My parents are coming up on their 24th anniversary this Friday - the same day as our first anniversary. Today, my mom wrote something on her blog about her relationship with my dad, and how it's survived hell, and so on. She admitted to things that I knew all along, but never thought in a million years I'd hear (or see) her own up to. Not that my mom is a bad person or that she's irresponsible. Just that, in our family, the particularly icky parts of life tend to end up in a closet somewhere. Skeletons, if you will.
The most shocking thing in that blog, however, was that she knew what their split and sudden reconciliation did to me:
"Our oldest daughter suffered the most. She felt responsible to protect the other kids from our insanity. She tried to be there for me and support me, but I was such a mess and I was going in the wrong direction. Her support just made the guilt worse. I blocked her out, it broke her heart. She lost control and spiraled down a path that led her to run away. I don't blame her, I can't. She is a beautiful and fiercely loyal young woman who would do anything for her family, but her family was falling apart. Who she was didn't make sense anymore. She was lost, we had taken away the beacons in her life that held her safe and left her in the dark. She was only 16."
I didn't think she knew. Somehow, in all the crap, I thought she just didn't notice. All this time, I've been angry without even realizing it because I thought that she hadn't even realized what that did to me.
The divorce started with my dad's anger problems. He'd always had them, and they were steadily getting worse. One day, he scared the living crap out of me by punching a wall right next to my head, and that's when mom called it quits. At least, that's when she told me they were going to. At that point, I had already fallen in with the drama club crowd - which most people know is actually pretty bad association. I had to keep the divorce a secret from the kids, so it wouldn't ruin their holiday season, and that only kept me from processing the anger and sometimes even despair that I was suddenly feeling. I took my feelings to my drama friends and - wouldn't you know - they all had coping mechanisms already. Things like stealing, lying, and cigarettes.
I don't remember what order things happened in after that. I was already good at lying and though I couldn't wrap my conscience around stealing, I enjoyed smoking more than I thought I would. It was a way to piss off my parents, to lash out at them for screwing up so bad and not getting the help they had needed so many years before - when I would stay up at night to make sure dad got home safe and end up listening to them fight. It was also a way to check out. Since the day the proverbial bomb hit, I'd felt antsy and anxious. There was a hum, almost a buzz, that constantly riddled my body - my skin, my bones, my brain and organs, my whole body felt like I was the inside of one of those jumping beans and I wasn't allowed to jump. I had to keep pretending everything was okay. Smoking shut the buzzing down, turned down the volume in my brain, and helped me feel something besides scared.
I was never alone when I smoked, and I was never judged by those who stood in tight circles with me to ward off the cold. The bible club, the church, even my fellow academic all-stars may have left me. But the smokers didn't. They couldn't, after all. They needed to smoke.
Better than just not leaving me alone, they let me talk. They let me say the same thing over and over, and they didn't get on my case for using unsophisticated words, for stuttering, for sometimes just breaking down in tears. After all, we were all smokers; we were all pretty screwed up.
Christmas came and went and then the "Sometimes love just isn't enough; you kids aren't the problem here" talk happened. Things started a steadily faster downward spiral. School was a hell I survived by throwing myself full force into the drama club, by smoking at every opportunity, and by forcing my emotions into the structure and order that poetry could provide. I latched on - leeched from, really - anyone who would just look me in the eye and listen to what I had to say and not tell me I was being overdramatic about the whole thing. Anyone who could hear my heart without telling me I was just seeking attention got my friendship. Which meant I went even farther into hanging out with all the wrong people.
I became someone I didn't recognize. I was angry, lonely, and hurt most of the time. I began hating God for letting this happen to my family, hating the church for doing nothing besides sitting back and judging with the occasional "We didn't see you on Sunday" guilt trip.
The rug was really pulled out from underneath me one day when I found a giant bottle of whiskey under the kitchen table.
My mom raised me to believe firmly in not drinking. Alcohol was bad, drinking was a sin, and drinkers were evil people. So when I found that whiskey while babysitting, it really hit me hard. All the anger and hurt and resentment that had been piling up doubled and became a wave that just washed me away. I might as well have found cocaine, for the way it made me feel. I demanded an explanation from my mom and was unsatisfied with the one she gave. I felt betrayed. Up until that point, I had felt like my mom was my ally at home. Right then, I felt completely and utterly alone. My friends had abandoned me, God had abandoned me, and now this.
I started drinking, just to spite them. I didn't enjoy it except for the fact that it put a physical pain into my body and after all the emotional pain I just didn't know how to cope.
I realized shortly after that, that my mom wasn't OK to be a mom anymore, and I took over as much as possible. I nagged the kids about homework, made meals, cleaned as best I could. I tried my hardest to hold them together and show them that even if mom and dad weren't okay, we were going to be.
When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me the strangest things. Like that if I was walking with my mom, I had to walk on the outside of the sidewalk so if a car came up onto it I could push her out of the way. He impressed upon me at an early age that being the oldest means that I was supposed to take care of the family if anything ever happened to him or mom.
Well, something happened. He wasn't safe anymore, and mom wasn't coherent enough to handle kids. I can't count the times I tried to keep the kids away from mom while she was on the computer, or the times I took the baby away from dad because I was afraid he'd get hurt, or the times I physically stood between my dad and one of the kids, or tried to redirect his anger onto me. I could handle it, I could handle him. They couldn't. Any time my dad started showing signs of an oncoming storm, I'd do something to make him blow up at me instead.
It's hard to believe all of that was only six months. It felt like forever.
Then Easter came. On Friday I got in a fight with my dad and he lost his temper worse than ever before. He had finally broken me, finally shattered the little bit of strength I had and crushed the heart I was protecting. I couldn't be strong for the kids anymore, and we were split up by people in the church so they could take care of us over the weekend while my mom was still out of town. My younger sister ended up with me, so I couldn't process. I had to tape together the pieces of my strength and hope she couldn't see the holes. I spent both nights on the couch silently screaming and crying into a pillow. I didn't know what else to do. The buzz was gone, but inside was a deadness.
On Sunday my mom came back, and we went to church because I promised her we would. It was Easter, after all. I was still angry and hurt and mostly shut down. I was afraid of going to the church, afraid of the people and their accusing, nosy stares, afraid that if I stopped hating God long enough to go to church, then I'd end up too broken to move. But I went anyway.
Dad showed up, out of the blue. I was so angry, and after church he and mom disappeared into the pastor's office for hours, leaving me to fend for myself against an onslaught of people who were pretending to be concerned about how I was doing, just hoping they could get some detail so they could talk about my family and how screwed up we were over lunch.
When we all got home, dad was there even though mom had promised she'd kick him out. They told me they were going to try to work things out.
I was disgusted. There's no other word for it. My anger, my hurt, my increasing resentment, wouldn't allow anything other than extreme disgust. The rest of my family had a good day hanging out together as if nothing had ever happened, as if I hadn't ever had to hold the door to my room closed while my dad had punched the other side, and I stayed in my room because I couldn't stand them.
That pretty well sums up how the next year went. I was shoved back into the role of extreme lesser subordinate in the house that I'd given up so much to hold together. Rules, standards, policies like 'in this house we go to church on Sundays' were just suddenly there and I was forced to comply because I had nowhere else to go. Mom offered to find me somewhere else to live but couldn't ever offer a place that wasn't under the same rules I hated at her house. I spent a lot of time in my room because I was still too hurt and angry to laugh and play and pretend like nothing had ever happened - and that's all everyone else wanted to do. They quickly forgot that I was the one protecting them all this time, making sure they finished homework and ate breakfast and didn't ever end up bearing the brunt of dad's outbursts. Sometimes I even thought they had forgotten I was there.
Eventually my parents realized that I was a behavioral issue and that I needed to work things out with my dad, so the counseling started. It ended just as quick. At least, my attempts to cooperate did. The second their pastor demanded that I respect my dad simply because he was my dad, he lost me. I wan't going to be a part of it anymore. One other person tried to help us, tried to get my parents to sit down and listen to what I had to say, but nothing changed so I could only guess that they just hadn't listened.
As my 18th birthday approached they sat down with me to talk about what life would be like and how the rules would change once I was an adult. As far as I was concerned, I already was an adult. I had pulled five children and two adults through hell without letting any of them get killed or kidnapped or even hit. But they still saw me as their kid, theirs to order around and control.
Despite my resentment and my pain, I wanted desperately to be happy like everyone else was, so I tried. In return, I asked for a simple evidence that my dad would try too: I wanted him to read one specific book. If he would just read that book, I would take it as a sign that he was trying. And reading the book would give us something to talk about. In that time, that was all I wanted in the world, for him to just read that book.
As soon as the school year was over I called a guy I'd been talking to online and had him come get me. I moved 4 hours away, and when that didn't work out well I moved back just two months later. At that point, I had no one. The voice on the other side of the phone I'd vented to for so long wasn't a friend anymore. The people at school couldn't hide the fact that they thought I had made up the problems with my family for attention. I wasn't smoking anymore. My drama friends had all graduated and gotten lives. The church was distant at best. I was, completely, alone.
I couldn't stand being in the same house with my father, who demanded respect he didn't deserve and refused to even try to have a relationship with me - refused to even read a book. I found someone else who would move me to where he was and I came to Seattle. You've heard the story from there.
For the past five years, I've waited, longing to hear someone admit that they knew what happened hurt me, that they knew it was gone about all wrong, and that they were sorry. For five years I've waited, doubting the words would ever come, doubting anyone had even noticed my pain when they were all so busy noticing my poor choices.
Now that my mom has admitted it, now that she's pulled the skeleton into the light and said "this happened, and it wasn't okay," I just don't know how to react. I'm not angry anymore, I haven't been for a long time. I'm not mad at my parents because I know that they were just too young when they started off to be starting off and they didn't have anyone to guide them. They did what they knew to do and even though it sucked it was still their best.
All this time, I've just been hurt and scared. Now that my mom has written that post, and admitted all the things I only suspected before, I don't know how to feel. It's a new perspective for me, and I'm not sure how to handle it. But I'm glad that I can finally talk about it. I'm glad that I can finally say what I really thought and felt.
I just wish I knew where to go from here. When hurt becomes such a big part of who you are, of what identifies you, it's an odd sensation to have it suddenly be gone.