Part IV: Carolina
I know my kids blame me for many things and probably think I am the worst mom. But what they do not know is what I dealt with in my own childhood and why I am so emotionally disconnected from the world.
I watched my mother get abused up until the very last beating my mother accepted, when she finally kicked my father out of the house. None of my siblings wanted to maintain contact him, but I was the only one to send him handwritten letters. They thought I was all foolish and maybe I was. I guess that is my issue. I have a big heart and I am too forgiving. I expect everyone to have the same temperament as me. I always wanted things to change. I wanted a normal family and I wanted to find healthy ways to process my emotions.
I hope I did not mess up my kids. I really tried my best. I always searched for a healthy relationship in everyone I have dated. I knew that I wanted something different than what I grew up watching, but history repeated itself.
I met him at a party. It was a set up by mutual friends and they swore he was a good guy. They told me to give him a chance and so I did. What a mistake that was. He promised me the world. But don’t they all? They appear to be pleasant, kind, and want everyone to believe the absolute best of them. Behind closed doors, they are a monster.
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I thought he would change. It started off with a push or shove here and there. He would never apologize either. He would just carry on with conversation like he did not do anything. I would let it go because I was taught to forgive people even when they hurt you. He would yell and I could not handle it. It would make me flash back to when my dad would come home drunk and hit my mother. My mom went through a crippling depression I did not think she would overcome. We all helped her to put food on the table since my dad left. I started working at a young age to make sure my family was cared for.
When we got together and spoke about marriage, everyone thought I was insane. The smart people saw right through his act, but most did not. He would never hit me for real. He did not want to give people a reason to assume what was happening.
He did not even propose. We kind of just stumbled into marriage. We were together for 2 years and then one day we just both found ourselves in the courthouse. Nothing extravagant. I thought my life would go a completely different route. Now you are probably asking, why would you get married if you were miserable? When kids are involved, you just feel stuck, like there is no way out. I had so many expectations for what I wanted, and I feel disappointed in myself that nothing went as planned.
We did not plan for children. We stumbled into that too. He lived a double life. He would come off as the kindest person in public when we would go out which was rare. He would put his arm around me, or make me laugh, or show his affection. As soon as we stepped foot into the house again, it was downhill fast. He would yell about everything. His food being cold, how the house was dirty, how the kids left their toys everywhere, how the puppy was not potty trained. Even the dog feared him and would run underneath the bed. I do not know what caused his switch to flip. I wanted so badly for him to be good. Therefore, I stayed because I kept thinking he would change, and I stood for so long and now my kids are messed up because of my selfish decision.
I blame myself because I should have left a long time ago. When my mom died, he came with me to the funeral. But even when my mother was dying, he had the audacity to say that it would be much better that she passed away so I would not need to take care of her. He said that as I hovered over her casket. He was selfish, he wanted all my time. I could not even care for my own mother. I should have left then.
My son entered the world healthy and well and that is all I could ask for, even though his father was not even in the delivery room. He never hit the kids, but he found a way to torture us. My son, Cam, was a good kid. He did not do drugs, he got into sports to stay busy and put off time from coming home, he took care of his little sister Brooke, had excellent grades, and had a promising career in basketball. But he always found something wrong to start fights with him.
My family did not know what it meant to have a normal holiday dinner. I wanted my kids to enjoy the holidays, but it was impossible. Each year they just expected chaos or no one to show up which happened often. My sister, Lori, refuses to come visit. She comes to pick up my kids here and there, but she refuses to walk in the house. She told me countless times she does not want to be around my husband or bring my nieces and nephews around him.
“I refuse to subject my kids to that type of toxicity like you choose to do. That man will never see my kids.” She would say.
Those words she expressed to me one day over coffee are embedded in my brain. When our mother died, she did not take it well either. We were both really close to her and when she finally passed, we both lost a piece of ourselves. Our mom did not like him either. She knew the red flags were there, but I did not listen. I wanted to see the good in him, but as time went on that would slim down to nearly nothing.
When he lost his job, the home life went awry. He would drink every day, at the bar, at home, at his buddy’s house. He would blame us for everything. When Brooke was born, I thought maybe having a daughter would bring some light back into his life, give him a reason to change. Silly me.
I wanted my kids to have a shot at a normal life and I know I could not undo everything I let happen in the past. But if I take that step forward, hopefully they would see how I was trying to make a change.
Every year Lori would make an excuse as to why she could not attend our Thanksgiving dinner. She did not plainly say she would not come, but she would make these excuses because she never knew when he was lurking over my shoulder. I appreciated her doing this, but it would not stop his yelling anyway.
This year she said my niece Chelsea had the flu. My kids would always want to go over to Lori’s house, and I could understand why. My sister and I found a way to speak in code about these things.
After I took the last set of verbal abuse from him, I felt a fire form in my belly. Like I had had enough, and I was going to make the change my kids needed me to make. After all, mothers put their children first and I did not want to keep overlooking their cry for help.
This year I would go to Lori’s house. I would drive with my kids and we would finally have the family dinner we so desperately wanted. I packed all 3 of our bags, Chopper’s belongings, and I waited for them to get home. Luckily for us their father was at the bar, so it was the perfect time to leave. Today Cam had picked Brooke up from school and they would be taking the bus home together. They came through the door and saw the bags waiting in the front hall.
“Mom, what’s happening?” Cam asked worriedly.
“No time to explain, I want to make sure we leave before he gets back. Please grab your things and Brooke’s. I will explain in the car.”
I had two bags slung over my shoulder and I held Chopper’s leash in my left hand. I packed as much as I could, the essentials anyway. I did not bother to lock the door. He would not care, or he would be too drunk to realize.
“Buckle up,” I told the kids.
“Mom, please tell me what is going on. Why are we leaving and where are we going?” Cam asked again.
“We are going to stay with your Aunt Lori. We are going to spend Thanksgiving there and until I save enough money for our own place, we will be living there. Your dad will not be joining us.”
There was silence, but through the rearview mirror, I could see my kids looking at each other anxiously, wondering what we were getting ourselves into.
There was silence for most of the drive. I turned on the radio and we just drove along to the sound of The Beatles roaring through the speakers. Cam held Brooke’s hand in his. Chopper was sleeping soundly in the middle seat.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly and drove into the unknown. But this, this was the first step I needed to take moving forward and it felt so damn good.