Saturday, March 19, 2005

New Beginnings

Endings are really new beginnings in disguise. It might take a long time for the realization to surface and the short-term consequences can be painful, but the long-term effects can far outweigh the initial hurt. The following may be disturbing to some individuals.

My mother was a teenager when I was born and never really knew my biological father. I spent most of the first five years of my life living with my grandparents. I was often told that they considered me the ninth of their eight children. Although they weren't rich at the time, I was given pretty much whatever I wanted. I was spoiled to the nth power. I had always thought the attention was out of affection. Later, the truth would come out and it would prove to be so devastating that I nearly wouldn't recover from the emotional blow.

My mother was what one might consider rebellious. She dated a lot and there were times I wouldn't see her for extended periods. I know that part of it was her need to feel loved and accepted, and that it came from her own childhood experiences. I also know that a part of her resented me, both because of the consequences of bearing a child as an unwed teenager and the fact that many men would shy away from a woman with a child.

My life with my grandparents was filled with everything any child could hope for: I had playrooms filled with any toy I wanted, trips to places like Disneyland and elaborate birthday parties. I spent much time in my grandmother's kitchen learning and experimenting, time in my grandfather's garage playing with the tools and scraps of wood and in the garden finding buried treasure and occasionally helping to plant. I spent hours playing in our yard climbing the fence, swinging on the gate, climbing the trellis or hanging from the trees.

My mother's relationship with my grandparents was volatile, at best. There were constant battles, of which I was many times the center of attention. I began to feel trapped in the middle at a very young age. My grandparents would belittle my mother to me, and my mother would tell me that my grandparents were bad and that I wouldn't understand. And then she would leave me with them - a few occasions were for literally months at a time.

My mother finally ended that cycle when we rented a house by ourselves. It was wonderful at first: I would walk from school to where she worked and she'd let me play on her typewriter or color. We'd go to Burger Chef for kiddie meals or to the A&W Drive-In for chili dogs. I reveled in the attention she gave me that I'd craved for so long.

My mother still dated, but I still wasn't exposed much to the men in her life. For the most part I didn't like them, either. One man was a truck driver with long, bushy hair and a thick beard and mustache. He made my mother laugh and they partied a lot, but I thought he was mean and callous. He ignored my baby sister and me much of the time.

One night when I was seven, I was groggily aware of someone wrapping me up in the blankets of my bed while it was still dark. I remember being confused and afraid as I was carried out to the car along with my sister. We drove for what seemed to be forever. Then my three-year-old sister made everyone laugh when she stood up on the seat and yelled, "Wook at all da mow-tens!" My mother and her new boyfriend had moved us to Virginia, and I was told we were "escaping" my grandparents, who (they said) were terrible people.

It was a picturesque area, but our lives were not so beautiful as our surroundings. My mother married the truck driver soon after our arrival. What began as possessiveness and control quickly turned abusive. My mother was beaten enough to be hospitalized several times. My sister and I were often the targets of his rage, as well. We began to relish those times when my step-father was gone on a long over-the-road trip in his truck.

My mother never made an attempt to intervene or even seek help with what was going on. He would be especially cruel when my mother wasn't around, but she'd brush those instances off to his frustration with our disobedience. How, I wondered, was it ok for this man to punish my baby sister for her lapses in potty-training by washing her mouth out with her own excrement? Or for both my mother and this man to pull us from our beds as we slept and spank us hard enough to leave handprints on our bare bottoms because they'd thought in their drunkenness that we were "faking it"?

My step-father's abuse continued even through my mother's next pregnancy. My mother finally eventually left him and moved back to Indiana with my grandparents. It wasn't long before the fights with them once again ensued. My step-father begged my mother's forgiveness and he moved back to Indiana.

Nothing changed after the reconciliation of my mother and step-father. We moved several times to different neighborhoods for various reasons, and by the time I reached Junior High I'd gone to six elementary schools.

Even though my sister and I (my brother was exempt from the rages, since he was my step-father's own child and the "only boy") were slapped, punched, and thrown around like rag dolls, I couldn't get an adult to listen. I was told I was being rebellious or even lying when I would try to tell teachers and counselors at school. At one point, it was suggested that my parents send me to a therapist. My mother and step-father told them that I made up stories for attention. The consensus was that I was "disturbed".

The worst of the fights between my parents came on New Year's when I was twelve. My mother ended up in the hospital's intensive care unit for four months with fractures in her skull, broken ribs, a punctured lung and dozens of other injuries. My step-father ended up in jail for six months. My sister, brother and I stayed with my grandparents. Still, my mother took him back and despite several attempts to leave, has stayed with him to this day. I found out recently the abuse has continued on.

The one truly good experience I had during my mother's marriage came when we moved to Connecticut. It was beautiful there, and the only place I truly felt at home. Even through the verbal and physical abuse of my home life, I found escape through drama classes, choir practices and hiking the gorgeous area around where we lived. Still, my home life became too much to bear and I made the decision to leave. I moved in with my best friend's parents until I could make the trip to Wisconsin, where my grandparents now lived.

It was about a year after the move that I met my now ex-husband. Our relationship had two extremes: half the time we were the best of friends and the other half was as violent as my life with my parents. It took me seven years to gather the courage to leave.

The last night my grandfather was alive I was there, holding his hand. I told him that I loved him and that I'd miss him. He died a few hours later. I called my mother and told her that he was gone, to which she replied "Good, he's finally going to get what he deserves." I was furious. How could she say such a thing? She merely said "Shan, you have no idea what we went through."

I snapped, as all the hurt from my childhood boiled up inside me. "No, Mother. I'll tell you who had a rough childhood. We did, Mother. We got the shit knocked out of us on a daily basis while you sat back and pretended nothing happened. We had to watch while HE damn near killed you and were asked to forgive and forget and pretend nothing happened. We were the ones that went through shit." My mother simply hung up. We didn't speak again for almost three years.

I had always known that I had been molested as a child, but never knew who the perpetrator was. Everyone in the family pointed the finger at someone else, depending on who was on the "shit list" in any given week. The year my oldest daughter was born, I began a sexual abuse therapy group that would last twelve weeks.

The group was difficult, as I didn't have the vivid memories that everyone else shared. What I did have was a recurring nightmare: I was a small child in a long, narrow bed in a dark room. A man's silhouette would appear in the doorway, and the next thing I saw was his hands near my face. I would wake up feeling scared, dirty and violated; sometimes screaming.

Toward the end of the group's course of meetings, I had been working on one of our "homework" projects and sat thinking about the nightmare, trying to concentrate enough to see the face. Suddenly, it was as if my dream-eyes had adjusted to the light. I recognized the room as the one I'd slept in at my grandparent's home. The realization that the man I'd thought of for so long as my personal hero and father figure was the one who'd done so much damage to me as a small child younger than five. And it was my grandmother who had instigated it.

I first called my grandmother's home. My cousin answered, and I asked her if what I thought was true. She calmly replied, "Well, yeah, Shanna. Everyone knew that."

"Why the hell didn't anyone tell me all this time?" I asked furiously. She rather sarcastically retorted, "Shanna, that was over twenty years ago, why would you need to know all that now? He's a different man. He changed. Just move on and forgive and forget." I hadn't realized how sick my family was until that very moment.

The next call I made was to my mother. I told her everything and we cried, sharing disgusting family stories. Neither of us realized the other had gone through such similar experiences. Maybe it was that we were just too close to the situation to face reality. I don't know.

Last year my family made amends after 23 years. My mother began speaking to my grandmother again. I was the odd one out, which was pretty typical of my later childhood. My usefulness had run out, and I had spoken out against the inner circle.

I've spent much of my life either seeking approval from my family or trying to prove them wrong. So much so that I've messed up in my endeavors more than succeeded in them. It became a cycle that quickly spiraled so far down that I no knew who I was or what I wanted for myself. So much time was spent worrying about what everyone else wanted or what they might think that there wasn't anything left for myself.

I finally disowned my family just before Christmas. It was the healthiest decision of my adult life.


letti said...

I felt so bad for you when I was reading your story, but at the end of it, I felt that you were a strong strong person and that made me feel proud of you after all the horrors that you had gone through. No child should ever have to experience all of that and i'm sorry they happened to you. *hugs*

Michele said...

Just because you have the same blood doesn't be any means you must love, care or put up with what they've done to you.

I'm curious about the part about your grandmothers part in this?

You survived, and you ended the cycle! I'm so proud of you.