clerks, legal secretaries, and gophers for Fred as he churned out lawsuits. In return, the pastor took care of what he had decided were their needs. Finally, one Sunday their father devoted his entire sermon to denouncing the reprobate in the midst: Nate was not of The Place, not one of the elect, or he would be happy to join in the toils of the family enterprise. The pastor announced there would be a meeting after the service where the family would 'decide' whether Nate should stay or go. "I started packing my bag," says Nate. "Family councils never contradicted my dad. He just called them when he wanted everyone else to feel responsible for something he had every intention of doing, regardless."
After he'd thrown his few belongings together, Nate remembers he dozed off on his bed, waiting for the verdict. He was awakened by a fist pounding on his door. It was Jonathon. The two brothers were less than a year apart. "You have to go,: Jonathon told his older brother. "You have to go tonight." The Phelps family scapegoat nodded stoically. He hoisted his bag and stepped through the door. His younger brother gave him no hand to shake, no pat on the back, no words of farewell-only silence. Nate has not seen his father since. Once, he went back to visit his mom: "It had been years since I'd talked to her," he relates bitterly. "She'd only see me for two minutes at the back door. And she kept looking over her shoulder the entire time. I felt like a hobo asking for a meal." But Nate, who, like Kathy, had taken the brunt of his father's cruelty and abuse, would find he could not leave his past behind so easily. When he drove away that night after his family council, rejected, wounded, and now self-destructive, Nate Phelps-gratis the pastor-had become dangerous to himself and his community. Like Debbie Valgos, Nate would now be all the bad things his father had said he was.
Unlike Debbie, Nate was 6'4" and 280 pounds. And, unlike her, he was just as inclined to violence against others as he was against himself. He plunged into a world of drugs, drink, violence, and hooligan friends, and very nearly accomplished his parents' self-fulfilling prophesy that he would be the convict of the family. "When I first left," says Nate, "right away I moved in with some wild boys living above the VW shop on 6th Street. They had a perpetual party going there for almost four months. A keg was permanently on tap. "When I hit that, boy, did I have an attitude. I remember I was real belligerent and anti-authority." Ten months later, addicted to speed and crystal meth, without shoes, penniless, and desperate, the prodigal giant appeared on Mark and Luava's doorstep only a few days before the couple moved to California. Haunted by ghosts of his father's hatred, enraged by the memories of his physical abuse, and emotionally disemboweled by the knowledge his mother and his siblings had offered him up, an entire childhood sacrificed, to save themselves, Nate Phelps had become a rider on the storm. Soon the pastor might have had reason for dancing and clapping his hands again. But the pastor's appointed angel and his projected devil knew instantly they were veterans from the same war. They needed each other. Each sensed he might be able to redeem his brother: the one of his guilt; the other from a coffin void of love or self-esteem. Thus, the former favorite of Fred and back-up mattock-beater was the only Phelps who could understand and forgive the rage of the family's designated criminal and black sheep. The 'good' Phelps boy forgave the 'evil' one his impulsive betrayal of the year before, and he invited his little brother to come to California with them. Today, Mark Phelps owns a successful chain of copy stores in Southern California. He and Luava have two children.
Nates manages the largest in the chain. He is happily married, drug- free, and content. He and his wife, Tammi, are raising four children. Nate still receives treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and, ironically, some of the Vietnam vets who receive the same therapy say their year in hell sounds preferable to his 18 inside the walls of Westboro. Both brothers say they cringe at the thought of anyone touching their kids. They know what darkness may yet linger in their souls from their father's nightmare, and they daily guard against it emerging in their behavior toward their own children. Mark and Nate live four blocks from each other in an upscale Orange County community surrounded by pine forest. Both couples are devout Christians-though the god the boys worship is now a loving one. And, after growing up with the Pastor Phelps, not much can rattle them"
Recently, after answering some questions concerning minor details for the story, Nate announced calmly, "Well, I should get off. I have to pack now." Were they going somewhere? "Yes. For now. The fire is coming down the mountain. It's only two miles from here,"
"Fire? That's terrible! What about Mark and Luava?" "Oh, she was packed three hours ago." The racing blaze missed their homes, (Not the kind of punishment predicted by the pastor for those he feels have 'gone against' his assembled elect at the compound in Topeka.)
While the emotional cocktail mixed at the Phelps of Westboro seems perpetually one part cruelty, one part anger, one part hysteria, and one part maudlin self-pity, the lasting impression left after hours of phone conversations with Nate and Mark is one of serenity. They have the calm wisdom of mariners who have been rescued from a wild sea. The one saved by a brother's love; the other buoyed up by a teenage girl's moral courage. Mark and Nate Phelps have found their peace and happiness. They would like to help their brothers and sisters do the same, but they have not yet discovered how to reach them. And the two brothers, survivors, themselves are not unscathed.
"I'm OK during the day," says Nate. "It's late at night when it all comes back. I sometimes just sit and there after my family is asleep. You know, and it comes back. All the feelings of pain, and violation, and outrage. And I try to deal with it. Then I'm OK again." Mark laughs. "I've had a recurring dream for years now. I'm out driving around and I turn up a street and it looks familiar. I can't place it so I keep driving. Then I see the church and realize where I am. I hot the gas to get out of there, but the car suddenly dies.
Then my father and my brothers and sisters start coming out. But I can't start the car. I'm cranking the engine for dear life and it's not catching. "As they come out in the street, I'm trying to lock all the doors and roll up the windows...but I forget the driver's door... "They pull me out.
And Daddy says: 'What the hell do you think you're doing? Were you selling on Prairie Road tonight?'"