My parents were going through a bitter divorce. Not because of money – each wanted custody of me and my brother. Most of my early childhood is a blur of memories, some happy, most sad. My father had anger problems and was unemployed a lot, and my mother was an alcoholic.My older brother and I stuck together while we could. I had seen many tragedies already at such a young age.My father beat my mother enough to go into a hospital while we watched. My mother would stagger home after partying all night. My brother was taken to a boys’ home and I saw him only a couple times more before I was taken.
The summer I was seven, I was with my dad, and my mom took me. She said we were going for ice cream and that it was ok with dad, and that I should go with her. I was alone in the house by myself at the time, and went with her. She took me to her apartment permanently.
My mother taught me to fear my father. She told me to hide in the closet while he was stalking us. There was court stuff, and I was asked questions. I saw my father during this, and he coached me a lot and made it sound like I was an adult and could choose. He reminded me that she lied to me about the ice cream and that was not ok. I was closer to him at the time, so I chose him. But my mother was granted custody, and I continued to live with her. My dad finally took me kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs, straight out of daycare. I had just turned eight. My childhood was over.
We went underground for six months and changed our names. My father worked nights and home schooled me. We were living in a motel and I stayed inside with no outside contact. I didn’t know my mother’s phone number, but it didn’t matter. I had resolved to live with my dad. I knew there was something wrong, but I spoke up for him in court, so my dad said I was agreeing with him taking me. My brother was still in a boys home, so there was no way to reach him. And that was that. Once, when I was four or five, my dad had kicked me out of the house for not picking up my clothes. It must have only been a couple minutes, but I had a suitcase and was outside the house, crying. So by age eight, I knew we had left my mother and brother behind forever, and there was a big possibility he would leave me behind if I acted up. So I stuck to myself, didn’t try to draw attention to myself, and learned how to stay on the good side of my dad.
We moved to another state, to inner-city Dallas, where I was back to my birth name. Dad made up some story about my previous school records, and I went to the last three weeks of third grade. We lived in an apartment complex without any furniture or TV. The complex had a swimming pool, and I went everyday. I never had a babysitter, but I was already well-trained to stay out of trouble. I met a girl two years older than me, and she became my best friend. I went to her apartment and started living vicariously through her and her family. They didn’t know our little secret. I didn’t speak much to my father. He worked long hours, we ate dinner, and then I would give him a back rub or rub his feet. He was never sexual with me, ever. In fact, he never confided in me about work or people or anything. He never asked me how my day was or if anything happened. We simply existed. It was through my friend that I learned about bras, menstrual cycles and teasing boys.
We actually stayed in Dallas for three years, so I was pretty well adjusted to my surroundings. I was smart and channeled my energies into school. I hoped that school would be my source of continuity and eventually a way out on my own. My dad took a job in construction, re paving highways, so we began to move every nine months or so. Again, I stuck to myself, made some friends, and lived vicariously through others. We never had money, so I wasn’t able to go to the movies, go do dance class, or other non school activities. My dad worked until late in the evening, so I was a latch key kid. I would either go home or to the library. In junior high, I began school activities, relying on school transportation. Otherwise, I was alone at home with my thoughts.
My dad and I started fighting in junior high. He was convinced I was hanging out with losers and he would just rant and rave. He caught me smoking once, and then he thought I was strung out on drugs and ranted more. He would make me stand up for hours at a time, listening to him while he lay in bed yelling. It got progressively worse through high school. He couldn’t accept my growing independence and was convinced that I was going down the wrong path. He really didn’t know me, but he argued anyway. He knew I was afraid of him, and he said I was treating him like a monster or a worm. There was no way I would win, so I just took it. He beat me occasionally, especially during junior year when he was unemployed and frustrated. We were eating out of cold cans because we didn’t have electricity, and had no other pastimes than arguing. I ran away a couple of times junior year, once after a heavy beating, and once to the police. I went to a half-way house for a couple weeks, and my dad said he would stop being angry and would get counseling. He didn’t. I was miserable and just dreamed of being on my own and away from him.
More than anything, my dad was mentally abusive. He stole any innocence or confidence I may have had. He never had girlfriends or babysitters, so there weren’t any buffers or intermediaries. Since he didn’t drink or smoke, and he provided a roof over my head, and changed my diapers when I was a baby, my dad thought he was above any argument I could give him. As I grew older, I knew that his behavior towards me was wrong, so I argued back and that’s when he really started being physical and would argue for hours each day.
During the summer after junior year, I lost my contacts and he wouldn’t replace them. So I went through most of my senior year with 20/200 vision. We moved around Thanksgiving my senior year to inner-city Portland. We were completely poor, sharing one room and one bed in a basement of some home. I began working, so I earned enough money to buy glasses. I worked in the cafeteria during lunch so I knew I could eat at least one square meal each day. He moved to LA during the last two months of my senior year for a job. I didn’t want to again, so I stayed with a friend until graduation. In LA, I found a job and was home at 5 pm to cook dinner and just started sleeping early to avoid confrontation. I sought out my brother and found him when I was eighteen. He flew down to see us. He was upset that I was practically dad’s maid and said I should move out on my own. I found my mother too, but dad wouldn’t be anywhere near her, so I met her at the airport during a layover. Within a few months, I gained enough confidence to know I could live on my own, so I started talking about leaving. He of course wouldn’t go for that, and the beatings began again. Finally, our neighbors called the cops, and I was physically removed from a tangle with him. I chose the opportunity to gather my things and move out. He still knew my work phone number, so he would call every day and yell at me and reiterate that he was right and I was wrong. I don’t know what we argued about, but we did. My dad ended up moving to Mexico, selling a car that I bought, and living alone.
I waited two years, so I could qualify for financial aid and go to college. There I met my future husband. On our first date, he drove down to Mexico to meet my dad. My dad shook his hand and made him wait outside while we argued for a couple hours and I gave him money. While I didn’t share my secret initially with my date, he had already seen the worst of my baggage. We married four years later. That was the first time in almost twenty years that my father, mother, brother and I were in the same place at the same time. I was afraid a fight would break out, but my mom and dad didn’t speak to each other. It was a beautiful wedding. My dad had stayed with us for the week prior, while my mom stayed at my future in-laws. A year and a half later, my dad was still arguing with me and complaining that I didn’t spend enough time with him at the wedding, etc. So I told him that he was the only one who ever made me feel that bad and that I was surrounded by people who loved me. I told him I never wanted to talk to him again, and that if he wanted to hear how I was to call my brother. You see, he wanted to live with us (and live off of us), and I knew I had to choose between my life and marriage or him. With his forceful personality, there was no middle ground. So I chose my life, and haven’t spoke to him since. He called my brother once, drunk in a bar in Mexico, but we haven’t heard from him in years. Now I am moving on, afraid still, and with self-doubt, but also with love and hope.
Our daughter’s first birthday is upon us, and we are planning a big celebration. Our son, almost three, picked out a present and card for her, and is learning to share with her. I never celebrated birthdays or holidays growing up. These are stressful times, since I have no history or idea of acceptable behavior, and I have difficulty having peace with myself and others. I miss my mother, but cannot relate to her either. She is a simple Alaskan village girl with her spirit broken because her daughter was taken. She remarried soon after and carried on with her life, but we are not close, and I don’t consider ours a mother-daughter relationship. My brother moved out when he was thirteen and lived with friends and by himself. He is unmarried and is still trying to find his way. We are confidants, and we keep in touch fairly often. My husband has a stable family, and our kids can spend the weekend at their grandparents. My mother-in-law has provided the most nurturing. She has accepted me as a daughter she never had rather than losing a son. I learn each day how to be a wife, mother, daughter, and better human being. When I think about my family, my thoughts run first to the family I have created and entered into. I don’t have to worry about who might find out about us or if my dad would get arrested or me sent away. That part of my life is over, and each year replaces the sad memories with the innocent laughter of our children and the knowledge that I will not become my parents.