March 12, 2012 2 Comments
When I was thirteen, my parents separated. It had been coming for years-my parents argued a lot. The day that it all happened will be forever fixed in my mind. My parents were arguing in their room upstairs, and loudly. I was in the living room on the ground floor trying to watch television with my brother. Finally, I’d had enough.
“I can’t take this anymore. I’m out of here,” I announced to my brother as I swept out the front door. I started walking down the street. At the end of the block I turned left and headed down a side street. I had no idea where I was going; I just wanted out. I hadn’t gone far down the side street before my brother blew past me on his bike without a word.
“Well,” I thought, “I guess he couldn’t take it anymore, either.”
I circled around, ending up at the opposite end of our block. My brother was flying toward me on his bike, coming from our house. He swerved and skidded to a stop in front of me.
“Mom locked Dad upstairs,” he announced.
“Mom tried to get me to help her move the couch in front of the door. But I said no. She was trying to do it by herself when I left.”
We stood there on the sidewalk, and hatched a plan to rescue our father. We’d sneak into the backyard and fetch the ladder, and smuggle it to the side of the house. That side of the house had only the downstairs bathroom window and our parents’ bedroom window. We’d climb up to the bedroom window and rescue our father, without our mother noticing.
It was a very grim walk back to our house. It was like we were sneaking behind enemy lines. We came around the bushes and,
Mom was sitting on the front porch. Our puppy was on her leash, and Mom’s twelve-gauge shotgun was sitting in her lap.
“Take Sadie and go for a walk.”
Outgunned, we obeyed.
I led my brother and our puppy away from the house again, and in the opposite direction, following my original path. I looked back a couple times, to see if we could double back. She didn’t move.
“Where are we going? Why don’t we go to Aunt Lizzie’s?”
Our aunt and uncle lived six houses down from us. We’d hatched our plan while standing in front of their house.
“Because that’s where Mom is expecting us to go. I don’t want her to know where we are.”
“Because it’s not safe.”
“Where are we going, then?”
I told him we were going to my best friend’s house. It was a couple of miles away, way too far for our mother to consider it a possibility.
It was slow going. Sadie tugged me this way and that, wanting to smell everything. My brother detoured into several parking lots to circle around and do tricks on his bike. Finally, we stood on my best friend’s front porch. One of her siblings answered the door. They were very surprised to see us.
I was sitting upstairs with my friend and her younger sister in their room when her mother appeared in the door. She told me that my aunt had called looking for us, and she was on her way to come pick us up. I wasn’t happy to have been found so easily, and dreaded going back. I didn’t want to go home.
Soon my aunt arrived, and took us to her house. We were ushered into their basement. I wondered if Sadie would pee on their carpet. I kinda hoped she would. I was willing to bet that she was the first dog to ever enter the house. They were all so stuffed up when it came to pets. Sadie was excited, but I kept her close.
Some time passed, and my aunt came down. “Your Dad’s here.” We flew up the stairs. Dad was standing in the kitchen, talking to my uncle. He hugged us. He looked tired, but relieved to see us. We asked how he got out.
“I jumped out the window.” We gasped. He’d just been sitting in there, watching television, when he’d had enough. He’d lowered himself and then fell the rest of the way. He told us when he came around the corner to the front of the house, our mother saw him and screamed, and ran inside. He came immediately here, sure that we would be here. “I saw you walking down the street,” he said.
What now? I wondered. We can’t go back home. I don’t want to go home. Dad’s here. He’ll figure something out. Somehow, I knew the day wasn’t over.
It didn’t seem like very long before the police arrived. Mom had called them and told them that Dad had hit her. I gasped in outrage.
“But he didn’t! He was locked upstairs the whole time! He would never hit my mom!”
The cops looked pained. “We have no choice,” they explained. “If there’s a report, we have to make an arrest.” I don’t remember what I said. We stood in the driveway, between my aunt’s house and the police car. I fought the tears that stung my eyes. My heart was screaming–Don’t take my Daddy! He didn’t do it! He didn’t do it! Don’t take him away! I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t cry in front of my dad. I had to be strong for my younger brother.
“It’ll be okay,” my father assured us. “I’ll be back soon. I’ll come back for you.” He turned to the cops, and asked them to wait a moment. Then he turned to my aunt and uncle. He was asking them to take us inside; he didn’t want us to see. I glared at the police. They stood awkwardly, avoiding looking at my brother and I. My aunt ushered us back inside, back into the basement. I didn’t see or hear what was on the television. I stared toward the window, through the white gauze curtains, at the undercarriage of the police cruiser that was taking my father away from me. A minute later, it pulled out of the driveway.
I was not going home. I wouldn’t do it. I’d run away if they tried to make me. We stayed at my aunt’s that night. But eventually, we had to go back. I resisted with every fiber of my being. I would not live in the same house with my mother, not after what she did.
I lived there for three years. That’s how long it took–from separation to the divorce was finalized. Our home life got no simpler. It was three years of court appearances, arguments, anger, keeping secrets, staying strong, choosing what parent would come to this event or that, resisting information mining efforts–alone. Every aspect of my life became a weapon. My mother took out an emergency protective order on my father after that fateful day. Outside of the courtroom, I’ve seen my parents together on only two occasions since that day: my nephew’s birth, and my college graduation. The first was almost four years ago, the second two–and both were only after careful negotiations mediated by myself.
My aunt and uncle were on my father’s side. Anytime I talked to them it was a back-and-forth ranting session. Everything I said to them would make it back to the court–the judge, CPS, the counselors, the lawyers…and my parents. No one at church understood. My friends backed off. The elders never approached me to talk, to offer me refuge, they never even offered to pray with me.
I got angrier and angrier. I cried in bed at night. I begged Jesus to save me, to make it better, to end it all. I just wanted peace. If I couldn’t have that, I at least wanted to be angry and not have it used as a weapon in court. I didn’t want to be fought over. I never wanted to hear “best for the children” ever again.
The longer the divorce dragged on, the more alienated I felt at church. I felt hollow. The longer it went on, the more obvious it became to me that everyone at church was ignoring the problems I was having. Everything and everyone felt fake–pretenders, actors, or role-playing. At first, I played along. But the longer it went on, the harder it became to continue the act. Every part of my life was an act. I needed to be real. I needed to be me. Just me.
Soon I found that outlet–that place that I could be real. I will write about that in another part of the series, but suffice to say, the contrast between it and church was stark, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.