Updated: Jun 6, 2019
I could feel the gravel writing passages on the bottom of my feet as I walked slowly over it, messages of concern and confusion, right next to the abstract drawings the grass had completed minutes earlier. I cried very briefly when I'd left, but now I just walked in confusion. I had no wallet. I had no money. I had no car keys. I had no shoes. She'd made sure I was destitute as she yelled at me to leave.
My best friend's apartment was roughly four miles away. I would head there, I thought. Surely along the way someone would let me borrow some change to call her or my other friend, Lee Ann. Luckily, the sun had already gone down so the weather was bearable, as much as weather in Baytown, Texas can be. I had recently graduated high school. I was supposed to be preparing for college. I truly had no clue what that meant. No one in my family had ever gotten this far. But what would this do to those plans?
She'd given me no reason for kicking me out. I'd bought a six pack of Sierra Mist from Target moments earlier when Lee Ann and I were shopping. She'd asked if she could have one. I rolled my eyes. I'm trying to remember why I did it. Eye rolling comes so naturally to me that I often don't know I'm doing it. My mom and I's relationship, at that point, was held together by the tiniest of threads. Not a week or two before this incident, I'd come late on a Friday night. I'd just left our choir banquet, one of a few senior events I had looked forward to for months. It ran longer than expected, and I was too caught up in the festivities to realize it.
I called her from outside our apartment, "You need to find somewhere else to stay then." I didn't understand the level of anger she possessed towards me during my senior year until recently. Nearly every major event that transpired from prom to the choir banquet was overshadowed by her anger. She didn't want me to go to prom so she gave me no money. I was working part time, but those checks went directly to her. I can assume what those funds were spent on. Easier for her to hide money that wasn't her husbands. My DVD collection was my most prized asset. I pawned 99% of them. I got a little over $200. After prom and the festivities were over, she was pissed. What I didn't know then that I wholeheartedly believe now is that she was hurt that she was losing me. For years I played the role of her spouse, at least emotionally.
I was the constant "man" in her life. When she'd been beaten by one of her loser exes, I was the one to help dry her tears and tell her that everything was going to be okay. I remember doing that at 4 years old. When she needed to vent about one of those boyfriends, I was the one she vented to. I thought this was my role in the household and that this was normal. All little boys who didn't have a strong male presence at home were supposed to take on the role of "man of the house." I've learned after years in therapy, this is a form of abuse called emotional incest. Now, let me preface by saying (cause I still HAVE to defend her, luckily I see my therapist tomorrow), I don't believe this was intentional on her behalf. She was raised by an abusive father. She never learned emotional coping skills or what a healthy relationship looked like. She certainly was not equipped to have children. Alas, I exist.
For those unfamiliar with the topic, covert or emotional incest is when a parent relies on a child for the kind of emotional support a spouse typically provides. This is incredibly damaging to the child's emotional development as well as their ability to have healthy relationships. Children who endure this type of abuse are often seen as "wise beyond their years" or "old souls." They never got a chance to be anything else. Childhood was not an option. Emotional abuse took many forms over the years from forcing me to grow up to meet her emotional needs to keeping me from developing any sense of self. There were many things I couldn't do throughout the years: no riding a bike, no boy scout trips, no being different, and no getting too close to friends. My friends were often made fun of behind their backs or even sued, as was the case in high school when my mom convinced my sister to sue one of my best friends who'd gotten into a minor fender bender with my pregnant sister in the car. Needless to say, she didn't come around often after that. If I did anything to deviate from the family norm, say, for instance liking mustard when everyone else ate mayonnaise, I would be hit with, "Paul , why do you have to be different?."
As I went into high school, my stepfather was working shift work at a local plant, and my mom's addiction kicked into overdrive. To this day I loathe the drug Xanax. Up until that point, pain killers (I learned the names of all of them at the age of 13, quiz me) and weed were her mainstays. But during my sophomore year, my grandfather passed away and the anxiety she suffered after that was crippling. A "normal" person might think that the passing of someone who abused you so heinously would set you free, but such isn't always the case when that person led to your creation. Then came that X word, which seemingly solved the anxiety but opened up a Pandora's box of hell for the family. During those nights my stepdad was working, I would often catch my mom nodding out on the couch with a lit cigarette in her mouth. I'd do my best to carry her to bed while keeping our home from burning down.
It just kept getting worse. As I started working more regularly in my senior year, my mom demanded my paychecks, getting furious when she'd found I'd cashed one of them and attempted to get a bank account. How dare I? All the while home life was becoming more and more unbearable. She refused to give me a key to our house so on nights when I had to work, she'd hide a key somewhere on the porch, but often forgot to do that and so I'd sit on the porch waiting for her to realize it I was still out there.
On Christmas break in 2001, I worked every single day, sometimes 15 hour days. Movie theaters were (and perhaps still are) exempt from overtime laws. I didn't see a single dime of that money, but I didn't work for the money. It was an escape, in recovery talk this is known as a manifestation of the disease of addiction. The irony in all of this is that she was terrified of seeing me leave her but doing everything she could to push me away.
I was not a perfect child. I was 18 years old with a head full of unresolved trauma combined with surging hormones and a repressed attraction for members of the same sex. You know, the picture of sanity. What I needed was someone to confide in, ideally a parent. The closest person I had was my best friend whom I absolutely adored. She was the smartest person I knew and absolutely gorgeous. If there was one young woman I think I could force myself to be with, it would've been her. God, does that read as awful as it sounds in my head? I once gave her a box of Valentine chocolates and ran away before I could hear her tell me how hideous I was. She NEVER said that, but for a while I thought that was the reason she'd never date me. That isn't to say we didn't go out. We were always going out, mainly to movies where I'd stare at her hair and accidentally spit lettuce on her. Boy was she missing out on something by not calling me her boyfriend.
I told her almost everything, at least as much as I thought she could handle. Early on in my life I learned that most of my peers couldn't bear the weight of my story. They'd either shy away from me altogether or share it with others to gain favor with them, no matter the emotional toll it took on me. But such is life. She got to see my mom's addiction in all its splendor, and I never felt like she judged me for it or pulled away like her predecessors had. She'll never truly know how grateful I was for that, even if it threatened her safety, as it did the night my mom nearly ran off the road nodding out from Xanax while attempting to drive her home.
All I wanted. All I needed. Was air. A moment to breathe. From my brother's murder to a childhood spent witnessing domestic violence and sexual abuse to more domestic violence with my sister now as the perpetrator and finally watching my mother abuse herself and the rest of the family in the process. I'm not sure how I hadn't cracked by the age of 12. If the worst thing I could do was roll my eyes at the age of 18, I believe I was holding on pretty well.
Did an eye roll warrant being thrown out of the house? No. Maybe it was her twisted way of setting me free. Maybe I give her too much credit. Maybe I'll never know why. I've spent a lot of unproductive time questioning the whys of life and not moving forward. The other night, on the way home from a 12 Step meeting, I heard that why question again, from my inner voice. "Why are you continuing to punish yourself? When is enough truly enough?" I've spent my entire life up until Sunday, June 2nd, 2019 blaming myself for not standing up to stop Cosmo (yeah that was his name) from hurting my mom and to stop John from harming my sister and for my mom diving deeper into her addiction after I gave her so much hell for her marijuana usage (Thank you Nancy Reagan and D.A.R.E.). None of these were my fault.
I decided years ago that I wouldn't have children. Granted, I'm gay and it's pretty easy not to accidentally procreate. But even if I was straight, I wouldn't want to carry on this family pathology. Some generational curses require a lot of work, and I'm barely getting into the depths of this.
Just weeks after this incident and after my mom had come to the motel I was living at to apologize and bring me home, I heard her and my stepdad talking while I was dressing. The previous night some man pounded on the door demanding to be let in while she and I were home together. Our porch light was burned out so I couldn't see him. Flight or fight kicked in. I used some choice words to tell him to leave or else. He left. I have no idea who that man was or what he wanted. My mom told my stepdad this man "was a demon," and that I had invited him to our house because I was gay. I couldn't and wouldn't let her kick me out again. I packed up my things, went to work, and never looked back. I spent a week or so living in my car behind the restaurant I worked at. After that, I then spent a few weeks sleeping on my co-workers dining room floor, just to save up the money for a deposit on an apartment.
I try, emphasis on try, to find the lesson in everything. What did I learn from this entire ordeal?
I am stronger than I tell myself. I am capable of living in a car. I am capable of living in a motel and busting my ass daily waiting tables to pay each night. There are people in this world that truly care and accept me just as I am.
I think twice before denying someone fifty cents. It took three miles before someone let me have two quarters to use the phone and that wasn't from a lack of asking.
I wasn't meant to go to college then. I had to endure some more to learn the value of my story and gather the strength the share it. This is my calling. I received a higher education than any doctoral program would've given me. I will still get my Bachelor's and even Master's just so I look good on paper :)
Home is that place I've always longed for, a place of security and serenity. At 35, I'm finding my way there, one step at a time.