Thursday, August 17, 2006

Defining Moments 21-38

The trauma of being raped lingered. I slept with a lot of men to regain control and power. Of course, it didn’t work, but at least I was trying. I was fighting back and moving on. I turned 21 and moved to Boise with a friend. We were going to make new lives for ourselves, and that’s what we did. We partied a lot, and worked a little. One day she came home from work, and found me laying on the couch with my bloody arm elevated. She freaked! She thought I had been attacked again. In a way, she was right.

I was riding my bike that morning, discovering all the secrets of Boise. I was in a bike lane in front of some little grocery store near Broadway Ave. There was a car at the parking lot exit with a little old lady behind the wheel. I slowed down, but she appeared to be looking right at me, so I continued. Once I got in front of her, she hit the gas and knocked me down. I was irritated immediately, and sure I would get road burn. Once I was on the ground, I thought I’d just get up, but it became clear rather quickly that she had no intention of stopping. In no time at all, I was under the car, my left arm was actually under the left front tire, and I was staring at the tire as it approached my head. I guess my guardian angel was there with me that day, because a woman working across the street saw what was happening and was running toward the car screaming and waving her arms. The car stopped, I yanked my arm out from under the tire, and I never moved more quickly than I did that day, crawling out from under the car. Once again, I survived. Why? Isn’t 3rd time a charm?

Ok, so that wasn’t even close the a defining moment. Just a story that I actually like to tell. My arm was all scraped up, but no broken bones, if you can believe it. My bike was totaled, they said they had to lift her car up to get it out, and I got a new one. And a couple of thousand dollars to boot. So, I survived again. But surviving isn’t special, it’s instinctive. It’s an instinct that nearly always trumps the desire to die. Surviving isn’t courageous, living is. But sometimes survival is all you have courage enough to do. And I was about to need more.

I had been in Boise for just a few months when I met Lex. We were a perfect match, messed up and partying hard. In June, I moved in with him. On the 4th of July, I got pregnant, and, though I didn’t know it then, that child would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I wasn’t married, and didn’t know whether my relationship with Lex would move in that direction. The only think I knew was that I was having and keeping this baby.

Pregnancy was not kind to me. I gained 100 pounds during my pregnancy, to the horror of my mother who had worked so hard to keep me anorexically thin my whole life. I still regret letting her back into my life at that time. She was a member of the audience I had during my very difficult labor. I was extremely emotional, and easily enraged.

One day I was moving from the couch to the bed. When I got there, I found that my 6 month old Doberman puppy and pooped on my bed. I lost it. I grabbed her and started to beat her while she lay on the floor beneath me. I had a sort of out of body experience at that moment. I was looking down on me beating that poor puppy, and I saw my mother. I was about to have a baby, and I was my mother. I stopped and got up off the dog who ran to another room. I felt sick to my stomach. I knew right then that I had to change. I couldn’t be my mother. I wouldn’t be my mother. I wouldn’t.

I don’t know if I ever made it up to the puppy. She grew up to be a really sweet dog. We couldn’t keep her, though. She need room to run, so I gave her away. I didn’t give my rage away, though. I have had to work hard not to lose control like that again. It can be so hard sometimes. I learned it was ok to just walk away and cool down. Today I don’t lose control like that. I still get angry, but I can control myself better. It’s ok to get mad, feelings aren’t bad, what we do with those feelings can be. It’s a process.

I knew Megan long before she came into the world. I knew she would have long blonde hair, lots of friends, love do dance, and brighten the lives of all who knew her. But I was caught completely off guard by the feelings I had for her when I first held her in my arms. She was so tiny and helpless and beautiful. I didn’t know a person could feel love like that. It is such a cliché, I know, but it is steeped I truth. I remember thinking I must have lost my mind, this was too much joy, surely I didn’t deserve this wonderful gift. I couldn’t be separated from her, I was terrified of losing her. Even though I felt that kind of love for her, I still would become angry with her when she cried, or tantrumed. Yes, I walked away. I never hit her or harmed her. Thank God!

Lex and I did get married before Megan was born, and by the time we moved back to Twin we were already having problems. When Zach was born, Lex was working as a cook at a truck stop for very low wages. His self esteem was very low.

I was very sick throughout my pregnancy with Zach, and when he was born, we both had to stay in the hospital. He had pneumonia, so he stayed for a week. I had a wicked kidney infection an stayed for three days. When I came home, Megan refused to speak to me for two full weeks. My mother pounced on that. She saw it as a way to worm her way between Megan and me. It didn’t work, of course, but I never doubted that my mother played a major roll in the problem - all she wanted was to take Megan away from me. When Zach came home, Megan did eventually fall in love with him.

My brother and his first wife had a baby who was six months old at that time. She had an extremely rare condition that took her life. That was such a traumatic time for me. I couldn’t understand why such a sweet baby would be taken away from my brother who never did anything as bad as the things I did regularly in my teens. I became terrified that I was destined to lose Megan as well. I always had nightmares about Megan dying. The loss of my niece certainly didn’t help matters any.

Not quite a year after that, Lex did get a good paying job. We moving into a bigger house, and though we were still renting, things started to go better for us as a couple. The pediatricians kept diagnosing Zach with ear infections and on two occasions they put him on a maintenance antibiotic that caused him to develop seriously high fevers. The last time it happened I took him off and low and behold, he got better. He was behind a little developmentally, and could repeat commercials exactly, and spent a lot of time running in circles.

I had a tubal ligation and lost a whole bunch of weight. I was looking pretty good by the end of the summer, and my mother introduced me to Sophia. Sophia and I became quite close. My mother ended up doing something to make Sophia mad, and she became my biggest ally in breaking from my mother.

My mother was seeing a really nice guy at that time, and had decided to move in with him. She told Lex and me that she would sell us her house - the same house I grew up in. I had no idea what kind of effect living in that house again would have on me. I had never actually had forgotten the things that had happened during my childhood, I just didn’t dwell on them much.

Megan was four by then, just about the same age I was when those horrible things were done to me. I had hung a picture of my sister and me taken at that time on the wall where I could see it while I rocked Megan. I would walk around a corner and have flashbacks, full pain, smell, everything flashbacks. The scene would play out completely leaving me feeling as worthless and powerless as I felt then. But this time I had Megan, and I would sit and rock her until the little girl in me felt better. I kept telling her (the little girl in me) over and over that she didn’t do anything to deserve that, she was totally innocent and sweet, and only a monster would treat a beautiful child like her that way. And I would cry for hours.

It really helped, and I started to see myself in a different light. I started to see my mother in a different light. I hated her so much then. How could she do those things to me, and still look me in the eye and tell me she loves me? How could she continue to treat me with such disregard and still insinuate herself into my life and the life of my little girl?

I wasn’t terribly savvy or smart enough to realize how little regard she actually had for me, though. One fall, I went on a one week hunting trip with Lex and left both Megan and Zach with her. Mom’s boyfriend was there, and I was gullible enough to believe that she knew better that to lay a hand on my children. When we got back, she told me Megan was mad at her because she yelled at Megan for peeing outside - at the ranch. I thought mom was being rather irrational about Megan’s behavior, but I did believe her when she said she just yelled.

That changed at a baby shower being thrown for my brother’s second son. Mother was discussing discipline with my brother’s mother-in-law when she decided to tell about the time she spanked Megan. Yes, she spanked Megan that day. I was furious. Something was starting to happen inside me at that moment. Maybe I couldn’t protect myself from that monster, but I would protect my kids from her.

Her boyfriend died unexpectedly a few days after that. I put everything aside to help her through it. She started talking about how she had made a mistake selling her house to Lex and me, and reminding me that there was no contract. She abused me emotionally over the next few months. It was getting worse and worse, and I was getting more and more fed up. I finally made a decision to put an end to it. I told Lex what I was going to do, that it was the only thing to do.

We went to see her at the ranch. I told her I couldn’t take anymore of her abuse, and that I certainly wasn‘t ok with her spanking Megan for any reason. I told her she could have her house back, but in return I wanted my life back - without her in it. I don’t think she really got it at that time. She was combative and belligerent, and as I walked out the door I told Megan to say good bye to her grandma, because it would be the last time she would see her. A look of shock passed over my mother’s face, and I walked away. As we drove home, I felt the most intense feeling of relief and freedom. I have never regretted making that decision, not even for a moment.

Funny thing happened, I quit having nightmares about Megan dying. I’ve only had one since, and that was when my dad told me he was going to take Megan to see her grandma. I talked him out of it. It wasn’t hard, I just told him he had to spend a few months being my mom’s friend before dragging Megan into that situation. I think he actually gave that a shot, too. I knew she would convince him to protect Megan from her, even if I couldn’t.

Lex convinced me to take some classes at CSI that fall. After doing so poorly in high school, I wasn’t convinced I would have any success, but I decided to give it a shot. I signed up for a full load, and declared psychology as my major. A couple of weeks into classes, my psychology teacher asked us how many of us were there for intrinsic reasons. I raised my hand. He looked around the class and said, “only two of my A students?” I was shocked. No one had ever accused me of being an A student before. I really liked that label. I liked it so much that I vowed to make it true. And I did. It’s strange how one comment made for an entirely different reason can make such a huge difference in a persons self concept!

Another thing that took me by surprise was the way everyone accepted me as valid and valued. I was also getting a lot of attention from some of the young boys who were attending the college. I had no idea why they were so accepting, but I loved it. It was so nice not to be hated by classmates. I was riding high! I was on the Principals list the first 3 semesters and on the deans list after that. I’ll never forget my first B. I could hear my mother saying, “see! You really are stupid after all!” And then I cried about a grade most people would be thrilled with.

Then, my grandmother died. She starved herself to death. She no longer wanted to live once my little niece died, and she finally figured out how to make it happen. But her mind died before her body did. I think her mind went to the time when I was very small. Though she remembered our names correctly, she treated Megan as if she were me, and she treated me as if I were my mother. It was a horrible time. I was relieved when she finally died. I hated myself for that. She and my grandpa saved me from my mother with their love and support. I was so conflicted by my feelings at that time. Now I just remember her the way she was before her break. I know she loved me. I know she only wanted the best for me and if she had been in control, she would have never treated me so badly in the end.

I never strayed on my marriage, no matter how tempting the boy, and I never did, even when my marriage really started to fall apart after just a couple of semesters of classes. Lex was making up to $20 and hour at that time. He started coming home from work later and later. He was trying to start his own business, but he had absolutely no business savvy, so he was failing miserably. That was ok with some of his “friends”, because he was always available to get high with.

I used to get so mad when he didn’t come home. Zach remembers a night when I got the kids out of bed to go for a ride. I was going to hunt him down and beat his tramp girlfriend’s face to a pulp. I found him at the car shop he was using. He was alone and passed out. I really don’t think he ever strayed with another woman. I don’t think it was in him. Besides, he got to the point where he was only taking a shower once a month or so. He was a welder, and boy did he stink up the place. Eventually I got to the point where I prayed he wouldn’t come home. I hoped he had a girlfriend who was taking care of his needs so I wouldn’t have to smell him. I remember laying awake at night wondering how I could make it through the rest of my life like that. I was so miserable, I really didn’t want to go on. But I would never leave my kids like that. They needed me, they depended on me.

Then it finally happened. He pushed me too far that night. I was asleep when he came home. I woke up to find him masturbating over me. He had pulled my nightclothes high enough to expose me. When I turned to see what he was doing, he fell to the bed limp, like he hadn’t done anything.

I got up and took a bath to clean him off of me. When I went back to bed I told him I wanted a divorce. He laid there like he was asleep. This was back in the Lorena Bobbet days when women were killing and maiming there husbands. He used to comment frequently on how horrible those women were. Why didn’t they just leave? So I told him that night, “you know, Lex, you are one of the assholes who gets himself killed because he won’t leave.” He said “I’ll be out in the morning.” While I was doing laundry that morning, he left. It was February 12, 2004.
Two days later he brought me a plant for Valentine’s day. It was the first Valentine’s day he actually remembered.

So I fumbled around looking for work. I got a job at an elementary school in the preschool program. Then when summer came, I got a job at an insurance agency. I didn’t really like working with little kids like that, but they were sure a lot more fun than dealing with bloodsuckers. When school started up again, I got a job in my school district working with profoundly disabled children at the junior high school.

Most of them seemed fun to me, but there was a boy there who was blind, didn’t talk, sat in his wheelchair all day and had seizures often. I was terrified of him. On day I stood in the classroom looking at this little boy, yes he was tiny, and when I thought, why are you scared of him? So, I asked the aid who worked with him if I could take over. She was more than happy to let me. During the next nine months, this boy would teach me the real meaning of unconditional love and acceptance. It was then that I really started to see God for what He is, and not for what everyone said he was. It was magical, and every time I sit down with a person who is profoundly disabled, I feel that kind of unconditional love. For the first time I actually had hope that I would be ok.

The next year I had to come to terms with what was happening to my son. In kindergarten he seemed to be learning things that were being taught in the class, but he never paid attentions. I think I would have been totally ok with mental retardation, but everyone kept trying to get me to consider autism. I was completely in denial. After all, autistic kids wear helmets and beat there head into walls, right? One night Rainman came on tv. I couldn’t even sit through the whole movie. Rainman wasn’t wearing a helmet or beating himself senseless, and he could talk. As a matter of fact, when he talked he sounded exactly like Zach.

I got in the car and drove for the longest time. The next day I started making appointments with specialists. That year Zach was officially diagnosed with autism by a pediatric neuropshychiatrist in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, no one knew what to do with it. The Dr. told me that Zach would either live his adult life in an institution, or live a relatively independent, productive life on his own, depending on how I handled it. What a mean thing to say to a mother with no resources, and no access to any real help. He did qualify for SSI. I hated them for not making me prove he was disabled enough to need that kind of help. But it did give me the option of working while he was at school and spending the rest of the day with him.

Eventually we did get help. The school district hated the idea of having private agencies come in and do what the school district should have been doing. The are still like that. I walked that fine line between being the hated mother and beloved employee. I compromised too much, and the gave too little, and in the end, he suffered. Oh, he’s ok, but he could have gone so much farther if the school district had done their job. I even wondered why it was that they were willing to take so much from me at work, yet give so little back for my son. Where was the Karma then?

After working at the Junior High for 5 years, I went to the high school, where I made a new friend. I really thought a lot of Cynthia. I though she was honest and trustworthy. We confided everything in each other. She was really athletic, and I wanted to be more like that. But something always got in the way.

I even believed for a time that my mother had broken my spirit and I would never be happy. Then it finally occurred to me that I would be dead now if she had. I realized that, somehow, I would have to find a way to be happy. Maybe if I could find a boyfriend?

In 2001, I started taking Zach to Astronomy meetings. One of the men there started paying a lot of attention to me. He was the manager of the planetarium and he seem like he was a really nice guy. In the summer of 2002, we started seeing each other. I thought I was falling in love with him, but he was so distant. I didn’t know why, but he treated me like trash. I finally had “the talk” with him about where our relationship was going. He said it wasn’t going anywhere. He liked me, but I wasn’t going to be that someone in his life. Of course, he couldn’t tell me why, I was a really nice person and all. That was a couple of days before my 38th birthday! It certainly didn’t help my self concept, and I fell into a terrible depression. Life really sucks sometimes.

1 comment:

  1. I almost died in a car crash once. Of course, I was *inside* the car, but, still, I understand that terror.

    Cheri, when I read your stories, the stories of your life, I'm simply amazed. Not only did you survive such rough twists and turns, but you thrived. Against all odds, you managed to stand on your own two feet and keep trudging forward until you made it through. You're a remarkable woman, and I feel privileged that you chose to share this with us.
    Thank you.