I think only a year or so passed from the time my neighbor moved to the time that it happened with my dad. I had time to think over and over again about what had happened with my neighbor. I realized it was wrong and that he had done something really bad. Imagine my confusion when something very similar happened with my father.
It happened only one time. One night, he was up late and we were watching TV in the living room. I remember him asking me to come over to the couch where he was laying and he told me to do certain things to him. I didn’t want to do it and tried to act like I was caught up in watching the TV and would forget what I was supposed to be doing. He kept redirecting me. Over and over. 😦 It reached a point where I couldn’t compose myself anymore. I began shaking uncontrollably. I tried to hide it at first, but I was so terrified that I had no control over the shaking. Then, tears began streaming down my face. But, I kept my face turned up toward the TV and away from him. I thought maybe he wouldn’t notice. Shortly thereafter, he told me to go wash up and go to bed.
My next memory is of the very next day. I was riding in the car with either my mom or my dad (I can’t remember which) and we were going over to my grandmother’s house. I was staring out of the window, doing my best to avoid looking at whoever I was with. I remember after some time of silence, they said “We don’t talk about things like what happened last night. Some people might not think that’s OK… so we don’t talk about that to anyone.” I can remember the exact spot on the road where we were, where I rolled my eyes at what they said. They lied. I knew it. Of course people won’t think it’s OK! Duh. Even though I can’t remember if that car ride was with my mom or my dad…either way, it was destructive to my safety and my being.
But that was my cue to keep quiet. And I did. I didn’t talk about either of those two events for nearly ten years. But, I had this momentary hatred towards my dad for betraying me, for not keeping me safe, for hurting me, for exposing me to more abuse than I had already sustained. So, I wished him dead. And within a few years, he had died.
Life after the incidents continued. My best friend’s name was Cam. She had beautiful, wavy blond hair, tanned skin, curly, long brown eyelashes and big brown eyes. She also had the best personality, full of joy, friendliness and love. I started going to Cam’s church, which was a Presbyterian church…and definitely not Catholic. Since I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, I was extensively taught about the religion. Certain things didn’t jive well with me. One was the fact that we had to confess our sins to a priest. And no, I didn’t have an issue with confession because of my previous awkward confession to the priest. I knew there was a verse in the Bible that says “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). So, as a child, I just didn’t understand why the confession to the priest was necessary. I was also confused by us praying to the Virgin Mary. I was taught that Mary was a human being, chosen by God to be the earthly mother of Jesus. Of course, that makes her special in my eyes. But, shouldn’t we pray to God, to the trinity? Not to someone who was a simple human?
There’s nothing wrong with the Catholic faith, but the few minor things I questioned, even as a child, were what I found was different in the Protestant faith. I wound up really liking Cam’s church and in particular, the youth group.
I was initially completely weirded out by people there. I mean, these kids hugged each other and squealed when they saw each other. It was not at all what I was used to. I recall the first time one of Cam’s friends hugged me as she was first introduced to me. I mumbled “get off me” under my breath and didn’t budge. I didn’t hug her back, didn’t smile…there was nothing but my rude comment. She pulled back with a bit of an alarmed look on her face…but then, bobbed her head and went on about her business of hugging everyone who came through the door.
I knew this was a new world. But, even though I was the outsider and felt I didn’t belong, I could see that this was a good world. And Cam was one of the kindest human beings on the planet. I knew that she loved it there and so that reaffirmed to me that this place was safe.
The reason Cam had invited me to her church youth group in the first place was because she felt bad for me because my dad was dying. He had colon cancer and refused to get treatment. He was petrified of doctors and hospitals. So, even though he had been sick for a while and knew something was wrong, he spent so much time refusing to go see a doctor, that it was too late when he finally did. The doctors said that if he wouldn’t get surgery or chemo, then there wasn’t much they could do for him. They even said it would be pointless for him to be in the hospital, that they could send pain medications with him and he should spend his time at home with us. I have a few great memories of this short time. I remember him coming to get my brother and I out of school early- just so he could take us fishing. He would sneak us to Dairy Queen on the way home as long as we promised we wouldn’t tell mom. I was in middle school at this point and was always worried about him while I was away from him at school. I remember loving my shop teacher for letting me out with a pass every single day to call home on the pay phone in the hallway. I just wanted to check in and make sure he was OK. He wasn’t doing that great at home. He had turned yellow. The cancer was still spreading and had hit his liver. I remember being home alone with him one day as he had a vomiting attack. He could barely pull himself out of bed, but he did and in his underwear, he headed straight for the bathroom. He was leaning over the toilet, vomiting. I was about 11 or 12 years old and didn’t know what to do. So, I tried to comfort him. I stroked his bare, yellow back. He immediately swatted behind himself at me and yelled at me. As an adult, I now realize that if you’re nauseous, you don’t need someone rubbing your back as that can exaggerate the feeling. But, at the time, I didn’t know that and it hurt my feelings terribly. I was just trying to help and I got yelled at. I couldn’t help anyway…I was absolutely helpless. There was nothing I could do for him. All I could do was just stand there and watch him slowly deteriorate and die. And to make matters worse, I never forgot about my wish. My wish that he was dead. Because yes, I believed that I did this to him. I thought I made my dad sick and made him die.
Cam’s youth group had a summer trip to a Christian camp in North Carolina. She asked me to go and had even drawn a map of the camp as she was excitedly explaining all the interesting places to me. I kinda sorta wanted to go, but didn’t want to leave my dad. He wasn’t doing well and I couldn’t live with myself if he died when I wasn’t home with him. But, my mom thought it would be a good idea for me to get a break and as it happened, she wound up shipping both my brother and I off during the same week. I went with Cam to the Christian camp and my brother went off to a boy scout camp. On the bus ride to North Carolina, I remember having a little break down as I explained to a church counselor that my biggest fear at this point was my dad passing away while I was gone.
So what do you think happened? The very next morning, I got a visit from a camp counselor who said he was taking me to the airport. I had to go home and he wouldn’t tell me why. But, I knew. My aunt met me in the airport and flew back home with me. My mom picked us up at our home airport and I knew I was acting strange… I recall her odd glances and even shocked myself a few times. I remember being so happy, so peaceful. But, how was that possible?? My father had just died. Why was I so joyous and talkative? Part of it was that it didn’t quite hit me until I saw his lifeless, cold body at the beginning of the funeral. That was the point in which I burst out into tears. I became so hysterical that my mom slipped me a white pill that she had broken in half, which she said would calm me down.
After my dad’s death, my mom refused to celebrate her birthday or Christmas. My brother and I would throw her surprise birthday parties and would invite family members over. At Christmas, we begged my mom to get a Christmas tree and she refused. It made us so sad. When I got my first car, I continued in my mission to have Christmas. My brother and I would find out when my mom was working late and we’d go to the tree lot and buy our own Christmas tree. Our mission was to have the tree home, fully decorated and lit up before my mom came home so we could surprise her. We’d have all the lights off in the house and then we’d flick the tree lights on just as she opened the front door. It made her smile for a few seconds, but then she’d be sad again. We did this year after year.