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Sacred Grooming, Part Three: A Secretary’s Account of Life With Bill Gothard
[Editor’s Note: The young woman referred to only as “she” and “her” in the following account is the author herself, “Meg,” but she has written it in the third person. The author was twenty years old during the events in this post. The following is a true story. Click here for Part One of Meg’s story, and here for Part Two.]
Visiting Dallas, Texas, was satisfying. The city was everything she’d ever imagined it to be, and there was something very nice about having expectations met in full.
When she woke up on that first morning in her large and luxurious hotel room on the seventeenth floor, she got up and padded over to the wide window. Pushing back the heavy curtains, she looked out across the city to see more skyscrapers directly across from her. The dark was still upon them, fading fast as the day approached. As she lingered there on the window ledge seat, her knees tucked up to her chin under her nightgown, she watched the reflection of the rising sun in the glass building directly across from her. The sun glinted off the mirrored sides. It was gold and orange and on fire. It was so beautiful that she pinched herself. This was Texas. This was exactly as she imagined it to be, with city streets and buildings so close and tall that, when you walked between them, you forgot that you were outdoors.
The phone by her bed rang and she shook herself out of her reverie. It was Bill Gothard.
“Good morning!” He said he was free until that evening. “I thought you and I might have ourselves a little day off. What do you say?”
She said that would be amazing, that she’d love to.
He said to meet him down in the lobby at 10 o’clock.
She stood in the gold and marbled lobby and watched him step out of the elevator and smile at her as he walked over. He was in civvies, the first time she’d ever seen him not wear a full blue suit. It was still conservative, but at least he wasn’t so buttoned up as he usually was. They walked out the doors together into the bright Dallas morning.
He asked whether she had any shopping to do.
She laughed. Actually she did, she said, but she didn’t think that would be high on his priority of things to do.
“This is your day,” he said. “I want you to do and see exactly what you want.” He said there was a mall a few blocks down and suggested they go there first and get what she needed. He set off down the pavement and she hurried to keep up with him. This was a new boss, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. He was happy. Jaunty, even.
He stopped walking suddenly and looked over at her. He said that this was fun, that he liked being here with her, “just you and me.” It had been a long time since he had a day to just do nothing, he said, just to enjoy himself. “I’m glad we can do it together.”
She said she was glad, too, and thanked him for doing this for her. “It means a lot.”
He smiled at her again, a shy, content smile. She’d seen it often in the past weeks. It seemed to be a smile just for her. He reached out and took her hand into his, and hand in hand they walked down the busy streets of Dallas, oblivious to anyone else around them. He was anonymous for the day. They were in their own little happy bubble. This was their day.
As the week progressed he got more and more involved with his conference, with dinners, appointments, speaking, counseling, and lunch meetings in restaurants with important men. She didn’t go to any of them. She stayed in her hotel room and worked, read, or watched television. Sometimes she would go outside for a walk, to shop, or to visit the hotel facilities, but mostly she stayed in, waiting for him. Waiting for when he needed her.
His male assistants were with him during the day, taking notes and sending updated information, work, and correspondence. She was glad of all this. She didn’t like the big, impersonal conferences. She would rather be on her own, doing what she liked, than getting dressed up in business clothes and following him around all day, having to smile and shake hands and be polite and look interested. That could get exhausting. So her hotel room became her haven.
On their fourth night in Dallas, Bill had gone out to a meeting and she had returned to her room. She threw off her shoes, changed into her nightie, and lay on the bed dozing, reading, and snacking on things from the little bar refrigerator. Just as she was about to turn off the light and go to sleep, there was a knock on her door. She got up and opened it, and he was standing there. He looked a little sheepish.
“I thought you might like this,” he said, holding out his hand.
He held a plate full of food. He’d brought it up from his buffet dinner with the local seminar organizers. He said he was sorry that she hadn’t been able to come down to any of the banquets, and that he didn’t want her missing out on this good food. He said he hoped he’d filled it with what she liked. She looked down at the plate and peeled back the foil covering. There was chicken, beans, salad, and a bread roll.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “You’re so kind to think of that.” She said that she’d ordered her meal earlier in the evening but was still hungry, and that she really appreciated this, nodding towards the food in her hands. As she took the warm plate from him she turned to shut the door, and he turned to walk down the hallway towards the elevators. “Good night,” she called out.
“Good night,” he said.
Stay Like This Forever
On the last night in Dallas she was surprised when he phoned her late in the evening. She was just getting ready to go to sleep when he called.
“Can you come up here to my suite for a minute? We need to go over some things.” He said he wanted to see what she’d been working on that week. Everyone else had gone, but he said he still felt like working.
Sure, she said, she’d be there in a few minutes.
She put down the phone and pulled on a dress. Gathering up her notes, she headed out into the corridor. It was deserted at that time of night. She took the elevator up to his floor and knocked on his door. She hesitated a little before she knocked. She wasn’t sure that this was right. What about appearances? What if they were seen? Even if this was innocent, what would happen if someone knew she would be alone in his room with him at this hour of the night? But he seemed to think it was okay, and after all, it was his reputation.
He opened the door, and smiled widely when he saw it was her standing there. She walked into the little suite living room. He had a small lamp on next to the couch, and she could see a pile of papers on the coffee table. His bedroom was just beyond that, but the door was closed. She sat down on the couch and they went through some of the work she had brought up with her. It didn’t take long, and they were soon chatting about other things.
He got up and poured two beverages. She leaned back on the couch and closed her eyes. She was tired after a week of relative inactivity. Tomorrow they would fly back to Chicago and one of the other staff members would make the long drive back alone. Bill placed the two glasses down on the coffee table and sat next to her.
He remarked that she looked tired.
She replied that she was, and that she wasn’t sure why, as she hadn’t done much this week.
“It has meant so much to me to have you here, though,” he said. “In that way, you have done a lot.”
She smiled at him.
“You are the best secretary I have ever had,” he said quietly. “But you are more than that now. You are my friend. I enjoy working with you.”
“And I you,” she said. “You will always have my loyalty. You will always have my friendship. Nothing will change that.”
He patted her hand briefly, then slipped his arm around the back of her neck, pulling her closer to him. She leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder. They just sat there like that in the silence for a long while. The room was still; there wasn’t a sound other than their breathing. She could even hear the soft ticking of a tiny little clock across the room. The glow of the lamp beside them cast a warm light over the room. And they just sat there together, the two of them, content in the company, at ease with themselves and each other.
She said to him, “I don’t know why, but this doesn’t feel strange. It should feel strange.”
He patted her shoulder. Suddenly he stood up. He told her that she should go, that they had a long day tomorrow. She stood up, puzzled at his abruptness. Gathering her things, she headed for the door.
“Good night, sir,” she said.
He reached out for her and embraced her. She buried her head in his chest for a few seconds as his arms wrapped around her. Then he stepped back, releasing her, and she was alone, standing in the hallway.
“I Wish You Had Never Come Here”
“Do you want to marry my brother?”
One of Bill’s sisters was standing with her hands on her hips.
“I said, do you—”
“I heard you the first time, and I am not going to answer such an impertinent question,” she replied.
The sister said that if she wanted to marry Bill, she had better go about it the proper way. Did her father know about this, the sister pushed?
It was late on Sunday night. They had got back from Dallas only yesterday, and she was tired. The staff meeting had ended and she was waiting for her colleagues, who had just arrived back to drive over to the office in the car. People were still standing around talking in small groups. She could see her roommates looking over towards her, their faces full of questions and shock. She looked at the sister and felt the chill.
“You can go back home,” the sister said, “the sooner, the better. I wish you had never come here.”
She asked the sister how she could say such a thing and declared that she had no intention of marrying Bill, that he was old enough to be her father, that she didn’t know what put such an idea into the sister’s head.
“I just want you to know,” the sister continued, “that his family will not approve. You are just a… just a girl,” she snarled.
One of her friends came up and took her arm gently. “Come on,” the friend said, “we’ll just leave.” They pulled her away from the sister and out into the cool, clear night.
“I don’t understand,” she said, her voice shaky now that she was out of the building. Why would the sister say that to her? Why would she think he wanted to marry her? It seemed ludicrous.
“Come on,” the friend said. “Let’s get out of here.”
They traveled up the road to Bill’s office. They went inside and sat down on the couch, trying to make sense of it. A moment later she saw him come into the room and come straight over to her, sitting next to her on the couch.
He said he was so sorry that she had to deal with that, so sorry that it happened. Was she all right, he wanted to know?
As she looked up at him, the tears began to roll down her face. She just didn’t understand why the sister would be so harsh. Why would the sister accuse her of such things?
What did his sister say, he asked, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to her.
She didn’t even like to repeat it, she said, she was so embarrassed.
He looked helplessly at her friend, who in a few brief words explained what had been exchanged.
He got up and went to the phone in the other room. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he was gone a long time. She just sat there in stunned silence. Now that she was here in the office, away from the sister, she felt safe, as if she could let her guard down. The tears kept coming and she stopped brushing them away. He came back and, sitting down, took her hands in his.
He said that his sister was very apologetic, and had told him that she was sorry. Maybe, he said, she should have cried in front of his sister. Maybe, he said, that would have made his sister stop.
She looked up at him and frowned. “I was mad at her,” she said. “I can’t just turn on the tears at whim.” She wasn’t going to show the sister that she was upset. She threw back her head in defiance.
He didn’t want her to think about it anymore, he said. He had told his sister off, and he said she was supposedly very sorry. “Let’s just forget about it, can we?” he pleaded.
She nodded, but her lips were pursed.
She stood at the door of his office. It was already so late in the evening, and there had been a line of people waiting to talk to him after the meeting. She was tired, and she knew he was, too. She looked over at him, sprawled back in his desk chair, trying hard to focus on the young man speaking earnestly to him. She could see Bill’s eyes drooping, slowly, slowly, down, then … snap! open again, wrestling with the urge to sleep.
The young man had been the last in the line, and she was relieved. Every night she tried to get Bill to leave earlier than his average 10:30 p.m. He wasn’t a young man anymore, and sometimes these late nights took such a toll on him. But he kept going, kept wanting to be there to help his staff, to talk them through any little or big problems. Every night he just kept going until it stopped. Soon they could each go home.
She too was feeling tired. Starting early mornings before the sun was up and working all day until nearly midnight was beginning to take its toll on her. She yawned suddenly and realized how weary her body was feeling, despite the stamina of youth. All she wanted was turn out the lights and head home.
Then she saw a woman coming up the stairs, and her stomach knotted. Not another one. Not now. Not when he is so tired, she thought, and your problem is so small.
“I want to talk to him,” the woman said.
He’s so tired, she replied, was it really urgent? Could someone else help?
No, the woman said, it wasn’t urgent, but it was something she wanted to talk only to him about.
“Can you come back in the morning,” she asked.
The woman looked at her. She appeared a little annoyed, but gave her a smile and said, “Sure, let him get home.”
She thanked the woman, then looked back at him. He was shaking the young man’s hand. He caught her eye, and she smiled and nodded. It was a triumphant smile. The woman had obeyed her. She had protected him. She had won.
When she arrived at her desk the next morning, she threw her purse on the floor, pulled back her chair, and was about to search for something in the drawer when she heard a strange sound from her boss’s office. She looked up and walked over to the door. Bill was there, sitting in his chair as usual, but this was not the kind, fatherly, benevolent boss she was used to. He was sitting upright, arms folded, and he was letting rip into someone. He was visibly angry. She gingerly pulled the door back a little to see who it was, and that was when she heard the sobbing.
A woman and her husband were sitting opposite him. The wife was crying and the husband had buried his head in his hands. Two children sat rigidly on the chintz couch, fear showing on their faces as they watched their parents. She recognized them all immediately. They were a long-standing staff family.
“But we haven’t done anything wrong,” protested the wife, sobs shaking her body.
“You spoke against me,” Bill countered. “How can you say that is not wrong? I can’t afford to have staff who go behind my back and try to drive wedges in. I need absolute loyalty. I need to know that I can trust you.”
But it was so minor, the couple replied, so little; they had only said that they didn’t think that all rock music was wrong.
“You knew what was required of you, and you failed. You know the standard we are trying to raise.” He continued that he had young people there whom he was responsible for, so how could he allow the couple to undermine his authority in this way? That was why, he said, he was terminating their involvement in the ministry at Headquarters. He said he wanted them out of there before the end of the week.
She was a little frightened as she listened in on all this. This new side to her boss seemed so ruthless. She knew these people. They were good, kind people. They seemed as much a part of the fabric of this organization as Bill was. He had known them personally, closely. How could he treat them this way? She tiptoed back to her desk and sat there, momentarily unable to do anything or carry on with her work.
She felt scared.
What if she, too, did something to displease him? Would he treat her in the same way?
She looked up and saw that he had left his desk and was showing the family out. She could hear the wife pleading with him, crying. But it was no use. After a few minutes he came into her office. She stood up.
“Are you okay, sir?” she asked quietly.
He slumped his chin down on chest. “That was hard,” he said, “but necessary.” He looked at her, and must have seen or read the questions in her face. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Don’t think that it will ever happen to you like that. It won’t. I know you.” He said she was the most loyal person he’d ever met, that she was okay, that she was safe.
He would always look after her.