My freshman year of high school became its own war zone, not so much within my home but inside my head. The events of this year and the one that followed produced demons in my soul that I would spend the next 20 years running from. If I had stopped and allowed myself to examine those demons before I got married at 18, I wouldn’t have prolonged and compounded the agony I allowed myself to endure. But as they say (whoever THEY are) “Child…you can’t do what you can’t do.”
I was watching an episode of THE CHOSEN about a month ago when God showed me something sort of strange within its story line. I didn’t realize that many of the “demons” that plagued the women of the Bible were caused by sexual abuse. In those days, and in many church settings still, sexual abuse is something that nobody wants to talk about. In my personal life, not only was sexual abuse not mentioned, but neither was sex. It wasn’t a subject that my Mom felt comfortable discussing and Dad and I had deteriorated too far for me to be able to approach the subject with him. We were barely speaking. I was angry at him for leaving me there to deal with Mom and her fits of rage or her absence, but from what I’d learned in Church being angry was wrong, asking questions was wrong, and implying that your parents were anything less than perfect was seen as a sign of disrespect. Within the events that had occurred in my life up until this point, I had already learned by the age of 12 that if I wanted answers to any questions, I was going to have to find them without the help of a Church or my parents.
Another tactic that Satan uses to destroy us from the inside out is isolation. My mom didn’t want people in our business because she was never home, and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. My grandma knew what was going on, but Grandma was exhausted and in a mess of her own. She was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer around this time, and while I don’t remember exactly the time frame, her cancer progressed very quickly. If I’d have known she didn’t have much time left I wouldn’t have asked her to deal with my growing pile of problems.
School started like every other year. I was hopeful that this year would be different, and I would be accepted by people. Because of Mom’s gift of contacts and a perm and the new clothes I had received, I was a little more confident that THIS YEAR I wouldn’t be as much of an outsider. I was very book smart, but when it came to street smarts or understanding the way other kids my age interacted with each other I was very immature. I learned my way around the giant building and was adjusting, but about a month in, I knew this year would be no different than the ones before it in “Public” school. I was dead wrong. This year would be totally different.
My old friends from middle school, the socially awkward outcasts were not a fan of my new look. My coke bottle glasses had been replaced with contacts and my super long hair looked amazing with the curls the perm had given it. I still didn’t really know what to do with my clothes, but I had a funky, boho dork vibe going on. I wore what I liked and not what was “in” to everyone else. I had never been introduced to Nike or any of that stuff so if it was comfortable, it fit, and I liked the look I wore it. I tried making my own clothes, but as much of a crafter as I turned out to be making clothing is not a skill I have. Anyway, my old friends began to distance themselves from me when they saw the attention I was getting from different people. I’m not sure if it was the way I looked or my little bit of newfound confidence, but it hurt me. I talked to Mom a little bit about it one day when she asked me to help her shop for a new dress. She told me that girls are petty and jealous, and they do things to hurt other people all the time. I’m not sure now if she was talking about her friends or mine.
Mom and I had a very strange relationship during this time. She alternated from being my closest friend to the person I hated the most on the planet. She would be super nice and we were like girlfriends picking out outfits to wear and the nights that she was home I would follow her around while she was getting ready to go out talking about boys or clothes or girl problems. The days she was stressed or tired or whatever, she would spend that time screaming at us about the condition of the house or fighting or whatever else kids do that annoys their parents. Living with Mom was like living on a roller coaster…except somewhere in the back of everyone’s minds everybody knew that the roller coaster could fly off the tracks and kill all of us at any moment. I didn’t realize what was going on then, either because I was too young, too naïve, or too involved in my own unresolved pain. Whatever the case, I didn’t know why Mom had to keep going to the hospital and staying there. I found out later Mom kept putting herself in in- patient clinics. Whatever demons were chasing Mom were catching her. She’d be better for awhile and then the stress of her life and the pain in her heart would be too much for her to keep a grip on and she’d crash again. I was frustrated with never knowing what was going on, with never being able to help her, and not knowing why on the nights she was home I could hear her crying in her bedroom. When I would ask her about why she was crying she would say “I’m just tired Jackie. Life gets hard sometimes.” I tried to help her and take care of the other kids, but the longer this went on the more frustrated I became with my inability to show her that someone did love her and her inability to see that someone did. I got tired of having to defend her and I got even more tired of taking on responsibility that didn’t belong to me.
I was allowed to go to youth group at St. Vincent’s a lot during this time, mostly because it was free and Mom knew, on some level, that I needed a break too. When prayer time came, I always prayed for God to fix my Mom. I was terrified something would happen to her and we’d have nobody. Since she was gone a lot, I started going through her files in her room trying to find answers as to why Mom fell apart so often. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I found plenty of demons hidden away in her closet or her drawers that I not only didn’t understand but couldn’t tell anyone about because I would get in trouble for going through her stuff. I found a letter from some place, Perfect Moms, or something like that, listing all of the things that made my Mom a bad person. I didn’t know where it came from or who wrote it, but it listed a lot of things that people in the Church of Theology had seen her do wrong. This petrified me and, on some level, I felt a sense of relief because that meant that other people had seen those things too. What confused and horrified me is that at the end of the letter it said that someone was coming to take us away from her. It listed names of people that I believed to be friends of my Mom’s and I couldn’t understand why this letter was so nasty and hateful if these people were supposed to be her friends. It also made me understand why she was so strict about what we told people outside of our house. That didn’t help my dilemma any.
I don’t know if she knew I was going through her stuff or not, but soon after I found the letter, she started locking her bedroom door when she left the house. She began to stay gone for even longer after this, even though now I’m almost positive the two events had nothing to do with each other. I had no idea what was going on and even though I was old enough to understand some things that were far beyond my age, I still had no clue about others.
Mom dated and I still hated any man she brought home to meet us. They didn’t seem to think much of us either and I just wanted them to go away. This is where I believed my “face problems” began to make an appearance. Mom kept telling me not to be rude. So, I didn’t say the awful things that ran through my head, they just showed up on my face. Some of my favorite times with my brothers and sisters were right after Mom and What’s His Name left after meeting us. We would come up with a nickname for the new guy and sit around and make fun of him. They made it ridiculously easy. Alex had a great sense of humor and Joyce would laugh and snort every time that Alex would come up with something else to make fun of them about. We had a great time together and I learned to rely on these times with my brothers and sisters. Lisa, the youngest, would always tell on us for the things we did, so we excluded her a lot. I wasn’t the best big sister in the world to them at this point. I hit them a lot when they got on my nerves or threw things at them when they didn’t do what I told them to do. Mom would get so angry when she got home, and their chores weren’t done. I felt like Nick, the second oldest, wouldn’t do them on purpose just because he knew that I would get grounded or get in trouble for not “making” them do the things Mom had left them to do, so I was twice as mean to him as I was anyone else.
Something strange began happening at school. Other kids had started to notice how smart I was and began asking me to help them with their work. At first it was just an answer or two, but soon kids were coming up and asking me to do their whole assignments. I was doing so much work for other people, one of my friends, Kelly, told me to start charging them. So, I did. One boy, Jason, had me doing his entire course load of work and didn’t care how much it cost. His girlfriend on the other hand did. She was annoyed with how much time he was spending bringing me his work and when she found out that he had come to my house a few times to drop off work, she assumed that something else was going on. It wasn’t. I had no interest in him, he couldn’t even do his own homework. Anyway, she and a group of her friends met me at my locker one day and told me that if I didn’t stay away from her boyfriend, she was going to beat me up. I’d been beat up before, so I just looked at her and said, “Girl, what your boyfriend does is your problem. Leave me alone.” Unfortunately, as I walked away, I tripped over my own foot and dropped all my books on the floor. They found that hysterical and proceeded to make my life a living hell from that point on. They left death threats on my answering machine. They threw things at me in the hallways and got other kids to do the same. I was miserable.
The death threats on the answering machine got so bad by the end of the year, my Mom finally went to go talk to the administrators at the school. She even took the answering machine tape with her and the administrators told her that until they touched me there was nothing they could do. Mom was livid. When she came home, I asked her what I was supposed to do if they jumped me. Mom told me not to fight back so I didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t understand how I was supposed to just stand there and let 4 or 5 girls that were bigger than I was beat the tar out of me and not defend myself. The conversation escalated and soon we were screaming at each other. All of the sudden, out of frustration, Mom slapped me across the face and yelled, “Jackie VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE ANSWER!!” I stopped and looked at her with my hand on my face, trying to make sense of the irony of her statement accompanied by her slapping me. For some reason, it struck me as the funniest thing I had ever heard, and I started to laugh. Mom just blinked and then the realization hit her as well and she started to laugh with me. I understood her premise, but what I don’t think Mom knew was that she was sentencing me to social death if I followed her advice.
My friend Kelly and I decided that we would take things into our own hands when the next death threat came. She got dropped off at my house before school and we were going to walk together so that if I did get jumped it wouldn’t be one on five. What I didn’t know was that Kelly had called her friends for backup. Eight people showed up to walk me across the street to school. They were the baddest of the bad in our high school. Their leader didn’t come, but his cronies did. I was caught in between feeling thankful and being absolutely terrified at what was about to go down. I didn’t know anybody cared. What I failed to understand is that nobody really did care, they just liked to fight. Most of them were gang affiliated and race wars were prevalent due to the Rodney King beating. None of them were actually in my district, but my school took the kids from the Boys’ School or Wood Youth Center and they were bused in from whichever program they were housed in. The girl that was threatening me lived in the same addition and also walked to school. There we came, my group on one side, hers on the other. I was ecstatic when I saw her face as she realized exactly who was on my side. I knew that my “friends” were scaring her and I loved that I could walk to school with them. I felt strong. I felt strong until we crossed the street.
Working in the school system now, I realize there is no way administration wouldn’t have seen us coming. We were all pulled into the office as soon as we stepped on school property. We were searched for weapons and drugs and then pulled into different rooms in the office to talk about why we were in such a big group and what was going on. Of course, the girlfriend was scared because all my “gangster” friends had shown up and she tried to say that I was threatening her. I was already mad at the people in the school for telling my mom there was nothing they could do, so I reminded them that Mom had told them there was a problem and they had done nothing. I was suspended pending investigation for “suspected gang activity” (we weren’t allowed to be in groups bigger than 5) because I started the whole thing by cheating. It was close enough to the end of the year that Mom didn’t make me go back or go talk to any of the administrators. She’d had enough of “public” school and honestly, I had just about all that I could stand as well. The summer would prove to be just as much of a problem as the school year and neither of us were all that prepared for what happened next.