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May 6, 2008

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Misery Didn’t Get Me

I’ve been M.l.A. I’m sorry.

Right after getting my BFN, I had to go out of town to visit my family in Missouri which I will refer to as Misery for reasons that should become obvious.

I haven’t been there in almost three years, but K and I went to be with my mom for an early Mother’s Day weekend.

While labeling myself Zen is quite a stretch, I’m not a terribly anxious person. All of that changes when I am preparing for a family visit when I become nervous and twitchy and generally difficult to deal with.

My family is a small, simple, uneducated, born-again Southern Baptist clan. We don’t have much to say to each other.

There are small towns with vibrant energy and there are small towns with their souls gouged out and my hometown is the latter.

If you’ve never been to this part of the Misery Midwest, let me tell you that it is a brain-drained, economically depressed area. There used to be factories and chicken plants and dairies where young men with HS degrees would get a job and go about their lives, but with most things, the factories have largely closed and the plants now hire cheap labor.

Growing up, three kids to a divorced mom with a high school education, we were very poor. When I was five and my aunt was dying in a hospital from breast cancer, my mom fell down the stairs and never got back up. They took her away and for a year I lived with my grandfather while my mother lay in a hospital bed paralyzed from the neck down. She didn’t even have her own mother there with her most of the time because my grandmother was taking care of her other daughter in a city 4 hours away.

My father wouldn’t take all of us, so we were split amongst family members and I spent my first year of school playing by myself in my grandparent’s basement.

The year I turned six, my mother recovered from the rare and mysterious syndrome and came home again but our family would never fully recover.

That same year I was raped by a family friend repeatedly. I told my mother and while she made sure I never had to be around him again, she never did anything about it. She neither confronted him nor went to the authorities.

My mom did without many things so we never had to go on welfare or be those kids who had to go to the front of the lunch line. She knew what that would be like for us and wanted to save us this humiliation. Nevertheless, everyone in this small town of 5,000 people knew we were poor. I had one pair of shoes for the entire school year in third grade and I remember other kid’s parents wouldn’t let them spend the night with me because my mom was divorced and we lived in an apartment. I hated her for this.

We used to roam the rural roads at dusk collecting cans and my mom made it a game and we never knew it was because she was selling the cans for money.

In the 4th grade my mom started dating her future alcoholic husband and he started sexually, physically and mentally abusing me.

I knew the last time this happened, I had told my mom and she had protected me. But this time, I told my mom, I told her best friend and I even told my grandmother. They called me a liar and two years later she married him anyway.

When I was 14 and had devised many ways to kill myself, she left him after he chased her down the hallway with a baseball bat, pausing long enough in my doorway to ask me, “little bitch” if I wanted some of this, too.

I was sent away after that to live with relatives while my mother settled in a new town.

My high school years were a blur of alcohol and depression. I know I had good times because the signatures are in my yearbook, but I don’t really remember much.

By this point, I had become an expert at blocking things out–my mind like Swiss cheese with great gaping holes.

My senior year in high school, my mom, who was never really around, moved in with her soon-to-be third husband, leaving me on my own, working two jobs and trying to finish high school.

That year I met a rich Japanese college student who fell in love with me and wanted to marry me and take me back with him. When I told my mother he beat me she said, “but he loves you and he has money, marry him.”

Let me make this clear: I had no role models. Ever. I basically raised myself. There’s no teacher in this story who came along and made a difference or relative who took me in. I should have been dead or a drug addict or a teen pregnancy statistic or a domestic violence abuse victim or any number of things other than what I became.

My brother’s were not so lucky. But somewhere from all of the neglect and abuse came a fire and a fury in me to not only survive but to fight.

So when it’s time for Mother’s Day, it’s hard to find that special card because what ever I find, I never really mean it.

She’s come a long way my mom, but the best thing she could’ve ever said to me was when I asked her how she felt about me trying to get pregnant. Looking me in the eye last week she bravely declared, “I know you’ll make a better mother than I ever was. I made so many mistakes and I can’t take them back and I’m sorry.”

That was a great Mother’s Day present.

I love her, she’s my mother. But I don’t like her very well which makes going home very painful.

All I want to be is a good mother, to stop this cycle of poverty and abuse and show that I can raise a child the way I deserved to be raised.