Blood on My Hands

Mental illness, abuse, suicide. These things are laced throughout my family history.

My mother was sexually abused by many growing up: her brothers, their friends, friends of her parents, and so on. I think that because it started so early on in her life, she might have thought that it was normal or that it was her fault in some way, and she never told anyone. And you can imagine the effect that years of sexual abuse from many individuals can have on someone’s mental health.

My mother met my father and it was instant attraction. My father was recently divorced and my mother was currently engaged to another man, but they hit it off. After a while, my mother threatened my father that she would kill herself if he didn’t marry her soon, and this was how it all started.

Shortly after they married, my mother became pregnant with me. My father was in the military and they lived on base, doing drugs and living it up. They were caught, and my father was dishonorably discharged. After I was born, my mother’s brother committed suicide.

My mother slept through most of my childhood and into my teenage years, suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. During this time, my father was physically and psychologically abusive to myself and my brothers. My mother never intervened. She was like a wilted flower, always lifeless, always frowning, always sleeping, never present.

One day, I came home from school and found her, more lifeless than usual. She had overdosed and was waiting to die. That was the first of many times she has attempted suicide. After this point, she left our family and spent much time in and out of mental institutions. When she wasn’t institutionalized, she bounced from girlfriend to girlfriend’s house. Lovers that she met at bars. She started doing drugs again. At one point, she was raped by a strange man as she laid on the ground in front of some house or apartment, paralyzed from the effects of narcotics. She would come back to live with us periodically, claiming that she’d kill herself if my father didn’t let her stay.

During this time, the abuse with my father continued as I tried to take care of my brothers. My mother returned somewhat permanently toward the end of my stay at that dark place. At that point, I could hardly look at her or speak to her. Knowing her history of sexual abuse and psychological diagnoses, I wanted to have pity on her and to love on her. But at the same time, I felt that those things shouldn’t be acceptable excuses for neglecting your children and allowing abuse to continue.

Years later, much more disappointment and pain has come. My mother continued her maddening indifference as my brothers grew up in that place. I’ve always struggled because I want to express to my mother my feelings regarding her behavior, but feel that she is much too fragile to hear what I would have to say. And I can’t have her blood on my hands.

Tragic Hero

I always knew there was something a little off about my brother (see Degrees of Reality – Bro 1). I figured that the fact that he hears voices can’t be a good sign, but my parents chalked it up to his being “immature.” He and I fought often as we were close in age. The usual really… At one point the four of us were sharing one small bedroom – triple bunk beds and a crib for the youngest. I slept on the middle bunk because the top was too close to the ceiling and gave me asthma trouble. Bro 1 slept on the top and every time he moved, the bed creaked and drove me batshit crazy. So I, of course, would threaten his life, saying that each time he moved, I’d punch the underside of the mattress so hard. And I did. I beat the shit out of that mattress.

We fought once over who should do the dishes, and I threw a Magic 8 Ball at his head. I’m starting to sound a little violent… but that’s the extent of it – I promise. He got me back by stealing my tooth from under my pillow as I slept, and putting it under his in the hope that the tooth fairy would bring him money instead of me.

Later, when he was about 16 or so and had his severe mental break at church camp (see Crazy), he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His wild behaviors had calmed down quite a bit when he was finally released from the hospital, but his mental illness was no longer shy. Sometimes, it was like he forgot that I was his sister and he would come on to me. Other times, he’d visit me at work and then take off sprinting into the employee-only back office area and run around like a maniac. He received no treatment for his illness because our father had convinced him it was a false diagnosis, which he still believes to this day.

Around this time, he met the love of his life. She, too, suffered from some mental illness as well as a serious blood disease. He decided that he would marry her when she was 17 and he was 18. I tried to talk to him about this decision once prior to the wedding. I told him that I was concerned, that he has some serious mental issues and so does she, and I’m worried that this union may not be the healthiest to start off from. He told me so sweetly confident that “she understands me” and that’s why it will work. So I supported him.

Their relationship was rocky, to say the least. Both were physically abusive to one another, and both abused drugs and alcohol. My sister-in-law was affiliated with a local gang, and when they would have a nasty breakup, she would send her gang-bangers out to f*** him up. With an axe and other terrifying weapons in broad daylight in a restaurant parking lot. However, they would usually just kiss and make up. Then, she got pregnant.

During this time, there were more fights and divorce was filed but was never finalized. Shortly after giving birth to my beautiful little niece, she committed suicide in the hospital at age 18.

My brother tried so hard to be the father his little girl deserved, but he had so much going against him. The unthinkable grief of a lost spouse, untreated mental illness, a history of drug abuse, and a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. It would be enough to bring anyone crashing to a destructive end. After a couple years of immense turmoil, it did.

He now faces life in prison for a string of armed robberies, drug trafficking, and other crimes. He said he had lost his job and was mad with grief and thinking that his wife’s death was his fault, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask for help. So he sought “easy” money, and even enjoyed the little bit of fleeting “power” he felt. He now takes full responsibility for his crimes, but struggles every single day to cope with his decisions. He has tried to take his own life twice while in prison. He needs psychological help. It’s what he’s needed all along.

I’m powerless in that I can do nothing to save him from this misery. All I can do is try to be there for him, but those fifteen-minute phone calls now and then hardly seem adequate.

I think about those sweet times in our backyard as children. I used to make him eat mud brownies. We used to try and dig to China. He always played Peter Pan and I was Tinker Bell.

My brother.

Parents

We don’t choose our parents and yet our parents have such a profound effect on our development. Our development that shapes our future, which shapes what kind of parents we’ll be.

As a freshman in high school, I was selected to be a state ambassador of music and asked to tour Europe with ambassadors from the U.S. to perform in different countries. What a dream! I was ecstatic and honored. I told my parents about it and my dad stated the obvious, “Well, we’re not paying a dime for it.” Sure, I knew I would have to raise the money. My dad’s eyes lit up and said, to my surprise, that he’d help me. He wanted to start by opening a bank account specifically for our fundraising money. So we went on raising money from friends, family, acquaintances, until we had almost made the few thousand that we needed, while my dad deposited the money and made the payments toward the trip.

Getting closer to the date of my trip, I received a letter in the mail. It said that the deadline had passed, and because they had not received any payments, I no longer have a spot on the trip. I started panicking. I ran to my father with the letter, asking why they’re telling me they received no payments. Please call and tell them they made a mistake- hurry before it’s too late! But I should have known. He told me he hadn’t made any of the payments for my trip because he needed the money to pay for bills and groceries and the roof over my head. He had solicited contributions from neighbors and coworkers in the name of his daughter’s talent and European opportunity, and then spent the money for himself. He lied to everyone. He let me believe that he cared enough to help me reach my goal.

Devastated, I run crying into my mother’s bedroom for some kind of solace. Like for most of my childhood, she was sleeping. It was the middle of the day. I wake her, sobbing, and tell her what had happened. She says in a tired, apathetic voice, “I’m sorry.” And that was it. Either not caring of the hurt that my father had caused or knowing that she was incapable of making it better.

When I was young and my parents would hurt me, I would write notes to my future self in my journal. These notes were what-to-do and what-not-to-do’s for when I had children of my own one day. And though I am sad that I don’t have these journals anymore, many of the ideas and thoughts that they contained have been burned on my heart.

Engaged Against Her Will

My mom once called me in the middle of the night from a bar. She was pretty wasted and it was my 16th birthday. She said that she found me a man at the bar, showed him my picture, and he liked what he saw. He wanted to wish me a happy birthday. Oh, and he also wanted to see if I’d be interested in hooking up. I was 16. This man sounded like he was over 30. But my mom assured me that he was hot and she would give him my number. I was disgusted and sad. She also passed the phone to her girlfriend that she had left us for so she could wish me a happy birthday as well. Memories.

I met up with my mother for coffee the other day. I had recently been thinking a lot about trauma and how traumatic events shape different people in different ways. I knew that she had an unfortunate childhood, but I didn’t know many details. So when we met for coffee I asked about it. The nonchalant way she proceeded to describe horrifying details about years of sexual abuse by many different people surprised me. It was surprising to me because I feel that what happened to her as a child was absolutely devastating, and I feel like that devastation had a profoundly negative effect on the rest of her life. Because she never got the help that she needed, it adversely affected decisions she made as an adult and her role as a mother. For this reason, I bounce back and forth between feeling anger towards her for the poor choices she continues to make, causing more harm to my younger siblings and herself, and making excuses for her behavior.

Toward the end of the conversation, she surprises me with a “Well okay, you’re coming with me next door to meet my fiancé.” What? Your divorce from my father was just finalized last week – you sure you don’t want to give it a little time? Nah. My mom told me that her fiancé, I’ll call her Rita, had asked her a week before Valentine’s Day what she would say in response to a V-Day proposal. My mom responded that she wasn’t ready for anything like that. But Rita is persistent. Come V-Day, she popped the question. With much hesitation, my mom said “Umm… okay…” Let me also tell you that Rita is dying of cancer. She could pass any day. (My mom is currently doing radiation for her cancer.) My mom said she “doesn’t see anything long-term with Rita”… so she agreed to marry her, but refuses to set a date…

Surprise!

So, my mom likes women. I found this out when I was in the eighth grade. I came home from school one day excited about our Relay for Life fundraiser that would take place overnight at the high school track. My mom had agreed to chaperone our team for the night, which was weird because she had major anxiety issues around other human beings. I was angry when I found her sick in bed. Of course! I knew she’d let me down. Come to find out, she’d actually overdosed. Tried to check out early. And in case I missed this nugget of information, my father showed up that evening at Relay for Life to inform me that my mom had attempted suicide. Then he left me there. To soak that in. To marinate on that. Great parenting.

Oh yes- my mom being a lesbian. I’m getting to that.

So fast forward a day or so later- my dad comes to me in tears. “Your mom cheated on me… with… another woman!” he blubbers. Surprise! This is news to me. Not so much the cheating part as the lesbian part. How could she have kept that secret from me? I felt a bit hurt. Apparently, her sexual orientation had something to do with why she tried to bite the big one. So my father told her not to come back and changed all the locks, leaving me feeling very sad and confused, and my mom homeless and mentally unstable. Smart move, Dad!

My Stripper Name

I have a horrible stripper name. Remember that game we used to play as innocent young children? The stripper name game. To create your stripper name, you use this formula: street you grew up on +  your first dog’s name. That would make me Andy Bigby. Meh.  I’m not in love with it. My friend’s stripper name was Spike Washington…  the formula may be flawed.

When I was a kid, my horrible parents hired us a babysitter who wanted to be an exotic dancer when she grew up. She shared this dream with me one day while we watched Xena: Warrior Princess on tv. The tv went off, and radio went on. She would dance like a stripper, and encourage me to follow along as she critiqued my moves. Those lessons stayed with me, and helped form the weirdo that I am today.

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