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Violated

Child sexual abuse is reported 90,000 times a year – the number of unreported cases is much higher as most children are afraid to come forward.

This is her experience.

This post contains information of a graphic nature. Please do not continue reading unless you understand that specific and detailed information about Child Sexual Abuse is contained below.

That said, please support this brave woman as she shares her story.

This is not easy to write, nor is it easy to read. Think about toddlers.

When I think of toddlers, I think of gooey kisses, messes, and learning. When I was a toddler, apparently my father didn’t think of those things.

You see, he was a pervert. He looked at my 18-month old self and saw a sex object. I’d always known that someone had violated me. I saw it happen in the very worst of my nightmares. These nightmares haunted the beginnings of my memory. I could never see the faces, only what was happening. And me.

There was always a wrongness to our relationship, but I could never figure it out. He died in 2001. Good riddance.

In 2005, when my mother had been diagnosed with dementia, she would say things that were inappropriate, to people that didn’t need to hear them, at totally inappropriate times.

One day, while I was taking a friend across town, another friend showed up at my apartment. Unable to live independently, my mother lived with me, and she entertained my friend until I got home. In that 15 minutes, she had nonchalantly told this friend that she “always knew that he molested [me]. [She] caught him fingering [me] when he was changing [my] diaper.” Really, Mom?

Who knew what she had muttered to my friend would send me into shock? It was awful. I knew from my baby book that I had potty trained myself at 20-months old. What the fuck? It all fit together at that point. It explained the promiscuous behavior I displayed in my 20’s. The nightmares became more intense and more clear. I could see him.

He was such an asshole. How do you look at your own child like that? Or any child for that matter.

I have put many of the nightmares together, and remember things that I wish I didn’t. I remember that when I was 8, he lived communally with 3 other guys from Alcoholics Anonymous. They were like him. Perverts. And he passed me around. After my parent’s divorce, I would go visit him in Florida for all of summer vacation. And went through hell.

AND MY MOTHER KNEW!

I was appalled. I still am. Not only did my mom know that he was molesting me as a toddler, but she also stayed with him until he left our family when I was 5. And she continued to let me go visit. She didn’t protect me. She didn’t tell him to keep his fucking hands off her daughter. She failed me. She actually did quite the opposite. Until her death, I believe that she blamed me for the breakup of their marriage. Because he couldn’t keep his hands off me. And apparently at the tender age of 2, I was seducing him.

It screwed me up. Oh, but I’ve had a hell of a lot of sex. Because when that’s all you’re good for, you practice A LOT, and you get really good at it. I don’t trust men. I don’t love men. I have never been in love. I don’t know what it feels like to be loved because I won’t allow myself to be loved. I have never, and most likely will never, associate any kind of sexual act with love. Yet I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything.

It was always good for them but not for me. I will often flash back in the midst of sex, can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve had sex sober, and afterwards would often finish by curling into the fetal position. Because I was violated, not because I was tired.

Teach your children YOUNG about good touch/bad touch PLEASE. You never can trust someone 100%.

Or at least I can’t.

Somebody Fucked With My Kid

I have wanted to post here for a long time. I have a story. It is a painful story. Maybe it’s painful only to me, I don’t know. I’ve been so humbled by the stories I have read here and felt unworthy, like my own problems can’t possibly be as bad. I have followed these writers – I will not call them bloggers because to me they are writers as impactful and as important as any that were found on my bullshit high school reading lists.

They do not know that they have been lifelines.

They do not know that they have given me validation. They do not know that they have made me feel like part of something bigger. And I have felt unworthy to speak in these forums because I have not suffered the same losses, the same blows, the same sickness…how could I be part of this tribe? But today, in this strange world of Twitter that I am still trying to understand, someone gave me the invitation and therefore the permission to post here.

Ed note: Please, you’re all invited to post here. We want you to share your stories, big and small. Your victories, your celebrations, your dragons, and your sadness too. Don’t be intimidated Pranksters. If I’m Your Aunt Becky, that means we’re family (sorry). You are all welcome to come in and stay.

Today, someone fucked with my kid.

Maybe this is the way, the opening of the floodgates, where I feel important enough. Maybe this is where my story gets validation. And I will tell my story, most of which has nothing to do with this incident.

And I want to tell you all so many of my stories because it has taken so long for me to realize that I HAVE a story, that my shit was fucked up, that I got a raw deal, that some of how I am is because of what happened. But right now none of that matters, my story is not important, my hurts are not important, nothing is important except the fact that someone. fucked. with. my. kid.

My kid is gay. I am gay. What these two things have to do with one another, I could care less about. The Bean (my kid) is a carbon copy of me in so many ways. We love hard, heavy and openly. She has been raised as a political kid in Washington, DC, where there is a rally or march every other week, and if it is something we believe in – from gay rights to women’s rights to immigration rights to arts funding to DC statehood – we march for it and we are loud and do not back down.

I taught her that.

I taught her about gay bashing and Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena and the Trevor Project and all the horrible things that happen to people because of how they love. I taught her to be the head of her Gay-Straight Alliance at school.  We matched in our rainbow outfits for the Marriage Equality March. The youth-friendly Gay Pride after-party has always been at our house. She knew she could fight because her mama was always there by her side.

Mama was not with her today on The Metro with her girlfriend.

It was a beautiful day here today. Finally, the humidity had broken and I was down at The H Street Festival, one of the city’s biggest festivals. Bean was supposed to meet me at H street but she is slightly geographically challenged and by the time she figured out where to go, it was time to go home. I told her that I’d meet her at The Metro and ride home with the two of them.

As I got off the train, I noticed that Bean and …we’ll call her Banana…were in the car ahead of me. As I moved to catch up with them, Banana noticed me and said “That man messed with us.”

Oh, hell no.

I bypassed the checkout and went straight through the emergency exit and demanded, “Do you have a problem with my daughter?”

To which he responded, “Children don’t need to see that gay shit on the train.”

I discovered that when he said something to Bean, she said something back to him. So this truly classy gentleman, in his fifties made a fist at my seventeen-year old daughter and told her to “step to him.” This man was also still in his security guard uniform with his name tag. He was a douche-bag security guard at an amusement park.

The details are kinda cliché, but suffice to say I turned into every inch the stereotype of a pissed off black woman.

I grew an extra vertebrae so I could roll my head, my finger grew an inch or two to help me point at his face and I learned all kinds of different ways to conjugate “motherfucker.” Eventually, Bean saw me pulling an Arizona Iced tea bottle out of my bag and pulled me toward the car. That was after he informed me that if I was any kind of mother, I wouldn’t have a gay kid, and what my daughter and I both needed was some of his twelve inches, and I needed to bend over and take some of him because I needed to be put in my place.

Ahem.

I told this story to my friends on Facebook and Twitter, and the tears in my eyes right now are not because of the incident, but because of the amazing outpouring of support, piss, and vinegar that I’ve gotten. My friends are contacting Six Flags, where Mr. Antonio Washington works, demanding that Mr. Antonio Washington be removed from working around kids. My friends are re-posting my note so people know this kind of hatred and ignorance is real. They are sending love to a little girl that many of them haven’t ever met.

And what is that little girl doing ? She sat on her mommy’s lap for about 5 minutes.  Mommy was busy yelling on the phone, Tweeting and trying to fix all of her favorite foods at once. And she was okay. I overheard her on the phone.

“He didn’t know who he was messing with. My mom is so mad and you don’t mess with my mom.”

I read her Facebook Status, “Some asshole was dumb enough to bash my mom’s kid. He’ll be sorry.”

I listened to Banana  “Man, your mom doesn’t play around!” They just made Pizza Rolls and popcorn and are being WAY squeal-y watching horror movies.

Just got off the phone with Six Flags General Counsel. At 9:30 on a Saturday night.

So I guess, to be cliche and because I love NPR , This I Know Is True:

Just because you were an 18-year old teenage mother with a GED and a crack-addicted mother in the murder capitol of the world, you can still be a good mom.

I’m a good mom because I taught my kid to fight for her rights – her rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a black/Latina woman, as a black/Latina gay woman.

I’m a good mom because she knows her momma is never too far away and will KICK THE FUCKING TEETH OUT of anyone who messes with her.

I’m a good mom because, at the end of the day, she still wants to sit on my lap and play with my hair.

As Aunt Becky taught me, we are, none of us, ever alone. The outpouring of rage and support over this has been amazing. I have seen this story, in the matter of about two hours, be posted, tweeted and spread across states and continents. There are warm and fuzzies everywhere and most of you don’t even know the Bean.

I have a story. And there are people out there to listen.

Now someone pour me a shot.

Holding Space in Crisis

I almost lost my best friend last weekend to suicide. She tried to take her own life.

She texted me while I was working: “Call me ASAP. I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me. No joke.” I informed her that I was still working with a student, which she understood, and I went back to work until she explained why she’d been admitted to the hospital: she’d attempted suicide. I felt the wind knocked out of me. Frantically she texted me to come as soon as possible, as she believed the nurses in the ICU were waking her up to say nasty things to her. These nurses even went as far to tell her family that she’s hallucinating; and my friend didn’t feel safe. She begged me to stay the night as her husband refused.

I could see the look of horror on my face on camera in between her texts. I realized that I needed to be there for her, so I ended the tutoring session then and there. After I explained to my own family why I was leaving, I took off, my heart and brain both racing as I began driving, trying to understand what had happened. Did she need anything from home? I stopped to get headphones for her, thinking she might enjoy some music.

When I get there, I put on my proverbial own oxygen mask so that I can be her advocate as I walk into her ICU room. Immediately I see that she’s got a PICC line, the staff had a hard time inserting an IV and she’s bruised up one side and down the other. I finally get the story from her: she’d overdosed on a number of medications – including painkillers and insulin – while she was housesitting her parents home, resulting in kidney failure. One pumped stomach later, the nurses draw her labs every two hours to make certain that her kidneys are indeed working as they should be.

She complains that the nursing staff is abusive; they’ve make comments about her, saying that she’d overdosed to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her Daddy. When she confronts the nurses about their poor behavior, the nurses deny it, brushing it off as a hallucination. As she’s on suicide watch, the hospital provided her with a sitter, a one-on-one person who has to watch her at all times, documenting every thing that she does, noting all the unprofessional conduct by the medical team before I arrived.

Once I got there, she informed me that the nurses were still commenting about her…and me. When I asked the nurse about it, she denied it, saying my friend was hallucinating and fabricating tales. I didn’t believe a word of it and explained that due HIPPA, it was illegal to discuss any patient care within earshot of others.

The charge nurse called her supervisor who came down to talk with all of us. My friend explained how she felt. The nurses, of course, covered their misbehavior, claiming that my friend had been hallucinating. I interrupted their stories and explained that no matter what, my friend does have recipient rights, which are something we have in Michigan. These rights protect and promote the constitutional and statutory rights of recipients of public mental health services and empower recipients to fully exercise these rights.

The minute I mentioned “recipient rights,” the two nurses apologized, and we began to discuss moving my friend to a step-down unit as she was medically stable. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room where we got settled in. Her kidney function went down to normal so she was medically cleared for transport to an actual mental health facility.

We learned that Community Mental Health (CMH) was on their way to start the intake process to find her a mental health facility – that’s when things started accelerating at an astronomical rate. My friend had no idea how to process this, so I patiently helped her. Her parents and her husband arrived for the intake meeting.

This was when I saw mental health stigma magnified.

Thankfully, the CMH person was neutral, asked all the appropriate questions, and took my friend’s requests seriously.

When my friend’s stepmom stepmom began blaming my friend for what happened, I was floored “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”

I couldn’t hold back, I was so angry, and interrupted, saying “I’m sorry. With all due respect, when you make comments like that to her, you are blaming her for her illness. We need to help her instead of telling her what she did wrong. She didn’t do this to you.

Her stepmom got angry at me and said, “Well, with all due respect to you, you haven’t been here for the past eleven years.” I responded, “You’re right. I haven’t. But constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”

When her parents left, my friend said, awestruck: “That is the first time anyone stood up to my stepmom.”  I began to pack for home once I felt she was stable, and her husband had arrived, stating that he’d have come earlier, but he’d only had a half a tank of gas, she was stable now,

I looked him and smiled with my sweetest Southern smile and said, “I had only the change in my pocket, a quarter tank of gas, I cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night.”

He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?” I explained, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love her.”

I was hurt for my friend. It is hard enough battling mental health demons, but when you are alone with no emotional support from your family, it is almost insurmountable.

Once I got to my car, I video-chatted with one of my friends, and I finally cried. I let it all out. I cried body-rocking sobs for my friend, the pain that she is shouldering on her own, the fear of the unknown that she is facing, and the aching of wanting to heal. I sobbed in anger against mental health stigma, the blame people put on those with mental illness, and the broken system that is failing so many. No one should be blamed for his or her mental illness. It ‘s like being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.

I received a text from my friend’s husband: “Thanks for being such a good friend to my wife. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such devotion from a friend of hers. I will try to keep you in the loop as much as possible, okay?.” I thanked him for keeping me in the loop so that I could help rally around her, to help her recovery and mental well-being,

This is my prayer.

I pray that we work on our own recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and to put on our oxygen masks first.

A Letter I Can’t Send: Edge Of Crazy: Lesson #12

my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.

dad,

i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-

i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.

lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.

we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.

lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.

when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.

i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.

and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.

lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.

you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.

lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.

you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.

remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.

mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.

and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.

lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.

you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.

lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.

the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.

lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.

in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.

can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.

you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.

lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.

you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.

lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.

when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.

lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.

and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.

lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.

it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.

lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.

I Wear The Mask

How can you explain the unexplainable?

The intangible that lives within and is expressed without but not with words…thoughts, deeds, drinks, and pills. Words seldom give justice to the turmoil within. And even when blurted out in a moment of weakness or vulnerability…if expressed to the wrong person they are still and float on the air like flotsam…better left wherever the journey began.

One might say “get a therapist” or “join a group.” Some psychobabble will surely help things along. Turn lemons into lemonade, bump inertia into movement. But, what to do without that ever-expensive, mostly elusive thing called health insurance?

Out of pocket expenses for mental health care are damaging.

So the cycle continues. The mood swings, the doubting, the bursts of mania. The decision to do one thing and suddenly another road is taken. All the while keeping things together. Feeling very little, looking very ill and fooling no one. Or maybe, just maybe, fooling everyone and that is the very problem that needs to be addressed.

The adjectives used to describe this current state are self-actualized and negative. But what is the alternative?

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly…”

No, these wings aren’t broken, my cape is not torn, I can handle everything that is happening. In the midst of accolades for “making it,” the pieces of my heart slowly tumble and quietly hit the ground while barely making a whisper.

And yet the pain is still devastating, immobilizing and nobody knows.

Admittedly this is my fault. Perhaps wiping away the facade will release magical healing powers, somehow I find that doubtful. So what if the alternative means holding it all in, weight creeping up and face looking as if I’m aging in reverse – teen years I’m back! Acne and all.

Sadly I don’t know how to remedy this. And so I sit. Waiting for the next thing in the pipeline and inevitably it comes and keeps me focused.

For a moment.

But in the quiet times (which are rare) my truth must be faced. I’m inert. Immobile. Dysfunctional and pray that someone will swoop in and take it all away. The likelihood of that happening? Nil.

And so I wake to face another day, I wear the mask and hope that no one notices.

How Did We End Up Here?

My views regarding my mother have changed in recent years.

Presently, she is someone who exists as part of a story in my life, catalyzing a significant examination of myself and those who surround me.

I often contemplate whether that was her purpose, but intertwined in those thoughts; there is guilt.

Parents make sacrifices for their children, and perhaps hers was the loss of our relationship, forcing me to embark on a new path. However, I don’t think she’ll ever be cognizant of that.

I have fond memories of her, times when she was a picturesque, doting mother, ferrying my friends and me to practice, taking us to the mall, and covering for me when I exceeded my curfew.

Those untainted recollections haunt me because I’ve realized that for every good deed, there was a price tag. The cost was never evident, as though you had found a one of a kind item at the store. You stand alone in the aisle, puzzled while turning the object over and back again in an attempt to locate that small, sticky, square sliver of paper that gives something its value.

You approach the register, convincing yourself it isn’t a lavish novelty—until the cashier regrettably informs you that the item exceeds your price range. After an internal battle, you purchase it anyway because you falsely believe that you need it.

That’s how it was with her.

She’d give, I’d take, and I would later have buyer’s remorse.  I felt liable during those exchanges on many occasions, but they’ve taught me that I shouldn’t give more than I’m willing to lose–whether that be time, money, or respect. I did and said things throughout our strained relationship that weren’t fair, correct, or appropriate. There were times my behavior was unquestionably harsh.

In other moments, I yelled too much, was self-absorbed, and at times manipulative. Even as a child, I innately sensed that she was not capable of truly loving anyone. Her affections were an unmarked, dead-end road; I never knew where the pavement faded into the dirt until I found myself in the mud. She tirelessly helped people (and probably still does), but would then complain when her efforts didn’t garner adequate appreciation or her deeds weren’t reciprocated.

Through watching her perform this soliloquy of martyrdom and innumerable encore performances, I uncovered another meaningful piece of knowledge: If you’re giving to fill a void within yourself, stop giving and fix yourself because no one else will. To me, that is her downfall—she never fixed herself. Perhaps she didn’t know how—or was unable to recognize that she needed mending. It was always easier for her to blame her short-comings on others.

Usually, it was my dad, the man who worked seven days every week to provide for his family and allow her to do as she pleased. He was flawed, but not any more than the rest of us tend to be. My dad had a temper, was overly strict, and could be perceived as controlling at times, but he expressed an abundant amount of love and dedication to his family.

Yet somehow, my mother always found a reason to make him not good enough for her, or for us. She would shout from the proverbial rooftops to whatever audience was present: family, church people, or her friends—it didn’t matter. If they had ears and minute of time, she would begin Act I of her tragic play.

Her behavior reminded me of the game “Telephone” in elementary school.

The story at the end was never the story at the beginning, but no one was able to decipher what that was because true to her victim mentality, “She would never say that!” And so it went throughout my teenage years, her speaking half-truths, my dad getting mad, and her tear-soaked, half-hearted apologies.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve surmised that’s where my lesson on people began—with those years of trusting, then not, and the gray area twisted between the confusion. It’s strange to look back on it now, coldly removed from it, emotionless. Or perhaps it’s still anger; I’m not sure. I vividly recall frequent conversations with my dad and his constant reminders to, “Not be like your mom.”

At that point in time, I always thought he meant weak because that’s how I perceived her: sad, depressed, and angry. She attended a private masquerade, a façade tuned so finely that she is still unaware that she’s wandering through a false reality. During those times, I didn’t know that life was preparing me for something I would never see approaching—the Trojan horse of life’s fuckery right in front of me. I was oblivious to the depth of her wounds and subsequent actions, until one day I could no longer deny the existence of her illness.

For many people, the term “mother” is synonymous with love, compassion, and devotion. An upstanding matriarch fiercely defends her children from harm and zealously supports their endeavors. I have spent countless nights awake thinking about the perfect incarnation of a mom, and I’ve concluded that my mother will never embody those characteristics. The greatest, albeit most difficult thing about life, is that it gives everything you need to know if you pause momentarily, pay attention, and don’t allow your ego to get the best of you.

If you’re repeatedly finding yourself in the same situation, it’s because you haven’t mastered the lesson those particular circumstances are supposed to teach you, or maybe you have, and you’re too stubborn or stupid to recognize them. I fell into the latter category because that’s just who I was then, optimistic and dumb enough to believe I could right any wrong. Writing that now is ridiculous, but that’s how it started—the relationship with a price tag so high, it almost destroyed my credit, and me.

He was charismatic.

Funny.

Handsome.

He said all of the right things at exactly the right time. Looking back, I guess he had to, or someone would peel back the thin layers around his dysfunction and see a hollow vessel, devoid of empathy or compassion unless it was for selfish gain.

My mother, however, adored him. She thought he was fantastic. The words of praise for him gushed from her mouth like a broken faucet. She insisted he was perfect for me.

I initially agreed until I saw through the shroud to what was underneath. It was like my internal GPS had lost signal on life’s journey and now it was too late to turn back. The scenery was beautiful at times. There were days filled with sunshine, laughter, and hope. Those times were my favorite because most days were dark and tumultuous. It seemed as though I was trying to outrun the rain, but I never knew when lightning would strike. The storm always seemed to clear at the exact moment that I was ready to relocate to a better climate.

And of course, there was my mother, clearing wreckage, and negotiating an insurance policy—or so I thought.

What I failed to realize is that insurance agents love disasters. Disasters wreak havoc and chaos while convincing policyholders that they require more insurance so that they are better prepared for the next catastrophe. I purchased an abundance of insurance from my mother. I talked and confided in her, while she manipulated the weather to her liking. In return, the weather repaid the debt by providing her with a temperate climate.

From my mother’s perspective, it was a fair exchange. She was never one to forgo a “diamond of a deal.”  She received the attention and adoration she was so desperately seeking, and he received another layer of protection. Together, they were a perfect storm and were moving toward the coast at an alarming rate.

He and I found ourselves at the beach on that road trip from hell. By that point, I was preparing to change routes and terminate my insurance because I could no longer afford the premium; however, the best-laid plans always go awry when the atmosphere becomes unstable.

That day began calmly and seemingly beautiful, but the bright sunlight obscured the horizon as it beamed through the car windows that morning. We were exploring on that trip. Laughter and conversation filled the air like particles of pollen—invisible and damaging. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the sky was going to remain clear. If I only I hoped enough, had enough insurance, I falsely believed everything would be ok.

I was absolutely wrong.

He—the weather, became erratic and violent; I was stranded in the current, drowning while trapped in a car until I suddenly saw the eye of the hurricane approaching. Those few moments of relief granted me the clarity to see daylight. I suddenly became aware that I couldn’t regulate the weather, but I could control my reaction to it. There was an open road, but it had been hidden by the debris from the frequent storms.

That day I began driving.

I drove away from the downpours, evaded the lightning strikes, and put miles between the constant uncertainty of whether I had purchased enough insurance. When I called my mother, the insurance agent to discontinue my policy, she didn’t answer. She wasn’t available that night or the next day. She was too busy attempting to manage the self-made disaster that she didn’t care about me—her daughter. She turned away the child she had known for 32 years. She abandoned me, the daughter that she was supposed to unfailingly love and support.

I don’t know what he promised her exactly, but whatever it was, it was enough for them both to attempt to pursue me down that new, secret road I had discovered. They attempted to detour my journey through phone calls, texts, and at times, unnerving threats. I kept driving farther and farther away. She revived the soliloquy that had served her well and performed it for a multitude of audiences. The new version had added a few additional scenes, and they served to convey how terrible I was. She was heartbroken that her child could just walk away from her. It was then, that my dad’s words from over a decade ago reverberated in my mind, “Don’t be like your mom.” The statement had been a clear warning that I was unable to comprehend at the time because I didn’t understand that she was mentally ill. I was too naïve to fully perceive the environment that tarnished my childhood and too self-centered to evaluate my contribution.

She and I were and always will remain different people. She will forever be the insurance agent feeding and creating disasters for her own personal gain. I hope that someday her catastrophic business will close and she will have placed a vacant sign in the window. Although, I think the absence of orchestrating calamities would force introspection, and the disasters we harbor on the inside are usually far worse than those we create. My lessons in this life are far from over, and I hope that they’re never complete because if I stop learning, I cease to evolve into a better person. The chapter about my mother has been painful and dangerous, yet exceedingly valuable.

I’m grateful for the destruction and nearly being swept away because I changed routes. I began a migration to a new destination that I plotted and chose on my own. My mother and I will forever be traveling in opposite directions, but we were at the same starting point for a brief time. She may never fully grasp the reason or the outcome of our sudden departure in life, but I hope that one day her course becomes calm and clear instead of winding and uncertain.

Despite the pain she has caused, she unknowingly and unwillingly sacrificed her happiness for her child’s—and that’s the worst punishment of all.