A prisoner in the Inquisition is never allowed to see the face of his accuser, or of the witnesses against him, but every method is taken by threats and tortures, to oblige him to accuse himself, and by that means corroborate their evidence.
— Foxe's Book of Martyrs

I come from a family who values rocks. We collected them, categorized them, called them by geologic names. We owned lapidary slabs and tools. Our family was like that, solid, heavy, held by gravity and by the centrifugal force of the circle upon which our Organization was formed.

Bloom where you are planted. Don’t stray from the pack. The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.

When I decided to move into a college dorm at seventeen and leave the world I came from, the adult women from my community sat in a circle and offered injunctions. Around the circle, each woman took a turn telling me I was making a mistake and what the consequences would be. If I left, I would shame my family and I wouldn’t be let back onto the property. They said if I made my bed, I would have to lay in it, that I would be a bad influence on young girls still there, that pride cometh before a fall. My biological sister, one year older than me, was in this circle. I was dizzy when I watched her mouth move. “Who do you think you are?” she asked. The women wore flowered dresses, and I felt lost in their foliage. “Do you think you can keep from sinning without our support? Do you think you are so strong you can lead a godly life without this group? Who do you think you are?”

Without them, sometimes I still don’t know who I am.

Like many children, I grew up afraid of being alone. When I couldn’t find my siblings or caregivers, I was certain the trumpet had sounded and I was too sinful to hear it. Over and over as a small child, I believed Jesus had come back to claim his true believers, and I was left behind. I feared the absence of God, a world run by the Devil, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The first time a grown man put his penis in my mouth, I gagged and threw up. He was our caregiver, so he scolded me, but he also cleaned it up.

I was seven and I was ashamed I was weak.

When I left, I couldn’t find my footing. When I left, I wanted to become a pillar of salt, but I didn’t know how to stay put. When I left, I couldn’t stop dreaming of flying. For years, I didn’t know how to keep my feet in one place, couldn’t feel the ground beneath me, couldn’t stop running. When I left, I couldn’t sit still long enough to eat a meal, watch a movie, or fall asleep in anyone’s lap.

It has taken me decades to find words for the rock that shattered my innocence, to accept the unbearable lightness of living without the family who raised me, or the men who packed our lunches and slept in our fold.

But there are rocks and there is the water that flows around them, softening their edges. And sometimes buoyancy is stronger than gravity.

Michelle Dowd