By Nicole Marie Hilton, April 15 and July 22, 2020
What do you hold onto when all hope is lost and the world only sends you pain? When I’ve reached out, and found nothing, my last remaining hope was the idea of bringing the pain to an end, permanently. When that last option was taken away, God was my last hope. When nothing seems further out of reach than God, that can be when we truly find Him. When I shift my trust onto God, and his Son Jesus Christ, I’ve found lasting relief. I cannot become too dependent on God. The more I rely upon Him, the more freedom I experience and the more permanent my healing.
When I was probably 8 or 9, one of my brothers took everything out of a chest in our basement. William* (from now on, the name William will stand for all of my brothers) said, “Nicole, come on and get in this! It’ll be fun!”
I smiled at him and climbed in. I loved it when William played nice with me. But he could be unpredictable—often going into almost-manic phases where things could be lit on fire, or physical activities like jumping off of high places, dragging all my stuffed animals behind him on a scooter, holding me down to spit in my face, or blowing stuff up.
He has since grown up into a good man and a wonderful father, and he’s apologized to me. But in those days, I’d be lying if I said I never cried or was traumatized by him, and I was hoping this wasn’t one of those times.
I was in the chest. William said, “Well, get your head down…”
I dutifully put my head down.
He shut the lid, and put the latch down and locked it.
I tried to put my head up, but my back hit the lid. A seam appeared along the perimeter of the lid, and I could see my brother sitting about five feet away, watching my struggle.
I started to hyperventilate. I screamed.
I looked through the crack. I saw my brother’s face. For the first time in my life, I chose to swear.
“Oh…oh —-! Oh —-!”
I screamed and screamed, the lid bouncing against the latch. I focused on his face through the crack. Fear consumed me as his features transformed before my eyes. He was no longer my brother. His face distorted, and his brows grew and turned inward with hate. His eyes became slits of glee, and his mouth turned upwards into a grin of evil no child had the ability to wear.
My brother’s face had literally turned into that of a devil.
I screamed even louder—this time for a different reason. My heart beat faster and faster, but then he shook his head a little, his features went back to normal, and he was back. He leaned forward, and unlatched the chest.
I had been in the chest for about 10 seconds. An eternity.
Tears streaming down my face and breathing hard, I got out, shaking. I never wanted to go in there again.
* * *
Abraham was a prophet from the Old Testament. He and his wife, Sarah, were “barren”—they had no children. At a very old age, God promised them that they would have posterity. Though it seemed impossible, Sarah conceived and bore a son, Isaac.
Later, God came to Abraham and asked him to do the impossible: offer up Isaac as a burnt sacrifice on the mountain.
Can you imagine?
Abraham went through his “dark night of the soul”. Regardless of how hard it was, he went through with his worst fear—he was about to sacrifice his son. At the very last moment, an angel stopped him. It was enough.
Some say that everyone will have their “Abrahamic Trial” sometime in their lives. That everyone will have to face their worst fears in some capacity and overcome them for the glory of God. Many times, I felt like my entire life was one long Abrahamic Trial. But I didn’t remember what my worst fear even was until January, 2012.
My worst fear was being locked away in a box.
More specifically, it was being locked away with nothing but myself, the monster of fear, and the devils which plagued me to keep me company. To avoid this fear, I developed an unhealthy reliance upon the promise of exiting this life if the fear ever got too bad–as it did in fourth grade. It was a life preserver made of lead.
* * *
I was in a cement block cell with Hannah Morris*, a skinny girl in her teens who seemed to feel right at home in Purgatory, the actual name of the Washington County jail. She admitted nonchalantly that she had been a prostitute, and when I asked her about all the bruises on her body, she told me that she had begged her boyfriend to hit her.
“I love it. I just love it,” she said, running her fingers through her long brown hair. “He hates it, but he does it because he knows it makes me happy. He’s a good boyfriend.” I sat with my back against the cold white-washed cement wall and pondered what she had said. I didn’t understand her, but at any rate I admired her confidence. A lady came around with a cart full of books. I selected Treasure Island, but Hannah took nothing.
We spent the night in that cell.
I remember thinking, as the light turned out and we settled in on our sleeping mats, that I was so grateful to have her there with me. She was a buffer between me and the reality of what I’d done to end up in there.
The details tried to sneak up on me as I lay there in the dark, but I rolled over and focused on the pockmarked wall until I fell asleep.
In the morning, I asked her what to expect next.
“Oh, we’ll spread our asses and then be put in the fishbowl, next.”
“We’ll do what?” I said.
Just then, a guard came. The guard unlocked the heavy door.
“Hannah—come with me.”
“See ya,” she said.
I waved goodbye.
Soon after, after I’d had enough time to count the cinderblocks in the wall, a female guard came for me.
We did a strip search. I did, indeed, have to do what Hannah mentioned so the guard could check I wasn’t hiding a…well I’m actually not sure what they were looking for. But oh, how I was humiliated.
“Suicide watch,” she said, looking at a clipboard.
She handed me a green shield, which was held together with Velcro. It covered my torso down to just above my knees, like a giant paper bag. I put it on, and that was it; I was not even allowed underwear. It was scratchy.
Another guard came and led me down a cinderblock hallway. “We aren’t…going to the…’fishbowl’?” I asked.
He didn’t say anything.
We entered a hallway with windows along the right side. Singular tan cells lined the left.
I grasped my left arm and felt the cement under my bare feet.
We passed one empty cell.
The next cell had…a dead girl in it, staring vacantly back at me.
I stared in shock and stopped walking as I looked through the floor-to-ceiling window in the outward wall of her cell. The girl was sitting by this window, her forehead leaning on it, the fingertips of her hand grazing the window’s surface. I could see she once had her hand fully on the glass, but it had slipped down to rest on her knee. Her eyes were glassy and her skin was literally grey, as if no blood coursed through her veins.
I stood, shocked and horrified in the extreme. She didn’t move or even twitch.
The guard turned back to me and said, “move it!”
I jumped at the order, and I followed him to the next cell. The image of the girl was seared into my mind like hot coals.
He unlocked a large iron door and I looked up at him.
You want me to go in there???
I entered, and the door closed behind me with loud finality.
I was utterly alone.
* * *
“We must go on, because we can’t turn back…” The words from Treasure Island stared me in the face. My eyes lost focus on them, and my head started spinning. I couldn’t ignore how the gritty cement floor felt under my feet, or the kink in my neck from sitting curled up with my knees against me, or the goosebumps which so constantly erupted in waves up and down my body.
Why do they have to blow ice-cold air down on me all of the time? Why is the light up above so bright? Why am I in here?
The memory of me holding a handgun to my stomach pressed in on me. Then, turning it on my mother as she came around the corner. Her jumping on me, and struggling over the gun until I pulled the trigger and the bullet hit the cupboards.
The book fell from my hands and, shivering, I got up to pace.
It was five paces toward the door, and five paces toward the padded back wall, over and over and over again.
My dad’s weight as he pressed me to the floor. The cold grasp of the handcuffs, and being shoved down into the backseat of the cop’s car.
I started wringing my hands. My heart grew cold and beat like a rabbit’s. The enormous weight of satanic programming started to creep up on me—and it’s unexplainable unless you’ve been there and felt it yourself. It’s like you’re in a burning building, and you’d do anything to jump.
But there was no gun in my hands anymore. There was just a cold cement floor and padded walls.
Suicide had always been my ultimate back-up plan. I had a bevy of plans in my head that would cause a quick (or slow…) death in any variety of situations. I’d deliberately considered these plans over and over in my head since I was 9 years old. But now I was forced to look elsewhere—suicide was, for the first time, off the menu.
I had no idea how much I had relied upon those plans until it felt like that rug was pulled out from underneath me.
I paced around the little tan-colored padded cell, shivering, hyperventilating, and crying. Treasure island was forgotten as reality overwhelmed the words on the page. I couldn’t escape the screams in my head, which poured in on me like a torrential waterfall.
Someone came to the big iron door, quickly pushed a bundle of papers through the cat-flap, and left.
I ran to them and picked them up. They were a divorce decree.
I was numb. I didn’t feel anything. I threw them aside and kept on pacing.
After a couple hours, I pressed the little button on the wall, which was connected to a speaker.
“Yes?” a voice had said.
“What did the bra say to the hat?” I asked.
“You go on a head while I give these two a lift.”
The guard at the front desk said something back, but I couldn’t make it out.
My plan was to get on his good side, then try to convince him that I belonged with the other women in “the Fishbowl”—wherever that was.
I needed people.
I kept on pressing the buzzer.
Eventually, they turned it off.
The monster of fear grew in my heart, into the biggest proportions it had ever been in my life. I could have shared that small room with a ferocious and hungry lion, and it would have been a mercy. That prospect would be less fearful than being in this box alone.
Literally, the fear of not dying consumed me.
I am in Hell! I am in Hell!
At this point, I dissociated and I was nowhere.
All too soon, I hazily “woke up” in the back of my consciousness. I was watching a bruised hand slam into the heavy iron door over and over and over, and I heard muffled screams. They sounded like they were coming from underwater.
“Help me…help me…help me…help me.”
I focused on the voice, and it grew louder and louder. I then became aware of my jaw opening and closing. The sound became deafening as the screams registered as my own. I tried to control them, but I couldn’t. I watched helplessly, seemingly from the backseat of the vehicle of my body, as I screamed over and over, “HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME!”
My hand slammed into the painted door’s small square window. I became aware that I was naked, holding the tarp-like material they had given me for a “blanket” around my body. The green shield lay forgotten on the floor behind me.
As I became aware of all these things, I felt myself “sliding” into the personality who was “fronting”—we were becoming one person.
No! I tried to scream out, but all I could scream was help me, help me, help me.
The scene became bright in all of its magnificent horror. Terror and adrenaline like I’ve never known before coursed through my body. The bright light threw everything into a stark matte swath of pain. I knew I couldn’t stop—though my hand and arm were black and blue from bruises. I had to keep pounding that door. I had to keep screaming.
As the two personalities merged, I received the memory back of pacing the padded cell desperately—no one to listen, nothing to distract, no one to turn to. I received the memory of sliding into a personality that had been asleep for decades—one of the personalities that had bourn the brunt of the abuse. Being tied down upon a circular disc, and being stabbed through the middle with a special weapon in a different dimension over and over and over again—not being able to die because my astral form would heal itself again, and again, and again…
The sensation of being crushed. The laughter and dark faces painted with glee who surrounded me. The sensation of being in a timeless state where the torture would last forever.
My screams for God to save me.
No one coming to the rescue.
Pacing back and forth in the cell as the sensation of fear wracked my body and soul, enough time had passed that my shield had worn angry red lines which bled under my arms and around my neck. I now remembered taking the shield off and grabbing the tarp blanket to cover my nakedness.
I remembered feeling like a wild animal, not able to choose my reaction to being locked up, throwing my body against the walls, screaming in terror.
I didn’t know what age I was. Was I 4? 5? 6?
My back-up plan was gone. My new back-up plan, apparently, were the guards outside my cell.
They had ignored me—or tried to—for at least 5-6 hours.
Someone broke down. “MAYBE WE’LL HELP YOU IF YOU PUT YOUR SHEILD BACK ON!” an angry voice said over the speaker.
As this registered, a particle of hope entered my heart. I dropped the tarp and threw the shield back on, my screams an unending stream of desperate sound echoing around the chamber.
I slammed both arms and hands against the door.
The speaker was silent. The guards—who I could see through several walls that had windows about five feet off the floor—turned and ignored me again.
It didn’t occur to me to rely upon Jesus Christ and the tools He had given me. It didn’t occur to me that He could be the ultimate back-up plan until I had exhausted every other option.
After another hour of screaming—the guards doing nothing—something flashed before my mind.
I remembered a story about a man going through the darkest abyss to the sweetest joy imaginable because of his faith in Jesus Christ. His name was Alma the Younger.
God had answered his prayer.
As this image flitted through my head, a wash of hope surged into my fearful heart for a brief moment.
I had the answer.
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the sacred scriptures I had so often read while growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the book which contained this story, would save me. I didn’t know how—but I just knew it would.
The screams of help me, help me, help me stopped.
There was a pause, and the guards at the front desk stopped what they were doing to look up for a moment.
My desperation was still at an all-time high. Yet I changed tactics.
“GIVE ME A BOOK OF MORMON!”
That was the turning point upon which my entire life hinges.