The summer of 1978 started out like any other childhood summer. It was perfect. No school. We could hang with friends as much as we wanted. We could play outside all day – provided we got our chores completed. Plans had been made to take each of us kids on the road with him that summer. We were all excited and looking forward to it. One-on-One Time with Daddy. There was so precious little of it.
The summer of 1978 is when my father, the man who is half of my gene pool, decided he had enough of family life. It was the 4th of July weekend – the beginning of July. The last words out of his mouth were, “See you this weekend!”
The weekend came and went. No Dad. The next weekend came and went. And the next. And the next. No phone call. No “Hi,” “Bye,” “Kiss my ass,” nothing. Weeks passed and before we knew it, school was back in session.
Months passed. The holidays were fast approaching. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year – 1979. Dad’s Birthday. Valentine’s Day. Mom’s Birthday. Easter. All five of our birthdays – May, June, September, November. The months have now turned into years.
After he left for good, life as we knew it ceased. Not only had he left my mother to raise five children alone, he left her with all of the bills. Mama only worked part time. There was not a full time position at the hospital for her at the time. Did he realize just how completely devastating his abandonment was? Did he know after he kicked his family to the curb like a piece of shit stuck to the bottom of his shoe, ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ was going to grow up thinking, feeling and believing she was nothing more than said piece of shit? Did he even care?
The happy-go-lucky child I used to be was no more. My childhood flew out the door the minute my father started screwing around on my mother when I was eight. I had a shit-ton of responsibility heaped upon my young shoulders. Responsibility meant for an adult. After he left the final time, I became an angry, sullen teenager.
When he was home, we were by no means well-off financially. However, it was not nearly as much of a struggle as it became once he bailed. We fell hard and we fell fast. People considered to be at ‘Poverty Level’ were well-off compared to where we were.
After he left, we started getting ‘free’ lunches at school. We lived off of Government cheese and peanut butter. Spaghetti was not reserved for just a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Hot dogs and macaroni and cheese became an almost nightly occurrence. As long as we had bread, milk, butter, hamburger and hot dogs, there was plenty to eat. Except . . . There are only so many combinations one can come up with before one gets sick of the sight, smell and taste of those foods.
Every dime my mother earned went to pay their (my parents) debt down. After she bought the few groceries she could, there was nothing left over. There literally was no money left for ‘luxury’ items such as sanitary napkins. Ever heard the phrase, “She’s on the rag”? I know where it came from. It is what we had to use.
When it came to changing over for gym class and I had my period, I would refuse ‘to dress’ because I was embarrassed and ashamed. Not one of my friends ever knew that particular secret. We (my mom, sisters and I) dealt with that for a year.
In the summer of 1979, I was 13. I was old enough to get a summer job. My mother had signed me up for the Summer Youth Employment Program. I qualified because we were considered ‘underprivileged.’ Out of every paycheck, I was allowed to keep like $20 but had to hand the rest over to my mother. She needed it to help keep a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs, but I did not understand it at the time.
When working, I became very adept at displaying the ‘happy, carefree’ persona. I did not let people see the ‘real’ me. They would not like the ‘real’ me. The ‘real’ me was a very scary, dark, twisty, evil person. However, I knew I could not show the ‘real’ me because my mom really needed the extra income I brought in.
I was so good at keeping the ‘real’ me hidden, I actually won “Employee of the Year” and “Employee of the Month” awards two straight years in a row. It also helped I had inherited both parents’ work ethic.
I became hell-bent on self-destruction. I did not care about anyone or anything. I did not care if I lived or died. Drinking? Check. Smoking? Double-check. Sneaking out and running the streets? Check. Runaway from home? Did that, too. Anger problem? Born with that. There was not much I did not try or do.
Mom tried getting us into counseling. She had five children. Each and every single one of them needed help to process what our father did. The first guy she took us too was an asshole. He had no ‘bedside’ manner. He acted like he was doing us a big favor. I shut down and refused to talk to him. My siblings pretty much did the same thing. Mom tried taking us back a few more times. Each time we went, it would be nothing but a staring contest. We did not want to be there. And we damn sure did not want to talk to him. Eventually, she stopped taking us.
At 16, I realized I needed help. Since Mom worked at the hospital, she had access to psychologists. Mom hooked me up with Ann. Ann was this bubbly, happy, beautiful woman. Meeting her, I could tell she genuinely cared about her patients. She never rushed me during any of my sessions. It was something I needed.
Ann helped me to understand and process the anger, bitterness, hurt, sorrow, anguish, betrayal, resentment and hatred I felt toward my father. She helped me to work through the resentment and anger I had toward my mother. She helped me to see my mom would not intentionally take my money ‘just because.’ Mom needed it legitimately in order for her to keep the house we live in and the food on our table.
I wish I could say everything was ‘peaches and cream’ after seeing Ann for about a year or so. It wasn’t. Seeing her only helped to bring me back from the edge. Ann brought me to the point where I could see a pinpoint of light in my world of darkness. I still had a long, long, long way to go . . .