Finally, I’m getting around to posting this last part of my story. It will be in two parts, because it’s going to be so long.
After Michael kicked me out of our home in 2003 (which by that time was in foreclosure), I had no job, no place to go, and no friends or family who would take me in. Michael told me I couldn’t take the children with me, and since I had no place to go, it was obvious that for the time being they would have to stay with him.
I had just been released from the psychiatric center for Major Depression and severe PTSD, and I still wasn’t all there. I was medicated too, so that numbed my emotions even more. So I didn’t try to fight his demands, even though I could have. I could have gone to the local chapter of Helpmate, an organization that helps battered women. Even though I wasn’t battered physically (usually, unless he was drunk), the type of abuse I had just suffered was even worse because it was so insidious and soul destroying.
As for the children, I didn’t think there was anything I could do. I had no place to go, and couldn’t them with me to wherever I’d have to stay.
I had 30 days to leave. I wanted to leave right then and there, but my daughter’s 10th birthday was coming up so I wanted to stay around for that. But the next two weeks were torture. Michael and his flying monkey Rachel amped up the volume to full blast on their mind games and gaslighting, and the shitty car I had access to was taken away from me so I couldn’t leave until they wanted me to. Rachel took away my car keys. If I needed something, I had to ask for it. I was a prisoner in my own home. I’m convinced they wanted to keep me around just to torment me.
My daughter’s birthday was miserable. Molly was depressed. Michael and Rachel used her to triangulate against me and my son, who was also treated horribly. I think a part of Molly hated being in this role, but she knew she didn’t have a choice if she didn’t want to become a target herself. It was an awful thing to do to a child.
I left the next day. I had $1,000 in my pocket and the old car. Michael and Rachel didn’t say goodbye. Ethan wept quietly in his room. Molly said goodbye but didn’t hug me. Paul was the nicest. He came over to the car window as I was pulling out of the driveway and whispered “you don’t deserve this.” I don’t know if I was imagining things or not, but I thought he had tears in his eyes. Paul was a nice guy, but was very weak willed and as much under Rachel’s control as I was. The only difference was he wasn’t a target. He had pretty much kept to himself the whole time they lived with us, staying out of the hate campaign but not fighting against it either.
So I drove 11 hours to New Jersey, where an old friend was letting me stay with her for a week. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I became fatigued and had to find a motel to stay in for the night. In my room, I thought about the gravity of what had just happened. I thought about my children and wondered if I’d ever see them again. I thought about how emotionally damaged they both were by Michael’s mindgames. I thought about Ethan’s love of Twix bars and his silly grin and hair that stood straight up when he got up in the morning. I thought about how sweet Molly could sometimes be and the way she still slept with her threadbare puppy at night. I thought about the way they both ate cereal straight out of the box. And for the first time in many months, I cried.
But I had to keep going, somehow. The next day I met my friend in New Jersey and accompanied her on her pet sitting job. I helped her with the animals. The animals were therapeutic for me, and I felt almost happy when I watched them or stroked their fur. I felt like they understood me and what I was going through. I would have liked to stay with my friend longer, but it wasn’t possible, and after a week I drove back to North Carolina, and crashed with another old friend for about a month. Things didn’t work out too well and the friend resented my having so much “stuff” (I had only brought 4 bags out of the car) and finally told me it was too crowded (it was a one bedroom apartment) and I would have to go.
I was almost out of money. In the nick of time, I found a job in a gas station and moved into the local women’s homeless shelter. The shelter actually wasn’t too bad. It was midsummer and there was no air conditioning (and I had a sore tooth that later had to be pulled but the pain kept me up at night), but the rooms were okay, and I only had to share my room with one other woman, a crackhead in her 60s. We didn’t get along. So I stayed out most of the time, if not working, then just going to the library, walking around the mall, or driving around. A few times I went to church to pray. I didn’t have the money or energy to do anything else. There was no room in the room for any of my stuff, so I kept everything in the car. I had to bring up my change of clothes from the car every night and lay it on the bed for the next day.
During this time I had several conversations with my parents. My mother feigned sympathy but offered no help. She kept asking me “what are you going to do about the children?” or saying things like “A good mother would keep her children with her.” Oh, the hypocrisy was stunning–these words coming from a woman who had given up her own two daughters for a man. She knew I could do nothing and had no place to take them. I think she was deliberately taunting me by bringing it up all the time and making me feel like a horrible mother.
It was my father who finally came through. In spite of his drunkenness and physical punishments of me as a child, I don’t think he was psychopathic. Under all that anger, I think he cared about me and the children. But he was deep down a weak man who always allowed himself to be manipulated by narcissistic women. The first time I had asked for his help, his wife (a narcissist who controls all their funds) said no. She told me I was an adult and had to pull myself up by my bootstraps and shouldn’t be asking them for help. I never felt so unsupported. No one cared!
As a requirement for staying in the shelter, I was seeing a counselor, who asked me if my parents would help me pay for a small place I could take the kids. I told her they would not, but she took it upon herself to call my father anyway. Somehow hearing a professional voice instead of mine convinced him, and his wife grudgingly agreed to help me pay for an apartment on a month to month basis.
So I moved into a cute one bedroom. During this time, the kids had been living with Michael, and because our home had been foreclosed on, they had all moved to a rented house in town. I found out my poor son Ethan was required to do all the work and made to sleep in the basement. He didn’t get one of the bedrooms, though everyone else did (even though the two girls had to share). Ethan was constantly taunted about being gay (even though he was years from coming out). When he fell down on his bike one day, Rachel just stood and laughed at him. This shattered my heart.
The kids moved in with me. Ethan was thrilled, even though he had to sleep in the living room (Molly and I shared the only bedroom). At nearly 14, he was developing a love of computers and spent hours playing with the boxy old desktop I had picked up at Goodwill. We had no Internet (I couldn’t afford it, or cable either) but he had loads of games he would play and he opened up Word to write poetry and song lyrics. He was a quiet and well behaved kid, who also loved to ride his bike and sit outside on the tiny deck, watching nature. He was fascinated by weather, and set up a little homemade weather station outside he had put together with a kit.
Molly was sullen and clearly didn’t like being with me anymore. She thought I was boring. Molly was then and still is addicted to chaos and all too often, the wrong kind of excitement. She can be a drama queen. She may be borderline or God forbid, even narcissistic, but she, like me, has been diagnosed with severe PTSD.
It was 2004 and Molly was 11, turning into a physically beautiful girl, but preteen angst mixed in with hatred for me, fueled by the brainwashing she had received. Our time together was awkward and forced. When I’d tell her to do something, she’d refuse or make a sarcastic remark, usually repeating something Michael and Rachel had said about me. Most of these things were lies. The worst was when she told me Michael and Rachel had told her the reason I left was because “your mother is selfish and doesn’t love you anymore.” I was stunned by this incredible lie. I told Molly it wasn’t true at all, and I loved her very much and she shouldn’t listen to them, but I don’t think she was convinced. To this day, there’s a rift in our relationship due to their gaslighting and triangulation that made her believe I didn’t love her. It’s gotten better and she does realize now she was lied to and manipulated. But the wounds haven’t completely healed and it’s still having repercussions in our relationship and her behavior today. She is also showing disturbing early signs of being narcissistic. But more on that later.
I wasn’t thinking straight and was making terrible choices. I got back together with the man who had gotten Michael and I in trouble for the marijuana 3 years earlier. This was a huge mistake, as he tried to take over and criticized how I was raising my children, who he thought were spoiled. They both couldn’t stand him, and after a few months, I decided I couldn’t either, and gave him the leave ho. He continued to call me for a couple of years after that, but after a while, I just started hanging up on him. Finally he gave up.
In the meantime, Michael was trying to worm his way back into our lives. Rachel and Paul had thrown HIM out of the house, and he started love bombing me and the kids, acting all simpering and apologetic, even saying he was sorry for everything he put me through. He bribed me to let him live in our tiny one bedroom by promising to be a better dad, and cooking dinner every night. He also had a job and offered to help me pay the bills. Mainly because Molly did seem much happier with him around (and I believed his empty promises) I stupidly conceded.
Michael didn’t become abusive this time, but he became loud. He was never a quiet person, but he was smoking pot constantly and when he was high, his voice became loud and he blasted his horrible music. The downstairs neighbors, who were elderly, complained the the landlord several times, and we were finally asked to leave.
Luckily I had a better place to go with the children, and the timing was perfect. The apartment we were living in had been a month to month arrangement, and my father had told me he could no longer afford the rent payments (actually his wife just didn’t want to foot the bill anymore). I didn’t earn enough at my job at the gas station to pay the whole rent, so we had to leave anyway.
I had been working with an organization called Interlace, which works with single mothers and children who have been victims of abuse. They’re a fantastic organization, and they provide free housing on an 18 month basis. The only thing they required was covering the utility bill, being available for weekly home visits and attending monthly group meetings. The group meetings were fun. Dinner was always served, and after the meeting, there was usually some group activity, usually involving arts and crafts, that both mothers and their kids participated in. They also sponsored group picnics and other events.
So we moved into a clean, well kept 3 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment with more storage space than I’d ever had in my life. There were two levels and there was even a tiny room (really an oversized closet) under the stairs that the kids had a lot of fun redecorating into a little private domain complete with large pillows, stuffed animals (both kids still loved their fluffies) and an old black and white TV that actually worked.
There were rules too. The most important one was no overnight visitors, even family members. That didn’t stop Michael from trying to manipulate and sweet talk his way in. He convinced the kids (even Ethan) that we were better together as a real family and they needed a dad. I told him it wasn’t allowed but he promised to be quiet and never answer the phone or the door. I was so broken down and afraid of him I broke the rules and said yes. Every day I was terrified we’d be discovered (we could have been thrown out), but we never were. Fortunately the weekly home visits were scheduled ahead of time, so I always made sure he was out when the counselor came over. No one suspected a thing, and the neighbors didn’t care.
But Michael didn’t stay long. After a few months, he started acting cranky again, and he was out a lot more. I didn’t mind his absence, but Molly did. She was still sullen and snippy and her grades dropped from A’s to mostly C’s and D’s. She acted like she didn’t care about anything.
It turned out he had a girlfriend. She had her own apartment and asked Michael to move in with him. Strangely, I was jealous. Or maybe just resentful because I felt I’d been duped and used. After all the hell he put me through, he actually dared to leave me? But overall, I was relieved–until one day Molly told me she wanted to live with him and not me.
Molly had been spending a lot of time with Michael and his new girlfriend (I’ll call her Heather) and always seemed in a much better mood after she had been with them. She spent less and less time at home, and there came a point where I hardly ever saw her anymore. Michael and Molly both told me Heather was a much happier and more positive person than I was, and they both preferred her company to mine. Later it turned out she was a drug addict; that probably explains the “happiness.”
Molly said if I didn’t allow her to live with them, she would hate me forever. Oh, she was good at manipulating her mom–she had learned from the best. She actually cried and said if I made her stay she’d be so miserable she might kill herself. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I allowed it.
Finally, in early 2006, the divorce came through. I had agreed to joint custody, not wanting to anger Michael and fearing what he might do if I “took his kids away from him.” I also didn’t want Molly to hate me by not allowing at least partial custody. So although technically we both had joint custody, the kids were allowed to choose. Ethan remained with me and occasionally visited Michael and Heather (when they wanted him around, which wasn’t often–he got on their nerves), and Molly of course got to live with them.
If I had any idea of what was actually going on in their home (I was so naive and trusting back then), I would have grabbed my daughter and ran.
Michael was regularly drinking again, and now mixing alcohol with pot AND pain pills. Heather turned out to be a pill addict and also a heavy drinker, and a number of times Molly couldn’t get to school because no one was sober enough to drive her (and there were no buses in the rural area they lived in). There were parties every weekend, where Heather’s friends, a motley crew of crackheads, meth addicts, drunks and assorted addict, came over to the house. Molly was only 12 going on 13. But that didn’t stop Heather from letting my daughter try “just one pill”or have a drink or two.
The police were called on a couple of occasions because of the fighting. Michael and Heather got into violent arguments. Unlike me though, she wasn’t afraid of Michael. She finally reached her limit and one night tossed him out, along with all his belongings. Molly had to come back home with me, but by now she had developed a taste for both drugs and alcohol, thanks to Heather’s “education,” and became worse than ever.
Michael disappeared after that. I had no idea where he was and none of us, not even Molly, heard from him. Molly hated this and missed her father, but I was relieved and secretly hoped he was dead.
At the gas station, I was promoted to assistant manager, and although were were still pretty poor, I could afford a few nice things now and a new car. Our 18 months in the Interlace apartment were up, and just in the nick of time, our Section 8 came through. We moved into a charming Craftsman style two family house. We rented a three bedroom apartment on the ground floor with a front porch and a deck in the back. Section 8 paid half of the rent. And we were finally allowed to have a pet–one dog only, but that was fine. Daisy, our dog who had been a gift for Molly’s 6th birthday, been living with Heather and Rod (and various friends before that), but she was growing older and was a little arthritic, so she came home to live with us. Daisy was so happy to be home.
Molly’s drug problems were beginning to affect her at school, and her behavior at home was becoming frightening. She started wearing long sleeves all the time and when I asked why, she changed the subject. But one night I saw red marks on her wrists and forearms. She was cutting herself. When she was in 8th grade, she was caught at school with several Klonopins (she said she had gotten from her dad), which she was sharing with her friends. She was caught, and suspended for two weeks. It was at the end of the school year, so even though she got her diploma, she wasn’t allowed to attend her own graduation ceremony.
I was slowly becoming fat. I smoked too much. I was stressed and miserable, and other than work, I had no interests except eating, reading crappy novels, and watching court shows and sometimes movies on TV. I was becoming the “slovenly” mother Rachel had accused me of being several years before. I was emotionally numb, yet also prone to to occasional fits of anger that at times became violent. Either nothing affected me, or it affected me too much and I overreacted. Most of the time I felt like I was an autopilot, just going through the motions of life. There was no beauty or joy in my world, and all I could see ahead was a vast emptiness that stretched out until death. But I plodded along like an ailing cow, accepting that this state of affairs was normal. In fact, I was showing symptoms of unresolved PTSD.
My only ray of hope anymore was my dog Daisy, and my son Ethan, who was becoming a sort of guardian angel to me. By default, he was now the man of the house, and became a responsible teenager, getting himself up for school and always at the school bus on time, and always doing his homework. He had always been a B and C student, but he began to apply himself more and started getting A’s and even on the honor roll. When he was home, he was quiet and spent most of his times on the computer playing video games, posting on entertainment and racing forums, and setting up his own car racing forum. He also started making short films with his beloved new digital camera my father had bought for him. From the get go, it was evident he was talented. Soon he transferred from the regular public school to an adjunct school that specialized in computers and technology.
The more mature Ethan became, the worse his sister got. She was addicted to MySpace (we’re up to 2007 now, and that was still the most popular social network of the time) and without my knowledge, met a man online 7 years older than herself. Ben had been in prison for fraud, but passed himself off as a “good guy.” He wasn’t.
I need to take a break and eat something, so I’ll post the next part of this story in a little bit.