GOSHEN — Saloma Miller Furlong grew up in an Amish community in Ohio with an abusive father and brother, and at 20 years old, she was faced with a choice — continue to stay where she was or rebuild a life from scratch outside the world she had always known.
Furlong, 57, chronicled her decision to venture into unknown territory in her first memoir, “Why I Left the Amish,” released in 2011.
In February, she continued the story in “Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds” with reflections on adjusting to “a life of freedom” in Vermont, dating a man named David outside the Amish community, working at Pizza Hut — and how it all came to a screeching halt when a vanload of Amish tracked her down on a Friday night and coerced her into returning home for about two years until leaving for good.
Furlong will be in downtown Goshen for First Fridays for a book signing from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 6 at Better World Books, 215 S. Main St. She will join Goshen author and Mennonite minister Rachel Nafziger Hartzler for a talk at 1 p.m. June 7 at Goshen Public Library, 601 S. Fifth St.
Here is an excerpt of Furlong’s interview with The Elkhart Truth:
Elkhart Truth: Even though you went back to the Amish community where you had grown up, did the people there accept you as one of their own again?
Furlong: “They did accept me in some ways and not in others. They wanted me to stay, so they gave me a job teaching school. They knew that I loved school, and they felt like that would satisfy me to be a teacher, and it did for two years, but then I realized that I really want be a student instead of a teacher.
”They also didn’t accept me in other ways. For instance, I was not being asked out for dates, and the word got around that, ‘She left once. She could leave again.’ After about two years of David, the young man that I had met back in Vermont, trying to stay in touch with me and me rejecting him, I finally said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, they’re right. I can leave again.’
“So, I established a connection with David again, and he actually came to Ohio, picked me up and took me to Vermont. I call him my knight in shining armor.
”I didn’t sneak away that time. I actually told my family members that I was about to leave.”
Elkhart Truth: What did your family say?
Furlong: “I took my mother for a walk to talk with her alone, and I told her that I was about to leave. I wanted her to hear it from me rather than somebody else, and she said to me, ‘Now, this young man you met, does he have anything to do with you leaving?’
”I said, ‘Well, it’s because of David that I’m going back to Vermont. Otherwise, I’d be going to the south to get an education.’
She said to me, ‘Well, I once had the chance of marrying somebody outside the Amish, and I’ve always wondered what that would have been like.’ This floored me.
“My sisters were not so happy that I was leaving, and they did try to talk me out of it.
”My mother wanted to take back what she said the very next day, but I thought, ‘Toothpaste is out of the tube, Mom. You can’t put it back.’”
Meet Saloma Miller Furlong in Goshen
Book signing: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 6 at Better World Books, 215 S. Main St.
Joint appearance with author Rachel Nafziger Hartzler: 1 p.m. June 7 at Goshen Public Library, 601 S. Fifth St.
Elkhart Truth: In your books, you talk about violence and mental illness in your family. You talk about abuse and having to escape all of these things. For a lot of people, these would be extremely difficult issues to talk about. What helped you overcome that and be able to be so open?
Furlong: “A lot of it had to do with the really deep healing that I went through in therapy. Some people say you don’t have to delve. I needed to delve. I had to delve in, and there were times I would say to my counselor there’s no bottom to this, and she said, ‘I assure you there is a bottom and you will find it.’
”She also kept telling me sometimes the only way out is through, and there was a desire to avoid, to go around and not wanting to go through this, but I’m glad that I did because it has given me a new perspective, and now I realize that all those hardships that I went through actually helped to shape who I am today.
“I feel like our hardships can either make us bitter or they can make us better, and I feel like it has made me better. I’m very grateful for that because it has allowed me to live more fully and be open to very new experiences.”
Elkhart Truth: Has anyone from your past tried to contact you since the final time you left?
Furlong: “The first time I left, I was very unsure of myself, and they seized on that, and that’s why they came to return me to the fold.
”That was not the first time they had came. They had come another time, and my mother had let me know they were coming, and I had actually hid because I knew I couldn’t stand up to them. The second time they came, they actually surprised me.
“When I left the second time, I was very clear that I was leaving and David was now in the picture, so they did not try to come and fetch me back the second time.
”I did go back and visit quite often. Even when my children were growing up, we usually made a commitment to go back once a year except for during the deepest part of my therapy. I really needed distance, and I did not even write letters to them and didn’t have anything to do with my family.”
Elkhart Truth: Did the relationship with your faith change?
Furlong: “Definitely. When I was going through that process, I had to basically question the very foundation of the Amish faith and faith in general.
”I had questions such as who is God and is there someone who even hears my prayers if I even dare to pray? I started asking questions like that from the deepest core.
“Eventually, I started thinking about who we call God in a whole different way. It was very healing to me at the time, looking at the new age movement and looking at Native American beliefs and whatnot. An idea of a great spirit was so healing for me. I slowly built on that because I realize I have an innate belief that there is God, and there is something greater than us.”
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.