Two Years of Freedom, Part 1: Letting Go

I hold on to things. I become attached.

I think it has a lot to do with having nothing. When I ran away, I took whatever clothes and shoes could fit in my bag, my computer, and a few small things, and left everything else behind.

And I lived on very little for those first couple of months. The only furniture I had was the bed my roommate let me borrow. I wore the same pair of shoes. I cycled through the same sets of clothes. I cooked and ate out of the same plastic container. And every night by 9 o’clock, I laid in the darkness, because I didn’t even own a light.

Then slowly, I started to settle in. I started to buy things. One of the first things I bought for myself was a mug from the Disney Store. It was from the movie Inside Out, my favorite movie to this day. And I used that mug every day, because it was the only thing I owned to drink out of. But that was okay. It was mine.

And I held on to that mug. Even as I found myself bouncing from place to place, that mug came with me. It was as important as anything else. I could have easily just brought another mug along the way, but it wouldn’t have been the same. I formed an attachment. To me, that mug was a sign of my freedom. The first thing that was really mine.

Then a few weeks ago, I set my mug on the table as I had every morning. I was preparing my breakfast, and accidentally dropped the spoon. Even though it was only a two foot drop at most, the spoon hit the mug in such a way that it shattered the handle right off. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t repair it. A part of me wanted to. A part of me believed that throwing that mug away somehow meant throwing away so much more.

But I faced reality. It was just a mug. There were dozens more in the cabinet I could use whenever I needed. Why keep something that no longer served its purpose? I had to let go. I reminded myself it’s useless now and I threw it away. And I was okay.

In doing that, I thought about the other things I carry with me, the things that weigh me down, the things that no longer have a purpose.

I carry a folder with me wherever I go. It has my medical documents in there in case of emergency. It also has notes from therapy to help me if I ever needed reminders.

It also had the cards I’ve written to my family. The cards to my mother. The card to my father. The card to my brother. The letter my mother wrote to me. And the gravestone posters she mailed to my address.

I’ve been holding on to these things for so long. Those cards will never be sent. I wrote what was in my heart and let it out into the world, and that was that. My mother’s letter was just four pages of lies and denial. And the gravestones she sent me were not the stones that I deserved. But for some reason I attached a meaning to them. A meaning I didn’t need.

I needed to let them all go. So today, three days away from two years of freedom, I took the cards, the letter, and the gravestones and let them go.

I remembered the things my mother believed. Bad things have to burn. So they will. I burned every card, the letter, and the gravestones, piece by piece.

The card to my father went first. He’s gone now, he will surely never read my words. Then I burned the card to my brother. That one wasn’t as easy. I had to tell myself that I did what I could for him. I hope one day he knows what it’s like to be free, but I can no longer carry that burden on me.

Then came the cards to my mother. A lost cause, because even though she knows my words, she will never hear them for their truth.

Then I burned the letter she wrote to me. I didn’t even read it over. It didn’t matter. As I put each piece in the fire, it burned within seconds. Just like that, it was gone. Everything turned into indiscernible ashes.


I saved the gravestones for last. I debated whether or not I should keep them, but I realized they had no purpose for me. They never did. My mother could wish me dead all she wants. She can send me all the death threats she wants. She could even kill me. But she can never hurt me any more than she already has. The gravestones weren’t burning well, so I tore them up into tiny pieces and mixed them into the ashes.

I no longer carry these things with me. I no longer hope for the day my father becomes a father, because he is dead. I no longer carry the burden of saving my brother, because I know that he is not my responsibility. I no longer hold onto my mother’s words, because her words were never the truth. And I no longer hold onto the stones my mother thinks I deserve, because I no longer believe that I should die just for finding my freedom.

It’s been almost two years now. I had to let go.

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Happy Mother’s Day, Loretta


Dear Mom Loretta,

I wish this card was true for you. But it’s not.

Instead of taking your children to new heights, you knocked them down on the ground and left them there, suffering. Instead of giving me opportunities, you took them away from me, because you never wanted me to be any better than you.

You never gave me dreams; you gave me nightmares. Every day of my childhood was a nightmare, in living and in sleeping. My only dreams were those of being saved from you, until one day I realized those dreams would never come true. So my dreams became wishes for death…the only way out from you, my own mother.

You never gave me support, you took it away from me. You stole my life from me. Every time you beat me, burned me, raped me, tortured me. You broke me, physically and emotionally. You took away any support I had, What mother does that to her child? What kind of woman molests her own children and then goes to Church the next day? What kind of mother tells her child she is worthless, evil, nothing? That’s not a mother. That’s barely a woman, barely a human.

Your gift in life to me was never love; it was and always will be pain. Because no matter how hard I try, I can never fill the hole in my heart where my mother should be. I deserved a mother. I deserved support and love and dreams and care and life. But you stole that all from me, for 29 years I had nothing but pain and hopelessness.

I know you wish that I was dead. I know you believe I deserve those gravestones you sent me. But I don’t deserve to die. I deserve to live.

You took away nearly 30 years of my life already, you stole it all from me. And you’re still trying to take it from me. You blame me for everything, for your husband’s death, for your isolation, for your tarnished reputation. But that’s not my fault. It never was and never will be. It’s your fault, but you will never see it that way.

I’m not sure if it’s all part of your game or you’re so disillusioned that you don’t understand the gravity of what you’ve done. But I can’t change who you are. I can’t change what you’ve done to me.

You are a criminal, a rapist, an abuser, a narcissist, a sociopath. You are nothing. You are the evil and worthless one. It was never me. You just made me believe it for so long that I couldn’t see the real worth inside of me.

You may have broken me, you may have stolen my childhood and my innocence from me, but you did not steal my strength. It stayed with me, and it still does.

I am a caring, intelligent, beautiful, loving, funny, strong, amazing woman, full of worth that you will never get to see. It’s a loss for you, whether you see it or not, it’s not my problem anymore.


The Good Family

I want my daddy to come back to life so I can tell him I’m sorry. I don’t know what I did to be bad, but maybe he will forgive me.

I want to go back home to my mommy so I can tell her I’m sorry. I don’t know why I was always so evil, but maybe she can just love me.

I wrote those words one month ago and could not bring myself to post them. How could I miss people that caused me so much pain? How could I still want love from the people who broke me? Maybe they weren’t that bad after all. Maybe they were good enough and that’s why I still miss them. I want everything to be my fault. I don’t want to let go of the wish that I had a good family.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that they were bad people. It doesn’t make sense that they were good people. I’m forever trying to rationalize a situation that was never rational.

My brother wasn’t hurt as badly. My mother loved him. He was allowed to have friends. He could eat most of the time. He had so many good things. But I didn’t get any of that. If our mother was really a bad person, then she wouldn’t have treated my brother so nicely. He would have been tortured, too, but he wasn’t. So then maybe I was the problem. Maybe my mother was a really great mother, and I was just too bad of a child.

Part of me doesn’t want to see what that really was. That I wasn’t a bad child at all, and my brother was no more deserving than I was of good things. That my mother treated my brother that way because it was all a part of her game. That she used him to make me feel like I was the bad one. That my brother and I were both pawns in my mother’s sociopathic game — my brother the apath, and I the empath. It worked out perfectly.

My parents could have kept me at home, but they chose to send me to school. They could have kept me starving, but they always ended up feeding me. They could have let me bleed, but they took me to get stitches. They could have ended my life, but they chose to let me live. Bad people wouldn’t make those choices. Good people would.

Part of me doesn’t want to see the other side of all of that. That I went to private school because it fed their need to feel superior, not because I deserved an education. That I should have never been starving, because a child never deserves to go without food. That I would have never needed stitches had they not made me bleed. That letting me live only to continue to hurt me wasn’t really letting me live at all.

I don’t want to accept that reality. I want to live in my fantasy world, where my family was good and I was the bad one. Where I was the reason that everything happened the way it did. Where I was the cause of all of their problems. Where if I had just been good, if I had just been a better child, my parents wouldn’t have had to do what they did. 

That was the world they created for me. That’s what I was made to believe as a child, and I carried those beliefs right into my adulthood.

I still want that good family. I still want to believe that I can in some way erase everything that happened and make it all better.Maybe if I just apologize, if they can just see how sorry I am, they will love me and we can be a family again.

But my family doesn’t even want me. They never came after me. No one tried to make sure I was okay. They went on as if I never existed at all. I became a topic of conversation to be avoided, a topic worse than politics or religion. I offended them by escaping, just like I had offended them for existing.

If they really loved me, if they really cared, they would have looked for me. As much as I live in fear of them, I also long for their love and care. I want my mother to love me. I want to be the good child. I want the good family that children are supposed to have.

Sometimes I fantasize about my mother finding me. I imagine her knocking on my front door. I open it, and she’s standing there. She reaches out to hug me, and I start to cry. But she doesn’t really hug me, she stabs me in the heart. 

In that moment, I’m not sad or angry. As I stand there bleeding, I am happy. Because I know my mother cared enough to come and kill me. She loved me enough to end my pain.

And all I ever needed was her love and care.

Endless fear

When the doorbell rings, normal people stop what they’re doing, see who’s there, and answer the door.

When the doorbell rings, I stop what I’m doing. My heart races, so much that I can hear it beating in my ears. I can’t breathe. I don’t want to breathe, because I’m afraid if I do, they will know I am here. Five different scenarios run through my head, and none of them are good (or even rational). I always end up hiding in the closet or the bathroom, waiting for the worst to happen.

One incident is enough to drain me for the rest of the day. By the time I’ve calmed down (minutes, sometimes hours later), I have no energy left to do anything but sleep.

But yesterday, the doorbell rang (and was followed by several knocks on the door) not once, not twice, but six times.

I was a wreck. The first two times it happened, I was downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I was able to calm myself down after ten or so minutes. Then when it happened a third time, the panic was overwhelming. It was too much. I didn’t feel safe. I locked every lock and closed every window, then went upstairs to my room and locked my door.

Then it happened a fourth time. My mind went into overdrive. My mother found me. She knows I’m here. It’s the only thing that made sense. Who else would be ringing the bell and knocking so consistently? Not the mailman. Not a solicitor. It was someone who wanted me to open that door. It’s her.

By the time the bell rang a sixth time, I had barricaded my door with so much crap that no one would be able to push their way in. But I still didn’t feel safe. I knew where I was. I knew I was in my bedroom. I knew the doors were locked and I was blocked in. But I still felt in danger. I was scared of my mother. My mother, who doesn’t even know where I live.

I was still on edge even after the ringing and knocking stopped. Every single noise made me jump. Every car passing outside. Every creak of the floor. Every step the cat took downstairs. Every sound was magnified and I couldn’t make it stop.

My body was tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I spent hours fighting battles inside, trying to stay in the safe reality while my mind was tied to the dangerous past. After several hours, I gave up. I took just enough medicine to knock me out, because I knew that was the only way I was going to make it through.

Now as I’m sitting here, a day later, I’m wondering when it will stop. When will I not have to hide? When will I feel safe? When will I not be afraid of my mother? When will I not live in constant fear?

Is any of that even possible?

People don’t understand the fear I carry with me every day. You’re free now. Yea, I’m physically free. Mentally, I am still in prison. I am still a scared child. I am still in danger. Your mother won’t hurt you anymore, you got away. Exactly. I got away. I was never supposed to be able to leave her. I committed the ultimate sin, and now I am perpetually waiting for my punishment.

I’m tired. I’m tired of hiding every time there’s a knock at the door, because I’m afraid she will come in and get me. I’m tired of wearing four shirts and three pairs of underwear every day because I’m afraid she will come and hurt me. I’m tired of sleeping with a knife under my pillow every night because I’m afraid she will come and kill me.

I’m tired of living my life in fear, because it’s not the life I want to live.

Lies

I’ve been struggling with a memory for the last couple of days. It came up inadvertently in therapy on Monday.

My therapist asked if I could smell anything. I have issues with smell, due largely in part to a deviated septum I got as a child when a classmate accidentally kicked me upside the face. I never went to the hospital; my mother insisted I was fine. I just sat in the office with ice packs covering my bloody nose and face.

I found the need to justify my mother’s inaction. She cares. She’s taken me to the hospital before. I recalled several visits to the ER to have Lego blocks removed from my nostrils (my mother wasn’t happy about those incidents). Then I recalled the major hospital incident of my youth: the time I walked into the wall.

My brother was playing a video game. Super Mario Bros. 3 on Nintendo. I can remember that part.

Then I remember sitting in the backseat of the car, surrounded by bloody wash cloths and towels. Don’t look. Just keep holding it there. We were driving for a long time. We lived just minutes from the hospital, but that’s not where my father went. He drove all the way to a hospital in the next county.

I remember laying in the hospital bed, staring at the lights above me. I couldn’t feel anything, but I knew what was going on. I just focused on the lights as the doctor stitched up my face. No more bleeding.

What I can’t remember is what happened in between. How did my face get like that? My parents always told the story that I walked into a wall. I was just being clumsy and careless and smacked my face right into the bedroom wall. I never really questioned it as a child. What child would?

Saying it out loud the other day made me realize how bizarre the incident was. How I could have walked into a wall and caused that type of damage? How could a little girl walk into anything with that much force to cause a deep cut across her lip like that? How was my nose spared? Wouldn’t that have hit the wall first? And why did we drive so far away to get help? I have all these questions that I don’t have the answers to.

I still have the scar (thankfully less prominent) 20+ years later. What I don’t have is the memory of how I got it. All I have to go on is a story.

The last couple of days have been full of memory flashes of what happened after, but nothing of what caused the damage. It’s frustrating for me. I want to know. Why can’t I know the truth?

Maybe I did walk into the wall. But why can’t I remember doing that?

Maybe I did walk into the wall. Because why would my parents lie?

I ask myself that last question and realize that my parents have lied most of their lives. They’ve lied to themselves. They’ve lied to their family. And they’ve lied to their children.

There’s been so many lies, that I can’t even figure out what was truth. Even the most insignificant things were lies. My mother lied about where I was born. I didn’t find out until I went to get a Social Security card after I ran away, and ended up giving what I found out to be inaccurate information. My birthplace was wrong. My mother’s name on my birth record did not match what I knew her name to be. I haven’t been able to get my birth certificate because I don’t have the right information to verify who I am. As if I didn’t struggle with figuring out who I am enough, I can’t even figure out the most basic components of my identity. I know my name is the truth. That’s about it.

I was a child who believed what my parents said because that’s what children are taught to do. Trust your parents. They don’t lie to their children to hurt them. Sure, parents lie about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. But they don’t lie about birthplaces and bleeding faces.

Maybe I’m just overanalyzing. Maybe it wasn’t a lie. Maybe I did just walk into the wall in just the right way. But how the hell can I know truths when so much has been lies?

Failed dreams and a graduation

I technically graduated college in December of 2015, in the middle of the academic year. There was no celebration. I got my degree and award in the mail and that was that; I didn’t think much of it. In many ways, I still felt unworthy. I felt like I didn’t truly earn it.

At that time, I had no intentions of attending the graduation ceremony that would be held in the Fall. It wasn’t local, it was nearly a year after I finished, and I’d have to go alone, because I had no family. The whole thing seemed like more of a burden than anything.

It also wasn’t how I dreamed I would graduate.

Growing up, my academic prowess was the only good thing I had. I was intelligent, and it was consistently recognized. While in high school, I had dreams of going to an Ivy League school. I dreamed I was going to graduate as valedictorian. I dreamed of finally being free.

Going to college was supposed to be my ticket out. I applied to colleges all over the country. I got accepted into some of the best schools. I had full scholarships. Any reasonable parents would have been thrilled at their child’s achievements, and thankful that scholarships would relieve the financial burden.

But my parents weren’t reasonable. They took my achievement as an insult, that in some way the acceptances and awards made me think I was better than them. I never said or acted like I was, but that didn’t matter. Nothing I ever did was good to them, even when it was good to everyone else.

My college dreams fizzled away.

My mother started hiding my acceptance letters. I found a collection of them after I had graduated from HS, mysteriously “lost” in a convenient, hidden away pile. Every letter was an acceptance. Every school I applied to was ready to welcome me. Yet I ended up at a school I never wanted to be in.

I was disillusioned to think that my parents would ever let me go away to college. I couldn’t even leave the house. I didn’t have any choices. My mother decided my college career for me. I had to go to a local university, one that I could still be within my parents’ control. My father drove me to class, and picked me up as soon as I was done. I didn’t have any freedom, but I should have known that was going to be the case. I was foolish to think otherwise.

Even though I hated that school, I made the most out of it. I excelled once again. In my second year there, I was already receiving honors. I was top-ranked. My picture was in the papers. I was on track to be valedictorian. A part of my dream started to come back. I can still be something.

And then I lost that dream again. I forfeited my scholarship and gave up my academic achievements when I dropped out of school with a 4.0 GPA. My father was sick, and it was selfish of me to think of my education when my family was struggling. It was just another failed dream.

Whenever I thought about this recent graduation, all I could think about were those failed dreams. I should have been graduating at 22. I should have been up on stage, making my valedictorian speech. I should have been surrounded by family and friends who were just as proud of me as I was of myself.

Instead, I’m graduating at 30 years old. I won’t be making any speeches, and there won’t be any family in the audience cheering for me. I am alone. Why would I want to celebrate that?

But part of me did want to celebrate. Part of me knew all it took for me to get my degree.

Through it all, I finished with a 3.9 GPA. And when I say all, I mean it: several long-term hospital visits for pneumonia, a surgery, and four psychiatric inpatient hospitalizations. I had no breaks. I couldn’t take any sick leave. I had to get it done. I wrote my thesis in the midst of my escape to freedom. Through the chaos, I still did it.

I earned that degree just like I earned my freedom.

But I didn’t want to celebrate alone. I had no family. My new friends were too new. My old acquanitances were distant. I didn’t think it was possible, so I gave up my plans. Then, just weeks before, I decided I needed to do something positive for me, and this was my chance. I (hesitantly) asked my best friend from my old life if he would like to go, and to my surprise, he said he would. So I spent the last two or three weeks scrambling to get everything together.

This Saturday, my friend and I traveled to my graduation ceremony. It was overwhelming at first. Within minutes of entering the arena, I started to panic. There were hundreds of people around. I was in a new place, and the noise was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. I had to calm myself. I tried to find a spot away from all of the people. I wanted to put on my headphones and drown everyone and everything out, but I couldn’t. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. It took everything in me not to have a meltdown right then and there.

But I got through it. I put on my cap and gown, and my honor cords, and walked out to the arena. I tried to look down at the floor instead of up at all of the people. It was the only way I could stay calm. I thought about what name I should use. Do I use my old name, or my new name? I hate my old name, but it’s still my legal name and the name I went to school with. I can’t just go up and give an alias.¬†

I debated with myself for an hour. I finally got up on stage, walked up to the microphone, and announced both of my names. It felt right that way, recognizing both who I was and who I am becoming. I shook a few hands and made my exit off of the stage. It was done.

I sat and waited for the other graduates to finish, not really feeling anything at all.¬†Then the president of the university made his final speech. He took time out to acknowledge and thank students’ families for helping the students get to where they were today. I watched the audience as mothers and fathers stood up to be applauded. Then spouses, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, etc.

In that moment, I realized I had no family out there for me. Not just at graduation, but in the years leading up to that very day. My family didn’t help me get an education; they took it away from me. My family didn’t push me to succeed; they wished for my failure. Everything I did was on my own. I never had support.

I started crying because I realized what I had lost. I thought about all the shit I went through getting to this point. I thought about all the slaps to the face, all of the put-downs and the insults my mother threw at me just because I was trying to be a better human being. I remembered how my mother used to always tell me, “You think you’re better than me? You think you’re smarter than me because you went to college? You’re nothing.”

Her voice replayed in my head just as if she were there, sitting in the chair next to me. I stopped crying. I wanted to yell, but I knew well enough that my mother wasn’t actually there to hear me. Her voice wasn’t going away; it was like a broken record repeating the same part over and over. I couldn’t take it any more. I wasn’t going to let her ruin the moment.

As I stood up to take the final walk down the aisle, I closed my eyes and answered my mother’s voice back, in a way I could never answer her back before. I am better than you. I am a better person. I am a better human being.

I always was.

Dear Brother Explained

The other day, I posted a letter I had written to my brother: Dear Brother.

It wasn’t very well thought out. It was Sunday afternoon, and I found myself still struggling with my emotions about the situation that happened on Friday. I felt paralyzed by them, in a way. I couldn’t get anything done because my mind was set on thoughts about my brother. I needed a way to get my feelings out, because they weren’t serving me well by being bottled up inside.

I walked to the card store, still not set on what I was going to write. I walked through the card aisles, and came to the sympathy section. Loss. That is exactly what this felt like. My brother was still very much alive, but everything else about him was gone. My image of him: gone. My hope for him: gone. I lost him. He died in my heart.

There were only five or six cards dedicated to the loss of a brother. I picked up each one and read it. Unfortunately, none of them captured the type of loss this was. Then there was this card, describing the brother I always wanted: a brother I could depend on, a brother I could share good memories with, a brother I could love.

I started to cry as I looked through the card. I knew this was the right one. I put it in the envelope, wiped my face, and went to the register to purchase it. I left it in the bag until I got home, because I didn’t want to get emotional in public. Even so, I was already going through some of the things I wanted to write in my head. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I sat at my desk, pulled out the card, got my pen, and wrote what I needed to say to him.

Even though I knew this was going to be just another card left unsent, like the cards I wrote to my father and to my mother, I found it oddly therapeutic. I didn’t need him to respond. I didn’t need him to give me an answer. I just needed, for myself, to say what I needed to say in the best way I knew how: through writing.

I didn’t always feel this way towards my brother. In fact, I struggled with feelings of guilt over leaving him behind. Every so often, the guilt would come back full force. It got especially bad after my father died. I knew that with my father gone, my brother was the only person my mother had left. I was scared for him. But there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t financially help him — I am barely surviving myself. I couldn’t risk my own safety by directly reaching out to him, because his closeness to his mother made it too dangerous to even attempt. I was (and still am) a mess myself. I needed to focus on me. I didn’t have the energy to devote to his cause. And I felt horrible for it.

Then the situation on Friday happened, and everything changed. I realized he didn’t care about me at all. He never once called me, but he still had my number. He couldn’t even contact me himself to ask for what he needed; he had someone else do it for him. And he didn’t even need to do what he did. He wanted to trade that Jeep in so he could pretend like it never existed, just like my family pretended like I never existed.

He could have offered me back even some of the money I put into buying that Jeep. Instead, he used all of it to get something bigger and better. The money from my father’s life insurance? Nothing. My brother and his mother have kept it for themselves. Because that’s who they are.

I realized that my brother is just like her. He is an adult. He can make choices. He chose to spread lies about me after I escaped, just as his mother did. He could have denied it, but I know that would have been hard to directly defy her. He could have said nothing at all and been okay, but he instead chose to fuel the fire his mother set for me.

He could have reached out. He knew my phone number, and my e-mail address. His mother would not have found out. But he chose not to try.

My brother could have just paid off the Jeep. Money was not an issue. Instead, he chose to trade it in, and trade it in for something better. There is something symbolic in that. He traded in that Jeep just as he traded me in.

My brother could have gotten away. He always had more financial resources than me. He worked full-time for a long time. I figured out a way to get out. He could have figured out a way, but he chose not to. He could have taken my father’s insurance money and left, but he chose not to. He chose to stay with his mother.

Together, they have chosen to take what isn’t theirs. They are opportunists. They are takers. They are liars. They are users.

My brother is just like her. Her training didn’t work so well on me, but it has worked on him. I didn’t see it before. Well, no, I did. The truth is that I didn’t want to see it. I wanted my brother to be a true and good person. I wanted him to be the brother I needed, the brother I always wanted.

But I realized he’s not that person. He never was, he’s not now, and he won’t be able to be. I can’t change him. I can’t show him something he refuses to see. I can’t save him. So I have to let him go.

It’s another loss. But sometimes, losses are for the better.