“Your father will never come back for you. Shut up. Stop crying.” Leaving me standing alone outside in the yard waiting for him when he didn’t show up…again.
“STOP MAKING SO MUCH NOISE. I have to sleep. You walk through the house like a God Damn elephant. If I have to come down the stairs and tell you again, you will regret it.” (Grabbing my face and jerking my neck around, leaving the outline of her hand clearly visible on my jaw and face.)
“Mom, the teller gave you back an extra $20.”
“But, she’ll have to pay that back out of her pay.”
“That’s not my problem. Don’t tell your step-father, or else you are going to get it.”
“Why would you tell me that? He only molested you because you aren’t real family. He won’t touch your sisters; they’re family. Don’t you dare tell your step-father. Don’t start trouble in this family. Shut up about it. Stop crying.”
“Look at you. Aren’t you special with your fancy boots and new coat. You always think you’re better than the rest of us. “ She whispers so no one else can hear, as she smiles, kissing me goodbye as I leave on new date with the man who later becomes my husband.
I was never wanted. I was a reminder of Him, of wrong choices, of a life failed. And she and I agreed on one thing—neither one of us could wait until I left.
Every outrage probably had little to do with me. The word “consequence” means the effect or result of something that happened earlier. My mother’s anger and intolerance for me was a result of a hundred things that happened before me, many before I was even born. I understand that now.
But I was always the bullseye for her arrow of frustration, depression, sadness, and anger. There was always a “consequence” of every thing I said or did—good or bad. What I thought would be good, was not and what I thought would be bad, sometimes was good. It was like living in a funhouse of mirrors, everything distorted and disorienting.
“I’m glad you started smoking. I like it. It makes you look normal. And it will help you stay thinner. You’re getting to chubby.” As I try to stand there in defiance with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.
Growing up with no mother and no father, all I dreamt of was a family. One where I was accepted, loved, happy, not worried, anxious, or scared all the time. A stubborn child, I believed if I played by the rules, did everything they did on American family sitcoms: studied hard, was polite, was respectful to adults, worked hard, and said my prayers, that I would get the family I never had. I knew I couldn’t will it to happen; I had to take action.
“Can I go to the Methodist church at the end of the block? Doc says they have a good youth group and his granddaughter goes.”
“What do you want to go to church for? Religion is private. You don’t share it out with other people.
” I want to pray.“
“Why? You have everything. What could you possibly pray for? Do whatever you want. Just don’t bring it home.”
I was the quintessential girl growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I wanted to go to college, meet a boy, get married, have babies, and have a career. I would never worry about how the bills were going to get paid. There would be enough money for everything that was needed and wanted. My dream house would be a 3- bedroom, 2-bath brick ranch and my dream car? A Honda four door. Everything would be happy, clean, normal, peaceful. Not angry, dirty, dysfunctional… exhausting.
I believe in visualization. It works for me. As an athlete in junior high and high school, I would visualize myself running, passing other runners, crossing the finish line, hurling my body up and over the sand, making contact with that ball and sending it out far, far out to center field. I visualized myself making A’s, being good in school, having teachers tell me I’m smart. In theater, I visualized characters so I could act. It worked. Rarely did anyone in my family ever see my run or play ball or perform. I wasn’t encouraged to do well in school.
Showing her my report card, “Try to get a C once in awhile” rolling her eyes and walking away.
I did go to college. I did marry a boy. I have a successful professional career. I am now living in my third 3 bedroom, 2 bath brick ranch, and I drive a Toyota (close enough). But the babies didn’t turn out.
“How much did this house cost? Must be nice to be so rich. Don’t ask us to come up. We don’t feel welcome here.”
I continued to play by the rules. I did everything right. I worked hard. I was a community activist. I kept a beautiful home and yard. I cooked. I baked. My husband treated me like an equal partner. I ran and was in excellent health. I was that woman I visualized as a girl. I had it all. I had successfully broken free from the chaos and dysfunction.
But, then for no medical reason anyone can find, Will was born early, born dead, and with extreme medical interventions, survived. But he survived with “consequences.” That’s what his neurologist kept saying to us when we asked how bad it was, “We don’t know, but there will be ‘consequences’.”
I was so angry. How could this have happened? I had made it this far. Everything was right. Unlike my mother, I had made good choices. I played by the rules. I was an excellent wife, and I wanted so badly to get the chance to be the mother I didn’t have and to give my child the father I didn’t have.
Of course, what I meant was, how could this have happened to me? Meaning I thought I had been through enough. I lived all of those years in anxiety and sadness and stress and now it was being taken away. I worried that my husband would leave me because I hadn’t given him the perfect child and then learned I could give him no more children.
And, the economic burden of having a child with a disability before Obamacare means we had to leave our three-bedroom new brick ranch home in an affluent community for a smaller house in a community far outside of the city where we could afford to live. I had to leave the job I loved to care for a baby that has now had 37 surgeries and procedures in 14 years.
As my friend, Barb says, who is this supposed to happen to? Who do we think “deserves” to have gone through what my family has endured? The truth is because I grew up hard, I know hard. I know how to survive hard. And more importantly, I know how to thrive in hard.
It should have happened to me because with my husband and I at the helm, Will has beat all the odds and the doctors continue to be befuddled at how healthy he is despite all of the damage to his body and brain. We have a strong love and respect for each other and for our son, regardless of the “consequences.”
So, I stopped being angry about that perfect pregnancy where I had done everything right that failed because that means Will is a failure and he’s not—he’s a miracle. My husband and I are short, dark, cynical people and we have this tall, bright, happy sunshine boy who loves us and his life. I’m so proud of everything he is and does.
I stopped being angry about the loss of a career and found a new one that I like even better and that allows me to work and be with my son.
I stopped running and exercising as much and allowed myself to gain weight, enjoy food, friends, and life more.
I stopped keeping a huge yard and enjoy a smaller landscape.
I stopped cleaning my house. I hired it out.
I stopped being polite and making small talk. I say, teach, and write what I believe. I don’t have to be the “good girl” anymore.
I stopped going to churches that say one thing and do the opposite. My preacher is gay. We are involved in the #blacklivesmatter movement, immigration activism, LGBTQ rights, serving the community where the church resides. My church does what Jesus would REALLY do.
I stopped watching family sitcoms. I like my own real life much better.
We love him, our son, our happy consequence. My new life “with consequences” is happier than the one I visualized.