I’ve often tried to put my childhood into the proper perspective. I don’t believe in blaming others for who I am today. I believe that I am accountable for my own actions and behaviors. I am a responsible adult, and the choices I make today and every day thereafter will determine my destiny. I do not believe in predestination. If such a thing were true then what is the point? There may be a higher power, as I have found no hard evidence to disprove the existence of one, but her, she or “it” is not a puppeteer, pulling the strings from above, dictating our every move. Typically, I want to vomit when someone said God helped them find a good parking spot or guided them to the last $9.99 door buster sweater. Are you kidding me? Are you telling me that there is a “supreme” being that can help you get a rock bottom price on a sweater but can’t prevent a child from dying of starvation or prevent a baby’s mother from overdosing? That’s not a being I would want to worship, let alone even talk to. Therefore, I don’t believe that such intervention exists in the realm of the real.
As a child, I learned early on that the adults don’t always know what they are doing. My mother, for all of her imperfections, has always loved me deep down inside. Like so many, she had flaws and unresolved conflicts from her own childhood. She and my father split for good when I was eight years old. No two parents could have been more dramatically and diametrically opposed. My mother left the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the same time as she and my father separated. I’m not going to judge and say who did what as there are always two sides to every story. After their separation, my father remained one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What he wanted more than anything in the world was for me to also be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. What my mother wanted, more than anything in the world, was for me to NOT be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus the real fun began. My father picked us up for the meetings even when it wasn’t his weekend. That meant seeing his car pull up to the home we lived in with our mother on Tuesday and Thursday nights as well as Sunday mornings. Somewhere along the way, but very early on, my sister decided she didn’t want to have any part of this. At the age of four she was able to tell my father “no,” and somehow she wasn’t going to meetings anymore while I still was.
My mother’s life was taking its own strange twists and turns. She had moved in with a man much older than she was that had no experience with children. In fact, I believe he regarded them as a nuisance, and believed they were targets for all sorts of flying things whether they be clocks, radios, or chairs. My mother was a target to, and she felt trapped. Shortly after my parents split my father remarried. His new wife seemed kind and caring, and their home seemed peaceful and calm. I was looking for love and attachment, and I would have went anywhere at that time, and my father’s home seemed like the right fit.
I moved in with my father and stepmother three quarters of the way into my eleventh year, at the same time as I was in the process of getting skipped from fourth to fifth grade. It was a lot of transition all at once and I did not handle it well. I didn’t know how to be the new kid at school and approached my new environment in an awkward, haphazard manner. It wasn’t long before I drew the ire of the most popular kid in the class, the son of a lawyer, who made sure I knew my place. On a warm, early June day, he literally kicked my ass all the way home.
When I arrived home, I fell into my stepmother’s arms, seeking solace and comfort in her embrace. She acted as if she believed my story and provided the empathy and support I needed. I felt safe and secure, and believed she and my father would defend me. The fairy-tale came to an abrupt end after she met with the principal and the other kid’s parents. The tables were turned, and I was painted as the instigator. It was my act of calling this other child a “turkey” that had earned my punishment. Shame on me for calling someone a name, shame on me for acting like I didn’t do anything wrong.
Life with my father and stepmother took a sharp right turn immediately over a high, rock strewn cliff. The scars remain with me to this day. My stepmother was no longer a source of peace or protection. She became my enemy and I became hers. I endured silence when I came home, a lack of words accompanied by cold icy stares over the top of her glasses. Then the beatings began, typically when my father was not home. I was told that under no circumstances was I allowed to tell my mother about any of it for fear of worse punishment to come. While this was occurring at home, I became a target at school as well. Add to all of this the fact that I was a Jehovah’s Witness who was not allowed to salute the flag, celebrate birthdays and Holidays, or participate in any school activities.
I was afraid of the final bell at school. I knew that its ring meant I better rush out and run home as quickly as I could before someone caught hold of me and beat me to a dirty mess. I was afraid of getting home for fear of the unpredictable mood of my stepmother. I lived with butterflies in my stomach from the moment I woke up until it was time to go to bed. I don’t know how I slept at all. When I visited my mother the butterflies only intensified as I wanted to so badly tell her the truth. I thought I would explode into a million pieces. I believed physical punishment was what I deserved. It became a part of who I was. Alone in my room at night, just before I was to go to bed, I would pretend to beat myself up, punching myself in the head, stomach or wherever my fists landed. If I was home alone I really went at it, crashing into the wall or throwing myself down to the floor as hard as I possibly could. This was my own private rabbit hole, and I dove full force into it whenever possible. I began to reason that if I could hurt myself worse than anyone else could that I would become immune to the pain that others inflicted upon me. I would use this strategy several times over later in life, hurting myself with drugs or alcohol, trying to find a way to numb the pain while intensifying it at the same time.
I am much older now and I am no longer that little boy or even the twenty-one-year old version of myself that found new rabbit holes to crawl into. I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven my mother. But as much as I want to say I forgive my father and stepmother and set myself free from the hate and the anger that loves to live inside of me, its a real struggle to do so. They don’t speak to me today because I am no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Its probably just as well. I’ve learned that they are more than flawed, they are evil. Evil for not protecting their offspring, evil for inflicting emotional and physical harm on all of their defenseless children. They have created a kind of damage that takes years of self-reflection and determination to undo. They claim to believe in a higher power who will judge each and every one of us when the end comes, and I certainly hope they’re right. In the meantime, I’ve broken the chain and have become the best person and parent I know how to be. That’s what my children, and my children’s children deserve.
May the new year bring peace and blessings to you all.