In Their Own Words: Lisa Kendall

In Memoriam: MaLinda (Mindy) Monet Houser
By Lisa Kendall

The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold. ~Aristotle

My sister's life began as tragically as it ended. Born to parents who did not want or love her, the world she knew was a hostile place. In any other home she would have been a cherished member of the family. The pretty blue-eyed girl born two years after me was known for her goofy humor and curly, blond hair. She was surprisingly cheerful given her suffering and pain.

Mindy was severely neglected from the day she was born. Only decades later did I learn that no one wanted to pick her up when she cried. With no advocate in her early life, medical and emotional neglect were more of a companion than an issue.

When my mother was 18, she was forced to leave home. In need of stability, she married a few months later. That marriage compounded her sorrows. The new husband beat and raped her and then left us. My mother had a mental breakdown plus physical injuries and was hospitalized for six months while Mindy grew inside her. There was little to celebrate at Mindy's birth.

Religion became a refuge for the single, impoverished mother of two. An emerging cult called the Move of God, or the Move, led by Reverend Samuel Fife offered her a future that mainstream society could not. The End Times were imminent, but Move members would be the chosen saved. Her faith also relieved my mother of the responsibility to attend to our education and health care. The Move did not prohibit members from seeking medical care, but its promotion of faith healing meant that some children, like my sister and me, did not get medical care.

Mindy had severe eczema. She had bleeding, weeping wounds on her arms. The sticky sores sometimes even kept her arms from opening. Move elders put vitamin E ointment on them, but did not get her medical care. She needed glasses, but was not given them.

More serious than the medical neglect was the emotional and physical abuse Mindy suffered. Our mother called me the antichrist and Mindy the devil. Move elders advocated humiliating and violent punishment of children. If Mindy wet the bed, she was forced to wear her wet diaper pinned to her dress. She was frequently beaten.

We were often taken out of school for religious instruction. Secular education had a low priority in the Move. Three evenings a week we went to Move meetings that could last until midnight or 1 a.m. After falling asleep on metal chairs or the concrete floor it was hard to stay awake in school the next day.

Our mother saw Mindy as a bad seed and impossible to control. To cure her, she was sent to one of Fife's deliverance farms for bad children. At the age of nine, she left Portland, Oregon, for Ware, Massachusetts. We sent a third grader to a place we had never heard of to live with people whose names we did not know.

After three years, she returned to us, a family she barely remembered. Immediately upon seeing her, we all noticed her badly distorted body. Somehow, her caregivers had missed the worst case of scoliosis Oregon had ever seen. An 83% curvature meant surgery, lengthy hospitals stays, a steel rod in her spine, and extensive scarring. Mindy's pain and longing for a pretty back, or a less deformed one, became defining characteristics of her life.

The neglect Mindy suffered at the deliverance farm in Massachusetts mirrored the abuse that I have only reluctantly considered. At the time I barely responded to her vague disclosures. Through an internet listserv I have recently met others who were at Ware as children. The horrors they describe are vivid; I picture my little sister enduring them far from home and without a friend.

Mindy died of a heroin overdose a few years ago. I don't even know in what city and don't remember the year. Whether her death was intentional or not, I'm glad she no longer suffers. There was not enough love for her and no place for her in this world.

I wish someone had told my sister that she was special. Her days were so empty that in many ways, she is more alive in my memory than she ever was in life. No one really appreciated the little girl with whom I colored pictures and dressed dolls. Not even me.

Many doctors, social workers, teachers, principals, neighbors, and family members knew she was in harm's way. I wonder how differently things might have gone if someone at the children's hospital had contacted authorities about this very severe case of neglect. Or the fact that no one was there when she went through surgery. Or that her older sister was the only one to visit this clearly unfortunate child.

In honor of my sister and others like her, please do what you can to protect the children who cross your path. Thank you for helping to make this world more hospitable to the children with no one to speak for them.

Mindy's big sister, Lisa Kendall, MPA, is an advocate for animal, children's, and environmental rights. She lives in Portland, Oregon.