My Writing (and Reading) Hiatus

Dear Followers:

First, in case I haven’t already said this, thank you for following my memoir. I appreciate the readership.

Second, if I follow you (which is likely since I follow 99 percent of my followers), I’m sorry I haven’t been able to read, like, or comment on your post in a while. If you read “Let’s Play a Little Game of Never Have I Ever,” you know my life sucks. In recent weeks, it has gotten better in some ways (for example, the redneck beneath me was ousted) but worse in others (for example, I’ve had bed bugs for weeks). I’m also working a part-time retail job that requires me to walk three miles to work, stand for four to eight hours, and then walk three miles home — in the humidity, which has triggered the osteoarthritis in my hip. When I’m home, I’m either sleeping (despite always being an early riser, I’ve been averaging 10 hours) or in too much pain to write.

That being said, I am still active on Facebook, which I never advertised on here. I post articles, sermon transcriptions, memes, videos re: animals since I’m an animal lover, and photos (I see a lot of hearts and flowers on my walks…), so you’re invited to follow my random ramblings until I start writing again.

Thanks!

Miranda

Chapter 11: How Domestic Violence and My Relationship with a Mama’s Boy Affected Me (Part V: An Outspoken Personality, Problems with Porn, and Trust Issues—or How I Became My Parents)

youre doing it wrongAccording to Psych Central, children of alcoholics typically suffer from low self-esteem, wind up in unhealthy relationships, and tolerate behaviors that other people find unacceptable—presumably because they’re used to them. It got two out of three right where I’m concerned. If you read my blog post about Facebook Live killer Steve Stephens or any of my memoir chapters about domestic violence, you no doubt noticed that I’m outspoken. Unless you’re the person who signs my paycheck, I’m more than happy to tell you how you’re adversely affecting your life, other people’s lives, my life, or the lives of animals. That comes from observing my father hurt everyone in his path, including my pets, but not being able to say anything. While growing up in a dictatorship where he threatened to “knock [me] into the middle of next week” for expressing opinions—i.e., having “a smart mouth”—I started binge eating to stifle feelings that came across as sarcastic remarks because I hated showing weakness. Once I was exiled and forced to move in with a mama’s boy, I stopped mincing words. People like journalist Kate Stone Lombardi are one reason why.

In the most nauseating, self-serving, and self-aggrandizing article I’ve ever read, the author of “The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger” told Time magazine readers that women who raise mama’s boys “are helping their sons reach their full human potential and setting up their boys for happier, more successful lives.”

sarcastic thank you

The first problem with that statement is Lombardi based the book on her relationship with her son. Considering he was only 23 when she published it, asserting that she’d helped him achieve his “full human potential” and positioned him for a “happier, more successful life” was pretty presumptuous. Not surprisingly, her article lacks corroborating evidence, such as accomplishments, testimonials from girlfriends, or photos of him smiling alongside a swimsuit model, mansion, or Maserati.

sarcastic tell me again how you
The overarching problem with her statement, not to mention her book title, is it disregards 3.6 million articles that women have written to warn other women about mama’s boys and their mothers.

dont_date_a_mamas_boy_google_results
Many end with a breakup. Some end with a divorce.

Lombardi’s La-La Land

Further illustrating her ignorance and self-centered purview, Lombardi told NPR and Westchester Magazine that the mother-son relationship is the only stigmatized parent-child relationship.

“Mothers and daughters, she says, have no problems,” NPR reported.

In fact, “[t]he mother/daughter relationship is celebrated—there’s practically an industry built around it with spa discounts, etcetera,” Lombardi told Westchester Magazine.

Likewise, father-son and father-daughter relationships are valued, she told NPR. “But mothers and sons—that relationship is always looked at with a little skepticism and a little fear.”

Well. Yeah.

But not until the mother in question fakes sweetness and innocence a la Lombardi’s book jacket head tilt:

kate-stone-lombardi book jacket head tilt

lombardi-kate_credit-nancy-borowick

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

Manipulative pose aside, Lombardi’s been so wrapped up in her son’s life that she’s apparently never heard of daddy issues, watched “Postcards from the Edge,” or read Psychology Today’s “8 Toxic Patterns in Mother-Daughter Relationships,” which leads me to the No. 1 reason women should run if they see her book on their potential mother-in-law’s coffee table: Her generalization that “[n]urturing mothers can help their sons develop emotional intelligence” assumes mothers are emotionally intelligent.

My Mama’s Boy Experience: Lies, Secrecy, Porn, and the Wrong Fight-or-Flight Instincts

According to CNN, Lombardi’s book says mama’s boys are “less inclined to argue and more inclined to ‘work it out,'” but a month after I moved in with the martial artist I trusted to protect me if my father hunted me down, I learned that he couldn’t even handle confrontation from a 5-foot-8 anorexic. As I questioned him about a Playboy I’d found tucked inside a kung fu magazine in his sock drawer—

barbies“My drawer,” I said. “Mine. You’re hiding porn in the dresser I used to keep my Barbies in? It’s like a fucking magic act. Presto chango—plastic turned into silicone.”

—he dumped the clean laundry I’d left in the basket post-discovery, filled the basket with pit-stained T-shirts, and fled to his parents’ house, where I’m sure he told his mommy that I’d been mean to him and set the toaster oven on fire while cooking tacos.

When he returned two days later with tinfoil-covered leftovers in hand and, unbeknownst to me at the time, the phone number of a blonde his mom wanted to hook him up with in his pocket, he moved the magazine to his side of the closet like location had been the crux of my tirade.

Despite the dormant self-esteem issues its presence roused, I tried to get over it.

Before the self-help book explosion, the internet, and the “Dr. Phil” show, women turned to fashion magazines, friends, and shrinks for relationship advice. Since I couldn’t afford a psychologist on my $6.20 per hour salary at Macy’s, and my only remaining girlfriend after my relationship with an alcoholic was a feminist who would’ve echoed what I was already thinking, I consulted Marie Claire, which instructed me to list his positive and negative qualities.

woman-writingWeighing pros and cons is no way to make a major decision like continuing to live with a man as boyfriend or demoting him to roommate, but it sounded good at age 21. And on paper, he looked great compared to my ex. Whereas the alcoholic chain-smoked, gave up on his dream of becoming a writer, had zero desire to travel beyond Ohio’s borders, and bought me Eeyore figurines and Lenox collectibles like I was a 12-year-old girl or his mother, Jason:

  • ate a healthy diet and inadvertently aided my anorexia by teaching me to drink a glass of water when I felt hungry because I was probably just thirsty;
  • did “Buns of Steel” with me one evening and genuinely complained to his tang soo do instructor who called halfway through the tape that it was the hardest leg workout he’d ever done;
  • attempted to learn PEARL and C++ in spite of his dyslexia;
  • road-tripped to Toronto with me to camp out at a three-day concert; and
  • bought me cute outfits and complimented the fact that “clothes hang well” on me because I have “great square shoulders and long legs.”

He also painted a Christmas card for me and exchanged stick figure-filled notes with me like the morning I’d informed him the water heater was broken by drawing a picture of him in the shower with his frozen, detached penis lying near the drain.

“And before we moved in together, he went dancing with me,” I wrote.

Still, I couldn’t stop crying over the only con that came to mind.

To shut me up, he said he “got rid of” the magazine. Intuition or suspicion told me that was Mac-geek speak for “I hid it,” so the next time he left the apartment, I ransacked the computer magazines he kept in a cardboard box beneath his desk and found the Playboy and a newcomer (pun intended): an inch-thick review of the recent adult video awards, complete with red carpet pics of one woman suckling another.

angry woman throwing magazineLivid, I winged them at his head when he walked in the door.

“Lying and being sneaky just makes me wonder what-the-fuck-else you’re hiding,” I yelled.

Soon, I got my answer.

One Devastating Discovery After Another

Negating two important pros I’d listed, cohabitation first revealed that he devoured Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by the case when he got stressed—i.e., he was a binge eater like me, which didn’t bode well for me overcoming the eating disorder—and that he was actually playing “Quake” instead of coding and furthering his career.

Then I learned I couldn’t leave him alone for five minutes.

The first time Jason called off sick from his job as a parts runner and IT guy for an asphalt paving company, I stopped at a convenience store across the street from the apartment to buy him ginger ale and saltine crackers before I went to work. When I took them home, he was masturbating to my Cindy Crawford workout video.

After my convertible broke down and his employer’s mechanics volunteered to fix it, I realized our difference was irreconcilable because he spent 40 hours a week in an office that was wallpapered, ceiling to floor, with pages from porn magazines. It also played Howard Stern over the PA system and sat mere steps from strip clubs that offered lunch specials.

While he slept at his parents’ house that night, a Lenny and Squiggy-esque coworker poked around Jason’s Mac, opened a folder labeled “Stuff,” and said, “Here it is,” with trumpets in his voice. As he scrolled through thousands of photos with me peering over his shoulder, I remembered all the times Jason’s dial-up modem had woken me up in the middle of the night. Then I remembered working two jobs for months so I could afford to buy him Christmas presents.

“Can you show me when he saved these?” I asked.

Happy to oblige because he thought I’d break up with Jason and marry him out of gratitude, my wannabe poacher sorted them by date, and I became Al Capone.

To retaliate, I went on a date with a security guard who followed me around Macy’s more than thieves. When I invited him upstairs after “Mission Impossible,” and Jason grabbed his magazine from the bedroom and announced, “Takin’ a bath!” I sent George home and debated tossing an electrical appliance in the tub.

Disintegration

depressedDue to Jason’s daily bathtub betrayals, my self-esteem issues, and the constant worry that my father was going to kill my mom, I became so depressed that when a manager at Macy’s got me a managerial position at another chain in another mall without me even interviewing for it, and the women in charge of training me treated me like the classmates who’d ridiculed me from fourth grade through high school, I clocked out for lunch, drove home, curled up in a ball, and never went back. My brain was so fogged that it didn’t even occur to me that the $22,000/year salary I was abandoning could solve two-thirds of my problems by enabling me to get a place of my own. Until I overheard Jason’s mother ask, “Has Miranda found a job yet?” I was content to lie in bed, stare at the frozen lake through the plastic we’d sealed the sliding glass doors with, and test the imperviousness of our cement walls by blaring The Cure.

love and sex venn diagramContrary to Kate Stone Lombardi’s claim that close mother-son relationships teach men to respect women and a Harvard psychology professor she cited who said mama’s boys “make strong, empathetic spouses and partners,” Jason’s porn hobby became such a problem that I can count the number of times we had sex in two and a half years on two hands. Lest you think that’s because we fought so often, he spooned me most nights of the week and sat on the floor between my knees every Sunday as we watched “The X-Files” over Angelo’s Pizza. Every episode ended with him giving me a foot massage and pedicure. I would’ve preferred an orgasm. But as author Naomi Wolf wrote, “[P]orn doesn’t whet men’s appetites—it turns them off the real thing.” And tears elicited zero sympathy. In fact, he told me my eyes were prettier when I cried.

“The red makes them more green,” he said.

My Temporary Metamorphosis from a Moral Person to My Parents

Eventually, Jason’s preoccupation with porn, callous neglect of my needs, and refusal to talk turned me into my father. Not only did I obsess over what he was undoubtedly doing while I worked during his employer’s winter shutdown, I called him stupid when resentment took over my tongue because the word was so embedded in my brain from my upbringing that it became my default insult. Unfortunately, his dad had called him stupid for being dyslexic, so the word sent him running home to his mother’s open arms every time. And since my father’s tirades were never complete until the entire neighborhood heard them, once Jason and I moved from our eighth-floor apartment on the lake to a quaduplex in the city, our one-sided arguments typically ended with me chasing Jason’s Honda down the driveway in a T-shirt and panties to tell him and the rest of Ridgewood Avenue that his mother didn’t raise him right.

cuyahoga river copyIn hindsight, mine hadn’t done me any favors by instructing me to look elsewhere for the attention she could no longer give me after the birth of my brain-damaged, diabetic, and epileptic brother. I didn’t seek it, but I didn’t turn it down either. Consequently, I spent my 22nd birthday doing shots with an attorney I’d caught “admiring [my] assets” while I knelt on his conference room floor and loaded court reporting equipment into an attaché case. Seated at a table on the bank of the Cuyahoga River, I told him about my miserable relationship, he told me about his miserable marriage, and we clinked glasses to “two lone wolves.”

Although my eyes kept flicking toward his wedding ring, I enjoyed his gravelly voice, courtroom stories, and he’s-gotta-be-crazy-to-jack-off-to-porn-when-he-has-you compliments so I went drinking with him two more times. Then he gave me a pager. We’d never even held hands, but the first time it went off, I felt like a hooker and ignored it. Pissed, he waited for me outside the court reporting firm’s gated parking lot the next day, followed me for a mile, and then yelled at me to pull into an abandoned gas station, where he cornered me against a wall, demanded the pager, and left without another word.

passed_out_in_barBack to drinking again like my mom, I started going out with coworkers for happy hour. After downing three Long Islands one Friday, I played “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” on the jukebox, drank a fourth, and passed out. I’d played it because my friend Kathy told me to pick a song to round out the roll of quarters she’d fed the machine, and it was the only classic rock option I liked. Apparently, I should’ve explained that to our table because the firm’s alcoholic videographer, who always smelled like garlic and had creepy eyes that reminded me of Ron Silver in “Blue Steel,” took it as a cue, carried me to his car, unbuttoned my dress, and lacquered my breasts and stomach with whiskey-scented saliva while I asked him to call Jason to pick me up. Realizing he wasn’t going to stop, I pretended to pass out like a human playing dead in front of a bear, so he drove me to his place, where, thank God, he slept on the couch while I clasped my hands over my chest and stared at the ceiling above his bed.

grenadeJason never asked where I spent the night. He just assumed that I’d finally cheated on him to get back at him. I wanted to tell him what happened, but I wouldn’t have believed him if the situation had been reversed so I figured it was pointless. Besides, while he jacked off to my Victoria’s Secret catalog, knowing I’d walk in on him as I got ready for work, stared so hard at a black mini skirt that I yelled, “GREEN LIGHT,” startling him into stomping on the gas pedal while the light was still red, and acted out in other ways, I was busy panicking because the coworker who’d taken advantage of my drunkenness was a WWII memorabilia collector who didn’t handle rejection well. After I told him I still loved Jason regardless of anything I’d said when I was wasted, he brought in a grenade and set it on top of his monitor, showed a coworker a pair of Japanese swords he kept in the trunk of his car, and silenced the lunchroom every time he walked in.

Later, he earned my second restraining order by sitting in a parked car facing my new employer’s front door.

A Last-Ditch Effort to Fix My Relationship

The married attorney and psycho ex-coworker made me appreciate Jason more so I tried to fix our relationship. As the earlier mentioned Psych Central article said, when adult children of alcoholics are unable to confront an addict, “they will try to control the other person’s problem, perhaps even thinking they will be able to cure that person’s problems. Almost always, these efforts are destructive, and simply allow the problem to grow stronger, resulting in disaster.”

Not being privy to this information, I thought getting Jason away from his employer’s whore decor would help cure the addiction he denied having so I got him an interview with the IT consultants at my law firm. After they hired him, he started buying new clothes, wearing contacts he hadn’t worn since before we moved in together, and telling me about women he’d helped. The job increased his confidence—and his courage. So instead of running straight to mommy the night I screamed at him for jacking off seven feet away from me as I lay in our bed crying about the fact my mom had just confessed to cheating on my father after lying about it for 15 years and was preparing to be killed, he shoved me so hard that I nearly went backward through our closed kitchen window and onto the pavement 20 feet below.

Two days later, I came home from work to find all of his things were gone. And in case that didn’t teach me that some things need to end badly in order for them to end, my mom and brother fled to a domestic violence shelter shortly thereafter.

By the time Jason showed up on the doorstep of my new apartment with tears making his eyes more blue to apologize, admit that he was addicted to porn, and beg me to take him back, I was blond, dating an attorney I worked for, having sex every night, and—for the first time since I was a little girl on roller skates—smiling from ear to ear.

Intermission: Let’s Play a Little Game of Never Have I Ever

If you’ve been following my blog, you know my father beat my mom for 15 years until she and my mentally handicapped, diabetic, epileptic, and autistic brother fled to a domestic violence shelter.

You also know I started dating an alcoholic before I even moved out and that I unwittingly moved in with a porn addict at age 21. At age 23, I fell in love with a player, and then I got involved with a man who had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. November 17, 2001 – a day I will never forget – he stopped taking all nine (nine) meds, including lithium. By 5 p.m., he told me my face was melting, and he could see bone.

In 2002, after being diagnosed with HPV and being told I needed near-immediate surgery to remove cervical cancer cells, I suffered a nervous breakdown as I left my gynecologist’s office. After a 36-hour stay in a psych ward and two surgeries, I started taking an antidepressant and became easy prey for a man who date raped me.

Since then, I’ve had breast lumps, a cervical cancer recurrence, a forehead tumor, and leaky gut syndrome (which caused a ridiculous number of food allergies and forced me to give up every food I ever loved).

In 2007, my mom committed suicide, and I buried her two days after my birthday. My brother died six weeks later, leaving me familyless.

Little did I know, all of this was just practice for the drama a man and his millennial daughters would provide.

I became a Christian in early 2014 because televangelists kept saying my life would get better.

“God wants you to live life abundantly,” they said. “He wants to give you beauty for ashes.”

They left out the part about God wanting to burn everything to the ground first. Here’s just a sampling of what has happened to me since that day:

  • I lost my job my first day of vacation on Kauai (October 2014).
  • My cat Titus died unexpectedly and painfully (NYE 2014).
  • My excellent credit rating dropped to “poor,” and my debt increased as I worked a $9/hour job because I couldn’t find anything else.
  • I lost my ability to go to my gym (i.e., my happy place).
  • I lost my ability to get my roots done for months (thank God Jared Leto and one of the Kardashians made that awful ombre look popular).
  • I lost my ability to travel (which is the only thing aside from my gym that makes me happy).
  • I had to give up having a car when my lease expired.
  • I had to walk 2.7 miles to a library and 2.7 miles home — during winter — in Cleveland – to use Wi-Fi to freelance.
  • The library had to call an ambulance for me in December 2015, and after nine hours on a morphine drip, I learned I have a kidney condition that could cause kidney failure or death.
  • I developed osteoarthritis in my hip, which feels like rusty jaws of life clamping down on my entire leg (not fun when you have to walk three miles to the closest grocery store – in the snow).
  • A few times, I’ve gone up to five days without food (the Bible says we’re worth more than sparrows and that, like birds, we are not to worry about what we’ll eat because God will supply it, but God’s idea of giving us what we need and our idea of giving us what we need are two different things).
  • I had to move from a high-rise condo on the lake to a slumlord-owned condo that’s more of a trailer park/halfway house because the guy beneath me is an alcoholic, country music-blaring redneck who was wearing an ankle bracelet when I moved in and went back to jail for a week in December, the woman across from me is an alcoholic, and the woman next to her is a recovering alcoholic. I also have mushrooms (technically, domicile cup fungus) growing along one bedroom wall.

And as if all of that weren’t bad enough, I went back to school at age 28, double majored in English and communication, graduated summa cum laude, and even though the creative writing program director (who graduated from Princeton) said I was “one of five or six of the most naturally talented writers [he’d] met in 20 years of teaching,” I still can’t find a magazine editing job eight years later.

But NEVER HAVE I EVER considered killing someone because of my troubles. What happened in Cleveland on Easter sickened and saddened me.

For those who haven’t heard or read the news, 37-year-old Steve Stephens pulled up alongside 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., told someone on the phone, “Found me somebody I’m going to kill, this guy right here, this old dude,” exited his car, and shot the father of 10 in the head for a video he uploaded to Facebook. He blamed the murder on his girlfriend and mother.

I will respect the family’s wishes by not sharing the video, but I think it needs to be shared. This is a teachable moment. People in this world have ZERO respect for life, much less death. (I won’t get into the fact that people were debating death and dignity on the weekend of the crucifixion, but it merits a mention.)

Since this video has gotten people talking, #sorrynotsorry, the following subjects need to be discussed.

First, people have sought out “Faces of Death”-type websites for years. This is what happens when people become desensitized.

Second, although thousands of people lambasted CNN for posting a story about first-person shooter games last night, they’re a problem, like it or not, play them or not. Some people are mentally incapable of handling certain things. That’s why some employers make applicants undergo rigorous screening.

And that leads me to the shooter: “Stevie Steve,” as he called himself on Facebook. According to heavy.com, he was a children’s behavioral health agency case manager.

Kinda makes you wonder who’s teaching, mentoring, or allegedly counseling your child, doesn’t it?

I don’t care what anyone says, this guy clearly has a mental illness himself. Everyone is born with a conscience. If you pull up alongside an elderly man, instruct him to say your girlfriend’s name, say, “She’s the reason this is about to happen to you,” and shoot him, something is wrong with you – and it isn’t physical. So let’s stop talking about the “stigma” of mental illness, and let’s start talking about the things mentally ill people are doing and how prescribing pills and sending them on their way isn’t helping.

My heart goes out to Mr. Godwin’s family.

Mr Godwin RIP

 

 

Chapter 10: How Domestic Violence Affected Me (Part IV: Debt and Codependent Relationships)

memory-lossBreaking up with a blackout drunk in favor of a guy who’d practiced tang soo do for years wasn’t a difficult decision. Whereas the latter would protect me if my father tried to kill me as he’d threatened a number of times since he started beating my mom in 1984, the former would wake up next to my dead body and wonder what happened. Moving in and continuing to live with the guy who’d practiced tang soo do for years, on the other hand, were beyond my control.

Cohabitation Under Duress

scared_eavesdroppingOne summer night in 1996, I made the mistake of coming home a couple of minutes before curfew. After walking into my bedroom and biting into the blueberry muffin I’d brought home from the movie theater, I heard my mom whimper. Since I’d only heard her make that sound when my father grabbed her by the throat, I froze, stared at my closet, which adjoined my parents’ closet, and strained to hear what was going on while I debated whether to call the police.

Just as I pulled my flip phone from my purse, my father grunted as he ejaculated, and my parents’ bedsprings squeaked as he rolled off of my mom.

The next day, after he backed his F-150 out of our long, gravel driveway, I went downstairs to yell at her.

“I thought he was killing you! I don’t need to hear that shit,” I said, swearing at her for the first time in my 21 years on the planet. “You know when curfew is! Do that shit when I don’t have to hear it!”

kissing_santa_clausMy mom, who’d given up sobriety to appease my father by this point in time, laughed at me like I was a little girl scolding her for kissing Santa Claus.

“It’s not fucking funny!” I said. “I’m traumatized enough as it is.”

Releasing the back of the breakfast bar stool I’d been gripping to retreat to my room and binge eat Banana Twins, I remembered her telling my father about a bad report card senior year, so he’d get off her case for a while. He’d yelled at me to come downstairs, ordered me to sit on the middle stool, asked me why I was so stupid, and when I’d glared at him instead of crying, he’d volleyed my face between his hands, hitting me left-right-left-right-left-right, as my mom bawled and begged him to stop.

“You’d better not tell him I said anything,” I warned. But apparently her wine cooler-addled brain translated this to: “Make sure you tell him about my tirade the second he comes home,” because I barely had time to curse at her under my breath, sit up on my daybed, and bring my knees to my chest before my father slammed my door into my dresser, rocking my 13-inch TV.

“Your mother told me what you said,” he said. “This is MY house. I’ll do whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want. Do you understand me?”

“Okay,” I said meekly. I hated the fear in my voice, but it pacified him, so he went back downstairs after flipping me off.

He wasn’t done though. Just as he’d parked my car at the end of our yard and taped a “for sale” sign to the windshield the day after he’d slapped me repeatedly, he sat at the kitchen counter the next morning while I ironed a $79 silk skirt for work and told me to start paying rent or get out.

debt_behind_the_8ballDespite promising myself I would never cry in front of him again, I burst into tears for two reasons. First, because I was sure he’d kill my mom after I moved. Second, because I’d spent every cent I’d earned at Macy’s on clothes, shoes, and car payments. I also owed The Limited $1,500.

If I’d paid attention all the times my father had ranted about being in debt and realized he was partly to blame because he’d bought brass faucets and accessories for the remodeled bathroom, traded his truck and my mom’s car for brand-new models every two years, and spent thousands of dollars on his bowhunting hobby and archery tournaments, I might’ve saved money for a security deposit and rent. But I doubt it. My sole goal was to keep my mom from being killed, and that required my presence. And since my father had always threatened our lives, it never occurred to me to plan for a future. Instead, once I started working, I tried to make each day as livable as possible with pretty things the same way he’d tried to stave off his own unhappiness with stuff and filled my diabetic and epileptic brother’s bedroom with every toy he asked for after doctors predicted he would die by age 17.

my convertibleRather than teach me about budgets, interest, and negative equity, he’d cosigned for a convertible when I was 19, turning my $186-per-month car payment into a $310-per-month car payment. To decrease my expenses, I tried to trade it for something cheaper. When he found out I’d gone “behind his back” by asking our neighbor, who was a mechanic and his best friend, to look under the hood of an Escort I was considering, he stopped speaking to the guy, stuffed everything I owned into Hefty bags while I was at work, threw them in the spare bedroom, and forced me to sleep on the floor beside them until a coworker helped my boyfriend and me move a month later.

My Codependent Protector

Intentionally or intuitively, domestic violence survivors and children of alcoholics often wind up dating alcoholics, addicts, gamblers, and people who are mentally ill, immature, or irresponsible because codependent relationships make them feel needed, in control, or superior to their partner.

lots-of-alcoholI started dating Jason because it was nice to be with someone who took care of me for a change. After binge eating for years, I’d become a binge drinker to tolerate my alcoholic ex-boyfriend’s antics, and I continued to chug four or five Long Islands per night when Jason and I went to the Flats during its Mardi Gras-like heydey. Once my head hit the table, he gave me orgasmic scalp massages that melted every muscle I’d put knots in the past 12 years as I listened to my father beat and yell at my mom.

The night my enabler in shining armor charged into Trilogy’s ladies’ room, scooped me off the floor of a stall, and rushed me through the VIP room, down a flight of stairs, across the crowded dance floor, down another set of stairs, outside, and up the club’s concrete fire escape, where I rolled toward the edge and hurled, I felt like Whitney Houston in “The Bodyguard.”

Cohabitation killed this sort of romance and heroism because we couldn’t afford to go out anymore. And technically, I learned, Jason never could. He’d somehow sunk $10,000 of credit card debt into his computer, and it skyrocketed to $30,000 when he neglected to pay his bills on time, so his mom—i.e., one of Macy’s breakroom biddies who’d gossiped about me for years and now resented me for stealing her 25-year-old baby of eight children—paid them from their joint checking account.

In other words, I’d unknowingly locked myself into a year-long lease with a mama’s boy whose codependent mother had zero incentive to pay his half of the utilities because if the heat got shut off, he’d have to come home. Consequently, our new pastime became fighting about his 17-mile-long umbilical cord—and the Library of Congress-sized folder full of porn on his desktop.

Chapter 9: How Domestic Violence Affected Me (Part III: Unhealthy Relationships)

Girl_crush_on_boyIn high school, I envied girls who had boyfriends and developed crushes on football players and nerds who sat beside or in front of me and talked to me as they used my desk to do tricep dips or passed me papers. The year my mom said short stories I’d written to make her proud were “warped,” I fell for a skater boy who read them instead of his “Grapes of Wrath” homework and urged me to write more. I didn’t care what guys looked like or what they wanted to do with their life after they graduated. I would’ve followed them to the edge of the Earth—or their vert ramp—simply because they acknowledged my existence. This lack of selectivity—i.e., desperation for affection—and the fact that domestic violence survivors and children of alcoholics tend to:

set me up for a series of unhealthy relationships with “wildly inappropriate people,” to quote a Carrie Bradshaw spiel from “Sex and the City.”

Frankly, after growing up in my own private Guantanamo with a father who beat my mom and a mentally handicapped brother who made as much noise as possible and delighted in getting me yelled at by repeating, “Good morning,” until I got sick of saying it back and snarled, I don’t like people who make life harder than it has to be. Unfortunately, that’s who I attract.

semper fi do or die memeThe trend began with a Marine I met while working in Macy’s young men’s department at age 18. He bought jeans, complimented my smile, and asked for my phone number. After calling a couple of times from his Virginia Beach base, he sent me jewelry with cheap pink stones and a mixed tape with Silk’s song “Freak Me.” Since my father was recording all incoming and outgoing calls to catch my mom cheating on him, and he’d dragged me to his Baptist church for months after finding a Guns N’ Roses tape in my dresser, I shipped everything back with a note telling the Marine not to contact me anymore.

A few days later, I received a scrawly suicidal letter asking, “Why did you lead me so far?”

When I didn’t reply, he mailed a letter that said I should be the one who died, not him, and he’d be home for Thanksgiving.

This scared me into filing my first restraining order. It also caused me to start dating coworkers because spending 40 hours a week with them enabled me to inspect their fingernails for traces of blood or gun powder residue and ferret out personality defects in a public place. Or so I thought.

Mr. Tall, Dark, and Damaged

A week before Thanksgiving, I saw “Carlito’s Way” with a coworker my friend Angie had introduced me to during the summer with an ear-to-ear smile, sensing she’d made a love connection. He was 6-foot-5 and had the cute “Hardcastle and McCormick” actor’s curls and smile, so I’d told her I doubted this highly as we’d giggled our way back to our departments from the breakroom. But for the rest of that afternoon, every time I’d felt someone staring at me and glanced toward men’s furnishings, he’d looked away and pretended to be straightening the belt rack.

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By the time I picked him up for the movie, we’d gone on several breaks together, and he’d told me about a teacher who’d molested him and made him question his sexuality, but I had no idea the 27 year old lived with his parents—or that he’d wave me in to meet them on our first date.

After sitting stick-straight in the theater with at least three inches of space between our body parts at all times, the night ended with an awkward handshake and a nagging suspicion that my four-month-long nervousness around him wasn’t butterflies.

The Alcoholic

beware_the_guy_who_likes_80s_musicMark McCormick and I went Christmas shopping in December, took occasional breaks together the following year, and talked about ’80s music as we worked, but I continued to feel shy around him, and he remained stilted around me, so when a coworker in the mattress department dialed my extension to invite me to a manager’s Halloween party, I said yes.

Of course, Mark McCormick attended the party, too, making me feel terrible every time I caught him watching my date, who’d dressed in red horns, and me. But faced with the decision of dating someone who made me anxious, dying alone, or pursuing a relationship with the devil, I chose to keep going out with the 27-year-old mattress salesman I’d conversed with during his stint in the young men’s department. At the time, with his thus-far-useless journalism degree, disheveled hair, partly untucked dress shirt, rolled-to-the-elbows sleeves, Camel habit, and dark sense of humor, he’d seemed like the tortured-artist type.

He turned out to be an alcoholic.

For a while, dating him was fun because I was underage and never got carded at bars he’d frequented before we met. Then, he started passing out in restaurants and stumbling into the store drunk during my evening shifts because he’d seen me chatting with Mark McCormick earlier in the day. The fun officially ended when he began romanticizing the movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” and the caretaker part of my personality donned a cape and decided to save him from drinking himself to death a la Nicolas Cage’s character.

Once nagging him to stop drinking backfired because he ordered O’Doul’s and made so many faces and sarcastic remarks that I told him to get a real damn beer and shut up, I tried to distract him from liquor cravings by making out with him in darkened parking lots of hospitals, doctor’s offices, and parks, where every police officer in Lorain County saw me in various states of undress because I still lived with my parents, my boyfriend lived with his widowed mother, and neither of us could afford a hotel room until New Year’s Eve, when he sprang for a Radisson reservation to take my virginity.

ESFJLike the you-could-do-a-lot-better episode of “Seinfeld,” my interest in saving him waned after one cop knocked on my window with his flashlight and asked, “Do you wanna be with this guy?” It was his way of asking if I was being raped, but I started to ask myself the same question. The alcoholic’s erections were an instant return on investment of time and effort since I wasn’t attracted to two-thirds of his face, including the semicircular nicotine stain shading the bottom of his two front teeth like a child’s drawing of sunset, but even for a people-pleasing, self-sacrificing ESFJ, it’s hard to rescue someone you resent.

Throughout our relationship, he’d continued to drink, embarrass me in public, and call me by his sole ex-girlfriend’s name. He also complimented my intelligence and encouraged me to go to college but turned every conversation into a game of chess that segued into an argument. Coworkers constantly asked, “Are you two fighting again?”

Worse, I knew I’d never be able to pursue a writing career as long as we were together because although he likened his writing to Hunter S. Thompson’s, he’d failed as a reporter at “The Morning Journal” he called “The Urinal.”

I accepted his spontaneous proposal as I drove us around downtown Cleveland beneath fireworks our second New Year’s Eve together because I was 20 and naïve enough to think he would change, because I knew I’d need to move out soon and wouldn’t be able to afford rent on my $6.20 per hour salary, and because it would’ve been an even longer drive back to Amherst if I hadn’t.

I demoted him from fiance to boyfriend in title only after he saw me talking to Mark McCormick at a coworker’s Super Bowl party, got drunk, stormed out, and tossed the leather jacket I’d bought him out his car window on his way home. The look on his face—and potential drama at Macy’s, where I now wrapped gifts, prepared the bank deposit, and enjoyed my job—prevented me from severing ties because previous attempts had provoked slurred, suicidal-sounding phone calls. I had enough to worry about with violence escalating at home, so it was just easier to endure an occasional date even though the baritone voice that initially attracted me to him had turned into a mosquito-esque drone.

red_hair_breakup_hairTo cope during particularly exasperating evenings, I took a cue from him and drank to the verge of alcohol poisoning. This provided an escape hatch once my head hit the table, but after he deliberately scalded my scalp beneath his mother’s bathtub faucet before rinsing Long Island iced tea vomit from my hair, I cut the waist-length locks he loved up to my ears, buzzed the back, dyed the new ‘do red, and began dating the former coworker who’d tagged along on dates for months to carry him to the car and drive us home.

I hoped that since Boyfriend A was so smart, he’d catch on to Boyfriend B and bow out. I never imagined it would take eight months of refusing to hold his hand and a move to a one-bedroom apartment with the new beau. Then again, I didn’t realize I was exchanging one set of problems for another, that I would do so time and time again for the next 20 years, or that an eventual relationship with Mark McCormick would precipitate a 36-hour stay in a psych ward.

Retail Therapy (Three Ways a Job at the Mall Improved My Self-Esteem—and Why You Shouldn’t Rely on One to Do the Same)

If you lived in a small town pre-internet and f’d up your future by worrying more about your father killing your mom than your grades, you had four job options post-high school graduation: salesperson at the local mall, burger flipper at a fast-food franchise, pump jockey at a gas station, or kennel assistant at a vet clinic.

gas-station-fireSince a Newfoundland nearly raped me at Amherst Animal Hospital, I’d set my fingernails on fire during chemistry, and a food-service position was unwise for a woman with binge-eating disorder, I took a former sociology classmate’s sister’s suggestion and applied at Macy’s, where she worked. But this wasn’t an easy decision. The thought of having to approach every customer who entered my department, make eye contact, and smile was just as nerve-racking as giving an oral report had been since I suffered from low self-esteem, courtesy of:

  • stuck-up Amherst students who’d shunned or made fun of me since fourth grade
  • a father who called my mom ugly, which, I believed, made me ugly by default
  • a brother who brought home chicken pox that left a lunar crater on my cheek sophomore year
  • a complexion prone to Proactiv commercial-type breakouts before Proactiv existed to help me, and
  • a flat chest.

After tossing and turning a few nights, the only thing that got me into Macy’s training room was the infamous plant experiment in which the plant that was insulted withered while the plant that was complimented thrived. When I was 4 and my parents needed money for my newborn brother’s medical bills, my mom took me to a modeling agency that wanted to sign me until I suctioned myself to her leg and started screaming that I wanted to go home. As my mom escorted me into my first day of kindergarten, a blond boy approached us to say, “You’re perdy.” Years later, a little girl came up to me as my parents bowled in a league and said the same thing but pronounced the word properly. I remembered being happy back then.

If I can find people who are nice to me, I’ll be okay, I thought.

And ultimately, retail restored my self-worth and changed my life in three long-lasting ways.

First, Retail Enabled Me to Give Myself a Makeover

cat_t-shirtFrom fifth grade through high school, long before Target entered northeast Ohio with fashion-magazine-worthy designer collections, my parents took me to Kmart to buy back-to-school clothes. Worse, my mom sometimes shopped for summer clothes solo, so anytime it was warm, I was forced to sport leopard-print T-shirts or tops adorned with almond-shaped eyes and glittery whiskers because the only thing she knew about me was that I liked cats.

I knew she meant well, so I felt bad for making her cry during an emotional—and probably premenstrual—tirade at age 13. But her realization that classmates were taunting me prompted her to take my Christmas wish lists a little more seriously since, despite raising me with an abuser like her father, she’d always wanted me to have a better childhood than her own.

Unfortunately, as the Fresh Prince said, parents just don’t understand. So instead of popular-and-pure-white Princess Reeboks appearing beneath the tree that year, I eagerly opened a Reebok box to a pair with peach stripes because “they were prettier.” Then, because social isolation had turned the girl who’d walked on wooden cable spools with a friend in her former neighborhood into a klutz who frequently “forgot” her gym clothes to get out of having to participate, I bumped a bottle of red paint during art class, and it spilled onto my left shoe. Not only did I regret ruining a present, but every time I tied my laces, the stain reminded me of the locker room scene in “Carrie.”

With those memories fresh in mind, I used my employee discount to reduce the price of Nine Wests and spent the remainder of every paycheck on classic pieces from The Limited. I also taught myself to walk like a model via mirrored pillars throughout the store, hoping my hips, pretty clothes, and high heels would divert attention from flaws.

Twenty years later, I still get compliments on those clothes, my taste in shoes, and my walk, which inspired a boyfriend to put Pet Shop Boys’ “Domino Dancing” on a mixed tape—and possibly prevented me from being assaulted on the street. When you project confidence, you look tough, “and a tough target never gets picked,” self-defense expert Tony Stengel told Oprah in the ’90s.

Second, I Flourished as an ESFJ

Sunflower Breaks ThroughAs 16personalities.com says, “ESFJs love to be of service, enjoying any role that allows them to participate in a meaningful way, so long as they know that they are valued and appreciated.” I’ve enjoyed helping people since my third-grade teacher gave me dopamine rushes by letting me fetch the gym closet keys from the principal and redecorate her classroom, but I couldn’t do a damn thing to help my mom. So you can imagine my elation when the assistant store manager promoted me from the sales floor to customer service, where I:

  • balanced the registers and vault to prepare the bank deposit
  • sold Ticketmaster tickets
  • resolved customers’ complaints
  • answered phones
  • made change for sales associates
  • paged stock guys, and
  • announced Lancome bonus gifts over the PA system while wrapping vacuum cleaners in flimsy tinfoil bridal registry paper.

I smiled the rest of the day when customers I’d made Martha Stewart-esque bows for in the past told me they’d waited for me to return from lunch or break instead of settling for someone else’s handiwork. Consequently, I left that job knowing I needed a creative career that provided both positive feedback and a variety of tasks that would distract my brain from whatever might be going on at home since there was nothing I could do about it at work anyway.

Third, I Made Friends

When you feel good about yourself, people enjoy being around you, so I attracted a diverse cast of characters, including:

  • a flamboyant 50-something-year-old gay guy who took me to a wedding reception as his date because I was “the classiest woman” he knew
  • a guy with strabismus who could see straight enough to win drag races at Norwalk Raceway and strapped me into his passenger seat one weekend
  • an adopted drug addict and troublemaker who looked like Jose Jalapeno on a Stick and became my drinking buddy
  • a Valley girl-sounding nursing student who did coke and turned me onto bronchodilators to stay thin
  • a mild-mannered black woman in the lingerie department who kept me sane while I was stuck across the aisle in children’s, and
  • a feminist college student who read me an abortion story I’ll never forget.

miranda_in_hawaii-copyI had no shortage of interesting people to talk to, but old-timers Jude, Joan, and Betty were my favorite. All three are long gone, so I sometimes wonder if Jude’s looking down at me, still disapproving of my dating decisions by running his hand over his face and saying, “Oh, for heaven’s sake.” I’d like to think Joan, a spunky 67 year old who’d divorced an abusive husband and regaled me with road-trip tales from her 20s before moving back to Nevada, and Betty, a pocket-sized, silver-haired southern belle who divorced an abusive husband and moved back to South Carolina, watch over me with a smile as I travel by myself. If it weren’t for them, I never would’ve had the courage—even after meeting men who’d f’d up their own future, expected me to restore their self-worth, and made me want to run far, far away.

The Risks of Basing Your Self-Esteem on External Factors: Some Advice for the Selfie Generation

A 24-year-old woman told the Guardian that if she only gets two likes for a picture she uploaded to Instagram, she wonders what’s wrong with her. Another millennial said she deletes selfies that garner less than 140 likes “because I think I probably didn’t look good enough for my followers.” I wish women could see how sick that is. But little did I realize in my late teens and early 20s that basing my self-worth on my appearance, job performance, and friendships was like building a house on sand because:

An illness would later cause half of my hair to fall out in two weeks’ time.

A distracted Volvo driver would ruin my runway walk for six months by forcing me to limp and then cause osteoarthritis that generated swear words with every step years later.

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A scary lump would crop up overnight.

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A sudden, severe wheat allergy would turn my complexion from this:

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into a two-month breakout like this:

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and a year-long scar like this:

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Nor did I realize that future employers would lay me off, twice while I was on vacation, or that technological advances would rob friends of any manners they once had.

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It was a long and painful road to get there, but I’ve reached the point that I no longer care what people think and say about me. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate compliments as much as everyone else. But sharing embarrassing stories and photos may help others overcome their self-esteem issues, and I’d rather be remembered for empathy than vanity. Besides, as T.D. Jakes once said, “You’d be surprised how sexy ‘nice’ is.”

Case in point, inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic, who was born without limbs:

married her:

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So remember that the next time you’re stressing out about filters, angles, lighting, and likes.

Intermission: How a Teen with Low Self-Esteem Wound up Working Retail (or My Short Stint as a Kennel Assistant)

childhood_pets_pooh_and_scrappyAs a child, I aspired to become a vet because bad things always happened to my cats. Some disappeared, leaving me to wonder whether my father drowned them in our pool as he threatened with every litter. Most were killed while crossing the road in search of better food than the cheap kibble he bought. Others suffered. For example, Pooh’s tail was partially severed one day while I was at school. Did my father slam it in a door? Did our redneck neighbor’s children chop it with the hatchet they kept in a tree trunk? I don’t know. But when he turned around after trotting down our gravel driveway to greet me at the bus stop as he did every day, I burst into tears and nearly threw up when I noticed three inches of bare bone above the rest of his orange tail, which trailed along behind him like a wedding dress train. Instead of taking him to the vet to have that part detached humanely, my father stomped on it, prompting Pooh to run and abandon three-quarters of his tail.

happy_dog_vet_hospitalWhen I applied for a job as kennel assistant at a veterinary hospital after high school graduation, I envisioned myself prepping pets for surgery–i.e., placing the little anesthesia cone over their muzzle while humming “Rock-a-Bye Baby”–and then handing mended pups and kittens to grateful children.

Since nothing in my life has ever gone the way I hoped, I hosed poop and urine from kennel floors and tried not to get mauled.

I started my job July Fourth weekend when apparently every family in Lorain County dumps its dog at a kennel to keep it from freaking out during fireworks. In groups of six, I led 81 dogs to chain-link kennels behind the hospital. Once they were allegedly caged, I went back inside to spray, mop, and squeegee the indoor kennels before bringing those six inside and escorting another group out.

During my few weeks as kennel assistant, I learned that Chihuahuas can dig a hole really fast and run even faster. I learned that German shepherds will tell you they prefer to stay inside on a 90-degree day by gripping your wrist with their teeth as you attempt to attach a leash to their collar. And I learned why a coworker warned me not to let a tall, black Newfoundland named Kody–short for Kodiac bear–get behind me.

“Grab his collar close to the side of his neck and lead him like a horse,” she said.

everything-happens-for-a-reasonUsually, I did. But like the guy who goes into the factory to work a little overtime and gets sucked into a lathe by his sleeve because his mind drifted for a second, I took one step ahead of Kody because he was lumbering slower than usual on a morning that I had a migraine and desperately wanted to escape the nonstop barking and howling. Spotting an opportunity, in slow motion, just like a horror movie, Kody reared up on his hind legs, towered over my 5-foot-8 frame, and pinned me against the door.

I never asked what veterinary assistant Melanie Seal was doing there so early–perhaps she was prepping the little anesthesia cone she would later place over a pet’s muzzle while humming “Rock-a-Bye Baby”–but if she hadn’t come along and wrangled him, I would’ve given birth to a litter of puppies a couple of months later.

Knowing my father would’ve threatened to drown them, too, I quit the next day.