Freedom in Death

One year ago today, my father passed away.

I prepared to grieve. I prepared to be an absolute emotional mess. But I wasn’t.

I cried this morning. I’m not even sure exactly why. But my immediate reaction was to push all of my feelings down. I wanted to run. I wanted to escape myself for a little while. But I knew it wasn’t healthy. I knew I would end up sitting on a corner somewhere, smoking until my lungs gave out and my emotions were dead. My usual go-to form of self-destruction and emotional numbing as of late.

But then where would that put me? I try to be the exact opposite of my parents. Nothing like my mother, nothing like my father. It’s been difficult enough struggling with my heart issue, trying to remind myself that my being sick doesn’t make me like him. But he was also a person who suppressed his emotions, until they came out in the worst ways. The same thing I’ve done, the same thing I’ve been doing. While it might be in a different form, it is nonetheless what he would do, and how he would be. I have just been repeating the cycle.

I froze for a bit, unsure of myself, unsure of what to do. As much as I didn’t want to feel, I also didn’t want to be overwhelmed with emotions. So I baked. As a distraction. And it worked. The urge to bury my feelings was gone. The urge to self-destruct was gone. But the grief was still there.

Grief is complicated in general. I think it’s even more complicated when you’ve gone through trauma, when you have different parts. I have to be understanding that some parts of me know my father differently than I do. Some hate him. Some have experienced pain because of him. And some love him, because they knew him as daddy. They don’t know who he was as a person; they only know the experiences they had of him, the memories they hold of him. Just like people on the outside that knew him, knew him only as they saw him. I can’t take that away from them. I can’t just dismiss their grief, because they are grieving someone different.

It’s easier for me to consider other people’s grief before my own. I never told my grandmother the truth about her son. It would serve no purpose; it would only cause pain.

But it’s so much harder for me to accept the parts of me that grieve for the man I don’t want to grieve for, to love the person that I hate, to feel sad about someone I feel such strong anger for. To take that away from them would be dismissing and invalidating them, much in the same way my father did to me.

So I let them grieve. I let myself feel however I needed to feel in each moment that passed through the day.

I remembered how he felt when he got sick. I remembered his pain, his wanting to give up and just die. I remembered how much he suffered in the end. It was in those times that I related to him the most, because I knew what it felt like to be in so much pain that you wanted your life to end. I understood him.

It’s a bit ironic that my father died on Independence Day. He gained his freedom; freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from a life he didn’t want to live.

And in his death, I also gained freedom. The fear of him, the worry about his health, the guilt I felt for leaving him behind, they all died when he died.

My father was not a father.

The only picture I have of my father is the one I took from his obituary when he died last year. That’s it.

I still laugh to myself when I come across his obituary.

David B. M., 60, of Belleville, passed away Monday July 4, 2016.
Mr. M was employed by the United States Postal Service for 35 years, retiring 9 years ago.

That was the main part of his obituary, aside from the location of his memorial and who he was survived by. The most important statement that should summarize a person’s life, and his was that he happened to have a decent job as a federal employee. No he was a loving husband and father. No words of greatness or how amazing a person he was. Just that he lived, worked, and died.

And as brief and vague as his obituary was, it was the truth. He was no loving father, no doting husband. He was a man who worked and died. It’s what he did in between that will never be written in any obituary, or acknowledged by anyone.

This is the first Father’s Day that my father is not alive, but not the first he’s been absent from. He died long before his actual death. He was physically alive, but mentally and emotionally dead for a long time. And it wasn’t just because of his illness. I know he spent the last years of his life in misery. I know that he wanted to die. And I know that my mother wanted him to die, too, because his death came with a decent payment. She did not love him. He was a burden to her, a roadblock to her moving forward with whatever game she calls her life.

But I refused to treat him like she did. I did my best to take care of him regardless of my hatred towards him for all that he had done to me. And it took everything in me to not take him with me when I ran away, because I knew he would not survive long after my absence. I wanted to save him from her, even though he never saved me from her when he was strong and able.

My father didn’t die because he was so heartbroken over my absence, as my mother would like me and others to believe. He died because he had multiple heart attacks, a stroke, congestive heart failure, and a plethora of other health conditions that he was lucky enough to survive as long as he did with.

It’s so complicated, that simultaneous hatred and love for someone. It’s not the same experience I have with my mother — I only have hatred for her. But my father was different. He wasn’t like her. In many ways, he was a victim of her, just like my brother was (and still is), just like I was. And I think that’s why I felt sorry for him. I think that’s how I rationalized his treatment of me. He acted that way because of her. As if he didn’t know any better.

But that’s my child-like way of looking at him, because adult me knows he had to know better. My mother may have asked him to hold me down while she hurt me, but my father is the one that lifted his arms to hold down mine. My mother may have been yelling, but my father is the one that chose to beat me and bash my head into the kitchen wall.

My father could have chosen to walk away. He could have chosen to divorce her. He could have fought for custody. In the very least, he could have told her “this is not okay” every night she took me into the shower. But he did none of that, and that was his choice, not hers.

My love for my father is not so much love for him, but love of the idea of what I wanted him to be, of what I wanted to be to him. I wanted to be daddy’s little girl. I wanted to feel worthy of love, worthy of care, worthy of support, worthy of not being hurt all of the time just for existing. I wanted him to hug me. I wanted him to tuck me into bed at night. I wanted him to teach me things that only fathers know.

And I wanted him to save me. Because he was the only person in my life that could have saved me from my mother. He was the only person in my life who knew exactly what mommy was doing to her children every night. But he chose apathy. He chose inaction. He chose her over himself. He chose her over his children.

If heartbreak killed my father, it wasn’t heartbreak over me leaving; it was heartbreak over knowing what he did and didn’t do.

If my father had just said no, if he had just said stop, all our lives could be different right now. He could still be alive. My mother would be in prison. My brother would be free, maybe even married to a nice woman instead of married to his own mother.

And I would still have my family, a father that loved me, and a life without hurt.

Instead, I am spending Father’s Day reminded of all the ways my father was never really a father. Because real fathers don’t hurt their children. Real fathers don’t watch their children suffer. Real fathers put their children first. My grief is not in missing my father, it’s in missing what I wanted him to be.

I just wanted him to save me. Was that so much to wish for?

Take it all away


These are the gravestones my mother sent to me. I carry them with me, just like I carry the fear with me, every day.

There is no safety here, no sense of security. The very small amount I may have had is lost now. I spend every day waiting for her. I check for her behind the unlocked doors of the house I live in. I look for her down the street wherever I’m walking. I see her in my nightmares. I hear her voice in my head. She lives here, now more than ever.

Part of me wishes she would get it over with already. Punish me for my sins. End my life.

I was never supposed to tell.  And I spent so many years not telling a soul. But then I started to speak, only to be shut down.

I already knew that was happening. You’re just confused. You’re misinterpreting her love. Mothers don’t do those things. She’s not that kind of person. Your mother loves you.

My mother was right. No one understood. No one believed me. So I gave up the fight¬† . And then I escaped and I believed that I was free. I found my voice and I told the world who my mother was and is — I committed the ultimate sin, the most horrendous crime against my mother. And the punishment for that is death.

I wonder when she comes for me, will they all stand and watch, just as they stood and watched her abuse me? Will they cover their eyes and pretend like they can’t see anything, just like they covered their eyes and pretended they couldn’t see the scars? Will they turn and walk away, just as they turned and walked away from me all those times they knew what was happening?

Or will they see me on the ground, bloody and broken and dying, and give me a band-aid so they can say they tried to help me? Your bunnies, your prayers, your positive thoughts did nothing to save me. Bunnies didn’t stop the rape. Jesus didn’t stop the beating. Affirmations didn’t stop the pain. I needed help — not material things or spirits or empty words. I needed help and I got a band-aid. You can’t put a band-aid on a hemorrhage.

They want to hide me. They tell me they help me find safety. But they don’t understand that I will never be safe. They don’t understand that no matter where I run away, she will always find me. I will never be safe for as long as she is breathing. She cannot be stopped. She is a criminal free to roam, a monster in plain sight. No longer a captor of my body, but always a captor of my mind.

The damage is done. No one can help me now. The fear is a part of me; it runs through my veins. The pain cannot be healed; it lives on in every scar. That can never be taken away or erased. It’s permanent.

My mother thinks of my death as punishment, but I think of it as a reward. Killing me is the best thing she could do for me, the greatest gift she could ever give to me. It’s the only way the fear will end, the only way to stop all of the pain.

She’s already taken so much life from me. She shattered my mind, she murdered my spirit, she drowned my soul. There’s nothing left to take but the life from my body.

Take it all away.

I can’t change.

I’ve been trying to die for the last 24 years.

At six years old, I tried to drown myself. Six. Years. Old. It’s difficult for me to process, because I am entirely detached from the emotions of six year-old me. I remember what it felt like when the water filled up my lungs. I remember what it felt like to sink. I can’t remember the feeling, how sad and hopeless I must have felt to think that I could end it all by drowning. I wonder what it must have felt like to be pulled away, rescued from the ocean, but never rescued from what was really killing me, who was really killing me.

At ten years old, I tried to hang myself. For those few seconds, I felt what it was like to suffocate. I felt what it was like to have no air. I don’t remember feeling fear. I don’t even remember feeling pain; it was actually quite the opposite. I felt at peace. And then the strap snapped, and I fell to the floor. Instead of relief, I felt anger. The opportunity for peace had been ripped right out from under me.

At fifteen years old, I tried to bleed to death. All of my anger, all of my pain, and all of my desperation poured out through blood and tears. I couldn’t feel anything but the pain. Nothing else existed in that moment. My body was there; my mind was somewhere else. I sat in the bathroom alone and waited to die, but death never came. The bleeding stopped, and so did the tears. I became numb. I had no other choice.

At nineteen years old, I tried to stab myself. It was violent, fueled by the anger and rage that I had no other choice but to suppress. I so often dreamed of stabbing my mother, but I was too weak to make an attempt. I couldn’t stab the people who hurt me. So I stabbed myself. It scared me. The rage I had inside pushed me to a level I had never experienced before. And it’s a rage I can never forget, because those wounds turned into malformed scars that I see and feel every day of my life.

At twenty-two years old, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t going to mess it up this time. I planned it so carefully. I had a notebook full of calculations, weight conversions, lethal dosage levels. I triple checked to make sure it was going to be right. I took twice the lethal dose of aspirin and waited to die, with my family there, hiding me away, ashamed of what I had done. I didn’t die that day. I should have died. Instead of finding solace in death, I found hopelessness in life.

At twenty-five years old, I tried again, on the very same day I tried three years prior. A mix of three this time. If one isn’t enough, surely the others would do me in. I just wanted everything to end. I wanted her to stop hurting me. I wanted to stop crying myself to sleep. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to be free, and the only freedom was in death. But once again, death didn’t come to me. All that came was more pain.

At twenty-nine years old, I tried a third time, on that very same day. I thought of running into the ocean that night, getting lost and drowning before anyone would ever find me. But I couldn’t move. I was stuck in a bed in a strange place, drowning in my own memories. I took an Ativan hoping it would help me, but I was still drowning. So I gave up. I took twenty more and before I could do it again, someone saved me. They didn’t understand that I didn’t want to be saved.

At thirty years old, I tried to die. I ran out in the highway in the dark of the morning, in front of traffic, hoping that someone would hit me and end my life. If I couldn’t do it, I wanted someone else to do it for me. I wasn’t worried about the pain. The broken bones, the internal bleeding, the crushed insides — those possibilities were nothing compared to the pain and hopelessness that consumed me. Crush my body just like my heart has been crushed. Break my bones just like my mind has been broken. But no one hit me. They saw me, even through my invisibility.

All those times, I should have died. I wanted my peace. I wanted an end to the pain. Why couldn’t I get that? I don’t know. I fail at dying, but I also fail at living.

The expectation that I can just take away everything that has happened to me, that I can go on with my life without wanting to die — I can’t. I’ve spent most of my life trying to end my life. A pill won’t fix that. Group therapy won’t fix that. A new therapist won’t fix that.

It’s part of my life, ingrained in me since childhood.

I tell them I’m fine

They say I look sad. They ask if I’m okay.

I tell them I’m fine. I tell them I’m just tired.

I can’t tell them the truth. I can’t tell them I’m not okay. I can’t explain that I’m tired of living.

So I lie. I lie to push them away. I lie so they don’t have to share the burden of my pain. I lie to protect them. I lie to protect me.

I don’t even understand what’s going on inside my own head. My thoughts don’t make any sense. All I can hear is noise. Loud noise.

I can’t find my words. I try to write, but nothing comes out right. I can’t talk about what’s inside. So I suffer in silence.

I just want them to stop. The memories. The flashbacks. I just don’t know anymore. I can’t tell if I’m 30 or 3. I can’t tell if I’m home or if I’m free.

Because I’m both. I’m living in two worlds at the very same time.

She’ll tell me I’m safe there, but she just doesn’t understand. I know my body is there, but my mind is somewhere else. A different place. A different time. A different me.

I dance on the line. One foot in, one foot out. It’s a line that only I can dance on, because it’s a line that only I can see. No one else sees it. No one else understands it. Only me.

They see me sitting on the couch, safe and fully clothed. That is my present. That is what everyone sees. But they don’t see what I see in my mind. They don’t see me standing in the bathtub of my childhood home, naked and afraid, awaiting my punishment. They can’t see that. Only me.

They see me working hard. They hear me crack a joke and laugh. But they don’t see what I see in my mind. They don’t see me burning in the flames, with every last bit of evil inside of my soulless body turning into a pile of ashes to be stomped upon and smashed into the dirt. They can’t see that. Only me.

I’m dancing the line. The line between past and present. The line between life and death. And I’m dancing alone.

I tell them I’m fine. But I’m not really fine. I never was. I’m not now. And I’m not sure I ever will be.

She knows

I checked the mail today.

A few pieces of junk mail. A credit card bill. And one envelope with my name and address handwritten on it, in familiar handwriting.

I told myself, this couldn’t be. She doesn’t know where I live. She said she doesn’t know anything; that’s why she gave my friend that letter to give to me. It’s just a coincidence.

I hesitated for awhile. But then I opened it.

There was a single piece of paper inside, with pictures of gravestones. No letter, no note, no explanation. Just a paper with different gravestones for me to choose.

I looked at the envelope again. My mother has always had a distinctive way of writing certain letters of the alphabet. The writing was the same.

My mother wrote out that envelope. She knows where I live. She lied to everyone.

Whose gravestone am I supposed to be choosing?

I am scared. My hands are still shaking, and I can’t stop crying for more than five minutes before I break down again.

She is coming for me. And I don’t want to die.

I’m sorry.

The Things I Did When I Was Hopeless

I never expected this life.

I never expected to be able to step out the front door and walk down the street; before, I was not allowed to leave the house by myself for any reason.

I never expected to be able to check my own mail; before, I never even had a key to the mailbox.

I never expected to be able to lock my bedroom door and sleep at night without fear of being abused; before, I could never rest easily, knowing that my mother could come in at any time.

All of the things my mother told me would happen, they haven’t come true.

She told me that no one would ever like or love me, but I’ve made friends here.

She told me I would never amount to anything, but I’m doing great things.

She told me I could never live without her, but I’ve been living without her now for 13 months.

I wish I would have known that my life would be this different before I did the things I did when I was hopeless.

For a long time, I was a prisoner serving a life sentence with no chance of parole. I tried to reach out for help, and people turned away. I tried to run away from home, but my mother found out every time. I tried, for so long I tried to get free, and instead I ended up trapped even more. So I gave up. I lost all hope. I believed that I was going to spend the rest of my life in that hell.

I was living a shell of an existence, leading a life of pain I didn’t want to prolong any more than I had to. I had no access to a gun, or I would have ended it right then and there. I made several attempts to end my life as early as six years old, but none of them worked. All it got me was damaged kidneys and an even deeper sense of hopelessness.

So I found covert ways to slowly kill myself. I swallowed pills like tictacs, knowing they would damage my kidneys even more. I banged my head against walls and gave myself concussions, hoping one time that I would pass out and never wake up. I drank until I blacked out, hoping I would eventually get to a point where it would be enough to finally crash my system.

And I smoked. I knew that smoking was a guaranteed risk for me. I had already been struggling with asthma and chronic pneumonia since I was 14 years old. I knew that smoking would make me sick. I knew that it would further damage my already damaged lungs. This. This was my ticket to death. This was my escape from hell.

I smoked for years. Even as I felt the pressure building in my chest, the familiar feel of fluid accumulating in my lungs, I continued to smoke. It got to a point where breathing was no longer automatic; it was an effort. It was painful. Not being able to breathe is a scary feeling, one I’m not even sure I can adequately describe to someone who has been lucky enough to never experience it. But every time I became gravely ill, every time I could hear the crackling in my lungs with each breath I took, I secretly hoped it would be the end for me. The pain it caused was nowhere near the pain I felt existing in the prison I was in. I was hopeless.

I did not expect to make it here. I did not expect to escape. I am free now, but all those things I did when I was hopeless have followed me. The scars will fade, the bruises heal.

But my COPD will not go away. And I can’t help but blame myself. I know that it’s not just one thing that caused it. I was medically neglected. I lived in filth and breathed in mold spores every night. I worked five days a week in a dusty warehouse, inhaling so much dust that I would cough up gray mucous every night. But I also smoked. Because I wanted to die. And that’s all I can think about.

When I see an older person on the street, I wonder if I will ever make it to that age. I think about all of the things I will miss out on, the good and the bad. I missed out on my entire childhood. I lost my adolescence. I lost 11 years old my adulthood. And I’ll likely lose most of my elderhood. All because I was so hopeless, I did things I knew would kill me, because I never expected to be free.

When I was first diagnosed, I existed in a world of conscious denial for a while. I told myself that I had nothing to worry about, that I was young, that I didn’t need to take my medications because I felt okay. I acted like I was invincible to the effects of the disease. Then I learned that someone had passed away from COPD – a woman who was only one year older than me. I grieved for her, and I also began grieving my own death. No longer could I tell myself I’m young. I could end up dead. I am not immune.

The irony is that, if this were two years ago, I would have gladly accepted death. I wanted it, because death was the only way I thought I could escape my mother’s abuse. But I don’t want to die. I’ve experienced a life I never expected to live, and I don’t want to lose that any earlier than I have to.

While there is a small part of me that still holds on to hopelessness, that still wants to die, there is a larger part of me that wants to live.