The Sins of Our Fathers

Tonight was a gift. It was a night that also broke my heart in some ways.  I had no intentions of writing about this for possibly a long time, if ever. However, tonight it feels necessary. I went to a party tonight….

First, I think you need the backstory…

My mother was 17 when she had me. I have an older brother. She was 15 when she had him. I feel like I grew up with my mother, somewhat. I watched it happen, anyway.

My parents divorced soon after her pregnancy with me. I had limited contact with my biological father throughout my childhood. I may have seen him 5 times or so, until I moved out on my own – which was when I was 17. We grew up poor through my youngest years. My father was one of those guys that had a ton of potential. High School football star, super handsome, lots of charisma. Unfortunately, he was also one of those guys that, brutally speaking, probably peaked then, too. With no financial help from my father, my mother chose to go to college, when she realized that she couldn’t support my brother and me on a minimum wage job and welfare, very successfully. This was the best thing my mother ever did for herself and for us. I do not want to discredit her accomplishment. I do remember the welfare days and I remember the days after she got her job as a chemist. They were very different times.

My mother remarried when I was in the 5th grade. She met him at her new job. I must have been in the 2nd grade when he moved in. My mother has always needed a man to define her. I know that now. So, my stepfather…I loved him, and called him Dad. Except that, he had a severe drinking problem, and turns out, was a child molester. Specifically speaking, molested Me. I can’t tell you the exact year it started. I can tell you that I was wearing white panties that had the word “WEDNESDAY” printed on them, the first time it happened. I can tell you that I pretended to be asleep throughout the whole episode. I can tell you that I didn’t want to tell my mom because she had such a hard time in her life, and I felt like I couldn’t be the one to take away the happiness she had found in him. My mother’s role had always been “the one who had such a hard time as a single mother.” And she did have a hard time. I knew at that age, that I didn’t want to put her back in that role. She needed him. From my perspective, anyway.

The mind is a very strange thing. I can say that it continued unpredictably, and to the point that I slept backward on my bed even through my early adult years, out of habit. If he came in at night, it would give me a little extra time if he couldn’t spot me easily in bed. It would give me a chance to jump out of bed and hurry to the bathroom to throw him off. He wasn’t violent, and I think he must have known I wouldn’t tell, although it was never discussed. So,  I chose to forget it all. I told myself it didn’t happen. My mom deserved happiness.  There were symptoms, though. I would wake up in the bathtub in the middle of the night, fully clothed. Sometimes, I would wet the bed.  This is painful for me to type, but I remember that  I couldn’t wipe myself after peeing on occassion, because it hurt too badly.  

My stepfather lived with us until my sophomore year in high school. He hadn’t touched me in years. Not since Elementary School. It was much easier to forget, as time went by, or maybe just to compartmentalize.  He was the man that made my favorite dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread, and taught me to drive his Chevy Sprint, and picked me up whenever I needed a ride. He was my Dad. The only one I ever knew.

The week he moved out, I told my mom. I sobbed like I had never sobbed in my life. I started crying one night after my mom and my brother had gone to bed. I couldn’t stop and so I went and sat on the top of the staircase, next to her bedroom, hoping she would hear me. I couldn’t bring myself to just go in and tell her what I had chosen to forget for so many years. She did hear me and she did come out. I really don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t. I was a mess. I could hardly get my words out. Years of supressing and trying so hard to forget wasn’t easy to verbalize.  I wasn’t able to tell her exactly what he had done, but somehow, I was able to get my point across. My mother’s words to me were, ” I had some suspicions. ” At the time, I felt validated and relieved. As an adult with my own children, I saw my mother’s brokeness.

I begged her not to tell. I needed to think about everything. I was confused and sad about my dad leaving, which was confusing in itself. How could I not know how to feel? More confusing, I  kept having a repeat and random thought about him. A memory of him taking so many pictures of a little girl who had come over to swim with her parents. Why was nobody stopping him? Doesn’t anyone see how strange his behavior is? Me slamming the door into the house in the midst of these new friends visiting. Seemingly, for no reason. My mind was willing me to let these thoughts out. I kept remembering random things.I was unable to think about one specific thing or to think clearly. Just so many memories literally flooding at me. I had to have some time to think and examine my thoughts.

I think when emotional trauma occurs, it doesn’t have to define a person, but it does need a release. If the wound isn’t opened up and cleaned, it festers and seems to manifest itself in anyway that it can find release. I know that now, too.

The next day, I was home alone. The doorbell rang and there he was, standing on our doorstep. I remember that it felt as if 1000 years had gone by and I no longer knew him, even though the week before, I had been calling him Dad. In that instant, I knew she had told him, and I had to look him in the eye and acknowledge what we both had pretended never happened, for so long. I wasn’t ready, but I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t prepared.

I had my dog in my arms. She was a little terrier that had actually been his dog. I didn’t think she had liked me much, but I knew if I didn’t hold her, she would run outside. Actually, she had been his and my moms dog, and yet in that moment, she growled and barked at him. That little stinker growled and barked at him. Ha! One for the home team! I loved her from that moment on.

While I was standing on the inside of the front door of the house, and he on the outside, my heart was racing and my mouth immediately felt dry. I was afraid to talk, and I remember shaking. I was scared and confused. There was my dad, and I knew why he was there. In that confrontation, he didn’t blatantly deny anything, specifically. He said that  he heard what I told my mom, and he told me that he would never hurt me and that he loved me. I looked him in the eye, and at my 15 year old self, although unprepared emotionally, said, “you and I both know what you did, and I loved you too. ” I closed the door and those were that last words I said to him, until many years later when my mother, yet again, needed my strong personality to fight another battle for her. That however, is another story.

My mother’s and my relationship has been strained from this point on in my life. This was the defining moment in our relationship for me. My trust was broken and in that moment, I transferred all of my hurt and betrayal from this man onto the person who should have protected me. My mother.  She of course, denied telling him. I know that she reached out to him again, after this. I also know that she tried to make lunch plans with him, without me knowing, and in her brokeness is not able to acknowledge her part in the dysfunction.

I truly have moved on. I know that molestation occurs so disgustingly frequently, that it cannot define me. I am 1 in 4. I am not “special”. I am not uncommon. I processed it –  I did drugs. I slept with the bad boys. Too many of them. I picked an abusive boyfriend. I picked a healthy boyfriend, I was too broken for. I hated my mom. Finally, I focused on me, and thought about what I wanted. Then, I picked a man who was unfamiliar. Not my normal type. He has been good for me, patient with me, and we have learned from each other. We had kids, and that’s when it all resurfaced. When I held my first son in my arms, I could not imagine not fighting for him. Doing whatever I could to protect him. It was instant for me and has not lessened.

In the months following my son’s birth, I began to see the dysfunction of my experience more clearly. So, I sought therapy for the anger toward my mother, as it seemed to be growing. I would not allow her to have my son to stay the night with her and her new husband. I did not feel I could trust her. I knew that if she could not protect me, she could not protect my son. If something happened, would I ever learn about it? So, I chose to do my job as a mother and put his interest first, and not worry about what she thought. It caused some problems, though. However, I also knew that I had to seek help.  My mother and I were in one of our sick cycles of anger and resentment. It felt like it was leaking into my healthy relationships. Eventually, I ultimately had to let our relationship go. I do have polite conversations with her a few times a year, following a 4 year break, and that is just fine with me. It is a healthy balance for me, and it has taken me a long time to get here. I am fiercely protective of my children and my attempt to try and be as healthy as I can. It’s not an easy battle for me.

Only a handful of friends know this about me. I truly do not let this define me, and when I use to try and talk about it with my mother, she would become very angry with me. She felt like I shouldn’t discuss it and that I should just get over it. I just wanted her to hear what happened. She was not interested, and it made her very uncomfortable. Me too, frankly, but my wound needed to be exposed so that it could begin to heal, for lack of better explanation. She had tried to help me when I was 16, when she handed me a note that had 779-HELP written on it. That was that for her.

Some things in your life do not have to define you, but they do change the core of who you are. I believe this. I walked around angry for many many years, I have trust issues. Who doesn’t? There is always a story there, though. I have been changed by my experience. The trajectory of my life was changed and I am forever aware of certain things. I don’t share this with people, normally. It is just something that has happened, now. However, I cannot carry any shame in it anymore. I also can’t  apologize for it having happened to me. This topic is a cancer that nobody is treating. Child Molesters are all someone’s husband, father, uncle, best friend, cousin, neighbor, son. Nobody wants to talk about it.

The man that I had called my dad died 3 months ago. He drank himself to death. His internal organs shut down, basically. I saw it in the paper and I felt sad. This bothered my husband, who felt protective, of course. He couldn’t understand why I would feel anything toward him. A molester grooms his victim. We have all heard it. It’s true and it is complex. Mainly, I just felt sad because I wondered how anyone could waste their life to that degree. He poisoned himself to the point that his organs shut down. Dead at 52. I always wondered what came first. Did he drink to forget, or was he so drunk, that he could pretend he didn’t do it afterward? The other part of me had always wished to see him again. Not for an angry confrontation, but more of a peaceful moment that I had always fantasized about. The moment that I would make eye contact, hold my head up high, prance my beautiful, strong family through his sight. Sort of a “fuck you, you couldn’t break me, and you did not write my story.” Childish, I know.

So, tonight, I went to a party. There were 2 people there that brought this story full circle for me. My stepfather’s brother and my biological father. I enjoyed myself at the party in sort of a detached way. I am polite to people who don’t mean anything to me. That sounds like an angry statement, but it really is not. I experienced my father, once again, very intoxicated, teary-eyed, talking about “paying for his mistakes” with his children. Awkwardly hugging and kissing me, saying “I love you so much, baby girl”. Me, trying to comfort him in his brokeness, telling him that it’s okay. He, telling me how proud he is of me for pulling my life together. Parental pride should make you feel something. It doesn’t for me, sadly. I appreciate it as a compliment from a friendly aquaintance, and that is okay. The past is the past. If we had this scene happen once or twice, then fine, Unfortunately, it happens the one or two times I see him annually. It’s very awkward, and I politely listen. I believe people can pull themselves together at anytime. I hope this for him.

As for my stepfather’s brother. Big Sigh. I know from our conversations tonight, that he was aware of what his brother had done. I did not hide in my shame. I also did not come across as angry. It was also not the sole focus in our conversation. It has actually become more of a fact for me. For example, I learned to ride a bike when I was 4. I did gymnastic for many years when I was young. I was molested by my stepfather. I enjoy snowboarding and long distance running. Polite detachment. It is what I have worked very hard to succeed in, and I’m working on it everyday.

The party was a gift. I was able to recognize how far I have come. I did not need anyone to point it out, or notice it. I felt it. Or rather, I didn’t. It also made me sad, as it is not often I am reminded so blatantly of people who did break my heart.

At the end of the night, my husband came by, and I saw him come in the door. In the moment I saw him, I physically felt a weight lift from my chest, that I didn’t know was there.  It was another reminder of how far I’ve come.

4 Responses to “The Sins of Our Fathers”

  • Becky:

    <3 BIG HUGS <3

  • Cristy:

    Wow Sarah…I have such a similar story…except mine started as a teenager…my mom caught him and kicked him out when I was 16 (right after my biological father died, I hadn’t seen him since I was 7)…I did let it define me for many, many years…it is so nice to see and hear that you are doing so well…I can honestly say I am over it too..I do not let it define me anymore and through the “getting over it” process I found who I am, it took a failed marriage to get there but at least I am there now…

  • Poncherello:

    I cried when I read this… I cried as a mother – just the thought of somebody doing that to my baby made me sick. I cried as a little girl – putting myself in your shoes, I can’t even imagine how you handled that so young. I cried as a friend – a friend to this amazing person you have ALWAYS been – wife, mother, entrepeneuer, athlete…which shows that it did not define you!! I love this blog, I love your strength – and I love you!!

  • Margaret Moore:

    Sarah,
    Ever since you wrote to me that you and your mom don’t really have a relationship I have wondered why. Well, it became clear as I read the story of your heart-rending journey. I keep sitting here trying to think of something comforting, or wise, or anything to express my feelings of sadness for that little girl Sarah. I remember your sweet little face and it is beyond my words to tell you how sorry I am that you had to experience such horror. You write of being “not special… one in four” but you are special, exceptionally so, in the way you worked through, processed and made very hard decisions to make your life better and strong. There are so many victims that sadly don’t even come close to doing that. I believe that you are an amazing person.

    I have been teaching middle schoolers for a lot of years and have known students who were repeatedly abused in so many different ways and I have been amazed how they will do almost anything to protect their parents…. like you did with your mom. I think that is one of the saddest parts of your story. You wanted to protect your mom so much when someone should have been protecting you. Heartbreaking. I understand your decision to break away from your mom. I’m sure it was a hard decision… I imagine that there is healing and a feeling of gaining control of a part of your life that you had absolutely no control of as a child. I truly admire you. Your little boys are very lucky to have you as their mother.

    You write beautifully Sarah. I read your story with my hand over my heart and tears in my eyes. I hope that writing this has helped you. Thank you for sharing.

    Love,
    Margaret

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