The word rolled off my tongue and entered the heavy air in slow motion, “no.”
He was unbuttoning my shirt, and I put my hands up in resistance. He ignored them, pushing them away. There was a wickedly evil smile painted across his face, and he mumbled something under his breath.
I said it again, “No, please.”
He was determined; he shed my protective layer, and I felt even more uneasy. My hands were on his chest, pushing. I moved my legs so they would spill over the side of the couch. I was ready to get up, ready to leave, to pick up my clothes and turn my back on him. He grabbed at my thigh and placed his hand over my pelvis. A bolt of lightning ran through my body from the tip of my toes to the top of my skull. God, it hurt so damn bad.
No. Please no. No.
I squirmed, and he took that as a silent “yes.”
I shook my head, and I felt my mouth open. The words were foreign; they tasted bitter. I tried to spit them out. I had never begged in my life. Especially for something like the right to my own body.
My heart rate increased, and I felt like my lungs couldn’t get enough air. He forced me to touch him, stroke him, pleasure him.
There were tears running down my face as he stuck his hand down my pants.
“No,” I choked out.
He told me to shut up, and my chest constricted. I was trapped underneath his body. His thigh buried in my hip, hands working all over me, violating me as I hoped he’d stop.
After a while, I gave up. I stopped pushing away, stopped kicking, stopped fighting back. I only pleaded quietly, asking until my voice went hoarse. My body limp and that was the first time I truly felt like a corpse. In shock, my functioning ceased altogether.
He told me to be quiet once again; he slapped me, and I went red hot. My cheek burned. He yanked my leggings down; I heard the seams ripping and straining.
He set his face between my legs. His breath made me gasp, and he thought that was a good sign. I was shaking my head vigorously, convulsing. Broken sobs fell past my lips. Stop. Please stop. No.
He didn’t notice. Or he ignored it.
My body was trembling like an earthquake, and I was crying, pushing my fingers through his hair; I shoved his head away from me.
He was getting angry; I could see it in his face.
He grabbed my wrists, gripped them as if I was being taken into custody. In a way, I guess I was. Taken prisoner in my own body. I could feel the scream bubble up in my chest and throat, but no matter what I did, it wouldn’t come out.
He grinned, and I still despise that smile to this day. Going back to work, his tongue performed sins I couldn’t even think to voice.
“No,” I said. “Stop, please.”
I felt helpless and hopeless. I was stripped down, both literally and figuratively, and I was humiliated. I lost all respect for him.
I felt something pierce through my skin, into my veins. It traveled through my blood and made a home in my heart, rooting itself there. It spread into my muscles and tissues. It crawled into my bones and infected the marrow.
I was hollowed out, emptied. Stripped down until I was nothing but pieces of myself, just so he could put me back together how he wanted.
That was the first time. But it certainly wasn’t the last.
I almost lost my best friend last weekend.
She tried to die by suicide. I received her text that she was in the hospital while I was tutoring.
“Call me ASAP.”
“I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me.”
My response: “I know. Still working with a student.”
She: “Ok please get done soon! I need you.”
I: “What hospital?”
She: “I’m at ******. I had a suicide attempt. The nurses know me and hate me here, so they’re doing small mind tortured. Waking me every five minutes–saying duragatory things. They told my parents I’m hallucinating–I’m not, please come stay with me–I don’t feel safe.”
“Can you stay the night?”
I: “Yes, I can.”
She: “With me, please? ***** (her husband) won’t.”
I: “Yes, of course.”
She: “OMG- get here now!! Room **.”
Meanwhile, I am trying to do my online tutoring job. I can see the look of horror on my face on camera while the texts are displaying on my phone. I tell my student I have to talk to his dad. I inform him that I have to leave immediately due to an emergency. I explain while his son is out of earshot. He gives his sincere emotional support. I give a quick run-down of what his son needs to complete for the assignment, then I start packing. I text my husband to let him know that I have to help my friend, then I tell one of my twins that I’m leaving for the hospital.
My brain is racing at the speed of light. I am trying to cover all the bases: what would she need from home that she did not get since she was directly transported to ER? I text her to ask if she needs anything from home before I leave. She would like headphones. I grab my earbuds, but first I have my son help me find an extra set because I would like my own set. After trying a few sets (why is it that teenagers blow through so many earbuds?), I decide to bring my own to share. She might be too tired to listen to music.
I text her to let her know I’m finally on my way. I arrive and remind myself of several things: put on your own oxygen mask first, stay strong, and be her advocate.
She is in the ICU. She has a central port PICC line as well as two IV lines because the medical staff had a hard time getting an IV started. She’s bruised all over. She overdosed on a plethora of medications at her parents’ house while she was housesitting there, including painkillers and her father’s injectable insulin. Her kidneys shut down and the medical staff had to pump her stomach. The medical team pull her labs every two hours to make sure that her levels are improving. Thankfully, the PICC line is a saving grace.
My friend makes comments about the nursing staff. She says that they make comments about her, saying that she OD’d to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her daddy, but when she confronts the nurses about it, they say that my friend is hallucinating. The hospital has a one on one person for suicide watch. This person has to document every little thing that the patient does while under their care. On Saturday night, the one on one person documented all of the unprofessional conduct. While I was there, she said that the nurses were commenting about her again, as well as me. I went up to the nurse and asked her about it. She denied it and said that my friend was “hallucinating and making things up”. I said, “You may say that, but when you talk about patients, others can hear it and that is breaking patient privacy. Everyone else can hear it, and that is not acceptable. It is not professional. You need to stop it.”
The nurse called her supervisor and she came down to talk with all of us. My friend finally voices how she feels. The nurses, of course, covered their butts and say that my friend had been hallucinating from her OD. I interject and say, “Even though that did happen, it is not professional for you to discount how she feels. Nor is it professional of you to talk about her while other people can hear. She does have recipient rights.” The minute I mentioned the term “recipient rights”, the two immediately changed their tune and started apologizing. My friend apologized as well for things (even though in my opinion, she didn’t have to, but it is part of healing the relationship). I asked if my friend could be moved to step down critical care since her levels were improving, and the nurses agreed. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room with a more caring team. Ironically, the bitchy nurse stays after her shift end to help us move.
We get settled in, and my friend finally has the best sleep she has had. Her levels improve so much, her kidneys are normally functioning, and the medical team clears her. The next day, she gets her PICC line removed. My friend keeps telling me to go home, that she is OK. All of a sudden, we learn that Community Mental Health (CMH) is on their way to start the intake process to find her a facility. Things start accelerating at an astronomical rate, and my friend has no idea how to process this. I stay to help her process things and to be her advocate. Her parents come to the meeting, as well as her husband. I ask the CMH representative if it is OK if I stay during the meeting to be her advocate and he said if it was OK with her it was OK with him.
Here is where I see mental health stigma magnified. Thankfully, the CMH person is neutral, asks all the appropriate questions, and takes my friend’s requests seriously. I was floored when my friend’s stepmom was blaming my friend for what happened. She said, “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”
I couldn’t hold it back anymore. I said, “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.”
The 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, you need to understand that constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”
When her parents left, my friend said, “That is the first time that anyone stood up to my stepmom.”
I pack up to go home because my friend’s husband is there. I feel that she is stable enough now. Her husband made the comment, “Well, I would have come earlier, but I had a half talk of gas and no money.”
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, cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night with *****.”
He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?”
I said, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love ******.”
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 would be akin to being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.
I received a text from my friend’s husband. It read: “Thanks for being such a good friend to ******. 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 ok” I responded, “Thanks for keeping me in the loop. I appreciate that. We all need to rally around ***** and help her to recovery and wellness.”
This is my prayer. I pray that we work on our recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and remember to put on our oxygen masks first.
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 then 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 wrongly 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 the 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. And 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. 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 in elementary school, aptly named telephone.
The story at the end was never the story at the beginning, but no one was able to decipher what that ever 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 specific 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 imparts 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 that encased 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 okay.
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. S
he 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 and yet, 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 remarkably 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, dangerous, yet exceedingly valuable. I’m grateful for the destruction and nearly being swept away because I was compelled to change 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.