After the School of a Million Spankings we were homeschooled for awhile, which I’m sure didn’t really do much for Mom’s workload or her piece of mind. Homeschooling is hard work, even when you aren’t trying to teach a kid who has no ability to retain math concepts. My younger brother, Alex, would start the joke some years later that I thought 2+2 equaled yellow. After homeschooling we went to another Christian school, but then when my parents divorced we left that school too. We went to another Christian school, but one day Mom told me that we would start going to public school. I had heard people talk about “public” school and I didn’t trust the tone they used. It was the same tone people used to describe food they thought was disgusting. I didn’t look forward to it.
I remember Mom taking me to enroll and get a tour of the school. The School of a Million Spankings had been a big building, because it was our church, but the school itself was only comprised of about 60 students. The other schools were small as well, although bigger than the first one. None of them were anywhere close to “Public” school. There were kids everywhere. I had never seen so many kids in one place. It wouldn’t take me long to find out that wasn’t a good thing.
Middle school during grades 7 and 8 was miserable for me. I was very small and still younger than the other kids in my grade. My eyesight had deteriorated quite a bit from all the reading I had done and Mom bought all of our clothes from garage sales or they were hand me downs from other relatives. Nothing ever fit me quite right because I was skinny and had long legs. I had no idea how to do my hair and I didn’t wear makeup or jewelry yet. I was made fun of constantly. It didn’t help anything that I knew most of the answers to the curriculum the other kids were learning.
My eighth grade year I took a history class with Mr. Montgomery. He saw how mean the other kids were to me and tried to help me fit in a little better. He listened to me. Every day after school I went to his classroom until it was time to walk my brothers and sisters home from the elementary school across the street. Once he even rearranged the seating chart so that I could sit next to the boy he knew I had a crush on. Even though Mr. Montgomery was very nice to me and he listened to me talk about things that bothered me, there were still 7 other classes in the day. I kept to myself as much as possible, but managed to make a few other friends that were as socially awkward and outcast as I was. I settled into a lonely, but manageable routine at school. Home was a different ball of wax.
Mom put herself through college and was working for GE in some sort of coop program. As with most kids of split families I took on more responsibility around the house. There wasn’t enough time for Mom to do all the things that she was required to do and I realize now that this was the first time I would ever watch my Mom break and not know what was happening. My parents fought any time they were on the same block. It became their war and they used any weapon they could in this time to hurt each other.
One day when Dad came to pick us up for his weekend, Mom made me take out a spreadsheet of how much he owed in child support to give to him. My feet felt like lead. I didn’t want to give it to him and I wished with everything I had that I could just throw it away, but I was scared of her reaction when I got back. Dad had a temper, that I would later inherit, and I didn’t want to spend the weekend with him in a bad mood.
Again, my time line gets a little fuzzy and I don’t remember why things happened or some of the order of the occurrences, but the fighting was so bad and money was so tight on both sides Dad would sometimes have to ride his bike over to see us for a few minutes. When we did go to his house (which was a trailer that was older than I was) Dad mostly ate rice and peanut butter toast. We did silly things when Dad was in a good mood. One time he taught us how to “parachute” off the front porch like paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne. He told us Garbanzo Bean stories, which I was shocked to learn were actually stories about him and his brothers and sisters growing up, just with characters that had goofy names. Dad could also do voices and so when he was being silly his accents became some of my very favorite memories from childhood.
Between work and school my Mom wasn’t home a lot and we found ways to amuse ourselves along with her never ending list of “busy” work as my brother would later refer to it. The house was never clean and things were always broken. Mom has started going to a singles group before we left the house my parents built so she went and played volleyball and did activities with other singles. She dated off and on and all the guys she dated were weirdos to me. (I have no idea if they were or not, but I wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to get to know any of them anyway.) It became something of a game to me to see what kind of rude things I could say to them to let them know I was not a fan of their presence. Mom became known as Karen 5 Kids to her singles group, and she made comments sometimes about how guys had trouble looking past her “baggage”.
The fighting between my parents got worse and worse. One Friday Mom told us to hurry up and get some things done before Dad came to pick us up but I ran to the door every time I heard a car drive down our street. Mom yelled, “Stop looking out the window! We have a doorbell!” and made me go clean the bathroom since it didn’t have any windows. My anger towards her and her constant barrage of chores was at a breaking point and as soon as Dad rang the doorbell I ran and got my stuff and didn’t say goodbye to her. I got in the front seat of Dad’s work van and slammed the door. He side-eyed me and asked what was up. I told him what Mom said and he looked at the road and said straight faced, “Well that’s ridiculous. It’s kind of hard to see out of a doorbell.” My mood changed immediately as I laughed at his joke. I went home on Sunday and told Mom…my Dad was funny. She did not find the amusement in the story like I had and I got yelled at. I didn’t care though. It was still funny and I have probably told that story a thousand times since. I loved those kinds of times with Dad.
The fighting between Mom and Dad got so bad, my Dad took a job in Pennsylvania. I have no idea how long he was gone and to be honest I didn’t care. Weekends with Dad weren’t really that exciting but I did get to just be a kid for awhile. At Mom’s I always had to help somebody with something. There is only 6 years difference between me and my youngest sister. The more stressed Mom got the less she stayed at home. I was watching my brothers and sisters all the time. I made them dinner and helped them with their homework and we all had chores of dishes and laundry and other assorted tasks that need done to keep a house running. I put them in bed most nights after Mom went back out from school to go hang with her friends. Sometimes I would hear her come home with people and sometimes she didn’t come home until it was time for her to get ready for work. After Dad moved, she came home less and less. It was as if both of them had broken each other so badly they forgot about us.
I’m going to be as transparent as I can be here. Middle school and the first two years of high school were the worst times in my life. My parents couldn’t find a way to forgive each other or themselves and they both broke in that pain. I wouldn’t say their divorce was that hard on us, but their constant fighting afterwards tore us to shreds. I found some solace with a few friends and my youth group when I was allowed to go, but life was a crap shoot for my brothers and sisters and I. I resented my Mom and Dad for being broken and I was angry at both of them for having kids they didn’t want anymore.
I began to act out to see if anyone would notice. I started smoking at 11. Nobody noticed. Mom took me to get a perm and contacts before my freshman year of high school to try to help me fit in a little better. I got some new clothes that actually fit when we were adopted by some people from Catholic Charities as a Christmas family. It worked. Nobody remembered me as the dorky little girl from middle school. Boys started to pay attention to me. Not any good kind of boys mind you…I might as well have put a neon sign above my head that told them I had no clue what kinds of things people were capable of. My new friends came to find out pretty quickly that there were never any adults at my house and so they started asking if we could “party” there. I didn’t let them but I did let a couple of them come over and hang out when I was reasonably confident that my brother, Nick, or my sister, Lisa, wouldn’t tell on me. While I resented having to take care of my brothers and sisters all the time, and I was super mean to them in my resentment, looking back I would have been a lot worse off if I hadn’t had them to worry about. I didn’t understand boys or ulterior motives and I knew nothing about sex. The boys did though and they tried to get me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. Truth be told I was terrified of sex….church had very much taken care of that. I knew it was how babies got here but beyond that I had no idea what it was and I wanted nothing to do with it.
My friends were kids just like me, the group that could hang out without adults because the adults in our lives had other things to do. I wasn’t a trouble maker outside my house, I just hung out with all the trouble kids. At some point Dad moved back to Fort Wayne and was not all that impressed by the changes he saw in me. I had gotten to the point in my teenage mind that I was just as grown up as my parents. After all, they had left me to take care of their kids…so I must be old enough for something. I resented him for implying that I didn’t know what I was doing, even though I had no idea what I was setting myself up for. My relationship with Dad became almost nonexistent. He even called the police on me once from inside Mom’s house. She was so mad when she found out that he had been in there when she wasn’t home nobody really bothered to talk to me about why Dad called the police in the first place. As usual, something I had done that screamed I needed attention turned into being about them and their hatred for one another.
I realize now that people can’t give you what they don’t have. My own divorce wasn’t the event that it took for me to see my parents for what they were instead of the evil, selfish people they turned into at this time. Pain and brokenness compounded over time can turn even the most loving of souls into despicable human beings. I know this now because I didn’t know how to deal with my pain and I wouldn’t be able to find God’s love for me for another 25 years. I became a dead on the inside, but still functioning on the outside shell of a human. I was so strong though that I had more years of torment and agony at the hands of people who were being choked to death by their own pain before I finally broke.
I’m going to end this chapter with a verse from Matthew.
Matthew 13:19 (the parable of the sower)”When anyone hears the message about the Kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”
The foundation of my life was full of cracks and generational curses, but the worst part of the years that followed were the things I would do to myself. I gave up before I grew up. In my search to find any sort of love that I could feel, I set myself on fire over and over again and blamed others for giving me the matches. It would take years before I realized they held the matches but nobody made me take them. I willingly destroyed myself and almost took my own kids down with me.