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.

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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.

Degrees of Reality

Growing up, my father was abusive and my mother neglectful. Both suffer from mental illness, which has had a profound impact on my life and the lives of my siblings. My father had two loves in his life: himself and his money. He was extremely prideful, and a skilled actor when it came to maintaining appearances. We never knew what would send him into a fit of rage, and he was always sure to make it known that each of us were worthless nothings that he had to waste his money feeding and providing shelter. My mother was suicidal, and often in and out of mental health institutions. My father had this warped view of himself, that he was Job from the bible. That was his reality. The story goes that Job was so faithful, that God allowed Satan to test his faith by taking away every blessing from his life: his family, his home, etc. and still Job praised God. The difference is that my father serves only himself, and the chaos that surrounds him is in big part a result of his own evil actions.

Through all of the trauma we faced regularly, I had found hope through faith. Hope of having a better life one day, hope of experiencing love, and hope of future happiness.   My brothers did not have hope.

Sneaky T, 19, (refer to previous “Crazy” post) is a high school dropout, fresh out of prison, and has two children. Although he continues to struggle with pill-popping, he’s working full-time at a fast food joint. So I would say that he’s doing fairly well, considering. Sneaky C, 16, is fresh out of jail on drug charges and a soon-to-be high school dropout. He struggles with severe depression and occasional suicide attempts, but receives no treatment because of course, that would cost my father money. And Bro 1, 23, is facing life in prison on multiple armed robberies, assault, drug trafficking, etc. Bro 1 also has a beautiful young daughter who is now without a mother or father, as her mother committed suicide at 18. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, but manipulated by my father to believe it was a mistake and never received the needed treatment that could have changed his life.

My heart breaks every day for my three knuckle-head brothers and their families. Close friends ask me why I think my life took such a different path than my brothers. And for me, the answer is simple – hope. I had my faith to get me though, not that it wasn’t incredibly difficult. My brothers had nothing to give them hope. I tried and failed to give them some idea that they could have a better life.

And now, I work with homeless children who experience trauma similar to what my family experienced, but even more severe and compounded by the fact that they don’t know where they’ll sleep at night or if they’ll have dinner. The whole point of what we do for them each day is providing hope. Because hope makes all the difference.

Despite all of this, I am around people who complain about the fact that their spouse makes less money than they do and is too lazy to fix the garage door opener, or that mom bought little sister a boob job for a graduation present and all they got from mom was a nice camera. These people will complain about these things because that is their reality. A group of homeless children will pass by the door, and they’ll pause, smile and wave, and return to their self-proclaimed “first-world problems.”

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…

Homeless

Working with homeless children is one of the wonderful things that has enhanced my perspective on life. There are over 2,000 homeless children in the city I live in. Yet, when most people think of homelessness, they rarely picture homeless children. I’ve come to learn that homelessness is a cycle, and education is the best way to break this cycle with the children. However, public schools are not equipped to handle the unique needs of homeless children, and many times these kids just slip through the cracks. They can hardly focus on learning in school when they are uncertain if they’ll be fed that night or if they will have a place to sleep. I’ll go into more detail about this in a later post. Still, these kids are joyful and imaginative and full of love.

One day, our receptionist had just recently returned from bereavement leave, as her father had just passed away from cancer. The children adore her, so when she returned, they showered her with handmade sympathy cards. They drew pictures with crayons of her weeping over her dead father in a casket, and of her father being buried into the ground at a funeral. It was extremely touching.

As the children left that day after a swarm of holiday-themed activities, the silliest and most beautiful exchange happened. One little girl felt a special kinship with our receptionist because her father was dying, too. This particular day she was wearing a Santa hat and beard as she walked out to the bus. When she passed the receptionist, she exclaimed in her best Santa voice, ” HO HO HO! I’m gonna bring you a new DAD for Christmas. Just like the old one! To remind you of him.” And she danced out the door, leaving the receptionist in a bit of a shock.

If you met these young kids, you’d notice that there isn’t much that screams that they are homeless. Sure, they might be a little smellier than other kids, or possibly a little dirty. But they are curious, earnest, and beautiful just like other more fortunate children. It’s not their fault that they are homeless, and they deserve a chance to succeed.

Crazy

Family. Geez Louise. I hate when I’m at work or somewhere and people start jabbering on about their “crazy” mom or “crazy” sister or whoever. I feel like “crazy” is a term that is supremely overused. Perhaps your mom would more accurately be described as “annoyingly overbearing” or “cares so damn much about you that she wants to be a part of all areas of your life” or “depressed as shit.” Maybe your sister is “totes jelly of how cool and awesome you are so she steals your clothes and your boyfriends.” None of these fit the specifications that the term “crazy” demands, in my opinion.

As for my family, well… “crazy” is a fitting characterization. Let me elaborate: I have three younger brothers. Bro 1 is the oldest, Bro 2 is the middle child, and Bro 3 is the youngest little turd. Growing up, I always knew there was something seriously wrong with Bro 1. He didn’t ever seem to act “normal” in any given social situation. One day at church camp, Bro 1 had a total mental breakdown that lasted  for months. During this time, he tried to jump out of moving vehicles on the highway, tried to eat chicken bones and when someone tried to remove them, he fought the most epic of battles to keep those chicken bones in his possession, stopped speaking English and spoke a completely made up language, flashed people, acted like he was an amazing guitar player when he had in fact never played and when a nurse brought him a guitar, he confidently serenaded us with the most horrible sounds for hours, and tried to remove invisible swords and demons from his stomach. After being diagnosed as a bit of a schizo, he was released back into the world for more shenanigans.

Bro 2 is not as literally crazy as Bro 1. He’s more of a crazy-ass drug addict who makes many poor life decisions. Bro 2, also known as “Sneaky T”, started drugging it up at the tender age of 11. Sneaky T was always so “cool” among his other druggie friends. He started the crazy fun off with some burglary, drinking and driving, etc. And when he made it to the age of 15, this guy made a baby. Brilliant. At this point, he drops out of school and starts messing with heavier stuff, and robs a convenient store. Finally, at 18 he makes baby number two, and gets caught driving a stolen vehicle carrying loads of meth with the intent to sell. To prison he goes! Crazy.

And here comes Bro 3, known by his peers by the esteemed nickname “Sneaky C.” As you can probably guess, Sneaky C idolizes the remarkably dignified Sneaky T, and wants to be just like him. Prison definitely ups the cool factor of young men these days. Sneaky C’s young life is riddled with emotional Facebook statuses, failed suicide attempts, and drugs. Fortunately, he has not fathered any children as of yet, but he does advertise his sexual exploits and drug selling on social media for all of the world to see. Crazy!

My parents, you ask? Well, stay tuned. I don’t want to frighten you away just yet. I have to slowly unveil the crazy. And myself? You can be the judge.

Cheeseburgers

Back when I lived at home with my parents, I found Bare Minerals make-up in a random drawer one day. I came out of the room all excited and confused. “Look what I found! Some nice, super-expensive make-up! It’s mine now!” As soon as I said it, my dad was up in my face in a panic. Apparently, the make-up was his. Hmm, unexpected. His explanation was that he has Rosacea, and needs make-up to cover it up. Funny thing is that his “rosacea” is hardly noticeable. But he’s so vain that he’d cough up the cash to spend on Bare-Minerals, hide it in a secret place, and wear make-up as a grown-ass man. When he wore it, he looked quite clownish. Therefore, I shall forever refer to him as Ass Clown.

Anyway, back in their early days as newlyweds, Ass Clown was just as ridiculous as he is today. Expecting him home from work any minute, my mom was watering the grass in the front yard. Probably humming to herself a little, maybe some little Janet Jackson number, thinking to herself, Man, I’m getting hungry for dinner. What sounds good? Lasagna perhaps? Or maybe we can go out for a burgWhat the hell?! Interrupting her thoughts, she catches sight of their Mustang parked down the street. Alarmed, she drops the hose and starts marching toward the vehicle. Her heart’s pounding, the voice of Ms. Jackson no longer fills her head. Is he cheating? With a neighbor? That can’t be- it’s too strange! Does he secretly work as a door-to-door insurance salesman on the side? As she gets close, she realizes that Ass Clown in still in the car. And he’s alone. Oh, thank God! However, when she peers into the driver’s side window, she’s astounded by what she sees.

McDonald’s. A big McDonald’s bag is on the passenger seat along with some stray fries. There’s a crumpled burger wrapper or two on the console next to his seat, and he’s scarfing down cheeseburger #3 when he’s startled by her stare. “What the hell are you doing?!” she asks. Ass Clown has no words, no reasonable excuse for his behavior. It turns out that he simply did not want to spend the extra money buying his wife a Happy Meal too- despite the fact that McDonalds burgers were something like 30 cents a pop back then. This sneaky-eating habit of his continued throughout their marriage as he learned from his mistake, and parked a little farther from home the next time.

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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