Tuesday, June 28, 2016


When Mom M gets really angry, she lifts both eyebrows up into her forehead and squishes one down to make a furrow that could rival the Grand Canyon. In a resting state, her eyes are big and beautiful. In an angry state they work independently. One becomes enlarged with a working laser that burns a brand mark on your soul. The one with the Grand Canyon over it becomes smaller and sharp projectiles shoot out of the small opening to slice your ego into unrecognizable pieces.  She never once hit me. I am probably still supposed to be in my room to live out a grounding sentence, but she never hit me. 

Prior to moving into her house, she was my guardian angel. I came to her house with my hair chopped off and she turned it into a beautiful haircut. She always had projects that needed one more pair of hands. She knew, or at least suspected, that I was failing to thrive. Her subtle interventions were nurture enriched injections to help me sustain life.

When the M-Family moved to the Wild Horse house they took my safety net with them. There was no one to keep my step mother in check. No one to see the bruises. No one to drop by to hear the yelling. No one heard the wailing. There was no one who would ask me if I was OK. As long as my step mother was done with me by 6 p.m., no one would know a thing. 

I don't know what caused the M-Family to ask if I could live with them. When Dad came into my room to talk me into it, there was no need for the sales pitch. I wanted him to be sad that he wasn't going to see me except on Holidays.  Instead his sales pitch emphasized that I could see him on Holidays. 

I was grateful, but I arrived into my new home with no family skills and no sense of trust. I needed training in everything from appropriate female hygiene to proper emotional response. 

Mom-M taught me how to be a girl. I had not been treated like a girl before. I was a boy with long hair for my Dad and a caged animal for my step mother. Becoming a girl took great effort on my part. It had to take even more patience on Mom-M's behalf. 

"Look how beautiful you are!" 

I didn't believe her. I loved hearing her say it. I needed to feel her smile at me. It felt like I was stealing someone else's  praise. There was Sissy standing next to me looking like a model out of Teen magazine. I wanted to be pretty like her. I wanted pretty to be as easy for me as it was for her. I don't know how Mom-M could find me beautiful when she had real beauty so close by. My conclusion; she lied. 

What I did accept to be true was her example of how Mothering works. She did not come from a healthy emotional environment, so she did her best to create a good environment for us kids. Only one of us was hers by birth, but we all got our fair share of what she had to offer. 

She was a maker. She made clothes, decorated cakes, cut our jello into shapes, crocheted, made macrame plant hangers and never seemed to run out of things to make. She was always willing to teach us how to make something. We were always receiving pieces of her time in both attention and made things. 

Ah! Ah! Ah!

This means stop dead in your tracks. It works on kids, dogs, cats, and husbands. I believe it could stop a wind storm if she had a megaphone. This is how she controlled two teenage girls and two rambunctious boys. If we didn't comply we got the angry look. 

In many ways discipline had a bigger impact on me with the M-Family than I was accustomed to. It was far less physical stress, but emotionally, my only coping tool was to believe I could never be loved. Every time I got in trouble it was because they could not love me. I wanted them to love me. I did not know how to stop messing up. 

By the time we moved to Helix, the storm inside my head was turning into funnel clouds waiting to touch down. I loved that school. It was tiny. Little brother and Sissy went to one building, while I went to High School in the building next to it. They were attached by a breezeway. 

It was easy to make friends there. New students were rare and the fresh meat lured in everyone looking for a new flavor. It was impossible to disappear into the back of the classroom when there were only 9 students in attendance. Students and teachers saw me in a way I had never experienced before. 

The dividing line between the cliche groups was fluid. I could be a punk and hang with the cheerleaders at lunch. It was as if none of them knew they were supposed to be rivals. It offered a safe place to try on new personalities. 

I was still struggling in school. The disadvantage to a tiny school is that the teachers can memorize your home phone number.   I was smart and it made no sense why I wasn't doing better. I was a great mystery to everyone concerned with my education - except me. 

Why did I need to get good grades?

It was not an act of defiance, though I understand why it seemed that way. If I could go back in time as a ghost, I would whisper in Mom-M's ear, "She is afraid to let you love her. People die and leave her helpless when they love her.  If you stay angry with her, she never has to face that pain.  Do not let go!  She is drowning in her own fear."

After receiving a D in Math, I was grounded for the next 9 weeks. The following report card was worse, in spite of the carrots and sticks. They added another 9 weeks to my sentence. I started to become secretive and stopped confiding in Sissy. I slowly slipped into the mind spinning world of self defeat. I began pulling away from everything that brought me joy the year before. 

Near the end of the school year, I contacted a woman I called Aunt D. She was a foster parent who took in kids for the state. She had an open bed and agreed to pick me up on the last day of school. I packed my things in two cardboard boxes and told the M-Family my plans. 

They called my Dad to let him know what I was doing. I don't know what he told them, but no one tried to stop it. I wanted someone to beg me to stay. I wanted someone to lock me in a room until I changed my mind. I needed someone to tell me they loved me no matter what a failure I had become. 

On the last day of school there was a huge celebration . There were water balloons and music blasting out of the vehicles. The kids were all hanging out on the school grounds. I walked home alone and put my boxes on the porch and waited for my ride. No one was home when Aunt D arrived. I put my boxes in her car and we drove away. 

The funnel cloud touched down. I was ungrateful. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Identity Crisis

My new sister was such a good child.  She was impossible to compete with.  She always said the right things, and made good decisions.  She had the good hair and the pretty eyes.  She was athletic.  She was a year younger than me, but she was smarter about many things.   I loved her.  I admired her.  This added a layer of complexity to our relationship and my place in the household.  On the surface, we were equal, but I needed her much more than she needed me.  At the time, she was the only one I believed truly loved me.   I would have jumped off a cliff for her.  My first taste of loyalty was my sissy.

She was the voice of reason and I was the voice of wild adventure.  Together, we fed mud pies to the younger brothers, then cleaned them up because it was the right thing to do.  We ran free in the acres of wood lined creek beds and discovered all the mud holes we could swim in.  We guided the boys on adventures and packed a lunch to eat in some far off location  in the deep corner of our fenced-in boundary.  We shared elaborate dreams and fantasies that included houses, cars, boys and kids.  In those moments, I lost track of my orphan status.  I was just a kid whose biggest fear was getting bucked off in the creek when we tried to cross on the horses.

We shared a room in the house on Wild Horse.  She was my therapist and I was her dream catcher. Every night we would whisper and giggle until we fell asleep.  We had a lot in common.  We both had dead mothers to wonder about.  We each searched for some kind of identity that included them despite not remembering anything about them.  We both were raised by our grandmothers for a period of our lives.   My grandmother was dead, but hers was very much alive and the reason I was living in exile.  For Sissy's sake, I kept my hatred to a minimum.  In some ways, I accepted that the reason her grandmother hated me so much was so I could have a sister and two brothers.  I understood her love for her grandmother.  She understood my love for mine.  It was safe for us to love them as much as we did inside our secret bubble.

Everyone in the house laughed.  We laughed at dinner, we laughed while we did dishes, we laughed after dinner.  We laughed our way to bed.  I broke my toe on the way up the stairs once.  I cried until Sissy laughed so hard I had to join her.  We only lived in the house on Wild Horse for a year, but I laughed more in that year than I did in all of the previous years combined.  We made up words and had our own slang.  Then we laughed at the words we invented.  We put on plays in the evening that we rehearsed while the parents were working. Mom and Dad M giggled at our mistakes and blunders which encouraged us to deviate from our original script to make them laugh some more.  Love and laughter became synonymous for me.

Going to school was not as satisfying.  I struggled to keep up.  I was not a stupid girl, but I felt stupid in those classrooms.  I craved the attention of friends and a sense of belonging.  I spent my 8th grade year trying to discover what personality I would choose now that I was free from a suicidal wardrobe that warded off any opportunity to make a  friend.  Sissy and I parted ways after we got off the bus and I swam in a sea of students that all felt a lot bigger in personality than me.  I was no longer wearing polyester pants on the outside, but on the inside I felt like everyone could tell I was one outfit away from a geriatric funeral pantsuit.  

My cousin R.A. went to the same school.  He denied that we were related, and told his friends that I was from a step family of his grandfathers.  His mother was my mothers sister, but in the public, I was not his relative.  He was not allowed to speak to me.  He was not allowed to claim me.  When I talked to him about it at a Thanksgiving dinner, he explained that it was too embarrassing to talk about at school.  We could be close in the safety of secrecy, but not in public.

There was tension between the two families and I managed to land on the wrong side.  I was a traitor now.  My relationship with my new Mom, Dad and my siblings was in direct conflict with the war over which set of children were the better children, in the marriage of my grandfather and his wife,   In one sense, I was a liability for the F-Family.  I was so broken nothing could be done with me. At the same time, I was an example they used to demonstrate how his new wife was attempting to rid herself of his family.

I didn't have the vocabulary or the maturity to understand that I was struggling with my identity.  I didn't know if I was a sweet sister with a lot of spunk, or a stupid girl with a learning disability. I wasn't a F-Family member. I wasn't an M-Family member.  Yet, both families seemed to be stuck with me. 

Mom and Dad M would talk about the lack of money in secret code that was not hard to crack.  They were promised a monthly boarding fee that they rarely received. Just as Christmas season came  it was announced that my Grandfather and his wife were not buying gifts for their kids and I was legally their child. Neither me, nor Dad M received a present from them.  It was as fair as they could be. 

I lost hope that one day I would get my Dad back. He would never pull me to the side at family get togethers and ask me to come home.  He would never show up in his pickup and tell me to pack my things. He didn't miss me. He was a man who always paid his bills and he had forgotten to even do that. I began to believe his wife was right. He was stuck with me against his will. She helped him get out of debt and get out of raising me. She did him a favor.  

Christmas with the M-Family had a magic that outshined the damp scourge of disappointment and rejection. We had beautiful handmade footie pajamas and delicious homemade sweets. I learned a lot about Christmas spirit that year.  I learned a lot about resilience and finding that spark of light and love in a dark world. I learned that it was not the present, but who wanted to give you a present that meant something. 

With that same fire, an anger ignited deep inside of me. It was a tangle of resentment and utter helplessness. I began questioning the validity of my existence. I wished my mother would have had an abortion. I wished I hadn't been born. I had no one to tell this to and nowhere to put this energy. 

Do not be ungrateful. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

He gave me away

He gave me away like I was a box of unsold items from his last garage sale. After he dropped me off, he drove away and didn't think about me again. He wasn't really my Dad, I just called him that. This is how I made sense of it. I was the last thing my mother left before she died. Without Grandma there to remind him, he just couldn't remember why he hung onto me as long as he did. 

My new home was not a bad place to live. It was out in the country with plenty of mud, a creek to fall into and horses to fall off of. I loved that house on Wild Horse.  I learned a lot about what it means to be a sibling and the responsibility of being the oldest. Even though I did a terrible job of being a good example, I loved the idea of being a protector. I was given a piece of power that I am sure I abused. I loved them. I could not allow myself to be loved by them. My wall building skills were stronger than anyone understood. 

I called T and T "Mom" and "Dad."  Those were nicknames now, instead of job titles. I had a "sister" and two "brothers" that I wanted desperately to be "really" related to, but understood the impossibility.  I teased myself with the idea that I could become a full member of their tribe. I wished for it, but there was always that gentle reminder that I wasn't. Introductions with explanations about how I was taken in and the problem of looking entirely different than the rest of the kids were the forgivable, yet painful, reminder that I was not where I belonged.  

"You are very fortunate to have them!" The people would say as I stood in respectful silence. I knew they were right. I was fortunate to have them. I was as greatful as my broken heart could allow. It's hard to be happy and grateful like everyone expects. So I faked it. 

I didn't want to be grateful.  I wanted to be as ungrateful as any other normal and biological child. Being grateful meant that I was unlovable at some point. I was a refurbished child with a no-return policy. Being grateful meant that there were conditions to this relationship. Being grateful meant that I could be put in the next yard sale. This is when I made my first rule - Always have an exit plan.