We at The Band do understand that a lot of our subject matter can be very dark and dense. This, however, is not a story of sadness, but of rebirth, finding a place in the world, and knowing just how valuable you are.
13 years ago today I left my first, abusive marriage. I didn’t know where I was going, what I was doing, or how I was going to survive or take care of my two boys (and their sister who was due in five months. But I did know this: the best place for all of us was NOT with their father.
Leaving was the first hard decision I’ve made as an adult, the first time I felt like an adult, the first time I ever felt like I had the ABILITY to make a decision for myself or my children.
Life after his abuse was not an easy time. it was easily one of the three hardest times I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I am so thankful that a support system came out of the woodwork when I needed it and helped us get through the transition and helped me feel secure enough in my choice to leave that I didn’t end up going back.
I can’t imagine where my children or I would be today if we hadn’t had that.
Mike and I met shortly after that fateful day, in a chatroom. Two years later on August 20th we found out we were having a baby! Baby Eliza blessed us with her presence on April 21st.
I know that it’s no coincidence that today would also have been my father-in-law’s birthday, may he rest in peace. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him.
Today has so many memories, meanings and significance for all of us. This is truly a day we will all cherish forever.
13 happy years of freedom, 12 years knowing my true love, and so many other memories. Amazing memories.
Before, After, and Between.
Today is a good day every year, and always will be.
How about you? Do YOU have a happy or lucky number or thing?
He was not quite six years old when he asked me that question about our mother. I didn’t know the answer then. I was only nine. I knew he needed me. I knew he was sad and worried and really, really scared. I told him the first thing that came to mind.
“Yes. She’ll be back.”
It took a few years, and in that time, he and I grew very close. I helped him with his homework, did his laundry, and beat up his bullies. I tucked him in at night, made his grilled cheese sandwiches with ketchup, and wiped away his tears.
Now, he’s thirty and I’m thirty-four. We’re both parents. Both have been divorced. Both wounded. But I will always be the big sister.
His fatigues are packed for the war zone, again: for the fourth time. Fuck.
I left him a message. And then he left me one. And then finally today, we talked.
“Am I coming home, Sis?”
“Yes. Yes, you are coming home.”
“With my tags on my toes?”
“NO. Not with your tags on your toes. You’re coming home to kiss your son.”
“Take care of my wife & son, Sis.”
“You’re the best sister and mom I’ve ever had. I love you.”
(I catch my breath.) “Watch your ass, baby boy. I love you too.”
Oh dear God, please watch over my baby brother. Keep this 6’4″ soldier safe and bring him home where he is loved most: where he has a son who needs his father; a wife who needs her husband and a sister who wants to keep a promise that he is coming home safely.
It all started when I was a teenager. Or maybe that was the end. I still don’t know.
Before that, life was good. I had a great mom who took good care of me and my brothers.
Then she married a monster.
He molested me, scared me so much that I couldn’t tell anyone, especially my mom. She went to her grave thinking life was good and fair – and I’m glad for her.
But I paid for her peace of mind. God, I paid.
I lost track of how many times he molested me. There were just so many. Three years of that man forcing me to do things I’d never heard of, threatening to kill my mom if I told anyone he was abusing me.
It took me nearly three years to do just that – tell someone.
Then I married, and acquired an instant family. I thought life was going to be better.
That’s when it started.
At first it was little comments, “That swim suit shows too much,“ or, “You shouldn’t wear that, because your legs are too fat.”
I am an only child – an accident. My parents were married, but my mom never hid the fact that she’d never wanted kids. She said she was glad she had me; I was the best thing that ever happened to her, but that she never wanted kids.
I guess when you’re young, you say things you shouldn’t.
My mom got married at 17, had me at 19. She says it wasn’t young at the time, but yeah, it was.
She got married to get out of her mom and step-dad’s house. Married a guy hoping another guy she had “loved” before would come rescue her.
She didn’t plan on staying married. But then I came along; she tried to make it work.
I was blessed. Two weeks later, she met, and we moved in with, the man who would become my step-dad – the only dad I’ve really known.
Life was good. I was loved. There were fights, but they stuck it out.
When I hit 5th grade, my mom started talking up boarding school. Started looking at different schools for me. Figuring out how to afford it. I didn’t understand, but I was young and it sounded like an adventure.
Talk of it fizzled out. Life continued.
One of my chores around the house was the dusting, which included moving all books and magazines to clean under them. One day, I found a spiral bound notebook with a green cover.
I flipped it open. It was my mom’s handwriting, full of information about boarding schools:
“I want to find a Christian boarding school for Charity so when I kill myself she will be with people who can take care of her.”
My world changed that day. And I couldn’t tell a soul.
I’d been snooping. I’d read my mom’s journal. But now I knew there were dark things in my mom’s life.
Honestly, I’d known that as long as I could remember. I don’t even know how young I was when she told me about trying to kill herself as a teenager.
But that was then…this was now. I had to take care of my mom, but keep our family secret. What would people in our Church think, at my small Christian school, how could I tell anyone without confessing that I had read my mom’s journal?
The years went on. I thought about it sometimes, but shoved it down. I graduated from school, went off to a small Christian college. Found out other families were messed up too. Maybe mine was pretty good.
I got a summer job at the same place my mom worked between during summer break. I hated it, but it was a job.
My mom wasn’t in good shape. She was sleeping and crying – a lot. She wasn’t eating much. I got her up for work in the morning, ate lunch with her to make sure she ate. She went to bed as soon as we got home.
I took care of the house, then would head off to bed until I heard my dad come in late at night. I would get back up and talk to him. I figured somebody in the family should be talking to each other, they obviously weren’t, so I decided I better.
A bright spot of that summer was dreaming about going to graduate school.
The end of the summer came; I went back to college. I went early to get settled in and start working. My dad drove down to help build my loft and get my stuff set up.
He had said he wasn’t coming; he didn’t see a point in going to college, I was old enough to do it myself (um, old enough, but definitely not big enough to build that loft).
The only thing I remember my folks talking about that summer was fighting about whether or not he would help me move back to college.
To be honest, I felt guilty, but free to be going back to school.
Then, I couldn’t get reach my mom. No matter what time I called, she never answered.
I tried other family members – no one answered, until my cousin did on Monday night. When she said, “Hi Charity,” I heard my uncle yell in the background, “whatever she needs, tell her we will help.”
That seemed weird, I didn’t need anything, I just wanted to ask my mom a question about my car insurance.
“Your mom is in the hospital. She’s in a coma. They pumped her stomach. I found her in the chair. She had taken 150 pills after I told her I was leaving her Sunday night.”
I said I’d drive home.
“No, just stay at college, there is nothing you can do.”
By the time I got off the phone there was nothing I could do. I just sat there.
Thankfully, my roommate talked me through getting dressed, each step. I missed my first class. All I could see was my mom sitting in that chair, taking those pills.
I couldn’t tell a soul. What would everyone think?
I went to class, I went to work. My roommate kept my secret.
Three days later I told a friend. In class. In a written note.
The demon of depression was alive and well in my family and now people knew my life wasn’t perfect.
She came out of the coma. She was in the hospital a few days. My dad tried to stick it out for a few months. I told him I would come home at the end of the semester to take care of her.
He didn’t make it through the end of the semester. She moved out.
When I asked him why he gave up, when I begged him to stay until I finished that semester, he said, “but you’d been talking about graduate school. I was afraid you wouldn’t come home and I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in the marriage that long.”
I worried about my mom. I cried, I didn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw her taking those pills.
Slowly, she got her feet under her. They divorced. She started dating and met her now husband. It seemed like third time was the charm.
I was terrified of becoming like my mom, but at least she had beat the depression.
Fast forward 15 years.
I am battling my own depression, but unlike my parents, I am getting help. I am fighting. If my mom could beat it without help, I should be able to with help, right?
Just after Christmas, my phone rang. It was my mom. Her husband wanted her to tell me she’d been really depressed again. Crying all the time. Doctors wanted to put her in an intensive outpatient program, but insurance wouldn’t cover it.
My world crashed. Thoughts of reading those words in her journal came back.
Images of her taking those pills invaded my mind. She hadn’t tried to commit suicide – yet – but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When will the phone ring again?
How do I protect my girls when that day comes?
I’ve lived in fear of my mom deciding I wasn’t worth living for as long as I can remember. I have lived knowing that I have to protect her.
I don’t want my girls to worry about me like that. I don’t want them to feel like they have to take care of me. I fight every day to change myself for them.
Tell me, Band, how do I rewrite my girls’ future when my past is coming back to haunt me?
Recently, Sunshine and I went to the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex to visit a friend of ours. Normally, when we go visit our friend, we stay at our friend’s house. This time, when we texted our friend that we were getting near, he texted back an address and told us to meet him there. We got there, and it was a hotel. See, our friend’s house was on the market, staged and ready for an open house early the next morning and he didn’t want us to have to feel rushed to leave, so he put us up in a hotel.
Now, our friend is one of those “go big or go home” kind of people. Well, maybe “live life out loud” or “live life at high speed” or something would be more like it, but whatever–the point is, our friend believes in living life to the fullest. And because he knows that we live in a tiny house on wheels, he couldn’t just get us a hotel room. He had to go and get us a suite, with a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom that on its own was bigger than our whole living room, kitchen and dining area combined. The living room and bedroom each had one entire wall made up of windows overlooking the city to the south, and to a city girl like me, the view was stunning.
Sunshine, our dog Mollie, and our friend took off to do whatever it is they do when they hang out–probably fossil hunting or some other grand adventure. I went shopping, as my ass has grown too big for my pants or my pants have shrunken too small for my backside, and there are just so many good stores in the DFW metroplex.
I got done shopping (in a surprisingly short amount of time) and returned to the hotel. After taking my purchases out of their bags and packing them in my luggage, I surveyed the living room area of our suite. There was this cute little armchair right in front of the window, but it was facing the wrong way, so I turned it around and plopped my ass down facing that wall of windows, and I watched the world go by from my perch on the eighth floor of this hotel.
There has always been something so soothing to me about watching the world from high up in a building in the middle of a large city. Maybe it’s because I can watch the city go by without being affected by the hustle and bustle and mad rush and overwhelming NOISE of it all. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a large city and somehow wound up in a swamp and miss the hell out of city life. Maybe it’s a little of both with some unknown factors thrown in for good measure.
Whatever the reason, I sat there in that room and watched the world go by out that window and listened to the sound of the air whooshing through the vents of the air-conditioning system and the faint sound of the water in the fountain eight stories below me splashing on the concrete.
I sat there in that silence and watched the world go by, and felt such a deep peace.
That may not sound like much out of the ordinary to some of you, but to an addict like me, to sit alone and just watch the world out a window and enjoy the silence–well, that’s a miracle.
There were many years when I couldn’t be alone. There were many years when I couldn’t stand silence. There were many years when I always had somewhere to go and something to do and somebody to be.
I was able to sit there in that chair and watch the world go by and be content with just sitting still. I was happy to know that, unlike all of those people in all of those cars rushing by below me–I had nowhere to be, no pressures, no deadlines, no expectations to meet. I had only to sit and reflect in the silence.
I was able to sit there in the silence, with nothing to distract me from myself, and not want to crawl out of my skin.
After my addiction, failed marriages, prison time, and all of the other horrors that go along with addiction, it’s a miracle it is for me to be able to sit in silence and watch the world go by. It’s a miracle for me to sit high up in a hotel and watch humanity pass by without worrying that life is passing me by.
So my dose of happy this Monday is being able to enjoy the silence, to be comfortable in my own skin. I hope each and every one of you can find a few moments this week to enjoy some silence, and just be.
I was in kindergarten and kissed a pudgy little boy beside me on the playground. My little friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
I was in the fifth grade and my classmates noticed I had boobs. My friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
I was in high school and suffered through the angst of a breakup. His friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
I had a huge fight with my parents and disappointed them. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
The choice? Tomorrow would be a better day if I lived.
My husband of twelve years stuck a gun in his mouth and made a different choice. He left behind three daughters under five years of age. He died because, to him, there was no other choice.
We were finally ending a long divorce – a divorce spawned from years of domestic abuse due to his mental illness. For almost 12 years – 365 days and nights of tears, I woke up and thought tomorrow would be a better day if I lived.
Often times, I felt it was his “grace” that allowed me to live. Every now and then, in the grips of pain from a fist or a kick, I wanted to die. Still, I always made a choice to live.
For weeks after he left this earth, I asked, “Why?”
I needed an explanation – a resolution – for his choice.
Most of us have had those moments in which we think we don’t want to live through the day. We think for a split-second, “What would it matter if I was gone?”
We think we don’t matter. We wonder if we’d be missed. I wish that, before he ended his life, I could’ve answered these questions for him.
Since I cannot, I will do it here:
“What would it matter if I was gone?”
Regardless of our marital state, you helped me create three daughters.
Before the first one goes to school, I will have to explain that her father is dead. Before she learns to write her name, she will understand what a grave is.
The two youngest daughters will not have a decent memory of their father to carry through their adult lives. They will look back and only know your face because there is a picture. They will only know stories – not through their own recollection – but because I will fill in the blanks.
They will never be able to take their father to a “Daddy/Daughter” dance. They will not have the man who helped give them life give them away on their wedding days. Father’s Day will always leave their hearts heavy. They will, one day, know that you didn’t consider living for them, loving them, that they were not enough for you.
“Would I be missed?”
A few days after your death, I had to sit down on the bed and explain to the children that their father would never come back. Ever. The day has not come yet that they haven’t cried for you in some fashion. The oldest has a picture of you in her room on her nightstand. She talks to you when she has something important to say. She tells you about her birthday, her missing tooth, her new puppy, and when Mommy has made her mad. When she is frightened, she screams for you to help her, because Daddies are big and strong.
The man who didn’t feel like he had a choice went into a rage that day. He broke things, he screamed, and he broke down. He walked into the room filled with all the children’s things and did not see any of them. All he saw was that he didn’t have another choice, that he didn’t matter, that he wouldn’t be missed.
In front of a rack of his children’s clothes, ranging from size 18 months to 5T, standing before a toddler bed and dozens of smiling stuffed animals on the floor, he thought that the only thing that mattered was taking himself out of everyone’s life.
Ceasing to exist.
Becoming a memory and nothing more.
Later, I stood in a funeral home to pick out a casket for my husband. I wanted to die. I did not.
I made a choice to live. Sitting in the living room looking at the Christmas tree, stockings lined up bearing the children’s names and a dozen smiling stuffed animals on the floor, I see the only thing that matters: making memories and so much more.