Thank you “Jane” for sharing your story. Jane did not want to share anymore than what was written on the paper. I appreciate her willingness to share what she was comfortable sharing. Sometimes it is just the act of being heard that gives a person the strength to heal.
As a survivor, I think it is important to know you are in control of your story, and your healing. While the abuse was happening, often, we felt out of control. People took advantage of us, hurt us, used us. Now, as we step into our power, we have the right to tell the story how we want it heard. We have the power to take our life back, and rewrite our story. It just starts with a sentence. And, as we are ready to share, we are able to go at our own pace.
Some of us are not ready yet, and that is OK. Some of us just benefit from reading or hearing what others went through, and how they survived, and what life looks like for them now. Some of us have a story, but are not yet able to be identified due to fear, or shame. We are each different, and there is not one way that is the right way.
Your story is not less important because you cannot release it. Your story is not less tragic because someone else suffered more.
You own what happened to you.
You are strong.
You are brave.
You are not alone.
Review by Carla Charter
What I first noticed about this book was the main character, Jessica. She struck me as a Phoenix. Despite the horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she survived as a child, with each negative she still rose again, like the fabled bird determined to rise above her circumstances.
An important theme of the book which is highlighted again and again is the importance of having an anchor. A family member, a grandmother, a friend, who will stand up and say no more. Even if the abuse continues despite the pleas and the lies of survival, these anchors provided a respite of sanity, when the childhood world around was nothing but chaos for her.
The repercussions of Jessica’s childhood abuse can be seen clearly as she grows, feeling unloved and unwelcome, she enters her adult world looking for the love she never received, through whomever will give it. Thus her abusive childhood ripples and transforms into abusive relationships and eventually even affects her children.
Still despite it all, despite her mother’s drinking and depression, despite her horrific life of abuse and neglect she still finds her way to peace and a resolution with her mother and thus becoming a shining beacon to survival. Her life while fractured by others, in the end Jessica herself builds into a beautiful mosaic of hope for the future.
The book is a must read for those looking to understand the complexities of abuse and the long-term effects abuse can have.
For anyone who may leaving or reporting abuse, the following agencies may be able to help
Domestic Violence Hotline
Child Abuse Hotline
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although, I am aware every single day. I am on edge from the PTSD at times I least expect it. A loud noise, people yelling, an angry expression can be the trigger. A feeling comes over me, and I fear for my safety. I scan parking lots as I walk to my car, waiting for death that was promised.
It is not something that just goes away. Good days can be stolen in an instant when a memory pops up. Anxiety creeps in, and there is nothing that can quiet the mind. My heart races, as I wonder why I wasn’t one of the statistics…but I know there is still time. When an unpredictable abuser, who was never held accountable for his actions roams the streets, his death wish for me could be a when, and not if.
Thoughts like this, make Domestic Violence part of what shaped me into who I am. Fear from childhood, wondering when my dad was going to kill my mom, and I continued to be fed by threats from my ex husband. I have expected my murder since I was four years old. Before I even knew what death was. It is a miracle that I am still alive, and I am determined to be the change. The change for my children. The change for others who want to be free. The change for me.
Alone, the world is a scary place. Together, we can get through anything.
You are not alone.
From The Monster That Ate My Mommy:
A couple of years into the job, I found out I was pregnant with baby number three. Chuck and I continued to fight, but that was the norm now. We couldn’t have a conversation without calling each other names or yelling. Ian was four and Emerson was two. Chuck only occasionally put his hands on me now. Most of the abuse was emotional.
Until I was nine months pregnant. Chuck spent the day belittling me. “You’re a fat whore. No one has ever loved you. Your own mother hates you. You’re just a piece of shit.”
After hours of listening, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had the cordless phone in my hand from my daily call to Gram, and without thinking, I threw it at Chuck’s bare back. I wanted him to stop talking. I was nine months pregnant, my husband was verbally abusing me, and my hormones were raging. I wanted him to leave me alone.
He spun around and yelled, “You’re gonna pay for that, you stupid, fat whore!”
Ian and Emerson were in the living room, and they stopped playing as he ran to me. I ran past him into the living room to get the kids to a safe spot, but as I got into the living room, Chuck pushed me into the changing table. When I didn’t fall, he pushed me again, harder. I stumbled and landed on the floor in the kids’ playroom as Ian yelled, “Daddy, no! Stop, Daddy!”
On the floor, I held my stomach. Chuck came over and kicked me over and over again in the back. He kicked me harder each time his foot made contact. Ian ran over to try to make him stop. I fought back the tears because I didn’t want Ian to be afraid. Emerson stood in the corner of the living room, crying as she watched her father continue to yell at me. I needed help. I managed to get to my feet and walked to the phone. When Chuck saw what I was doing, he ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it. “What the fuck do you think you are doing? You’re not calling anyone.” He pushed me into the doorway to the upstairs, pushing me so hard my body broke the door. The kids both watched and cried. We were all at his mercy.
Chuck pulled me up out from the broken door and dragged me into the kitchen by my hair. He tried to smash my head onto the hot wood stove. I couldn’t let my face hit the stove. I somehow managed to brace myself in the door frame of the bathroom that was in front of the wood stove. He took my head, bounced it off the door jam, and yelled, “I am going to kill you!”
The kids followed us into the kitchen. Their screams filled the house. Ian yelled, “Let her go! Let Mommy go!”
Chuck didn’t let me go. He grabbed me by the neck and pushed me into the wall as he yelled, “You are dead! I am going to kill you and hide your body.”
“Daddy! Please don’t kill Mommy. Please, Daddy, please.” Ian’s pleas didn’t stop him.
Chuck continued to yell, “You are dead, you fucking whore. You are dead! The kids won’t care if you’re dead. They don’t even love you.”
“Daddy, no! Daddy, we love Mommy. Daddy, no.” Ian pleaded with him.
Chuck finally let go of me, and the kids ran over to me. Emerson hugged my legs, and Ian stood guard. Chuck was angry they were so upset. “Stop your fuckin’ crying. God damn it…make the little fuckers stop.”
I held them close to keep Chuck away from them. Chuck paced the kitchen as they continued to cry. “Get the fuck over it!”
My whole body hurt. The baby stopped moving. I was scared he had killed the baby inside of me. I sat in the living room with Ian and Emerson in my lap, and I cried with them. Chuck sat on the couch to watch us. “I need to go to the hospital…the baby isn’t moving.”
“You’re not going anywhere. You just want to get me in trouble.”
“No…I’m scared the baby’s hurt.”
“You’re fine, the baby’s fine.”
My body was covered in bruises. It hurt to sit down. After a while, the baby did move, and Chuck reminded me he was right, there was nothing wrong. He told me again if I told anyone what happened he’d kill me and take the kids. He said he would cut the baby out of me and take it too. I couldn’t leave them. I couldn’t let him kill me and leave them with him.
At my doctor’s appointment, a nurse asked about the bruises. I said I had fallen down the stairs. I hoped they wouldn’t believe me, but they didn’t ask again. She told me it was selfish of me not to come in right after the fall. I felt like I’d failed this baby too, just like I failed at everything.
After that day, my dislike for Chuck grew to hate. I hated him for all he had done to me. I hated him for all he did to my kids. I hated him for all he pretended to be. I hated him for all the hope he stole from me. I hated him for everything. We’d been together for six years, and I still hadn’t told him I loved him. Now there was no way he’d ever hear me speak those words.
Continued from : An Adventure Awaits
When the show aired, a new level of healing came…but it wasn’t immediate. It took time for everything to ruminate, circulate, and eventually sink in…honestly it still is. The haze on my mirror was thick…after all, it had been gathering grime and dust for over thirty years.
When I saw my step-dad (from here on referred to as him) on stage I could not help but feel sorry for him. That was always my downfall –feeling sorry for the people who hurt me the most. I just could not understand how someone could or would hurt someone else intentionally. Why? There must be a reason behind it. That reason took away my anger, but it also took away my ability to see them as a danger.
A gift and a curse life gave me –to find the good in people. It was what kept me alive, but I now see it is also what kept me in situations that were unsafe.
As I heard him speak, I could not feel the anger I should have felt. I felt sad. I felt sad that he was alone. I felt sad that he did not understand what he did was wrong. I imagined his life now, and I wanted to help him. This empathy, or pity really, kept me from acknowledging my own feelings. It kept me from being able to own what he had done to me, to my sister, to my mom.
George sat with me as we watched the shows. His anger was visibly present. I still could not see what George saw. It had not sunk in yet. As we talked after the show, about what was aired, and what was not, I still felt sorry for him.
“That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s always wanted.”
“Maybe, but I still can’t help it. I still remember the good parts of him.”
“After what he did to your sister? After what he did to you? Your mom?”
I could see there was nothing I was going to say to explain it. I didn’t even really understand it myself. “But, he didn’t understand what he was doing.”
“Did you not hear him only admit to what he was charged with? He knew what he was doing then, and he still knows.”
As George’s words hit me, I saw it. I saw that he did know. He admitted to only what he had gone to jail for. Nothing else. My pity turned to anger. For the first time in my adult life I could see him for who he was.
That’s when it shifted. That’s when the mirror started to become clearer. Nothing was what it had seemed. Nothing. It got worse before it got better as I went back through my life with this knowledge. It is life shattering to realize that your whole life was a lie. You are not who they told you you are. So who are you?
Who am I?
What if all of my memories were a lie? What if my gram wasn’t who I thought she was? What if I didn’t really know anyone as I thought I did? These thoughts took me down. Back down to where I had fought so hard to get out of.
When I was ready to stand back up, I saw the world differently. I saw myself differently. I understood that the trauma I had gone through as a child was worse…much worse than I had accepted before. Not only had I been abused physically, sexually, and emotionally…I had been forced to live in an alternate reality…and forced into believing that it was me that was damaged. This belief was still haunting me, causing me to see who they wanted me to be, and keeping me from seeing who I really was.
Imagine for a minute that your eyes are blue. Beautiful, sky-blue.
“Your eyes are brown.”
“No they aren’t, they’re blue.”
“No, they are brown.”
“No. My eyes are blue.”
“Don’t be crazy, they are brown.”
“No! They are not!”
“What, are you color blind? They are brown.”
“I am not! I know they are blue, I can see them.”
“Stop being difficult. You just want to make everyone out to be a liar, when we all know you are the liar.”
“No, I am not! I know my eyes are blue.”
“We all know they are brown. Tell her.” A nod of the head.
Maybe they are brown? “They are blue…I think…I thought…”
“Go on, look in the mirror…see…they are brown.”
“Maybe I don’t know my colors. I do have brown eyes.”
“See, we told you.”
What color eyes did you have again? The above scenario is how my entire childhood was, and followed me into adulthood, when my ex-husband took over.
What I realized was that every person who had ever hurt me, had been introduced to me by my mom. My dad, step-dad, the man who raped me, my ex-husband…all were sent to me through her. Each and everyone of them shared this connection. As I took this in, I realized that the lies they told me were all similar, almost as though she had handed them the book, How to Keep Jessica in the Dark.
Continued on: Trauma Camp
Recently I have been thinking a lot about my past. Writing my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy only scratched the surface of my story. Even after completing it, and receiving feedback, I still did not fully understand the magnitude of the abuse that I endured. I still told myself, “It wasn’t that bad.”
It was only recently that everything shifted and I was able to see. To really see. The dots began to connect. Everything that I had tried to brush off as “not that bad,” began to reveal how bad it truly was.
My entire childhood was filled with psychological warfare, and the baton was passed to my ex-husband to continue to keep me under the spell. I didn’t see this before. I forgave so intensely, that I did not allow myself to fully understand the damage that had been caused.
I existed my whole life in their made up reality. And yet, I never fell completely. I never gave in, but my world was altered. I believed untrue things about myself as I was fed their poison.
I struggle with the image of myself. That is my one weakness. I did not understand why the barrier to my truth was so difficult to penetrate. I did not see what others saw. And then, it hit me. A tiny spot on the mirror was wiped clean and I began to see. I began to understand the extent of the abuse I was subjected to.
My reality was tested as I looked back on the past thirty-six years. The world as I knew it was rocked under my feet as I heard the voices from the abusers circle my thoughts.
“You’ll never be happy.”
“You just want to get people in trouble.”
“You don’t know how to have fun.”
The words loomed over me, settled into my skin and became my thoughts. Even when life started to look up, I continued to be pulled back to these words. I beat myself up over the hold they had over me, which in turn, added to their strength. I found myself questioning their validity, and until recently I believed them.
That was until that slight peek into reality. The grime was lifted from the mirror. It began to become clearer. I heard the same words spoken by all of the ones who had hurt me in the past, and this time instead of believing it must be true, I finally saw it.
My mother had been at the center of it all. She fed the lies to others, and coached them into treating me the way that they had.
The people who had not hurt me, who had not caused me pain all shared a connection: they were not led to me by my mother. They were people I found on my own. The people who loved me, who saw the true me, were not my mother’s minions.
It was not good enough for my mother to abuse me, she needed help. When I did not break under her spell, she enlisted others. Child abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, rape, domestic abuse…all at the hands of people my mother introduced me to.
I was stronger than them all.
I believed their words. I bruised under their hands. I lost pieces of myself. But, I did not give up. I kept the fight alive.
With the help from the people I introduced to my circle, my strength began to intensify. Safe people. People who love me. People who believe in me. People who push me to find my true self. People who do not let me continue to believe the lies from my mother’s distorted reality.
These are the people cleaning off the mirror. Washing the layers of dirt and grime off to allow me to see my true self. They push out the nonsense that made up my reality and offer kindness and love. They are patient and gentle as I learn who I really am–as I see myself as they have always seen me.
Thank you to my helpers. Thank you for your patience, your love, your kindness, your understanding. Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for never believing the lies that my mom told. Thank you.
I do still forgive my mom. I do understand that she had her own demons she was fighting with. I now no longer live in the make believe world she created. The spell has been broken. And I am free.
My sister and I were guests on the Dr.Phil show a couple of weeks ago, and since then I have received several messages from viewers. Some shared that they had been sexually abuse as children, and other shared that they know what it was like to have their mother not offer them any help. Part of my always felt like I was the only one who had a mother who was incapable of loving them, and hearing from others was both relieving and heartbreaking.
I wasn’t the only one.
As a mother myself, I cannot imagine not standing beside my child. I cannot imagine making them live in this world on their own. And, I cannot understand how a mother cannot love her child. I thought it was just me, I thought I was damaged. After publishing my book, The Monster That Ate My Mommy , I have learned that I am not alone. There are so many others that can relate to my pain, and because I know how much that hurts, I hurt for them as well. My mission is to help as many people as I can see that they are not the only one.
Below is a sample chapter of The Monster That Ate My Mommy . In this chapter I talk about my telling about the sexual abuse, and what led to the lie that continues to haunt me. In the book, I refer to him as “Bill.”
DEB CAME THE next day, and Mindy introduced us. She seemed nice, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell anyone else my secrets. I hadn’t been able to sleep since Bill hit me, and my body was filled with adrenaline. The lack of sleep had caught up with me—I was exhausted.
“Do we have to do this today?” I paused as I looked at my feet. “I’m really tired. I just wanna go to sleep.”
“Honey, I’m sorry, but we have to go today. They’re waiting for us at social services.”
I let out a sigh and looked up at Hannah. She came over to me and took my hand. “Can I go with her?”
“No, I’m afraid not. No one else can go. She’ll be fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”
She was wrong. There was everything to worry about. Hannah hugged me and said she’d see me soon. Mindy stayed with Hannah as I left with Deb. Riding alone with Deb in her shiny silver BMW convertible was uncomfortable. We didn’t make small talk. I sat silently in the passenger’s seat as I fidgeted in my seat of black leather interior. My eyes focused forward as we got onto the interstate. The cold, fall day sent chills through my body as the heat from the car only warmed the surface.
Deb and I pulled up in front at the big brick building with a small white sign with green writing above the door—State of Vermont Department for Children and Families. Deb held the glass door open for me. As I entered, I saw a steep flight of stairs. I stood on the bottom step as I looked up and cleared my throat before I walked to the top. At the top of the stairs was a solid, heavy brown door. A piece of white paper taped to the door read “DCF: Social Services. Please check in with Receptionist.”
My heart raced as we entered the small white room. At the desk, Deb said, “We’re here to talk to the trooper.”
The receptionist used her finger to push her glasses up on her nose and pointed to a wooden bench. “Have a seat. Someone will be right with you.”
Trooper? What did she mean? Was I in trouble? The more I thought, the more nervous I became. Tears welled. This wasn’t the time or place to fall apart. I had to stay strong. The image of Bill kicking Toby flashed before me, and the anger returned. Anger kept my tears away.
The fear of the unknown circled in my mind. I sat silently as Deb picked up a People magazine and started reading it. She was so calm as she flipped through the pages. She didn’t notice my state of apprehension.
Finally, a closed door opened and a woman in a business suit came out. “We’re ready for you now.” She held the door open as I walked through. She pointed down the hall and directed us to the conference room. There was a long, rectangular table with maroon padded chairs pushed in around it. A police officer sat near the head of the table and asked me to sit down next to him. I was going to go to jail. Bill must have told them I scratched him. This was it. Mom always threatened to send me to juvie or the psych ward—whichever would take me. It was actually happening.
I was unable to hold back my fear. My body trembled as I pulled out the chair. The trooper saw my hands shaking and knew I was upset. “Jessica, I’m Trooper Clark. I just have a few questions for you.”
I began to cry. “I only scratched him because he was hurting me. I won’t do it again. I promise.”
Trooper Clark looked at me and said, “You’re not in any trouble. You did nothing wrong.”
“Really. We just need to hear from you what happened the other night with your stepfather and the other stuff you disclosed to your friends.”
I told Trooper Clark what took place when Bill hit me and threw me out of the house. I stopped there. I felt uncomfortable telling him what had occurred in the past. I wasn’t ready to re-release those secrets. I wished I hadn’t let them spill out to anyone. I wanted to rewind time and leave that part out. I couldn’t turn back, though— too many people knew now. If I didn’t tell Trooper Clark, someone else would.
I cracked my knuckles as I held my hands in my lap. My eyes almost closed as I took a deep breath. Trooper Clark saw I was uncomfortable. “I know it’s not easy to talk about, but it’s important. Take your time, and go as slow as you need. I’m not in any hurry.”
His compassion eased some of my fear. I told him what had happened when I was younger. He stopped me and asked for details. Every little detail. My stomach knotted as I relived those moments. Vivid images of that time replayed in my mind. I became angry as I said the words aloud. My voice echoed in the quietness of the room.
No one protected me then, but these people, who didn’t even know me, were trying to protect me now. I became united with them, and the repulsive things I had held in for so long poured out. I was torn between loving my family and being outraged at them. Everyone except Gram knew my secrets, but they made me keep them. They didn’t want to help me. They only wanted to protect themselves. I loved them, and I wanted them to love me, but what if they never could?
After talking to Trooper Clark, I was told I couldn’t go home. I was now in state custody. I was a foster kid. The social worker, Joan, talked to Deb, and she agreed to take me back to her house until they could figure something else out. I wasn’t going home. I wasn’t going to be able to have any of my things. I wasn’t going to be able to have Toby. Or my clothes. Or anything.
When we left the big brick building, I went back to Mindy’s house. Deb set up an air mattress on Mindy’s bedroom floor, and that was where I stayed when I wasn’t at school. Joan agreed to ask Mom to give her some of my things. The first couple of days, I had to wear my dirty clothes, and I didn’t have my backpack or anything I needed. Mindy’s family was nice, but it wasn’t home. I wanted my bed and my stuff. I wanted Toby and Gram. Since Gram lived next door to Mom, I wasn’t able to see her either. I felt like they were punishing me.
Within a few days, I had some of my clothes and my backpack. I had so much homework to catch up on, but I wasn’t up to it. I was depressed. I didn’t know what was going to happen from one day to the next. My world turned upside down. Trooper Clark said I didn’t do anything wrong, but I was the one suffering.
Thanksgiving was only days away. I hadn’t considered spending it without family. I had never been away from home for Thanksgiving. I didn’t want the day to come, but sure enough, it did. For Thanksgiving, I went with Mindy’s family to her grandmother’s house. The house was full of people. So many people I didn’t know. I was an outsider. Even though they tried to make me feel welcome, it wasn’t the same. There were too many strangers and too many eyes looking at me.
I wanted my old life back. The desire inside me was so strong. I had never wanted anything as much as I wanted to go home. Two weeks passed, and I hadn’t seen Mom or Gram. That was the longest I had been away from Gram my whole life. I didn’t like how it felt. Depression took a stronger hold over me, and I started to withdraw. Life was too hard.
Hannah’s parents saw how sad I had become. They understood how hard this change had been for me. I wasn’t comfortable where I was staying. They talked it over and decided to take me in. They took foster parent classes, and within two weeks, I was living with them. They let me have Toby too. I felt like I was home. Life was starting to look up.
Soon after the move, I was allowed to have a supervised visit with Mom, Kate, and Gram. Peter didn’t come to see me. Mom said he was working. I was so happy to see them. Gram was glad to see me too.
“I’ve missed you so much, Jessie.” She had tears in her eyes as she took my hand. “I just want you home. Wendy will get you home soon. Won’t you, Wendy?”
Mom didn’t say anything, and Gram didn’t wait for her to answer. “I love you, honey. How have you been? How’s school? Do you need anything?” Her questions filled the room. I knew she was sad. I could see how much she loved me, and it made me miss her more.
“I miss you too, Gram. I just want to go home.” I wiped my nose with my sleeve and sniffled in hard to try to make the flow stop.
“Awww, honey, you’ll be home soon. Right, Wendy?” Our eyes went to Mom. She shook her head and played with Kate’s mousy brown hair. “See? Your mother will get you home.”
I knew Gram wanted me home as much as I wanted to be home, but I also knew she still didn’t know the whole story. I knew Mom hadn’t told her the secrets. I wanted to let Gram know, but it wasn’t the time or place to tell her.
Kate played with the toys in the room and ignored me for most of the visit. There was something between us now. We were strangers. “Mommy, I wanna go home. I’m hungry.”
“Hush, Kate.” Gram put her finger to her lip and shushed her. “We are here to see Jessie. Don’t you want to talk to your sissy?”
“No. I wanna go home.” Mom put Kate on her lap and hugged her as she rocked her back and forth.
I longed for my mother’s love as much as I ached to go home. I wanted her to see me, to see the pain I was in. Rage boiled the blood that ran through my veins as I saw the love Mom gave Kate. Why can’t she just love me?
“We should get going. I have to make supper.” Mom stood up and took Kate’s hand.
Gram stood up too and grabbed me into a hug. “I love you, honey. If you need anything, call me.” She kissed my cheek and squeezed me tight.
“I love you too, Gram. I don’t know if they’ll let me call you.”
Gram looked at the mirror in the room and talked into it. “Jessie can call me, right?”
“Who are you talking to, Gram?” I raised my eyebrows as I looked at her.
“Joan. She’s on the other side of that mirror.” She pointed to the mirror and explained how the two-way mirror worked. I knew our visit was supposed to be supervised, but I didn’t know how.
Mom didn’t talk much during the visit and didn’t make eye contact with me. She occupied herself with Kate. She seemed upset with me, and the lack of emotion made me ache. Gram told Mom to hug me as they were leaving. When Mom held me, tears escaped from my eyes. Being in Mom’s embrace, even forced, felt good. As Mom hugged me, she whispered, “You know Bill never did those things to you.”
She would never pick me over him. I was afraid I’d never go home again. I became sad and angry. I changed. I was no longer a child. Once again, Mom made it clear she didn’t want to love me. She didn’t care if I came home, she just didn’t want Bill to get into trouble. He was more important than I was. I’d always believed that, but now I was sure. Gram was the only family I had. Gram and Hannah’s family. Hannah became my sister, and we were closer than ever.
People at school saw Hannah and me dropped off, picked up every day, and began to make fun of us. They had no idea what I was going through. They started calling us lesbians. I didn’t need that on top of everything else. I loved Hannah, but I was not in love with her. She knew I was having a hard time with it, so she suggested we just go with it. She thought we should agree with them and hold hands when we walked together. “If we don’t let them bother us, they’ll stop.”
We began holding hands when we walked to class or when we walked around town. We smiled when people called us lesbians. We were going to win this battle. And we did! People stopped calling us lesbians to our face. However, behind our backs, the gossip spread. I could handle the gossip. I just couldn’t take the constant ridicule.
Life at Hannah’s was good. We acted like sisters, and her family treated me like their daughter. I felt loved. They included me in everything. They bought the things I liked to eat, and whenever they brought Hannah something, they gave me one too. They treated us equally. It was nice there, but I missed Gram. I missed my old life. I still wanted more than anything to go home. Even though Mom picked Bill over me, it didn’t stop my desire to be with my family. Every day, I hoped I would hear Mom had kicked Bill out, and I could go home. I hoped, for once, I would matter enough for her to pick me. For her to love me. That day never came.
The more Mom proved to me how insignificant I was, the more I wanted her love. That was the way it had always been. She pushed me away, and I chased after her harder. Part of me hoped I would be enough, that she would realize she loved me, and change her mind. I remembered a conversation we had when I was seven. We were sitting in the car in the parking lot at the school, and I asked, “Mom, if you had to choose between Bill or us kids, who would you pick?” I think I surprised her with my question.
She looked at me and said, “I’d pick you guys. I’d always pick you guys.” She lied. She picked him. She always picked him.
The court proceedings started to see if Bill would be charged criminally for what he had done to me. I had to testify. I had to sit in the witness stand and answer questions. My heart thumped so hard and high in my chest, I thought I was going to swallow it. I didn’t want to repeat my story. I didn’t want to relive all that stuff. I wanted it to be over with. Bill insisted he was innocent, and Mom told them I was crazy. She said I was mentally ill like Ralph, and I didn’t know what I was talking about. Those words hurt. She wanted people to believe I was a sick person who didn’t know what actually happened. She asked the judge to send me away to a psychiatric hospital for tests to prove I was crazy. She said she was told by a therapist when I was younger that I was a danger.
I became quietly outraged. I had never talked to that counselor. I had told him every week I had a headache, and he let me take a nap. I didn’t say more than five words to him at any one time. He didn’t know me. Mom didn’t know me. No one knew me.
The judge dismissed what Mom was saying and ordered I go into counseling because of what had happened. I was worried the counselor would think I was crazy. I was worried that I was crazy. Mom spent a long time trying to convince me I was crazy most of my life. After a while, I questioned what she was saying. Maybe I was mentally ill. Maybe I was like Ralph. How could I tell? Crazy people always say they aren’t crazy—that was a part of being crazy.
I was careful what I talked to my counselor about. I really liked her, but I didn’t trust her. She was a student therapist, so our sessions were videotaped so her teacher, Dawn, could watch them and give her feedback. I hated the idea that I was on videotape at my most vulnerable time. I made up stuff to talk about. I rarely told her the truth. I said what I thought she wanted to hear. I hated going. I purposely missed my rides to my appointment. I hid in the woods until I saw the taxi pull away. After missing a handful of appointments, Joan started picking me up from school. She was on to me.
One day at school, I went to the pay phone and called Mom. I missed her and wanted to talk. Peter answered. I missed him too. I missed everyone. I asked if I could talk to Mom. I heard him tell her I was on the phone. She hesitantly picked up. “You aren’t supposed to be calling here. You’ll get me in trouble.”
“I know, Mom, but I miss you.” I started to cry. “I wanna come home.”
“You know what you need to do to return.” She started to yell and then calmed down. “You need to tell the truth.”
“I am telling the truth, Mom. You know what happened. You were there. You know I am telling the truth.” The anger stopped my tears. “I just want to see you.”
“Well, you’ll see me at DCF next week.” She was frustrated. I heard Peter and his girlfriend talking in the background.
“No, Mom—now. I want to see you now. I can skip school, and you can pick me up. I just want to see you. I want to come home.”
“No, we can’t do that. Not today anyway. Call me back tomorrow.” Click. She hung up the phone, and I returned to class.
I couldn’t wait to call her. It was all I could think about. I hoped she would change her mind and let me come back, at least for a little while. When I called her the following day, she told me she would pick me up, but I had to promise not to tell anyone. I made the promise, snuck out of school, and met Peter nearby. I was so excited to be home again and so nervous I was going to get into trouble. I had never skipped school like that before. Getting into trouble was worth it for me to be able to go home. Bill was at work and Kate was at school. Mom, Peter, and his girlfriend were the only ones there. I hoped returning home would feel like being home, but it didn’t. I felt like a stranger. Mom was not thrilled to see me. She may have been nervous that we were going to get in trouble or she may have been angry. I couldn’t tell.
After the initial awkwardness of being home again after months of being away, I went into my room to find a few things. It wasn’t how I had left it. People had gone through my stuff. They read my journal, used my pillows, and took my blankets. I was furious.
No one cared that I wasn’t home. No one had lost what I had lost. At the moment, it became apparent to me again that all they cared about was Bill not getting into trouble. They didn’t care I spent Thanksgiving with people I didn’t know or that all I had wished for Christmas that year was to be able to go home. They didn’t care about me at all. I was a thorn in their sides.
Even so, my desire to be home with my family overpowered my rage. I wanted to go home more desperately than I had wanted anything else before. The fact that no one wanted me hurt. I was used to rejection. I had been rejected my whole life. I longed for the normalcy of their rejection as much as I longed for their love. It was home, and it was all I knew.
When my visit was up, I gathered up my journal and my Tom Petty CD, and Peter brought me back to school. No one had noticed I was missing. That was the beauty of being quiet. No one knew when I was there, and no one knew when I wasn’t. I finished out my day and told no one of the visit. Hannah noticed I had some of my stuff and she asked me how I got it. I couldn’t lie to her, but I didn’t know how to get out of the mess I had created. I eventually told her about my visit and skipping school. She didn’t care—she just told me to be careful.
The visits continued, sometimes more than once a week. We always planned it when Bill was at work. I was okay seeing Mom, Peter, and Kate, but I didn’t want to see Bill. I resented him. I was angry he destroyed my world and turned my whole family against me. I was scared he would hurt me again if he knew I was there. I worried he would tell Mom I couldn’t come home. When Mom said she let Bill know about our visits, I didn’t know what to say. I stared at her. Why? He was winning again. We couldn’t even have this secret.
Mom said Bill wanted me to think about what I was telling the authorities. She said all I had to do was take it back, and I could go home. “Bill’s not mad at you. He knows you were just mad and said things you didn’t mean.”
I still didn’t know what to say. “He shouldn’t be mad at me. I didn’t do anything to him. I should be the one who’s mad.” I didn’t want to fight with her, but I was angry. I was hurt.
“Listen, Jessica. He wants to be friends.” She spoke in a stern voice. “You want to come home, right? Then just hear me out.”
“I do want to come home.” I began to cry as I imagined life before all this happened. “I want to come home more than anything.”
“Then listen to me.” Her voice changed as she said, “We think you should recant your story.”
“What does recant mean?”
“It means to take it back. We think you should tell them you were angry and everything blurred together. Tell them it was Ralph who did those things to you, and you only thought it was Bill who did it.”
“Ralph’s dead. I don’t want to say he did that stuff to me. You know he didn’t. You know what happened.” I became angrier. They wanted me to blame my dead father for touching me. He never did that. Ever. He abused me in other ways, but not like that. My stomach churned.
“That’s right, he is dead. He won’t get in trouble.” She looked at me. “No one gets in trouble this way.”
“I can’t do that. I won’t do that.”
“Fine!” she yelled. “I guess you really don’t want to come home that bad after all. Maybe you should stop coming over too.” She turned her back to me.
“Mom, no! Mom, please. I don’t want to stop coming over. I do want to come home. I do!”
She turned back around to face me. “Then you know what to do.”
Her plan sounded simple but blaming Ralph who couldn’t defend himself made me sick. He didn’t touch me in those ways. He often asked me if Bill had, and I always lied to him, saying no. This lie could be my ticket home, but I didn’t know if I could live with myself if I told it. I was a fourteen-year-old girl. All I wanted was to go home. I wanted my mom to love me. I didn’t know what to do.
Freshman year came to an end, and Joan allowed me to move in with Gram. I was sad to leave Hannah and her family, but I was so glad to be able to see Gram every day. She agreed to keep me away from Bill. Once I moved in with Gram, I was allowed to visit Mom, Peter, and Kate at their house. I didn’t have to sneak around anymore.
Since I was allowed to go to Mom’s now, she had to work even harder to convince me to change my story. She didn’t talk about it all the time, but she continued to bring it up. “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to come home?”
“I’m happy at Gram’s.”
“Well, wouldn’t you like to do things with your family?”
“Gram is my family.”
“Don’t be a smartass. You know what I mean.” She was annoyed that my desire to be home had lessened. “You know if you don’t change your story, they will take Kate. You know Gram doesn’t have room for both of you. Do you really want to be responsible for her growing up without her family?”
I could not believe the burden she had put on my shoulders. I would be responsible for Kate growing up without a family? Me? Did she really blame this all on me?
“What do you mean?”
She went on, “They told us if Bill is found guilty, Kate will be taken away.”
“You didn’t care when I was taken away. Why should I care if she’s taken away? Why is that my fault?” I asked the questions, but I didn’t want to be responsible for Kate growing up without her family. I knew how scary that was, and I didn’t want my sister to have to go through what I had. I was lucky too. I had Hannah’s family and Gram. Who would Kate have? The more I thought about it, the more the guilt grew. I really had messed things up. I really should have kept my secrets. I should have listened.
“I care,” Mom said.
“Yeah…um—” I stopped. “Gram told me she needed me to help her today.” I left and went to my bedroom at Gram’s house. I thought about what Mom had said and about Kate and how scared she might be. I thought about the lie Mom asked me to tell. I thought about getting in trouble for lying to the judge. I didn’t want to do it, but I had no other choice. I could protect Ralph’s honor or save Kate.
Kate was seven. She couldn’t lose her family. I couldn’t be held responsible for that. She would hate me. Everyone would hate me. They already did, but maybe this could fix it. I knew what I had to do.
I walked back to Mom’s house and found her on the porch smoking a Newport. “I’ll do it.”
She was so happy that she had won. “I knew you would do it for Kate!”
“I’m scared, Mom.”
“Don’t be silly. You can come home. You said that was what you wanted.”
“I don’t want to go to jail for lying. What if they find out I am lying?”
“You’re just a kid. You won’t get in trouble. You are doing the right thing, you know?” She began explaining what I had to do next. “When you go to your counselor, you need to tell her you made a mistake. You need to tell her you were so angry and scared, you mixed up your memories. You tell her you remember who really touched you. You tell her it was Ralph that did it to you.”
“But I was ten when he died. He couldn’t have pinched my boobs. I didn’t have any yet.”
“Don’t be difficult. Just tell them you made that part up.”
“No. I didn’t make that up. I am not going to say I lied when I didn’t.”
“What do you think you’ll be doing? Lying. What’s one more lie?”
“I’m not comfortable with this. I’ll say the parts that could be him were Ralph, but I won’t say I lied. I don’t want to get in trouble.” I paused. “I don’t want to go to jail for lying to the judge. Are you sure I won’t get in trouble? Are you sure they won’t know I am lying?”
“If you do it right, they won’t.”
The next time I saw my counselor, I began to tell her this made up story. “I remembered something.” I didn’t know if I could continue. I started to cry.
“What did you remember?” she asked me handing me a box of tissues.
“I remembered it was my dad. It wasn’t Bill.”
“What was your dad?”
“He was the one who touched me in bad ways. He was the one that…molested me.” I couldn’t keep the tears in any longer. I sobbed as I heard the words leave my mouth. No! I screamed in my head. I wanted to tell her I was lying. I wanted to tell her Mom’s plan, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t risk it now. I had to do this for Kate.
I continued to tell her more of my new “memories” and told her I wanted to let the judge know I had made a mistake. She said she would tell Joan, and they would go from there. I know she questioned my new discovery. I know the timing of my being able to visit Mom without supervision had people questioning this. I waited for someone to fight me on it so I could tell them I had made it up, but no one ever did.
There was no turning back now. This was my “new story.” I had to go with it now. My guilt grew. What would Ralph think? He was going to be so angry with me. He would hate me. I knew he would know what I had done. The guilt began to eat at me. It ate my joy. It ate my pleasure. It ate my happiness. I was empty inside. I felt alone. The only person who knew what I had done was Mom, and after I lied, she stopped being nice. She had what she wanted.
I had to go to court and tell the judge of my changed memories. He asked me if I understood what happened to people who lie under oath. He said it was a big deal to make up stories, and he asked me if anyone had told me to say the things I said to him. “No…no…Your Honor. I just…just remembered it was my dad and not Bill.”
Then he asked me if Bill was the one who touched my breasts.
“Yes. He did.” I couldn’t lie about that.
He asked me if I was sure I wanted to change my initial story. I agreed. He ruled to allow the testimony that I had given previously modified in the record, taking the blame from Bill and placing it on my dead father.
I waited to hear what the findings were. I waited and waited and finally, after what felt like forever, we learned that I couldn’t go home because Bill had still acted inappropriately when he touched my breasts. The only way they would allow me to return home was if Mom was willing to have Bill leave. She was not. At least my lies helped Kate—the court ruled that Kate was not at risk and could stay at home.
Mom was still angry. She told me if I had changed my whole story, the judge would have let me go home. She didn’t thank me for the parts of the story I did change. She didn’t care about the amount of pain that lie caused me. They hadn’t completely cleared Bill, so she was still angry. Again, I saw I wasn’t on Mom’s list of priorities. Nothing I could do would make her love me.
That was a lesson I continued to forget.
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