I had a drug habit coming out of college. That’s not important. What’s important is that the habit led me to the Wolen Family.
It was a dark time in my life. I had burned myself out, going in and out of little temp jobs to feed my addiction, squatting in filthy motel rooms, avoiding my family and friends because I couldn't stand to face them. I remember the day I got the message. I was sitting on a lumpy mattress with creaky springs and dark, mysterious stains. I stared blankly at the ugly piss-yellow and bone-white striped wallpaper while I held a small .38 pistol in my hand. I was doing this thing where I'd put the gun to my head and put a light squeeze on the trigger before I'd change my mind and lower the gun.
Then, after another minute or so, I'd put the gun up to my temple and squeeze it harder, and then I'd lose my nerve and drop it again. I'd been doing this for what felt like an hour. I couldn't tell, the only clock in the motel room was broken and stuck on 3:45.
A part of me knew I wouldn't do it. I just didn't have the strength to pull the trigger and blow my brains all over the walls of this godless flophouse. If I was weak enough to let myself sink this low, why did I think I was strong enough to end it there? The phone rang. It was Kent, an old buddy from college.
"I've gotten seriously worried about you, man. I'm not calling to judge you or your decisions. I'm going to get you some help, that's what friends are for."
Oh, Kent. He and I hadn't seen each other at all since graduation. I would normally be pretty pissed off at someone I hadn't seen in years suddenly talk down to me "for my own good", but I was in no place to get indignant. I was as low as a person could possibly sink at that moment so I gladly let him finish.
"I'm going to introduce you to a friend of mine. She was in the exact same situation as you, but she got into with this therapy group. From what she said of it, it's full of that New Age stuff and I know you don't care much for that, but it definitely helped turn her life around. I know it can help you too."
The ego part of me wanted to dismiss it as some feel-good touchy-feely shit, but the smart part of me knew that literally anything would be an improvement at this point. I said it sounded great and we worked out a date to meet this woman. He gave me an address, and that was that.
A couple days later, I was standing at the door to a modest little flat. I was glancing back down periodically at the address scribbled on a piece of notepaper in my hand to make sure this was the right place. I swallowed a deep breath and knocked firmly on the burgundy door. The door was swung open by a mousy, modestly dressed young woman with thick reading glasses that made it hard to see her eyes. She grinned at me, revealing a mouth of rather crooked teeth. "Oh, you're Kent's friend! I've been expecting you for a while now. Come in!" She said with a peculiar tone of voice that sounded halfway between excited and predatory.
Her apartment was decorated in beige and cold blue and everything smelled of mothballs. She got coffee for the both of us and we set down on the musty powder blue sofa. We spent a few minutes on small talk before she dropped the bombshell on me. "We're not just a therapy organization; we're also a new age religious movement." Her voice lost its warmth and became almost gravely serious. Something in me wanted to bolt, but I'd gone too far just to say no.
"We're the Wolen Family. We're a group dedicated to helping people like you find your inner spirituality and find a new path in life."
"And what do I have to do to get in?"
"All you have to do is say a few words and sign a few things."
She was smiling again, much wider this time. I went for it. The days drifted by and I found myself being dragged along to a group retreat by this woman. That was a thing. In order to join the Family, you had to take a retreat. We went on a couple of buses with some hundred or so members. I remember the ride being uncomfortable, cramped and bumpy.
We finally pulled up to this cabin in the woods. It was a nice, folksy place. Two stories high, sloped roof, gravel driveway, surrounded by miles of beautiful pine forest. We all marched inside in a single military row. We went into the lobby and pooled around a bearded guy with a ponytail standing at a podium. Behind him was a turquoise banner with an odd symbol embroidered on it in saffron yellow. He cleared his throat and began speaking in a soft voice.
"Welcome .... brothers, sisters.... to the Family Retreat"
He droned on about the meaning of truth, of belonging and all that New Age navel-gazing. I could tell who was new and who weren't; the ones who were already there had glazed-over expressions as the speech they were accustomed to hearing washed off of them like water sliding off a duck's back.
The new ones were wide open and alert, taking in every last word. Except for me, I had zoned out a bit. "Now, who's going to be the first new member of our family to introduce themselves?"
I snapped back into full awareness. The regulars looked at the newbies, the newbies looked at each other, and I felt someone shove me forward from the back. 'Might as well,' I said to myself. I was the first to go forward and introduce myself.
I told them my name.
I told them I was a druggie.
I told them I had to go from temp job to temp job because I couldn't take control of myself.
I told them I borrowed money and blew it on drugs and never paid it back.
I told them everything. Every single thing I could think of, I broke down there in front of everyone else. And they gathered around me in a circle and closed in like hungry birds. They were hugging and comforting me, there was no judging, no harsh words. I picked myself up and staggered back to the crowd, and they swarmed around me and secured me in a warm embrace.
They were speaking soft, gentle words of reassurance to me, I looked over my shoulder and I saw the next unlucky son of a bitch spill his guts.
His name was Richard. He was a short, fat man with glasses and a graying crew cut. He was also twice-divorced and a compulsive masturbater with gambling problems. He stepped down and a red haired woman took his place.
Her name was Eva. She was a nymphomaniac who tried and failed to kill herself twice by hanging. She stepped down and a big black man stepped up.
His name was Shawn and he was a closeted homosexual with anger issues. This kept going until we ran out of newbies, we had every possible vice and neurosis there. Drunks, depressives, masturbator's, adulterers, base-heads, obsessive-compulsives, everything; and we got to see each and every one break down on the front stage. After two hours of tears, the little bearded man came back up and offered his own words of encouragement. "I know you all have gone down dark and painful roads.
"That doesn't matter. Who you were before now doesn't matter. What matters is you have a family now. What matters is that the healing starts now." He told us to come back in a week. The next week came quick and so began the next step of our transformation; the baptism. We pulled up to this big, three-story concrete building, cold and dull like a Soviet apartment block. We were led inside and through the maze-like halls like cattle until we came to the threshold a big room with a cloaked priest and a pool of clear, cool water. We were let in one at a time. I shook in my robe as I awaited my turn.
An hour or so passed... The priests came out and took me by the arms and dragged me into the room like a puppet. I saw the ice-blue water coming up in my vision as they lowered me down. I was immersed and freezing for the longest couple of seconds in my life. Then they brought me up and looked me in the eye. I felt like I was delirious. White light shining on me, the walls covered in stone etchings of fish and sea life, the shaven-headed priests in their teal robes staring me in the eye and speaking to me in their harmonic voices, the shivering cold, the soaking cotton clothing, I was like a river eel yanked from the murk by a fisherman's hand. "Do you accept your place in the Family?" ...
Then came the next step, they called it The Branding. I had a symbol tattooed on my body, just below the right side of my collar bone. It stung horribly, but I could stand the pain. After all, I'd come too far to backslide now and it was for my own good. I laid there on the chair while another bald priest drew on me with a hot sterile needle. It was the same symbol on the banner at the cabin.
A circle with two curved protrusions coming out the bottom printed in a deep indigo, forever marking me as a kinsman of the Family. The buzzing of the needle stopped and the priest wrapped my new mark in clear gauze tape to keep it from getting infected, the skin under it red, raw and tingling with pain. And then came the renaming. They brought us up in a large auditorium with teal banners hanging limp from the rafters and colorful stone mosaics of cuttlefish and squids on the walls and they made us write our names on slips of paper so they could be burned in a metal trash bin in the center of the room.
"This is a symbolic rite" The priest tending to the garbage name fire said in a flat monotone. "Your old name isn't fit for you anymore. The person you were before was washed away in the purifying waters of your baptism. To finish your transition into your new life, your new person-hood, you will each be issued a new name." I wrote my name down on a slip and threw it into the fire just like all the others. Then a bald-headed priest carrying a wicker basket came up and handed out cards with our new names on them. My name is Rossi now.
With the baptism and renaming out of the way, we took the Family Oath and we went to bed. They said we would be living in the compound for a while. We were all at a critical stage in our healing and seeing old and familiar faces would only hurt our progress. Well, that's what the priests said.
You could leave to go to work if you had a job outside the Family but that was the only exception. The priests and the older members could come and go as they damn well pleased, however. The priests visited my little room in the compound the next morning. They were shaven-headed to a man and clad in dark blue suits which made them look like they were part of one large conjoined animal with how close they were standing together. They swept in and stood around me in a circle as the one in front shoved a rubber frog mask into my hands. "This is your first act of penance." She said to me with insincere warmth in her voice.
"You will wear this mask for one month as a way of paying for your sloth, weakness, and self-indulgence. You may only take it off to eat or bathe." I turned the mask around and looked down at it. It was one of those latex masks that covered the entire head. It was green with brown spots and big, unfocused yellow eyes that stared at nothing, there were two slits concealed in the frog's mouth that served as eye holes. I took a deep breath and put the damned thing on. It was a tight fit, kind of stuffy and the stench of rubber made it uncomfortable to breathe in at first, but I got used to it quick. I was now Rossi the toad. It was a silly thing to ask of me, but it wasn't my place to ask questions. Not that they would have answered.
The next day was the start of my month as a frog. On the first week, they had someone follow me around and keep an eye on me to make sure I didn't take the mask off.
He was a tall, lanky guy who rarely said anything and wore an identical frog mask. Perhaps he was here for the same reason; perhaps this was some attempt at solidarity on his part. All I knew of him was that he was my shadow for seven days. He was there when I toiled in the compound's vegetable gardens; watching me from the comfort of a folding chair in the shade of a fir tree.
He was always directly behind me when I was out with the others posting flyers up around town. Whenever I went to the restroom, he was waiting outside the stall. When I ate alone in my room, he was watching through a slit in the door to make sure I had that mask back on after I finished. We were even made to sleep in adjacent bunks so he could monitor me in my sleep.
I may have once or twice thought about taking the mask off, but I never tried it. I never had the chance to even go beyond the mere consideration of it and the only reason I could've taken it that far is because my supervisor couldn't read my mind.
That's not to say he didn't try. I couldn't see his face, but I just knew he was scanning me like a hawk, reading for any gesture or slip that could be taken as a flicker of disobedience. On the 5th night of the first week, he shook me awake. It's a hell of a thing to be jolted out of your sleep and the first thing you see is a frog mask glaring back at you.
"What did you say?"
He somehow managed to make the mask itself look angry.
"What?" I had literally no idea what he was talking about.
"You were talking in your sleep. Tell me what you said."
I tried to get up, but the man shoved me back down onto the mattress, he was thin, but he was terrifyingly strong.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't say anything."
"Please don't lie to me. I'm just trying to help."
And like the flick of a switch, his voice went from angry to almost maternal.
"Even If I did talk in my sleep, I don't remember what I said. What did it sound like?"
His big monkey hands clamped tight and hard around my shoulders. The darkness of the room twisted his features into something out of a nightmare. I bit down on my tongue to see if I was just having a bad dream. I wasn't.
"It sounded like a woman's name. Started with an M."
His grip loosened a bit, but he still wasn't letting go.
"Yes! Who is she?"
"She's this woman I used to see in college."
His grip tightened again like a vice.
"Forget Margaret. She wasn't good for you. What has she done for you?"
"I don't know."
My shoulders were starting to hurt.
"Just forget her then. She's just another bad memory. You don't need bad memories. Go back to sleep and forget Margaret."
He let go of me and climbed back into his bunk. It was an act of mercy on his part that he did not mention this to any of the priests higher up on the pecking order. The following morning, we did prayers and chants. We were all kneeled in front of the altar. In front of us was a carved bas-relief of what was easily recognizable as Jesus of Nazareth from the waist up. Below the waist, the body of this Christ tapered down into a long mermaid's tail. The priest standing in front of us at the altar told us this was not our god and savior but one of his many manifestations.
"He is a great and ageless thing. He has spawned all life from the depths of darkness and murk and allowed man dominion over the land and its creatures. He is ageless and eternal; He is loving and merciful to all his children. He is beyond comprehension, beyond imagination. He is the father of all knowledge and light."
The priest droned on and the congregation continued chanting, repeating his own words in unison. The service devolved into a monotone din. The words swirled into meaningless buzzing.
"Behrr behr behr behr"
The congregation around me droned in locked unison. Their unfocused eyes glaring straight ahead as their mouths opened and closed like catfish.
I was chanting along up to that point. I could no longer make any of the words out, and the frog mask along with the noise thankfully kept anyone else from noticing I was just mumbling inaudibly along. The altar fell silent. The priest stepped down and paced over to an aluminum card table set up on the west side of the room. On the table was an ornate pewter bowl. It was covered in serpentine spiral etchings arranged in rows like those you'd see on a Mayan artifact. The bowl's lid had the same etchings, in addition to having a handle on top shaped like the head of a seabird.
The priest lifted the lid off the bowl with his bony hand. It must have been heavy because when he set it down on the table, it made a hard clap on the metal table that rang and echoed through the altar room. He took out a plain white plastic ladle and sank it into the bowl.
"Now... We drink the blessed water."
The congregation lined up and snaked their way toward the bowl and the priest began dipping the liquid into plastic cups. Eventually, the line moved up enough that it was my turn. I took a cup and looked into the bowl. It was water, that's all it was; clear, sparkling water shining my reflection at me. The priest dipped some out into my cup and glanced at me expectantly. I shrugged and pulled the mask back over my head just enough to expose my nose and mouth. I was not ready. The water was sour and acidic in taste, with a very unpleasant briny sensation lingering in the back of my throat. I choked down the mouthful of holy water with great difficulty.
"You must drink all of it, my brother."
The priest's eyes did not move at all when he said that. I took a deep breath, pinched my nose shut, and poured every last drop of the foul stuff down my throat. I finished choking it down and pulled the mask back down over my head as I fumbled my way back over to my seat. I wasn't yet used to the loss of my peripheral vision that came with wearing it. The week passed and I was apparently judged trustworthy enough to keep the mask because I never saw the tall man who was assigned to watch me again.
I didn't even see him at the services or during group activities. The second week, I and a few others got contraband duty. You see, the Wolen family has rules on what we can and cannot do and have. We'd stand at the doorway and every member that came back from outside work and other errands that required they leave the compound for any amount of time. It was me and three other guys; they called me 'Froggy'.
Every soul that came in had to have their bags checked and they had to empty their pockets. If they refused to, we searched them ourselves. At the end of the week, we had confiscated a hip flask full of cheap gin, a pack of cigarettes, a flash drive with 500MB of porn saved on it, a hip-hop CD, and a copy of Pride and Prejudice. When I was working contraband, I never gave any thought to my kin that got punished. I thought it was perfectly fair at the time. You break the rules, you pay the price.
We had this thing called confessions, which I had the privilege of seeing my kin that I had apprehended for smuggling forbidden materials get broken down in front of everyone. It worked much like the support meeting when I first joined, but it was different, more like a Russian show trial. The priests would take the guilty soul into a locked room downstairs, and then after a while, they called us to the common room where the confession took place. We'd sit around the sinner and watch the priest prod them into fessing up.
The man we caught trying to smuggle porn broke down quickly like they usually do. He admitted to trying to sneak in the flash drive, he admitted to having a porn addiction, he even admitted to several things we didn't know about. The priests also tried to act like they didn't know, but I could tell that their reaction was an act.
And then, the priests would decide a fitting punishment for the guilty. If you were honest and forthcoming about your wrongdoing, you were just given extra work. If you lied and said you did nothing wrong, you were subject to more severe measures. I know this from experience.
It was the start of the weekend of the fourth week under the mask. I was counting down the days, getting more and more excited when the damned thing would come off once and for all. I even kept a tally of the days left in my personal notebook. And then one day when I was mopping the floors, as was my assigned chore for that week, two priests immediately darted over out of nowhere and seized me by the arms.
"Why have you been writing graffiti on our walls?"
His voice was harsh like an attack dog's bark. I said nothing. What graffiti? I was in shock from being surprised, and between my heart going nuts and this graffiti nonsense, I wasn't feeling like being compliant. They started shaking me like a ragdoll.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
They looked at each other for a second; I could almost taste their seething anger.
"Stop lying to us. You're only hurting yourself."
"I'm not lying!"
They tightened their grip on my arms.
"Just be honest with us, Rossi."
"I am being honest!"
If I were a braver man, I'd have asked them what I drew on the walls. But I didn't. So they put me in the downstairs room. For hours we were in a drafty cobwebbed cell with harsh light shining down on us. They shook me like a dog and yelled questions at me; they still didn't tell me what was drawn on the wall.
Then it came to be my turn to do confessions. They trotted me out in the common room like a sideshow act. The priests nudged and pushed me on.
"This is your last chance, to tell the truth."
They said to me. So I gave them what they asked for. I told them, I was unable to look the priests or the crowd gathered in the room in the eyes, but I tried, I told them that I had done nothing of the sort. For this, I was flogged. I was reprimanded one last time and they took me into a hall closet.
One priest had me pull my shirt up to bare the skin of my back while another went up behind me with a leather strap with a big metal stud at one end.
The pain was horrible. I cried out a little as the strap hit my skin and caused stinging, burning pain to wash over me.
I bit down on my lip to keep myself from yelling. I clenched my eyes so tightly shut that I could see spots and colors dancing in my head.
The pain was worse than the time I got that blood vessel infection in my arm.
I was now quite certain that they were drawing blood now. I kept my eyes clenched tight, my mind was turning itself inside out trying to bring me anywhere, anywhere in imagination or memory but in that store room at that moment.
I was struck 15 times with that strap. They dragged me out of the storeroom and into the little infirmary hall where they soaked the blood up with a rolled up piece of gauze that they then presented in front of me as if the sight of my own blood would make the punishment more effective.
They soaked my back with peroxide which made the stinging exponentially worse and then they spoke to me for the first time since they dragged me into that storeroom. "You are still prideful and morally weak. You must wear your mask for another month." And that was the final, unkindest cut of the ritual. That damned mask. I had come to hate the way it obstructed my vision, not enough to blind me but just enough to be annoying. I hated the way it made my breath and sweat condense inside of it, making my whole world damp.
But the worst thing was the noise. No matter where I was, the loudest sound I could hear was my own breathing. It echoed inside the mask and it felt like everyone could hear the low heaving of your own breath. That night, I lay there in my bed and thought about what had happened.
The harshest punishments always went to the innocent, not the liars. If I had lied and admitted to defacing the wall, I would still have faced repercussion, but it would have been lesser because they had already decided I was guilty and since they were the authority of the Family, I was guilty.
They have saved the worst penalties for those who were innocent and unwilling to take the consequences of actions they haven't done. By defending your innocence here, you have actually committed two sins against the Family. The first sin is whatever they were accusing you of. It was their word against yours and as the lamb of the flock; you had no leverage against the shepherds. The second sin was disobedience. The Family only punished those who consciously fought the system and by arguing your innocence you were implying that the Family was wrong and that was a clear attack on the Family.
You are perhaps wondering why I did not leave the Family or at least try to do so. There are two reasons for that. The first reason is that things were not all frog masks and floggings there.
I do have some good memories from the Family. Every summer we had cookouts. We'd gather in a clearing in the woods around the compound and we'd set up tables and a propane grill and they would cook polish sausages and turkey burgers while the Family music therapy group would play folksy dance songs on recorders, drums, and acoustic guitars. We would talk and laugh and dance with music ringing in our ears and slightly burned meat and pasta salad in our stomachs.
There was also this one day where we piled on a bus and went to see a local production of Macbeth because one of our members had a major role in it. It was Eva; red-haired Eva was playing Lady Macbeth. One day, she had to bathe in ice water for a week prior to the rehearsal because they caught her masturbating one day. We sat in the musty seats and enjoyed the performance, her performance especially.
She acted out Lady Macbeth's plummet into madness near-perfectly. She did so well in that role that for a moment, I genuinely believed her to have gone insane. It was the scene where she was washing out the spot that was the most impressive.
"Out, Damn spot! Out, I say!"
She howled these lines like a wounded animal and even from our seats we could see her shaking. After the play, I went backstage and told her that her performance was great. She smiled weakly and murmured a lukewarm "Thank you" and slunk away. We would also make art. Whenever an art festival came up or some other occasion, we would all paint pictures or make sculptures and sell them, getting some extra exposure for our art and the Family and maybe some extra money for ourselves.
I would always paint animals, birds specifically. It's what I was good at. I remember one time I painted an Eclectus parrot in acrylic on canvas. It was a bright red Eclectus parrot perched in its nest, its slate gray break open in song. I spent the most of two days toiling over that picture, trying to make the bird's proportions right, trying to make the colors pop, trying to make everything in the painting the best I could manage. I remember exhibiting it in the convention room gallery and a woman rushed over to it and started cooing over it.
"That's so cute! Did you paint this? The colors are so pretty!"
She bought the Eclectus parrot piece for one hundred dollars. I was never more proud. And I would be lying if the Family didn't do anything for my overall health. I haven't done anything harder than aspirin ever since I came here. My skin is a healthy color now, my hands don't have the dope-fiend shakes anymore, and I haven't had any episodes of paranoia or madness anymore.
The work I've done in the gardens out back has even made me stronger, fitter than before.
With the happy memories out of the way, the other reason I did not leave was because that leaving was simply impossible.
You could leave the Family compound but not the Family itself. Membership was forever. When you were in, you were in 'til death. Sure, you could make a run for it. I tried doing that once, oh lord did I try.
I snuck out of bed one night and timed my movements just so the night watch did not see me. The doors on the ground level were locked so I climbed out a second-story window with a rope made of a few sheets rolled up and tied together.
It was a strong rope, but I had misjudged its length and it was some three-odd feet too short, and I had to drop the rest of the way down into a hedge which made a very painful touchdown spot.
I dragged myself out of the hedge and brushed the leaves and twigs off my clothes and made a dash for the fence. It was a big, sturdy, stainless steel chain-link fence.
It was a good seven feet in height but there was nothing at the top that would stop me from hopping it. I climbed hand over hand like an ape until I reached the top and flung myself over the top of the fence to begin the climb down the other side. But I had not secured my foothold in the gaps in the fence so I fell seven feet onto the cold, hard earth. I lay there for a few seconds in pain. I had sprained my ankle, but I was on the other side of the fence. The hardest part was over, or so I had believed.
I pulled myself back up to my feet and hobbled away, my bad ankle was hurting terribly but I didn't mind the pain, I was just happy I was out. I staggered and limped alongside a lonely dirt road in the woods until the pain in my ankle had subsided just enough to break into a full run. I ran until I tired myself out, I didn't know if I had gotten anywhere, the dirt road was so long and secluded and the night was so dark that I could only see a few paces in front of me and the rest was stark blackness.
I kept on trudging along. I had resolved myself to keep going, no matter what, until I reached civilization. I had only the clothes on my back and a couple hundred dollars in my pockets but I knew I would work something out. I made it past a solitary yellow road sign, bent slightly on its post and marked with a few bullet holes.
My ankle was hurting again from the strain put on it. I was tired and cold. I had to force myself to keep walking. I kept walking for hours; I watched the night wash out of the countryside as dawn came and the sun begin its ascent to the top of the sky, which had turned a warm lavender. My legs felt like jelly. I was out of breath. I was shivering and hungry. My ankle ached and burned.
And the worst feeling came from when I looked ahead and the road still stretched ahead into more emptiness with no buildings or another human soul in sight for miles. I had to go on. I tried to go on. But I couldn't. I staggered a few more paces forward and sank to the ground. The last thing I saw before I fell unconscious was the road ahead of me, stretching on as far as my dimming vision could see.
I ran and ran for hours but my goal was not even in sight. I was out like a light and the sleep was dreamless.
I awoke to find myself staring up at a white ceiling fan, its blades slowly circling around. I was in the infirmary back in the compound. I was fully conscious but I hadn't the strength to speak or get up. Standing over me was one of the priests. I couldn't keep track of the priests; they all looked the same with their shaven heads, their cold shark eyes.
"You were unconscious for a while when we found you."
He said to me, his voice was like ice. "We saw your empty room and the sheet rope hanging out the window so we sent someone to come looking for you. I am not going to lecture or chastise you because you know what you have done and you know that the Wolen Family, your family, is very disappointed in you. I am here to simply tell you that you will wear the frog mask for the rest of the year." He reached into his turquoise robe and produced that damned frog mask. He set it on the bedside table and turned it so its painted yellow eyes stared directly at me. For a second, I thought the mask itself was mocking me. I remained in the infirmary for another day as my ankle healed up.
It's been a long time since then. A long time. I was out with the others passing out pamphlets one day. I saw Kent walking on the other side of the street so I managed to sneak away from the group just long enough to talk to him. He made this awful face when he saw me; he looked so shocked and dismayed. "I'm so sorry man..." That was all he said before he walked away. I couldn't understand it.
Shouldn't he have been happy to see me? I'm off the habit. I know I've made progress but the priests do not agree with me. They say I need more progress. I don't understand that, I think I've grown and progressed plenty. I guess I have no right to disagree. I did try to run, after all. I must be doing something wrong somehow. The Wolen Family would not lie to me like this. The priests must be right.
I must need to do more. Fair enough. I will keep on for another year and they will see how much progress I'd made and they will let me off. That's the fair thing to do. I don't even remember my father's birthday anymore; I have been here for so long. One day, all of this will pay off. Maybe they will let me go for a while and tie up the loose ends I've left behind; I haven't spoken to my old friends in so long.
Or maybe if that's out of the question, they'll make me a priest or something. Something has to come of this. I don't try to run. I don't swear anymore. I've even started wearing the frog mask when I didn't have to as a way of showing how far I had come, how much I had atoned for.
They're going to reward me for this.
They'll have to.
It's only fair.
It's only what's fair.