Swinging News Affordable
'He was preparing me to be his wife'
Leah Comeau has two tattoos. The first, six hearts, enjoined by swooping, swirling lines on her lower back, is for the 26-year-old's six children.
The second, a butterfly, is for herself.
The butterfly, with its delicate wings poised to take flight, is for her potential, and what will become.
Helena area resident Leah was 7 years old when she first met the man who would be her father, and later, her husband, at a homeless shelter in Buffalo, N.Y., where she was living with her family.
Twenty years later, Leah says her recollections of that period of her life aren't particularly clear - as is to be expected - but her first meeting with Thomas Emil Sliwinski won't easily be forgotten.
At the age of 31, Sliwinski cut a massive, intimidating figure.
He scared me because he had this mountain man beard, Leah said. He wasn't thin. He looks basically like he does now.
Apparently Sliwinski - now 50 - also made an impression on Leah's mother, Brenda Comeau, although different than the one he made on young Leah.
Leah doesn't know exactly how or when her mother's relationship with Sliwinski transformed from a friendship to a romance, but according to documents filed in Helena District Court, the pair began an affair after a convoluted course of events that included the departure of Leah's birth father.
The union between Brenda and Sliwinski led the couple and their respective children - Brenda had four and Sliwinski had two - across the country and back again as the pair dodged custody battles over their children with former spouses, and other legal issues.
That journey ultimately would lead members of Sliwinski's family to a remote subdivision near Craig, nestled in the rugged hills north of Helena.
For young Leah, it was an unsettled time - the constant moving and the adjustment for her and her three siblings to what she described as Sliwinski's extreme parenting style.
As she would learn later, Sliwinski inserted that same controlling behavior into his relationships with the women in his life.
I guess what I remember most is that Tom treated me different than he treated his daughter, Leah said. It sounds stupid, but like, we would get hot dogs when they got steak. I didn't understand it.
Something Leah couldn't help but understand, however, was that if she or her siblings crossed paths with their stepfather, punishment would come swiftly.
Generally, Sliwinski's punishments weren't about physical domination, but instead went to a psychological level, she remembers.
The children would be required to write lines - thousands and thousands of lines over periods of days - denouncing whatever infraction they had committed.
I have a permanent callous on my finger from all the writings I did, Leah said recently, adding that she and her brother now laughingly compare their similar wounds, the majority of which they earned through such violations as asking the question, What? when speaking with Sliwinski.
After the family moved to Salt Lake City in the late 1980s, the children began to spend more time alone with Sliwinski after he decided they should be pulled out of the public school system and educated at home.
Brenda, according to court documents, was forced to pick up the financial slack in the household by working full time after Sliwinski became unemployed.
According to Leah, the unfortunate combination of Sliwinski's unemployment and her mother's absences provided Sliwinski with the opportunity to pursue his other, more insidious, interests.
Forging a family
Leah says the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Sliwinski has thankfully blurred somewhat with the passage of time.
She claims it began when she was 8 years old.
He never had penetration, Leah said. But he'd touch and have me touch.
She said Sliwinski - who denies Leah's accounts of sexual abuse - would tell her to join him in the shower, to perform oral sex on him, and to engage in other acts that Leah says no child should be privy to.
In court documents filed in Helena, Sliwinski proclaims his disgust with any adult who would pursue a sexual relationship with a child.
I have been taught that if a child is loved, so shall I be loved by that child, he wrote. If I hurt a child so shall that child hurt me.
He continued, While I declare that I am the father of a child, my religion teaches me that all children are gifts from God. And while I am only a caretaker of that child, I believe that I will be judged by what I did with that child.
Leah says she's counting on that.
(Brenda) didn't know what was happening to me, Leah said. She didn't know about it until last year.
What Brenda did know, however, is that her relationship with Sliwinski had become strained, despite the birth of three children to the couple within a three-year span.
Court documents indicate that Brenda thought Sliwinski's moods were becoming erratic and he grew increasingly controlling and demanding of myself and the children - a condition Brenda attributed to the resurrection of her husband's court battle with his former wife over the custody of his daughter.
During the same time period, she said, Sliwinski began traveling a great deal - often taking Leah and his daughter with him - studying the Old Testament in depth and dabbling in the principles of the polygamist lifestyle.
I wasn't buying the ideas and was of the opinion that (it) would pass, Brenda said. But to keep peace and hopefully have him back closer to the children, I would smile and listen, and he would then generally stay calm.
Sliwinski, on the other hand, asserts in court documents that Brenda didn't require much convincing about accepting the polygamist lifestyle.
He states that Brenda and her former husband were swingers' and they introduced him to the concept of spouse swapping and alternative forms of sex - a lifestyle he didn't agree with, but had loose similarities with polygamy.
Too young to understand the meaning of polygamy, or even truly perceive the concept of love between a man and woman, Leah didn't grasp what was happening when Sliwinski began to bestow on her an increased load of wifely duties.
Leah said she thought she was being punished when her stepfather ordered her to cook, clean and watch over the younger children in the house - those were duties usually performed by her mother.
Sliwinski also bombarded young Leah with Scriptures and other teachings he had gleaned from his studies of the Bible and polygamy, solidifying within the girl's mind her duties as a woman.
I know now he was preparing me to be a wife, she said.
When Leah turned 13, Sliwinski decided she was ready.
In God's eyes
According to Leah, her response to Sliwinski's announcement that he was going to take her as his wife was one of disbelief, followed by denial.
After all, he had been her father figure for half her life.
But he told me, 'With what you've already done, in God's eyes, you're already a wife,' she recalls, adding that his reference to their secret was devastating to her. After that, I didn't argue. I had a really strong belief in God and I thought that was what I was supposed to do.
Leah wasn't the only one struggling with Sliwinski's proposal to make her his wife - Brenda wasn't sure how to respond either.
I was very upset as this was not natural to me, but he was insistent, and threatened to leave without us and take her away forever, she wrote in court documents. In (a) brain-warped condition by this time, I reasoned to help her, myself and the children, it was best to look like I could agree, hoping in my heart the good Lord would guide Tom and watch over us. I understand now that I was much more ill with his 'teachings' than I could ever realize.
So, at the age of 13, Leah became Sliwinski's spiritual wife following a prayer ceremony in which the couple asked God to accept their marriage. Leah signed a document drafted by Sliwinski pledging that she would be his wife for all eternity.
It was very serious, she said of the May 1991 ceremony. It was like a piece of paper from God. By signing it, I would become something in the Kingdom of God.
Leah describes the moment she signed her name on Sliwinski's contract as being similar to the scene in Disney's Little Mermaid when Ariel agrees to forfeit her soul to the Sea Witch if she fails to win her prince's love.
Whether it was a win or loss for Leah, she experienced sexual intercourse with Sliwinski for the first time following the prayer ceremony.
I was scared, Leah said, adding that Sliwinski pre-recorded a tape of the Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody which he played repeatedly throughout their first encounter. I was 13, tiny, and he was so big, about 250 or 300 pounds. And the fact he was my father made it even more scary.
By October, she was pregnant with her first child - a fact she hid from her mother for a couple months because Sliwinski told her that her mother wouldn't understand.
However, by December, Leah had accidentally revealed her pregnancy to her mother and Sliwinski decided he should make their marriage legal in the eyes of the law prior to the birth of the child.
According to court documents, while Brenda and Sliwinski were married in Virginia in June 1988, the marriage was nullified because Sliwinski's divorce from his previous wife was not complete at the time the ceremony took place.
With Brenda's consent, Leah and Sliwinski said their vows before a justice of the peace, binding their union in the courts.
Today, a conflicted Leah juggles her love for her mother with her confusion over how the woman who gave birth to her, her protector, could have allowed her child to marry Sliwinski under such circumstances.
I love my mom, but I don't agree with a lot of things that happened in my life, Leah said. She tells me it was an 'or else' kind of thing, but it's hard for me to believe that. In my heart, I don't think she tried hard enough.
She spoke of abuse, polygamy and her concern for the loved ones she left behind.
Most of all, however, she wanted people to know about the man who delivered such pain to her and her family, and how she broke free of his hold.
A man she called father, husband, and lord - Thomas Sliwinski.
Full credit for this Wife Swapping news article goes to: Billings Gazette, MT
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