June 30, 2009
**I am printing this history as a way of new readers to know the history as briefly as possible. What follows is my story***
Third of four children, second of three dads was mine. That makes my siblings all "half" sibs, my mother a woman way before her times with multiple marriages and kids by different fathers. The last man in the arena raised me as his own; my father took off after my mother told him to or. Actually, it was after some not quite innocuous threat regarding the federal government and the almighty dollar which he owed them. Love or money baby? The answer stays etched my soul, undoubtedly a permanent part of whom I have become.
Female parent (referred to as "she" or "her" from now on), and her last husband (referred to as "him" or "he" from now on) raised me. Well, kinda. They put up with me. They smoked a lot of dope. Beat me a lot. That last sentence was just her doing. Not his. Oh, here’s another thing about her. She told me I had "shit for brains" and that I "would amount to nothing." Those are my memories of her.
Him….well, he became a frequent visitor in my bedroom. And not in any kind of tuck your daughter, fatherly way. In a discrete way, with the lights out long after everyone including myself were asleep. I’d wake up. But I would never let on the fact that I’d woken up. It was easier on my mind that way. To just lay there and pretend.
I’ve done a lot of pretending in my life. He did a lot of lying while I lived there. He violated his cardinal rule: Don’t lie. When confronted, he lied.
Got pregnant at the age of 27. My unborn baby’s father, the doctor, begged me to abort, finally telling me I was "ruining his golf game." Same with "her." She seconded the abortion idea. I told both of them to have a long walk. It took them a few months but they realized they couldn't intimidate me.
Resigned, yes that’s the word. They resigned themselves to becoming father and grandmother.
O. was born and the first three years were fabulouso!! Then, came the cancer diagnosis. Brain cancer. Numerous surgeries, therapies, daily injections, medicines, etc. But, she was fine, relatively speaking. And me? Pregnant again. This time, I was engaged. That had happened a month before O’s diagnosis.
Suddenly, the wedding plans were stalled. Focus became O.’s survival and my pregnancy. O and I vomited alongside one another. Her from the daily radiation. Me from the new life growing inside me as she was fighting for her own.
At some point in all this "she" appeared and deeply offended me for the last time. I told her adios…we were now divorced. That is when she ceased to be my mom and became "her."
My siblings chose sides and that was the end of that.
We moved in together. Me, O and my unborn baby in with father of the baby (from now on referred to as FF.) We moved out. We moved in. The three of us, O, N and I finally moved out for good two years later, but not before the physical abuse started.
I worked for many years as a successful photographer, studio manager and sales director. I was making more money than most of my college educated peers. Life was good. There were always medical things to deal with on O’s behalf, but our cup was always half full.
Docs had given O had a thirty percent chance to live to 20 with her particular cancer. I would never allow that thought much time in my mind. "Look at her!" I would say to my friends, "she looks healthier than you or I." She will live longer than either of us, I thought.
We busied ourselves with giving back to the community, volunteering of our time and energy. I was a full time mom to two, one who was medically fragile. I was also a full time employee, had relationships and dates a plenty, managed a couple of vacations across the ocean to warm tropical climates and generally lived. Our life… as close to perfect as I could imagine.
November of 2003, O began to cry out in pain. I took her to hospital where she’d been treated all along. She was admitted. She was sent home. Nothing wrong they tell us. A month later, same scenario. This time, she was sent home with anti depressants and the assurance that since they could find no medical anomalies, they were confident she must simply be depressed and "with plenty of reasons to be" they declared.
Over the next few months, I watch her physical and cognitive abilities decline. In August of 2004 I have my last discussion with the oncologist who had followed O all her life. She tells me she "can not tell me there is cancer there when there is none", and hangs up on me. I take O to Duke University. Their motto on the building reads “Where there is hope.” Man, I think, we must be in the right place!
Nonetheless, I am scared we will now learn the cancer’s back, and have to begin another war to stomp it out What I learn is much different than I imagined. There is cancer present. Different kind. Usually when cancer returns, it comes back as the type as the previous time. It simply regrows. Not O’s. New type. It is like grains of sand in the brain stem, thus it is inoperable, untreatable and incurable. Oh, and cause of new cancer? The radiation therapy I had signed on the dotted line for eight years earlier as "an insurance policy."
Most people with this diagnosis live 12 months, almost like clockwork. I pray for 12 months. 42 days later, O dies in our home, lying next to me in my bedroom. It is November of 2004. 12 months after the first time she cried out in pain, begging me take her to the hospital, quickly. I leave you to draw your own conclusions. I certainly have.
I plummet. I envision a double funeral, or a padded room. That was half my soul. I was not only O’s mother, I was her caretaker, her manager of medical issues, her advocate, her cheerleader. I had lost my job, and I could never get that one back.
N was seven at the time. His grief was perhaps less complicated at the time because he was…well, seven at the time. I imagine a part of him felt a bit of relief. Now, this girl who had taken away mommy’s attention all his life but particularly this past year was out of the picture. It would be time for him. Only things don’t always work out that way, as he would soon learn.
My grief became my most intimate of companions. It knew every last little bit of me. Unlike most everybody before that, it would never leave me. I was horizontal on the sofa for a year or so, and then finding a way to balance on my feet became precarious at best. Along the way, there were plenty of ill equipped mental health professionals both for N and myself. There were many pleas for help.
His father no father left hand prints on his bottom so evident to me that I had to take N to the emergency room which ended up with a report stating there was a “preponderance of evidence to suggest excessive force was used.”
No one really seemed to get us. We were an anomaly in the world. There was not even a word for what we were. We were not widows, widowers, orphans…we just were.
And then, finally N made it to the desert wilderness program.
I got on my knees. And something clicked. It had been three plus years since that fateful day in my bedroom and it was time to look forward again. If not for me, certainly for N. I could deal with me later…when he is an adult. I still tell myself I can “punch out” later if I choose to. Just not now. Whatever happened in the past I can not control. Not from my growing up, to losing O, to not being the mother I’d always wanted to be to N. But that was all behind us. Blinders on, face forward! I also remembered and acknowledged I had steered the vessel to this point, and we were safe. That remains a great accomplishment.
And that is the short version of what brings us to these pages of hope. The long version has been penned in story form. The first draft is written. I am into the edits. What stops me from following that dream of seeing it published thus far? Fear.
Baby steps…baby steps. Maybe one day I can come to these pages and share the ISBN with you.
June 9, 2009
Thank you for your presence here and your kind words. They mean the world to me.
Across my face it swept. Didn’t see it coming. But then I rarely did. It was as if there were a draft in the room. Cold air seeping. Energy being sucked out. That is how I remember the bloody wound on my young face. I knew going to look in a mirror was out of the question. I brought my hand up to my face to examine it that way. When I pulled my hand down toward my belly, my eyes focused on the red, oozing blood spattered across my hand.
In her hand, half of the wooden pizza board remained. The other half (minus a few bits still embedded in my face), on the floor in shards. She looked surprised before walking away. When she came back she handed me a cold, wet cloth-instructing me to put it on the bridge of my nose where the majority of the blood was coming from. I tried to listen to her. I always tried to listen to her.
But I could not feel my face where the whack had just landed. The impact had left me numb. I did not manage to place the cloth on the specific spot spewing blood quickly enough for her.
No matter how much I wanted to be a good girl, no matter how I strove for her approval… this time would be no different. I wouldn’t have it, never could. Not even as I sat there in that chair wounded. But what she did next surprised even me.
She walked away and I sat there in terror. When she returned, she had a roll of duct tape and scissors. I remember the panic; I knew this could get real scary real fast. Frantically, I searched her face for a clue and all I saw was the all too familiar furrowed brow and angry eyes of this cold woman. She unrolled a fair sized piece of tape before cutting it. She then told me to put the cloth back up to my nose. She had little patience for my fumbling as she guided my hand to the spot before plastering the duct tape horizontally across my face and hair. Now the cloth was where she intended it to be, and it would remain there. It was at that moment my sister came home.
I thought now this might end. She might feel accountable to someone. My sister might question her. Instead, my sister questioned me. Her questions were not ones of my welfare. Her questions were ones of “why is my shirt on you? Did I say you could wear it — I don’t think so!”
“Mom…” she whined next.
And this woman who may have been her mother and may have birthed me, but certainly was not my mother, told her to “go ahead… let me have it.” All because I had picked her shirt up and had the audacity to put it on my body that they wanted me to believe was unlovable and unworthy. And with that, I felt another thud.
There were many moments before, and many after. This one stands out for me. It felt more like a “two against one” war, crossing the threshold of being an angry mother in an out of control moment. And it was a damn pizza board, you know? Those things don’t just break across someone’s face without an extra helping of rage and anger. She no remorse. If she had done it and immediately thought a human, motherly thought like “Oh my God, what have I done here?” I would never have had to tell you about the duct tape and my sister. I would never have memories of her beating my head against the wall, or pulling handfuls of my hair out. I would not fight the verbal assaults echoing inside with her comments of ”shit for brains, that’s all you’ll ever have” or similarly degrading comments of “you will never amount to anything!” or the other memories that I just know are there, but in a self protective mode my mind won’t even allow me to recall.
That moment I sat there duct taped and bleeding was the moment I began to feel less than. This was the moment she clearly announced to me, to herself and my sister that I was not worthy nor was I lovable. And I struggled with that for many years. Still do. An abuser need only hit you once to leave impressions that last a lifetime. Every time you see or hear something, or connect with the powerful memory stimulator of smell, you can be taken back to the darkness in an instant.
I haven’t yet mentioned her husband. The moments he bonded with me the most (in his eyes at least), happened in front of only his eyes. I always kept mine shut, pretending to still be sleeping. That way I did not have to face it, literally speaking of course. I’d always have to face it — silently, alone and in the darkness that made it hard to breathe. I’d cringe as his hands explored my body in ways that are vilely etched in my memory.
What gives one human being the right to inflict their own selfish fetishes or rage against another? It is my body, my space, my place. There is a boundary. There is a limit.
Violence: abusive or unjust exercise of power.
Every time her skin violently attacked mine, his skin violently touched mine, her words violently echoed, I reminded myself it was not me who had the problem. It was them. I tried like hell to keep the messages from encroaching upon my soul. Intellectually, I knew better. But in matters such as these, logic becomes secondary and try as I may some of it gets past the filter, past the barrier I’d built to remain strong. On some level I began to believe them, that I was less than.
In moments of clarity, I knew. I knew it was their problem and theirs alone. I reminded myself that whatever they did, I would just do the opposite when I had children one day. Hell yes! I would break this cycle of abuse and insanity. Nobody should have to live like this. Nobody.
I don’t think I ever fully got mad until I gave birth. As I watched my newborn daughter lay there helplessly, I began to feel the full gamut of it. How could anyone hurt their own child? Oh I was even more pissed at her then. How could she do the things to me she did? How could she not have protected me?!
I knew two things: if ever someone hurt my child, I would hurt them first and ask questions later. Also, I knew what love was, for the first time ever… as a single mother.
Finally, I knew love.
Little did I know in the cruelest blow ever felt in my life, that love would be cut short. As my daughter later lay dying, she mirrored back the love I had given her for the previous 11 years and 49 weeks. She would tell me “Don’t worry momma, it’ll be okay. Just breathe in the light, and blow out the darkness.” The cancer had invaded her brain, but her heart was far too big for it to even try. Her heart, full of love and purity.
As I said about smells and memories, this is one of the reasons I keep breathing. In and out, like my daughter told me. It keeps the smells constantly changing. One memory will not linger too long. Some days, that’s all I can do. And some days, that is all I need to do. In and out… slowly, and with intent. In doing so, I stay alive.
I haven’t spoken to either one of my abusers in many a years. People ask if it’s hard not speaking to them. The answer to that is no. It was hard sticking around, hoping they’d change and allowing them to continue inflicting pain in the process. What happens now is predictable for the most part. Now I have a simple appreciation for the predictability in my day, and that is a blessing.