This I Believe

Melissa - Chesapeake, Virginia
Entered on November 21, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, family
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Lost and Found

When my sister called me, one year ago this week, to tell me my mother had died I didn’t cry. She was a hateful woman who made it abundantly clear, from the day I learned language that she despised me and couldn’t wait for me to either move out or die. She’d be fine with either. I didn’t take the hint fast enough so at the age of 14 she gave me a bus ticket to Nevada and 30 minutes to pack. I got off the bus three days later, when the driver told me I had to – I had no idea where I was. All I knew, at that point, was that my mother and step-father’s proclamations about me; that I was worthless, useless, stupid and a waste of skin and air were all true. There couldn’t be any other reason for the years of horrifying physical and mental abuse that I’d endured at their hands– only to end up in a bus station with nothing more to my name than three plastic shopping bags worn-out clothes.

It took years for me to come to terms with the notion that maybe, it was a combination of mental instability and martinis that made my parents so unpredictable, and consequently made me a target. As a young mother and newlywed, I tried to reconnect with my mother, thinking we could find common ground over a beautiful baby. But, like most dreams, this had no chance of coming to fruition. She could only pretend to be kind and generous for a certain amount of time – and then like an actor clawing out of an uncomfortable mask, she would lash out at me, at my baby, at my new family. Cutting her out of my life was a survival skill – I couldn’t undo the damage she inflicted on me, but I could make sure she never tore my son’s spirit. I succeeded. She saw Matt for the last time 18 years ago and she never met Scott or Alex. It was, admittedly, cathartic to exert self-control, and thus end my victimization. My self-imposed exile was complete – my younger stepbrothers and sisters wanted nothing to do with me. Family reunions, weddings, graduations all came and went without me in the picture, and they were absent from mine. The thing is, removing them also meant removing my childhood self from my memory. I had no stories of great adventures with my family of nine to share with my children. To them, I had no family. No aunts, no uncles, no grandparents. If I told them anything, it was complete fluff – a mere glaze of opaque information, on top of a sugary, contrived memory. That was, of course, until I got the phone call.

My mother’s bitter, dying wish was that only her two favorite children be at her side – and that no one else be allowed to come. In his first act as a widower, my stepfather defied her demands and asked my older sister, the only one who knew my address and phone number, to reach out to me. He wanted me to come home to Colorado, to feel welcomed, to be loved. He wanted to tell me how sorry he was and if forgiveness was to be his, he wanted to be a grandfather to my nearly grown children and a friend to me. I cried for a solid week. I cried before I left, on the plane and standing in the doorway looking at my baby brother – now a grown man with a child of his own. I cried for my step-father, not the monster the haunted my childhood, but for the man who found the courage to admit his wrongs, and asked for a second chance. Most of all, I cried because I found the memory of the young girl I had abandoned 30 years before. She was right there where I left her, in the middle of a family of nine