**Please note, this post includes mentions of child abuse.**
It’s time to meet the management, also known as the adults who ruled my life.
Up first, my mother. Let’s call her M.
M became pregnant with me at just sixteen years old and gave birth at seventeen. She spent the majority of her pregnancy in a girl’s home in the state capital, shipped away to hide the pregnancy.
It was the family’s intention that my mother give me up for adoption. In fact, it was all set to happen–the family was picked out and the arrangements made–but when she was six months pregnant, M changed her mind. I came along a few months later.
If we’re meeting the management, I have to introduce my maternal grandmother, Lois. I spent a lot of time with her, summers and breaks from school. She was an interesting woman. She loved me, in her own warped way. But my grandmother was very old-fashioned, and having a daughter who not only got pregnant at sixteen, but chose to have that child out of wedlock, did not sit well with her. For reasons I will never fathom, she held my mother’s choices against me. Of my mother’s three children, I was her least favorite. I will always believe it is because I was the “bastard child.”
The irony in all this is my grandmother was far from perfect. She had a child out of wedlock–my uncle–who was the product of an extramarital affair. She was married multiple times, like my mother, yet she continually criticized M for it. Her inability to put aside her preconceived notions regarding what a family should look like were one of the many reasons I began to avoid her.
As I grew older and began to discover my grandmother’s hypocrisy, it became more difficult to be around her. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I was actively avoiding spending time with her as her attitude toward me had become too difficult to handle.
I never knew my biological father. His family kept him out of my life. I met him for the first time when I was eighteen and spent a whopping thirty minutes with him. Any time I attempted contact after that, it was thwarted by his wife. She intercepted every card, every letter, and every email, insisting all communication go through her. He died never knowing his grandchildren.
Instead of a real father in my life, I had an ever-changing list of stepfathers.
Stepfather number one is my sister’s father. I don’t remember much of my life with him. M married him when I was two and they divorced when I was five. My memories of him are like faded Polaroids. I can barely make them out.
Number two was a nightmare. He was physically and emotionally abusive. My life with him was Hell from day one. I was tied up with trash bags, had dirty socks stuffed in my mouth, spit balls spit at me, was locked in my room, and tortured daily. He found it funny to scare me until I cried or to force me to smoke cigarettes at just six years old. I was left locked in a car without food or water for hours while he and his friends hung out. He was a drunk who would wake me up in the middle of the night to feed and diaper my younger brother. By then, I was nine years old. After my brother was born, the abuse got worse. I was nothing to him, a bothersome brat who was part of the package when he married my mom. I cried tears of happiness after my mother divorced him when I was ten.
Husband number three was young, just twenty-four when he married my thirty-year-old mother. I was thirteen. The man had no clue how to be a father. Again, I was physically and emotionally abused. A dirty dish found in the sink full of clean ones resulted in severe punishment, usually a beating with a belt. I was constantly accused of things I didn’t do and punished for them despite the truth coming out proving I was innocent of the accusations. I was the built-in babysitter for my younger brother, forced to give up my life and the things I wanted to do because I had to take care of R. He somehow became my responsibility.
Some of you may be wondering where my mother was during all of this. As sad as it is, most of the time, she was right there, so worried about keeping the current man in her life happy that she was willing to sacrifice her daughter’s happiness for them. She didn’t believe me when I told her what was happening. Or maybe she turned a blind eye to it. Who knows? To this day, she can’t face what was done to me growing up and she won’t talk about it. M has convinced herself that my childhood was idyllic. My refusal to go along with this is part of why we no longer speak.
How do you fight the abuse when you are just a child? Where do you turn when the only person who is supposed to be your ally isn’t there for you?
I turned to books. I spent my childhood hiding from everyone, hiding from the abuse, and hiding from my so-called parents. I stayed in my room to escape the torment that was my life. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. Books quite literally saved my life. I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, found love at Sweet Valley High, and learned about the things that went bump in the night from Stephen King. I read Reader’s Digest, magazines, catalogs, whatever I could get my hands on. If there was a library close by, that’s where I was.
So, you’ve met the management. Or part of them anyway. There were two more husbands after number three, but by then, I was seventeen years old and basically taking care of myself.
Next up, leaving the trailer park.