Charli: Escaping her Adoptive SDA Parents - Part 2

S2:E7
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01:03:44
November 12, 2023
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Part 2 of Santiago's interview with Charlotte Hayes (Charli), a Gen-Z ex-Adventist. She was adopted from Russia and brought to the U.S. as a baby by an Adventist couple. Growing up, Charli experienced horrific things at home. The police and Child Protective Services investigated, but nothing happened, so she ran away from home at 18. She now has over 500k people on TikTok who have been following her life story.

Charli's Links:
TikTok @charli.hayes

Instagram @charlihayes_

YouTube @charlihayes_

Resources / Topics Mentioned:
Little Duck Diner - Savannah, GA
Hostel in the Forest - Brunswick, GA

Hostelworld - Find hostels around the world

Support for Victims of Abuse:
RAINN - National Sexual Assault Hotline

Childhelp - National Child Abuse Hotline

The Hotline - National Domestic Violence Hotline

Full Transcripts, resources and more: hell.bio/notes

Have a story to share? Write to us, send a DM or voice message on Instagram, or leave a voicemail at (301) 750-8648‬. We take your privacy seriously: Privacy Policy

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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Episode Transcript

Haystacks & Hell Intro

[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.

Part 2 of Charli's Story

[00:00:17] Santiago: Hey everyone, I'm your host Santiago, and today we're playing part two of my conversation with Charlotte Hayes. If you haven't already heard part one, go back and listen to Season 2 Episode 6.

[00:00:30] As a reminder, we discussed topics including physical and sexual abuse, self-harm and more. Some parts of Charli's story may be particularly challenging for some. So if you feel like you need it, please listen with a friend or just a little bit at a time. Also, feel free to take a break or stop entirely at any point. Mental health and other resources are linked in the show notes.

[00:00:57] Charli: Pastors are not mandated reporters. They should be.

[00:01:01] Santiago: I agree.

[00:01:02] Charli: So it was up to her if she wanted to make a report. And then, so she gave my name and my information and they were like, "Oh, that's already been an investigated thing." "We'll put it down in the file, but it's already been closed," and so she was kind of also, again, out of luck. She offered to maybe talk to my parents and see, like, if I could, if there could be some mediation going on and, and different things, like, to help. But there really wasn't much that she could do, and she kind of, I feel so bad for her, because I'm, I'm sure she felt pretty stuck.

[00:01:35] Santiago: Right, did she have a pretty limited picture of what had happened?

[00:01:40] Charli: Yeah, I didn't really tell her. I had told my aunt, my family more what was happening, than her. I didn't tell her that there was sexual assault going on. I didn't even tell my aunts that there was sexual assault going on. Like, I had just said physical, not sexual. Because I didn't want to explode it even faster. Because I was wanting to explode it maybe more slowly. And gradually explode, explode it. So yeah, there wasn't really a whole lot that they could do. And then June 9th. You ready for this?

[00:02:14] Santiago: Yeah, this is a Saturday. And I remember hearing you talk about how, you pretended like it was any other Sabbath, right? You go to church, you're seeing everyone there. Do you remember if it was that weekend, or that day that you had decided, or did you decide earlier in the week? Like, when did you know, "This is what I'm gonna do?"

[00:02:39] Charli: I had decided to run away June 8th, Friday. The reason why was because June 8th, my dad was in Florida on a business trip, and my mom was home with me, and she got a call. I was out with my friend, and I was hanging out with her, and when I got home, my mom immediately was waiting outside when my friend and I pulled up in her car.

[00:03:09] And she was like, "Rachel, get out of the car." "You're in trouble, we're going inside." I was so confused on what happened because my family had told me that they wouldn't tell my parents, yet. Like, we were still trying to maneuver and figure out what we were gonna do. And so I was like, "It's certainly not that."

[00:03:29] And so I went inside and my friend was so concerned in the car that she ended up driving to my cousin's house. And my cousins told her that they told my mom about the abuse going on, that I was abusing drugs, and that they had scheduled an intervention for me on the 11th of June.

[00:03:51] And at that point my phone had been taken away, so my friend could not relay this information to me. My mom had been yelling at me, she called my dad. And my dad on the phone was like,

[00:04:06] "When I get home from my trip, you are dead." And when my dad would make threats, those threats always happened. And so I immediately went into panic mode and, "Okay, I need to figure this out, and figure out what to do 'cause this is exploding now."

[00:04:33] Santiago: Did you ever find out what exactly your cousins mentioned? What they said?

[00:04:37] Charli: Yeah, so they had pretty much told my mom that I had told them that there was abuse going on and that I was using drugs and drinking. And so, my mom had made me start sleeping in her room at night, that way she could keep an eye on me that I wasn't sneaking drugs or sneaking alcohol or whatever.

[00:04:57] So I was pretty much glued to my mom all of June 8th. So she had taken my phone, but then I secretly, this is what I did, like mentioned earlier with my iPod, was that I would just, lay low about a device, not mention that I have a device, or not make it known that there's a device here. Not have it in eyesight, anywhere I would just casually kind of hide it, so it wasn't immediately in your head to take away.

[00:05:25] So I tucked my tablet between the mattress of my bed and the frame of the bed. And kept it there. And I logged into my Snapchat account, and I texted my friend, who in my TikTok videos is known as Miss A, because she's the first person in the story to mainly help me get out of it. Her name is Sarah, she has given permission for me to use her name.

[00:05:49] And so, Sarah, I texted Sarah because months before all of this, she had texted me saying like, "Hey, I've been noticing things at home being rough." "If anything ever gets to a point, you can always move in with me on my couch in Savannah, Georgia."

[00:06:07] And I kind of kept that in the back of my head as like an emergency option, and so I logged into my Snapchat and I texted her friend Tiffany, who in my story is known as Miss B, because she was technically the second person to help. I texted Tiffany and I was like, "Hey, Sarah deleted Snapchat, I really need to talk to her, can you get her to re-download it now?" And she was like, "Okay."

[00:06:34] So Sarah downloads Snapchat again, she friends me on it, and I friend her back, and I start telling her, I'm like, "Remember when you told me if the abuse at home gets to a point?" And she was like, "Yeah," and I was like, "It got to that point." And she was like, "Okay, how old are you?" And I was like, "I'm 18." And she was like, "You can legally leave, we can do this." So yeah, June 8th is when things really started getting planned.

[00:06:59] Santiago: How did you meet Sarah? Like, what's the connection there?

[00:07:03] Charli: Sarah grew up Seventh-day Adventist. She is also no longer SDA. She's got her own story and her own things that happened to cause that, but so that's how we know each other, and we stayed friends through it. And we would always go and take photos together, because she's a photographer, she went to SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design, so that's why she was down there. We were both very into photography, so her and I would meet up occasionally to go take pictures together, which was really fun, so that's how our friendship grew.

[00:07:32] Santiago: So you both grew up in Virginia, but then she went to Georgia for school.

[00:07:35] Charli: Yup.

[00:07:36] Santiago: Okay, so you get in touch with Tiffany, Tiffany lets Sarah know that you need to reach her through Snapchat.

[00:07:43] Charli: Mmhmm.

[00:07:45] Santiago: So she gets in touch with you. Then what happens?

[00:07:48] Charli: So once Sarah gets in touch with me, she was like, "How soon do you need to leave?" And I said, "As soon as possible." And so she was like, "Tiffany could do it June 10th if you wanted to," and I was just like, "Absolutely." And so we're in a group chat, we made a group chat on Snapchat, and we're talking to each other. And Tiffany was like, "I can take the few days off of June." "Like after June 10th, I can take the 13th through I think the 15th off from work, to be able to get you down to Georgia."

[00:08:23] And so we're figuring that out, we're figuring out how this is gonna happen. She's like, "'What is gonna be the safest and easiest way for you to be able to leave your house?" And I said, "I think I should do it when they're sleeping." And she was like, "So, around midnight?" And I was like, "I don't know, midnight, I mean..."

[00:08:40] In the moment when it's so high stress, by the time it's midnight, my mom was definitely asleep. She took Trazodone to go to bed. She was an insomniac, so like, she was out. But I was still in my head about it, and I'm like, "I don't know, maybe she's just maybe not asleep enough." And so I was like, "What about 3 AM?" And she was like, "Okay," so we picked, we settled on 3:30 in the morning.

[00:09:03] Yeah, that was wild. So the night of the 8th, we figure out the day, we figure out the time that I'd be leaving. And then we started picking out names. Because at the time, my name was Rachel Grace and so I was like, "I really don't want to be Rachel anymore." Like, if I'm leaving, I'm changing myself. I'm gonna be a new person. I don't want my past with me.

[00:09:29] In that, at the time, I didn't want anything to do with it. And so we kind of made a list of a bunch of different names that I kind of liked and didn't like, and so we figured out Charlotte. And it was gonna be Charlotte Rae Carter, originally, because Rae was a way to still keep my old name as Rachel. And have that little nod to my old life in there. So that's what it technically was for a while. So we had settled on Charlotte Rae Carter.

[00:09:59] Yeah, pretty much the second that I ran away, I became Charlotte or Charli. But yeah, so we picked the name, we picked the date, the time. And then they said, "Okay, you need to get some sleep, and we need to figure out, you need to start packing the next day."

[00:10:14] So the next day was church, so it was just me and my mom going to church. And it was at the church Greater Than I. And I walk into church, my pastor was there, and at the end of church, she comes up to me and she was like, "I hope you're, I hope you're doing okay." "Like, how are you doing?" "Can I do anything for you?" And I was like, "No, I'm doing okay."

[00:10:36] And then I, I gave her a hug and that hug, like, I, I remember, like, vaguely crying a little bit during that hug because that was my last time gonna be seeing her for a while. And so that hug was kind of like a goodbye hug. And I was like, "I love you," and she's like, "I love you too," and then we left. So that was my last day at church. It was pretty normal, aside from the hug being maybe off, so, yeah.

[00:11:08] Santiago: Wow, so then did you just stay awake the whole...

[00:11:13] Charli: Night, yeah, I did not sleep. Yeah, so that afternoon after church, um, we had a pool in our backyard, and my mom really loved to sit on her raft, have her iced tea, and read a book, and float in the pool and read. So she was in the pool reading and floating, and I was in my room packing.

[00:11:35] I was searching the guest room for backpacks and a duffel bag, so I got a backpack and a duffel bag. I had this little notebook, and I, in the moment when you're so stressed out, you can't remember shit. You can't, your brain can't function. There's too many things going on, there's too many other stressors going on. And so I wrote everything that I needed to pack, literally everything, down to the amount of clothing that I needed.

[00:12:02] Like I wrote, "Socks," times however many that I needed. "Underwear," times however many that I needed. Literally, I wrote it all down, because that was the only way I could keep my, me and my brain from freaking out more than it already was. Which, now that I'm thinking about it, like, that was not a bad idea, that was really freaking smart.

[00:12:24] Santiago: No yeah, it makes sense. You had to make sure that as much as possible, everything went right.

[00:12:30] Charli: Yeah, and in this notebook, I have a page on there where I knew that I would be erasing my iPad because I didn't want them to possibly figure out how to track me via Find My. So I turned my Find My off on my iPad and I went through my contacts. I wrote down every single person's name and phone number in this notebook that was in my phone contacts.

[00:12:52] Because I was going to be erasing it. Like, because my iPad and phone mirrored each other. So like, every contact that I had on my phone, it was on my iPad. So I was able to go through and get all the contacts that I needed. My family members, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my pastor, some of my really close friends. Uh, Sarah and Tiffany's numbers. Like, it was all written down. I even wrote down my parents' phone numbers.

[00:13:18] Santiago: Hmm.

[00:13:19] Charli: Like, just so I would have them in case future whatever needed to get a hold of them. I had them memorized. I still have them memorized. I'm not forgetting those numbers. But like, I wrote it down just to have everything, because that's how my brain needed to function in that moment. So, yeah, I wrote down everything, and little square boxes next to everything that I wrote, to physically check off.

[00:13:47] Santiago: Yep.

[00:13:48] Charli: It was great, it worked. And then I even put on this list, phone charger, iPad charger, portable chargers. Um, my documents, my legal documents, my birth certificate, and all of that information. Yeah, I wrote down everything and I checked off everything and I even wrote on there, "Erase iPad." That was the very last thing, was to erase my iPad.

[00:14:16] And so I kept the iPad like not erased until Tiffany was there to pick me up. So yeah, I packed everything and then I, my bed was like alongside the window, like it was kind of pushed up to the window, but not fully, and so I hid my backpack and duffel bag and everything between there.

[00:14:38] And then, again, because my mom had been making me sleep in her room, I had to go to bed in her room. And I, I just, I could not fall asleep. I was just laying there, like I was not asleep at all. And so I waited until about 2 in the morning and I very carefully just kind of like slid myself very slowly off the bed.

[00:15:01] I didn't want to stand up and make it move and I didn't want to wake her. So I did that, and her bedroom doors were these really noisy double doors, which really sucked. And so I had to just crack it to not, to the point where I knew where it would make noise. And so I just like, stopped it, and I used a, like her laundry basket was right behind her, so as I was walking out the door, I just picked up the top thing and just put it behind the door so the door wouldn't automatically start slowly opening.

[00:15:32] So it definitely stayed in that cracked position. And I tiptoed down the hallway, making sure to not step on the wood planks that made noise. 'Cause you learn, when you're living in a house with abuse, you learn what steps make noise. You learn very fast what makes noise, you learn what parent is coming up the stairs via the way that it sounds on the steps or the car door slams, you know who it is.

[00:15:55] So I went to my room, I finished up some last-minute packing with the portable chargers. I unplugged those because those were charging. I didn't know if I needed them or not, but I wanted to have them. I gathered some last little things that I wanted. My hair straightener. [Laughing] Was really concerned about how that was gonna go. My toothbrush, when I could have just gotten a new one in Georgia, or on the way, like, it doesn't matter. I, yeah, I really overpacked for this. But it was, what I was taking with me was what I was gonna, were the last things of mine that I was gonna keep.

[00:16:32] Santiago: Yeah.

[00:16:33] Charli: And so I had to really think, like, I can't take much, I can only fit that, fit what can fit in maybe like a... I don't know, maybe like a four foot duffel bag. It's not big, and a backpack, and so that was my clothes, uh, some books. I brought my school books. I literally, so I had this creative writing notebook that my English teacher in high school had us work in every single day. I took that with me. I kept my Fahrenheit 451 book that we read fresh — or sophomore year of high school, like, I kept these things.

[00:17:12] Ugh, man, it was, it was weird, so I don't know why I did that, but in the moment, it made sense in the moment. Now I'm a little bit like, "Did I really need that?" I brought some really weird things, I don't know why, but it was just, those are the things that like, once you leave, you're not getting stuff back.

[00:17:29] You're pretty much, it's gonna be gone. And so anything that felt in that moment important to me to take, I took with me, if it fit. So, I did that, and then, so Tiffany had texted me, "Hey, I've arrived." "I'm one house down the street, that way the car light didn't wake up your mom." And I was like, good thinking. She sent me the address, and I was like, cool, that's literally right across the street, but down over, one.

[00:17:57] And she was like, "I'm waiting, so whenever you're ready, I'm here." And so I was like, "Okay, I just need to clear the iPad first," so I turned Find My... So, fun fact if you don't know this about iPhones, if you try to delete your, erase an iPhone, it will go into like a factory lock if you do not turn Find My off. So if somebody else tries to set up a new device on it, it's gonna get locked to your device, to your account. So, turn Find My off, and then delete your account, and erase everything.

[00:18:25] So, I did that, I turned everything off and put it in my backpack. I put my backpack on, picked up the duffel bag, and I started to walk out my room, I turned my lights off, I made my bed. I don't know why. I was like, "At least my room's clean for them, they don't have to clean it." Like, I'm doing them a solid.

[00:18:48] Santiago: You honestly did.

[00:18:49] Charli: I, you know, and I left a note on my bed. It was so stupid I was like, "I'm running away because I need to grow as a human..." I didn't know what to say. And I was just like, "I love you both, bye." And that's what I left. And then, so I was walking out my door, and I turned back at my room one last time, and it was so weird, because I was like, the second that I leave, I'm never seeing this room again. It was so weird. And so I turned the lights off, I closed the door a little bit, and then I started the uncomfortable walk down the stairs, because every step makes fuckin noise.

[00:19:33] And every time that I stepped wrong on the step, it made a little bit of noise and so I would just stop and stand there to see if I heard noise or not. And so then I made it all the way down the steps, I made it through the kitchen and to the garage door, and so I walk into the garage and my dog is in there.

[00:19:52] The dog, it's too hot outside and so the dog was in the garage where it was cooler and he was in there and I look at him and I'm like, "Luke, I am so sorry." "I can't take you with me, buddy." And I walk through the garage, and I turn back around and look at him, and I'm like, "I love you, bud." And I close the garage door, and go outside, and I'm like, I'm never seeing my dog again.

[00:20:16] Oh, it hurt so bad, leaving him. He was looking at me, and he was wagging his tail. He had no idea that I was leaving for good. And so, yeah, I left, and I... Got into Tiffany's car and I pretty much laid down. I leaned her seat back all the way, thinking that my mom would have woken up or something, and might try and follow us. So I didn't want her to see me in the car. She was asleep. She didn't know that I ran away until like 8 AM, later.

[00:20:46] So the first thing that Tiffany and I go do, is we went to Denny's... [Laughing] As like a celebratory, "Hurrah, you made it out alive." But I was so anxious, I couldn't eat. And she was like, "What do you want?" "Do you want bacon or something?" And I'm like, "I've never had bacon before." 'Cause Seventh-day Adventists, you don't eat pork.

[00:21:07] And so I'm like, "Okay." So I try a piece of bacon, I'm like, "That's actually really delicious." And then didn't eat the rest. I had a bite and then just couldn't do it. I was so stressed, I couldn't eat. She had a full meal. She was like, this is a regular Sunday morning for me.

[00:21:23] Santiago: So the first time you had bacon was the morning that you ran away from home. So I take it Tiffany is not or did not grow up Adventist?

[00:21:32] Charli: No, she did not.

[00:21:34] Santiago: Okay, got it.

[00:21:35] Charli: And so, yeah, that was what we did. We went, so my house in Gainesville, we drove like 45 minutes in a completely random direction to go to Denny's. And then from Denny's, we then were like, "Okay, we need to go to an ATM and get money out of your card so people can't track you via your debit card." Because my parents could track that.

[00:21:56] And I was like, "Yeah, okay." We went an hour and a half, a completely different direction, for an ATM. And then, keep in mind, this was the first time ever using an ATM. So this was a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time using an ATM. I was nervous, so I literally had my sunglasses on, a hoodie on, and my hood up at the ATM.

[00:22:19] I looked like, I looked really suspicious at like, I think it was like 5 AM, trying to get money out of an ATM. And I could only get 20s out. I didn't know that, I kept trying to click the buttons on the screen, but the screen wasn't doing anything. Turns out it's the buttons on the side, not the screen. First time.

[00:22:42] Both: [Laughing]

[00:22:43] Charli: And I could only figure out how to get 20s out. So every, I had $500 in 20s because I had to keep inserting my card and taking it out every single 20 that I got out, I had to then restart the whole transaction process to get another 20 out. I didn't know how to do it any other way.

[00:23:00] Santiago: I mean, kudos to you and Tiffany for thinking, "Hey, we need to drive in the opposite direction to throw 'em off the scent.

[00:23:09] Charli: Yeah, so we did that, and then we drove then again, and in totally different, opposite direction to go to her house. So we tried to get like a few hours of sleep, and then we woke up around, like, nine? So, we, I, we didn't sleep. We really didn't sleep. She had to go to work, 'cause she couldn't get those immediate days off. So she went to work, and then I ended up going to church for the first time on a Sunday, with her mom.

[00:23:37] Santiago: Did her mom have an idea of what was happening?

[00:23:39] Charli: Yeah, so she knew that I was getting out of an unsafe situation and that I was going to go live in Georgia and Tiffany was helping, but we didn't really go into a whole lot of detail with her. But she was like, "You probably don't want to be left here home alone." "Would you like to go to church with me?" And I was just like, was yesterday, what are you talking about?" And she was like, "No, it's Sunday." And I'm like, "Oh yeah, people do that."

[00:24:00] Santiago: What was that like?

[00:24:02] Charli: It was different. It had a live band. Like it was one of those bigger churches that had like the big stage in the front. It was cool. It was in an auditorium. The music was fun. Yeah, it was just really weird to me because I had already gone to church the day before and here I am going again on the next day, which was a Sunday, which was weird for me. So I was like, "I've really gotten churched today."

[00:24:26] So, okay, the past two days of church. Woohoo! So yeah, I spent those next, the next day on Monday, I spent the day where my friend was working. I hung out where she was working, um, and so, hung out there all day, and then we went to bed, and we got woken up very early, the 13th. June 13th, very early in the morning because Sarah had called us, and she was like, "Your dad was here." And I was like, "What?"

[00:25:05] And she was like, "Yeah, so they found out that you ran away," and I'm like, "Yeah, that's fair, they, they would have noticed by now, definitely." And she was like, "Your, your mom called your dad freaking out about wondering where you were." 'I don't know where to look.'

[00:25:23] And so, what they did was, because my dad was already in Florida, he was gonna start driving back up to help look for me. He was like, "I think her friend Sarah lives in Georgia and they've recently been hanging out a lot." "So like, I'll just give her dad a call and see if I can get her address."

[00:25:42] It was random that he went there, because he didn't know that I was going there. He contacted Sarah's dad. Sarah's dad told him her address, and he literally slept outside. June 10th, he slept outside overnight in his car, to wait for somebody in her apartment building to open the door so he could slip in.

[00:26:03] Santiago: Oh, wow.

[00:26:03] Charli: So he slipped in, he went up to her apartment. He was banging on the door. He was freaking out. He was like, "Have you heard from her?" "Have you seen her?" "Have you talked to her?" And she was like, "No, I haven't heard anything." "I don't know what's going on." She played it off very well, and he was like, "Okay, if you hear from her, let me know." And then he left and then continued to drive back up to Virginia.

[00:26:23] Santiago: I gotta imagine that y'all were not expecting that, right?

[00:26:28] Charli: No, I was not expecting that in the slightest. I was like, "What?" "He, uh, how did he figure this out so fast?" But, no, he had no clue where I was going. What I had also done, which was super smart of me, was I had left clues around my room that I was going to Ohio.

[00:26:46] I printed off a map of Ohio, left it in my room. I just casually left some random things about Ohio in my room, so they ended up thinking that I was going to Ohio, and they almost drove there to go see if I was there. But that took them a few days to figure out.

[00:27:07] Santiago: Nice, you really put a lot of thought into that.

[00:27:11] Charli: Yeah, I work well under pressure, apparently.

[00:27:13] Santiago: Yeah. So Sarah calls you early in the morning. She lets you know what happened. Then, what did you all do after that?

[00:27:22] Charli: After that, we pretty much decided that it was still safe to continue with the plan and still move to her place. We got up pretty early and we drove from Virginia to Savannah, Georgia on June 13th. Because we had left really early in the morning, we beat the Richmond traffic and then pretty much, all the states from Virginia down to Georgia at that early in the morning, there's nobody on the road, so we were speeding.

[00:27:48] We got there in like, six hours, we — it was fast. Like it's a long drive, but no, we got there freaking fast. Listening to Hamilton musical going down, like, it was, it was a, it was a party! Listening to Party in the USA, Miley Cyrus, it was fun.

[00:28:06] Santiago: Nice.

[00:28:07] Charli: Yeah, that was like the first day that I didn't have as much anxiety that I was having, because even like at night when I was sleeping in Tiffany's room before we had left for going down to Georgia, every time a car passed her place, every time there was somebody walking outside in the neighborhood, I got anxious and thought it was them. I thought that they had found me.

[00:28:27] Santiago: So then you end up in Savannah, Georgia. You're in Sarah's apartment. Had you been to her place before? Or was that the first time?

[00:28:35] Charli: No, I hadn't been and so she, we got in, she met us outside because she brought us in the back way up the elevator. And we go up into her apartment and I drop off my stuff, we kind of sit and we talk about how my former dad was there, what the plan going forward is going to be kind of looking like, like what we need to continue to do. What, what safety measures do we need to think about?

[00:29:00] Sarah's very logistical, so she was very on that with it. So, we made a rule to always check the peephole if somebody knocked. Um, make sure we know where each other are in downtown. 'Cause even though it's Savannah and it's a touristy town and it seems great, it's still not, it's not always the safest place by yourself in some areas.

[00:29:22] That was pretty much it. That first day she was like, she gave us a tour of Savannah. So my first like whole day there was just like touristy day, like vacay! And Tiffany was there. So she wanted to see Savannah, too. So we went to a place called Little Duck Diner, which, best biscuits and gravy ever. Ever.

[00:29:43] If you're ever in Savannah, Georgia, please go to Little Duck Diner. You will not regret it. So freaking cute. Such good food. It was amazing. And so, yeah, that first day was pretty much just a tourist day. Um, got to check out some cute shops.

[00:29:58] And when we were looking at the shops, I was definitely kind of eyeballing what places had, like, "Help Wanted" because I wanted to get a job, to be able to continue to have money, and to figure things out. So that very next, that evening, I told Sarah, I was like, "Hey, I'm gonna go for a walk for a little bit, that okay?" She was like, "Yeah, cool, just let me know, keep me updated," and I was like, "Cool." And so I'm walking, and I find oh, it ended up being a really not fun job. Uh, a hot dog stand?

[00:30:27] Santiago: Okay.

[00:30:31] Charli: And you were in these sheds that were so frickin hot, and they had me working the ice cream side, but it was still so hot in there. You're sweating your ass off in this hot dog ice cream stand. They were two different stands. Anyway, so I asked them, I was like, "Hey, are you guys hiring?" And they were like, "Yeah, we actually need somebody to run the ice cream half."

[00:30:51] And I was like, "I just moved here, I'm looking for a job." "I can start tomorrow if you need me to, like I can start as soon as you need me to." And they were like, "Great, you're hired," and I was like, "By the way, I also don't have a bank account for you to pay me." And they were like, "That's totally fine, we can pay you under the table, no tax removed, that's totally fine," which worked. So I had a job within the first 24 hours of moving to Savannah.

[00:31:24] Santiago: You moved quick.

[00:31:25] Charli: I did, I, yeah, and I went back to the apartment and I was like, "I got a job!" And Sarah's like, "You did what?!" "That fast?" I was like, "Yeah, I need one!" Um, I lasted at that job for a solid two weeks before quitting. It sucked.

[00:31:44] Santiago: Sounds like it.

[00:31:46] Charli: Yeah.

[00:31:46] Santiago: Any service industry job I can imagine is, is difficult. Like, I'm sure a lot of the people who are listening, like, they already think like this, but please, if you're ever out, whether it's somebody who's working in retail or at a restaurant or at a hot dog stand, be nice.

[00:32:05] Charli: Yeah.

[00:32:06] Santiago: Be nice, like, don't be rude. Don't be demanding.

[00:32:09] Charli: Yeah, and it was a bunch of like touristy people and a lot of them were, it was hot. It was June in Savannah, which is, it's in the hundreds. It was freaking hot and everybody's cranky and everybody just wants ice cream. And so it was, it was not, not fun.

[00:32:27] So I quit and then got a job at a coffee shop, which was so much better. It had AC, I made coffee, I could have a free lunch, and all the coffee that I wanted, and sweet tea. Which, oh my goodness, sweet tea's amazing. So yeah, it, that job ended up proving to be so much better. Which, that coffee shop, it was called Our Daily Bread Cafe.

[00:32:53] It was a church-owned coffee shop that I got a job at, and I abused my Seventh-day Adventism perfectly. I was like, "I grew up Seventh-day Adventist!" "I'm totally churchy!" I'm gonna have to get this job! And they agreed to hire me on, like, not on spot. They were like, "We're gonna think about it." "You don't have an ID, you don't have a bank account." "This is kind of sketchy."

[00:33:22] And I was like, "What if I did three day trial?" "If you don't think that I can do the job, that's totally fine." And so they were like, "Okay." So I went home and I googled the machines that they had. And I, in that moment, you're just in survival mode that you remember, you learn things quickly if you really need to on the fly.

[00:33:40] And I memorized how to fix the machine, somehow. And that first day of their trial, their machine broke. It literally malfunctioned, completely broke, they couldn't have espresso, and I was like, "I know how to fix this." And they looked at me and they're like, "You don't know how to fix this." And I'm like, "Oh no no no no, you do, you need to pull this, fix this, clean that, and then replug this in, and then close this piece, and put the piece into here, and then fix it."

[00:34:08] And it worked. And they were like, how did you know how to do that? And I'm like, "I really want this job, and I took time to learn how to do things here." And they were like, "You're hired." So my first day of trial, I was hired because I fixed their coffee maker.

[00:34:26] Both: [Laughing]

[00:34:29] Charli: Yeah.

[00:34:30] Santiago: That's awesome.

[00:34:30] Charli: So that worked for me, so then I worked at the coffee shop until I, yeah, till I was, till I moved out of Georgia.

[00:34:37] Santiago: I want to touch on something you just mentioned, which, like, I think a lot of people will sometimes take for granted, which is, you didn't have an ID, or a government ID. And you no longer had a bank account, because I'm assuming...

[00:34:53] Charli: I didn't want them tracking me, yeah.

[00:34:54] Santiago: Yeah, you technically had one, but effectively you didn't, 'cause you couldn't use it.

[00:34:58] Charli: Yeah.

[00:34:59] Santiago: Wow, that's, that's gotta be rough. So you had, you had your birth certificate, but that can't count as, as government photo ID...

[00:35:07] Charli: I had my school student ID, which I thought to bring that. Like I brought all of it. And so I, I just gave them all the documents that I had. I'm like, "Here's my social," here's blah blah blah blah.

[00:35:22] Santiago: We're gonna talk about this in a little bit, but yeah not having an ID turned out to be a very big challenge for you, which I want to ask you about in a little bit. But, so you basically just, you had never driven, you didn't have a driver's license?

[00:35:37] Charli: Yeah, nothing.

[00:35:39] Santiago: And was that intentional, or was it just something that you weren't super interested in?

[00:35:43] Charli: It was something that my parents didn't want me having, because then I'd have a way to leave their home and I'd have more independence. They very much wanted to keep me home.

[00:35:52] Santiago: I'm glad you mentioned that, because that's something you've touched on before, which is on TikTok, you'll talk about how you ran away at 18 and some people in the comments...

[00:36:00] Charli: "That's just leaving."

[00:36:01] Santiago: Yeah, they'll be like, "No, you moved out." "That's just moving out."

[00:36:04] Charli: Yeah.

[00:36:05] Santiago: But no, you truly felt like you had to do this in secret because you felt like you would have been kept there against your will.

[00:36:12] Charli: They would not have let me leave, correct. And I make that super known on there, like every time that I can make a video on that, I do. Because it's so important, like, it is escaping. It's running away if you are physically not allowed to leave.

[00:36:28] I would, like, if I had come to them and I had said, "Hey, I'm gonna move out and go move to Georgia with Sarah," they would have said, "Hell no." They would have made my social circle even smaller. They would have not let me do anything. They would not have let me out of their sight to let me do that. They would not have let me. And so, that's why I had to go this route, because it was the only way to safely get out.

[00:36:54] Santiago: So, how long in total were you with Sarah in Georgia?

[00:37:00] Charli: So I was with Sarah in Savannah, Georgia from June 13th to about August 13th.

[00:37:05] Santiago: And during that time, you've talked about on TikTok how your former parents actually did manage to find you. So I'm curious, like, how do they, how do they go from potentially thinking you're off in Ohio after they realize you're not at Sarah's initially?

[00:37:24] Charli: I told them, which you're probably like, "Oh crap, you did what?" Yeah, during that two months with Sarah, it especially — just mainly the first month with Sarah, we were talking about it often, um, how I'm 18. They cannot call the police on me. I cannot be forced back. It's my choice to be gone. There's no legal issue here for me, because of this.

[00:37:50] And so it kind of just boiled down to a point where it's like, you know what? I don't care if they know. They can't do anything. So I called them and left them a voicemail and said, "I'm living at Sarah's now." "I'm safe, but I'm not coming back home." And I hung up. And that was it.

[00:38:10] And then, later that week, I actually got a package in the mail that showed up to Sarah's apartment. There was a few gifts from them, which was really random, and then they paid off my phone. They gave me my phone back. So they paid off the phone, there was a little note in there that said, "Paid in full, my gift to you," on there. Which is a little weird. Um, and a notebook that had, it was a Bible verse notebook. It was like a regular notebook that you can write in, but in the little corners it had different Bible verses. And the first one on there was Jeremiah 29:11, which is the...

[00:38:47] Santiago: "I know the plans..."

[00:38:48] Charli: "Plans I have for you, declares the Lord," yep. That was my, that was the verse that I really liked growing up. And so, she was like, "It's your verse!" And so, I was like, "Okay," like, it was a little weird.

[00:39:03] Yeah, so this is the notebook. So it said, Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

[00:39:13] And then, my mom and my dad wrote in there saying, "Dear Rachel, this is your verse." "In this book, write something positive each day." "Okay, we love you so, so, so much." "You will always be our daughter." "Love you, mom and dad."

[00:39:26] Santiago: Wow.

[00:39:28] Charli: Just for you to be able to see that.

[00:39:32] Santiago: Yeah, you really did take pictures of everything.

[00:39:34] Charli: And the verse was up here, and yeah...

[00:39:37] Santiago: Do you think some part of them was trying to make amends through that?

[00:39:44] Charli: I don't know. I think they just sent it to send it. I don't know their motive behind it. I have no clue.

[00:39:52] Santiago: I'm struggling and I, you know, I'm not going to be able to understand. And I don't need to understand. But part of me is confused. And I'm sure you must have been, too, growing up, 'cause it sounds like there's this dualism. Where they're telling you they love you, they're sending you a gift, and they're saying, "Hey, this is your favorite Bible verse."

[00:40:16] Charli: Paying off my phone.

[00:40:18] Santiago: And yet, they must have known you left for a reason. They're adults. Like, your former father must have known that what he was doing was absolutely not okay. Like, I can't understand.

[00:40:34] Charli: Yeah, I have no idea.

[00:40:35] Santiago: If you don't mind me asking like, do you think that your former mom knew what was going on at night? And in general?

[00:40:44] Charli: Yes, she knew. So, after things happened, especially, so, trigger warning, after the sexual assault, she would actually have me shower to make sure everything was cleaned off.

[00:40:56] Santiago: Wow. So she took an active part in covering it up?

[00:41:04] Charli: Yes.

[00:41:06] Santiago: Wow. That's, that's wild. So they knew, I mean, they both had to have known. You had every reason to leave and then to follow it up with "We love you and here's our gift to you." Wow.

[00:41:26] Charli: Yep, and so when I got to, when I had first got to Savannah, I logged into my old Apple ID account, and my Apple Find My was still turned off, so they couldn't track me. But what I could do on my iPad was I could delete and erase, and manually from my current iPad, shut down and erase my other devices.

[00:41:47] So it automatically era — the second that my laptop got turned on, it would shut down. The second that my phone turned on, my cell phone that they had, would immediately delete. Because I didn't want them finding any text messages or whatever about any, I don't know what they, I mean they wouldn't have found anything, but still, it was just a way that I felt like I needed to protect my end.

[00:42:10] Um, so I had those deleted and then when they sent me my phone, I turned it on and it immediately started deleting itself. And I was like, "Oh, maybe they just never logged on to my phone and never checked it." Like okay, so, yep, so I got service in Savannah. I got, I think it was Verizon. I just got a Verizon prepaid and got that turned on to the phone. So then I had a phone. So that was really good.

[00:42:37] Santiago: So you get this package in the mail, you get your service. How long after that did they end up showing up in Savannah?

[00:42:45] Charli: It was a few weeks after. I was walking to work and Savannah is laid out on a grid format, most cities are. And they're all one-way streets. So in order to turn around, you can't do U-turns. You have to go around a full on block to get back, or two depending on where the one-ways are placed.

[00:43:03] And so I'm, I'm at a stoplight. I'm waiting for the light to turn green so I can cross the crosswalk and I look to my left, and I'm looking down. I'm like, "That's the same car that my parents have." And I'm like, "That's not uncommon, okay." I look back at the road, still waiting, and then I'm like, "Something feels off."

[00:43:24] And so I look back at it, and the car's closer, and I look at the license plate, and it was the exact same license plate. It was, it was a personalized license plate to a Christian phrase, which is still currently their license plate, so I'll keep that private. But, yeah I saw the license plate, and I'm like, there is no doubt that this is definitely them.

[00:43:49] And so then they see me! The light for me, like, I could go, but I was so frozen that I couldn't cross when it was green for me to go. And they, they round the corner, and they roll down the window because they have to keep going, and they were like, "Rachel, we're turning around, stay here, when we get back, get in the car, we're taking you home."

[00:44:09] And I just stood there and I was like, "I have to get to work, but okay." They were like, "Stay there." And I was like, "Okay." And so then they go, they turn down Broughton Street because they had to go down that way to get around and whatnot. But the second that they were out of sight, I didn't even care that the light for me was like red.

[00:44:30] I had to wait again. I didn't care. I saw an opening and I took it and I sprinted across the street before cars came. Cars were definitely honking at me for being an idiot, but at the same time, I had to get away. And I ran, so, Savannah, where I worked, was down on River Street, and so you, the only way to get onto River Street is two ways.

[00:44:49] One, down the historic steps, because it's on a different level than everything else. And then, the other way to get down is to drive, like, five or six blocks down the road for a car to be able to go down the ramp to get down there. So, it wasn't gonna be an easy way for them to get down. And it gave me time to get away.

[00:45:10] So, I am sprinting. I sprint, I go down those steps as fast as I possibly can. I'm sprinting to work and I tell my boss and I'm like, "My parents are here." "My parents are here." And I had kind of told my boss at the time, like, a little bit of information. And he was like, "Do you need me to, to get you back to your apartment?"

[00:45:31] And I'm like, "Yes, I can't be down here." "I need to, I need to stay in the apartment and lock the door." And he was like, "Okay." So he got me in his car, he drove me the back entrance to the apartment, and I went up the elevator and I hid there, and pretty much throughout that afternoon, I could see them circling where Sarah lived and where I was staying. I kept seeing them, 'cause Sarah lived right on top of, like on Broughton Street, which is like the main shopping street. And so they were just like, I could see them every few minutes going down it.

[00:46:02] Santiago: When I listened to your videos where you talk about this part of your story, I was curious, 'cause I've never been to Savannah, so I did a Google Street View of Broughton Street. So I saw the, I saw the street you were talking about, I can picture it in my mind. And I also looked up pictures of the historic steps going down to River Street, right? Those are some precarious steps.

[00:46:26] Charli: [Laughing] They're very steep. They're really steep and some of them are really skinny, so it's like you kind of have to be mindful when you're going down these steps.

[00:46:34] Santiago: Yeah. Wow, so you, so you ran down these like, and these are old, like they call them historic for a reason. Like these are super old.

[00:46:43] Charli: Some of them are completely closed off. Like, I do not recommend going down them. But, yeah.

[00:46:50] Santiago: Wow, so how long after that, like you stay, you stay at Sarah's for a little bit longer...

[00:46:56] Charli: Yeah, that was stressful.

[00:47:00] Santiago: So you were with Sarah for two months, and then you managed to find another place to go. I want to hear, like, what's the background to that part of your story, where you end up moving out of Sarah's and into another home?

[00:47:13] Charli: Yeah, so growing up, when I was going to the Manassas Seventh-day Adventist church, there was a couple there that I was familiar with, but didn't really know. They were acquaintances. The conversations were always, "Hey, how you doing?" "Okay, bye." And then they were only there for a few years until they ended up transferring over to the church that was then called Greater Than I, that I ended up going to later, that I was able to go in sweat pants.

[00:47:40] Yeah, it was kind of weird. I had logged into my old Facebook account, under my old name, Rachel Grace. I was, I was seeing who messaged me and what the rumors were of why I left and who knew and how much people knew.

[00:47:58] And so, I had gotten a message from the couple, and they were like, "Hey, we noticed that you ran, like, you're no longer, you and your family aren't coming to church anymore." "Like, are, are you doing okay?" And I was like, "Yeah, I, I moved." And they were like, "Oh, did you and your family move too?" And I was like, "No, it was, it was just me that, that moved."

[00:48:24] And he, he was kind of like, kind of suspicious. He was like, "Can I ask about why you suddenly moved, and your family's not coming back to church?" "Like, what kind of happened there?" And so I explained to him, like, kind of the cookie cutter version of it. Like, "It wasn't safe, I had to leave." And he was like, "Oh man, I'm so sorry."

[00:48:49] And he was like, "Would it be okay if I told my wife what we talked about?" And I was like, "Yeah, I don't really care." So he was talking to his wife about it, and apparently she made a joke about, "Oh my gosh, we should adopt her!" And he was like, "No, we can't adopt an adult." She was like, "Oh, that's true." But after like a month and a half of texting back and forth, they were like, "Hey, do you have time this evening to FaceTime?" And I was like, "Yeah, that works."

[00:49:17] So I FaceTimed them, and they were talking, and they were like, "So we're willing, if you're wanting, if you want to, we'd be willing to move from a one bedroom apartment to a two bedroom apartment if you would like to come and live with us." And I was like, "Oh my god, I don't know what's happening."

[00:49:38] And it kind of ended up being perfect timing because a few months after, my friend Sarah was going to have to move out of this apartment, because she was done with school. And so it, I was kind of trying to figure out when I was, that like while I was there, like figuring out something to do with living. Like I don't know, I had to figure that out fast. And then this just like landed in my lap. And so I talked to Sarah about it for a few days and Sarah was like, "These are really good people." "I think you should do it, I trust them."

[00:50:08] Santiago: 'Cause she also knew them from growing up in Virginia, right?

[00:50:10] Charli: At the same church, we went to the same church and she also had gone to Manassas Adventist Preparatory School as well, so I knew her through my school and I knew her through church, so yeah.

[00:50:19] Santiago: Okay, wow, I mean, what a generous offer for them to make.

[00:50:24] Charli: Yeah, it caught me off guard and I definitely was worried if I could, if I could trust them because they knew my former family and I just was like unsure if this was gonna be a good choice or not.

[00:50:38] Santiago: Leaving a home because of an abusive situation, you're in a vulnerable position, right? Because you're with your friend, but you were going to be without a place to live. And so this could have been an attempt by some people if they had nefarious intentions, to further prey on you. And just so thankful to know that they had good intentions and that they were really truly being generous and genuine people.

[00:51:08] Charli: Yeah.

[00:51:10] Santiago: If I'm not mistaken, they were still living in Virginia at this time, right?

[00:51:14] Charli: Yeah, they were living in Ashburn, Ashburn, Virginia. So that's 45 minutes away from Gainesville.

[00:51:21] Santiago: Okay, well, how did you feel about the prospect of being only 45 minutes away from your hometown?

[00:51:28] Charli: Absolutely terrified, absolutely terrified. But it kind of, it ended up being okay. I had a plan. I don't know how I was so good at planning this, like it just worked, but my friend in high school, she was taking a trip with her dad down to Georgia that I used to take with them for that week, every summer growing up. Or not every summer, but like most recent summers.

[00:51:52] And so they were like, "Hey, we're doing our summer trip again, if you'd want to join." And I was like, "Oh crap, this is actually perfect, I'm already in Georgia." "Would you want to just pick me up down here once you're already down here?" And they were like, "That is very convenient, actually, yes."

[00:52:07] And then I was like, "But one favor." And they were like, "What's that?" And I'm like, "Could you drive me back up to Virginia?" "Because I'm going to be moving in with these people." And they were like, "Yeah, that's fine, we're going back to Virginia anyways." And so I do my week long trip.

[00:52:23] We stayed at a place called the Hostel in the Forest. It's this very hippy-dippy place. Swimming in the pool with clothes in the pond is optional. Um, it's that hippie. It's the type of hippie that you pee behind a tree, but then you take a shit in a compost shed, and you cover it with sawdust. And they use that to then grow their vegetables, and then you eat the vegetables that they grow.

[00:52:51] Santiago: Okay...

[00:52:52] Charli: Yeah. Um, yeah, it, it was a weird one, but kind of nice because it's off grid, there's no phones allowed, you can have your phones in the cabins, in the places that they have you sleeping, but you can't, once it, once you leave your place, you have to have it off, so it's very peaceful. It's in the middle of nowhere, the people there, they are so nice, like all of them are just so genuinely, to their core, very kind people.

[00:53:19] Like they all have good intentions for you, they want nothing but the best for you. They want to hear your story, and they want to understand you, and they want to truly love on you when you're there. If people go there, I definitely recommend it. It's called The Hostel in the Forest, it's in Brunswick, Georgia. It's a hostel. You get free dinner. You have to have your own breakfast and lunch, but dinner there is provided for via the, the shit vegetables that are grown. But other than that, it's amazing.

[00:53:48] Santiago: Obviously you have to do your due diligence and know what you're getting yourself into. But yeah, for anyone who's traveling, who wants to travel on a budget, a friend and I went on a trip a couple of years ago, and we stayed in hostels as often as we could. It's awesome, yeah.

[00:54:08] You'll meet some interesting characters and I want to say like pretty much all of my experiences were positive with one exception, and that was because we bought it on Booking.com. Do not get hostels on Booking.com. Yeah, go to Hostelworld. Pro tip via my friend who is an expert in booking hostels, get the Hostelworld app because they actually do their due diligence.

[00:54:38] And every hostel we stayed in, yeah as far as I can remember, every hostel we stayed in that he booked through Hostelworld, great, great place. Affordable, clean, good people, never had anything stolen or lost. Like yeah, I'm sorry to bring us on this tangent, but yes, hostels...

[00:55:02] Charli: Are great.

[00:55:02] Santiago: Yep, I agree.

[00:55:04] Charli: They're definitely quirky, and some of them are weird, but I definitely recommend them. After we stayed at the hostel, we then went to Florida. And in Florida, we stayed in a town called Gainesville, Florida. So, back in Gainesville, but a different Gainesville, different state, Florida. And we pretty much went to, like, these springs, there, it was called Rainbow Springs, and the water is so blue, you can see straight down to the sand.

[00:55:31] It was beautiful, did some tubing and whatnot, but then we drove up back to Virginia, which was kinda crazy. It was kind of weird seeing all the places that we, that we had stopped when I was going down to Georgia and to be retracking back up. It felt kind of like a setback, but also not, if that makes sense.

[00:55:54] Santiago: So you move in with this couple.

[00:55:56] Charli: Yeah, the night that they picked me up, my neighbors, earlier I mentioned my neighbors that used the tweezers to pull the carpet out of my arm. They opened up a brewery in Old Town Manassas, and so I made that the meeting point. Because I didn't really want to get dropped off at their apartment. It was a little bit out of the way for my friend's dad who was driving us back.

[00:56:19] And so we met in front of the brewery at like midnight. So again, very cloak and dagger. It was, definitely looked weird. It kind of looked like a drug handoff, but it was a person handoff. Like it kind of looked a little bit sketch in this dimly lit parking lot.

[00:56:37] Like I'm so convinced that if they keep their security cameras from their bar, that I'm, if they keep them, they probably don't. But if they did, they would probably have a really odd interaction going on right across the street.

[00:56:53] So yeah, so I saw them, they took my backpack and my duffel bag and they were like, "Is this it?" And I'm like, "Yeah." So, yeah, my friends dropped me off and I was riding with them and I had my phone, 911 ready to go if it went south. 'Cause I didn't know if it would, like I was still kind of on the edge of trusting them and whatnot.

[00:57:15] I wasn't sure if they were just planning to drive me back to my parents' house or not. And so they, they didn't. And they were still in the one bedroom, so I slept on the couch in their living room for about a month and a half, maybe? Until the apartment one floor down and across the hall opened up for them to be able to take it.

[00:57:35] Santiago: So, you spent the next three or so years with them in Virginia, right?

[00:57:41] Charli: Yeah, and in that time I was just, I got a dog. Her name's Hadley. She is a beagle, foxhound, and American coonhound mix. She's frickin adorable. She's 4% Chihuahua, but that doesn't show anywhere at all in her. I had her DNA tested. It's, it's a whole thing. I make it known to share that, like, every time people are like, "What is she?"

[00:58:03] And I tell her, and I'm like, "But she's 4% Chihuahua!" Like, that 4% is important. Like, you gotta know who she is. She is part Chihuahua. She does not look like a Chihuahua at all. She's my baby. She kind of saved my life a little bit.

[00:58:18] Hadley, her first home was very, very abusive. She was not in a safe position. She was hit with books, umbrellas. She was kept outside, chained to a crate, which she couldn't go into. And it was only like a foot of moving space with the chain. So she was a very traumatized little baby.

[00:58:36] She was a year. And we got her, and it helped me. Because I was starting to really develop the symptoms of PTSD and anxiety pretty heavily, which was rough. I didn't want to leave the apartment, I didn't want to do anything, I didn't want to go out because I didn't feel safe going out, because I'm living 45 minutes away from my former home.

[00:59:00] I'm with these new people, kind of hard to make friends once you're not in school. Like it's, it's different. And so... they got me a dog. I convinced them to get me a dog. Having her, having Hadley, it helped me with getting out of the house. It helped me with my anxiety because I had to, like when she was scared from fireworks I would like pet her and I'd be like, "It's okay, just breathe." And I was petting her and it helped me learn to regulate myself by having to learn to regulate her and her emotions.

[00:59:37] And it taught me that if I get upset and get loud, that it hurts her. It scares her. With PTSD, like, your responses to normal things that people might find mild stress, is big stress to somebody with PTSD. And so I would melt down over the littlest things. But because of Hadley and her trauma, I had to learn how to calm myself down. That way it didn't scare her and it taught me how to be okay.

[01:00:06] And it gave me something to come home to. I had like the people that took me in, but I wanted, like, the dog just added a new, because she was, she's my dog. She was not their responsibility. She was only mine. Like, I was taking care of her. I was feeding her, doing all the things. Of course they helped when I needed it, but it gave me something to live for. Because during those months, it was dark. It was really dark.

[01:00:34] Santiago: Yeah, no I can only imagine. Being that close to home and just like everything, everything you'd been through.

[01:00:41] Charli: Yeah, especially because like during those two months in Georgia, I was still very much kind of like in a shock state. Like I wasn't really, it hadn't sunk in what I had done by running away. It, nothing really like registered or processed completely. Like I knew, obviously I knew I ran away and everything, but it really truly, the ramifications of what I had done, did not sink in until I had moved in with the couple that took me in.

[01:01:09] Santiago: You've talked about coming to the realization that there was one major issue related to you leaving, which was that you didn't have the proper documentation to get a driver's license. Which I can only imagine how much of a, how much of a challenge that was. You've used the term "undocumented citizen," to describe the situation you were in, which, you know, you've mentioned it's not a legal term, but it best kind of captures what you went through. Can you share with everyone listening, why you used that term, and the challenge that you found yourself in?

[01:01:47] Charli: Yeah, so I found out that I was in that situation by going to the DMV in Ashburn and I gave them all my documents and I'm like, "I'm here to get a permit." And they were like, "Do you have your certificate of citizenship?" And I was like, "What?"

[01:02:04] Santiago: And we're going to pause here. Come back for the third and final part where we'll discuss the challenges that Charli faced with proving her United States citizenship, and then moving to the other side of the country. Please see the show notes for links to Charli's social media, and the topics and resources we mentioned. There's also a link for religious trauma-informed therapists, which I highly recommend if you need any help in this area.

[01:02:32] Lastly, I want to remind everyone that we're still raising funds for the Dunk family. You can find details about this in the very first link in the show notes. And remember that I am personally matching every donation between now and the end of 2023. So if you donate $10, they'll get 20. And if you donate $50, they'll get 100, and so on. Once their funding goal is met, that link will be replaced with any future mutual aid goals that come from our community of listeners.

Haystacks & Hell Outro

[01:03:05] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio — that's H E L L . B I O, or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!

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