Eleven years ago today, I drove to the hospital to visit my mom. For years, she had said, “When he goes, I go,” meaning she would kill herself when my brother died. July 6, 2007, a Lakewood Hospital doctor called my cubicle at a law firm to tell me she’d already started — by drinking while my brother spent two years in the hospital.
Angry that she hadn’t given me the chance to take her to Hawaii and other places she’d dreamed about visiting after a friend honeymooned or vacationed there and showed her pictures, I abandoned my mom as she’d abandoned me at age 4 to take care of my brother for the next 28 years. My July 15 visit was only my third. When I arrived, the receptionist told me she’d been transferred to Cleveland Clinic the night before, but they couldn’t get a hold of me.
By the time I got to the main campus, parked, and made it to ICU, she was “actively dying,” according to someone in white.
Sobbing, I used a payphone across from her room to call my boyfriend, who was vacationing with his daughter in Lakeside, Ohio.
Once he understood what I was trying to tell him, he said he was over an hour away, and he’d never make it in time.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll let you go then.”
A few times over the next several years, he would tell me that I’d immediately stopped crying and my voice had changed.
Of course, it did, I thought. I was used to men disappointing me — including him. As I’d begun cleaning out my mom’s home a week earlier, he’d been drinking Bloody Marys with a woman who’d recently asked him why they “never hooked up.” He only showed up to help because as they sat there drinking, he mentioned me so many times that she told him he should go be with me.
That night, his teenage daughter stole a golf cart to impress a boy.
Since he needed people to tell him the right thing to do and he couldn’t leave his daughter unattended again, I knew I was on my own.
I walked back to my mom’s room, sat down beside her, laid my head on her increasingly cold arm, and stroked the hair with my thumb.
With morphine coursing through her veins, she only came to as a doctor exposed her breast while he checked whatever it was the machine she was hooked up to wasn’t telling him.
After he left, she looked at me, and tears flooded her eyes.
“I forgive you,” I said.
She turned her head away from me, and tears streamed down her cheek.
The truth is, I didn’t forgive her. Not yet. But this is one of millions of reasons I know God exists. The holy spirit interceded on her behalf and told her what she needed to hear.
Here’s another: five minutes before she died at 4:20 p.m., my boyfriend showed up.
After she flatlined, I wrapped my arms around his neck, started crying, and said, “She knew you were coming. She waited for you to get here.”
I can’t help but think about that today for a few reasons.
First, the obvious: today’s the anniversary of her death.
Second: before walking to church this morning, I opened the right lid of my Dumpster and saw two little eyes staring at me from the back corner. A raccoon had gotten in when two bar stools sat beside the Dumpster, but now she couldn’t get out because the garbage wasn’t piled high enough. She may have been in there all night — or two nights — and if it was 87 degrees outside, I can only imagine how hot it was inside that metal tank.
Thinking they’d have a mini ladder of some sort, I flagged down two deeply tanned and ripped roofing guys who’d been walking to the truck they’d parked on a side street as I’d walked toward the Dumpster.
“You may not want to help, but could you please help me get a raccoon out of the Dumpster?” I asked, remembering that just about every guy I’ve dated has had a raccoon-that-nearly-killed-him story.
They looked behind my building for branches and propped one inside the Dumpster so she could scale it — but then she got to the top, glanced at the ground, and looked at us like, “Now what?”
I reassured her it would be okay as the roofers went in search of more branches.
Over the course of the next 15 minutes, they propped another branch, a metal pipe, and, finally, a 2×4 against the exterior, so the raccoon, who had a huge gash in her left arm, could descend safely.
Like all those videos of grateful animals and whales who’ve thanked their rescuers, the raccoon looked me in the eyes, making me tear up, before she walked down the board and headed home — possibly to hungry babies.
I’ve been kissing my own babies on the top of their head for days, telling them everything will be okay and, “We’re about to go on an adventure,” as I prepared to pack what I can in order to leave the apartment we’ve been evicted from tomorrow.
Although the magistrate gave me an extra week to find a place, I still don’t know where we’re going. But like July 15, 2007, and this morning for that raccoon who might’ve died from dehydration or heat exhaustion if “something” hadn’t nudged me to open the furthest lid instead of the closest, I know God often comes through at the 11th hour, or the fullness of time, as the Bible phrases it.
Those are the testimonies we’re supposed to share as Christians, so stay tuned for the next one.
A week into my underemployment at a grocery store this summer, a freshly tattooed 20-year-old in the deli department borrowed a pen from me in the bakery after showing me his forearm-long tribute to his grandfather and telling me he was tired from playing softball with his family before work. Maybe 10 minutes later, he returned it with an, “I brought it back!” like he was proud of himself.
“You seem like a nice lady,” he said, handing it to me. “I don’t want to do anything to change that.”
Six weeks later, I’m still marveling over that statement because he’d only borrowed a pen, but he realized how profoundly his actions might affect other people. If everyone thought that way, my life would’ve turned out a lot differently. But the fact is, people suck. Most suck because they’re selfish; others suck because they’re evil. That’s why God wiped out entire nations in the Old Testament and sent Jesus down here to show us how to live in the New Testament. It’s also why he allowed my parents and boyfriends to break me to the point I was diagnosed with PTSD, had a nervous breakdown, nearly killed myself one Christmas morning, and became a Christian 12 years later. God wants me to depend on him, and he has a purpose for me to fulfill. Unfortunately, that purpose involves everything I’ve been through, including constant betrayal – because some people are a constant problem.
How My Parents and Boyfriends Caused PTSD: One Blow After Another (or Non-Stop Trauma, Drama, and Treachery)
The acronym PTSD usually conjures the image of a shell-shocked veteran or car-accident victim, but I’ve learned that people can blindside you in a wide variety of ways. For example, in March of 1999, my mom confessed to cheating on my father – twice – with his best friends as she sifted through jewelry boxes and handed me sentimental-but-otherwise-worthless pieces she wanted me to have in case my increasingly violent father killed her now that he’d found out about the second affair. She’d denied the first one since 1984, when he began beating and choking her.
Two days after her confession, I sensed something was amiss in my own home, so I drove there during my lunch hour and discovered the mama’s boy/porn addict I’d been living with since my father forced me to start paying rent or get out in ’96 had packed his things and moved, leaving me with rent and utilities I wouldn’t have been able to afford on my $19,500-per-year salary even if my landlord’s son hadn’t jacked up the rent when he inherited the house.
I started dating my attractive, funny, and intelligent boss the last Friday of the month, when he strapped the mama’s boy’s mattresses to the roof of his car and moved them to my new apartment, but over the next three-and-a-half months, the player flirted with waitresses in front of me, took a bank teller two buildings from the office to a dinner-dance because he couldn’t be seen with his secretary, and supposedly fell asleep that night before he could call me as he’d promised. Days later, when I spotted a lipstick-stained wine glass beside an un-lipstick-stained wine glass on his kitchen counter, he told me his neighbor had borrowed them.
Knowing how previous trust-related conversations had gone, I bit my tongue anytime he mentioned the mid-July wedding he’d be attending stag the night before he moved halfway across the globe for work for three months because I didn’t know whether he’d RSVP’d before we started dating, he said he’d stop by on his way home, and I didn’t want to break up before his trip. But after he called me from the reception table where some guy asked, “Is that your girlfriend?” before yelling, “He’s flirting!” and then stood me up as I waited with cake-flavored shimmer powder glittering the cleavage of my negligee, I spent the rest of the night wondering where he was and why he hadn’t invited me to say goodbye at the airport with his other friends and family. After all, I was no longer his secretary. I’d moved on to one of Cleveland’s largest law firms, where I was paid $8,000 more per year and treated with respect. No one would dare walk up to my desk to tell me that my blue nail polish had inspired him to masturbate while fantasizing about me touching myself as one of his colleagues had. [#metoo]
Still shimmering, I went to the library at 9 a.m. and fired off an email for him to read once he landed.
Monday morning, I had one of my own. My eyes flicked past excuses (“I didn’t come over because I still had packing to do”) and conjecture (“the fact you would send such an email tells me your dating opportunities have increased tenfold at your new firm”) to the words that mattered most: “I think I like my sort of freedom.”
A week later, with that sentence and all the perversion attorneys at my old firm had told me about Japan ricocheting inside my head, I turned 24. Six days after that, my father got wasted after work, drove home, and ordered my mom to give him my address. She didn’t have it, but she’d denied cheating on him for nearly two decades so he didn’t believe her and beat her so badly that he went to jail for the weekend. Between collect calls commanding her to bail him out Tuesday morning, she packed everything she and my brother owned, and a secretary who’d given me $1,000 in March so I could move on from my own train wreck helped us cram everything into a storage unit before they fled to a domestic violence shelter for 30 days.
From age 9, when my father first held my mom off the floor by her throat, to age 24, when he was arrested, I’d watched her deteriorate from this:
Despite desperately wanting to move from Cleveland, Ohio, where seasonal depression rolled in with heavy cloud cover every September, to a sunnier climate, I’d stayed here in case she needed me even though she’d neglected me from age 4 onward to care for my diabetic, epileptic, and mentally disabled brother. Confirming that I’d made the right decision, she said, “I can’t keep going without seeing you,” the winter I had to keep in touch by phone because my father, who’d forbidden me from returning to the house, kept taking time off from work, preventing me from visiting.
When she T-boned me the following spring by admitting she’d lied for 15 years, I automatically shifted the blame for her affairs onto my father’s former best friends because she had low self-esteem. Her stepfather and priest had sexually abused her when she was a kid, and her husband constantly called her ugly – she was easy prey, I thought.
But after she and my brother left the shelter and rented rooms from a divorcee who’d recently started driving the school bus my mom had worked on since my brother started riding it in the ’80s, she repaid my sacrifice and devotion by telling me she missed my father, starting fights, and, later, advising me to see a shrink because I seemed “so angry.”
By then, I wasn’t angry. I was livid – and not because she was letting my father “walk all over her” by refusing to fight for the house, as she surmised in her journal.
When she first left him, I told myself she only missed him because they’d been together for 26 years. I figured that would subside a little more each day as she came and went as she pleased without him checking her odometer. When it didn’t, I tried to keep in mind that she was probably suffering from Stockholm syndrome or something similar. Why else would she miss someone who’d pointed a gun at her and made her beg for her life?
But as summer turned into fall, and fall became Christmas, resentment set in as she bemoaned the fact the court had ordered him to stay away from her for three years and wondered who he was taking to a wedding reception in Pennsylvania.
“Are you f_cking kidding me?” I had to restrain myself from shouting one day. “Your cheating caused all of this!”
It had also ruined my childhood and, by the looks of it, my life. Despite scoring at a 12th-grade level on proficiency tests in seventh grade, I hadn’t been able to concentrate in school because, as a child with a vivid imagination, I kept picturing my father hanging my mom from a deer hook and skinning her alive as he’d threatened. Since that’s the scene I expected to see when I walked in the back door every day, trudging past two police cars in the driveway at age 10 had only reinforced this fear. Consequently, I graduated with a 1.7 GPA and no real goals because my Xanax-popping father had also stood in the driveway, yelling that he was going to burn down the house with my mom, brother, and me inside of it. Aspiring to be or do anything seemed pointless considering it was only a matter of time before he killed us in a murder-suicide.
Since graduation, I’d been filling the void of a college education, fulfilling career, and loving husband with meaningless jobs, unhealthy relationships, and Krispy Kremes. I devoured dozens to stifle these thoughts because I didn’t want my mom, who’d stopped drinking from 1982, when her mom drank herself to death to escape her own abusive marriage, to 1996, when my father forced my mom to “party” with him, to start drinking again out of guilt. So, like a typical dysfunctional family, we ignored the real issues – i.e., drinking, cheating, lying, and playing the song “Friends & Lovers” on repeat for years like she had a death wish – and we fought about other things.
The day I showed up with newly highlighted hair, she said it looked better before I spent the $150, so I “took off in a huff,” according to her journal.
Since I’d taken off in a huff, she didn’t tell me when my brother went to the hospital with bacterial pneumonia for five days.
When I got mad about that, she didn’t invite me to his high-school graduation party.
In response to a note asking if she was trying to alienate me the Saturday I drove 25 miles to visit them only to find helium balloons, streamers, and other decorations while they dined at McDonald’s, she reminded me that my father used to leave her dry-erase board messages like, “Tell your boyfriends to stop calling and hanging up on me,” before he went to work and said she’d been praying for me because I was becoming just like him.
Meanwhile, as she earned $19,000 per year as a bus aide, took on a hectic lunchtime grill-cook position between shifts, and wondered how she was going to pay $1,227 out of pocket every month for my brother’s prescriptions, my father, who could’ve just taken his $81,000 salary and the woman he’d gone to Maryland with the Thanksgiving weekend after he heard about my mom’s second affair and moved on with his life, set out to make my mom pay for her infidelity for the rest of hers. And since the court had issued a no-contact order, he began by harassing anyone who might vouch for her in court as he fought for legal guardianship of the son he’d always threatened to kill by withholding insulin.
September 1, 1999 – one week after my mom and brother left the shelter – he called her only friend – i.e., his most recent best friend’s wife, the only friend the wife of a controlling abuser is allowed to have – to tell her that my mom was an alcoholic who’d slept with all of his friends. My 46-year-old father, who’d attended church most of his life, taken theology classes, and sang in the choir, also said she’d given herself all her bruises.
He called my mom’s boss at the bus garage to provide the same information.
September 21 and 22, using the phone number he’d found while ransacking my mom’s purse for my address the night before she fled, he left voicemails instructing me to tell her that he wanted to see my brother.
“My lawyer said she can call me without violating her restraining order,” he lied.
When he didn’t get a reply, he called me again a week later. This time, I made the mistake of answering the phone, thinking it was someone I’d just been talking to.
“It’s your dad,” he said, jarring me because he’d disowned me the day I moved out, I hadn’t heard his voice since he’d called me the week after my 23rd birthday to take a paternity test, and I’d never thought of him as a dad. I’d been calling him Billy Bob behind his back since I was 19, not knowing he’d tapped the phone. “I’d like to take you to dinner so you can get to know me.”
I furrowed my brow and shook my head like he was crazy. There was no way in hell I was meeting him anywhere or letting him pick me up. Now that my martial-artist boyfriend had moved to Columbus and he was about to lose half of the pension that had prevented him from divorcing my mom after walking in on her and his best friend when I was 4, I was more afraid of him than ever. Monday through Friday, as I left for work at the same time every morning, I descended the stairs facing the parking lot of my poorly chosen apartment building and wondered if he was aiming crosshairs at my head or heart through the glass.
When I replied that I knew enough about him, Dr. Jekyll turned into the father I was familiar with.
“Remember that time I yanked you down the steps and you peed your pants?” he asked.
“Remember me telling you I had just walked into the bathroom and I’d be down in a minute?” I asked.
“I don’t give a shit,” he said. “When I say move, you move.”
“Not anymore,” I said, angry that he would gloat about such a memory. “Is there anything else you wanted?” I didn’t want him calling me again. Ever.
He made a “kh” sound in disbelief or disgust and said, “You’ve got a hard heart, girl,” before repeating what he’d said the previous summer about knowing where to find him if I changed my mind and hanging up on me.
As though he’d cursed me, every guy I’d dated resurfaced, giving me opportunity after opportunity to prove him wrong.
At 8:30 this morning, I turned on Radio 1000 to listen to Bishop Noel Jones, who, with a scratchy voice, yelled: WALK! Wallllk! Wallllllk! several times during his sermon. It reminded me of a Pantera song I used to dance to at The Chamber, a goth club I used to frequent, so it stuck with me.
But it was about to be my fifth day in a row walking 45 minutes in 80+ degree heat to stand for five hours in a toasty bakery before walking 45 minutes home. I didn’t feel like walking. After getting ready for work, I glanced at my roll of laundry quarters, intending to take the bus. I thought better of it because I know everything happens for a reason. So, I walked.
Sure enough, maybe 500 feet from the Horseshoe Blvd./Clague Road intersection, where, as I mentioned in my last post, I frequently play crossing guard for Canada geese and photographed a dead gosling and parent the Saturday before July Fourth, I saw two geese waddling down the sidewalk, side by side like a couple. I thought, oh, no, and started hightailing it to catch up to them. Unfortunately, they turned right to cross the road before I got there.
A Mustang convertible veered around them, but the blankety-blank in the white BMW behind him nearly killed them as I yelled, “HEY!” while pointing at the geese in the center of his lane.
Knowing how devastated I would’ve been if I’d witnessed two birds being mowed down, my guardian angel must’ve pulled a Patrick Swayze from “Ghost” and slammed on the geezer’s brakes because they squealed as his back end tipped upward and his front bumper booped them ever so slightly.
The poor things raised their wings in a frenzy and waddled the rest of the way across Clague while I raised my hands toward the sky and yelled, “What the hell’s wrong with you, #sshole?” at both him and the post-50-year-old woman in the passenger seat. Not one of my most Christ-like moments, but one of them should’ve been paying attention to the road.
The driver raised his arms, mirroring mine but to mock me or give me a, “So what?”
Livid, I got to work in record time but kicked myself the whole way there. If I had listened to that still, small, and, this morning, scratchy voice telling me to walk instead of stopping to take pictures of daisies, I would’ve gotten to those geese in time to prevent a near-death experience — for them and the driver. 😡 If you think I’m being hard on myself, bear in mind that I read the following daily devotional before I listened to Noel Jones.
While walking to work last Saturday, I spotted a body in the middle of the road.
“No!” I thought. I can’t tell you how many times I have escorted a single-file family of Canada geese across the street the past few weeks. Sure enough, as I got closer, I saw feathers.
I took pictures, intent on getting goose-crossing signs mounted where they should’ve been posted years ago, put my phone away, walked a few feet farther, and noticed a baby (gosling) lying in the grass on the side of the road. This was a bad way to start my workday.
As soon as I got home that evening, I uploaded the photos to Facebook, where I tagged City of Westlake, Ohio, Government in a post asking what it would take for me to get goose-crossing signs posted between the park and playhouse. The city untagged itself and prevented me from being able to retag it.
Please sign and share this petition to get the mayor’s attention. God created geese; they have just as much right to live as we do.
My eviction hearing was at 9 a.m. On the way to court and as I sat outside waiting to be called in, I thought, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper, no weapon formed against me shall prosper, no weapon formed against me shall prosper,” over and over.
When the magistrate called my case, she told my landlord’s representative (a woman who co-owns the building with my landlord and his wife, apparently) that she needs to have a lawyer present.
“I do?” she asked.
The hearing was bumped to next Monday.
You may think that’s just delaying the inevitable, but you never know what can happen between now and then … because God is good. 😇
For years, I swore I would never kill myself as my so-called Christian father predicted I would when I was a kid, but stubbornness was no match for everything I’d endured by age 27, when I bought three boxes of sleeping pills Christmas morning. Although Psychology Todayirresponsibly reported that “[p]sychiatrists believe” that over 90 percent of suicides are due to “a mental disorder” rather than a rational decision, I wasn’t delusional, depressed, or drunk when I stopped at Drug Mart on my way home from an ex-boyfriend’s house. I was done.
I was also a statistic.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente teamed up to study the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) such as neglect, domestic violence, and abuse in 1995, researchers have found that childhood trauma survivors are more likely than other people to attempt suicide. I suffered all three, beginning at age 4 when my mom’s OB-GYN clamped down on my brother’s head with forceps, causing brain damage, diabetes, and epilepsy. Once he was discharged from the hospital’s neonatal ICU, she laced me into roller skates, set me on the sidewalk, and instructed me to go make friends so she could focus on him for the next 28 years. She didn’t seem to notice or care that I stopped spending time downstairs and started eating all my meals, including holiday dinners, in my room at age 9 after my father knocked her out. By that point, he’d been holding her off the floor by her throat while calling her a pig, slut, whore, and cocksucker loudly enough for all of our new neighbors to hear for more than a year. With no hope of her leaving him, I decided to monitor the situation with my ears rather than the corner of my eye from that night forward.
At age 42, these memories added up to five “yes” responses when I took the ACE test, which predicts the extent childhood trauma will affect a survivor’s future. Answering yes to four or more questions means you’re bound to try to kill yourself because “your chances for a happy life [are] low, and your chances for a lousy life [are] high,” said Dr. Edward Hallowell, who wrote about his own ACEs for Psychology Today.
That’s because childhood trauma survivors tend to:
call off from work, creating financial problems;
drink, use drugs, and/or smoke;
contract an STD;
get cancer; and
suffer from heart problems
before they attempt suicide.
This makes sense.
In 2012, Brown University researchers discovered that childhood trauma can change a person’s genes, increasing his or her risk of developing depression and anxiety.
When you’re depressed, it’s difficult to get out of bed let alone go to a job you don’t enjoy.
Millions of people drink, use prescription or recreational drugs, and/or smoke to make themselves feel better. Alcohol is a depressant, both drinking and smoking can cause cancer, and drugs can cause an overdose that leaves family and friends wondering if it was suicide or an accident.
People often use sex as a form of escapism or to fill a void, leaving themselves vulnerable to STDs, especially if they get too drunk or high to care about using a condom. The STD HPV can cause cancer.
Lastly, according to Psychology Today, people are more likely to commit suicide if they have both depression and anxiety.
“By rights, I should have become an alcoholic, suffered from major depression, been unable to earn a living and raise a family, and I probably should have died young, either by suicide or the ravages of alcoholism, depression, or drug abuse,” said Hallowell, who scored an 8 on the ACE test.
Instead, he became a psychiatrist who’s written 20 books, stayed married for 30 years, and raised three children “who are thriving.” He credited his success to love.
“[L]ove in its many different faces and places, love by chance, love on purpose, love on the fly, brief love, lasting love, love that was too embarrassed to name itself, broken love that got repaired – every kind of love you can imagine,” he said.
Funny, that’s what nearly killed me. That and the fact adverse childhood experiences don’t magically screech to a halt when you turn 18. Nearing 30, I knew mine weren’t going to end until somebody died. After being told I had HPV and needed surgery to remove high-grade cervical dysplasia that might be cancer, I was happy to go first.
I think some people forgot what being a Christian means, so here’s a reminder: You are supposed to be Christ-like. That means thinking like him, talking like him, and acting like him SO YOU CAN BRING MORE PEOPLE TO HIM. Example: When a lawyer tried to trip up Jesus by asking him what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied: “Lovethe Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second-greatest commandment, he said, is to “loveyour neighbor as [much as you love] yourself. Allllllll the law and the prophetshangon these two commandments.”
Catch that? ALL. If you need a little more clarification, read this.
And if you really think Jesus would be traumatizing children by taking them from their parent(s) and locking them in cages, dog kennels, or anything else you prefer to call a chain-link enclosure, you need to change churches or start going to one.