My own dark ages

My own dark ages

(Trigger warnings for violence, abuse, rape)

I'm not self-centered enough to believe that my life story is any worse than anyone else's. We've all got trauma in our pasts whose tendrils have woven themselves into our lives.

It's kind of horrifying thinking back, evaluating the things that've shaped my attitude toward things most. More often than not the bits come back to me in clipped memories that I shake off with a frown. Other times my mind runs away with itself, bouncing from one nightmare to another until my brain takes over and tells me to calm my frantic heartbeat, nagging at me until the adrenaline flow finally slows, making me relax my now-tired muscles.

I don't think my parents were meant to have children. I don't mean that in a spiteful or angry way at all and I understand that they're humans like everyone else. We all have our faults. For the most part, I've been able to give up on being angry at them; it's done now and we can't correct the past.

My sister and I learned pretty early on that we were better off as best friends. No one could understand the world we lived in at home. From outward appearances we were part of a family other people would love to have - my dad was always popular with the neighbors and their kids. He especially did a lot for the poorer single-parent families we lived near, which I give him a lot of credit for. My mom was pretty and funny and people enjoyed being around her. But our family was very Jekyll and Hyde. As outsiders looking in, we were to be envied; on the inside looking out we were anything but.

My parents divorced when I was relatively young after years of screaming and throwing things. Many of the memories my sister and I share are of us sitting on the stairs beside each other crying, terrified spectators to our parents' frustration and unhappiness. We're part of a small group of children who were relieved to see their parents parting ways.

My parents had a nasty divorce. Once my mother and her family (some of them with pretty damning KKK ties) attempted to kidnap us, threatening to never let my father see us again. I wanna say I was 8 when my sister and I were taken to the police station to be finger printed "just in case". My father would later tell us that he basically bribed my mother to stop fighting for custody, which she accepted.

My sister and I visited my mother for summers and some holidays when she remembered to pick us up or hadn't gotten in trouble for not returning us on time. My mother really never had any money, which I can't fault her for at all, so when we did visit we spent a lot of time alone while she worked. I remember more than once sitting on the washer in the basement of her apartment building with my sister waiting for a tornado watch to be called off. And thanks to a string of violent and drunk boyfriends of hers, we got really good at calling and dealing with the police. One of her boyfriends used to quarantine her in their bedroom with him by pushing a dresser in front of the door. We still don't know what he did to her, but hearing your mother scream and cry being unable to escape is absolutely terrifying for anyone, let alone two girls under 10. 

And this doesn't even include the incidents involving guns and knives where we were personally in danger.

Needless to say, I'm pretty sure my distrust of the idea of the police being a group that protects people had been thrown out the window around that age. As far as I could tell, they were there as historians to take notes after the fact, not prevent crime or protect people.

The rest of the year we were with my dad, moving relatively frequently. Sometimes we wouldn't hear from my mother for months at a time, which we're not sure was because of her not calling or my dad not letting her speak to us. In any case, I abruptly stopped visiting or speaking to her when she accused me of stealing her drugs the summer when I was in the 5th grade. The funny thing is that I was more offended that she didn't know me well enough to recognize that I'd never have done something like that. To this day I've still never touched drugs or smoked and I don't drink, specifically because of the way my parents neglected my sister and I to abuse all of those things.

The next handful of years were pretty the same. We moved all over the country, changing schools sometimes 3 or 4 times a year. One of my best friends molested a 5 year old girl I was nannying, the other of my best friends sexually assaulted my sister. I stopped trying with friends for a long time after that. My dad worked more hours and my sister and I seemed to be alone a lot. When he was home, I tried to stay out of his way as he'd become increasingly more verbally abusive.

As a product of my family, I was pretty perfect on the outside - straight A student, had a moderate amount of friends, always home before curfew. I was the kid that all of my friends' parents loved and felt reassured when their kids told them they were going to be hanging out with me. On the inside I was depressed. Badly. I cried alone and spent a lot of time terrified of the next thing my dad would find to be angry with me for. By the time I was 15, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and decided that if I didn't escape it'd kill me.

At midnight a few weeks after 9/11 happened, my sister, who'd been pardoned from the brunt of the abuse from my dad, quietly helped me pack a small bag and in the hardest and most regretful decision I've made in my life: I ran away, leaving her there.

I didn't go far - just to my then-boyfriend's - a safe house until I could contact the only other person that could possibly understand what I was going through with him - my mother. I was living in Tennessee at the time and she was in Indiana, so it'd be 12 or so hours before she'd arrive. All I had to do was hope she could get to me before he did.

I woke up at 8 or 9am with cops at my boyfriend's door. The officer told me that they were there to take me back to my dad. I told them I couldn't go back, that it wasn't safe for me there. Angrily, he explained that my options were juvenile detention or him. My dad had told the cops that he'd been having me followed - that he knew I was doing drugs (a lie), drinking (double lie), and having promiscuous sex (not even sure how you'd find that out, but triple lie). Juvenile detention would mean that the only thing I've dreamed about my entire life - college - would likely be made extremely difficult. Not to mention the fact that I put my sister in danger of being shoved off to one of our relatives if this whole thing went to court. I was shocked; I didn't think justice was blackmailing an abused teenage girl. 

After that my dad sent me off to his sister's in Chicago. 

Thankfully that didn't last long before I was able to move to Indiana. I was there for around 6 months, I'd guess, about 5 miles from where my mom lived. I don't remember much about this time except that I was absolutely destitute. I lived in a safe area in a rented apartment, but pretty quickly my money ran out. I had no phone (that thankfully meant the landlord couldn't call me angrily about not having paid rent in months), very little food, no electricity, and no heat in the middle of the winter in Indiana. It was horrendously cold, so I piled my bed high with all of the sheets, blankets, and towels I owned, layering on top of that my one laundry basketful of clothes. A previous tenant had left a box of candles in a closet, so I had some light at night to be able to read my stacks of library books with. I remember on more than one occasion walking to a pay phone 3 miles away to try to call my mom to ask for help, but she either didn't answer or her boyfriend wasn't relaying the messages. The food dwindled down to the point that I was asking a neighbor to literally borrow a cup of sugar so I could bake a dozen flavorless "muffins" that lasted me a week. I remember the water was so heavy with iron that it tasted like your mouth did after you'd lost a tooth and your saliva was swimming with blood.

Somehow I managed to make it back to Tennessee (my dad and sister had already moved on, living in Atlanta) and started to create some semblance of a normal life. I'd been unable to go back to school because neither of my parents lived or paid taxes in the school district, which meant I'd have to pay $2000 in tuition a year to attend high school. I was forced to drop out of public school and started homeschooling myself, which worked out well because I was working 2 or 3 jobs to be able to get back on my feet. Life actually settled down for a bit and I welcomed the constant distraction of responsibility.

Through one of my jobs I made a good friend who invited me to the first - and last - party I'd go to. One of the other party attendees - a friend of my friend's - raped me. When the shock had worn off a week or so later, I went to the police who took no time to explain to me that a) my reporting a crime would mean them also having to report me as a runaway and b) explaining that because I couldn't prove what happened since no one had seen it more than likely meant they wouldn't be able to do anything about it. They told me the price for filing a restraining order in case I was worried that he might come after me, but it was more than I was able to pay out-of-pocket. They gave me some pastel literature on coping with my newly earned label of 'rape victim' and suggested I go to the hospital to get STD testing.

A few weeks later I built up the courage to take a day off of work to go to the hospital. After learning I didn't have health insurance, they begrudgingly did an STD panel, HIV/AIDS test, and pregnancy test. The nurse explained that I'd get information in the mail about the outcomes of the STD and HIV/AIDS tests, but that - surprise! - I was pregnant.

At this point in my life, I really didn't understand the realities of what an abortion was. I certainly knew that it ended a pregnancy and I had heard rumors in one of my schools that a classmate had had multiple abortions and it was insinuated that she should be ashamed of it, but that was about all I understood of it. The nurse gave me information on adoption and told me that there were social workers who could answer my questions, but I just wanted to go home and sleep.

For the next 8 months, I dealt with the kinds of things that most pregnant teenagers deal with - doctors visits, weird late-night google searches to figure out if some symptom was "normal", snickering strangers, and disgusted looks from customers at my jobs. One of my jobs quietly changed my job position so I was in the back out of sight or prying eyes. I was half grateful and half filled with shame.

I've never been called worse names in my life than those months dealing with both strangers and people I thought were friends. And here, society was telling me I had made the /right/ decision?

At a little over 8 months pregnant, the baby died inside me. That is an all together horrible and weird feeling. The last few months I had been trying to talk myself into feeling like I had made the right decision, that I would have something good come out of such a horrible thing and then it abruptly ended. I felt both relief and guilt at feeling relief.

Over the next 10 years, I tried to block the previous 10 years out of my mind. I moved to a different state, started a new career, and even got married. I eventually went to therapy to try to ease some of the symptoms of my PTSD (it helped immensely) and started treating myself like a person for the first time in my life. I was able to get out of my emotionally abusive relationship and into one with someone that I trust, where I finally feel I'm treated as an equal and as a whole human being.

I'm happy with where my life is now, but I still struggle a lot with my past.

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