by Jessica Neal
Still in the process of writing, biography, personal narrative.
I remember the hazy sensation just as my eyes opened in the early mornings and the few seconds of bliss before memories of the previous days shot back into my head. Those small moments kept me going longer than they should have. The memories not only brought sadness, but confusion as well. Thinking back I couldn't have been more than 7. Obviously all of it adds up now but at the time I only knew a few things for sure; Mommy and Daddy were mad and so was my brother. I caught a few words every now and then, some that will never leave, some that will play in my mind for the rest of my life.
"Don't hit him again, please, just leave him alone!" Why did these words stick with me? I had never been hit, why would my brother? I just didn't understand.
He told me Daddy was a bad man, that he had hate in his heart. Was he talking about the same dad I knew? The one who gave in to every whim I ever had? He had to have been talking about somebody else because I didn't believe it for a minute. The daddy I knew was loving, kind, and always laughing. But sometimes he got mad, really mad. I didn't know why, but it always scared me more and more. It wasn't just his words that were angry, it was his whole body. He would throw anything he could find and if somebody got in his way, well, he would just throw them too.
Everybody seemed to know what was going on but me. Most of the time I would just hide, but sometimes I just stood in shock of what my eyes were seeing. I felt like there was nobody to run to for safety. When it's your own family making you run and hide, who do you go to? I had friends, but I wasn't allowed to tell them anything. When a window would break I was supposed to say it was an accident, or my brother was playing baseball in the house, but I knew that wasn't true. I knew it wasn't true because I saw it happen. But still, I kept it inside where nobody would find it. These secrets multiplied by the thousands as time went by. Doors were ripped off of the hinges, holes were put into walls, dishes were broken, but coincidentally all of these were "accidents" too.
This tore me into pieces. I was always told if something bad happens or somebody was hurt I was suppose to call the police. So when I saw blood, heard screaming, and fists flying I ran for the phone, but I was stopped by my own mother. Everything I was taught, everything I knew and felt was crumbled up and thrown away. Nothing made sense anymore and I didn't know where to turn. So night after night I just sat and watched as the ones I loved ripped each other apart wondering if this would be the night things get taken too far. I was completely helpless. I was stuck in a world with hate and anger without any way out. Eventually I started to blame myself. Could I have been the fault of all this violence? But again, there was nothing to do.
Growing to my pre-teen years things started making more sense, which in fact only made things worse. I started to understand the hate, feel the hate, and it killed me inside. I didn't want to hate, I didn't want the anger either. So instead of hating others I started to hate myself. Going to school every day started getting harder and harder. I felt like I was always carrying a deep secret, and I was. I had "best friends" but even those closest to me didn't know it all. I knew if that information got into the wrong hands it would get serious. I didn't want the police to know, but deep down I think I did. Maybe that would be the only way out. This self hatred lead to self harm. Those who knew blew it off as "normal teenage behavior" but little did they know I wasn't any "normal" teenager at all. Even looking back today I still don't know if I was looking for any attention I could get or if it was a sincere cry for help. Either way I didn't get what I was looking for. After months of nobody noticing, I confided in my own mother. That night I actually felt hopeful. She told me I would get help and everything would be alright. Days passed, and so did weeks and she never spoke of it again. I started to realize that we were pretending that nothing ever happened.
I decided that nobody was ever going to help me and I was on my own. Even though this thought killed me, I had to accept it. After that realization everything seemed to mean less to me. I would go home and see the same things I always did, but it just didn't matter anymore. I saw what was happening but my mind never took any of it in. I started to accept the pattern of things too. I knew there would never be a "peaceful" night out, or a "calm" family event as my mother claimed. It would start with bickering and end in violence every single time. This is when I started the mindset I would have for years to come. I told myself it would be okay one day. It might not be okay today or tomorrow, but one day I'll grow up and it'll all be over. This small bit of hope was all I had, but I held onto it with my life. Of course I asked myself why, but nobody was there to give me the answers. Just luck I guess.
The only thing that seemed to change as I grew into a young woman was my understanding of what was happening in my life. The hate never made sense though, and it still doesn't. They said my dad had a horrible father and that's what made him do what he did, but that didn't make sense either. Aren't you supposed to want better for your children? My "grandfather" though I had only met him once was said to be a bad man. He beat my grandmother and did unspeakable things to his children. It still didn't add up. I knew I wouldn't be like my dad no matter what. Isn't that what they all say though?
My teen years were filled with careless fun with friends, sleepovers and any other "normal" activities. But there would always be the time when I finally had to go home, and I dreaded that every time. In school we would write about our families, and "good memories" but I just drew a blank. We were taught about new things like sex and drugs. Of course both were considered bad. But I would go home and drugs were not seen the same way. I knew about it for years, but I pretended I didn't, even though everybody else did. Eventually my dad started becoming honest about it, and it made me uncomfortable. Dads aren't supposed to be like that. I wasn't quite sure what they were supposed to be like, but I knew it wasn't that. I started to grasp at every inch of my childhood I had left. I wanted the innocence back. I missed not understanding what was going on, because understanding hurt. I never got to be carefree and happy. All I wanted was to be innocent again.
My brother moved out, moved back in over and over. I noticed that silence rang through the house when he wasn't near. Sometimes my brother would be there but not my dad. Silence still enclosed our home. The pattern was obvious. Every now in then the pattern would break, but not often.
As I continued to grow I would continue to speculate. Was my father really as loving to me as I remembered? The thoughts and assumptions swallowed me whole. It began to take over my life. We've all heard of "repressed memories" but that kind of stuff never actually happened, right? Days would pass and I would struggle to recall family vacations or even specific events from my childhood and my mind would just fill with infinite emptiness. I knew one thing for sure, and that was that these empty so-called "memories" were far from normal. My mind was protecting me from something, and even though I was desperate for answers, the door was locked and the key was thrown away. This lead to a never ending search, yet I knew I wasn't ready for the answers I would find.
Though my life seemed to fall into an endless pattern of drugs, violence and hate, one day the rhythm just broke. It was so sudden yet so anticipated. My dad packed up his things and left. My brother wasn't far behind. This left my mother and I. We didn't know what to do with the peace and silence, let alone the emptiness of our small house. At first I was overwhelmed with anger and depression. I didn't quite know why though. Wasn't this all I ever dreamed of? After a few weeks I came to accept the change and everything that came along with it. But the things that came along with the acceptance were deadly. For years the self harm had a purpose. Now I didn't understand why I was doing these things to myself. Maybe it was because nobody ever noticed, or maybe it was because the only father I had left in an instance. As time passed my behavior became more peculiar and along with that was even greater confusion.
At the time, all of these thoughts and feelings didn't make any sense, but as I grew I started to understand them all too well. Before I knew it I was diagnosed with anxiety. Nobody knew where it came from, but deep down I did. School was becoming harder to attend every day. I felt as though I was a walking lie. Nobody knew my life, and nobody knew my story. This lead to a complete, massive, emotional breakdown. At this point I would have chosen death over High School without a doubt in my mind. Shortly after this I was put into outpatient care at a mental institution. It seemed like the perfect solution at the time. Finally I would be around people who understood me. But sadly, I just went farther downhill. I guess I couldn't handle the truth of my own life. I became sincerely and completely suicidal. I was immediately put into inpatient care at the hospital for a week of intensive therapy that didn't seem to solve any of my problems. And then I was right back to outpatient care like nothing had ever happened. For a short period of time I became content there, I was actually stable for the first time. But just as fast as I went up, I came crashing down. This lead to the overdose. It was something I never thought I would have the guts to do until I realized I had just taken nearly 30 sleeping pills. The drive to the emergency room was unreal and hazy. The tears streamed like a river as the doctors rushed around me sticking needles here, asking me questions there, all while my mind was gone from my body. The emotional visit to the emergency room lead to another impatient visit, this one did less for me than the first one. After nearly 11 days I was free, but still put into outpatient care. This point in my life was emotionless. I didn't know what to think or feel in all honesty.
Months after being completely released from care, the doctors mention a condition called, "PTSD" and apparently would explain for my mental condition even after finally being free from all of my demons. They explained it as my mind finally taking time to accept the things that had happened to me, almost like a shock to my whole mind and body. It actually made sense for once. But this one answer didn't stop me from searching for more.
While all of this was going on I couldn't help but put school as the last of my priorities. How was I expected to keep a fake smile on my face while I had these thoughts through my head? When life sends you through a spiraling black hole, it puts things in perspective and school just seemed impossible. I couldn't focus, I couldn't keep up with the motions. The loneliness consumed me no matter who was by my side. It felt as though my life had betrayed me. I had been cursed with a painful past and a scarred mental state. Every day I would beg to know, "why me"? What Had I done to deserve this never ending pain? I was destined for failure. My father was no longer in my life and it felt as though he had dissolved into the earth and never existed, yet he still left a whole in my heart where the loving comfort of a good father should have been.
I never stopped searching for a father and I don't think I ever will. Some will say a father is the most important person in a young girls life, and I still don't know how I feel about that. At one point I feel like I'm growing up fine without him, but then I take a look at the mess I call my life and think differently. I started to encourage my mother to date, hoping that maybe one day I could get a real father. I watch other families in the grocery store with envy, not even knowing how they act behind closed doors, but that still didn't get rid of the jealousy.
Whenever I get down about my life, I just look at my brother. No matter how old he got he never seemed to grow up. He had it the worst as a child, but never seemed to look back on it. It was denial at its finest. The drug abuse started early. He claimed that he started smoking pot with my father as early as 14. But at age 17, the hard drugs caught hold of him. Before the age of 22 he had been hospitalized twice on life support for accidental overdoses, and countless rehab attempts. He has yet to completely kick the habit like I dreamed he would. I always felt like I had accepted my issues, and with that, I sought help. But my brother was a completely different story and he wouldn't seek help from a single soul.
Like my father, my brother dreamed of being a rock star, and has gone through countless jobs just to end up back with music. I have always known deep down that my brother was a good person, but he too is a victim. You can only grow up so well with a childhood like my poor brother had. For some reason he always ran to my father's side. He wanted to be a part of his life so badly that he would look over the past and present abuse. I couldn't understand it to save my life. I didn't have it nearly as bad as my brother, yet I wanted nothing to do with my own father. It doesn't take a genius to see the connection between the drugs and the abuse. Everyone seems to know it except my own brother. I have always had a certain respect for him regardless. He never just accepted the abuse, he would fight back with all of his heart, no matter how bad it would get.
Also like my father, my brother was a fantastic manipulator. He always got his way and managed to get through rehab every time without actually making a breakthrough or anything of the sort. I guess he learned from the best. I worry every day that he might turn out like my father, but at the same time I know there isn't a single thing I can do about it. He has a love for my father that I will never understand. I suppose you could describe it as unconditional.
One thing I was never able to understand was my brother's hate for my mother. Most of his calls to her were based on money, and when he didn't get what he wanted it got ugly every time. He would endlessly guilt my mother with the disturbing childhood he had, even though they both knew it wasn't truly her fault. She was the only thing keeping him safe through those rough times, but he didn't see it that way. She was the shield between him and his father. When they were throwing punches at one another she would selflessly throw herself in the middle of any fight to save him the pain. I can only hope that one day he will realize all of the things she did for him were purely out of love. However, I don't think he will ever realize how many times he has hurt my mother with the things he says to her. He of all people should understand how bad words can hurt.
There isn't much to be said about my brother all in all, he was abused as a child and in denial about everything. Obviously bottling up those memories led to his self destruction in the form of heroin. Maybe one day he will seek help and accept the facts of life. But at the same time, he might not. It's hard to say what will come of him, but if he's lucky he will turn out nothing like my father.
These days my brother has moved on to "bigger and better things". He currently has a girlfriend with a young daughter. Even through the child isn't biologically his, she still calls him "daddy". I love that little girl with my whole heart, and I would do anything to save her from the horrors I went through at her age. As for the future, time can only tell. Maybe they will get married and start a real family, the kind I always wished to be a part of. But it might possibly end as quickly as it began. He continues to battle the drugs and alcohol, and honestly, that's all it is, a battle.
I would say my mother was mostly to blame for all of the things that happened to my brother and I, but that just isn't true. Yes, she should have kicked my father out early on, but that didn't happen. What mattered most was how she protected us unconditionally. To this day she would do anything to turn back time and fix the past, but obviously it isn't that easy. She is a victim like all of us, blinded by the manipulation and fear. Of course I never understood why she didn't get rid of my father, but that isn't necessarily my business.
My mother was the provider of the family, feeding a family of four on a teacher's salary. She worked hard, but sometimes that wasn't enough. My father never had a real job, so he stayed at home and spent the money while my mother worked. My brother was homeschooled so he was usually home with my father and me all day. My mother had work planned for him every day like clockwork.
I just recently learned that my mother herself was raised in an abusive home, so to her, our home wasn't anything out of the normal. How would she know any better? All she knew was dads had anger issues. I can't explain the sorrow I feel for her every day realizing what all she had been through, leaving one abusive home for another. For her, it never ended. I trusted my mother, so when she never raised an eyebrow at any of the situations, neither did I. As a kid you expect your parents to tell you what is right and wrong, so it took me years to finally realize we were all victims of abuse. At the time though I just thought my family was different. I suppose I formed a bond with my mother over the things that happened because it always seemed like we were both on the sidelines of the fights. I feel like she understood the pain in watching your own family tear each other apart.
When my mother finally got the courage to kick my father out I had never been prouder of her. She struggled with the separation and divorce, but I can't blame her for that. She was a hero to me, almost like a superhero. Even though it took her nearly 23 years to do it, she finally did. Better late than never. She didn't necessarily kick him out for the abuse though. By this time my father had been "self employed" for years and would rarely bring any money home. I guess it was the straw that broke the camel's back. She couldn't stand his lazy personality and lack of drive, so she got rid of him for good. Ironically he left the day after Christmas, and exactly a year after that I was admitted to impatient care at the hospital.
I don't think my mother ever stopped missing my father, but she knew that he would never be coming back. When I started encouraging my mother to date I think she found hope that one day she wouldn't be lonely anymore. I wanted her to know that she didn't need my father to be happy. My mother and I are closer than ever today. We share our whole lives with each other and I couldn't imagine my life without her by my side. We fight, we scream, but nothing out of the normal. I can't explain the joy I have in using the word "normal" for the first time in my life. Because we are truly normal now, no matter what anybody says.
Today I work to put the past behind me, but it always comes back to haunt me. How am I supposed to get over the day I attempted to end my life? The thoughts just continue to come rushing back. I think I have finally reached a moment of stability for once though. For now I live my life one day at a time because in all honesty, I can't handle thinking about my future. The only thing I know for sure is that I want a family. I want a husband and children to raise as my own and have a normal life for once. I don't know where I'll end up in a year or even in 6 months, but I can still have my hopes and dreams. As for now, every day is a battle. I push the thoughts and memories away as hard as I can just so I can have another day of peace and quiet. As summer comes to an end, the thought of not returning to school for my senior year is both relieving yet upsetting. I won't cross the stage and graduate with all of my friends, but at the same time I will be free to live my life without the chains of school and forced contact with people I would rather not see every day.
Even though I thought my parent's divorce would slowly get easier for me, it surprised me. My parents fought almost every day of their marriage and yet this divorce appears even more difficult to understand, It seems like a never ending war. All I want to do is close my eyes and pray that it will all go away. I dread the upcoming holidays the most. Shockingly, I don't look forward to the "double Christmases". I would much rather have my holidays wrapped up in one place at one time with the people of my choice. I can't begin to explain the chaos that my life has become. The memories have continued to come back and hopefully one day I will become strong enough to tell somebody about these thoughts that haunt me, but until then, they will continue to be locked away. Strangely, I am handling this mess quite well. Living day to day has done well for me, and my anxiety has been greatly reduced. Don't get me wrong, I'm still "sick" but I suppose I am on my way to recovery. I have finally accepted that my life is a chaotic mess and there is nothing I can do about it. Somehow this acceptance has calmed my fears.
As my 18th birthday draws near, the thought of being on my own and living my own life calms me more than anything else. For the first time in my life I will be able to control who and what I come in contact with. This thought settles my worries the most. In the end, who knows where I will end up. The one thing I know for sure is that I will be something. I refuse to let my life go to waste. With all that I have been through I know I deserve something good by now. This is my only hope. Hope is what gets me up every morning and gets my through my day. It is what makes me smile and go through the normal motions people expect from me. And most of all, hope is what keeps me alive every single day.
I would expect my story to be longer, but really, my story is built into every part of my family. I don't have much to explain, or anything worth saying. This is just the life I live and it probably will never change, because I surely don't expect it to.
I have certain reasons for saving this story for last, mostly because this is where it all began and in a way, this is where it will all end. The man I call my father has done many "unforgivable" things in his life, and yet somehow I have managed to forgive the unforgivable. Maybe it was all of the therapy, or the pills, but that didn't matter. Don't get me wrong, forgiving someone doesn't mean everything will go back to the way it was, and this case was a perfect example. Yes, I have forgiven my dad. I forgive the fights, the abuse, the drugs, and the neglect towards the family. I have even gone so far as to forgive the abandonment when he went to live in Romania with his new girlfriend without even so much as a phone call. I have forgiven it all. But it still hurts, and that won't change.
As of now I see my father once a month, but he is no longer my father. He wasn't at my prom, he never came to the rescue when a guy stepped out of line, he didn't do the things a father did. He was a stranger. I might even go as far as to say he was an acquaintance. Most of all, he didn't know a thing about me, and that was something we both knew. Our monthly lunches consisted of small talk and endless stories about his work, but that was about it. It was soulless, meaningless, cold. When I looked him in the eyes, he didn't look like my dad anymore, he just looked like a stranger.
Thoughts run through my mind about him in particular sometimes. Will I ever see him once I start my own life? Will I want to see him? Will he want to see me? I know it is a choice I will have to make, and it is one I am not nearly ready for.