I have wrestled with how to write this part of my story for the last few days. Up until this point, I have come to terms with the events of my childhood that caused me pain or made me feel unloved and unwanted by my parents, my schools, and my God. When God gave me the idea to start writing this blog, I knew he wanted my elementary and middle school years to be told. Beyond that I didn’t know much else. Remember I said that I had “a little” faith? Even though I realize now what was going on in the year and a half that were to follow, it doesn’t make them any easier to write about. Except, the one thing that God showed me is that He will always win over what tries to conquer us. I am a warrior. I was a warrior before now, but like I may have mentioned a time or two, the devil is a liar, and I couldn’t see that.
One of the reasons that this time is so hard to write is because it involves situations that are not mine alone to come to terms with. The point of this blog is to tell my story so that my readers can see how God’s love transcends all things and to give hope for those who feel as if they are dying in these same struggles. It is not a “tell-all”. I only write about the events that God has put on my heart to put into the world. There are events that occurred within this time frame that God has not shown me an understanding about yet and so I don’t believe that I can do those events the justice that He has in store for them.
Another reason that this chapter is so hard to write is that my memory of this time period is incredibly fuzzy. Trauma does that to you. I don’t think that enough emphasis is placed on how much trauma can affect a person’s everyday life, but the immense obstacles it places within our memory as well. This year was a tornado of trauma and while I know most of what happened, I do not remember the chronological order in which some of them occurred. I believe that God will sort them all out in his time for me, but it might get confusing for anyone reading. To be fair, it is confusing for me as the one writing.
I left my story at the end of my freshman year. With the events that took place at my high school, my grandma had set things in motion for me to attend the same Catholic school my mother had gone to. My mother and father both come from large families and both names were remembered because both sides still went to the same church. For some reason, I thought that meant that I would finally “belong” somewhere. Getting in trouble my freshman year and the reason for my leaving made me sound a lot cooler than I really was to kids who were impressed by that sort of thing. Those kids weren’t exactly model citizens, but when you experience abuse, you don’t know how to tell the good from the bad anymore. Everything feels like an attack around the corner.
As abused people, we seek out situations and people who will reinforce the fears we keep running around inside our brains. In other words, we look for people who will treat us badly because that is the easiest way to support the fear that something is wrong with us. Everyone else has managed to figure it out and we just keep tripping and falling over the same obstacles time after time after time. We come to believe that we are no more than the pain in our lives. That is the way trauma works.
I had gotten into some trouble with some friends of mine when we got caught drinking over the summer and because of the events of that situation my Mom decided that I could not be trusted to be left alone. She went to work, and I went with her and then after that she took me to my grandma’s house to be “babysat”. I would bet every dollar I had that Mom would not have done this if she knew just how tired my Grandma was or how sick she would get in the months that followed, because I wasn’t really being watched by any adults even though the house was full of them. My uncle allowed me to sneak out with him after my Grandma had gone to bed and he was the person I would look up to the most in this time. Grandma bought me cigarettes because I wasn’t old enough to buy my own. Living there wasn’t that much of a punishment. I think after awhile Mom realized this and had me live with her and my brothers and sisters again. Mom and I fought like crazy during this time. I was defiant and rude and disrespectful, and looking back on it now through God’s guidance, I was trying to make someone, most often times my Mom, pay for the things that had happened to me, even though many of them were not hers to pay for. In trying to make her pay, I ended up nearly killing myself.
The Family Catholic School started off like most other years. Even though my physical appearance had improved; my glasses were gone, and I’d figured out how to do my hair and makeup, I was back to square one in the clothing department. My grandma had been able to find a sponsor somewhere to pay my tuition. My family was on food stamps and other types of government assistance so private school tuition wasn’t exactly in the budget. Nothing but the cost to attend the school was to be covered and I had very little clothing that was included in the school uniform policy. I was still very small and skinny, even for my age, and when the office lady took me to go get the required skirts from the clothing store, I only got to pick from the free ones. The “cute” ones were $50 each and there was no way I would be able to get one of those. The two “freebies” fit me like garbage sacks. When most kids were spending time at the mall or at extracurricular activities and hanging out with their friends, I spent most of my sophomore year fighting with my uniform skirts. I was constantly getting sent to the office for dress code violations. The Dean of the school remembered my mom from her days there, so he usually just rolled his eyes, sat me down in his office for 5 minutes while he smoked a cigarette or talked on the phone, and then gave me a stern look and said “Quit wearing the stuff that gets you sent down here.” I’d shrug and offer nothing in the way of a sincere apology. What was I supposed to do? My family didn’t have any money and we were barely scraping the bottom of the barrel to eat and they were worried about my shirt being the wrong color of red.
Contacts weren’t as developed in those days and shortly after the school year began, I developed a pretty severe and incredibly stubborn eye infection. Also, I don’t think it was all that well known that contacts held the infection, but I couldn’t see without them so I would wear at least one. (This habit would continue well into my second junior year of high school where I would routinely only have one contact that I could wear for long periods of time). My first period teacher was not a fan of the way I smelled when I came to her class (due to the fact that we smoked in the car on the way to school with my aunt who also attended there) and she used my eye infection as a way to get me sent out of her class. Every day I got up and got dressed and went to school only to be sent home because they thought I had pink eye. My eyes were constantly raw and red, and I would often wake up with them crusted shut. If I was at home and could leave my contacts out, they would get a little better and Mrs. PollySomething would leave me alone long enough to stay in class for a couple of days. I had been bullied so much about my glasses that I didn’t care that Mom didn’t have enough money to replace them after our dog had chewed up the frames so badly that the ear piece cut the side of my head when I wore them. I was terrified of not being able to see everything I needed to see, so I continued to wear my contacts even though it was killing my eyes. Without them, I ran into locker doors and trash cans because I was too near sighted to be able to function without some sort of optical assistance.
My first period lab partner, John, was a quiet boy who was very smart, and he was nice to me. I don’t know if he wanted to be or not, but he did the bulk of the work and I helped when I was there, but I wouldn’t have had anywhere close to the grade I had if it hadn’t been for him. One day it snowed on the way to school and when I got to first period (late as usual), my class felt wrong. I went to my lab desk and John was absent, so I turned around to ask the girl behind me what was going on. She looked at me like I was stupid, burst into hysterical sobs and said, “John got into a car accident this morning on the way to school. He’s dead.” I felt like I was going to throw up. I got up and walked out of class.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only tragedy like that we’d have to go through that year as a school body. One of my uncle’s very best friends and an amazing football player that had graduated the year before died on his college campus. The Euell Wilson Center was built in his honor a few years after that.
I failed Anatomy and Physiology. I loved studying the human body and wanted to be a doctor. Someone had given me a real stethoscope and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and those were my most treasured possessions. I could name every bone in the human body and I studied and read about medicine whenever I could find time to wrap my swimming thoughts around the Latin words used in that huge reference text. Mom picked up a doctor’s coat from somewhere as well and I was serious about becoming a doctor. I applied at a local hospital to be a candy striper and received a call that asked when I could start. I wish that I had been able to take it, but when I told Mom she had no idea how we could work out getting me to the hospital everyday for a job I wasn’t going to get paid for.
Mom had met the man who would become my stepdad at some point during this year. Mom didn’t live with us that year, so one of my older cousins lived with us kids and then after her, my Mom’s younger sister stayed with her daughter while she was going through her own divorce. I didn’t care except that in addition to watching my own brothers and sisters, I now had another kid to babysit when the adults were off being busy adults. We just kept living though. There wasn’t anything else we could do.
Two events happened in this time period that only added to my inability to deal with my world. I am not going to go into any detail, but those, along with the death of my friend and the constant trouble I was having with uniforms and grades and my eye infection, I missed an insane amount of school. These two events scarred every piece of me, and I was alone in my pain. I had no one to tell and no help would come. I finished out the year of school and then was told I wasn’t allowed to return because my tuition had not been paid and they would not be releasing my grades until they received a check to cover the costs. That was never going to happen as we didn’t even have the money to live, let alone pay for some outrageously priced education. I was in a mess. Still to this day, I wonder sometimes if this was really the way they handled nonpayment or if it was because of the attendance and behavior problems I had.
I started working at a local carwash with a bunch of the kids from school in the fall of that year. My boyfriend at the time worked there as well, along with another of my mom’s younger sisters, so transportation wasn’t an issue as long as I was scheduled on a day that one of them were there. My boyfriend’s dad had very fond memories of my mom because they had worked at a bakery together in high school, so he was always very nice when I came over and seemed genuinely happy to see me. I got invited to their family cookouts and get togethers and his big family was so much different than my own. I loved them. My boyfriend’s younger sister and I became very close and used to sneak out together to smoke clove cigarettes in my car after her parents went to sleep.
When school started again that fall, all of my friends went back to school and Mom decided that I should homeschool for the year until we could figure out what to do. Since she wasn’t about to send me back to the Gang High School and I couldn’t go to the Family Catholic School, I studied medicine and books about controversial topics on days that it was slow at work. I was the only 15-year-old I knew that had a full-time job. Because of the events of the year, my animosity towards myself and my mom grew, and I sort of forgot to be angry at my dad. My heart and my head were a mess, but I had already learned that it was better if I kept everything inside. I knew part of what had happened to me was my fault for ignoring Mom, but I refused to admit that to myself because I was so angry at her for not being there when I made a kid decision to an adult issue that I had no business being around.
It was around this time Grandma started to get really sick with what the doctors misdiagnosed as kidney failure and she was pretty tied to the house due to her dialysis. A couple of months later, she was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. My brothers and sisters would still go visit my Dad, but I couldn’t go. With our already stressed relationship and the new events that had taken over my teenage soul I couldn’t stand to be around Dad. I was mad at him for leaving me, for turning Mom into whoever this unrecognizable person was, and for not loving me. I was angry at the world. The only problem with being that angry is that anger is only depression on steroids and when my best friend called to tell me that my boyfriend cheated on me with his ex-girlfriend I tried to slit my wrist. As most things in our house were broken or just too old to be functioning because there was no money to constantly replace or fix them, the knife I used was so dull that I only ended up bruising myself and creating about 6 raw and red marks. Mom found out from my Grandma and decided to call my Dad and put me in counseling.
Dad had gotten engaged at this point and I hadn’t said two words probably to this lady that I can repeat and still sound like a Christian. I was mean to her and her kids and they were not fans of mine either. When they got married, I boycotted him and his replacement family, and refused to go to the wedding. When Mom called to tell him what I’d done, he called me and asked me to come see him. Reluctantly, I went.
Dad picked me and the other kids up and drove us to his girlfriend’s house. I was looking at a magazine with a bunch of guitars trying to pick out the one I would get someday. Dad told me we were going for a walk. So, I got up and followed him. He started asking me about why I had tried to cut my wrists and I wanted to punish him. Those cuts were there because it was an outward expression of how desperately I wanted someone to notice that I was hurting. All I was able to get out was disrespect and teenage angst and frustration in my signature snotty answers. Dad was frustrated, and when I started to cry, he said, “What is that in your eyes, Jackie?” “It’s called water…it’s usually how you can tell someone is crying.” I answered with barely controlled rage. His next words cut me deeper than any knife ever could. He said, “If you keep on this same path you are on now, you are going to end up nothing but a loser.” With everything that had occurred that year, that sentence broke me in a way I had never been broken before. I had nothing left to give him or anyone else. I wanted out of my family. I wanted to die. I just had to figure out how to do it. I couldn’t take any more of this life. Fifteen years had been more than enough for me.
I wouldn’t speak to my dad again for 2 years. I went back to Mom’s and went to counseling with her like she asked. I didn’t talk about much except how mad I was at my Mom. I had no words for anything else. I couldn’t get a handle on the hatred that seeped into my heart and so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I stuffed it down and pretended like it didn’t exist. My counselor mistakenly took on Mom and I, but that was just the tip of the iceberg and Mom was the easiest to pin things on. I was angry so often and so was she our fights turned into epic screaming matches. I hated her, I hated Dad, I hated myself, and I hated God for putting me on this planet. The only reason I never tried suicide again was because I couldn’t even do that right.
Mom and Stepdad got married and apart from my grandma’s rapidly deteriorating health, things began to have some sense of normalcy. They both moved into our house before the wedding to get it ready to sell. They wanted to buy a property with enough land that we could get horses. I was all for the horses, but not incredibly excited about leaving my friends and my job. We moved and I began attending the Public Country School.
Again, my timeline is fuzzy because this year was such a mess. I am not sure exactly when Mom took me to see Grandma in the hospital, but she had deteriorated so far that she was on morphine to keep her comfortable. She didn’t recognize me or talk at all and I was mortified to see her scratching holes in her skin with her fingernails. I just kept holding her hands so she couldn’t scratch. Grandma passed away not too long after my Mom and Stepdad’s wedding. Grandma and my Mom did not have the best relationship and when Grandma died, so did Mom’s chances of ever hearing the words she so badly needed to hear. “I love you” wasn’t something my Mom ever heard from her mother. I think Mom was angry with me because Grandma had voiced those words to me. I didn’t understand it at the time, but God has a funny way of showing you old things you never thought you needed to know. My mom was always unable to give me something she never had. She didn’t know how to love me because she’d never felt it from her mother either. Any time I would need help in the years that followed, I would go back and sit at Grandma’s grave and ask her what to do. She never answered and I felt more alone than ever.
Country School was very strange. They acted like the city I was from was a foreign country, even though it was only 30 minutes away and many of their parents drove there for work. I was constantly being asked if I was in a gang. I was not shy anymore and my hard exterior turned my face into a shield. I never smiled, just scowled at everyone I passed. My second day, a boy came racing through the halls, picked me up and then dropped me right on my tailbone. I never went to the doctor, but with the insane amount of pain it took for me to sit down for weeks after that, I’d guess he broke my tailbone. I still only weighed 86 pounds and there wasn’t much padding to land on. Shortly after that, I was caught smoking in the parking lot and gave the officer a fake name. They soon figured out who I actually was and I was given In School Suspension for three days for lying to the officer. Fine by me. Nobody was allowed to talk so it saved me from the constant barrage of questions from these weird farm kids.
I had gotten a job at a large retail store right before my boyfriend and I broke up and in order to make it there on time, I skipped last period every day. The only class I cared about was creative writing and my teacher decided that I was some sort of talent. She would constantly give me extra topics to write about and since I still hadn’t told anyone about the events of the previous year, I began to learn to write about them in code. Only I knew what the words meant. I wrote a poem about God’s desertion that someone sent into a contest. I won and my poem was published but we couldn’t afford to buy the book it was published in.
The boy that had dropped me was part of the “trouble” crowd and with my “face problems”, I found I fit in a little with them. They didn’t ask a bunch of questions and they all drove muscle cars with souped up engines. I got to be pretty well known as the “Gangster Girl with the Chevelle”. I was proud of my car. I bought it with the money I earned from working full time and had purchased an engine that ran better and had more horsepower than the engine it came with that didn’t run. My new friends helped me put it in and one of the boys, I noticed continually grated on my mother’s last nerve. He was EXACTLY what I had been looking for. She hated him and I dated him solely because of that. He didn’t work well with other kids our age and he had been in trouble multiple times with adults and authority. I was struggling to sleep at night and try to keep the demons from eating me alive from the inside out. He was perfect and he did the job I’d picked him to do with such ease it made me laugh. She loathed the very mention of his name and I enjoyed every minute of it.
I continued working after school and my boyfriend had gotten a second shift job after he left school. (I don’t remember if he graduated before me or what, but he wasn’t at school very much to begin with.) I would sneak over to his house sometimes when I had an off day and we’d watch movies or work on his car in the shop down the street from his house. He kept bugging me to have sex with him and after a huge fight with my Mom one day I ran away and went straight to his house. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when I finally gave him what he asked for, I felt disgusting instead of any better about myself or my situation. A few weeks later, my friend Chad, picked me up for school and told me that my boyfriend had slept with another girl at a party over the weekend. I spent most of the day throwing up in the girl’s bathroom at the end of the special education hallway and then got Saturday School for missing class.
I learned nothing about love from this season of my life. Everything I cared about had either been stolen or given away and my only comfort was that I had very little time in school left. I believed with everything I had that if I could just make it through until I turned 18, I could escape these demons, this family, and the brokenness that I experienced. Unfortunately, brokenness charges interest and follows its debt like some sort of deranged bill collector . I had yet to actually feel like God loved me, let alone anyone else. I was alone. I was rejected and I was sure someone, somewhere had made a grave mistake in letting me even take up space in other people’s lives. God will revive a dead soul, but I didn’t know that yet. I have a ridiculous ability to hang on to what looks like hope so I would grasp at anything that looked like it could save me, only to be dropped again. I didn’t know what else to do so I just kept going. I didn’t think much about the impact my decisions would have on my future because I was so busy running from my past. What I ran into wouldn’t prove to show me anything any different.