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Monday, November 8, 2010

Nine years . . .

November 5th marked 9 years since my father was served his "surprise" divorce and restraining order papers. It was a culmination of events over the previous 25 years, including 22 years of marriage, that led to the decision my mom ultimately made.

She was tired of being beaten up, pushed around, choked, yelled at, and beaten mentally to the point where she felt she truly was worthless. She lived for being a parent to her five children, loving them and providing them with everything she could. It was all about the day-to-day survival. We walked on eggshells, all of us, so as to be as perfect as possible so he wouldn't become upset with us.

We were model children. We were in band, and we excelled academically. My sister and I were always on the honor roll, me not always the "A" honor roll, but at least making the "B". My sister had a 4.0. In high school, while other kids were out partying or having sex, we spent our weekends baby-sitting for close family friends. We vowed to our mother not to touch alcohol until we were 21, and both of us kept that promise. He didn't know us, so he didn't trust us, so he would send my mother into our room when we got home and she'd tuck us in, as she always did for years, and make sure there was no scent of alcohol on us (there never was, because for us, it was about not disappointing our mother).

When we did eventually date (late onto the scene on that one, for fear that he would make fun of us, which he did anyway), he didn't trust us and told us we were "whores" and "sluts". Little did he know, this was the furthest from the truth. All three of us, my mother, my sister and me, were called those names, and my brothers were also called names, particularly the oldest of the three boys, who from a small age was referred to as "Boy" or "Bonehead", and not by his given name, Michael.

He used a leather weight-lifting belt on us as punishment, but oftentimes, we were punished for things kids do on a regular basis, like playing too loudly. I have blocked so many of these memories out, but I do remember that noise the belt would make, the jingling metal sound as he pulled it off the back of his weight-lifting bench. Then, he'd come out into the family room and I would run. I would run around the pool table with him chasing me, yelling at me to stop. I'd think to myself, how long can I go?, but ultimately, I knew that I should just stop and take it and get it over with because the longer I ran, the worse it would be. As he whipped me, I'd place my hands over my bottom, but the stinging of the belt would hurt more there, so then I'd just move my hands, screaming for him to just stop, crying for someone to just help me, wishing the windows were open enough for the neighbors to call someone to help me, praying that he would just drop dead forever and ever so I'd never have to see him again.

Sometimes, I ran away. I didn't get very far. We lived near an apple orchard, and I would run there and hide in the tall grasses, but eventually, I'd get scared that there were snakes in there (there probably were), and after a half hour or so, I'd head back up the long driveway and go in my room. I hated my life. I kept myself busy by drawing for hours on end, and also by reading. I dreamed of a life where I had a father who adored me, and honestly, any song about a father and a daughter I hated, because I thought it couldn't possibly exist. It was all lies. There was no way a father would love his children and display affection.

As a little girl aged 6 or 7, I remember lying in bed, under the covers, tucked in as tight as possible, surrounded by my stuffed animals, and praying that Mary Poppins would just come adopt me. I loved my mom, of course I did, but I was jealous of my friends who got seemingly endless attention and affection. I was afraid of authority for years and always felt awkward at friends' houses. They didn't have to ask before opening the fridge or getting a snack out of the cupboard. We had no snacks, except saltine crackers. For all those years, the only snack was saltine crackers and even those, we only ate when he was at work.

We would get off the bus just before 3:00, and he would be home at about 3:10. We had 10 minutes to run around, play, laugh, do cartwheels, and whatever else we wanted to do before he got home. The garage door would open and we'd scatter off to our rooms, not to be seen until suppertime. Supper was interesting. My parents ate in the dining room but we were not allowed out there (carpeting, you know, is more important than a quality family dinner spent around the table), so the kids ate in the kitchen. What a sad sight that was. There were three barstools at the counter, then a place at the desk (where I sat), and another small table (where my sister would sit, with her back facing the boys). We ate in silence, always making sure to clean our plates. I dreaded the days when bread was part of the meal. You see, when I was about 4 or 5, I was eating a hamburger and suddenly realized I had too much bread in my mouth and it started getting all mushy and disgusting so I spit it out. My dad then force-fed me and made me swallow it down, all the while with me crying. From that point on, I could not eat bread without gagging. I begged to have my hamburger plain -- I'd just dip it in ketchup, I said. "No. What do you think you are, a dog? You gonna eat like a dog?! You will EAT the bread", he said. Well, I didn't want to eat the bread. I was 8 or 9 when he shoved the bun down my throat until I gagged, pouring milk to "help it down". After that, I would just sneak the bread into my hand and flush it down the toilet, otherwise, if my mom came to the kitchen, I'd sneak it into her hand and she'd hide it for me. This went on for years. I didn't touch another bun/bread until I was 18 years old and out of the house, and even now, I still cannot eat it plain. I'm 30 years old and this still affects me.

When I was in 5th or 6th grade, my mom was not home and my brother and I were sitting on the couch, just joking around (you know, like kids do). Dad came home from work and said, "you kids fighting?? Here, you think it's fun?" Then he threw me across the living room (10 feet or more?) and threw my brother, who landed on top of me, and then started banging our heads together saying, "fight! fight, if it's so much fun!"

When we were in public, he would talk to us like we were such wonderful kids. It was all an act. All an act to prove to all of his friends that he was a fucking awesome dad when he was anything but. He'd put his arm around my mom's waist and say, "isn't she lovely? My lovely wife? She's so great", and he'd kiss her. My stomach would turn, knowing that on the way home, he'd call her a whore and tell her that she was after his friends or some bullshit like that. He'd drive like a maniac, swerving and speeding while we held onto our seats and prayed we'd get home safely.

Kids forgive. That's what we did. He'd beat us up or say something horrible and in that moment, we would hate him so much that we would wish him dead. But after we had a good cry, we'd forgive him and hope that maybe that was the last time. Maybe he'd come around and tell us he loved us. Maybe a miracle would happen and he'd see the light.

But he never did.

We all just lived for the moments of happiness in between the bad days. It wasn't worth trying to fight him; after all, he bragged that he could bench-press 350 pounds. He was very good at not leaving marks in visible places, so nobody would notice. We were never brave enough to call the police. I once got as far as picking up the phone and threatening to dial when he was beating up my mom, but he yelled at me that I was so stupid, and I thought about it for a second, agreeing that I was, before hanging it up. This is why there were no records -- no evidence -- nothing to prove that any of this happened. But we all know it did. The bruises on our bodies may have faded, but the ones on our minds have not. The police did not believe my mother -- this was a small town with cops with a "good ol' boys" mentality, and my mom eventually moved after the Chief of Police testified on my dad's behalf, saying what a wonderful guy he was -- the judge dropped the restraining order and my mom no longer felt safe living over there.

This is just my perspective. My four siblings will tell you similar stories. It was even worse for my mom. I am so glad she got out and is able to live a normal life. I am over all this, and nobody would know it looking at me, I don't think. I am always positive, always happy, happier than most people I know who had far brighter upbringings. I think it's because when I was a little girl, I just decided that I hated him and that he didn't matter. There was always something to look forward to, so I did just that (I still live my life looking forward to the weekends, or to the next holiday, or to someone's social event -- it doesn't matter what it is).

Now that I'm a mother, I am a different person. I don't remember the "me" that was before who I am today. My family means the world to me, and I love providing them with a safe and happy home. I will enjoy seeing them do things that are fun. They will not have to walk on eggshells or be silent and not seen. My children will not know what it's like to be unwanted and unloved.

For the record, this is not a sympathy post in the least -- it always bugged me when people tried to feel sorry for me. It's more like, I need to deal with these feelings once in awhile and my blog is a good place to do that. Every once in awhile, I feel guilty that my dad has two grandkids he has never met, but I need to remember what he did to us. He really doesn't deserve any of us.

I apologize that this is long and somewhat disorganized. I am not very good at organizing my thoughts when it comes to THIS part of my life, the part that is in the past -- the part I should forget but cannot because it reminds me of the fact that what I have today is so wonderful.


Carrie R. said...

That was a brutally honest post. You are right, from what I know of you from TMP, I would never have guessed you had that childhood. I would say you have handled your situation beautifully.

Though my childhood wasn't nearly as bad as what you had to endure, I can relate on some level. I watched my father abuse (mentally, physically, and emotionally) my mother. My brother and I were lucky that he never took it out on us in the physical sense. Though he had a way of speaking to us that put us down. I don't remember him ever telling me that I was pretty or beautiful, he'd say "You look like your mother", as if it was a bad thing. My mom lasted 10 yrs before she got the strength to leave him. My mom was a lot like yours. She was our rock and showered us with love. She did everything she could to protect us, even after she left him.

My father was pretty hard on me up into my early 20's. It wasn't until my oldest was born that I saw a huge change in him. He won't admit to me or my brother what realy happened when we were younger. But he has apologized to my mom.

So in saying all that, I just wanted to say "I hear ya." From what I've seen and read, you are a wonderful mother and your kids are going to be all that much better for it.

Catie said...

Sometimes the shiniest gemstones come from the roughest starts.

Laura said...

You are an amazing person and we most definately need more people in this world like you! :)