The Church Militant: My High-School Friendship With a Domestic Terrorist

River Irons
9 min readApr 10, 2021
Photo by Joseph Allen on Unsplash

I can think of a couple of possible reasons why Richard and I might have started leaving letters in that coffee can in the woods. I just don’t remember which one was actually the deciding factor.

I met Richard F. Keyes III when I was about thirteen years old, in the phase of my life between my mother’s discovery of the Society of Saint Pius X and my father’s death four years later in 1991. I had been homeschooled and completely isolated for three or four years. During those lonely times, my mother was driving me and my siblings an hour from Clinton, Maryland to Vienna, Virginia at least once per week to attend Mass and other Traditional Catholic practices. These services were held in a ranch-style brick house, the basement of which had been converted into a chapel. I’ve mentioned before that since the long trips to the chapel in Virginia were my only human contact outside of my home, I learned to manipulate my perception of time so that my life felt like a string of endless Sundays.

In the cold reality that existed unaltered outside of my deliberately warped perception, time really was dragging on quite slowly for a child with nothing to do but read and study. Being homeschooled, living without television and popular culture, and being almost completely isolated from the rest of the world was a lonely existence when I had seen just enough to know that there was indeed a world outside that appeared to have more to offer.

It’s hard to fathom now that such a period existed in recent history, but this was a world before computers, internet, smartphones, and tablets. My mother bought a subscription to a Traditional Catholic magazine for children, which would come in the mail each month. It included a section for “pen pals”, where a child could post their name, address, and interests, hoping that others like them would send hand-written letters. Children like me in fringe-conservative households all over the country connected via mail to ease their loneliness.

I had many female pen pals, but I preferred exchanging letters with boys. Because I was at an age where dreams of future romantic involvement were breaking into my awareness for the first time, I was very receptive to my mother’s jokes about meeting my future husband via mail…

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River Irons

I grew up in a cult. I escaped. I still search for freedom from oppressive constructs. Digital Artist, Storyteller.