The early years
Max Caulfield believed in her faith.
For a long time, anyway.
When she was a little girl, growing up in a small Oregon town called Arcadia Bay, she believed her parents would love her forever. Just like they told her they would.
When she was six, she believed her mother was the best in the world. She was always there, taking care of Max. She cooked amazing food, showed her how to do her hair, and kissed every boo-boo. And she made sure to take Max to the park every day, to play with her friends from their church.
When she was seven, she believed that her father was perfect. He was so smart; he had the answer for every question she could ask. Her dad even commented that she was a very curious little girl. He knew why the sky was blue, what the clouds were made of, why it rained, everything. He always had time for her after work, gave her piggyback rides, read bedtime stories, and everything else that a great dad was supposed to do.
When she was ten, she believed that the church was always right. Her parents were incredibly religious, and her father was a church Elder. Every Wednesday night, after he came home from work, they would gather up in the family sedan and drive over to listen to their pastor give his sermon. Max preferred the Wednesday sermons to the Sunday sermons; on the weekend, she had to get up early and put on her nice dress, so her mother had time to fix her hair while her dad put on his best suit. And since her dad was so high up in the church, they had to sit right up front.
Max’s dad did his best to ensure his daughter set the example for the other kids, and Max wanted to do a good job. She always sat up straight, didn’t fidget in her seat or make a fuss, and tried to pay attention to the pastor when he spoke, though she didn’t always understand what he was talking about. He used words that Max’s parents didn’t say around the house, like ‘hell’ or ‘damnation’.
When she asked later, her dad still had the answers.
“Our religion is the only right one, Maxine,” he explained. Max sat on the couch while her dad paced back and forth, her mother fixing dinner in the kitchen. “Pastor Rogers uses bad words because he’s passionate. He doesn’t want anyone from the church to stray from the flock.”
“Why are the other churches wrong?” she asked.
“They’re not entirely wrong, they’re simply misguided.” Her father shook his head. “God is difficult to understand, Maxine. You’re young; you won’t get it until you’re older. But you have to trust Pastor Rogers, your mother, and I. We want what’s best for you.”
He fixed Max with a hard look. “Do you want to go to heaven, Maxine?”
Max nodded her head vigorously. Of course she did. What a silly question. What kind of good girl didn’t?
“Then you need to do as our church says.” Her father smiled. “And we’ll make sure you get there.”
So Max did as she was told.
She wore the dresses her church mandated that women wear. She prayed several times a day; before every meal, when she woke up in the morning, and before she went to bed at night. Max listened to the lessons her parents taught her, and had every correct answer when her school teachers asked her a question about their faith.
“She sets such a good example,” her teachers would gush to Ryan and Vanessa Caulfield. “I wish all the other children were as righteous and well-behaved as your daughter was.”
Max liked the praise. She was so happy, that her parents were so proud of her. They told her she was the best little girl in the world.
And so Max continued to believe.
It wasn’t until she was eleven, almost twelve, when she started to have the littlest of doubts.
The church ran their own elementary school, which Max attended until the 5th grade. She was meant to attend their junior high school as well, but... something happened. Max wasn’t sure what, exactly; rumors flew around the groups of kids, but nobody knew anything for certain. She knew her parents and most of the church parishioners were very upset about it, though. All she could really comprehend was that nobody could go to the church’s junior high school anymore.
Her parents talked for a while about home school, but by then her mother had taken on less of a care-giver role around the house, and had started taking a more active role in the church. She had become indispensable for several functions. And she was an Elder’s wife; backing out would be highly inappropriate. Home-schooling was no longer feasible.
So Max’s parents sat her down, and explained she was going to be going to the local public school for her 6th grade year.
“You’re going to hear and see a lot of things that conflict with what you’ve learned, Maxine,” her mother explained sternly. “Girls will not dress appropriately. Boys will act in very inappropriate ways. And your teachers will try to tell you falsehoods.”
“Falsehoods?” Max asked, confused. Why would a teacher try to teach lies? It didn’t make any sense to her. She was always taught to respect her teachers, and listen to their instructions like they came from her parents. Why were her new teachers so different?
Her parents spent close to two hours reinforcing what she’d learned in the Church’s school. Evolution wasn’t real, of course, it couldn’t be. Dinosaur fossils had been placed in the ground by the devil, to try and sway humanity’s faith in God. The world was barely a few thousand years old, after all.
Abstinence before marriage. That was an important one, for the good church girls. Remaining pure until marriage was vital, if they wanted to go to heaven. “Boys are gross.” Max said as she wrinkled her nose.
Her parents were happy to hear that, at least. “We don’t want you to get involved with any of the boys from that school,” her father said. “You’re going to marry a nice boy in our church, and have lots of children to love. Doesn’t that sound great?”
Max did love kids. As an Elder’s daughter, she was such a responsible girl that some of the other parents trusted her to watch their kids, while they went on church business. Mr. and Mrs. Hansen even let her care for their infant, for a couple of hours.
So Max nodded, and continued to believe everything.