Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sniffing After Whores - Party of Four - Part 2

If you have been reading my blogs for long you know a key aspect of my father’s life was his need to control anyone within his sphere of influence. I believe my father exhibited an extreme case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. People with this disorder “often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life or to anyone they meet.” My father had a profound need to control our behavior and any independent thinking he ever saw us exhibiting!

One day my father, Fred W. Phelps, Sr., announced that the entire family was going roller skating; even Mom. He said we'd have some 'fun' together. It was a very surreal experience. You have to realize, in all the time we were growing up, our family never did that. We never, not once, went on an outing together. We'd go sell candy, or to run, but never to have fun. My father never took us to the zoo, the movies, out to eat, to the park, on a picnic, vacation, Thanksgiving at the relatives, to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July, driving around looking at Christmas lights-none of these things.

We spent our entire childhood and adolescent years waiting on our father and working for him and getting beaten up by him. The idea of parenthood or fatherhood as an obligation or duty he owed to his children was an alien concept to this man. My father never really wanted to be a father and he really didn’t want to be bothered with children! He wanted children so he could control and use them, but he had no desire to be a father. He wanted subjects! So we were very suspicious when he announced he was taking us all skating.

Sure enough, it turned out he'd caught wind of what was going on down at the rink. My father had found out that Fred Jr. and I had made plans to meet Debbie and my girlfriend there that day, and now he was ready to swoop in and destroy whatever small efforts we had made in having a life of our own.

Though my girlfriend had already been to services at the church, I only nodded to her as if she were a passing acquaintance at the rink so as to not arouse my father’s suspicions. When my father made fun of my girlfriend’s parents within earshot of my girlfriend, while at the rink, I was under duress to laugh at his cruel comments.

Fred Jr. and Debbie skated together briefly, but they didn't hold hands.

Everyone was watching the good Pastor. He strapped on a pair of skates and storked out onto the floor looking like a new-born calf on ice. I wanted to show off for my father so I started skating backwards and doing jumps and spins when I knew he was watching. Talk about redefining stupid!! Do you think my father liked my skating? No way! He went into a seething rage. He said he could “see I'd been spending all my goddam time down there, trying to get my dick wet.” What a guy!

Oh, by the way, both my girlfriend and I were virgins when we were married . . . five years after we met. Not that my father would ever know or even care about our own standards of purity for our marriages. If my father wasn’t able to personally plan, dictate, and implement the details of our lives and have full control over them he would eventually reach a crisis point. This crisis point meant we either had to fully capitulate to him and his wishes or be kicked out of the home and the church. A simple decision from my father’s perspective. Give up control of our own destinies or be thrown out and banished forever. And banished to a destiny he had painted for us our whole lives meant to torture us. Tyrants simply have no room for the autonomy of their subjects . . . and especially not their first born son.

Possibly due to the stress of the unexpected confrontation with my terrifying father, Debbie had another seizure right there on the skating rink floor. In a gloomy portent of what was to come, none of the Phelps boys dared go to her aid. My father was raising sons who had to fight against every manly, protective instinct they had to reach out to a helpless young girl who was in real need. She lay unconscious and abandoned by the good “Christians” of Westboro Baptist Church before my 13 year-old girlfriend noticed and rushed to her side. At that, my father glared at me. “Someone should tell that girl (my girlfriend) we don't associate with whores, (Debbie)". My father might have been hoping to control her behavior as well as ours. But instead the steadfast young teenager (my girlfriend) revived her new friend, while Good Samaritan Pastor/Father – Fred W. Phelps, Sr. – wobbled past on his skates and muttered, "Whore" at Debbie while she was recovering her feet.

The charitable timing of my father’s comment caused Fred Jr.'s girl to burst into tears. My girlfriend helped her off the floor and into the ladies' room. "I don't know why Fred's old man hates me so much," Debbie sobbed. "You're lucky that he likes you." My girlfriend never forgot the bitterness of those sobs: an SOS from the threshold of a soul's despair.

Debbie went to services at the Westboro Baptist Church several times after that, and, each time, she was called a whore from the pulpit. Truly unbelievable, right? Then why did she go? Why go to a church where you will be publicly humiliated and shamed by the leader of the church?! The hope of having Fred Jr. was clearly greater than the pain of my father’s words.

Debbie even came over once and asked my father what it was he wanted her to be. I was sitting in the room during their conversation. My father’s attitude and tone was condescending, arrogant and harsh. He was cruel to Debbie that day as always!

My father told her she'd have to get an education and amount to something if she wanted his son. That she'd have to go to college and law school first, and, while she was doing it, she'd have to stay away from Fred Jr. “But right now,” he told her, “You’re just a whore.”

Debbie said she could do it-she just needed a chance to prove it. I remember my father laughed in her face and told her she'd always be a whore. My father was compelled to trounce on the hearts of the vulnerable, like a roaring lion going for the kill on one of his prey! Hmmm . . . reminds me of Satan.

Another time, Debbie had been riding along with us on the candy sales, and afterward she and Fred Jr. intended to sneak out to a movie. Fred Jr. asked her to wait in the candy room at the church / house while he changed clothes. You see, my father almost never went in the candy room.

Well, my father chose that time to fly into one of his rages at Fred Jr.

Of course, whenever my father started beating someone, all the kids not in the line of fire would run into the candy room at the back of the house for safety. And we would always send a scout to assess the lay of the abusive landscape – the scout would listen in on my father’s raging to see how bad it was – and report back details every so often until the rage subsided. Certainly when he got really loud, all of us could easily hear him. This particular rage was one of the loud rages.

The candy room, and the back area of the house, was sort of our bomb shelter. We'd be pacing nervously, waiting for the violence to end, like a herd of cows from the candy boxes to the laundry dryers and back. Some of us would sit and quietly shake, with our faces white with fear. Debbie just sort of sat in shock watching all of us, as she listened to my father rage at Fred Jr., and as she listened to my father beat him.

My father was beating on Fred Jr. and screaming things like, 'You son-of-a-bitch! You got your dick wet! And now you're sniffin' after that whore!' It made Fred Jr. and Debbie both feel dirty and ashamed for what was really the best thing that had happened to them so far in their lives-their first love. And of course they were both very frightened!

Debbie got hysterical when she heard the things my father was saying. She ran outside crying. We were very nervous because she wasn't supposed to be in there. I remember several of us followed her out to ensure she didn't make a scene. That's where we were back then; we were all heart! Nothing mattered except keeping our father cooled off and staying out of his line of fire.

Outside in the street, Debbie was crying her heart out. She kept asking, 'Why does he say those things about me?' We had no answer for this anguished girl because at the time we had not yet articulated, even to ourselves, that he was simply a hateful human being who was absolutely filled with hate. (Well, the truth is, most of my siblings still have not figured out what a hateful, cruel person our father was, nor do they see how they have taken over where their father left off.) And that the character of the person on the receiving end of his hate attacks was in no way related to his hatefulness. His rage and hatred could be triggered by anything and everything.

Shortly after this event is when Fred Jr., now 18, decided to move out. My father vehemently opposed it, but Fred Jr. stood up for himself. Though Fred Jr. received multiple beatings with the oak mattock handle he was still unwilling to give up in this fight for his life!

Finally the two compromised: the son would go and live with one of his father's business associates. Bob Martin was a retired army officer who ran Bo-Mar Investigations, a private detective agency. After Fred, Jr. had been staying with Martin for a week in his house, I remember my father got a phone call. It was Martin.

"Let's go!" said my father, to me! I had become the squad leader in my father’s schemes. While we drove to the detective's place, my father explained the plan he and Martin had for Fred Jr.: wait till he was in the shower and then confront him; a naked man feels vulnerable and powerless. Fred Jr. had just come in from work and gone into the bathroom. "When he comes out, we'll be waiting," chuckled my father, in obvious glee at being able to, once again, thwart any plans my brother had to live out his own life and his own future. And so we waited. We waited with our secret plan to attempt to destroy a young man’s dreams. As Fred Jr. came out, towel around his waist, he was confronted by our father, by me, and by a suddenly hostile Bob Martin.

"Get your clothes! You're going home!" snapped my father. The eldest son complied without argument. The next part I'll never forget. When we got out to the car, I was in the back on the right, my father was behind the wheel, and Fred Jr. was in the front passenger seat. Bob had followed us and he opened the car door on my brother's side. Through the space between the front seat and the door, I could see him place a revolver against my brother's knee. And he said: "If you run away again, I have orders to come after you. And when I catch you, I'm going to shoot you right here." Yes, my father asked one of his few good friends to threaten serious physical harm against his own son!

At the time, 'knee-capping' had spread to the United States from Italy and France as the preferred punishment in underworld circles. It left its victim crippled for life. My intent is not to imply my father had underworld ties. I’m just saying that anyone who lives handsomely off the work of urchins hustling in the streets, who disciplines subordinates by beating them senseless, who fosters filial piety by threats of knee-capping, who knocks his wife around regularly, who surrounds himself with lawyers, and who is apparently beyond the long arm of the law could have made a very respectable gangster. Not a pastor; and certainly not a father!

Fred Jr. enrolled at Washburn University that fall and Debbie returned to Topeka West High School. Though the pastor had forbidden them to see each other outside church, they continued to do so.

My brother was struggling with his love for Debbie and his very real fear of hell. Remember my father taught that just leaving our family church meant you were consigned to hell. Some might find it hard to believe this kind of teaching could even be credible or that it would instill such real fear. But if you grew up from birth with your imagination open to my father, and heard his harsh words hammered into your heart and mind day after day, believe me when I tell you, hell as the consequence of leaving my father’s church was a concrete reality. For all of us! The battle inside Fred Jr. would last until the following spring, but the war had been lost when he turned back from Indiana.

In late September, Debbie dropped out of high school and moved in with girlfriends at a house on Central Park Avenue. It was just a few blocks from the Washburn campus. We went there a lot when we were out selling candy. That lasted into December, probably, because I remember being there when it was very cold and we were wearing winter coats.

But father was relentless, and not only with the oak mattock handle. He assumed Fred Jr. was still seeing Debbie, and he hit heavy, heavy on Fred Jr.’s heart and mind with his chosen weapon the Bible. My father had spent decades cherry picking verses from the Bible designed to terrorize his children. Fred Jr. was especially vulnerable to my father’s framing of the situation as 'Debbie the Whore... the Agent of Satan sent to lure him into temptation and directly down into the gaping jaws of hell.’ Our father had scripted this scenario for us from the time we were young boys, and repeatedly warned us about what would happen were we to date the “wrong” girl or not do as we were strictly told. Fred Jr. would spend time with her then try to avoid her to escape the pain of what he understood my father’s words truly meant for him.

In addition to the guilt being heaped on him Fred, Jr. was getting some pretty severe beatings. While Fred Jr. drifted from his girlfriend out of fear, Debbie fought to hang on to the man she cherished and who cherished her. Debbie would wait for Fred Jr. outside his classes on the Washburn campus. She would beg him to come back to her. It always worked. He always went back to her, at least while he was at Washburn. Fred Jr. never stopped loving Debbie; he was just more scared of my father and hell than he was of losing her.

Sometime in December, 1971, events turned murky, fast, and fatal. Even though Fred Jr. was furious at my father for forcing him to leave her apparently he was willing now to give Debbie up. But Fred Jr. was also afraid he wouldn't be able to do it while they lived in the same town, so he ran away again, despite Bob Martin's threat to find him and kneecap him if he did so. From late December till mid-February, the following events are known:

Fred Jr. disappeared and no one in the family knew his whereabouts. One night in January, shortly after Nate and Jonathan had been beaten and shaved and the school had notified the police, Fred Jr. stopped by the house without his father knowing. Nate remembers he asked to see their heads and then commiserated with them about the embarrassment they had felt at the police station. My brother Fred Jr. often showed real compassion towards his younger siblings. And it was something we were all hungry for.

About the same time, my girlfriend’s father saw Fred Jr. at a Washburn University basketball game. Fred Jr. had a K-State jacket on and a rash on both arms. My girlfriend’s father became concerned about Fred's welfare and, with nothing to go on but the jacket and the rash, he was able to track the troubled youth down working at a produce business in Manhattan, where the state college was situated.

My brother, Fred Jr., had a look of terror on his face when he looked up and saw my girlfriend’s father. He was certain his father had sent him. My girlfriend’s father assured him he had found him on his own and that Fred Jr. could trust him; that Fred Jr. was safe with him. But Fred Jr. turned down all offers of money or help. At the time, he was living in the basement of a young married couple’s home. Whether Debbie visited him or even joined him up there is unknown. What is known is that, on Valentine's Day, Fred Jr. showed up in Topeka with a new girl for his father to meet. The need to meet our father’s approval, no matter how cruel he was to us, was still very much a reality for us all.

Betty was a lot closer to what my father demanded in a young woman. She was another like my girlfriend - or at least who my father originally thought my girlfriend was - she had long hair, and she was very quiet and submissive.

A few weeks after Valentine's Day, Debbie came to see her mom. Debbie’s mom remembers they went for a walk in the small park near where Debbie had lived with her friends. Her daughter's spirits were very low, she recalls. Debbie confessed Fred Jr. had given her an engagement ring and they had eloped, but that Fred Jr's dad had made them come back. She admitted bitterly that his father had told her she wasn't good enough for his son, and the younger Phelps had been forced to obey him. “Now Fred Jr. has found another girl," she told her mother. As they walked, Debbie’s mother remembers her daughter took off the ring and threw it in the bushes. “He's never going to marry me, Mama," she said, "but I know I'll never love anyone else."

Debbie’s mother says she tried to cheer her up, and later, thinking Debbie might regret it, she returned to search for the ring in the grass. She never found it, and even if she had, Debbie never would have accepted it. The mother and daughter's walk in the park that afternoon would be their last time together.

The remainder of Debbie's hopeful life can be found, not in the memories of those who knew her, but in the dusty, impersonal files of the U.S. Army Intelligence Criminal Investigations Division.

After seeing her mother that day, Debbie went up to Junction City, an army town that served nearby Ft. Riley. It was also only a 20 minute drive from Manhattan, where Fred Jr. was living. Whether they saw each other during that time is not known. From the part of her life that has been documented in the Army's investigation of her death, it seems unlikely.

During her final days Debbie Valgos touched a match to her longing soul. She flamed up in a white-hot blaze of self-directed violence, anonymous sex, amphetamines, heroin, and rock and roll. All the things my father said she was, she'd end up being. I wonder how Debbie’s life might have turned out differently if the good pastor had told her she was precious in the sight of God and how much she was loved by Him.

She moved in with a soldier. She shot smack. She partied for days without sleep. The speed she was constantly on burned through her body till she'd gone from 130 to 87 pounds. In less than a month the 5'7" girl had become a walking corpse with the wide, burning eyes of the starved. Perhaps that is when her face could at last reflect her heart: faltering into despair after a lifetime without sustenance.

Because the effect was so striking, Debbie's new acquaintance nicknamed here 'Eyes'. But 'Eyes' had stared into her abyss, and she knew. At the end of all worlds...was a single lost soul. The last days of Debbie Valgos' life, those few weeks in Junction City, were one long suicide...a death dance through the Army bars...a soul signing off. When she lost Fred Phelps Jr., Debbie must have felt she had forever lost her way...that she was never coming back...and so she touched a match to her despair.

Her new friends told CID agents she had tried to commit suicide four times in the weeks prior to her death: by jumping out a window, rolling off a roof; and twice by drug overdose. Each time they had stopped her or brought her through it; then came the night of April 17, 1972. Debbie was in the Blue Light, a soldier's bar. Though she had a soldier waiting at home, that hardly mattered. She let two more pick her up. When they invited her back to their barracks to 'party', she said 'yes'.

As they left, a girl who lived in Debbie's house insisted that she come along. She'd been there during Debbie's earlier attempted suicides, and she worried that the frail runaway might try it again. They were spirited past the gates of the fort, hiding on the floor of the car. The soldiers parked in an alley and had the girls crawl through a window into their barracks room.

Once inside, one of them offered Debbie some speed. It was a bottle of crushed mini-bennies, according to CID reports. Debbie took it, and the soldier turned to put on a record. When she gave it back, the boy was amazed. "You took way too much!" he said. "You'll be up three or four days!"

Debbie only smiled at him. What might have been a four-day problem for a 180 pound man, Debbie undoubtedly hoped would solve all her problems at 87 pounds, less than half the other's body weight. Shortly after, "Eyes started to have a 'body trip'," states the girl who had accompanied her. "She shut her eyes and just started moving with the music. She did that for a while and then she started to act dingy. She called me over and said she felt like little needles were poking her all over her whole body and she was tingling. I told her I would stay with her and not to make any noise in the barracks." When Debbie started rolling around on the floor and mumbling, her friend worried she might hurt herself, and so she sat on her.

The other girl, who apparently was quite large, continued drinking and talking while she kept Debbie pinned beneath her. The party went on. Debbie was babbling incoherently. After almost another hour, everyone became alarmed at Eye's grotesque physical contortions. They pulled her back through the window, loaded her in the car, and smuggled her off base. Returning to her new boyfriend's house, they woke him and ran the tub full of cold water. By then, Debbie had passed into a coma. She would not be taken to Irwin Army Hospital at Ft. Riley until 5 a.m., nearly five hours after she'd ingested almost half a bottle of crushed Benzedrine.

Debbie lasted 20 hours unconscious in ICU, just long enough for her sister to find her. At 1 a.m., her heart stopped. Her spirit had flamed up and was gone. She was 17. She was sunny and loving and only wanted to be loved. After all she'd been through, Debbie Valgos thought she'd found safe haven with the family Phelps.

She died for her mistake. Debbie Valgos died because she found hate in the heart of my father, the pastor; where she should have found love . . . and the truth about how to have life forevermore!

In that spring of 1972, one of the Top 40 songs playing on the rock and roll radios Debbie no doubt listened to while riding her dark current of heroin, amphetamines, and despair was a tribute to Janis Joplin, sung by Joan Baez: "She once walked right by my side I know she walked by yours. Her striding steps could not deny Torment from a child who knew. That in the quiet morning there would be despair. And in the hours that followed No one could repair... that poor girl… barely here to tell her tale. Rode in on a tide of misfortune rode out on a mainline rail...”

But the Pastor, Fred W. Phelps, Sr., my father, devotee of a hateful god, had made up a song of his own: I remember getting home from school the day Debbie’s death notice appeared in the papers, and my father came dancing down the stairs, swaying from the knees and clapping his hands, singing: 'The whore is dead! The whore is dead! The wicked whore is dead!' He paraded around the house, singing and laughing with that maniacal giggle he had, 'the whore is dead! Thank God, Thank God, the whore is dead!' My father was singing his words to the tune of the song from the Wizard of Oz, ‘The Wicked Witch Is Dead’. The cruelty of this man still sometimes takes my breath away.

One is reminded of the warning from the first epistle of John: "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

Let that soak into your mind, dear one. If we claim to love God and hate anybody we are liars. And if we do not love others we simply cannot love God. These are simple words. But the truth behind them is powerful. My father did not love people, and based on that we know he also did not love God.

God told us if we say we love God we must love others. It was a command, not a suggestion. My father never chose to follow that clear command. Sadly I have to conclude my father didn’t love God.

My father’s hatred of a precious 17 year old girl was clear evidence he didn’t have the kind of love God expects of His followers. And my father’s very grave misunderstanding of who God was set him up to live a life in complete opposition to this God of love. My father opposed the God of the universe in pride and arrogance and because of it he brought people down . . . and some of them down into their graves.

I hope you are like me. Encouraged that God gives us a very clear way to show love to him simply by loving the people he made. Jesus said this so clearly. “My command is this. Love each other as I have loved you.” And the best part about it is when we love people we get blessed. More than anyone! Loving people, really loving them is the greatest adventure and the greatest privilege we have. Go have some adventure! Love people!

Mark Phelps

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, the Pastor Fred Phelps didn't love God. If he did, I seriously doubt that he would've spoken to his followers, his family, the world around him, the way he did. God obviously loves us, obviously loved him. He (Fred Phelps) just couldn't, or refused to return the love.