How long can this inability to reconcile you go one unabated before I can finally wrestle it to the ground, pin it down, slice it open, and turn it inside out? How long before I will ever take it to heart that it had nothing to do with me – nothing I said, nothing I did – that made you do these things? I sit here writing this as a grown thirty-seven year old woman who has made it through her share of pain and suffering, reconciling so much that many find impossible to understand, not claiming blame, stigma, or shame for even what the monster did. Yet, in some ways I am still so very much that child – well, one of those three children – that you discarded and went on about your life unapologetic.
What was it that my sister did to deserve the things you did to her? What was so wrong with her that you hated her so? How could you do all those horrible things to a child who loved you despite your cruelty? My first memory in that house should not be what it is. It should be about pets or coloring or playing or something silly and normal for that age. But that shrieking yell, so high-pitched and angry it was almost cartoonish, is forever stuck in the back of my mind as the events that unfolded that afternoon still come back periodically to rob me of my sleep. The intense, overwhelming feeling of guilt. If I had just said it was me and not her. If I had not feared you enough to say it was her. Before this, we had all played the blame game, doing something wrong, getting caught, and pointing the finger at an unsuspecting sibling. But on this day, it was me. It was me. I don’t remember what broke, I don’t remember what happened before you stormed upstairs, on fire bright as the sun with anger. Raging. Seething. Spewing and venting toxic hatred toward her.
I can see her face contorted in intense and overwhelming fear — absolute terror — that she was going to die. I can see her writhing side to side while she tried to grab at something to hold on to as she was hung precariously from your hands. Her face ruddy from crying, her legs kicking to and fro with enough strength that the pony tails on the sides of her head swung around like the tail of an annoyed cat. The sounds of her sobs were drowned by your screeching as you threatened to kill her, repeatedly asking her if she wanted you to drop her. The oldest of the three does not remember this, but he was there, almost frozen. I stood at the top of the stairs, my little toddler mind racing, panicked, not knowing what to do. By reflex I started down the stairs toward her, but you moved her further away. She cried out in agony, her face wretched in emotional pain, her arms by now most likely sore from bearing the weight of her growing body.
And then you stopped. I don’t clearly remember you bringing her back over the railing, but I remember hearing the sound of my father coming home. You threatened us. If we told him, you would kill us. After what I had seen, I wasn’t going to test it out. We tried our best to act normal, but what is normal after witnessing something like this? The evil, hateful thing that I caused? This torment that she has struggled with her entire life? Because of me. Because of my mouth. Because I said it was her. It will always be my fault that I know the look of desperate terror on her face, and it will always been replayed on a loop in my mind every time that day tracks its mucked up feet through my head.
What was so wrong with our father that you did the things you did? What did you he do or fail to do in your lofty eyes that led you down that path? There are some things I was too young to retain complete, coherent memories of, but I remember bits and pieces from the confused eyes of a toddler. I remember him packing overnight bags for us and taking us to our grandmother’s house. I remember anguish flashing across his face. Sometimes desperation. Frustration. Hurt. Sorrow. I was too young to put names to these things, but I was aware enough at that young age to know that he was hurting. What could he have ever done to you that prompted you to emotionally shred him in front of three young children? If you think I didn’t know, if you think I don’t or can’t recall, you are so incredibly wrong.
I remember the time you decided to change babysitters and did not tell him. Coming home from work, he saw his three children in a car with a woman he did not know. Would anyone expect him to do anything else than get her to pull off to the side of the street? Could the stranger in the house that called the police on him blame him for wanting to protect his children? I watched, curled up in the back seat, as my father desperately pled with the woman to give him back his children. His babies, he called us. And I nodded in agreement. I wanted out. I wanted my father. When the officer asked us if we wanted to go with him, I kept quiet. I knew what was going to happen. We feared you, and my brother and sister answered no in rapid succession, and I sat there, my wide doe-eyes filling with tears unable to answer.
They prodded me to say yes. I shook my head. They pushed and urged and bullied, reminding me of the threat that lie in wait like a lion stalking a herd of prey. Roaring into the ground to keep us confused, so we couldn’t tell from what direction the ambush would come, and they caved; they declined to go with my father. What was minutes felt like hours. I wanted to go with him, and I remember looking up at the officer and feeling anger at him for running a dagger in his heart not once, not twice, but three times as I mumbled a “No” that was barely audible. And to pull away, pushed and prodded against my will, to see my father standing helpless in the street, his face stricken with grief would have been hard enough. But I was the reason he cried. I was the hold out. If I had gone with him, maybe he wouldn’t have broken that day. It was the first time and one of the few times in my entire life that I have ever seen my father cry. As we drove off, I watched him fade away until he disappeared. I wanted to disappear with him.
What was so wrong with us that you left us there? What was so horrible about the three of us that you left us at your parents’ and let word make it way to him that we were there waiting for him? You packed us up and drove us away, dumping us like gutter trash. Were we no fun for you anymore? Were we a burden? Were we that bad that you let us go like that? We were ungrateful, spoiled, and overly demanding? Were we really that bad? Were we?
As if that wasn’t enough to confuse us all, not a few years later after the divorce, you met someone else and got married. You knowingly took on three children after leaving your own. Every other week we intruded upon the household. For two days every fourteen, and they had you every day. To add insult to injury several years down the road, you had two more children. You took over the role of mother for three who were not yours, you had more children, and you kept them. You kept them all. We were broken, but you overlooked the pieces. We were hurt, but you avoided the pain in our eyes. That old nagging feeling raising up on us, smothering us. The three you took on calling you mom. The younger two further stealing your attention. Were we invisible to you? Inconsequential? Did you notice us at all as you ran them back and forth? As you were there for homework, first crushes, scraped knees, and bullies?
We were alienated from you, and you claim not to know why. We distanced ourselves and you made yourself the victim. Ungrateful brats. After everything you had done for us, driving all those miles to go to a concert or two a year. Where were you when we were in emotional turmoil, too confused and shell-shocked to even know how to tell anyone? Where were you when two of us fell into severe depression and tried to take our lives? Fawning over them. Doting over them as we faded away into the background. As we became afterthoughts until the time to play the card was convenient. Until you could needle at my father once more.
And even after all this, when the second husband was forced to leave the house, when the money slowed and choked like a clogged maple spigot, I stood up and I helped you. I sacrificed a good portion of my life and dreams and things that I wanted for myself to care for the three of you! I never asked for anything back, because I knew you didn’t have it to give. I never asked for anything back, because I couldn’t let you do without even after all the things you did. Perhaps because I’m foolish. Maybe because I am naïve. But there was no gratitude for what I did, just increased expectations that could never be satisfied. Why did I do these things? Because I was so foolish. Because somewhere that innocent toddler was still stuck inside. Because after all the chasing behind you trying to get you to just stop, look, and SEE ME, not look through me, I wanted to be your daughter. I wanted that connection, that bond, that relationship that I never had.
You know, I had a nice weekend. I was surrounded by at least a hundred people who actually love me and WANT me in their presence. But as I looked around at the families surrounding me, mothers and fathers with their children, happy to be together, at peace with being with each other, joking around and having fun, I felt robbed. I felt shafted, a woman of 37 reduced to that child once again. Where were my days like this with you? Where is the bond that I deserved? Where is the kindness, love, affection, and appreciation that comes unconditionally like those around me have now? I felt empty, and the darkness seeped back in. You left us. You left me. You tore apart our childhood, and none of us can get it back.
How can I explain to someone who doesn’t know the pain of abandonment? The toddler within still obsesses and struggles and comes up with new ways to chase, but is now so conditioned to your lack of response or your ease at brushing off your guilt, that she mourns the reality that she will never have an answer that satisfies her. She struggles with this, reconciling a thing that is not to be reconciled. Fighting to make peace in a corner of her heart that has been devastated and brought to nothing. While I know that it wasn’t anything I did to cause these things, she does not, and she never will. She will always be the reason her father’s heart was broken. She will always be the catalyst of her sister’s torturous emotional pain. She will always be guilty in her eyes. She will always be, because no one ever took the time to tell her she wasn’t. In some ways, she wasn’t equipped to grow into adulthood. There were some things she should have learned but no one took the time to teach her, while they instead taught her and forced upon her things she should never have seen. Self hate. Loathing. Shame. Abysmal emptiness. Loneliness. Despair. A child with a huge, glowing smile and wide doe-eyes that only appeared to glitter with happiness.
But you didn’t want her. You didn’t want me.
Is it possible? Is it truly possible to be an orphan when your parents are both alive?