Without Notice

This time of the year is probably the hardest for me.

I’ve written before about the significance of April 25th. It is the most difficult trauma anniversary for me.

It’s been ten years now, and yet the pain still remains as if it happened yesterday.

It’s a different kind of hurt. A worse kind of hurt.

Of all the things my mother did to me, all the pain she caused, none of it hurt more than what she did (and didn’t do) that day.

I almost died. To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t. But she knew what happened. She knew I overdosed. And she did nothing. She didn’t take me to the hospital. She didn’t call 911. All she could say was how could you do this to me? And then she went back to her normal daily life, as I sat alone, suffering in the worst way, physically and mentally.

I’ve racked my brain trying to understand what happened that day. I’ve tried for years to understand how anyone, especially a mother, could leave her child to suffer. There is no understanding it. She didn’t care if I died, because that meant the truth would die with me.

It still hurts. It still makes me cry. I still feel the pain in my heart, the hopelessness. A part of me still wishes that I died that day. It would have saved me from seven more years of abuse. It would have saved me from living the same pain over and over again.

I am still grieving. I think I will always grieve that day.

I hadn’t handled it well in the past. But I was going to do better this year.

I told my therapist in the beginning of this month that the end of April was going to be a difficult time for me. I didn’t go into the details right then, but I let him know I was going to need a lot of support. I told him then because I knew as the date got closer, I would isolate and shut down.

Then last week, the night before my therapy appointment, my therapist text me to let me know he would not be returning to the practice. I knew he was planning on taking a within the next couple of months, but this wasn’t a temporary leave. This was a permanent one. Without notice.

I couldn’t believe it. I had already made a mental list of everything I needed to talk about that next day, and here I was, left with no therapist, heading into the most difficult few months of the year. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

I scrambled to find someone, but there was no one I worked with previously that was available. It was difficult to find ANYONE who was available. It was hard enough finding this last therapist. Many places around here have waiting lists, and because I don’t have any money to pay out-of-pocket, I have no choice but to work with therapists who take insurance. And those are the ones with waiting lists miles long.

I thought about the next couple of months. Even once I manage getting through April 25th, I still have Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day has always been difficult for me, for obvious reasons. Last year was probably one of the worst in terms of how I coped with it (because I didn’t cope with it). This year will be even more difficult, because I won’t just be grieving for what my mother did to me, but also grieving for the loss of my own motherhood. Things are more complicated this time around. The loss is more complex.

As much as I would like to say that I can handle things on my own, that I can cope with my losses without being drowned by them, I know that’s not the truth. I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I need support.

Even though my life is shit right now, I have 47 cents in my bank account, I’m failing school this semester, and my health has been horrible, there is a part of me that doesn’t yet want to throw in the towel. That’s why I made the decision to reach back out for help.

I called the PHP I was in a few months ago. I felt ashamed. I had spent so much time in the program that I shouldn’t still be this fucked up. I shouldn’t need this much help. Clearly something is wrong with me. But then I remembered the psychiatrist tell me it’s okay to come back if I need it. And I think I do. I don’t have many other options at this point.

My intake is tomorrow, and I don’t know how to feel.

Abort

So many times in my life, I’ve told myself “that’s not going to be me”, as if I were somehow immune to the effects of my decisions and experiences.

But every time, life catches up to me and kicks me right in the ass. Perhaps it’s karma. Perhaps it’s just the result of being human. As much as I try to hide it, as much as I try to manage it all on my own, to suffer in silence, it wears on me.

I wrote this status Tuesday morning, the day after I made one of the hardest decisions of my life.

I keep doing this to myself. I keep telling myself that somehow, it’s going to be different for me. And it never is.

I make bad decisions. I don’t think of the consequences. I used and told myself I’d never be an addict. I drank and told myself I’d never be an alcoholic. I smoked and told myself I’d never be sick. And yet I am all of those things.

I get involved with people I shouldn’t. I do things I don’t really want to do, but I don’t know any different. I don’t know how to say no. I’m not sure I’m allowed to.  So I do it and convince myself that nothing bad will come out of it.

Until something did.

I tried to ignore it. I hoped that somehow, I would wake up one day and everything would be back to normal. But that wasn’t happening. And I didn’t know what to do.

I wanted to die. The sadness, the hopelessness, and the shame were damaging me from the inside out. I wanted someone to know, I wanted someone to help me, but I couldn’t find the words to say what I had done. All I could say was I don’t want to live anymore.

I hid my reality for weeks. I battled with myself, trying to stay alive when part of me just wanted to give up. I wanted someone to tell me it was going to be okay, yet I was so afraid of telling the truth. But it became too much to hide. The weight gain. The nausea. The emotional clusterfuck I had become.

I sat down with the nurse at PHP. I told her there was something I needed to tell her. I handed her my heart medication, which I had been hoarding. But that wasn’t all that I was hiding, and the nurse knew that. I tried to hold it in, but she kept pushing. Then I finally uttered the truth I tried so hard to deny — I’m pregnant.

I couldn’t look her in the face because I was so ashamed. I wanted to run away. I wanted to take back the truth. You can never unsay what’s been said. It took everything in me just to mutter those two words to her. I sat there begging her not to tell anyone. But part of me knew that she had to tell my therapist. And she did.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. Anger. Disappointment. Frustration. Judgment. I sat there shaking, afraid of what my therapist was going to say. But she wasn’t mad. She wasn’t disappointed. She wasn’t even surprised. I think she already knew.

I thought telling someone would make things better, but I was still a mess. And I was running out of time. I didn’t tell anyone how far along I was. I knew I had to make a decision.

I knew logically I could never have this baby. I have COPD. I have a heart condition. My body can barely handle taking care of me. I can barely handle taking care of me. I have no money, no job, and no sense of how to be a parent. I smoked. I drank. I starved myself. I took medications that shouldn’t be taken while pregnant. I did all the wrong things in the worst ways.

But this baby would have been my chance at having a real family. Someone who shares my blood, my genes, and my biology. The connection I have been missing since I ran away. A reason to live. And yet the fear of being a mother, of being my mother, is strong enough that it overrides any benefits of having a child.

I didn’t expect it to be so hard. I wasn’t attached. I knew it was for the better. Yet hours before my appointment, I broke down. I started to doubt my decision. I started to doubt everything. Why am I crying? My therapist sat me down and told me it was okay to cry. She told me it was okay to feel however I was feeling. The decision was mine to make.

So I went through with it. No one outside of therapy knew what was going on. I went home and pretended like everything was okay. I did laundry. I cooked dinner. I baked dozens of cookies. I went to therapy. I acted like it was a regular day. And yet, at the same time, I was losing my baby.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried more than I have this past week. And I can’t understand it. They say it’s grieving. But how can I grieve something I caused the loss of? How can I grieve someone I never met? How can I grieve what I knew I could never have?

All I can think is how I’ve done what my mother should have done to me. I spared a child a life of misery and pain. I saved her in a way I wish I would’ve been saved.

Trapped

I can’t talk about anything.

I can’t write about anything.

Everything is trapped. My words, my thoughts, my emotions. In the prison cell that she created. And I don’t know how to get any of it out. It’s suffocating me.

I’m still afraid. Afraid of her. Afraid of the truth that I will never be free.

She speaks inside my head. She reads my words. She is everywhere, even when she’s not.

Facade of a Family

I’ve sat at my computer several times this past week, planning to write what was on my mind. Yet every time I tried to write, I couldn’t do it. The emotions were too overwhelming and I ended up in tears.

I couldn’t really understand why. I’ve written quite a bit about emotionally laden things, and I’ve always been able to write through the pain. But this was different. This pain left me silenced in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

It’s my fault, though, at least in part. I have been holding on to something I should have let go of years ago. I knew it wasn’t good for me. I knew that it would only continue to cause me pain. But I held on, because I didn’t want to lose that piece of something that was part of my identity: my family.

I could never quite understand it, how anyone could stand back and allow someone to be hurt over and over again. I wanted to believe that no one else knew, I wanted to believe that we were so good at hiding the pain that no one else could see it. It was much easier to believe that than to believe that other people knew and chose to do nothing. Those beliefs allowed me to hold on to the very tiny bit of self-worth I had left.

That is, until that false reality was ripped away from me, and I found out people really did know what was going on. Some people knew for years. YEARS. Yet no one ever said a thing. No one ever helped. Didn’t want to cross any lines. It wasn’t my place.

That pain is inexplicable. At that point I believed I was worthless. I wasn’t worth being helped. I wasn’t worth being protected. I wasn’t worth being saved. If I was, someone would have said something, someone would have put an end to my pain. All I wanted to do was matter enough to someone, I wanted to be loved and cared for by someone. Instead I was left with nothing but a facade of a family.

I still played along. I still kept up my end of the facade, hoping that one day  they would change, hoping that one day I would be worthy enough to be saved. But time has only shown me how much I still don’t matter. Time has only shown me how much I don’t belong.

There must be something wrong with me. There’s no other explanation. How could someone stand there and ask me to protect their child from my mother, when they knew full well I could not even protect myself? You know how that made me feel? Worthless. It was okay as long as I was the one being abused, as long my mother didn’t hurt anyone that mattered. They were the ones that needed protection, protection I obviously wasn’t worthy of.

But I still held on to hope. Maybe one day I will be worth saving. Maybe one day I will be a part of the family. That never happened. Even in my darkest times, when I was in and out of hospitals, I had no one to turn to. The social workers begged me to ask family for help; there was little the system could do to help me. When I finally got the strength to give them the okay, it was only met with rejection — the same rejection I had experienced for years.

There is only so much a person can take. I think I reached that point a long time ago. Yet I still held on. I still hoped that one day, things would change and I would have some semblance of a family bond. I kept forgiving. I kept making excuses for things I’m not really sure could ever be excused. All because I wanted to experience this sense of belonging, this notion of worth, this concept of being part of a family.

I realized this past week that I can no longer hold on to that hope. It is wearing away at me. I want something that has never been, and never will be. It hurts my heart to be ignored. It hurts my heart to know that friends and neighbors will always be more important, more worthy than me. I can’t change that. I can’t make myself part of a family that has continuously shown they do not want me.

And that’s hard to acknowledge, because I’ve wanted for so long to just be part of my own family.  Instead, I am the reject, and nothing I can do will ever change that.

I made a choice this weekend. I could have reached out. I could have made another desperate attempt to be included. But I feared that the pain of another rejection would be much harder than just not knowing. I made the choice not to put myself through that any more. I made the choice to put myself first, instead of my ‘family’.

It didn’t take the pain away. My heart is still broken. I still cry. I still feel lost. But I am no longer lonely.  

There is nothing wrong with me. I am only the reject of my biology, of the people who carry my last name. I have been accepted, cared for, and protected by strangers who became friends, and who have become more of a family than any biological family has ever been.

My only mistake has been caring too much and too deeply for something that was never there — a facade of a family.

Two Years of Freedom, Part 3: Growing

There are many aspects of growth. It’s really complex when you think about it. Just because something grows, doesn’t mean it’s thriving. There’s growth in surviving, too. But it’s a different kind of growth. It’s not full. It’s not healthy. It’s growth that never reaches its full potential.

I’ve thought a lot about growth. When I think about the first 29 years of my life, I know I grew. Physically, emotionally. But that growth was stunted by the environment I was in. I was in survival mode. I grew in ways I had to in order to stay alive. But that didn’t make me healthy. That didn’t make it all right.

And then I think about where I am now. Two years of freedom; two years of tremendous growth. I wrote a commendable thesis, graduated college, established my support organization, started grad school, became a notable writer, co-wrote a book, and even started work on a second. It’s no longer about surviving. Now it’s about thriving.

But even that tremendous growth could not have occurred without the darkness I experienced before it. The losses I experienced, the grief and the pain, they were part of my growth, too. They were sitting underneath the roots of my existence this whole time. It just took the right environment for the real growth to take place. It took light to overcome the darkness.

When I first thought of burning those cards and letters, my initial plan was to bury the ashes in the yard. But as I thought about it more, I found it to be too dismissive. Even though I let go, those feelings and those experiences were still a part of who I became.

So I saved the ashes, and I spread them across the bottom of a planter. Then I added in some dirt. And then I placed the stones of what I’ve lost on top. They were the stones I have been holding on to for almost a year now: Family, mother, father, self, support, love, purpose, and hope. These were the losses I experienced in childhood, the losses I was still experiencing even after I ran away.


I no longer needed to carry those stones with me. In a way, I was letting go of them. But I was also acknowledging what has come from them. I lost my family, but I’ve been making a new one along the way. I lost my mother, but that loss has pushed me to help others. I lost my father, but that loss has driven me to take better care so I don’t end up like him. I lost my self, but I am working to find myself again. I lost support in more ways than one, but somehow that loss sent me to where I am today, surrounded by supportive people. I lost love in the sense that I never got to experience it before, but now I have — through those people who continue to support me. I lost my purpose because I believed for so long that I had no purpose. But I have found my purpose in using my experiences to help others. I lost hope a very long time ago, as a child who grew up believing that there was no way out of the pain but to die. But I now know what life can be; I know that I don’t have to die. All of these losses created me. They led to my growth.

And now they are supporting a new growth, because above the eight stones, I planted eight peace lilies.

I chose that plant specifically, because in many ways it was symbolic of my life and growth. Peace lilies can survive with very little water and very little light. But darkness slows its growth. It doesn’t grow as fully and beautifully in the darkness as it does in the light. It survives in the darkness, but thrives in the light. Just like me.

The peace lily is also a symbol of grief, of innocence and rebirth. And in many ways, my freedom has been a rebirth. What lies in the dirt below the seeds, my losses, the ashes of my pain, they are what came before me. They are what led me to my new life. Parts now unseen, hidden below, but nonetheless affecting.

I no longer carry those cards, those letters, those gravestones, or those stones with me. They are all part of the base in the growth of beautiful new flowers, just as they are all part of the growth of me.

My peace lilies are growing in the light now, just like me.

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.

Disconnection

It’s difficult. The seemingly simultaneous wish to be alone and with someone at the same time. It doesn’t make sense.

I am lonely. And that’s dangerous. Because I have a tendency to make choices that aren’t always the best.

I miss people back home. It’s been so difficult to maintain relationships with people I no longer see face-to-face. For nearly two years now, I’ve been gone. It was okay in the beginning. Friends still called, still sent texts. A couple of people even traveled to come and see me.

But it’s not like that now. No one calls anymore. No one visits. I barely get text messages, and most of the time, it’s me making the effort to message first. Sometimes I don’t even get an answer. Sometimes I get frustrated by the people who do answer, and I ask myself why I keep reaching out when it only ends in frustration and pain. But I still keep reaching out, because I don’t have anyone else.

It’s just frustrating, because I feel like it’s me that always has to put in the effort. If someone back home wants to see me, it’s expected that I be the one to go up there. I don’t even know where to start on the multiple ways that is difficult for me. It’s a huge risk for me to even be in the vicinity of my mother. Since her veiled death threats, I have never been back. I don’t know what she is capable of, and I don’t know who is still on her side.

Not to mention I don’t even drive. It takes hours just to get there. It costs money I don’t have.

But I still wanted so badly to go back. I wanted to see the people I knew as my friends for so long. I wasn’t thinking about the risks. I just wanted to go. And I was going to go. Until those closest to me reminded me that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. For one reason, safety. I can’t guarantee that someone won’t see me and immediately contact my mother to tell her I’m in the area. And for another reason, my emotional state. Just being in those familiar places is enough to induce panic, and if something did happen, I’m not sure I am in the best place to handle it. And it’s not fair to the others around me to have to deal with the aftermath that it might bring.

So I told my friend I wouldn’t be able to make it up there. I told him that collectively, we didn’t think it was a good idea. Before I even responded with an explanation, he asked if it was because of my heart. Oh, right. That. An issue that never even crossed my mind. I forget that I’m sick sometimes. It’s been okay because I rarely stray from home. Even when I am alone, I can pass out safely on the carpet and get up and go about my day. And even when I do leave the house, I am with people who know me, who literally catch me before I fall. I won’t have that there. If I passed out in that neighborhood, I’d be lucky if no one stole the shoes off my feet.

But instead of feeling better, his acknowledgement only fueled my anger. You know it’s not safe for me there. You know what my mother sent to me. And you know I’m not really healthy. And yet it’s still on me. I need to make the effort. I need to put all of the work in. I need to make the moves.

I’m tired of putting in all of the effort for people who don’t put in any effort for me. It hurts. I realize that our lives are not the same anymore. I realize that I was the one that moved away. But I had to make that choice to save myself.

I’m not asking for much. A birthday card, a Christmas card, a visit once or twice a year. Something. But I end up with nothing. Nothing but disappointment. Nothing but complete disconnection. Nothing but anger when I see the times that people are just a short drive away from me, and yet they never visit.

It’s isolating. It feels like I am the one who’s done wrong.

But I can’t give these relationships up. I can’t tell my friend I can’t go through with all of it anymore. I can’t make that last severance with my remaining family. I just can’t do it. But I am the one that suffers. I’m the one that constantly gets hurt. I am the one that still feels disconnected.

I wish I could say I can move on. In my mind, I know these relationships aren’t what they used to be. They aren’t good anymore. But my heart doesn’t get that message. My heart longs for the connection we used to have, the connection that just doesn’t exist anymore, and likely never will.

I know I can replace friendships in my new life here. I made friends at work, but now that I’m gone it’s not the same anymore. I acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation,  that it probably pushes them away more than it would in normal circumstances. It sucks, but I had to choose a place to live and a safer life over the job I loved, which also happened to be the only place where I fit in.

I’m not like other people my age. I have trouble relating to them. I’m not a parent, I’m not married, and I don’t have a career. I don’t go out. I don’t like most things. I avoid most women like the plague because I am scared of them.

I’m also a 31 year-old with the body of a senior citizen and the soul of a child. It’s hard to meet people who understand that, and who accept that is who I am and who I will be.

I know I have people here that care about me. I know I can connect with them. But it’s still not the same. I still miss those pieces of my old life. I still miss my family. Those are people who can’t be replaced.

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?

This is not my family.

I still remember what my mother wrote to me

You made your decision to disown your family.

It wasn’t a decision to disown my family. It was a decision to save my life.

And I am reminded of that decision every day.

I left a life behind. A life I can never go back to. A life full of people I can’t see anymore.

One of my best friends graduated from college last week. I wanted to be there to support him, in the same way he was there to support me when I graduated college last year. But I couldn’t. I could only experience his moment through pictures he posted on social media. Because I can never go back to that place again. I can never take the risk of my mother seeing me, of finding me, of hurting me. I can never return to the only place I knew for 29 years of my life, my home, my friends, my family. And that hurts in a way I’m not sure I can ever explain in words.

For all those months after my escape, I went through my hardest moments alone. I spent holidays alone. I stayed in the hospital alone. I struggled to explain to every person taking down my information that I had no emergency contact, no next of kin, no person to notify. No mother? No father? No siblings? No one? They could never seem to understand how I had no family. Didn’t they hear? I disowned my family.

And now here I am, smack dab in the middle of a family that is not my own. I’m going through shit with people by my side from a family that is not my own. I am spending time with people from a family that is not my own. I am living in a house that is not my home.

Now it’s different. I went to the cardiologist appointment with someone by my side, someone who cared enough to take the time to come with me, because she knew I wasn’t going to speak up for myself. But she doesn’t know I don’t speak up for a reason. She doesn’t understand I’ve been trained not to speak up for myself.

I went through my surgery with her by my side. As the cardiologist stitched up my incision, she said “I’m going to go out and tell your mother how everything went.” In that moment I realized that’s who should be here: my mother, my family. Instead here was this woman, of no relation to me, standing by me through a hard time. She isn’t my mother, but she cares and supports me more than my biological mother ever did, strong enough that even my doctor mistook her for my own family member.

I always dreamed of having a real family, but I never knew what it looked like. I didn’t really imagine other people, I just imagined my parents being different. I imagined living a life with a mother who didn’t rape and abuse, and a father who hugged instead of hit. I imagined going out places instead of being stuck inside of that prison. I imagined that they would change, but they never did.

Thirty-one years later, I found that family. A normal family where I don’t have to be afraid to go to bed at night and I can eat food without being punished for it and I can go outside and see the world whenever I want. I found a family with a man who asks if I’ve done my homework every Friday, because he knows I have a paper due that night. I found a family with a teenager that asks where I’m going each time there’s a stranger parked outside the house waiting to pick me up for a date. I found a family with a kid I can joke around with so much, we both end up rolling on the floor. I found a family with a woman who tells me goodnight and gives me a hug before she goes to sleep. I found a family that makes sure I’m eating enough, a family that always makes sure I have what I need.

It’s a normal family. It’s a family I never experienced. And it’s not my family. Because I’m not sure I fit into a normal family. I am not sure it’s fair for them to have to deal with me. It’s not fair for them to have to make sure I am eating like a normal person. It’s not fair for them to have to hold my head off the floor every time I pass out. It’s not fair for them to care for me, when I can barely find it within me to care about myself. I am a burden. And they did nothing to deserve that.

As much as I’m included in everything they do, I still feel like an outsider. I feel like someone who doesn’t belong. Because I don’t belong. This is not my family. I am alone. In the middle of a room full of people, as crazy as some of them may be, I am the only one that doesn’t belong.

It’s ironic. My own family treated me like the outsider my whole life. Yet the truth is I never belonged with them anyway, because I was nothing like them. And now, with a family who is treating me like I belong, I find myself pushing away.

I ended up crying in the corner of the living room yesterday. The family had a barbecue. Other family members were there. And for a few hours I felt okay. I talked, I listened, I even got dragged into a mini-trip with a woman who had just learned my name. And then right before dinner, something clicked in me. This is not my family. I do not belong here. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

They sat down together in the kitchen and I isolated myself in the corner of another room. I knew I was going to cry. I tried so hard to hold in the tears. I tried to look at my phone, act busy, but then she came over to ask if I was okay and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the tears in anymore.

She asked if it was my heart. I knew she meant my arrhythmia, so I said no. But my heart was broken in a different way, a way that I can barely explain. A broken heart that continues to break each time I realize all that I never had.

She knew something was wrong and kept asking me what it was, and I kept trying to hold it all in. I’m fine. I finally broke down and told her, this isn’t my family, this is yours. I couldn’t hold in the tears anymore. She grabbed tissues and tried to comfort me, while blocking me from everyone else in the other room. She told me that I was family, that she adopted me, that I belong. She had told me it all before, but it still didn’t feel right.

I got what I always dreamed of as a little girl. Love, care, support, safety, and all of the things a real family should be. Yet even though I am the safest, happiest, and most balanced I have ever been, I am still reminded of what I don’t have: my family. They are gone forever. Some dead, some gone away, some too dangerous to recognize they exist, but regardless, still gone. I am one standing, both disowned by my family and disowned to them.

This is not my family. I don’t want to be a burden to them.

I don’t understand how I got here.