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.

Advertisements

For the First Time

By Virginia Carraway Stark

Over the past couple of days I’ve had my life unravel.

After I ran away from home when I was a teenager it was many years before I came back into contact with any of my family. The first thing that happened when I saw my Dad and Stepmother were tearful apologies and pleas for forgiveness for the abuses they had committed willfully and maliciously to me. I forgave them both and re-entered the family.

But something was wrong.

My extended family seemed confused, hurt and puzzled by my absence. I asked my Dad about it and he said vague things that threw me off the scent of the deeper cover up going on, a cover up that I only recently discovered when my family found my blog and accused me of being insane and demanded I take it down. When that happened I was confounded because my Dad had said that everyone knew what had happened. Everyone had known why I had run away from home.

So, if everyone knew that he and Judy had been abusing me and that the police and social services had been called and that I had been emancipated because of the extreme abuse I as suffering: Then why was everyone calling me crazy and defending Judy and calling me a liar?

Something smelled funny.

Yesterday I called my Dad and I asked him why my Aunt Linda had called me a backstabbing liar. Why my nephew’s mother had vehemently defended Judy. Why so many relatives had attacked me when I had spoken out loud what he had previously assured me was common knowledge.

He didn’t have an answer for me.

He said all these things like: I’m not taking sides. Judy’s dead, why does it matter now what she did to you?

Finally I asked him: Did you ever tell anyone what you and Judy did to me to make me run away from home?

He refused to answer. He said it wasn’t his fault what Judy might or might not have done to me. I asked him if that was the case then why had he apologized and cried when he saw me again and I forgave them? I asked him why he thought that it wasn’t his responsibility to make sure his child wasn’t injured? I asked him why no one seemed to know the truth?

He had no answer for me.

I said to him, “Daddy, did Judy hurt me?”

He refused to answer.

I said, “Was she good to me or bad to me?”

He refused to answer.

And with that the conspiracy of silence he had kept on me all of these years was broken. I realized that I had been duped. He had been running around not letting anyone know, covering up for himself and Judy and throwing me under the bus. He sure got quiet when I reminded him that there are police and social services reports, reports that I have and more reports that I have ordered. He hung up on me when I asked him why he thought I had run away from home.

He said, “Boy, that sure was hard on me when you ran away from home.”

I was crying now and I said, “Fuck you, Daddy, everything is always about you.”

He hung up on me and I expect the next time I see him it will be under very different circumstances because he broke the bonds he had put on me my whole life. He stole my family from me by not telling them why I had run away. He had led them to believe that I was mentally unstable and that is why I ran away from home. I had been an honor student, I had a lot of friends had always been a good natured person.

I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so standoffish to me until yesterday when my Dad hung up on me for the last time.

We make a lot of mistakes in life and the biggest mistakes I ever made were about my Dad. Up until this very day I protected him, remembered the good and tried to block the bad from my mind. I put everything in a good light and tried tried tried to make sense of what he did and said and how he acted within a paradigm that would let me think that my dad was a good.

My Dad made me feel special, he made me make promises to keep his secrets and I kept most of his secrets, especially the big ones for many years but I’m done keeping his secrets.

I’m a dreamer and I want to believe the best of people. If someone tells me something I want to believe them. If they tell me that they are really and truly sorry for something then I tend to believe it.

I only recently realized that nobody knew what I was going through in high school except for the two people who put me through the most: my Dad and my Stepmother. When the social workers asked me questions I kept quiet about the big things. I didn’t want to get my Dad into trouble even then. But now that bond has been broken. He stole my childhood from me, he stole my family from me, he stole the last years of my mother’s life from me and now he wouldn’t even admit any of it.

You want to talk about backstabbing liars? Well, I know one of them.

My own mother didn’t know the extent of how bad things were for me, although she had experienced similar abuse when she was growing up herself. She tried to rescue me once and ran away with me to transition house. I was furious with her. I wanted my daddy. He made me feel special. He told me how pretty I was. He was the one who had baths with me. He was the one who rewarded me for being good.

I was furious with my mother for trying to rescue me. I was so deeply under his sway, my head was so turned my his manipulations that I wouldn’t say one word to the counselors. I refused to talk to the police then, years before I ran away from home. I refused to say anything and I knew all the things I wasn’t allowed to say or they would take Daddy away. I knew how to cover up for him and that was by keeping my mouth closed

I protected him but he never gave a thought to protecting me.

I was stupid about him. He is a sociopath. He told me that he had systematically worked to drive my mother insane so he wouldn’t have to pay alimony. He bragged about the tricks he had played on her. He bragged about a lot of things to me. I was his special little girl. I was the most important thing in his life and I would have done absolutely anything for him. I did do absolutely everything for him.

Today is the end of that. Today I am breaking the silence.

There is no statute of limitations on child abuse in Canada. I’m done protecting my abuser. I’ve done it for too many years.

I was shaken when my brother accused my Dad of molesting his children, but I stood by my Dad even then. It had only happened to me because I had been special. He promised he had only ever done those things to me, that we had something together that must never be spoken of. Part of me believed that my brother was lying. Wanted to believe it.

He won’t let my dad see his grandchildren. Well, I’m not close to my brother but I have no right to doubt his accusations. When a man will do those things to his own daughter there is no stopping them. They will do them for all time. The rest of my family turned on my brother and my brother kind of sort of backed down from things after threatening to press charges. The rest of my family has turned on me too, but I’m not going to be silent. This man has hurt too many people and I’ve protected him for too long. His true nature has been made apparent at long last and I won’t lie for him or cover up for him anymore.

You can call me a liar, you can call me insane but after a point the evidence builds against even the most charming of psychopaths and you would have to be willfully stupid to not ask a few questions. Go ahead, ask him why I ran away. Make sure you get details though. Ask him if he ever told people that he was worried from the day I was born that he would be able to not have sexual feelings for me. Ask him and watch his charismatic blue eyes carefully. It took me a long time to see through the gaslighting he was doing to me, he knows how to be clever. Ask him directly and see if you’re heart can believe his lies.

One final word: I had forgiven my Dad for everything but after finding out that he’s been covering up for himself and Judy ALL these years and his apology was just more manipulation I don’t forgive him anymore. There is nothing he could do now to make me every trust him again and forgiveness is something that I will have to work on anew.

 

Wolfspiders and Vodka

Wolf Spiders and Vodka

By Virginia Carraway Stark

When I was very small I was terrified of spiders.

It was pretty classic little girl fear of the eight-legged monsters. I knew that they ate the bad bugs and all the rest of the things but I was still scared of them.

When I was about five years old I came down with the chicken pox. It wasn’t a regular run of chicken pox (yes, I had my vaccines), it was the sort of chicken pox that kills.

chicken pox

I was lying on my mother’s lap while she talked to some lady friends of hers. We had some pictures on the wall, blue mountains and lakes painted on thin slices of log. On the bottom of one of the logs there was a white spider. I don’t know if it was dead or just extremely stoic but I had seen that spider there for ages. I wasn’t very afraid of it because it didn’t move and it hadn’t moved since the first time I had seen it. I still watched it though, I didn’t trust it on general principles.

Then something strange happened, something that had never happened before, I noticed that the white spider had a couple of friends with it. These ones were moving and I told my mom about it. She shushed me and kept talking with her friends. I shushed and watched the spiders and then… There were more of them. At first there were only six or seven of them and then they were everywhere. I mean, everywhere. They were all over the walls, the ceiling, everywhere. I was terrified and started to cry and panic.

many spiders

My mom realized that something was wrong and called my Dad home from work. He had been working at a grain elevator at the time and it was only a few blocks for him to come home. He picked me up and at this point he noticed that I was burning up with a fever. He asked me about the spiders, trying to figure out what I was seeing, even trying to kill the spiders that I was having a fever dream about. There were fewer in the kitchen than in the living room. In my fever I saw the stippled ceiling of the living room as each stipple being a spider. Every nail hole, every blemish was a dancing, moving, threatening spider.

fever thermometer

I was crying and absolutely on fire at this point. They rushed me to the hospital which was nearly an hour away. When they took my temperature they found out it was 104 and I was slipping in and out of a coma. The last hallucination that I had was that they put my bed inside of what I saw to be a janitor’s closet and closing the door, leaving me in darkness.

closet

This darkness was actually a coma. I was in a coma for a couple of weeks and they thought I would never wake up. Both of my parents were prepared to lose me and then I woke up. Everyone was crying and holding me and I remember that the first thing they brought me to eat was cabbage rolls which were not appetizing in my state but my Dad loved them and ate them and gave me the jello which was all I could handle. Then we went home.

I was sick with the chicken pox for awhile after, all spots and sore throat and a fever but not a dangerous one any more. The spiders were all gone and I recalled how each imperfection in the wall had been a spider. I could remember them all and now I could see the reality, just specks, nothing else. The only ill result of my chicken pox adventure was that I couldn’t stand creamsicles after that. They tasted horrible to me and still do to this day. Ditto for orange floats, they just taste rotten.

The one positive result was that my mom was so deeply impacted by my form my fever hallucinations took and my fear of them that she took on a campaign to desensitize me to them. There was, of course, readings of Charlotte’s Web, which I had heard before, but then my mom did something very special. She took some pages of paper, folded them in half and stapled them into a booklet.

After that she wrote a story in her book. It was the story of a little girl who was afraid of spiders and then, rather predictably, was rescued by a spider who became her friend. She drew pictures on every page (something that didn’t come easy to her but that she drew each with only the love a mother can give.)

crude spider

She presented me with the book and we read it together. I knew what she was doing, of course. I knew that she was trying to make a miracle. She was trying to make me not afraid of spiders anymore. Her gesture had so much love in it, so much hope that I couldn’t stand to let her down. The story didn’t make me OK with spiders but I pretended for her sake that it had worked and over time, it did work. I was braver and braver about spiders and even playing with dandy long legs and letting them outside instead of squishing them. She had made the miracle real in the end and I was no longer afraid of spiders.

Fast forward about nine years round about.

I was living with my stepmother Judy and my Dad in Sicamous. My Dad was a long haul truck driver and he would leave me at home with Judy and Katy for weeks sometimes. Sometimes Judy wasn’t too bad. She even tried to help me with my homework a couple of times. She worked me hard but this was before they owned a restaurant and there was only so much work to be done. She mocked me for my weight frequently, and gave me a pair of jeans that were 24 inches at the waist. She said I could eat more food when I could easily fit into those jeans and I was sliding into anorexia and my cheekbones were more like jutting ledges than high cheekbones. I was gaunt and I ran everywhere to lose the weight she constantly assured me I had at ninety pounds.

One night things became very dark. None of the lights seemed to be working and Judy was sitting in my bed. She had collected quite a few very large wolf spiders and was letting them crawl on her arms. They were the size of my hand. I was horrified. This was NOT a hallucination and my fear of spiders came flooding back all at once.

wolf spider

“What are you doing?” I asked, terrified. She looked freakish, unnatural. She grinned at me like an evil clown.

“I’m playing with the little spiders,” She said. “Don’t you like the spiders?”

I shook my head and started to edge towards the door. She got off my bed and followed me, still holding two wolf spiders in each hand, “Come play with the spiders, you aren’t afraid are you? I’m not afraid,” She said.

I was afraid. In fact, I was terrified and bolted from the room she chased after me with the wolf spiders still in her hands. I had never imagined spiders so big, so hairy existing anywhere outside of the tropics and Judy was alternately petting them and trying to keep them from escaping her clutches as she chased me.

evil clown abuse

I ran down the hallway and she grabbed me by my nightgown and pulled me to the ground and tried to put the spiders on me. I was in a panic now. All my fear had returned. I kicked and writhed and screamed and got out from under her, brushing the wolf spiders off of me. I ran into the kitchen and turned around and she was gone.

I was terrified and alone and I didn’t know where she had gone but most of all I was hurt and sad that she hated me.

That was the only thing I could think of: that she hated me. She didn’t follow me into the living room and I went into the living room and held my legs and cried. I had done everything she had told me to do. I had happily worked to try to please her, I had bought her mother’s day presents, I had never imagined someone who could hate me like Judy did. The house was still dark, I later discovered that she had for some reason partially unscrewed all the light bulbs. I don’t know what her logic was except that she wanted to give me a scare.

It was at that moment that I heard the most wonderful sound in the world: The phone ringing. I brushed away my tears and answered it, “Daddy!” I cried, trying not to dissolve into tears.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, his voice was extremely concerned. I told him what happened and after a very long pause he sighed.

I know that the average child would have recognized that Judy was drunk but I had been raised by parent who never ever drank or stayed around people who drank. I had, to my knowledge, never seen someone drunk.

“Honey, I want you to go and see if Judy’s asleep now, just set the phone down. If she’s awake tell her I want to talk to her. If she’s asleep I want you to keep going down the hallway and go into our closet. Look under the shoes and tell me if you find anything there that shouldn’t be there.”

“You’ll stay on the phone?” I made him promise.

“Yes, honey, I’ll be right here,” He assured me but his voice sounded tinny and far away to me. It would be days before he would be back.

tacky shoes

I crept down the hallway, she had ‘fallen asleep’ in my bed. I closed the door and went to the end of the hallway where the master bedroom was. I was terrified that she would wake up and fly into a rage at me. I was not allowed in her room and I had never been in there before without her inviting me in. I opened the door and went to the closet.

Down the hallway I heard her sigh and mutter and turn in her sleep. I froze in place, my heart beating in my ears. She went silent again and I opened the closet. There were a lot of clothes in there and even more shoes. She had a ton of shoes and boots. I rummaged around in the mess of vinyl and patched leather and found something strange. This must be what Dad had meant when he had said to look for something that didn’t belong. It was a pickling jar, just a plain old one pint glass jar with a screwed on brass lid.

mason jar

It sloshed in my hands as I lifted it. In the other room I heard Judy moan again and froze in place. It looked like water, just plain old water. But why would she put it in a mason jar and why would she hide it under all her shoes in the very back of her closet?

darkened hallway vodka

I carried it out to the phone, running past my bedroom the way you run past a haunted house. There was no sign of the wolf spiders in the hallway. In retrospect they probably were worse off than I was.

I picked up the phone and right away Dad said, “Well?”

“I found a mason jar. I think it has water in it.” (Yes, I really was that naïve I am embarrassed to say.)

His breath caught and I could hear that his voice as a little choked, “Open it up.”

I unscrewed the lid. I was scared of the contents. I knew from his voice that it wasn’t water. Whatever was in that jar was liquid evil. As soon as I opened the lid a stench leapt out of the jar and bit my nostrils, “Uch, it smells gross, like paint thinner.”

It was he favorite at the time, Vodka. Easy to hide from little clueless girls who might tattle to Daddy.

He sighed loudly and I heard true sorrow in his voice. It was as though I had told him someone had died. Something had died, some of his trust and a lot of his pride. It was time for the truth.

“Daddy, are you coming home soon? I’m scare…” I started to choke up. It was an ironclad rule not to cry in our house because Dad said that women only ever cried to manipulate a man. He didn’t reprimand me though.

“I’ll be home as soon as I can,” He paused, calculating in his head. “Tomorrow night. Don’t tell her I’m coming though.”

“Daddy,” And I started to cry for real now, silent tears that streamed down my face. “Daddy, why does she hate me? Why can’t she love me? What did I do?”

I let go and sobbed, gasping for air and desperate for silence. I didn’t want to make my only ally turn against me and I didn’t want Judy to wake up and start chasing me again. There was yet another long pause, “Sweetheart, she doesn’t hate you. She’s just drunk.”

My head swam and then cleared. I knew about drunks. I knew about alcohol, I hadn’t recognized it but I knew about it. Dad had told me stories about his own parents and how they would beat him or humiliate him when they were drunk. That was why he never drank, that and because he learned at an early age that he was a mean drunk. He was a smart man and he never picked up the bottle.

vodka

I could breathe again a bit. This wasn’t about me. She didn’t hate me, she was just drunk and didn’t know any better.

“Pour the jar out into the sink and put it back where you found it,” He instructed. “Don’t say anything to her in the morning, act like everything is normal. When I get home, I’ll sort things out.”

Those last things that I thought and that he said to me were lies.

Judy did hate me. Unlike the rest of my family who she treated more or less decently when she was sober she treated me like crap all the time. She demeaned me and stole from me and even undercut my relationship with my own mother as best as she could.

The other lie was that he didn’t sort it out when he got home.

They got into a big fight. He yelled, things were thrown, she cried and begged him to forgive her. He yelled some more. In the morning there was a hole in the wall that Judy patched up primly. She avoided eye contact with me. It was the first time I had witnessed, albeit obliquely her being punished for her drunkenness. She was extra nice to me for a few days but I don’t bribe easily and a veil had been lifted for me. I could see the drunk nightmare clown chasing me with spiders in her nervous laughter and her shifting eyes. I knew now that she was dangerous. I knew that my Dad had made a huge mistake in bringing her into our lives and I knew that my road was about to become a steep one.I just had no idea how steep.

steep road

The Truth

The Truth

By Virginia Carraway Stark

After the last blog I published I had a roaring response from my family who were angered that I dared to talk about the abuse I had suffered. The responses fall into the chart of classic abuse to perfection.

abuse children

 

The minimized, denied and blamed me for the abuse. One member of my ‘family’ said that it wasn’t any wonder Katy shunned me because I dared to talk about the abuse. The messages sent to me by family who were suddenly made aware of my blog was phenomenal. They attempted to intimidate me, threaten me, call me names, abuse me emotionally and to shun me.

abuse intimidation

I don’t think they realized how that made me feel because it let something loose inside of me. It was like it was the midnight hour and someone called out, ‘Unmask, unmask’ and all their true monstrous faces were revealed. There was no more idea that these people were my friends or family. They uniformly seemed to think that I was mentally ill for talking about the abuse. They all claimed to know my family so well that they would know better than I, who lived in it and was horribly treated by the people who were supposed to love and protect me.

you have to stop child abuse

The rallying cry of those who would protect my drunken abusive stepmother was (briefly) deafening. Some of the people were so ashamed of themselves that they actually posted from accounts labelled as, ‘fakeemail’. Others used their real names and as I read their comments I smiled because they had unmasked. When I was little they had never helped me and now that I am speaking up they use all the tricks abusers use to silence their victims.

silence abuse

My half-sister ordered me to take down everyone of my blogs (as if she has any right to order me to do anything). She sent me the first message she had sent in years where she demanded that I not be allowed to speak any of these words. She claimed that they are defamation but there is only truth in every word. To every relative of mine who sent me intimidating, hateful messages all I have to say is: where were you when I needed you? Why did you protect my stepmother and why do you continue to do so?

how dare you abuse

 

The best thing I ever did was run away from all of my family. They were so angry with me, they made a big production of ‘forgiving’ me all the while knowing what they had done to me. Anyone who looked at me SHOULD have known what was going on and NO ONE offered to help me. No wonder they are so angry at me for speaking now. If they didn’t feel so guilty maybe they wouldn’t feel so angry.

help me abuse

 

How dare I speak The Truth? How dare I tell my story? I dare because I am strong. I dare because what was done to me was wrong. I dare because of all the messages I have received saying, ‘thank you for sharing, you are a sister to me. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.’

Shame on all of you who see abuse and don’t stop it. Double shame on you when you hear about it and you blindly run to defend the abuser. You are no family of mine. You are very evil people to hear the truth and to not even for a minute say, “Could this be true?”. I know that you know how Judy behaved, how she would pass out on beds in the second hand store, how she would pass out on the street. You saw her drunken benders and you even have likely heard that she hit my dad and he had to call the police to stop her from hitting him. She was a monster and YOU KNEW IT.

You become monsters yourself for covering up for her. Trying to tell people I’m crazy when there are police reports, social services reports, witnesses, the list goes on and on. It’s intimidation and it shows you to be abusive. When Katy messaged me it was a threat plain and simple: take down your blog or I’ll start a war against you. She was metaphorically putting a gun to my head plain and simple, the same way her mother did when she would threaten me to stay quiet…or else.

girl with gun abuse

It’s midnight now and the monsters have unmasked. I’m grateful to you all for showing me your true natures. I won’t be silenced, I have memory and I will tell my story. Your insistence that I stop just tells me that I am doing the right thing and that you are as evil as she was in your own special way, even if that way was in being silent. Thanks to all of your anger at me for speaking the truth I feel so free. I feel free to tell even more of the truth, to go into even more of the details and to help other survivors of abuse in any way I can.

 

abuse freedom

Katy’s Delusion: Children of Alcoholics

 

truth

I saved my half sister’s life when she was a baby. I didn’t think twice about it, I grabbed her out of a bathtub of water that was spilling over the edge of the tub and flooding the hallway. She was face down in the water, her mother drunk and passed out on the couch.

What did I get for my troubles?

Well, my half sister Katy won’t talk to me now because I criticized her mother for being a bad person in the present.  In the past, my step mother punched me in the face when I told the drunken hag that she had almost let her baby die.

Yep. That’s the thanks that I got for saving a human life. My sister never said ‘thank you’, no one did. My older brother spread stories about me and said I ‘lived the wrong lifestyle’ and wouldn’t let me talk to my niece and nephew. I think he says that because I ran away from home when I was just about sixteen as a result of being punched in the face and telling social services and the police about it. I’m not sure of his real reasons. He’s never told me to my face, only whispers behind my back.

My half-sister is a big girl now and she thinks she is the only one who ever lost a mother. I lost my mother eight years ago while I was gone from my family to escape the abuse. My mother wasn’t perfect either but I still lost her. Why is my loss less important than Katy’s loss?

When Katy was about three or four the woman delivering the mail heard a baby screaming in the house. She looked in the window and saw that the house was filthy and could see my stepmother Judy passed out in the living room. I would imagine it was in about the same spot that she was passed out when I woke her up with the crying and recently resuscitated infant in my arms and got punched for saving her child’s life. She liked to swan dive onto the couch.

The mail carrier tried the doorknob and it was unlocked.  She came into the house and followed the sound of the screaming baby to the bathroom where Katy had become stuck behind the toilet and was covered in her own filth and waste. Nobody knows how long she was stuck there.

When my stepmother died last year around this time I posted a meme that said, ‘ding dong the witch is dead’. I was so relieved that the insanity was over. Judy would stalk me, drive around and around my block, park outside the house until the cops chased her away.  I worried for my safety and the safety of my family and pets. I found poison set out for my dogs. Hearing that she was dead was exactly like hearing the boogeyman wasn’t real and being able to truly believe it. She was truly the most wicked of witches that there ever was.

I wasn’t the only one who suffered from her abuse. I ran away and Katy lived with the abuse her whole life. When Judy was alive Katy would call her and yell and scream at Judy and alternately extort large sums of cash out of her as an ‘apology’ for something her mother did when she was drunk. She obviously had a lot of anger to do that. T

The thing that confounds me is that Katy defends her mother now that she is dead. Her mother died because her body was failing from the alcohol abuse and she fell over in a snowbank and didn’t wake up. She brought her fate upon herself and yet I am banished for speaking the truth about one of the most horrible mother figures in the world.

At first glance this seems to be another injustice visited upon me but I think it goes deeper than that.

Examining Katy from a neutral perspective it is easy to see that she hasn’t accepted her mother’s death. Her mother never tried to stop drinking. She could barely admit, even at the very end that she was an alcoholic. By extension, Katy since Katy never accepted her mother’s death, she also never really accepted that her mother was an alcoholic.

More and more I see her sliding into her mother’s patterns. The first of these patterns is in demonizing me in the same way that her mother did. The second way is by increasingly the rumors I hear about her becoming a ‘party’ girl. Just like her mother, her career comes before her family and is only interrupted by binge drinking and in Katy, an observer can see this leaning increasingly towards alcoholism.

Katy is not only embracing all the mistakes and evils of her mother, she is also glorifying them and putting her mother on a pedestal. If Mommy drank, Katy always got gifts and money afterward. Judy would do anything to make it up to her and my Dad. This set up a cycle of punishment and reward that resulted in a pattern of endless dramatics. By making her mother into a saint and me into a demon she negates the truth that her mother was abusive, not just when she was drunk but when she was sober as well.

This is a common trait in children of alcoholics and it is part of what perpetuates the cycle of abuse. If Katy admits for one minute that her mother hurt me, she will have to admit that Judy hurt her too. She will have to admit that if it wasn’t for Katy and my Dad enabling her behavior Judy would have died drunk and on the street the same as she did even after they put her through every counseling and rehab program available. Katy would have to admit that if I was right about her mother that she had been left behind the toilet for days covered in filth and screaming. She would have to admit all the times when her mom didn’t show up for important events because she was drinking. She would have to admit that the only reason her mother is dead is because she refused to stop drinking.

I don’t have much in common with Katy. She doesn’t have a sense of humor, she isn’t creative, she isn’t adventurous and most important of all, she isn’t a realist. I don’t want or need a friendship with her.

I am glad that I saved her from drowning that day. I’m glad I knew first aid and got her breathing, I’m glad she got to grow up and make mistakes. I forgive her for her treatment of me because she is bound in a world of delusion and she can’t even see me.

I forgive her for being Judy’s daughter. I forgive her for using that fact to get special treatment and rewards after mommy was drunk. I forgive her for everything. I won’t get a chance to say that to her face, at least I would be surprised if I ever did. She has a hate on for me that rivals her mother’s hate for me. What did I ever do to Katy?
Well, I told her the truth. Sometimes that’s too much, especially for children of alcoholics. I feel a deep pity for Katy and her inability to face her reality because I see her walking her mother’s path and I see no sign of her waking up and realizing that she is becoming the same as her mother.

I hear the things people say about her. That she says cruel things, that she has a ‘mean’ mouth on her and it’s the same thing as her mother… generation to generation. Unless you are very proactive, self-aware and willing to examine any delusion you may have the curse repeats again and again. I forgave Judy before her death and am at peace with my relationship with her. Katy never forgave her mother and without facing the reality of the situation, she never will.

I forgive Katy now. I forgive her for hating me. I forgive her for the horrible things she says about me. I forgive her for not loving me. I forgive her for following her mother’s path. Being the child of an alcoholic is a tragedy and forgiveness is the only cure. Forgiveness and bringing the wounds that were caused by it into the light of day.

white feather

The Anatomy of Abuse and Forgiveness

Anyone who says it is impossible to love your abuser has never been abused by someone in authority. There are other ways to love an abuser but this is about being a little girl who loved her parents very much and was betrayed by all of them: this is about me.

In our house we were spanked. These spankings went by several names: whoopings, thrashing, beatings… they varied by what was used too. It could be a wooden spoon, a hand, my Dad’s belt buckle or my least favorite of all, the willow switch where we were forced to pick our own doom.

I would be sent out to pick a willow switch and cut it myself when I was a child when it was time for a thrashing. I remember it well. I would be sent out with a jack knife and usually there was no time limit on it. It didn’t matter how long I took, I found it was best to go out and pick one of the first ones I found and take it back. If you picked a brittle switch it would bruise a lot more and be damaging but if you picked a green one it would sting more and leave bigger welts on your naked butt and back and legs. If you picked a switch that was too thin and would break you would be sent out to pick a new one and your punishment would be doubled.

This is now considered terrible child abuse but for me, it was just life. I didn’t fear my Dad. There were rules and if you obeyed the rules you weren’t beat. If you disobeyed you were beaten. It was clear cut and easy to understand. Some of the rules would seem draconian and insane to anyone not raised with them but I was eager to please and to do well. I worked hard for the smiles my Dad gave me, for when he picked me up and held me on his shoulders, for when he picked me to go into town with him and I was the only one who got to go with him. The terror of the beatings were eclipsed by my joy at his joy and pride in me.

When he called my name in the morning I was up and dressed and full of smiles. When I hurt myself I would bravely continue and if he noticed after that I was hurt he would tell me, ‘that’s my girl’ and praise my bravery. I always brought home good grades, I worked diligently and hard at my chores and tried to take care of my mother and keep the house clean when she was ‘ill’. Before I was six, with the aid of a chair, I would do the laundry, make dinner and bathe and feed my little brother. I didn’t feel that this was unfair at the time, I was proud of myself.

When I was eight I told my Dad that I wanted to have a serious conversation with him. He came into the rec room with me. I wasn’t very scared to talk to him then, it was only after my stepmother came into the scene that I became actually afraid of him.

“What do you want to talk to me about?” He asked, he was smiling at my earnest and unusually serious tone. Nothing had happened lately, I hadn’t been in trouble, but I had been thinking about things very hard.

“Daddy, I think I’m too old to be spanked anymore.”

His eyebrows climbed and he leaned back in shock, “What?”

“I’ve been thinking about it and I am very reasonable. I think from now on you should have a talk to me about what you want me to change. I think that would work a lot better and it would also be less work for you.”

“You’re telling me not to spank you anymore?” He was still incredulous but I could tell he was thinking about what I said.

“I’m not telling you not to spank me, I’m asking you not to spank me,” I had to pause here. I knew it was important to keep it together at this point. If I started to get upset or cry he would laugh at me and the conversation would be over.

“You’re asking me,” He reiterated.

“Yes. Please, Daddy, I would really like it if you didn’t spank me anymore. I’m a good girl and I would rather talk to you about what I’m doing wrong than get hit for it.”

“What if I say no?” He asked.

“Then that’s your answer. I can only ask,” I didn’t dare say any more. He was thinking about things from every angle. He was never a stupid man and he knew that I was a very good little girl. I rarely ever complained and most of the beatings that I got were for waking him up by accident or for fighting with my older brother. It didn’t matter who started the fight, we were both beaten equally.

I held my breath, he gauged me, “Alright.”

“Really? No more spankings?” I asked.

He smiled and held out his hand to shake my tiny hand, “No more spankings.”

He broke a lot of his promises to me, but that was one he never broke. He let a lot of bad things happen to me, he abandoned me to a stepmother who did horrible things to me and a mother who was a pharmaceutical junky and needed more care taken of her than most toddlers.

My older brother was not immune from such beatings, in fact at that point his ‘thrashings’ got a lot worse. He was an arrogant boy who felt a need to challenge my Dad at every opportunity and he would say horrible things to our Mom. I recall a day not too long after our conversation with my Dad about spankings that I overheard a similar but very contrary one that he had with my brother.

He had my brother up against the wall, his feet dangling off the floor. They were nose to nose and my brother had his chin lifted but his eyes averted to the ground, “If you badmouth your mother, I mean one word out of line you little shit, I will punch your face in so good you’ll spend the next month home from school waiting for the bruises to heal”.

When I grew up and ran away from home I had a lot of time to think about the promises my Dad broke and the ones he kept. Of all the promises he made to me, this one was the most important to me. No matter how angry he was at me, he never spanked me again. Those days were behind us. It proved to me that he respected me and that he did think about me and love me.

My Dad was horribly abused by his Dad. He was beaten, he was thrown in a pit, he was starved. He ran away from home when he was the same age that I was when I ran away from home: 15. He was also abused by his mother and by other family members and casual friends of the family. His whole life he wanted to be better than his parents. He wanted to give me a better life than the one that he had and I watched him actively seek out good influences in his life and learn how to parent from them as best he could.

He had a long ways to go but he listened to me that day and he never went back on it. My life was better than his life was. His parents drank constantly and my parents never drank at all. In fact, I didn’t even know what a drunk person looked like until I met my stepmother.

He has learned in life and the truth of the matter is that other than learning from his mistakes there is nothing that he can do to fix the mistakes he made in raising me. He smashed something and it was only after my stepmother died that he even realized fully what he had done. How evil he had become. How much he had enjoyed humiliating me, working me like a slave and believing my stepmother’s lies about me. I ran away from home and he was sad, but when I came back nearly a decade later he let my stepmother pick up the abuse exactly where she had left off. He avoided responsibility for it and said there was nothing he could do and that I was the one who was the trouble maker.

After Judy died, he said he didn’t know what he had been thinking. That I had been a delight to raise and had never caused trouble in my life.

He looked at the smashed plate that he had thrown to the floor, the plate that was his beloved little girl, his princess and he cried. He wept for his many sins and I forgave him.

I will never be that plate again. I took the bits of myself, gathered up all that I could and I glued myself together. When I couldn’t figure out where the pieces went or found I had lost a piece of myself together, I went to my friends and my writing to find myself and repair the damage.

The ‘plate’ I have become is nothing like what I would have done if he hadn’t smashed me to the floor and if my Judy hadn’t smashed me and if my mother hadn’t smashed me. I have cracks and flaws, I have more dimensions than if I had been left whole. I can see the breaks in other plates and I have compassion for them, sometimes I can help heal some of those cracks or at least buy them a tube of superglue.

My Dad is the same. He too was thrown to the ground. He was smashed and unlike me, he didn’t have the capacity to fully patch himself together but I can see that he tried. I can see where he put a piece back and the glue that holds him together. I can see the chips where he never got that part of him back. I can see where his friends helped him to find pieces that are missing.

That is the anatomy of abuse and of forgiveness. Abuse is smashing and nothing heals that but part of putting ourselves back together is to admit we have been broken and then to find out how to heal ourselves by seeing how our abusers have been patched together too.

We don’t need to let them smash us again to discover this. You don’t even have to go close to them, but if you can find that compassion to see where they came from, the ways that they tried to do good and maybe even forgive them, you’ll find more pieces of yourself.

Poisoned Fruit: My Life with an Evil Stepmother

Poisoned Fruit: My Life with an Evil Stepmother
By Virginia Carraway Stark

Part 1

I have heard rumors and legends of people who have perfectly lovely step-parents but I have never had the pleasure of experiencing a pleasant step family.

I met my step-mother one summer afternoon in a Chinese food restaurant. I was determined not to be selfish when I met her. I was determined to put both of my parents happiness before my own sad hurt feelings after the divorce and the loneliness that comes from seeing what was once whole become broken. I knew that I was emotional and overwrought and I put all of those feelings aside in the hope that both of my parents could find the happiness that they were seeking.

I was always a romantic and I believed in love and trusted my parents fundamentally. I should have looked deeper into my romantic heart and to the stories of the wicked step-mother because it wasn’t love that drove their relationship and it was a child’s mistake to believe the best of the grown ups in the world.

I was at the restaurant before my Dad and my to-be stepmother. There was a little artificial stream that ran most of the length of the restaurant and I put my finger tips in the water and let the koi that lived in it nibble my fingers and admired their golden and opalescent scales. I don’t know what I was expecting to see when I met here, but the reality was nothing like what I thought.

They walked in, not touching each other, Judy following along behind. My first impulse was to feel badly for her. She was capering, insecure, nervous and unbelievably unattractive.

Her skin was like wrinkled leather from her compulsive sunbathing, her dull brown eyes were stained yellow from her alcoholism and her fingernails were clubbed from her self-abuse and general ill health even then. Her hair was thin and fluffy at the same time that it was curly and unruly. When she smiled it looked like it was plastered and forced on her face. She laughed nervously and loudly nearly constantly, spraying it across the nearly deserted restaurant like an incontinent house pet. She was abrupt and lacked any sort of social graces whatsoever. She was, in short, a used up party girl with an severe alcohol problem and absolutely nothing going for her except a history of working in restaurants.

She was dreadful. Instead of listening to my gut though, I pushed through with my resolve to support my Dad’s pursuit of love.

I wonder, in retrospect, what would have happened if I had told him what I thought of her then. If I could have found the words to express how distasteful and nasty she was. I think the truth of the matter is that I never would have told him that because I trusted him so deeply that I didn’t believe my own senses over what he told me to think and feel.

I was a really well behaved child. I hated getting into trouble and I loved to make people happy. My Dad told me, “I can’t express to you what a delight you were to raise. You never caused problems, you were always full of smiles and laughter. There wasn’t a moment raising you that wasn’t a pleasure.”

Perhaps his recollections of me are a little bit of high praise. When I was little I would throw temper tantrums from time to time and when I was a teenager I ran away from home to escape the abuse that would stem from this first meeting by a koi pond.

Judy was very nice to me on that first meeting. In fact, she was kind to me for the first few months I knew her. It gradually changed and I was so bewildered and so hopelessly naïve that I didn’t even understand that Judy was my worst enemy.

My Dad and Judy moved into a four-plex together. It was after they were already living together that my Dad confessed that Judy was a waitress he had met at a truck stop. He had said he was heading to Mexico and she asked if she could come. He said, “Sure, but I’m leaving right now”. She jumped into the truck with him and left whatever sort of life she had been living to hang out in my Dad’s big-rig with him and then to insert herself into my life.

At this point I was in junior high school and I was an honor student. I was a devout reader and I wrote poems and stories. I loved school and I was excellent at it even through the events that followed, the cruel punishments, the starvations, the humiliations that were about to occur. Even after I ran away from home, I kept up my grades and stayed on the honor roll until the day I graduated from high school.

My life wasn’t only this, I also spent time living with my Mom who was a pharmaceutical junky and she asked me on more than one occasion to, ‘take care of her now’ after my Dad left her. She was less there for me as she was another burden with bipolar episodes that included holding a knife to my baby brother’s throat before being taken away to the psychiatric hospital.

My older brother completely abandoned me. He went to live with some friends of his the day he found out about our parents separating and he never came home after that. I was suddenly the eldest child with my mother as one of my youngest and most troubled siblings. I did my best to take care of my little brother but I was just a kid myself and all the adults in my life had flipped the rules on me and descended into utter chaos. Making matters even more confounding was the variation between the two households.

When I was with my Mom there were no rules. I could come and go as I pleased, stay up as late as I pleased. There were no consequences but there was a big trade off. My Mom had never been a good housekeeper but now she didn’t clean at all. The house was disgusting. There were bowls and plates with food everywhere covered in mold or left in a grease laden sink half full of cold water. Her room was filthy and about once a month I would go through her room and clean it from top to bottom. She didn’t change her sheets and her bed stank. I would have to clean her nails and help her with her hair and other hygiene issues. She rarely if ever bought groceries and if we did get food it would be because she gave me a twenty and I would walk or ride my bike to the store and buy what I could.

She hoarded crap she found at garage sales and I would wait until she was out and get rid of as much of it as I humanly could, being only 12 and 13 years old. I cleaned that house with bleach and Lysol as often as I could but my mother’s slothful behavior and her bouts between mania and depression ensured that I always had a lot of work to do if I didn’t want to live in filth. I didn’t like either life with my mother or father and bounced between the two extremes of homes.

In Judy’s home, the rules of the house were new and rigidly strict. I wasn’t allowed to ever go into the fridge for any reason. I wasn’t even allowed to have a glass of milk unless Judy said I could. I wasn’t allowed to go into any of the other food cupboards. I wasn’t allowed anything except what Judy left on the counter for me for breakfast and she would leave a bag lunch for me to take to school. After school I wasn’t allowed anything to eat until dinner.

As soon as I came home I had to vacuum every room in the fourplex. I had to do the dishes and heaven forbid if I was to leave a water spot on the sink or taps. I had to polish the wood with pledge and after that, set the table for dinner. Judy always made dinner and afterward I would clean up and then do my homework.

Believe it or not, this was a light workload for what would be inflicted on me in the future.

The rules were insane and I struggled to stay a ‘good’ girl and keep up as Judy put me through my paces. If I forgot a light turned on I was made to run up and down the stairs fifty times, turning the light at the top on and off each time I did so. If Judy perceived that the floor wasn’t vacuumed well enough I had to do the whole thing all over again under her watchful eye. If I complained about any of this to my Dad he threw up his hands and told me I had better learn to be more obedient.

So, I would try to be more obedient. I would try to make my new stepmother love me, or at least see I was a good little girl and maybe like me, even just a little.

Judy wasn’t ever going to like me. Proving that I was good and obedient only made her hate me more. She soon upped her tortures of me.

It started with the bag lunches she left out for me. They weren’t very good at all, but I was starving and so I made the best of them. It would be all I would get until dinner and sometimes dinner wasn’t until eight at night depending on when my Dad would get home. Judy started to put ‘surprises’ in my lunches for me. It was usually something in my sandwiches, one rotten anchovy right in the middle of my sandwich, or a pocket of jalapenos, once it was four quarters. I stopped eating her lunches and would open up the sandwich enough to see what her ‘surprise’ was (also for the chance that she had maybe put more quarters in one) and then throw the whole bag in the garbage. My friends were what got me through that time. They fed me from their lunches or sometimes bought be lunch. They held me when I cried, completely confused by why and how anyone would be so cruel to me. I didn’t tell them all the indignities I suffered, when I was with them I wanted to escape from my failures in both homes and get back to the business of being a teenager.

It got worse and it wasn’t just Judy picking on me. Under her constant belittling of me, my Dad would join in on her tortures of me. They would both laugh at me when Judy would ask me what I thought of my lunch that day. They would both nitpick over whether I had vacuumed the stairs properly.

I got into trouble for everything I did. My Dad said I went up the stairs too loudly, that I shouldn’t sound like an elephant when I went up and down the stairs. He made me practice going up and down until I was nearly silent. He would do ‘snap inspections’ of the lintels of doorways and I would be punished if anything was ever found to be dusty. Corners were checked to make sure I had been careful enough to vacuum everywhere.

Then one day they called me into the kitchen. They wanted to talk to me about my weight. I was a scrawny little thing even though I had started to develop breasts and hips at an early age. They made be stand sideways in front of the mirror in the hutch in the kitchen and they pointed out every flaw in me. They told me that I was too fat. They made me stand facing the mirror and pointed to my thighs and told me that until they could see daylight between my legs that they would be keeping me on a strict diet.

What did I think of this? I cried in private. Tears were forbidden in front of my Dad. He said they were only used as a way to manipulate people and so crying was another thing that was punished. I cried but not because I thought it was unfair, I cried because I thought I was fat. I cried because I thought I was weak.

I told my friend Cindy that I just had to learn that my father’s love was more important that food. The worst thing was that I believed it when I said it. I believed that I had done wrong, terrible wrong in feeling hunger and in not meeting the new guidelines that had been laid out for me.

There were so many people in my life who didn’t understand the full extent of what was happening to me but nevertheless they did little things that I attribute my (relative) sanity and much of my survival at the time as well.

I had my friends, who, as I mentioned fed me and loved me. They seemed to understand me on a deep level that had no limits. We loved each other. They were mostly older than me and they also drove me places and let me stay at their houses on many occasions. Cindy’s mom in particular was amazing to me. She let me pretty much live with them and always made me feel like I was a welcome addition to their family. She was also the first person I ever watched Mr. Bean with and something that I never forgot.

I lost track of many of the people who I knew in that dark and confusing time but Cindy and I would always reconnect. She was as much of a bookworm as I was. Most of our time together was spent in her bedroom reading books together and occasionally stopping to run to the story for a candy or soda fix. We played role playing games when we got a bit older and fed each other on creativity and unconditional acceptance. She was a pillar of stability of my life but she wasn’t the only good influence on me at the time.

A huge influence on me at the time was a brand new teacher named Ms. Watts. Ms. Watts was a brand new teacher fresh out of college and she wore long skirts and witch boots and she was the first person I ever met who was a vegetarian. She had a pointy long nose and sparkling eyes and she believed in me. With my friends all older than me they were soon on to high school while I languished in grade 8. It was with these ideas in mind that I talked to Ms. Watts about skipping a grade of school. She was inspired by the idea and proceeded with a battery of tests to see if I was ready to be bumped into grade 10 the following year.

I aced all the tests (after polishing up my math skills, especially geometry) and was zoomed through into grade 10.

Meanwhile, back at my other home, Judy was only getting started with me.

At this point, I didn’t know that she was an alcoholic. I just knew that sometimes my Dad would get a phone call when Judy wasn’t there and he would curse and swear and order me to go to my room and not come out until the morning. One time when he did this I disobeyed him and I crept to the top of the stairs when they came through the front door. Judy was wearing a tight leather skirt, stiletto heels and a halter top. My Dad had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her into the house while she gibbered and laughed to herself.

I ran back to my room and sat on my mattress on the floor. I couldn’t figure out what I had just seen. Why was Judy acting like that? Was she insane? My parents had never drank my entire life. I had never knowingly seen anyone drunk before and the tableau that I saw at the bottom of the stair was a mystery to me.

It was shortly after that that it was announced that Judy was pregnant.

I was told that I was going to have a sister or a brother and that this was certainly cause for celebration. Judy barely showed during her pregnancy. She had always been emaciated, but now she had the slightest little bump of a belly. She didn’t buy maternity clothing, she just undid the top button of her skinny jeans and wore a baggy t-shirt.

I continued to do my best to be a good daughter not just to my Dad but to my stepmother as well. I made a stain glass piece of art of a stork with a baby hanging down in a fold of cloth to be delivered to its new family. Judy got rid of it, I never saw it again after I gave it to her.

Unsurprisingly with Judy’s lifestyle, the baby was born early- she was only four pounds. It was soon discovered that the baby also had cancer. Judy exploded with ‘grief’ and demanded that my Dad marry her so that her poor darling baby wouldn’t be a bastard. The fact that the baby was born already and it was too late to technically legitimize Katy was overlooked as Judy fussed over her houseboat wedding.

My Dad agreed to all this and Judy made sure that I was nowhere to be seen for the entire wedding ceremony. I was dressed in one of her cast-off dresses while she bought new dresses and shoes and even gifts of jewelry for everyone in her entourage, including the ‘flower baby’, my half-sister, Katy.

The baby was cured of her cancer and life went on. For Judy, life meant drinking.

Judy and my Dad moved to the Okanagan. They never said why, but later I learned that Judy’s drunken ways had embarrassed them both so much in Dawson Creek that they had tried to get a clean start somewhere completely different.

Judy started a restaurant at this point and my life of chores now extended to not only keeping the house clean and taking care of the baby, but also to working in the restaurant everyday after school until after close. I was no longer given anything for lunch and if I foolishly came back home for lunch I would be forced to do dishes over the lunch hour. They fired the dishwasher and left all the dishes for me to do after I was done school. I was exhausted and struggled to stay on the honor roll. Sometimes I wouldn’t get all the dishes done until 2 or 3 in the morning. If people came to the restaurant just before closing Judy and Dad would go to the house and leave me to serve drinks and waitress as well as finishing the dishes.

At fifteen I was told that I pulled the best beer they had ever had. Apparently I had a knack for it.

Pulling beer in the wee hours of the morning by edict of my Judy and my Dad took precedence over my homework. They never once gave me a break to study for a test or do a report. I soldiered through but I was reaching my breaking point.

I was falling asleep in class and my math scores were suffering. One day I looked at a math test and I didn’t write a thing on it except my name and the date and then I walked out of the class and to the counselor’s office. I told her how tired I was and about the work and about how I was sleeping in the unfinished basement of the restaurant and working morning to night. She took me to the nurse’s station and let me sleep on the cot in there. I dropped a peer tutoring advanced placement course and French and used the two periods to sleep. I kept my advanced placement English and Social Studies courses that counted as first year university level courses and I still got A’s.

I was never paid a penny for any of this work. The only thing I ever got for it was that unfinished room in the basement of the restaurant and a second hand computer.

Something was changing in me. I was growing rebellious and angry. I had begun to wake up to the realization that I deserved a lot more in life than what I was getting.

To Be Continued…

How I Became a Real Life Cinderella

Photo by Virginia Carraway Stark

Photo by Virginia Carraway Stark

By Virginia Carraway Stark

This is the short version of how I became a real life Cinderella. It started with infidelity, fights, accusations and divorce, but that part is the prologue in the story of Cinderella.

The true story of Cinderella starts with the introduction to the evil stepmother who pretends in front of the father to be kind and loving while poisoning his heart against his only daughter.

This story is a little different from the fairy tale because Judy, my stepmother, didn’t have children when she showed up. The only things she had to her name was the monkey on her back known as alcoholism and a grudge against her pretty, young stepdaughter who had no clue of the hell that was awaiting her.

The story got bad when Judy got pregnant.

My half-sister was a screaming, sick baby who recovered from having cancer at birth to become a hellish toddler.

Katy had been sick when she was a baby and this was the excuse that was always given for her bad behavior. My Dad and my step-mother refused to discipline her because ‘she had been through so much’, or, even more absurd, ‘she could get sick and die again at any time’.

She’s an adult now. She didn’t die and she’s still completely and totally insufferable.

I tried really hard to get to know her now that we are both adults but it went extremely badly. She’s competitive, stodgy and lacks any and all sense of humor.

I suspected our ‘getting to know each other’ experiment was about to go down the crapper when we went Christmas shopping together. She didn’t have a lot of money and I regretted going shopping with her immediately. It didn’t bother me that she was buying fewer and less expensive gifts from me but she made it abundantly clear that it was bothering her. I decided to cut the shopping trip short and finish on my own another day. It was supposed to be fun but it wasn’t fun.

We stopped for coffee at a used bookshop called, ‘Faking Sanity’. One of my best friends owns it and she and I started to visit and chat. Cindy and I have been the sort of friends who can lose track of each other for years and years and then pick up right where we left off. We’ve also never had a fight or even a major disagreement even though we’ve known each other since elementary school. Cindy and I were chatting about our years of friendship and I guess that made Katy more insecure because she started talking about how her mom was her best friend.

Now, her mom was my stepmother. My horribly abusive stepmother who, drunk or sober worked her skinny ass off to make my life as miserable as she could and to sabotage my relationship with the rest of my family as well. That isn’t speculation, that’s something she told me when she apologized once only to resume her old behavior within the month.

Judy was NOT my friend. In fact, it would be much more the truth to say that she was the enemy, someone who consciously and actively worked against me to sabotage me. Some examples: My Dad was incredibly proud of my long hair. At one point I cut it short and my Dad flipped out. He said that if I ever cut my hair again I would see consequence worse than any I had ever seen before. Bear in mind that some of the consequences my Dad doled out were pretty damn severe. Judy, the capering demon from hell that she was, heard his words and within the week left bits of hair in the sink and pointed them out to my Dad as proof that I had defied him.

1. Why would I cut my hair AGAIN by only about a half inch within the week of cutting it into a just-below-my-ears bob.
2. Why would I be so stupid as to cut my hair and then go to school and leave it there the whole day?
3. Why was it the same dark color as my stepmother’s hair which was also curly and almost impossible to mistake for anything like my hair?
Such was my Father’s deep and idiotic stupor that he believed my stepmother and raged at me until I finally calmed him down long enough to prove it wasn’t my hair.

Okay, what else? She chased me around the house with giant wolf spiders, read my diary and my writings and caused a huge amount of trouble by saying that writing stories made me crazy (yes, he did believe her and there was hell to pay over that as well), she covered my fair skin with baby oil and forced me to lie in the sun for hours until I was covered in blisters and burns to ‘improve my health’.

The list goes on and on. She was a quintessential evil stepmother. She was an ugly hag who made me clean the house from top to bottom every single day and take care of her spoiled and completely indulged daughter: Katy.

This is just a small portion of why, when my half-sister asserted that her mother was the bestest mother and friend anyone could ever have I had to disagree.

I very gently told Katy that I had had a different experience with Judy than she had. Guess what? She started to act exactly like an evil stepsister out of a story. It was her being a toddler all over again. She started to talk loudly enough about how wrong I was and how good Judy was that people stopped what they were doing and turned to stare. Isn’t it weird how Cinderella is never entitled to have her own views on life or people?

Embarrassed, I placated her as best as I could and got her out of the store, deeply regretting bringing her around anyone who knew me. Katy had calmed down but then she asked me the worst question she could have asked at that juncture: “What was I like when I was a baby?”

We were walking along the slushy street and I froze in place for a moment, frantically scanning my mind for one nice thing I could say about her as a child. What did I come up with? Ummmm, absolutely nothing. After a too long pause I laughed a little, “I’m sorry, but you weren’t a good baby at all… in fact you were nearly impossible… but you grew up, so that’s okay.”

I tried to distract, it didn’t work, she wanted more information, “Well, how wasn’t I good? Did I cry a lot?”

“Cry a lot? You screamed constantly,” I said. She did cry constantly. It was horrible. At first it was because she had been sick and then it was because she been spoiled.

“Why did I cry?” She asked, I could tell she was irritated with my answers. It was understandable, if I had behaved the way she had as a child I would be embarrassed too.

“At first because you were sick, I guess. But you never stopped. You screamed and screamed. Sometimes if I sang and walked you and walked you after an hour or so you would finally stop crying. Your mother would leave you with me for days while she was drunk and you wouldn’t stop screaming and you pulled my hair and threw your food at me and if complained everyone reminded me that you had been sick. You had had cancer, it could come back so we couldn’t discipline you. You got every toy you wanted, every bit of clothes Judy thought looked cute on you while I got nothing and you used every chance to rub that in from the first time you learned how to talk. You were the most dreadful baby and child that I have ever encountered in my entire life.”

It was horrible and it was all true. That was more or less the last time we really did anything together. I tried to mitigate my words a bit, but honestly, there was little I could say about her that was nice. When she learned to talk she would run up to complete strangers and tell them she had had cancer and demand candy from them. Her first words anytime she was introduced to someone when she got older was that she had cancer when she was a baby, you know.

Should I have lied to her? Should I have refused to answer? That’s not who I am. Ask me a question at your own peril, I will likely tell you the truth.

After Judy died Katy did get sick again. It wasn’t anything terminal, she had sprouted some tumors that had to be removed but there was nothing malignant about her physically and life went on.

Our friendship, however, did not go on.
To this day nobody except Katy is allowed to be traumatized by her mother’s alcoholism. I knew her mother since before Katy was born, she abused me for more years than she abused Katy for and yet my experience is completely invalidated by her. Why?

I think it’s a sort of evil stepsister thing. I know that sounds a little… out there, but I think it’s true. Katy always had the advantage because she was the only one with a mother and father in the same house. Judy saved the best of everything for Katy, gave the dregs to my brothers and gave me the role of Cinderella. I was starved, worked constantly, yelled at all the time and punished excessively for real or imagined infractions. By the time I ran away from home I barely weighed 90 lb and had been sleep deprived so that they could force me to work after school and into the wee hours of the night. Meanwhile, Katy was treated like a princess, the sort of way I had been treated before the divorce and before Judy.

What happens to the evil stepsisters in Cinderella’s story after Cinderella she runs away with her prince charming and starts a life of her own? What bitter resentments fester in the hearts of such people who enjoyed the benefits of oppressing someone who doesn’t have both parents in the house?

It’s hard to say, but I can tell you that this Cinderella refuses to recant and say that nothing bad happened.

Katy was technically a half-sister rather than a stepsister but due to Judy’s blatant favoritism of her and abuse of me we might as well have been living in the first half of a fairy tale, the really bad half.

Coming next time, Poisoned Fruit: Life with an Evil Stepmother