Saturday, April 26, 2008
How Things Have Changed
I haven’t written for the longest time, in large part due to the numerous crises that have presented themselves since my last full post (which, not counting journal entries, has now been two weeks ago).
I have felt in the last fourteen days as if the very world has fallen down upon me, and, even as I write, the simultaneous academic and familial problems that have coincided to form such an awful situation have only continued to grow.
The issues have divided fairly evenly between home and school, and I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that my academic career is slipping through my fingers or that my family seems to be collapsing at a truly alarming pace.
I live on the campus of Major University, away from daily interaction with my mother and father, and so I haven’t become accustomed to what my siblings seem to perceive, insomuch as they do at all, as a gradual erosion.
The news I receive is sporadic, coming in very occasional discussions over the cell phone. As such, each new development strikes me not as one natural step in a steady progression, but as a stunning revelation of rapid decay.
Each conversation I have with them seems to portend darker things than the last, and, following another such communication earlier this afternoon, I can only marvel at what seems to me the supersonic speed at which my family has disintegrated.
The current state of things is so dire that I fear to think of how it could possibly be worse. Of course, I do know what the next step would be, but saying it is so surreal, so terrible, that I can’t fully grasp it in a realistic context.
The problems have been going on for some time, and really began last Fall, when my father, groggy one night from the pain and sleeping medication that have made him slur through most evenings of the last decade, slipped in the kitchen and broke his foot in several places.
He had just recovered enough to begin hobbling up to his bedroom on the second floor when, once again under the influence of medications, he fell down a full flight of stairs and broke his back.
This was shortly before Christmas Break this school year, and from November or so he did not work.
At first, this didn’t make much of a difference. My mother is employed as a pharmaceutical sales representative and by herself makes slightly more than $100,000.00 a year, while he, selling luxury decks to Southern State’s wealthy families, usually brings in even more than that.
In 2006, they had a combined income of nearly $250,000.00, enough to put us in the top 2% for household earnings in the United States and to comfortably pay for my tuition at Major University.
Of course, even then they balked at this. My mother was twenty years old when she married my father, and, as she constantly reminds me, was working three jobs, attending college full-time, and raising two children.
“When I was nineteen I was taking care of you and Powell,” was her constant reply to my requests that she please, please just let me be a normal teenager.
“Mommy and Daddy weren’t paying for my college,” was the sneering comment that ever escaped her lips. “We don’t owe you anything.”
By her logic, I had forfeited any rights I had to their assistance upon turning eighteen. Really, her foot has been on my back from a very early age, attempting steadfastly and vindictively to force me through the door of premature burden and responsibility into which she was hurled as a mere girl.
It’s hard for me to think of her as ever having been a girl; at nineteen she was my mother, an authority figure, and, along with my father, a co-tormenter.
It wasn’t as if she deliberately set out to do badly, and I give her credit for being there when my birth-mother wasn’t, for comprising the memories of my earliest childhood. She was, however, very young, and very quick in a financially and emotionally-taxing situation to adopt forcible, and, in my opinion, unacceptable, control methods.
My father administered most of the beatings, of course, brought more haggard screams for mercy shrieking forth from my mouth as his violently-swung leather belt met my soft white skin, but she stood by giving tacit approval.
Children to her were something sub-human, non-citizens, half-people. We were very much to be seen and not heard, and the denigration of our opinions, the harsh suppression of our beliefs and protests, has over the years contributed to as much awful resentment as the physical abuse that my father carried out with such anger.
“Daddy,” I sobbed as I stood before the post of the bed that he was telling me to lean against. “Daddy, please don’t hurt me.”
“Pull your fucking pants down!!!” was his brutal response.
I did, turning my naked thighs toward him with the naked terror that I always felt. I was already gasping, already heaving, so afraid of what was to come that I was a wreck of flowing tears and unheeded pleas.
And then came the pain, the crack of the whip, the sharp cutting as the leather struck me, as I was beaten by a full-grown man.
I was always a small child, am small for my age even now, and the sharpness of this blow inevitably overwhelmed me.
My screaming ceased, because the breath had been taken from me. All I could do was sink to the floor, wrack back and forth in agony, draw short, voiceless blasts of air into my shuddering lungs as I croaked almost inaudibly.
“Get up,” was the command that always came.
This was so unnecessary. When I think of all the damage that has been done, all of the years thrown into that whirling cauldron of misery, how much energy was wasted on hate and anger and fear, it makes me sad and vengeful at the same time.
Had it ended at the beatings, which came far too frequently and for crimes far undeserving of such a response (though I believe that no child should be subjected to corporal punishment under any circumstances), things may have been different.
It never stopped there, though. It crossed over, consistently and in fact more often than corporal reprisals were delivered, into an intellectual and emotional realm.
We were made to feel as if nothing we could have to say was of any significance, and the idea that we would have any part in making our own decisions was one that they found laughable, sometimes to the point of actually laughing at it.
This was a targeted form of debasement, but typically the emotional abuse in our household took the form of blatant scapegoating and name-calling.
If something broke, “the kids” had done it. They couldn’t go out without a babysitter, because “the kids” would eat and drink whatever they wished, would watch television and cause chaos.
It was always “the kids,” referenced so contemptuously, who did everything.
And I wasn’t simply “BlackenedBoy” or “sweetie,” or “honey,” or “buddy.” I was those things, but I was more.
I was “faggot.” I was “dickhead.” I was “son-of-a-bitch.” I was “mother-fucker.” I was “asshole.” I was “queer.” I was, at one point, “evil.” I was going to become crazy just like my worthless birth-mother, who I never forgot was a drug addict.
Any peace in that household was always tenuous. And I believed, somehow believed in my deceived and beaten heart, that I really was the bratty monster they described, that my inherent badness was somehow causing this.
They really were cowards.
Over time I did learn not to cry. I had to. For as this was going on, I received a constant barrage of harassment at school, where I was ceaselessly mocked and made fun of for not having the cool clothes, for not knowing the popular people, for being slight and skinny and for reading so many books. I was the object for all of their hatred, for all of their careless torture. They never could just leave me alone. It was something I marveled at; I didn’t really have any friends, and essentially did nothing to bother anyone else. That fact deterred absolutely nothing.
I will never forget an incident that took place one afternoon when I was about twelve years old.
I had been leaving class, preparing to walk home for the day, when my Social Studies teacher, whom we’ll call Mrs. C., stopped me as I passed her desk.
“BB,” she said quietly. “I just wanted you to know that I know people don’t treat you the way they should. But one day, you’ll see that being the odd man out pays off.”
She smiled up at me with a deep and bountiful kindness that I had no basis for responding to.
“You’re really cool. I wish you could be my kid.”
It was everything I could do not to burst into tears in the middle of her classroom. I had longed so desperately, as any innocent and frightened child would, to hear words like those.
I had learned the hard way not to weep in public, though. Instead, I just cried myself to sleep.
That was my childhood: one endless trauma, one endless wrong, after another. When I became old enough to understand and be outraged by what was happening, too old to be beaten with a leather belt, my father graduated to slapping me around and heaping the insults atop me more viciously than usual.
He’d wanted a construction worker, a tough guy, a football player and a miniature version of himself. He got me.
All of this was punctuated by his alcohol abuse, his dependence on pills, her neurotic perfectionism and frequent hysteria. Nothing was ever hidden from us. We grew up in a family where everything was perpetually teetering on the brink of disaster, and, what’s more, we knew it.
It is perhaps because of these things that my reaction to recent events has been one of disgust and profound annoyance rather than sympathy or fear. Of course, I am afraid, but for my own wellbeing and that of my siblings, not for them.
The abuse stopped when I was sixteen years old, the summer we moved to Deep South State. I am still at a loss to explain exactly what happened, but over the course of about three months, my father transformed into a very loving man. Do not ask me how this took place. I simply don’t know.
My parents’ income dramatically increased beginning in 2003 or so, and by 2004 we had surpassed the older families whose comparative prosperity had been held over our heads in Native State. As more time passed and our status continued to improve, this chasm became gigantic, to the point that we not only outdid our aunts’ and uncles’ clans but eventually had more money than the rest of the families combined.
We moved to Southern State in 2005, and in 2006 my father secured his current job, which is when our income growth went from incredible to astronomical.
And, when he was on his game, he was very good; in 2007 he accounted for 49% of his company’s total revenue, an astounding figure.
Following his accidents, however, he was out of work for a number of months, and he found readjusting upon his return to be difficult.
His injuries were really the start of all of this, but they were the direct consequence of his unhealthy relationship with prescription medications. Had he not been taking the pills he was, he never would have fallen in the first place. In that sense, we’ve just been very lucky for many years in the game we’ve been playing, silently ignoring his serious problem as the money continued to roll in. It was only when they fought, when he came home from the bar so drunk that he couldn’t walk straight, that we heard the full truth.
“You son-of-a-bitch!” her furious and hysterical shrieks reverberated through the house, reaching my elementary-school ears. “You can’t even answer me because you’re so fucked up on your pills!”
Then she kicked him, but he was too disoriented to react.
“Get up!!!” she screeched manically, so angry that her sorrow and rage had coalesced into one another (much the way that I often felt because of what I endured at their hands).
Earlier this year, the spectacle of my incapacitated father played itself out in our basement as it had countless times in my childhood.
I helped her to pick him up out of his own urine, and then together my mother and I tricked him into the car so we could take him to the hospital. He weighs well over two hundred pounds, far too large for either of us or even both of us together to have coerced into her SUV. Had he sat down and simply refused to budge, we would have been helpless.
So we told him he’d fallen again and then forgotten about it, and that the doctor was worried he might have a concussion. He believed us.
I am twenty years old, and I have done what most people don’t have to do until they’ve begun families of their own. I’ve watched my father turn into an infant in front of me.
I’ve literally held up the man who once picked me up by my throat and threw me onto a countertop. He sickens me.
Today, I called home to ask for money. I no longer visit home, mind you. After a lull in our bickering, a four-year oasis of goodwill and understanding, I’ve reached the point where I cannot sit in the same room with them.
The last time I journeyed to Mountain Town was for my twentieth birthday earlier in April, and on the way back my mother and I got into an explosive argument.
“I can’t wait ‘till you have kids,” she said contemptuously as we neared my campus.
“I’ll do a way better job than you and Dad did,” I responded with savage derision. “That’s okay, though; you showed me what not to do.”
“Oh,” she said, beginning to scream in the same indignant tone she assumes whenever I mention the veritable disaster of my younger years. “I’m sorry! I was twenty fucking years old!”
She’s livid now, and I wonder if her anger is so intense because she knows the truth in what I say.
“Did I make mistakes? Yes. But I did the best that I could! Marie didn’t get a childhood! Marie didn’t have Mommy and Daddy to pay her way! But I was such a bad parent, I was such a bitch!”
“I’m sorry that what happened in my childhood upsets you so much,” I answered coldly. “It must have been very traumatic for you.”
“Whatever,” was her corrosive reply.
My request for funds comes from the fact that I literally don’t have any; I’m very nearly out of money, and don’t know how I’ll make it to the end of the school year without some emergency transfer of cash. The problem with this, however, is that they’re not good for it anymore.
Since his falls and confinement to our home, my father has become severely depressed, and as such is making no money. There’s no problem with the clientele, no problem with the product. The problem lies entirely with him, something that has served to agitate me considerably.
“This is all in his head,” I exclaimed angrily to my mother. “He created this in his head, and now it’s affecting things in the real world.”
I dialed his cell phone number today and he wouldn’t answer. Following that, I dialed hers, and she picked up to address me with a brisk “Hello?” as if she were busy.
“Hey,” I asked. “Do you know where Dad is? He’s not picking up his phone."
“He’s with me,” she answered quietly, and merely in the way she said it I could tell something was wrong.
“Can I talk to him?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said hesitantly before handing the phone off to him.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hey,” I said. “Where are you?”
“Route X,” he answered evasively.
“Oh,” I said. “Where are you going?”
In truth I was surprised that he wasn’t at work, busy selling nothing.
“We just came back from Harley Davidson,” he said heavily.
“What did you do there?” I asked.
For just an instant I felt a glimmer of hope; if my parents had been looking to purchase something it meant we were in the clear, as they’ve always been very frugal with their money. Even then, though, I could sense what was coming.
“We sold the motorcycle,” he unloaded, sounding as if he had leaden weights around his neck.
“Oh,” was my reaction.
It’s come to this: they’re selling off their miscellaneous possessions because the system that has grown and strengthened over the course of the last decade is now hemorrhaging money. His delusions carry very real consequence, and in the back of my throat I could feel something like bile rising at this display of pathetic weakness.
Then I told him that my cash reserves were almost depleted, and he said that I should withdraw money from my bank account.
“I just don’t have it,” he said in a defeated voice. “I just don’t.”
A few minutes after I’d hung up, my disdain for his inability to support his family overwhelming my desire to talk to him, my mother called me again.
“BB,” she said with a slight edge of anger in her inflection, as there always is. “Your father’s in the store right now. Don’t call him anymore and bug him about anything to do with money. He can’t handle it.”
She went on.
“The financial strain we’re under right now is unbelievable. He was suicidal yesterday.”
“What?” I asked, my lip curling into a grimace of appalled disbelief. “Did he tell you that?”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “We had to take him to the doctor’s. He’s trying to get help.”
“Great,” I said acidly, the words pouring from my mouth like the bitterest vinegar before I could stop them. “Great. So now what?”
“I don’t know,” was her reply.
“Whatever,” I said. “Tell him I hope he gets better. I have to go.”
I didn’t have an ounce of sympathy for either of them. And I wasn’t surprised.
As I later confessed to someone on campus, “I’m at the point now where I’m like, ‘Commit him or give him a gun.’”
Will he die?
I doubt it.
Do I care?
Is that caring mixed with emotions that I probably shouldn’t be feeling?
All I could think of was that he has a wife and four children. Would he be so selfish as to abandon us?