The Boy They Forgot

There was a victim in my family that is rarely mentioned because what he experienced was insidious, tragic and ultimately a noble act of self-sacrifice.

My little brother was born right before everything fell apart. There were problems before, big problems, but to all intents and purposes we looked like a pretty normal family for the most part. In fact, we weren’t just normal, we were thriving and well off.

My brother never got to experience that part of our family. He told me once that he didn’t remember a time when our family had been whole. He didn’t remember his Dad taking his Mom in his arms and saying, ‘I love you’. All he ever saw was the court cases, the manipulations and the pain. All he saw was what our dad did to our mom and unlike the rest of us, it was our mom that he loved best.

He was her baby and she clung to him. He was the only thing that my dad never successfully took from her. He stripped her of the love of my older brother and myself, he took away her beautiful home, first by fire and then by divorce. He made sure that by this point he had driven her crazy and taken her to the psychiatric hospital so he even took her sanity. This last thing he claimed to me he did to avoid alimony payments, I’m sure that he enjoyed himself in his games as well though.

See how quickly it happens? How quickly the baby of the family is lost in the sea of trauma that stormed around him? To even explain what he has been through I have to sort through a mountain of what everyone else was going through. He was a leaf on the currents of every one else around him and where he was pushed and tumbled was at the behest of the events transpiring all around him.
Our older brother left home as soon as the divorce papers were scented in the air. He didn’t look back except in a supercilious way to tell anyone and everyone what we were doing wrong. I hated how he distanced himself and then lectured me in a sanctimonious tone about how I should handle things after he had run away from them.

It was a traumatic time and everyone dealt with it in whatever way they could. Our dad had laughingly and gleefully sabotaged our entire family and we were left with a stack of lies and abuse to sort through and please, remember, we were only children.
All of us were only children. My mother included. Now that I understand more about trauma I see what my mother was going through. The severe shock of my dad leaving her, cheating on her, whatever else she discovered and that I was never privy to as a child had shocked her to another major trauma that had happened to her as a very young girl herself. She was so ashamed of everything that had been done to her and said about her and the shame she felt for ‘failing’ as a wife that she lost her entire support network in one fell swoop. How convenient for her husband that no one heard her side of the story because of the shame spiral he had whipped her into.

This shaking of the foundations of someone to their childhood core is often called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Nobody recognized what was going on with my mother but I’ll never forget her crawling into my bed the night we left our home forever, sleeping in a cheap hotel and her hands gripping me. She whispered to me, “You’ll have to take care of me now. You’ll take care of us all.”

Beside me in the bed my little brother started to cry softly. Was he sleeping? Having a nightmare? I don’t know, all I knew was that my mother had just put all the responsibility of the household onto my shoulders while we sat in a hotel room without a home or any way to see a future ahead. I was suddenly, profoundly alone and ‘in charge’.

I tried my best to be there for her and my brother. My mother had never been good at a lot of the vital mother activities and my dad had filled those voids by being the one who ‘took care of her’. She had married too young, she had been abused by her own dad, there were so many things wrong and she regressed into being a child.

I tried my best for my little brother. I really did. But I made mistakes, I got frustrated and I spent days away from the house leaving him to fend for himself. When he was diagnosed with malnourishment by a doctor there should have been a full investigation. Hell, I had been telling school counselors and social workers that there wasn’t any food in the house for several years at this point. I told my dad too, at that point he was busy with his new girlfriend, traveling, going to Disney World with her and the new baby and then coming home and showing me and my brother slides while we starved.
Here’s Katy (only about six months old at the time) with Mickey Mouse, here’s Katy getting ice cream, here’s Judy and Katy at the beach…

Dad had made a new family and a new life and me and my little brother were embarrassing reminders that he had failed in his old life. Deliberately and maliciously failed, but it was still a failing.

I had gone to Disney Land, I had gone to Mexico, I had traveled all over America and Canada with my parents and 2.5 kids. I had already had a great big piece of that delicious pie and seeing how my dad had moved on, left me behind in favor of his brand new family hurt like acid nevertheless.

My little brother though, he never got a piece of any pie. The only time he went on a trip was once when I paid for him and my mom to come and see me in Ontario. I took him to the zoo and he told me as an adult that those are his only memories of ever having a trip. He still loves white tigers because of the one we watched together at the Toronto Zoo.

The only other trip he went on was with my dad. My wonderful father took him across the border with him so that daddy could go to the casino. He made my brother hide in the backseat under some blankets so he wouldn’t get in trouble for leaving his child in a vehicle while he spent the day gambling. That was it.

Meanwhile, Katy and Judy and Dad were going on cruises, traveling across the country, going for shopping trips in New York… I had fled by this time and where did that leave Frankie? Starving, alone and the one who had to ‘take care of her’.

Like myself, there came a time in Frankie’s life where he was given an option to escape. Dad dragged him through court and my brother, looking at his mother in the courtroom, tears streaming down her face, said that he would stay with his mother.

He didn’t say it in court, but he said it in his heart with a heavy sigh, he would be the one who took care of her. Just like I had done my best to take care of things when I was far too young, now the mantle fell on him. He was the one who had to deal with making sure mom took the right amount of medication, who had to make sure that the bills were paid and try to find enough food to survive on while mom ran around to garage sale after garage sale. She was still a child and she spent money like a child.

Now all this burden fell on Frankie. He stayed with her until the very end. He was the one in the hospital who, all alone, waited and waited to see if our mother would come out of the coma that had been induced by the simple error or a low salt diet and a lot of water. Someone had told her these were healthy things to do and, childlike, she obeyed. Frankie was alone when they told him that his mother was gone.

I didn’t know about our mother’s death for several years after. By this point I had run away into my own life. I had escaped and I didn’t even think of them all that much. I had shed that life like a skin because every time I came close to my mom or to Frankie my dad showed up on my doorstep. My dad was a black hole and my mom and the rest of my family were swirling particulates around him waiting like lures to suck me back into the whole mess.

Yes, I was selfish. Yes, I was thinking of me. At that point, I had no option except to think of myself. I had to build a healthy scaffolding away from the toxic environment. I had to to survive.

But my little brother, faced with the same choice, gave himself over and stayed. He still stays. I get mad at him because he doesn’t stand up for me the way I always stood up for him when I was home. But at the same time I understand that it’s the same flexibility that makes him too weak to stand up for me that also made him capable of staying with our mother until the end.

Did it benefit anyone that he stayed with her?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know what would have happened to my mom if my dad had managed to take away her baby from her. Or if he had run away to start a fresh life the way I had. Their is a poignant, tragic nobility to the choice that he made that deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated. He sacrificed everything for his mother, to this day his life is molded by the choice he made in that courtroom that day. The choice he upheld at the cost of his own happiness and physical and mental well-being.

I couldn’t have done  what he did. I didn’t. I ran away from home and as far across the country as I could conceive of going. I traveled the world, I got educated, I wrote, I made a family, I lived my life. All things that Frankie was never able to do.

He has a son, but his son lives with the mother and her husband. His son took his step-father’s last name and thinks that grandpa is amazing and that Aunty Katy is his favorite aunt. He has a son but he doesn’t get to keep his son, he only gets to visit with him when his health is good enough and his finances are such that he can afford to feed him.

The mother, Ashley, wrote me hate mail for telling the truth about my dad. She thinks he’s amazing too. She called me a filthy liar and never once wondered why Frankie had been left in the position he had been left in. She never examined the man who had been a boy and wondered why he was so ill, why he had been left without dental care. Why his father, who she idolizes and gets all her other kids to call, ‘grandpa’ never once took care of his own son.
When I met my nephew I was shocked by how similar he looked to Frankie. It was like meeting an echo. But he was so alien to me. In fact, when he met me and my husband he said, ‘They don’t look like people I’d be related to’. How different from Frankie who had clung to me every minute, who had wrapped himself around my legs and begged me not to leave the house to go be with my friends.
I was happy for the kid, he has a good life and I don’t need to be his favorite, in fact, I don’t even consider myself to be his aunt. He is so sheltered from all of ‘what happened’ that I’m happy to leave it at that. I don’t need his mother to acknowledge that grandpa is a monster and to the best of my knowledge he’s never sexually abused any little boys. He just abandons his boy children. I doubt he’s in much danger with the man who pretends to be old and doddering and to not remember the pains of the past.

If Frankie wants to tell him one day what he’s been through while his bestest aunt Katy was globe trotting on cruises and having the best of everything then that’s his choice. Let the kid love his grandpa, let Ashley love him too.

I can’t talk to my little brother. He’s still circling the black hole. He belongs to that family and he’s not going to tell the truth to anyone any time soon. That’s okay. You don’t get to be the bestest anything by telling the truth and it’s a very, very hard road. The  only thing that you get out of it is the redemption and healing of your own soul.

That’s why I’d like to say a word for Frankie, the boy everyone forgot. The boy who to this day is abandoned by everyone, including myself. But it hurts me a lot. I think of the last time I saw him and him waving, so happy because for the first time in his life he had had his teeth fixed. He did that himself, no help from dad the amazing there!
He waved to me from inside his car, the car that had been his inheritance from our mother and said, ‘See you soon, Sis!’.
It was shortly after that that I found out what had been going on behind my back, how my dad had been telling everyone I was crazy. How I had realized when my dad hung up on me when I asked him why everyone was saying these things about me that I wouldn’t see him soon. Because Daddy would always be there. Because I had told the truth and I didn’t want Ashley to stop Frankie from seeing his son because he was around his ‘crazy’ sister.

But the stupid thing about this all is that Dad won again. Frankie is still alone and I won’t see him soon because of yet another crime our Dad committed against us. It’s like he’s radioactive and I don’t have what it takes to sacrifice myself on that pyre. Our relationship that had just begun to heal was ripped apart once more. As I write this I wonder what could possibly be done differently but I just don’t know.

I talked to him virtually last on FaceBook. He sent me a message to ‘call dad, Len is dying’. My older brother had drank himself to death and his kidneys and liver were failing, it was a matter of days.

To put it politely: I lost my shit.

Finding out how I was spoken of behind my back, finding out why no one knew why I had run away, no one had been told of the abuse and then without so much as a word, just an order, a command: call dad.

I told him that I wasn’t going to call dad about a brother who had made it clear he didn’t want me in his life. I asked if Len had asked for me me: No, of course he hadn’t. It all spilled out of me then, how hurt I was that he hadn’t let me read my mother’s journals, how heartbroken I was by how no one ever stood up for me. How unacknowledged I felt that I had lost my mother while Katy was cooed over after her abusive alcoholic mother finally died of her own crimes against her body. How Katy had cruelly told me my mother was dead with barely a, ‘sorry’ before changing the subject back to herself again. How no one, not even Frankie had come to see me in the hospital when I had been run over or had my miscarriage. How no one in the family seemed to care whether I lived or died so why should I come running to their hospital bed when they had never once come to mine?
The cruel unfairness of having spent a year at Katy’s hospital bed while she had cancer, everything about Katy. Then holding my evil stepmother in my arms and letting her weep and telling her it wasn’t too late to change even as she prepared to go out on another binge that would end her up in the hospital again and again until she was found in a snowbank, too drunk to find her way to work or home. How much time had I wasted on them and caring for them to never have it repaid to me even once? When my baby died my Len didn’t call to say he was so sorry for my loss, he didn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m glad you’re not dead’ when I got run over. Neither had Katy. No, Katy had thrown a temper tantrum at me for not mourning my step mother’s death while I was so anemic from losing my baby I still passed out if I stood up too fast.

How badly neglected and hurt I was when I received the demand to ‘call dad’ like a dog called to heel, for being called a liar for telling the truth, for being called crazy for running away…

I’m sorry, Frankie. I wish I could think of an answer. I think of you often and I think that you were brave to stay. You did something in staying that I could never do, I could never give myself over to my abusers.

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Dreams of My Mother

Every year around this time when my mother left this earth I have dreams about her. For all the ways she failed me it’s easy for people to think that she was a bad mother but the truth is that she was a delicate soul and when my father left her it tore her down into being a child again. It’s hard for someone in that state to be there for anyone, including herself. She wasn’t like that before the divorce.

baby len with debbie
Despite the fact that she was so injured she went back to school after my dad abandoned her for another woman and humiliated her in every way possible. Despite these horrible, soul wrenching losses, she finished her high school (she was pregnant with my brother when she was fifteen so she didn’t graduate despite being a good student). For a woman who had placed all her value on being a wife and mother, this abandonment and the things my dad said about her and did to her would have destroyed a lesser woman, but my mother kept on despite her pain.

memories-mother
She didn’t stop with high school, she went on to university to become a school teacher. She had little support and she was afraid of the world, she had never been self-sufficient in her life. She went from being a child to a bride. Still, despite the cruelty of the world she graduated school and she worked at Ron Pettigrew Elementary with children with special needs for most of the rest of her short life.
She was a beautiful woman and her past pursued her but she loved me. She just had a hard time expressing it and she saw too much of her young self in me to differentiate what was her and what was me. I was her hopes and dreams for who she could have been and she was terrified to touch me, that her touch would somehow taint me with her own feelings of being a failure.
I found a paper doll she made. It was folded layer upon layer and on each layer she had written her pains, her hopes and her dreams.
At the very last paper doll, the deepest part of her longing, she had written on her paper doll heart, ‘Maybe Ginny will come home’.
I still cry writing these words because I never came home for her. I found out about her death after she had already been buried in an unmarked grave.
I didn’t know how much she loved me, I didn’t know how much she missed me. The blocks between us were mountains and so much was unsaid.
But I have a paper doll and at its heart are the words, written so hard the paper dimples around them, ‘Maybe Ginny Will come home’.
I’m home now, Mom. I’m sorry I was too late. It wasn’t because I didn’t love you, but it was because I didn’t understand.
I love you, mommy. I came home.

you-are-missed

Detriment By Virginia Carraway Stark

Detriment

By Virginia Carraway Stark

A Nightmare based on truth.

I was sitting in McDonald’s with my older brother who is now deceased and my younger brother who was grown up. My dad was sitting across from me on one of the bench seats and my older brother was sitting beside me while my little brother was in the corner beside my dad. We all had hamburgers and things in front of us but we weren’t eating except for my dad who was devouring several hamburgers, like Kronos eating his young.

His face was tender, his eyes were moist with concern but underneath it there was that same glint of cunning knowledge I have seen before. I was an adult but I didn’t feel like an adult in the dream. I felt like when I was very young and I had first learned that my parents’ marriage was over. It was like every word was being told to me for the first time. Each one a gut punch, a wrenching of all that I had known, the pain of knowing nothing was ever going to be the same, while being forced to accept what was happening to me. Kids don’t get to give their input into these things, they’re at their parent’s mercy, vulnerable, naked and in every way open to the woundings and injuries that parents can thoughtlessly dole out in the pursuit of their own apetites.

There was nothing thoughtless to my dad’s eyes as he sat kitty corner from me in the booth.

My little brother had an injured look to his eyes before my dad even spoke.

My dad wiped some ketchup from the side of his mouth and swallowed before speaking, “I wanted to bring you all here to talk to you about me and your mom.”

“What about mom?” Leonard, my older brother, asked edgily. His foot tapped out a staccato rhythm of nervousness on the central metal pole of our table.

“What about your mother?” Dad replied, he looked past Leonard’s head thoughtfully, gazing out at the view through the window behind us.

I didn’t say anything but poked at the ice slowing melting in my cola. I had taken the lid off the waxed up and was taking turns drowning one ice cube after another. I had a feeling of great sorrow as soon as he had said the words, ‘talk to you about me and your mom’.

It was no secret he and mom had been fighting. It hadn’t been a secret to anyone in a radius of them. It wasn’t a secret that dad was having sex with a female parishioner at our church. A woman who was another man’s wife. It was no secret that my dad was unrepentant and had been kicked out of the church, unlike the woman who had bent her head in shame and returned to her husband and the recriminations of her fellow parishioners.

I watched my dad while jabbing at the ice cubes. I felt sick to my stomach.

Leonard exploded. “What about mom?” He demanded.

“I’m real sorry to tell you this, but it’s over between me and her.”

“How can that be? Can’t you talk to each other?” I implored.

He shook his head and I saw the mock sorrow in his eyes as he lowered his head to take another bite of a fistful of french fries. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, it’s gone too far for that.”

“Can’t you say you’re sorry?” Leonard demanded. His voice was harsh, accusative. There was no doubt to him whose fault this all was. I myself was confused, the middle child, torn between the two parents. Old enough to see too much and too young to understand what I saw.

Frankie, my little brother was crying silent tears. He didn’t speak. His perspective was different from me or Leonard’s. Leonard saw our mother being torn apart by our dad, so did Frankie, but Frankie also saw the aftermath. I saw the ways our mother had let our dad down. The times she hadn’t been there for our dad. Daddy. How I loved him.

I picked up the slack every time my mother couldn’t handle the day to day duties of being a wife. Those days were more often than the days she could stir herself to life as she drowned in the pain of her childhood and the pain of the present. Married to a man who had decided to drive her mad so he could avoid paying her alimony; heartless and cruel he drove spikes between her and I with a glee I never saw in him until after her death.

But there, in the McDonalds in my dream, there was none of that knowledge. There was only the reality I was being presented with: Daddy said it was the end between him and mom and what Daddy said Ruled the World.

I hid my tears and viciously stabbed an ice cube. It hurt not to cry but tears were not acceptable. Tears, my dad had told me so many times, were a woman’s way to control men and were not permitted under any circumstances. The end of the world as I knew it was certainly no exception to allow me to weep.

“Aren’t you hungry?” He asked me roughly.

“No, I’ll save it for later,” I replied. Waste was not permitted any more than tears. My throat was filled with unshed tears and my words were rough.

“What about you?” He asked Leonard.

“Of course I’m not hungry!” He exclaimed. “You took us out to tell us you’re leaving mom. Our Mom. The only mother we’ll ever have and you’re cutting our family into pieces. Fuck you, I don’t want your hamburger. You don’t want us? Did it ever occur to you that we don’t want you? Ever think of that?”

“Watch your mouth,” dad said. His eyes glowed red and a whip licked from him and sliced Leonard’s shirt and cut his chest.

“I won’t. I won’t. You wreck everything! You always wreck everything! You take it all away!”

The whip came again, this time slicing Leonard’s cheek and neck. A flap of skin hung down from his face. I saw that he was crying as he screamed in agony.

“Stop it! You’re killing us!” Leonard screamed as the whip curled around his bicep. It pulled off his arm.

Frankie gagged and I turned away. What was Leonard thinking? Speaking out like this? I was horrified, my heart already felt pulled out of my chest and now Dad had brought forth the whip.

But Leonard didn’t stop, he kept on, losing blood out of his chest where his arm used to be. “You’re killing mom, you’re killing me, you’ve already killed our family and you brought us here, what? To have communion with you? To salute you for your destruction? What do you want us to do, dad? Bow at your feet for your noble choice to run away from all your promises, all your lies?”

The whip lashed out again and again, it tore at me as it went by. I flinched from the burning pain but it was the pain of the sundering of our family that I felt more than the very physical burning of dad’s powerful whip. I saw Frankie had received collateral damage on his face as well. He was openly weeping, in a quiet voice, he begged, “Daddy, please stop hurting us.”

Daddy replied with his glance falling on him, followed closely with a direct lash from the whip. I dared not look at Leonard, he was a bloody wreck and still he screamed. The whip fell again and again, pulling off his limbs one by one.

“Kill me! Just fucking kill me! I want to die! I don’t want to live!” He screamed out. It was a death knell. Dad nodded in satisfaction. A tube came down from the ceiling and sucked what remained of Leonard’s battered torso up it.

Still I didn’t cry. He whipped me, the whip curling around my arm and tearing at the skin of my shoulder socket. I remained silent my eyes surreptitiously seeing the glee shining in those eyes. My lack of reaction caused him to turn on Frankie. One arm missing and the opposite leg gone too, he too was soon crying, “I don’t want to live, Daddy, please, please! Have mercy on us Daddy! Don’t leave Mommy!”

The chute positioned over my little brother and my dad’s eyes, now openly wicked and excited, turned to me. My brother was about to be sucked up the chute, he cringed and I could see it exerting its pull on him. Frankie would soon be gone.

“What about you? Have you had enough yet?” He asked me with his glinting eyes.

I lifted my head and met his gaze. “Fuck you, Daddy.”

virginia-natasha

My ‘fuck you, Daddy’ face.

His eyes flared into a blaze of hatred but it was too late. I vanished from the table and into my bed. A grown up, those events so long ago past. Still, the burn of his whip anguished my skin. The bite of his words rent my heart.

Maybe a child never heals from divorce. The absolute sundering of all trust. The rending of the proof of love. The way a man can betray his wife and consume the potential of his children, handing it all to a ‘new’ wife and child is comparable only in mythological terms: Kronos eating his children, the betrayal of a man who cares more about his own future than the future of the family he’s built with a woman who trusted him with her heart. Scattered as a family to the wind and forced to watch as he devoted himself to an evil hag to the detriment of all that had come before.

It’s an underestimated trauma, the trauma of having a broken family. Still, it screams to be recognized. I know that I need to examine this great agony of the past because this was my dream last night.