Are you listening?
We were supposed to go play tennis. I don’t even play tennis, but she had insisted and had made a big deal out of “making time” to play tennis with me, her “daughter”.
She wasn’t my “mom”, she was however, my dad’s wife; my step-mother; my brother’s mother; my abuser and the perpetrator of what was one of the scariest nights of my life.
I was 12-years old. I lived in Colorado with my mom, but I was spending the first summer in 4-years with my dad in California. I hadn’t been allowed to spend summers with him because he and my step-mother had refused to send me and my full-blood brother back to my mom the last time we had visited.
That time, my mom and step-father ended up having to fly out and kidnap us back, which is another horrible story, but not the one I am about to tell.
A Little Background…
Some days, my step-mother would flaunt me to her friends and brag about how beautiful her, “daughter” was. On those days, I wasn’t allowed to call her by her name, instead she insisted I call her “mom” and I wasn’t allowed to clarify that she was just my “step” mother.
On other days, I was never to call her “mom” and she would insist I call her by her first name (which was MY preference). She was embarrassed to have a “daughter” my age and said it made her look old. This was usually when there were other men around.
I hated her as a child. She was a lousy mother. She cared more about partying then us kids. She popped pills (Valium) and chased them down with white wine or whatever other adult beverage was available or her choice of the day. On a side note, although I love red wine, the smell of white wine makes me what to puke, especially if it is on someone’s breath.
She abused drugs, she abused alcohol and she abused us…
Them Versus Us
She treated my full-blood brother and I differently than she did her own sons, my other brothers. I won’t pretend that my other brothers had it easy, they didn’t, but it was different for them and nowhere near as harsh. And, I know that telling this story is not something they will like, but I hope — in their love for me, they will forgive and understand my need.
My dad had gotten together with my step-mother when I was very young (my parents separated and divorced when I was 4-years-old). She already had a son from a previous relationship (my step-brother) and over a short period of time she had two more sons with my father giving me two half-brothers (I later had a third half-brother from a successive marriage and I am the oldest of six kids).
I could go on and on about the myriad abuses we suffered from her and others, but instead I will tell you about this one night because it was the beginning of me losing my mind. It was the night my childhood ended forever.
Making a Date…
Before my step-mother left for work one day she made it clear I was to be home and available when she got off work. She said we were going to spend some “mother-daughter” time together. It was a “make-up date” in restitution for a previous abuse.
I didn’t want to go, but with her, you never really had a choice. So, the plan was we were going to go across the street to the park and play tennis.
When she arrived home from work — a couple of hours later than she had said she would be, it was already dark outside. I was relieved and figured we were not going to play tennis after-all, but when she walked in she changed out of her uniform (she was a waitress at a popular LA diner type restaurant), grabbed the tennis equipment I’d left by the front door and then hollered for me to get in the car.
I was confused.
Why get in the car? We literally lived directly across the street from the park.
Of course, I made the mistake of pointing that out and asking,
“Why, where are we going? I thought we were going to the park?”
Like I said, asking was a mistake, a big one, but then again nearly anything I did was a “mistake” in this woman’s eyes. I knew better than to question her further, she was very animated, aggressive and I could strongly smell the booze on her breath.
She said we were still going to play tennis, but she wanted to go get something to eat first because she was hungry. She told me not to be “ungrateful” that she wanted to take me to dinner too.
I didn’t want to get in that car…at all.
I knew this was going to be bad.
I also knew I didn’t have a choice.
I got in the car.
Dinner and a Movie…
As we drove away she chastised me for being “bratty” and a “stuck-up bitch” for having questioned her. She also made a remark about my white tennis shorts being, “slutty”.
I sat beside her silently, my anxiety beginning to rise.
We arrived at the the restaurant where she worked, which struck me odd since she had supposedly just left there. We went in and she ordered a french-dip with french fries and a side salad with Italian dressing and croutons. She asked what I wanted, I told her I had just eaten before she’d picked me up. I told here I wasn’t hungry; she told me I was going to eat the salad anyway and again reminded me of my ungratefulness.
That really pissed her off, but there were two cops — that were her regular customers, sitting in the booth next to where we were standing so she adjusted her face, turned and introduced me to them saying,
“This is my daughter. Isn’t she beautiful?”…and… “Can you believe I have a daughter this old?”
They continued to chat while we waited for the food. I didn’t say anything, but I desperately tried to get their attention with my eyes. I tried so hard to get them to pay attention enough to see that something was wrong. I couldn’t believe they couldn’t smell the alcohol on her. My eyes were boring into them, pleading…
When the food was done, my step-mother paid for it, said goodbye to the cops and told me to, “C’mon”.
I didn’t move. I froze in place. I locked eyes with one of the cops, but then he looked away.
She grabbed my hand and gave it a tug, made a comment over her shoulder about how obstinate teenagers were and out the door we went.
I stopped dead a few feet from the car. I tried to reason with her about driving. I tried to explain I was afraid because she had been drinking.
She bitch-slapped me across the face. Hard.
It wasn’t the first time, but I hadn’t expected it because she had an audience.
She hit me so hard it knocked me sideways and the Styrofoam cup with her salad popped open and salad and oily dressing showered all over me. As an aside…I used to love Italian dressing, it was my favorite, but I was coated in it and to this day even the smell of it makes my heart race and I am immediately reminded of this night.
The cops were watching us through the window.
I thought for sure they would do something, but instead they continued to watch the “family drama” in the parking lot with a look of entertainment, like they were watching a movie. One of them was actually smirking after she slapped me, like I had deserved it.
My heart sank, they weren’t going to help me.
Hit and Run…God, I Wish I could Run
My step-mother grabbed me buy the hair, my hair was short at the time, and she drug me towards the car. I was hic-up crying and hysterical.
I got in in the car.
She was furious and in quite a rage. She put the car in reverse, backed up and then squealed out of the parking lot. I watched the cops disappear from view.
The car was jerking, she was driving erratic and screaming at me. She wasn’t watching the road and somehow, she was even more intoxicated than when we’d left the house.
Thinking back, I can only guess the pills must have kicked in.
Suddenly she clipped the rear of a car parked on the street after making a really wide left turn. My head slammed against the door jam as the car slammed to a halt. She backed up and took off again driving even more erratically then before and screaming at me even louder; it was a running litany of how it was my fault that she wrecked the car and that my dad was going to be pissed off at me for being such a “bratty and ungrateful daughter” and making her wreck.
In no time we were in another parking lot, this one belonging to a biker bar.
She parked and told me to stay in the car and said she would be right back. She said she just needed to find someone real quick.
When she went inside I got out of the car, but there were drunk men yucking it up in the parking lot and they were leering at me in my shorts. I got back in the car. I was scared. I didn’t have any money to try to find a payphone to call someone for help. I had no idea where we were and it was pitch black and quite late by this time.
I sat in the car and waited.
I’m not sure how much time passed. It was a long time for a kid to be sitting in a car in a dark parking lot at a biker bar. It felt like a lifetime, but it was at least an hour and I knew she was going to be even more wasted when she came out.
I was terrified, but when she did finally come out she was in a “happy” mood. She told me what a “good girl” I was for sitting and waiting. She told me it was almost time to play tennis, but she had one more stop to make first.
She was beyond drunk.
Striking Out at the Bowling Alley…
I genuinely thought I was going to die. She could barely control the vehicle and hit at least two other cars as she weaved her way down side streets. The more trouble she had driving the more agitated she began to get with me again. The more agitated she became, the worse she drove.
Somehow, we made it to the bowling alley where she parked in the back lot behind the building where the bar entrance was. It was dark back there and the only light was the yellowy glow from the neon “BAR” sign that hung above the door.
She was suddenly quite cheery. I just wanted to go home.
She told me to get into the back seat. I didn’t understand the demand, but by this time any defiance I had left was hiding with the rest of my mind. I was shutting down inside and looking back, this is the first memory I have of that feeling of switching off, off becoming numb and outside of myself.
I got into the back seat.
She told me to lock the doors and like the bar before, said she would be “right back”. In hindsight I think she may have been trying to get a hold of some more pills or other drugs. I’m not sure.
I don’t know how much time had passed since she had gone inside. It was cold and had started to rain. I was huddled in the back seat in shorts and a tank-top clutching those tennis racquets like weapons.
My mind was racing trying to determine if I could knock her out with them when she returned.
The feeling of dread was strong, but I was separating from reality and it felt more like I was watching the scene from somewhere else in slow motion and then a man came out of the back door.
He walked directly to the car, bent down and demanded me to roll the window down so he could talk to me.
My mind raced along with my heart.
Was he here to help?
Was he going to save me from this relentless hell?
I was too afraid to open the window. I said “no” loudly so he could hear me through the glass and shook my head for emphasis. He didn’t like that and spun around going back inside.
A few minutes later my step-mother came out and started yelling at me again. She was shouting that I was “stuck-up” and being a “snotty bitch”. She said she was just trying to show-off her “beautiful daughter” to her friends and told me I had better behave and be polite.
She bitch-slapped me again…and again, then she went back inside.
Not much time passed before another man came out to the car, he too demanding for me to roll the window down.
I cracked it open. I started trying to tell the man what was happening. I told him I needed help. He in turn told me I needed, “fucked” and proceeded to tell me — in great detail, how he was going to do it. He was pounding on the window.
At 12, I was fully developed. My breasts were the same size then as they are now. In general, strangers assumed I was much older than I was and these men she was sending out to the car may not have realized I had barely turned 12-years-old a couple of months before.
When I wouldn’t roll the window down further and unlock the doors the man started pounding on the glass harder shouting for me to open up and let him in.
I kept yelling, “no” and shaking my head, brandishing the tennis racquets as if they could protect me.
He finally gave up and went back inside.
For a spit second I debated just getting out of the car and running, but I really didn’t know where I was, it was well after mid-night by this time and I didn’t have a single dime. I didn’t know what else to do so I just gripped the racquets tighter and began to pray.
I don’t know if I was being used as some kind of bargaining chip by her inside of that bar, but as I look back, I do think she was trying to sell me like a prostitute. The night went on and a few other men came out and tried to get me to let them into the car with me.
None of them were nice, none of them were there to help me.
It’s All My Fault
Eventually she came out pissed beyond belief, got behind the wheel and proceeded to drive recklessly all the way home. There were more slaps and punches and the screaming never stopped until we were on our street nearing the house. At that point she shoved napkins at me and told me to clean my face. It was covered with blood from my nose and a cut — from her ring, near my eye.
She told me I was a “sloppy mess” and couldn’t believe I would leave the house that way. She told me I was an “embarrassment”.
She also told me the whole evening was my fault. She made it clear if I “made-up lies” about her and what happened it would be worse, not just for me, but for my full-blood brother as well.
From experience, I knew this to be true and I had spent all of our visits there trying to protect my brother from her as best as I could and to this day, I don’t think he realizes everything I did to lesson any abuse directed at him.
The house was quiet. Everyone, including my dad, was asleep. I silently went to my room and locked the door.
I was a mess. I hurt everywhere. My clothes were caked with blood, my white tennis shorts ruined. My ears were ringing loudly and my eyes were swollen almost shut. I knew I couldn’t let my dad see me this way.
I snuck the phone into my room after my dad left for work the next morning and called my grandma. I begged her to come and get me.
When my grandma saw me, she made me tell her what happened. Later that night — while I was “safe” at her house, she called my dad and told him what happened and he came over to see me.
I don’t think he believed my grandma.
Shit and Shineola…
I didn’t know what would happen. I could see the disbelief, hurt and anger in his eyes upon seeing the damage. I had two very black eyes, an assortment of bruises, missing chucks of hair from my scalp, busted ear-drums, a busted and fat lip and so on.
Like I said, I was a mess, but the exterior damage was nothing compared to the damage going on, on the inside.
After talking to my dad and refusing to go home (I said I would spend the rest of the summer with my grandma — which I did) he left.
A few days later he called and said we were all (my brothers too) going to the drive-in theater — my step-mother included. I didn’t want to go, but my dad made it sound important that I do. I knew she couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt me with my dad there.
When they arrived to pick me up, it was still light out. I squeezed into the back seat with my brothers and sat quietly. My step-mother turned around from the front seat to look at me and SHE had two big black eyes.
I couldn’t believe it! We locked eyes for a moment and didn’t say a word to one another.
My dad took us to see a triple feature; Hanger 18, Platoon and Alice Sweet Alice.
I spent the rest of the summer at my grandmas. I refused to go back “home” to my dads even though I wanted to be with him and my brothers I didn’t want to be in any situation where I would have to be around my step-mother without him.
I later was told that after my dad found out what his wife had done to me — and had seen with his own eyes, that he went straight home, walked into the house, called out for my step-mother, found her sitting on the toilet taking a shit and said,
“This one’s for my daughter…” PUNCH…and “This one’s for me” PUNCH….
Hence her two black eyes.
My dad is the most non-violent and complacent man I have ever known in my life. For him to have done what he did spoke volumes and although I do not condone violence….at the time, it made me incredibly happy.
Thankfully, by time I came out to California for my next visit, she and my dad were no longer together and that chapter of my life (with her) was over.
Unfortunately, the damage was done.
Forgiving and Still Trying to Forget…
That was 33-years ago. I still remember it as if it was yesterday, but the seething hatred I had for my step-mother is now gone.
It is likely she has little or no memory of this night. Her level of intoxication had been extreme and decades have passed.
I am writing this to bring more clarity to my own mistakes as a mother and to try to understand.
I am not writing this to hurt anyone — including her, and least of all her children — my brothers who I love so much. Instead, I am writing with the hopes that some other child or some other mother (step or otherwise) might read this and reflect…and then seek help.
I write this as part of my own path to full forgiveness and emotional healing. This event changed me forever and although the damage is done, I know that this and other terrible things from my childhood can no longer hurt me.
I also know, that a victim remains a victim when they continue to hold the secret protecting it from exposure.
I do have a relationship with her today however, tenuous. I am always respectful and kind, she is my brother’s mother. I do forgive her and if I scrape the recesses of my mind, I can even dig up a few “happy” memories with her, like dancing. That seemed to be the one thing that could bring us together for a few moments of laughter and love. When we would dance, it was the only time I had no fear of her.
I know I will never know the “whys” of that night, but I also know I have never walked in her shoes and I can no longer judge.
I can no longer hold on to this painful memory so prominently.
While it may have bearing on “who” I am today and it played a large part in the emotional problems I have and do suffer from, it is no longer a dirty secret because I have now told you. I have documented it and set it aside denying it any further power over me.
…and I am no longer anyone’s victim.
I am moving on.
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