My mom did a lot of things wrong, but the one that make me sad most often is that she’d borrow money from us kids. Of course, she’d never pay it back. Kids with money is a waste when there are drugs to buy.
Depression kicks me in the nuts on a regular basis. After my revelation yesterday, I think my brain decided to get back at me. I had nightmares regarding my mother’s ex-husband, my family’s number one abuser, Dirk.
I dreamt of endless arguments. I begged, pleaded, raged, and prayed that he would understand. My mother wasn’t a bad person. She was only a bad person when she was with him. My brothers weren’t bad kids, they just needed parents. I needed parents. The dreams did end, but the truths of our childhood, the terrors of my teenage life, they stuck. They haunt me this morning.
Our family wasn’t broken. It lived in fear of Dirk’s rage. Our home wasn’t a place of comfort. It was a battleground. It pitted us against each other. I was placed in an impossible position. I was held responsible for my siblings. I was held responsible for the condition of the house. My brothers were left without true parents, and stuck answering to another kid – me.
If our home wasn’t clean, it was my fault. If my siblings had to clean, it was my fault. If my brothers were beaten because they didn’t clean, I was blamed. Oak and I were held in such an impossible position. Oak did get away. It took a tragedy of betrayal and hatred and terror, but it’s not my story to tell. I, however, was left doing everything I could to keep our lives safe.
It didn’t work. The position I was left in was impossible. I couldn’t be a high school student, a parent, a sibling, and a child, all at once. It doesn’t work that way. It shouldn’t be that way. But that’s what it was. That’s the only life I got. No do-overs. Just painful memories.
Fourteen years ago, I formed my most vivid holiday memory to date. July 4, 2001 is a day I will not be forgetting.
Dirk, the true genius of DIY plumbing, made our family an arsenal of firework-powered weapons. Most notably, he made a series of steel pipe “guns” which shot bottle rockets. As you can imagine, my thirteen-year-old self thought many things about this. “Cool, guns!” and “Is my aim good enough to hit Dirk between the legs?” were the two that stand out most.
What didn’t occur to me (and cut me some slack, I was a kid), was that bottle rockets could catch things on fire. The list of flammable materials happens to include baggy tie-dye t-shirts. I was a BIG fan of baggy shirts back then. You see where I’m going with this?
After about 5 horrible, hilarious, terrifying, and thrilling minutes, I dodged a bottle rocket aimed straight at me. Except, I was a fat, slow, uncoordinated teenager. My “dodge” ended up being a “catch the bottle rocket in my right armpit.”
The initial explosion was kinda sucky. Loud, sudden, and hot, the BANG felt like I’d been punched. Right in the armpit. By a very hot fist. It took me a whole 3 seconds to realize that my underarm was hosting a exothermic party. When I realized I was on fire, I froze. I remember every damned millisecond of the following event.
There was a tickling sensation on the back of my arm. It felt like a warm hand was lightly resting on my shoulder. I thought about this, and couldn’t think of a single rational explanation. Then I looked over my shoulder. The smell got to me before my eyes got the picture. Smoke.
Not the crisp smoke of a wood stove, or the oily smoke of barbecue meat. No, this was an acidic, acrid, and all around chemical smell. My eyes saw a waver of smoke before my nose gave me the emergency update that my body hadn’t figured out yet: There was a fire in my shirt, no innuendo involved.
I tried to pull the shirt off, but it was, you know, around arms and a neck and stuff. Very inconvenient. I basically tore it off. The fire had cut away at the side, so it split pretty easily. Thank God for old cotton. The thin material was easy to tear, and there was no plastic to stick to my newly raw skin.
I inspected my shoulder, found a few burning threads hanging off of my elbow, and let the adrenaline take over for a minute. My animal-brain kept shouting “STOP, DROP, and ROLL, MOTHERFUCKER!” Meanwhile, my human-brain was shouting “IF YOU HIT THE GROUND, YOU WILL GET AN INFECTION, IDIOT!”
Obviously, I was of two minds on the subject.
As a tie-breaker, I ran into the house. I was crying uncontrollably now. Adrenaline has this side effect people don’t talk about much. It destroys your remaining energy. Adrenaline might get you out of the fire, but it might not get you out of the woods. I found my mom, showed her my shoulder, and asked for help. This part was all blubbery, as I recall, and I was an adult before I learned that adults actually CAN understand the gibberish their terrified children are spewing. Well, sometimes.
My mom tore off a chunk of Aloe Vera (that was a plant that paid for itself hundreds of times over, I tell you what), and rubbed soothing, healing, gooey plant blood all over my shoulder. The burn was minor, but it covered about four inches of my back, and about half of my armpit. I couldn’t hold my arm right for about four days. Thank God I wasn’t in school, writing would have sucked.
I spent the rest of the day inside. I went outside to see the fireworks (but only the ones that were pointedly aimed at the sky), and I went inside when I got uncomfortable. I remember an elevated sense of anxiety, and general discomfort from my shoulder. I was okay.
And then the nightmares came. Not long after, the flashbacks came, too.
Happy 4th of July. Happy birthday, America. Everyone: Stay safe, stay wise, and enjoy the show.
I was thinking about my old house again (go figure), and I remember a nasty old well we had. Our water source had been converted over to County utilities years before we came to squat in my childhood home in Arkansas. Long before the fire got the property, the ice wreaked its havoc as well. That ice would give me a very fond memory. Strange enough, it’s a great memory of Dirk. Sorta.
Dirk was a smart man. Cruel, but very smart. Unfortunately, this made him think he was right all the time. Like all the time. In my ninth grade year (I think) we had a mean cold-snap, and Dirk thought that us being frozen at home was a great time to get in some child labor. He decided we were going to remove the defunct gas stove, and replace it with the new electric stove. It was under twenty degrees.
As ever, Dirk expected young, scrawny, malnourished, and abused children to be able to bear the strength and skill of an adult. Comically, he forced Oak and I to help him drag out a huge vintage gas stove out through the “back room.” The back room was a room which had a collapsed ceiling, and served as storage for things we were unofficially getting rid of. Saved hard conversations with kids, you know? “Oh, the ceiling collapsed again! I’m sorry, son. God must have thought we had too many things. It’ll be okay.” That kind of stuff.
Back to point. Oak and I did everything we could to help, but it was fairly useless. Dirk mostly just dragged it out on his own. He then indicated that he’d like us to help him set it on top of the cistern. If you’ve never seen a really old well, a cistern is a pit, or pool, which holds water that the well has pumped up. The bad part? The cistern was frozen, full of ice, and the concrete lid was, well, ice cold.
For those of you with science on the brain, you might see where this was going. Oak and I flatly refused to help once the stove was out of the house. Neither of us wanted anything to do with a huge frozen slab of concrete. Either of us could tell you what would happen when Dirk dragged the huge stove on top of the cistern. The lid snapped clean in half.
I stared, dumbstruck, as Dirk was wedged between two huge slabs of concrete, a steel stove, and the ice slab below him. For my life, I cannot remember how we got him out. I know we didn’t get outside help, because the roads were totally frozen over. Not that Dirk would have been even a little okay with asking someone else for help…
I do remember Dirk’s leg was screwed up for a while. He blamed Oak and me, which was only to be expected at that point. At the time, I felt guilty, crushed by the weight of not helping. I was terrified that somebody I loved was going to die, or worse. It was painful to see him hurt, and it cut me to the core that he held me responsible. My overwhelming sense of guilt and shame would haunt me for years.
Thankfully, I’ve received some serious therapy since then. I’ve learned perspective regarding my relationship with Dirk. I now get to feel proud of my young self being aware of how the world works. I’m thankful Oak and I didn’t get hurt. We could have died, just as easily as Dirk could have. He was lucky; so were we. I would be lying if I said I don’t feel a little pleasure in his past pain. It’s a coping mechanism, what can I say?
Jenny just told me that I already wrote about this story. Well, shit. Guess what? It’s actually a pretty different angle, so I’m running this one too. Pretend it’s not a real post, if you like. I still enjoyed writing about it, which is the point.
Dude. This snow bullshit has got to stop. I don’t like ice, Sam-I-Am. Too many bad memories.
When I was a teenager, I had to take an electric chainsaw, with a 120 ft. extension cord, out into the snow, and cut logs down for fuel. Every couple of winters, my parents might buy a rick of wood, but the rest was up to us. For those of you not familiar with the measurements of wood, a rick is 1/3 of a cord, and a cord is a 4’x4’x8′ stack of wood.
Wood chopping sucks. We had to cut down trees, or find dead logs. Then we’d have to drag it to our yard, and cut it into sections less than 15″ long. Then we’d have to take a maul and split the logs into bits which would fit into the stove. Swinging the maul was the hardest part. The younger kids couldn’t do it, so Oak and I did most of that.
After that, we’d stack it into ricks of wood, one on each side of the front porch, and then the rest on the side of the house. This was terribly irresponsible we learned later, as it was a huge fire danger. We survived, so whatever. We’d get the fire started in early winter, and pray that we were able to keep it going. It’s a real pain in the ass to light a fire in a stove. It wasn’t a fireplace, it was a small wood stove, only about 2 cubic feet inside. Starting a fire was difficult because you had to get the smoke to start going up the flue, and air coming in from the entrance, so the kindling would burn.
Each night, I’d have to get up at around 2:30, and feed the fire. It was easy enough to keep on top of that, since I was closest to the stove at night. I slept in the adjacent hallway/bedroom/completely-useless-space. I’d feel it when the fire would die down, wake up, and go put some wood in. I learned really early to not just “toss” the wood in. That would put out the fire, and I’d be forced to sit there with it, until I could coax a flame from it again. When I’d get home from school, the cycle would start all over again. I’d go straight to the stove, coax a flame from the coals, and pray it was hot enough to keep going.
So yeah, winter is not my thing. Many memories of smoky mornings, and cold nights. I’ve just remembered that one year, my parents got a propane space-heater. These were designed for outdoor use only, as they could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. We’d huddle all in one room, hoping to stay warm enough, not knowing that we were risking our lives for that thin illusion of heat.
Thankfully, I’m in a better situation these days. Radiant floor heating means my feet aren’t blistered by the cold, and I’m in the normal range of “dang it’s cold in here”. Thank God for small blessings.
First of all, I want to say “afraid” is a strong term for this topic. I want people to be aware of what actually happens in the world. Secondly, this is a graphic post. Language and content are adult here, not for kids. You may even hate me a little afterwards. You have been warned.
When I was a teenager, I thought my step dad was the worst person in the world. Still do, most of the time. But I blamed him for everything. He separated my mother from her family, he made sure she didn’t have a vehicle or friends. In short, he put my mother in the classic position of “about to be abused for the rest of time.”
I thought it was all him. But it wasn’t. As I got older, I realized how abusive my mother was. I can remember her stabbing a boyfriend. In the nose. With a steak knife. I remember her pushing one through a sheet of glass. He had so many cuts he couldn’t move without making them worse, because of the glass embedded in those cuts. I can remember her hitting her men, even stabbing her ex-husband in the arm with a fork in an open wound.
Domestic abuse can go both ways. It can take many forms. It can be parents, children, spouses, friends. It’s when a person is abused by someone close to them.
Emotional abuse is the least talked about, in my experience. Using guilt, and obligation, some men, and women, control their partner through emotional manipulation. Sometimes this is playing off of their partner’s ego, and sometimes it is making their partner feel smaller, insignificant, or guilty for wanting things they need. My mother would make her family feel bad for her to get them to do favors for her. She would use her “poor children” as bait, or even hostages, to get things from our family. She bullied my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They either gave her favors, or they didn’t get to see us. It alienated my entire family. I still don’t know most of them as well as I’d like. She also did it to me, once I moved out of the house. That one ended with her kids split up, living with different members of the family. She knows better than to fuck with me now. #justsaying
Financial abuse is a toughie. My grandfather would give my grandmother her “allowance” to buy the groceries. He would count it out, and when she got home, she had to put the food on the table, with the receipt and change, for him to inspect. When she remarried, her second husband (one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing) was appalled when she did this with him. He trusted her. He loved her. He treated her like an equal.
My ex-husband abused his parents’ finances. He got them to buy his car, his food, and even to take care of us when we were in college. I tried to work, but it just made things worse. All of my income was “disposable” because his parents would take care of the necessities. Please don’t judge him. He wasn’t doing it on purpose. It was who he was raised to be. He has moved on, and lives on his own now.
Physical abuse is another big one. As you have probably guessed, I have been on the receiving end of this kind of abuse more times than I can count. I have been kicked, punched, slapped, and generally beaten. I have had my fingers smashed, my hands shut in doors, and my feet broken. I have had black eyes, and broken bones. I once couldn’t use my right arm for weeks because of a fracture in my collar bone. I have violent reactions to little shocks. Our daughter can’t even play with toys that “pop” into the air when I’m in the room. I have punched coworkers who have jumped out at me.
Verbal abuse is one that is hard to define. It can be part of, or instead of, other types of abuse. It is one person using their voice to hurt another. This can be yelling, cursing, or belittling. It can be sarcasm, or snark. It can be laughter. It can be lies, but it can also be the truth.
I can’t stand to be told I’m handsome. Call me pretty all day long. But call me handsome, and I remember my mother brushing my hair, telling me how to cover bruises, and telling me that I should be handsome for other people. I obsess over how clean I am because her husband would tell me how gross I am. He would tell me I’m nasty, and dirty. No matter that it was his cheap behavior that kept us from having soap, or shampoo. Sometimes, we didn’t even have water, hot or cold. But I still have to shower, sometimes multiple times a day. I feel guilty when I sweat, and unclean if I don’t wash my hands.
I also can’t be around adults arguing, yelling, or even vehemently disagreeing. I feel guilty. I feel like I have to fix it. When my mother would argue with her husband, he would blame me. It was always my fault.
Here’s the one that makes me want to kill people. Sexual abuse. The victims of this type of abuse can be anyone. Children, parents, wives, and husbands. Yes, you read that right. There are cases of men and women raping their spouses. There have been cases of parents raping their children, and of “children” raping their parents. Too often, society makes males feel like they should enjoy their abuse. That being raped by women is just that guy having mad skills. It’s horse-shit. If it’s not consensual, it’s abuse.
Here’s the bit that makes me afraid. It’s so, so easy to become the abuser. I realized in my marriage that I was not being who I should be. I was sexually abusing my husband. Not by raping him, but by only having sex with him when I wanted it, and he didn’t. He felt like he “had to” because I didn’t always want it, and he didn’t want to “miss out.” I used emotional abuse to sexually abuse him, and it never even occurred to me that I was doing it. I’m not even sure he knows that I think that.
I have been in fist-fights with my boyfriends, and I’ve financially abused more than one, because they used their money to keep me in the position they wanted me in.
It’s not okay, and I feel guilty all the time. I just make sure I don’t do the same to Jenny, or our kids. I make a point to be the person I want to be, not the person my parents were.
It’s a hard path. It is filled with angst and insecurity. But it’s worth it. It always will be. One day, my kids will understand who I was before they came into my life. I just hope it’s long enough that they don’t judge me too harshly, and soon enough that they know what the world can be like, before they learn it the hard way.
First of all, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year. For the month of November, I’ll be working on my novel a LOT. This may mean my posts here are a little spare sometimes, but I promise I will still make this blog a priority.
Secondly, I hate my brain.
This morning I had nightmares about me being a bad person. I know, it’s not the kind of dream most people have, but I have that one every once in a while. Last night, I was a drunk bastard. I walked around the house naked in front of my step-kids. I threw things. I was a bully. I made my problems everyone else’s emergency.
In short, I was my step-father.
Worst dream ever. I woke up feeling guilty, broken, alone, and, well, evil. I am not anxious. I am not obsessive or depressed. I just hate myself this morning. I am so afraid of who I might become, who I might have been. I keep grinding my teeth this morning, and clenching my jaw. I am angry, and irrational. I asked Jenny to reschedule our tasks for today, so that I don’t have to leave the house. I am ashamed.
I know that it was just a dream. But it was so fucking real. And it could have been the truth if I were just a little different. If I had kept drinking, or had done drugs. If I had been a little less afraid of how I treated my ex-husband. If I had less respect for myself, and God.
I know, it sounds cheesy to invoke God in what is obviously something within my control. But I know I am blessed. Something bigger than me showed me how to live. The right combination of books, friends, pastors, and neighbors; those are who taught me that my parents were wrong. They are who taught me chivalry, self-respect, honesty, and what love really means. In short – I owe my entire personality to the happenstances of my life. That is where I see God.
I know I’m not a bad person. Jenny is quick to remind me of that every day. I love my family, and I am learning to love myself. I’m just scared, and that makes me angry. It makes me feel broken. But I’m not, and I will be okay.
I love you guys. Today, please remember that you are special, and that your life isn’t dictated by others. You can choose who to be, just like I did.