Step One: “I am still that kid, embarrassed to show anyone I hurt, I’m bleeding. I guess over the years I’ve learned that.”

October 15, 2018

Start time: 9:45 AM

Dear Steve,

I want you to feel like you know me. I want you to know that you are someone I trust, someone I can let in. Not just someone I’m attracted to. Not just some fleeting fling. I apologize because as a rule of thumb, I do not like to define things by what they are not. However, I feel the need to deepen this connection, whatever it is. Whatever it is to you. Whatever it is to me. One of us is going to have to be strong at times when maybe the other can’t, for any reason. In our case, at this moment, I guess it’s the distance and obligations. Since we do have a lot of distance between us in a lot of ways (which I am more than willing to continue to move through), maybe this can be our step one.

My parents “officially” split after my mother had a breakdown in November of the year that I was 10 years old. We still lived in Rome, Georgia, in the house on River Lane. I had to call the police and was instructed to request EMTs as well. An officer of some kind pulled me aside that night and asked me how long my parents had been separated. I spit in his face and told him that I didn’t know they were, but thanks for the information. I couldn’t believe this insensitive stranger somehow knew more about what was going on in my own household than I did. I gathered up all of our kittens and hid us in the spare room downstairs which doubled as a playroom, second office, gift-wrapping room and tried to feed them and calm them down. Sirens glared, tears flowed, my mother was screaming, and no one was hungry.

My parents officially divorced shortly after in a case with one lawyer representing both of them. Some real backwoods “good ol’ boy shit” (also pretty sure that’s illegal). My father was to pay alimony until my mother turned 65, and she got to keep the house on River Lane and her car. I would visit as often as I could, no real restrictions on that, but my father was given full custody because he is wealthy and she was a stay-at-home mother by then.

My father’s alcoholism and neglect and abuse left me with a lonely, painful childhood once we moved out, moved to TN. One time, in seventh grade, he punched me in the face because I begged him not to leave my friend Kelly and I alone (as he was prone to leaving all night) because she was spending the night that night. He clocked me a good one across my jaw, left a bruise and swelling. Then he left and didn’t come back. Kelly held ice on my face, and held me as I cried.

Another time he strangled me. I had scratch marks around my neck. DCS wouldn’t take me away from him because they “knew who he was,” in that small, horrible town and thought I was lying. Like maybe I made the marks myself. What had happened is we fought that day, started off verbal. I was maybe 14 or 15, and I had said, “Fuck you. You’re not a parent. You’re just a doctor who lives in the same house as me.” He began strangling me because at first he thought I said “I hate you.” When I finally corrected him through chokes and gasps, he let go. As if “fuck you” is somehow better than “I hate you.” This doesn’t even cover the half of it. And I won’t. What I will say is it took him over a decade to realize all that he did wrong and he apologized ONCE. “I’m sorry to have hit you.” That was all he said. It took me many years even after that to truly forgive him. I know that’s the best he can do because he probably wasn’t ever shown how to apologize or forgive, or even love, for that matter.

He and my aunt and uncle had it very rough growing up. My grandfather, a first-generation German-American fought in Japan in WWII, and that’s where he met my grandmother. He got her pregnant over there, and they had my Uncle Charlie there in Tokyo. Then came my Aunt Betty, again, in Japan. My father, the youngest, was born in Missouri. My grandfather abandoned them when my father was five years old, and so my grandmother (who didn’t speak very much English) tried to raise them as Japanese in post-WWII America. Half-German, half-Japanese school children in post-WWII America? They were fucked. And they were broke. They got called horrible names like Nazis and Japs and so on. I never met my grandfather on that side because he died in the mid-80s, probably some kind of complication related to alcoholism. My mother never met my grandmother, either. She didn’t even come to their wedding. I believe my father resented my grandmother so much that he didn’t even bring me to meet her until her last year or two which she spent in Tullahoma in a nursing home so he could watch over her. He shed only one tear when she died, and said, “Goodbye, mother.” I cried because I never got to know her, but maybe it’s best that I didn’t. It sounds like it was awful for them because she was also pretty mean and drunk on sake most of the time.

Turns out, my grandfather was a real womanizer. As of this year, we have learned that we have an entire family (or two, even) some place out west, like Oklahoma or something. Thanks to Facebook, my Aunt Betty found these people who want to get to know us and help piece together the past. We’ll see how that goes.

My mother is, to me, like a sparrow with a broken wing. “Who will love a little sparrow….”, especially one with a broken wing?

After the breakdown, my mother was sent off for a psych-eval. Stayed for a 48. They couldn’t find anything wrong with her except maybe depression. I remember her as being depressed, but I also remember my father urging that she was “schizophrenic”, “bi-polar”, “borderline”, whatever DSM dx was trending. He would do things like flip her bathroom cups right-side up and say, “Watch, she’s going to flip it back over because she’s got obsessive-compulsive disorder, she’s soooo OCD.” I remember thinking, Well she probably just doesn’t want dust building up in the bottom of her cups… but fuck me, right?

So she got really into religion at some point. This part was probably related to some kind of mental instability. She would get super into it, and took me to churches where people spoke in tongues and it scared me and I hated it, hated having to dress up to go see these strange illogical and hyper people excited about a god I was never sure I even believed in. And if I’m remembering correctly, this had something to do with the breakdown in November. My father made me clean out my closet that evening, something he knew would aggravate my mother. I had started my period when I was nine years old. My therapist always thought it was because my body was trying to catch up with all the fucked up shit I had to witness at home (the fights, the rumors of my father cheating, dad drunk falling down the stairs and crashing into the dog gate which, one time, injured our little dog Nicholas so bad he left a trail of blood all over the place because it ripped out one of his toenails). So I don’t know if maybe she just didn’t tell my dad yet about my period, or what, but we had all of my feminine stuff kinda tucked away nicely in there and we also had some letters in there.

The letters were for “god”. Sometimes, maybe once every couple of weeks or so, she would tell me to send god letters with either questions or declarations of gratitude, that kind of stuff. The kind of harmless religious stuff that I actually wasn’t uncomfortable with. We would attach the letters to balloons and send them off. Asking god why things hurt sometimes, or why people are mean, or thanking him for all the blessings you have in your life, those things are harmless. But the thing is, my mom wanted these letters to be private because they were only supposed to be between me and “god”, so that a strong “relationship” with “him” could be built. No real harm there, right?

Well, my dad knew about it and knew that my mother was pretty nutty about religion, so, the night of the breakdown when she went to get Taco Bell for us, he made me rip every fucking thing out of my closet because “it needed to be organized.” Well, it actually didn’t, and I knew that. So, when she came into my room and saw us taking everything out, she tried to explain that it was all private and he didn’t need to see some of it. This escalated quickly and my mind goes blank for a second, but then I remember seeing my father on top of my mother with his fist raised in one hand, the other restraining her arms. Then I was instructed to call 911 and request EMTs, and the rest is history….

As my father and I drove around Lake Nickajack on our move to TN, it was late that night. Chilly. I had my backpack in the car next to me which contained my favorite items so I could access them on this sickening endeavor. I armed myself with a six-pack of sharpened yellow no. 2 pencils, a black and white composition notebook, a book called Girl by Blake Nelson, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, and for some reason I was also reading Interview with a Vampire (which I hated by the end of it, just not my style), my favorite blanket which was an old, plaid and honestly, kind of scratchy uncomfortable one, and few toys for my dog who had also fallen under my father’s custody. That night, I was only sure that I was unsure about ALL of this. None of it felt right. It was chaos, and not the fun kind. It was then that the worst words my father ever spoke to me in my entire life, even to this day, October 15, 2018 at 1:04 PM. I had asked why we needed to move so far away. Why couldn’t they just be divorced in Georgia, where all of my friends were, where all my horses I loved to ride were, where my wonderful school was, where the field behind my house which gave me such happiness and warmth was?

“Honey, you are the oxygen to your mother’s fire, and she must be put out.”

Oh, so it’s my fault you two idiots are behaving this way. Got it. Cool. Good talk, you fuckhead.

I was ten years old.

Poor little rich girl, right?

Fast forward to 2007/2008ish.

My mother did not come to my high school graduation. Our relationship became strained. One day, my father just simply stopped taking me to see her. At some point, for whatever reason, I guess he sold the house that she was legally entitled to and moved her to Chattanooga, TN. She says she doesn’t remember how or when or why she even went there.

I went to UTC for some time, maybe a year or so. I got to see her a bit more then. Chattanooga, as it turns out, is not the place for me, so I transferred to MTSU. Somehow, we completely lost touch after that and I did not see her or hear from her in five years or more. I hunted down my family members on her side (with whom I had also lost touch). I finally found my Aunt Bonnie, my mother’s sister-in-law. I received horrible news.

At some point, my mother became homeless in Chattanooga. She has no idea what happened or how. My father was supposed to be paying her bills, etc. and she literally just woke up one day and was kicked out, evicted. Lost everything. Her cats, pictures, furniture, everything. She was living out of a Wal-Mart for two weeks to a month. On the streets. Of fucking CHATTANOOGA.

My Aunt told me that a little bit before this, my dad had suggested they have a “family meeting,” to discuss how to help. He never showed. He never called. They couldn’t get in touch with him. He was probably too drunk. The police picked my mother up from the Wal-Mart one day (THANK GOD) and put her in a mental home for a bit until they could contact some family members and figure out what the fuck was going on. Thank god for my Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Stephen. She could have been dead. Raped. I had no idea. I kept trying to call but she didn’t have a cell phone and her home line was always busy. I think she left it off the hook. I drove down a couple of times and knocked on the door but no one ever answered. Eventually, I asked my dad and whichever trophy wife number he was on at that point and I was told, “Well your mother is in a home somewhere and she gets a shot once a day and that’s all you need to know.”

WRONG.

As soon as my Aunt Bonnie got involved, she started taking care of business, especially with my help once I finally found them again. Honestly, once I started putting all of these pieces together, I considered taking a hit out on my father. I know enough shady people and man, wouldn’t you have felt the same way about someone who would have allowed your mother to go through what all mine went through?

So, that fucked up divorce? The house, the alimony, the broken promises?

Yeah. We took care of that. $50,000 later and my dad wasn’t just “sorry to have hit me” once. He was truly a sorry motherfucker after that. I wanted to spit in his fucking face just like I did that stupid police officer. But I didn’t. Finally, after all the years of his bullying, neglect, and abuse toward me (and apparently my mother now, too) he hung his head low at the bar counter in the kitchen, a glass of sake in his right hand, and admitted defeat:

“This has been hanging over me for far too long now. It’s time to take care of this.”

And finally, justice for my mother was served. I think both my father and I found peace that day.

As a young child, my parents were gods, superheros to me (and I’m sure that sentiment is shared among most children). I didn’t need the god my mother tried to show me. I didn’t need the money and trophy wives my father always gave me. I just needed them to be happy and be there for me. And in each of their own ways, they were. They tried. I trust that. I know they did their best with the tools that they had. I love them both dearly and they love me. We are still broken, but we are ok. We are still a family. But in a ton of horrible other ways, they were not there for me as a child. I raised myself for the most part. An only child, estranged from her parents in so many ways, living in a great big house with several cars, motorcycles, expensive hobbies– I always felt like a cliche. It’s the perfect “poor little rich girl” story.

But it actually isn’t.

It is MY story. It is MY life. I am not just a character following someone else’s plot. This, all of this fucked up wackness, it’s my life. Living in Tullahoma/middle Tennessee for the majority of it, I was constantly reminded of how different I am from everyone else. I’m just different. I am a certified gifted adult (the actual certificate of which I had to have removed in order to attend Tullahoma High School because they were not equipped to provide the special care I would have needed–this always pissed me off that they had to take that part of my identity from me), and everything about me is different, right down to my genes (How many quarter Japanese, quarter Germans do you know?😂). My life experiences certainly separated me from my peers growing up. The fact that I was not in a stable “normal” household with the ubiquitous UT orange flag in the yard didn’t provide me with a lot of lifestyle commonalities with the simpleton majority of Tullahoma.

What I am describing now was and at times, still is, the most difficult part of dealing with my childhood trauma: the fact that it does not define who I am. I am NOT a cliche. What happened to me is just that–some fucked up shit that happened to me.

To this day, I kick myself for having allowed it to influence my life choices, my self-talk, and my relationships. But damn, it was really hard getting through puberty and moving into adulthood with this sort of baggage in that fucking shithole, and basically doing it alone. I didn’t think that I deserved better. I didn’t believe that I could do better. I eventually built myself a prison and damnit if I didn’t want to just give up, lock myself up and throw away the fucking key. But you know what? In spite of my desperation to stop trekking along this hopelessly serpentine road which had navigated my small and insignificant existence, to just stop and end it all, I do not regret one horrific moment of it. At this moment in time, I am so proud to finally claim this as all as my own. I am so proud to be exactly who I am, fucked up childhood and all. All the pain I have been so ashamed of will never, ever steer me down that road to self-destruction again. I am proud of my scars, my physical and emotional badges of life experience.

I know who the fuck I am and I will live my life with continued honest examination.

Nosce te ipsum

Xoxo,

Shelley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s