The summer of 1988 was truly an awesome experience for me. While working at the camp in North Carolina I laughed more than I had in years. It took me time to gain my confidence. I was so incredibly shy. I found it painful to have anyone look at me. In high school because I already had my foundation of friends by the time Daddy started beating me down I didn’t have to worry about creating new ones. But camp was my first experience of having to meet new people after three years of abuse. I had lost my skills to be able to interact with people and I felt extremely vulnerable. Aside from my lack of social skills, there was anger, pain and fear. I was a mess.
While at camp I began placing Daddy on a pedestal and presenting him as the idealistic father. Anyone who knew me at that time would certainly back up that fact. Listen, it wasn’t a conscious decision to basically create a new father. It is common for people who are abused to protect their abuser. The other reason was because I was jealous of the other people around me. They were my age and had both parents who did wonderful things for them. They weren’t made to cook, clean and do their parent’s taxes. They didn’t seem to have parents who hurt them like Daddy was hurting me. I was embarrassed by my dad and never wanted people to meet him. You know, Jews were known to love and care for their children. How in the fucking hell did I get the one Jewish parent who didn’t? It was here where I was able to create a new father and create a new persona for myself in order to cope. It was convenient. Because no one lived near me the truth would never be revealed. However, even though I said I “created” a new father, I honestly believed I had that father. I could not or would not see who he actually was which would become my greatest obstacles to overcome.
One difficult part of camp was trying to meet people because most of the staff had grown up together. I don’t know how I had the courage. New situations which became more difficult after Momma died made me crazy. In those situations I didn’t know how to talk to people and be myself. I was awkward and would say the dumbest things. However, I was determined to meet people even when I knew others found me so strange. My craving and need to interact with others was just strong enough I suppose.
It was a slow process to become more social at camp. There were so many new faces. I was overwhelmed with the many strong personalities. I was so not in their league. I couldn’t imagine standing in front of people and yet so many at this camp were able to perform for the entire camp. OK, I would never be able to build up that much confidence but I was able to go beyond any of my wildest expectations. And as a result I gained many wonderful memories and found amazing friends. Each personal hurdle I climbed gave me a boost of confidence to go a little farther. Obviously, it would take more than a summer to really begin to overcome many of my issues but it was a great start.
While at camp there were many amazing people who unknowingly empowered me. Whether it be through their kindness, a hello/how are you, a smile or asking me my name, they made me feel legitimate and valued. Something seemingly so benign to many was huge to me because of what I had been through. One person was particularly significant to me and you’ll know why in a moment. Her timing in my life, I strongly believe, was Bashert. She was a staff member’s mom who was known by most of the staff. This beautiful lady was little in stature but let me tell you her heart and smile were huge. She had a very warm feeling about her. She definitely was my stereotype of a Jewisha Momma. She and I would often be walking to the dining room at the same time. The first few days she’d nod her head at me and wish me a good morning. Then, one day she asked me my name. I remember looking at her and like an idiot I pointed to myself as if to say, “You talking to me?” I had no idea why she wanted to talk to me. She smiled and said, “Yes, you. I don’t know you and wanted to meet you.” Wow, I was valuable to someone enough to want to meet me? That means she actually saw me. I was noticed. I had two emotions as a result. Unadulterated fear and excitement that I was worthy to another person.
As she walked closer to me, she told me she knew I was new at camp. I was baffled as to why she’d even care to meet me. In my head I kept beating myself up. I started saying things like “I wasn’t important enough for her to even talk to me”. I was sweating bullets I was so nervous. I didn’t want to look stupid and wanted to say the right thing.
When I told her my name and where I lived, she continued to ask me more questions. She asked about my parents and what they did for a living. I told her my dad was a lawyer and that my mom had died 3 years past. As soon as I told her about Momma she walked closer to me, gave me a hug and said,”Oh, I am so sorry. You were so young. That must be so difficult.” I felt incredibly uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to a stranger caring and caring enough to give me a hug. I hadn’t known that warmth in so long. I had forgotten how it felt. I reassured her I was OK. Boy was I such a liar! Maybe she saw through me, I don’t know. But, she told me if I ever needed anything I was welcomed to come to her. I adored her warmth and was jealous she couldn’t be my mom. I always enjoyed seeing her during the summers. And even though we never had in depth conversations or conversations that went beyond the usual chit chat, it was her warmth and kindness I will always hold dear. When I heard she had breast cancer, I cried not just for her but especially for her children. I knew what breast cancer had done to my family and it truly pained me to see that G-d damn disease hurt another family. As my mother had, she too lost her battle with the disease. Each year I returned to camp and would walk up that same hill to the dining room, I would feel her walking beside me. Her smile, the nod of her head and the random, “Good morning” was never forgotten.
By the end of camp I felt I had gained a new sense of self and was ready to start college. I was ready get back to Daddy’s house/office to prepare for my year. Little did I know how I would need that confidence and energy just to get through the one week I had at Daddy’s before school started. And like usual Daddy would deplete me of all of my excitement making me feel guilty for leaving him. At some point I’d have to own that guilt but I had to recognize it first. While in the midst of my situation I could not see Daddy’s narcism, control and above all his abuse. How was it that I continued to go back to him and allowed him to beat me over and over again? How much was I going to take? Only I knew and the decision was mine when I was ready.
The college I was going to attend was in the same town I had gone to high school. Before leaving for camp Daddy told me he wouldn’t be able to afford me living in the same town as the college. I would have to live with him which was 30 miles away and commute. I was not happy about it but there was nothing I could do. At least I was in school and Daddy was paying for it. However, I had spent all of my money during high school to pay for my food and living expenses at that time, so it made me nervous to be totally reliant on Daddy. I had what I earned from camp but it wasn’t near enough for what I felt I needed to not have to rely on him. However, it was going to be what it was and I would have to cross that bridge when I came to it. I just had to keep my eyes on my goal.
As a side note I was surprised when Daddy called me during camp to tell me he was “able to swing an apartment for me.” When it came to Daddy there was no telling what this meant so I was suspicious. That was when he told me one of his girlfriends had two nieces who were going to be attending the same college. They needed an extra roommate to help split the rent. I told Daddy I didn’t have the money. He reassured me he’d pay for it. Now, the girlfriend my dad was referring to was the one who told me because I was the “woman” of the household I was to do all of the womanly duties around the house…as a woman I was obligated to help Daddy. So, I wasn’t thrilled to room with her nieces to say the least. But, the upside was at least it did get me away from Daddy.
I was able to visit my new apartment when I returned from camp. It was right next to the college’s campus and was in a good area of town. I felt safe there. There was only one bedroom but it was huge and easily fit the three of us. Even though part of me wasn’t looking forward to living with folks kin to one of my Dad’s girlfriends the thought of not living alone was really nice.
As I was trying to pack and get ready to move into my apartment, Daddy kept calling meetings with me to discuss his lack of money and how he could bring in more. Of course I thought if he’d just work that would help. Instead he was always looking for ways to make money quickly. At first I thought it was his way to back out of wanting to pay for my school and apartment. But, he reassured me that “if it killed him” he’d find a way to pay for those things for me. Oh, he was so dramatic. During those conversations I voiced my concern with getting a job at the start of school. I wanted Daddy to know my concerns because I knew it would be hard for me to balance both. He agreed with me and told me not to worry. Famous last words when it came to my adoring father. Yes, that would be sarcasm.
A few days before I was leaving Daddy sat me down for a yet another meeting about his finances. What the hell? He was fixated on it but would never tell me what he wanted from me. It made me very nervous. If he wanted me to volunteer to quit school, I wasn’t going to do it. Why these long drawn out conversations? Did he expect me to pull money out of my ass? Dammit, I wasn’t his spouse. I was his daughter and I didn’t want to know all he told me.
Finally, days before starting college he told me I would have to get a job. I was so angry. How could he tell me one thing one day and totally change his mind the next day? Listen, I wasn’t beyond having to work. It was just that I found school so difficult so I wanted a chance to do well. When he told me I’d have to get a job, I at least thought I could get one after my first quarter in school. However, that was not what he was suggesting. He wanted me to get a job as soon as I started school. He said he’d continue to pay for school (which I had suspicions was actually coming from a girlfriend but never could find out which one) but I’d have to pay for my apartment and living expenses. So, it would be best for me to get something as soon as possible. I felt so betrayed by him. I had given Daddy my Social Security money I received from Momma and I spent my own money to live off of in high school. I had high hopes he would give something back to me by paying for school and my apartment. I should have known better. I should have figured he would back out of his commitment. Daddy never stood by his promises. He was incredibly angry at me because I was mad at him. I yelled at him, “You never stand behind your promises!” Before I could even finish what I was saying, he stood up and yelled how incredibly selfish I was and threw a paperweight at my head. I ducked. The paperweight hit the wall behind me and shattered. He was furious I had broken his paperweight. It was one I bought him when I was a kid but as usual, he couldn’t remember. Instead he screamed he had gotten it from Momma (making up a crazy story about it that wasn’t true). For whatever reason it was more painful for Daddy to forget who gave him the paperweight than it was for him aiming a paper weight at my head. He threatened to take the car away from me because I was “a spoiled bitch.” All I wanted to do was to run to my room. Oh, yeah, I no longer had a room.I was stuck. If I had chosen to storm out Daddy would have threaten to not pay for anything for me. I had to bite the bullet and calm down for my sake. Daddy told me to clean up the mess I had caused and he stormed out of the room.
I never could understand Daddy’s need to make my life so miserable. Why was I his scapegoat and what did I do to deserve it? It was as if when he thought life wasn’t tough enough for me, he was going to help that along a little bit and make it harder.
The day I packed my car to leave, Daddy actually looked sad. It was so hard for me. He’d be a tyrant one minute and then this sweet loving father the next. Those sweet moments were the very thing that would suck me back into his web. I was so stupid for doing it but I wanted to believe he’d change. As I was packing the car Daddy wanted me to take more of my belongings with me. See, he felt since I had my own apartment, I no longer needed to use his space for storage. Where did he get such an idea? It was a temporary apartment and I would be living with two other people. I had to step carefully. I was able to convince him I could come back later because my car could only fit so much of my things. He agreed.
When I arrived to my apartment I felt good. I was excited as others were moving into their apartments too. My roommates to my surprise were nice. They were very Southern which made me laugh. Each of them had boyfriends, so they spent a lot of time away from the apartment leaving it to me most of the time. I didn’t think I’d like being alone but I enjoyed it. It was only when I was there during holidays when the apartment complex was totally empty I didn’t feel safe. Anyway, I settled in quickly and really enjoyed starting school. There was a really neat excitement in the college air and I couldn’t wait to start my classes.
A few weeks had passed and I was totally emerged in my school work. I already felt overwhelmed and didn’t know how to get help. I asked my professor for advice and went to the after hour labs to help me. It was at this time Daddy began calling me to ask if I had found a job. I hadn’t even looked but I couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t have cared I was focused on my school work. He wouldn’t even allow me to vent and to possibly get advice from him about my worries with school. All he wanted to hear was I had a job. He told me I wasn’t moving fast enough nor taking it seriously enough. I was. I really was! I just didn’t know how to balance it all. It didn’t take long for Daddy to start dropping by my apartment so he could yell at me in person about not having a job. Often he caught me there studying which I thought would have helped to show him my dedication. But instead it made him angry because I wasn’t out looking for a job. His visits embarrassed me. We weren’t living in an isolated house anymore. I was living in an apartment complex, so when he started yelling, the tenants in the other apartments could hear him. Lets just say everyone knew when Daddy made a visit.
One afternoon I got a call from Daddy. This was before caller ID, so not knowing if the call was for a roommate, I had to answer the phone. When I heard his voice I knew it was going to be another argument about my job search. I was in shock when he told me he called to tell me he had found a job for me. I could feel my throat knot up. G-d only knew what kind of job he got me and be expected for me to take. I panicked until he told me. He had met the manager of the local Holiday Inn. Actually, I found out he had met her at a business gathering and he was hitting on her. The position was for an upfront desk clerk. It paid over minimum wage and I could eat all my meals there for free. The bad part was it was full time which Daddy conveniently failed to mention. I couldn’t work full-time! How would I balance full time work and school? That scared the hell out of me and I felt in my gut it wasn’t a good idea. When I told Daddy it was for full-time work, he told me I had no choice but to take the job or he’d take my car away. I couldn’t even explain to him that one of my classes was at the same time they wanted me to report to work everyday. It was halfway through the quarter already. What was I going to do? What a mess! The stress I felt was enormous and scary. However, I was so lucky they allowed me to come an hour later each day until the quarter was over. But that meant I had to work an hour longer. Not good especially with having a 7:00am class but I had to make it work.
Because of my work schedule I never returned to Daddy’s home. I worked every holiday which was depressing. While everyone in my apartment complex left to go to their home during a holiday, I stayed. I hated being the only person in my apartment complex. Thinking back on those times I was so incredibly lonely. I really don’t know how I did it.
Early in the morning one Saturday in November of 1988 Daddy called me from his home/office. He was in excruciating pain and needed me to rush to him to the ER. I was about to head to work so I first needed to contact them to get permission. I couldn’t afford to lose my job. Daddy was so angry with me that I’d even suggest calling my work first. He yelled over the phone, “I could be dead by then.” I called my work anyway. They told me it was fine and I went to get him. I had to drive 35 minutes to get to his home. Then, when I picked him up, I had to go back to my college town where the ER he wanted to go was located. In one of my earlier chapters I explained Daddy’s health. Because of excessive amounts of radiation to treat his testicular cancer, it caused problems with his intestines and colon. He was supposed to eat a low bulk diet but he refused. So, he started getting blockages in his intestines causing him lots of pain. This was the situation when he called me to take him to the ER. As I was driving he sat in the passenger’s seat moaning and holding a bucket in case he had to throw up. He demanded I go fast but while going fast if I hit a bump in the road, he’d get infuriated with me. The entire time I was driving he was calling me all kinds of names and pointing out how of little help I was. When we arrived in my college town the main streets were blocked. There was a parade. Daddy demanded I go through it. I refused. There were high school students playing in a band and walking down the street. There was no way I could plow through them. He didn’t care and was flipping out for me to do as he told me. The angrier he got the more pain he felt. I drove down another street hoping for an opening to get to the hospital but it too was closed. However, there was a policeman. I jumped out of the car and explained to him the situation. Without hesitation he stopped the parade and motioned for us to crossover the street. Daddy yelled at me as I was trying to drive across the street. He said I was trying to kill him by taking so long to get to the hospital. Gosh, why didn’t I think about that? What an opportunity for me! But, that was far from my thoughts. Hell, I just wanted to get him to the ER. which I finally made it.
Daddy had to stay in the hospital for a few days. And because he had to stay, he wanted me to stay too. I told him I had class and work. He was furious that I put those things above him. I hated being in that position! But, I was afraid he’d take the car away and not pay for my school if I didn’t. So I took off of class and work. About a week later Daddy was back home and I was back to my usual schedule, thank G-d! However, I was behind in my classes which had been my greatest fear. I felt like I was in a rat race and didn’t know how to get out. I began to feel sorry for myself and my situation. My anger emerged a lot and all I wanted was to numb myself from everything. I started smoking pot and drinking. Sadly, I progressively used marijuana more and more I became addicted to the numbness I felt while I was stoned. As I kept increasing my pot smoking and was in a doped state a good bit of the time I don’t remember a lot. I was at many parties where there were other drugs but I couldn’t even tell you if I partook. I was out of control. I loved being stoned. It took all of my pain away and I felt free. Also, while stoned and drunk I enjoyed hooking up with guys and doing things I would have never done sober. Once this guy and I drove to a city near the ocean and parked in front of this popular bar in a very popular area. There was a cop in front of the bar as we proceeded to light up a joint and smoke it. We even stumbled out of the car laughing and carrying on like stoned people. I’d also get high and drunk with a guy and give him the impression I would sleep with him. I would even bring him to my apartment and into my bed. And as we’d get hot and heavy, I would stop them. Luckily, none of them got mad at me and insisted I finish the deed. I was very lucky. Thank G-d even stoned I had the peace of mind to be selective and concerned with who I slept with at that time. Knowing my obsessive compulsive self, I would have been so worried for years for what I had done.
I started going to class stoned and hanging out with a new crowd where doing drugs was the norm. One day when I had come out of class I went to light my cigarette. I did it right before opening the outside glass door. At that time I had very long hair. So, when I lit my lighter the way I had leaned over my hair fell onto the flame catching it on fire. The bad part was I didn’t even know I was on fire. Only when I saw the reactions of folks around me did I wonder what was wrong. That was when I looked at my reflection in the glass door and saw I was on fire. But because I was stoned, I calmly took my hand and patted my hair to put it out as if it was nothing. One thing I’ll never forget was that horrible stench of burning hair. That alone should have made me quit if the embarrassment didn’t.
In January of 1989 I came home from class and had a message from Daddy’s girlfriend (the one who my roommates were her nieces) to call her immediately. I had just started my new semester. She never called me so I called her back. She was upset and told me Daddy wasn’t well and he probably was going to die. What? Listen, lady, didn’t you know that was his schtick? You’ve been with him long enough to know. Didn’t you get that memo? She told me this time was different and he was in the hospital in Atlanta. She told me he was going to be kicked out of his home/office and have his utilities cut off because he hadn’t paid his bills. Well, I suppose if he was dying, that wasn’t a pressing issue then. I resented his girlfriend for calling me to fix Daddy’s situation. What did she possibly think I could do? That’s when she told me she just wanted to let me know about Daddy. She said he told her to not tell me or my sister he was ill and probably wouldn’t make it. Even though I knew that was routine for Daddy to be on death’s door, I still couldn’t help but to feel guilty and obligated. I felt so conflicted by her call and found myself feeling a range of emotions.
About 15 minutes after I hung up with her I received a call from the college’s business office. Daddy had not paid my tuition. I only had one month of living expenses in savings. It was enough to pay for tuition but not for books, rent and utilities. I couldn’t afford to pay for everything. I tried to talk to the folks in the business office but there was nothing they could do. They gave me two weeks to pay them which they said they never had done but would for me. Well, even if I was the only one they gave more time to pay, they could not claim they never allowed late payments. Regardless, I welcomed the extra time to figure out what to do.
Daddy’s girlfriend kept calling me to give me updates on his health. I never asked her to do it and had wished she had spared me the turmoil. Her last call to me she told me he was going to make it. She conveniently mentioned again he was going to have to return to his home without electricity because he hadn’t paid his bills. She told me he wouldn’t be able to work for about 3 months and felt he would need me more than he ever had. Why was this woman torturing me? If she wanted him off of her back then stand up to him. Don’t use me!
Even though Daddy had screwed me over time and time again, I loved him. At that time I wasn’t able to understand I had to love him from a distance because of his abusive nature. But, I still believed in Daddy’s ideology that love meant actively doing something for that person to prove to them you loved them. So, I ultimately decided to help Daddy. And in order to help him, I had to quit college. I tried to keep that as my secret. My roommates by that point were living with their boyfriends, so they weren’t around much to possibly tell their aunt. I got two more jobs so I could pay for Daddy’s bills and make sure I had enough for me. I slept 4 hours a night and was exhausted. My life was so far from where I had wanted to be. I was so unhappy.
About 3 months after Daddy was home from the hospital he made a surprise visit to my apartment. He told me my sister had called him to say I was no longer in school. He wanted to know why. He was mad. Well, what the fucking nerve to be angry with me? What the fuck? How did he figure I was going to pay for school when he suddenly, with out telling me stopped giving me the money? I knew he couldn’t help getting sick but how do you totally forget you were paying for your kid’s education, stop with no warning and then never mention it again? On top of it all how did he think his bills were miraculously getting paid? Listen, it wasn’t as if I paid his bills in cash. I paid by check which had my name on it. Daddy either knew and was playing dumb or he somehow thought the places had just let him off the hook. When was the last time you had the electrical company give you a break on paying your bill? Please!
So, there I sat listening to Daddy getting angry because I wasn’t in school. He had the balls to even sit there as if I had taken his money and used it for something other than school. What planet was he from? How could he act so martyr like? I did have his car but everything else I paid for including his bills! Not that I am condoning this behavior but I was glad I was stoned when Daddy confronted me. It allowed me to stay calm and not be reactive to his crazy interpretation of things. He kept pushing me and pushing me though as to why I dropped out. I honestly didn’t think I owed him an explanation but finally I asked him, “Please explain how you were on the verge of having your electricity turned off and then suddenly you several months of zero balance on your bills?” I never told him that I paid it but I did plant the idea because I wanted him to open his G-d damn eyes. I wasn’t sitting on my ass doing nothing. I was supporting me and my supposed “helpless” father. Meanwhile, couldn’t anyone see I was screaming for help. I know my personality had changed. I was so angry no one seemed to care. It was always about what I wasn’t doing. And all I wanted was a family and most of all I wanted my family back. I really had enough of my life and wanted out. And at that time my addiction was the only way out I knew. The more depressed I became the more I used and the harder I continued to fall. That was not how I envisioned my first year of college. I did want more out of life but I was stuck. I didn’t want to know reality because it was so painful. I wanted someone to be there for me and to help me. I hated being alone in life. So, here I was no longer in school and heading down a dangerous road of addiction. Maybe it was Momma standing over me giving me the push I needed because there was something gnawing at me to get away from my situation. That something ended up being the Young Judaea Year Course program which friends of mine had suggested the prior summer. No clue how I was going to make it happened, I didn’t care and was going to beg or borrow to go. I knew it was my way out. I could get away from my abuse, my hard life and hopefully open my eyes to other ways to cope. And bottom line I was too afraid to do anything illegal in another country so I felt the program was a perfect option.
I contacted the organization and got all of the information. I filled out all of the paperwork. I wasn’t sure they’d allow me to attend since they accepted students right out of high school and before attending college. I went to Daddy’s house and presented him with all of the information but I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I told him I needed to go. Here’s the thing. Daddy knew I was making bad choices but he wanted me to help him. As long as I helped him I’d stay out of trouble, right? Hell, no! I knew I needed to get away. Well, knowing Daddy as well as I did I knew if I was able to get one of his girlfriends thinking it was a good idea, she’d be able to convince him. The problem was I had to pick the right girlfriend because if I chose unwisely I would not have had another chance to get him to let me go. And so, I chose the girlfriend who was very strong in her Christian faith. She LOVED Israel. I just knew talking to her would work. And guess what? IT WORKED! Daddy agreed I could go on that program which was to live in Israel for 9 months. He offered to pay for it but I knew he only had because he had to be a big shot in front of his girlfriend. You know what, though? I didn’t care. Money, schmoney. I was determined to find a way. I was above the moon. I knew that was my ticket out. Words couldn’t describe my excitement. My one and only worry was Daddy would at the last second tell me I couldn’t go but I couldn’t think that way. I had to move forward and figure out on my own how to make it happen. I found scholarships for 80% and with some careful hoop jumping was able to get two of Daddy’s girlfriends to offer to pay the rest. Now, the funny part was each of his girlfriends thought they were the only one. So, getting two of them involved to help me was a dangerous game to play but dammit, I was willing to take that change.
I continued working my jobs until a week before leaving for Israel. The funny part was I ended up transferring to a Holiday Inn in a bigger town and lived with another one of Daddy’s girlfriends. While working at that hotel I met an Israeli family who’s husband had been working at a nearby military base. He had just completed his two years and they were heading back to Israel. They became a wonderful surrogate family for me while I was there. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to leave. I knew I had been given a second chance and I embraced my new opportunity.
At this point I swore to make better choices for myself, to respect myself more and to deal with my personal pain in a healthier manner. And so I stepped out of another difficult period of my life with hopes of a better future. Certainly I didn’t come out of it unscathed. I certainly lost a few brain cells along the way. However, it did teach me about my weaknesses and where I never wanted to go again. It was a time for me to take my life by it’s horns and steer it in the direction that was good for me. As you will see I do take hold of the horns but there will be a few detours before I eventually reach my destination.