New Year’s Eve 1978, my mother and stepfather were in a car with 5 other people when, a hard turn was taken and the car crashed into the “C” canal in Blythe, California. The three passengers in the front, my stepdad, my mother and my stepdad’s sister, were trapped in the car and ultimately drowned, while the four passengers in the back were able to swim out to get help. Obviously that help didn’t come on time. There are varying versions of the events of that night. One story claimed my mother was still breathing when they pulled her out of the water, and even managed to express her last wishes that we NOT live with our grandfather, her father. Another story says that despite law enforcement being called to the scene in time to make a difference, they didn’t make it there until several hours after the accident, so obviously she couldn’t have been breathing. They were rushing home to be with us and despite the speculation of drug use, the toxicology reports proved otherwise. When they left us that evening, I was having an epic temper tantrum because they could find no one to leave us with but the “John Wayne” babysitter . This crazy tyrant hated kids. We weren’t allowed to speak and only allowed to watch John Wayne movies on a floor model TV while sitting on the cold, hardwood floor. I hated cowboys then as I was a self identified Indian in my mind.
I was a serious and quiet child with a quick temper. I’ve been told I was very close to my mother and threw temper tantrums that made it difficult for others to connect with me. I was considered obstinate and rebellious. The only thing is, I don’t remember it that way at all. Yes, I do remember I was a deep thinker and well beyond my years but I never intended on being the stubborn and unlikable child they would have me believe. In fact, I just loved my mom and to me, she wasn’t just my mother, she was my best friend . I hated leaving her to go to school so I often refused. Though I’ll admit I was a bit precocious , I can’t say for sure what caused that in me. Oh, some think it was my being molested by an uncle when I was just 2, others think it was my mother’s parenting style. All I know is… it just was.
I’ll spare you the details of foster homes and custody battles but…my sisters and I were being hidden from authorities by family and friends who refused to turn us over to be split up and put into homes . A grandfather in Virginia I had never known existed, not to mention met, came banging on the door one day, demanding his grandchildren . They replied with a firm, “Get the fuck out of here “!! He left but he eventually returned with police in the lead, bursting through the door, finding us in closets , throwing us over their shoulders, traumatizing yet again … ending forever one life and beginning another .
We are sitting in the plane, on our way to Virginia and leaving the only home we’ve known. Back then they served you actual hot meals on the flight and as the stewardess came around asking for orders , I said I wanted pork chops. Pork chops weren’t on the menu but some other meat was, so to please me, I was given what I wanted. I took a couple of bites before deciding I didn’t want it.
We finally landed and after a long van ride, we ended up in a small county in Virginia on an orchard owned by a doctor, managed by my grandparents . We worked harder than any other kids we knew. We were sheltered from typical childhood activity, allowed no sleepovers or visits and immersed into strict religion yet we had never even been taught there was a God. I was a true fish out of water. More than anything , I was a little girl who had lost her everything. My mother and best friend was gone and I considered myself the protector of my sisters. My biological dad had died in an accident when I was only a few months old. Though my sisters and I didnt share fathers, we shared experiences few could even imagine. I refused to call my step grandmother “mom” and I refused to allow my younger sisters to forget their mother. Whether it was my quiet and seemingly defiant way or the evil calculation they thought was inspired by the devil himself , or, an obvious need of a kid for love and counseling to cope…things went very bad and very fast.
At first we were showered with attention, sympathy and overindulgence of gifts . That eventually gave way to life and in that life I became the focus of my grandparents’ frustration and misery. This turned into abuse. Abuse I will not get into here…abuse my mother knew of as she hated her own father due to her own very bad experiences . He was a dry alcoholic (a person who isn’t recovered but isn’t drinking). No, he wasn’t drinking all the time then but he acted every bit as if he did. At his worst he was a raging alcoholic who beat my bio grandmom and his kids and was the perpetual philanderer. He was irresponsible, a pathological liar and an evil sort. He had served in Korea after being forced into the military and could never keep a job. He was a gun toting menace to society draped in chains, rings, heavy cologne and bullshit for days… I think you get this picture.
As a girl, I liked school and the teachers took to me easily. They tutored me to catch me up on all the missed school and I soon flourished in spite of all the torture at home. I loved to write and read and loved fantasy, magic ….anything from the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe to Cinderella and Peter Pan…I also loved writing along the same genres. I was creative and animated as I would write, draw pictures and then read the stories aloud in class. Writing purged what I couldn’t speak …
One Christmas I was given a diary with a lock!!! It was my favorite Christmas gift besides my books and art tools. I used the diary as I should’ve because hey, it had a tiny key and naively I thought I could just share and share into the abyss. Yea, should I have expected an ulterior motive out of guardians ? Yes. But…I wanted to believe .
Getting off the bus from school one day, I see our step grandmother in her favorite summer outfit of a halter top and shorts as she baked in the sun while working outside. She was standing with hands on hips, bright red at the end of the very long driveway. As I enter the small mobile home and go to my room, a room shared with my sisters in this cramped structure situated on the plantation like orchard…she follows me. She begins to scream and berate and tear into me about the feelings I shared in my notes. Spit shot from her mouth as she furiously picked apart every detail as a “gotcha” moment .
I never wrote in a diary again, I also never fully opened up again…
A year or two later I ended up in state custody and in hospitals and while I bonded with some of the best therapists you could have , I still held on to so much . I will not undervalue the help the women gave me, don’t get me wrong . Without their help I would’ve surely killed myself . I tried once to take my life at age 12. I drank a bottle of hydrogen peroxide until I threw up violently . No one knew about that until recently, a deep, dark, sad moment in time when I truly wanted to die . I cried myself to sleep almost every night with the only relief coming from visits from church people such as The Rothes, wonderfully warm and gentle people, full of love. I enjoyed their presence but also would get reprieve from ire or beatings for the night. To them and others like them, I’ll be forever grateful.
And so it went, a tumultuous teenage life filled by running away, partying for days and reckless, dangerous behavior. But then, I was saved by my firstborn child . I went on to go to school and get great jobs. I then had my son. I was smart and I was going to be successful. My kids and I were going to have a great life.
However, in all that time I continued to internalize and live my life as if in solitary confinement . As talented and sincere as I knew I was, I never felt as good as everyone else in the room. I took some pain pills one night for a back injury and eventually had a breakdown of monumental sorts fueled by a very serious addiction and risk taking behavior that cost me everything . It was only after that breakdown and the ultimate loss of my daughter that I decided to take the power back taken from me years before …I have had enough already.
My life is now an open book; the world is my notebook; my pain a masterpiece. Sometimes my diary might look sad and dark and other times it will be uplifting, inspiring and hopeful… but …it’s always my truth and my freedom now and until I take my final breath.
Don’t live your life in solitary confinement. Get your suffering out of you and let no one shame you into harboring secrets that make you sick and that will eventually kill you . Get help, reach out and write it down. ♡