During my Senior year of high school I was so nervous to live with a family I didn’t know. I knew the daughter from school but we were in different circles of friends. However, she was always so nice to me and never judgmental. The daughter had a calm nature about her which was quite peaceful. It wasn’t something I was used to at all. I was accustomed to chaos and constant upheaval. Remember, I was taught to trust no one and always assume the worst from someone. The daughter and (I would quickly discover) her parents were anything but what I was taught by Daddy. They were kind, caring and above all they trusted me. Wow, that meant so much to me especially because they didn’t even know me. Daddy taught me to not even trust my own sister and friends we had known for years and yet these people who didn’t even know me gave me their trust. It really was mind blowing to me and my first introduction to a new way of thinking. This was the first time I began assessing how I was taught. Living with this family allowed me to see first hand there was something wrong with how I was being treated by Daddy and most of all I did not deserve it. It would still take me years to understand and admit my abuse at the hands of my father but a wonderful seed had been planted by this family. And as I would grow up and experience life more, that seed would blossom giving me the wisdom and just enough strength to fight for a different path than that of my father’s. For that I am forever grateful to them.
Gosh, while living with this family I was incredibly gun shy from Daddy’s constant barrage of hateful words and physical abuse. Can I tell you how difficult that is for me to write? Even now I’d like to call it something other than what it was. But, there’s no doubt it was abuse. And, I never realized how his abuse effected me in everyday life. I remember eating lunch one Saturday in the kitchen of that family who hosted me. The mom thanked me so much for emptying the dishwasher for her. Her appreciation made me feel so happy inside. I had never been thanked and it felt so nice. However, I was afraid she’d soon turn angry because I had not done something right when cleaning out the dishwasher. “Happy” didn’t stay for very long at our house and I was always anticipating for the other shoe to fall no matter where I was. After the mom thanked me, she in the most loving way told me I had placed an item in the wrong drawer and she showed me the correct location. OH NO! I had done something wrong. She hates me. I was mortified. I apologized. She told me it was OK because there was no way for me to have known where the item was to go. But, I knew underneath she was so angry with me. That was it. I was going to be kicked out. I could feel my insides ripping apart with fear. I held back my tears the best I could until I could put my lunch away and get to the bathroom. Once in the bathroom, I turned on the water in the sink to muffle my crying. I was so angry at myself for screwing everything up. I hated that Daddy was right about me and I was just an idiot who failed at everything. G-d dammit! I hated myself!
Well, needless to say this wonderful family did not kick me out. It was amazing to recognize that even without Daddy present, I managed to continue to beat myself up. I had no idea and hate to say I still do it to this day. It’s just easier to see it from years ago than it is to recognize it in the present. How G-d damn hard it is to change it though. It’s so frustrating to see another legacy Daddy gave me. I think I’ve come so far and yet so much still lingers.
As my Senior year progressed, I was a calmer and happier person. I know it sounds crazy but I really didn’t know why or more accurately, I didn’t want to know why. There were a lot of fun events our classmate’s parents were hosting and I got to attend them all (which Daddy would have never allowed). I’ll never forget one of the events. A classmate and her mom were hosting a mother/daughter tea at their home. I wasn’t going to go, well, because I didn’t have a mom. As a side note it does kill me that Daddy kept my sister and I separated. I have no doubt she would have loved to have taken me. But, under the circumstances that wasn’t an option. Anyway, the mom at the home I was staying was going to take her daughter and offered to be my surrogate mother so I could also attend. As strong as I seemed to be on the outside, I was a basket case on the inside. I was afraid to cry because I was afraid I’d never be able to stop. But, being at the Mother/Daughter tea was difficult and I wasn’t sure I could make it through. I found myself not so strong then. Seeing all of the daughters with their moms made me think what I could have had if Momma was there. Gosh, Momma had only died two years before. Why wouldn’t I have been missing her? But, Daddy never let me mourn her loss and made me feel obligated to stay strong. Listen, no one could take my pain of missing Momma away but my surrogate mom who escorted me (and her own daughter) to this event did make it easier for me that day. I can’t even begin to say how much that meant to me for her to make sure I felt included. And even more so, I was so appreciative to the daughter who had to share her mom that day.
To witness life in a normal household was truly awing to me. I was blown away at every turn. There was no screaming or yelling or name calling or hateful exchanges. Once the daughter argued with her mom about something and her mom just firmly told her what she expected. Voices were raised. They were both mad but as I would have to learn, they were respectful and loving. They never crossed that line. Listen, I’m sure every family has their issues but mine was so dysfunctional I really was out of touch with reality. Also, I had been beaten down for so long and told how worthless I was, it made me dumbfounded when this family treated me with mutual respect. Why would they? As I got older I would realize it was just the right thing to do. But at this time in my life I saw everything with such a skewed lens but didn’t know it was skewed until I had contact with people in healthier relationships. I had to learn what was unhealthy and what was really love. My sister in law once said how powerful we are as parents. Meaning, we could teach a child the ceiling is the floor and visa versa. Well, in some ways that was what Daddy did to me. I saw everything in a totally opposite way than the rest of the world and the power was in me to disassemble all that I knew and figure out what needed to be returned to Daddy. Not so easy when I knew the floor as the ceiling and the ceiling as the floor.
Not too long ago I was watching a show on teens who were homeless. One of the teens was the age I was after Momma died. For whatever reason her parents were absent in her life, so she was temporarily living with a friend and her parents. There was something that teen said which was a dawning moment for me and made me realize the pain I had carried with me for many years. She said,”Even though the family I am staying with have done so much to welcome me and make me part of their family, I am always reminded that I’m still the guest. I can never feel totally comfortable or ever put my guard down or I would be seen as a rude guest. I’m tired of being the guest. Sometimes I want to forget I am one and I emotionally become a part of the family. That’s when I get hurt especially when I’m asked to leave over a weekend so my bedroom can be used for an actual family member. The pain of rejection and the reality of being without a family is so overwhelming. ” Once she made that statement it dawned on me I had done that too. I had imagined being a part of the family I was living with during my Senior year as well as another family that I will mention later. I was so lonely, by myself and scared. I wanted so badly to be cared for and loved in the way a parent was supposed to love their child. I was so jealous and I longed for that security. There were so many days and nights I wept from the pain of what I thought was rejection from those families. I often hear Daddy’s voice telling me I just wasn’t good enough and I deserved it. The pain caused from that void is so strong and extremely hard to shake. And even at 41 which I can’t believe I’m admitting, but I am still looking for those parents to love me unconditionally and care for me. And I don’t mean care for me in the sense of the physical needs. I mean to care for me in the emotional. I know through the process of reviewing my life I will not only need to make Daddy responsible for what he did to me, my sister and our family but I will also need to mourn the loss of my parents which I cannot expect others to replace. Coming to terms with my father’s abuse has been an incredibly difficult and complicated one for me but letting go of the idea I have been parentless since 1985 when Momma died will be the most difficult and painful.
While I stayed with this family my senior year Daddy came by to see me only a handful of times. The crazy part was I missed him and I think he actually missed me. Listen, even though I was living with this family, they had their own lives to live. I usually prepared and ate my own dinner. Daddy made it clear I was not to burden them and was to take care of myself. They would offer and would ask for me to join them but I usually ate my meals alone and spent time alone in my bedroom. I was living in someone else’s house and I had to always be mindful of it. I loved Daddy more than words could describe and enjoyed when he’d come to visit. But, I have to admit I liked it because he was ALWAYS on his best behavior when he came. He NEVER slipped showing his “other” side. Who knows why? Maybe because he needed me to stay where I was. After all, he didn’t want to care for me himself so it was beneficial to him to keep his cool. I had such a crazy mixture of emotions. I missed Daddy but I knew with him came everything I hated about him. Parts of me felt he didn’t come by too often because there was no longer an obligation (I guess he had some since of it) to check on me. Whereas, when I was home alone and even though he’d be gone as long as a month, he did have a feeling he needed to check on me.
My year was coming to an end more quickly than I wanted. The thought of having to leave where I was staying sent me into a terrible panic. But, I had to leave as they had family arriving for the graduation celebrations and needed the room I was using. I was terrified to head out to the next stage of my life. And even though being there made me miss having my own family it did provide a wonderfully safe and peaceful environment I hadn’t known in many years.
After I graduated from High School I spent my summer as a counselor at a Jewish camp in North Carolina. My sister helped me figure out what I needed to do to apply and she thought I would make good money for my following year at college. Yep, I got into a college. I had no idea how I did with the grades I had but I was relieved nonetheless that I made it into one. However, I couldn’t even think about college because my first worry was going to a summer camp where I knew no one. I was incredibly terrified. I HATED new situations. And yet I went anyway and I was so glad I did. I made wonderful friends who even 20 years later I’m proud to still have them in my life. More importantly though as I continued to return to this camp to work for another 10 years, it gave me a sense of purpose and belonging which I desperately needed. Looking back on my first summer there, I have no doubt it gave me many opportunities that thankfully veered me off of a dangerous path I was soon going to take. It’s interesting. I can’t put my finger on one situation that was life altering. It really was Bashert that I was presented with the right opportunities just at the right time in my life and all of those events together saved me from self destruction. Although it would be another 16 years before I would be able to totally break away from my abuser, the groundwork was being laid.