“Ordinary People”: a case study in malignant narcissism.

ordinary_people

I remember when I first saw this 1980 Academy Award winning movie being quite triggered by it, because the main character, Beth Jarrett (played convincingly by Mary Tyler Moore) reminded me so much of my mother, all the way down to her impatient, flippant mannerisms, fake cheerfulness, and clipped speech. And at the time I felt very much like the teenage son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who was clearly suffering from a severe case of PTSD and depression, which no doubt had its roots in his mother’s emotional abuse and coldness.

“Ordinary People” (directed by Robert Redford) is about an upper middle class family from the Chicago suburbs, but the individuals involved are certainly not ordinary–or at least you hope they aren’t. Moore’s Beth Jarrett is a high-spectrum malignant narcissist who cares only about her social position and status and the appearance of having “the perfect family” and “the perfect life.” She is always perfectly dressed and coiffed, and can pour on the fake charm whenever she is trying to impress their friends and colleagues. Beth’s husband Calvin (Donald Sutherland) provides his family with their affluent lifestyle and is a good man who cares deeply for his family but is codependent to his narcissistic wife, who makes endless demands on him to keep up the image of perfection, and you can see from his demeanor it’s destroying him.

Their son, Conrad, is his mother’s scapegoat, and while she never actually says so, it’s clear that she blames him for the accidental boating death of her Golden Child, Buck (shown only in flashbacks). Conrad was with Buck at the time of the accident, and suffers from survivor’s guilt in addition to PTSD which was probably caused by his mother’s horrific treatment of him as well as his guilt over the accident, because he was unable to save his older brother’s life. The movie begins just after Conrad has been released from the hospital after a suicide attempt. I think there is more to Beth’s hatred of her child than her belief he is to blame for Buck’s accident. I think she hates him because he sees the truth about her, and calls her out on it. He is sensitive and able to see through her mask of perfection to the monstrous narcissist she actually is, and she can’t handle that.

From the very beginning, we can tell Beth despises her depressed remaining child. Her attitude toward Conrad is dismissive and impatient, and she makes no attempt to understand and appears to have no empathy for the emotional turmoil he’s in. She always puts her own needs ahead of her son and husband, and berates Calvin for attempting to understand his son’s pain. There’s not one moment where she shows the slightest shred of sympathy or love for him, and yet on the surface, no one would call her abusive, because of the mask of normality she always wears. Here’s a scene where Conrad attempts to talk to his mother about why they never had a pet–you can see how disconnected Beth is from Conrad’s (or her own) emotions, and Conrad’s hurt comes out as rage.

There’s a heartbreaking scene where the grandparents are present and Calvin is taking pictures. When he asks Beth to pose with her son, she glibly changes the subject to avoid having to SAY she doesn’t want her picture taken with him, but her disgust is obvious. Calvin insists, and Beth smiles with gritted teeth as she coldly stands next to her son. Conrad, who is sensitive, picks up on his mother’s hatred but tries to smile anyway. Beth, still smiling her fake smile, demands that Calvin give her the camera so she doesn’t have to have her picture taken with Conrad, but Calvin keeps insisting. Conrad, fed up and hurt, loses his temper and screams “Give her the goddamn camera!” It’s scenes like this that so brilliantly depict the subtle emotional abuse a malignant narcissist mother inflicts on her most sensitive child.


The camera scene.

Conrad begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch) who begins to get Conrad to open up about his feelings and show his anger. He also begins to date a girl he met in band practice (Elizabeth McGovern), who is upbeat yet understanding and helps bring Conrad out of his shell.

Calvin and his mother seem to be constantly arguing. Calvin tries to referree, but can’t seem to appeal to his wife’s loving nature, because she apparently has none. After one of these arguments, Conrad calls out his mother for never having visited him in the hospital, adding that “You would have visited Buck if he was in the hospital,” to which Beth retorts, “Buck never would have been in the hospital!” This is a clear implication of the higher esteem she held her older son in, who she believed would never have “gone crazy” and had to be hospitalized. Unlike Conrad, Buck would have enhanced, rather than diminished, the image she had of having the perfect life and perfect family.

Beth’s evil really comes out when they go on vacation to Texas to visit with some of Calvin’s colleagues. While golfing, Beth sweetly suggests to Calvin they go on another vacation–which would be during Christmas. Calvin agrees, but suggests they should bring Calvin along with them because he might enjoy the trip. To this, Beth flies into a narcissistic rage and loudly berates her husband for always trying to include Conrad in everything. During this rage, she projects her own anger and selfishness onto her husband, who unsuccessfully tries to stand up to her. Later in this clip, there’s a chilling scene after Conrad’s parents return home and Conrad tries to give Beth a hug. Beth’s face stays cold and hard and you can feel the hatred and disgust she has for her child while she barely returns his embrace at all.


The golf scene and “the cold hug.”

Conrad finds out his friend Karen from the hospital (Dinah Manoff) has committed suicide. Frantic, he makes an emergency appointment with Dr. Berger, and shows up in his office in a broken state. He rages and then sobs uncontrollably and everything comes pouring out: the whole story about the night Buck died and how he blamed himself, his mother’s hatred for him, and how he was never good enough. Dr. Berger listens and holds him like a parent would a child, and finally Conrad begins to calm down.

Gradually, Calvin becomes more aware of his wife’s malignant narcissism and is beginning to doubt her ability to love anyone but herself. One night Beth finds him crying alone and asks him why he is crying. Calvin asks Beth if she really loves him and she gives him a non-answer, saying “I feel the way I’ve always felt about you.” Calvin admits he is not sure he loves her anymore. He’s beginning to see the soulless monster she really is. Early in the morning, Beth leaves for good, not saying goodbye to her husband or son, leaving them to fend for themselves and try to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives together. No doubt both are much better off this way.


Calvin’s realization and confrontation with Beth.

This is one of the most convincing and well acted movies about the havoc a malignant narcissist mother can wreak on her family I have ever seen, and 35 years later, it still hits home because of the uncanny similarities I see to my own mother (who was not as outwardly rejecting or quite as malignant as Beth Jarrett). Every one of the 9 DSM indicators of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is evident in Beth. If anyone is interested in studying the myriad ways a malignant narcissist inflicts their abuse and scapegoats their children, this movie is the best case study I can think of, outside of having to deal with one yourself. Of course, not all malignant narcissists are upper middle class like Beth is, but even though the specific words and actions may differ from one social class to the next, the manipulations and abuse are always the same.


This trailer shows other scenes of the way Beth emotionally abuses, gaslights,projects, and triangulates against her surviving son.

Crybaby.

kid_crying

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MAY BE TRIGGERING.
I spent the first 13 years of my life almost constantly crying. I was a perpetually squalling cranky baby, a screaming tantrum-throwing toddler, a tearful preschooler, and a school child prone to attacks of uncontrolled crying in public places and embarrassing situations. During my teen years, my crying was downgraded to near-constant sulking and negativity. Tears came mostly when I was angry or frustrated by the time puberty hit. Rage frequently accompanied the tears, or maybe it worked the other way around.

I had the curse of the blonde and fair skinned, so my emotions showed on my face in neon reds and pinks against the white background of my skin. I blushed easily and that was embarrassing enough. I could feel the blood rising up my neck like a sudden wave of heat and my ears would start to burn. My bullies picked on my tendency to blush and would deliberately embarrass or humiliate me to see my ghostly pale face turn as red as a fire engine. If it went on long enough, my lips would start to quiver and there would be tears, and that’s what they were really waiting for–to see me cry.

The crying was awful. I wasn’t a pretty crier; in fact I was ugly when I cried. My skin would turn into a mottled red and pink that looked like a bad case of rosacea, my nose ran like a faucet and turned so red it was nearly purple, and my eyelids turned bright red too and swelled up as if they were bee-stung. It would take hours for these facial giveaways of my pathetic vulnerability to finally disappear.

I had a great deal of difficulty controlling all the intense and confusing emotions that seemed to crash over me like tidal waves when I least expected it. These feelings were just too big for me to handle, and I was so easily overwhelmed by them and had trouble soothing myself (this is an early indicator of BPD and other disorders like PTSD). Whenever I cried I thought I would never stop. No one could calm me down. My emotions were a force of nature too powerful to be tamed. When I wasn’t crying, I felt a constant dull ache in my chest (heart area) and congestion in my throat. Even that early, I knew crying would relieve the tightness and pain, but the crying was like vomiting and sometimes as painful because the intense waves of emotion plowed through me like an out of control bulldozer.

Raised by a narcissistic mother and enabling (possibly low spectrum or covert narcissist) dad, I became the the family scapegoat (made even more crazymaking by the fact that as an “only” in their marriage, I also sometimes served as Golden Child). I was either held on a pedestal that far exceeded my actual abilities/beauty/intelligence/whatever, but most of the time I WAS NEVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM. I questioned myself and everything I did; it seemed I could do nothing right. I wasn’t allowed to do things for myself or speak my mind. I felt awkward and defective in my family and everywhere else too.

Not long after I started elementary school the bullying started. I was the class crybaby and kids always target the kid who cries the most or seems the most vulnerable. I had no defenses at all; I had never been taught any and lacked the confidence to stand up for myself. Things got especially bad in 3rd – 5th grades. During 4th grade, I was followed home every day by a group of kids who laughed and jeered at the way I walked and imitated my walk, as my tears welled and threatened to overflow (no wonder I hate mimes). The bullies would call out to me and sometimes even throw things to get my attention, but I wouldn’t turn around. I just kept on walking. I knew I couldn’t let them see the tears streaming down my face because that would make everything so much worse.

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Morse, was a psychopath with arms like Jello who always wore sleeveless dresses, so whenever she wrote on the board, all that quivering, pale freckled flab hanging from her bare arm made me want to throw up, but I still couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was mesmerizing in a horrible way, like a car accident.

Mrs. Morse knew how sensitive and scared of everything I was. She knew I was bullied by most of the other kids. But she had no empathy for my plight. She was a sadistic bitch straight from the pit of hell. She deliberately called on me whenever I was daydreaming, which was often (no kids got diagnosed with Aspergers back in those days and the idea of “attachment disorders” that lead to later personality disorders was an afterthought in those days), then she would make me stand in the front of the room and answer a question or solve a math problem while she glowered at me like wolf about to pounce and kill their prey. She never did this to the other kids, who were allowed to answer questions from their seat. She deliberately tried to humiliate me, because she knew she would get a reaction.

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One time I couldn’t solve the math problem on the board (which was my worst subject), and she berated and belittled me in front of the class.
“You never pay attention. You’re always daydreaming. Do you have a mental problem?”
The class laughed.
My tongue was in knots and I felt the blood drain from my face. I felt tears burning the backs of my eyelids like acid.
I swallowed hard and tried with all my might not to let a tear loose but they started to flow anyway. I hung my head in shame and rubbed away the tears with my grubby fists as I turned away toward the wall. My narrow back and bony shoulders heaved with silent sobs.
That was exactly the moment this sadistic malignant narcissist who passed for a teacher was waiting for.
“Look everyone! Lauren is crying! Look at the tears! Cry, cry, cry, baby.”
The class burst into screams and hoots of laughter.
“Cry, baby, cry!”
I stood there in front of the class, staring at the floor, snot mingling with my tears, and longed to melt into those scuffed green-gray linoleum tiles, and never return.
In today’s anti-bullying environment, this “teacher” would have been fired for that shit. She might have even lost her teaching license. That kind of thing isn’t put up with anymore.

white_rabbit

Later that year, there was a similar blackboard incident. This time, I was stood in front of the room and told I looked like an albino rabbit when I cried. (I actually did, due to my fairness and my slight overbite.) I was mortified as this unbelievable cruel bitch encouraged the entire class to laugh at my pain and humiliation. I ran out of the room and fled to the library sobbing. The librarian was a sweet and very young woman (probably just out of college) who actually liked me and knew about my love for books. That library was my refuse and the librarian was my friend who understood me. This time, she saw me rushing in like that and held her arms out to me as I crashed into her and sobbed into her warm fragrant neck. We stayed like that for a long time, until Mrs. Morse (accompanied by one of her 9 year old flunkies) came marching in looking for me. Mrs. Morse grabbed me roughly by the arm and marched me back to the pits of hell she called a classroom. Sadly, I looked back at my librarian angel and saw the wetness on her face and her sad little wave.
She knew, and I knew she knew. I’ve never forgotten her. Sometimes in my fantasies I still see her waving at me with that sad tearful smile, and that image gives me comfort and strength.

I think my years of uncontrollable emotional displays came to an end when I was 15. They had already been abating somewhat, replaced with rage and anger, but I had trouble controlling my anger and constant dark moods, even though I wasn’t crying as much. I started to drink and do self-destructive things. I started “talking tough” but inside I still felt anything but.

The year before, when I was 14, my parents divorced and I was taken to live with my mother in the city. She loved it; I hated it back then. We fought all the time, mostly because of her self involvement. My grades slipped and I never did my homework. I was depressed all the time and cared about nothing. When I cried (which was still often) I usually did it alone. The other kids at school didn’t like me. I was never invited to parties, always last picked for softball. I felt intimidated and shy all the time, but I still tried hard to make friends–a little too hard. I fit into no clique (I have never fit into any clique) but there was a group of girls low in the high school pecking order consisting of the geeks and quiet, studious girls. They seemed welcoming enough at first. I saw their small (or more likely, polite) displays of acceptance and wanted so badly to believe they actually LIKED me that I guess I started following them around like a needy puppy.

charlie_brown_linus

I noticed after awhile they avoided me too, and my “birthday corsage” box was proof of my unpopularity, because it was not signed by all the girls and when it was signed, it was just a name. No long flowery messages, no in-jokes, no high-school risque comments, no “you are such a great friend” or “Love ya, Lauren. XXXXOOOOOO” Just…signatures and an occasional terse “Happy Birthday.”

My fears were confirmed later that day. After weeks of avoiding me, the group of nerdy girls approached me and told me they wanted to take me out to a restaurant for my birthday after school. Wanting so much for them to like me I remember grinning like a fool and nodding like the needy puppy I was. Inside I was a little suspicious, but dammit, I wanted to believe them! Maybe their ignoring me had just been my overactive, “oversensitive” imagination after all, and they really did care. Why else would they want to spend time with me on my birthday?

At the restaurant I was picking up a certain tension. The girls kept looking at each other worriedly and wouldn’t look me in the eye. As I ate, I watched their anxious faces. Something was up, and it wasn’t good. I felt like I was going to throw up. I spoke to no one.

Finally, Harriet, the leader of that clique told me she needed to talk to me–privately. I felt like I was on my way to the principal’s office for some transgression. My heart pounded in my throat and I felt tears burn the backs of my eyelids, but I didn’t cry. I bit my lip until it bled and tried to just breathe through my terror.

Outside, she smiled at me sympathetically. Then went on to tell me the real reason they had planned to take me to lunch was because they didn’t want me to hang around with them anymore and didn’t have the opportunity to tell me at school. She actually got tears in her eyes when she said this, and then told me she hoped my feelings hadn’t been hurt. Um…hello? But all I could do was stand there staring at her as if I was cognitively challenged. For the first time ever, I felt emotionally numb. I didn’t realize at the time that would soon become my new way of coping with my pain.

nobody_loves_you

I was traumatized by that rejection. I spent the next two days in bed. I felt sick and couldn’t go to school. I told no one what happened because the shame was too great. I didn’t cry; I couldn’t anymore. I just wanted to sleep forever and maybe die.

After that I couldn’t cry anymore. At least not in most situations that call for it. I had and still have trouble accessing my emotions. It was too scary to let them out, because when I did, bad things happened. It scares me to realize I might have easily become a narcissist, splitting off from all soft emotions, even empathy and guilt. Many narcissists started life this way too, without natural defenses.

I know now whenever I feel that painful tightness in my chest and throat, that means I need to cry. I’m not afraid of it anymore. I want to retrieve my long-ago ability to feel intensely connected to my emotions, because used properly, being an HSP is a gift and a blessing. The big difference will be that I’ll be able to let emotions pass through me freely and be able to express them without shame and without allowing them to overwhelm me or control me.

Godzilla and the gazelle.

wedding

The other day I was cleaning the home of one of my regular customers. I speak to this woman casually, but she loves to talk and always does the bulk of the talking while I mostly remain quiet and make polite noises where I think they need to be.

I can tell this woman, Heidi, is terribly lonely and desperate for someone–anyone–to talk to. I’m not the best person to engage in small talk with, but I try to for her sake, because she seems to need adult companionship even more than she needs her house cleaned (which, truth be told, doesn’t seem to be her #1 priority).

When I first met Heidi, she screamed Victim. Not in a bad, manipulative way, but there was a strange sadness about her that I recognized right away. She seemed so desperate for love and acceptance. She’d ramble on about her religion (she’s a biblical Christian) and her love for birds. She purchases bags and bags of bird food to give to the outdoor birds that populate the thick grove of trees that surround her home.

She is also a hoarder. She had no furniture to speak of, but never throws anything away and keeps ordering stuff from QVC or wherever she orders from–useless things no one needs that she is always trying to give away. She loves to make herbal remedies herself at home using various herbs, and there are bottles and jars of strange concoctions all over her house.

There is a sadness in Heidi’s eyes that her smile and cheerful manner can’t hide. So I wasn’t surprised when she told me that she was divorced and in hiding from her abusive ex husband, who she told me was abusive in every way it’s possible to be abusive. He had left her with nothing, but he continues to stalk her. He drinks heavily. They never had children.

Heidi’s demeanor is sweet, almost naive, although she’s seen more than anyone should ever see, and experienced abuse so horrendous she could have been a war veteran. She even has scars to prove it. Once she showed me the weltlike scars on her back and chest from when he had beat her repeatedly.

sad_angel

I noticed on her small bookshelf are books about PTSD and major depression; the rest are religious books, books of daily affirmations, and several Bibles. She said she was never religious until after her divorce, when she realized how evil the man she had been married to was. Jesus was her only comfort.

Heidi only has a few pictures gracing her plain white walls. The one that takes center stage, placed lovingly in the middle of her living room mantel in a gold-toned embossed frame, both mesmerized and disturbed me. It showed her as a younger woman (but not looking much different) at her wedding. Her smile is radiant and her blue eyes are glistening with happy tears. She was the bride every man dreams of marrying, the bride every mother dreams that her daughter will become. She trusted the man who faced her. She loved him. She looked into a future that promised happiness, security, comfort and a family.

She got none of those things.

I could tell immediately the man in the picture, the man who became her husband, was at the very least a malignant narcissist and very possibly a psychopath. It was his face and body language that gave him away. He too gazed into his wife’s face, and he held her arm, but the odd thing was the way he held his body at a distance from hers. As Heidi leaned forward, he almost seemed to be recoiling from the love she was feeling. He looked stiff, as if he was playing a role. But even more telling was the man’s face. There was no love in his eyes, no warmth, not even liking for Heidi. His eyes appeared cold and dead–small pinpoints of glittering gray-blue that were as absent of emotion as a doll’s eyes. And his smile–if it could be called that–was a smirk. The overall feeling I absorbed from looking at the two of them was a predator who had just captured his prey and was preparing to rip his kill to shreds to be consumed the way a lion rips apart a gazelle he intends to eat.

trapped

Although the picture was taken years ago and she is safely away from that man, I felt afraid for her looking at that photo. My heart felt as if someone had packed it in ice cubes.

Even sadder is that Heidi still appears to be in love with that evil POS, keeping their wedding photo on the living room mantel with two vases of flowers on each side of it, as if it’s a shrine to what they never had.

Looking at that photo made me realize just what the vulnerable of this world–people like Heidi–are up against when they fall in love with narcissistic predators. I hope one day she can move on emotionally and stop loving a man who nearly destroyed her mind and soul, and caused her so much suffering.

Narc attack!

Shark attack

Sigh.
I can’t get rid of them.
Today I thought I died and went to narc hell.

My narcissist sperm donor has finally moved into his own place. I’d been storing a lot of his crap in my house (for no charge) since I kicked him out over a year ago. Many times I felt like just hauling it all to Goodwill but he kept begging me not to so I didn’t. Of course any attempts to collect financial compensation for storing his crap were met with deaf ears or excuses.

So anyway, today he came over to pick up his stuff. I had most of it packed in bags and boxes for him so he wouldn’t have to stay long rummaging through my house. I didn’t want him to invade my boundaries, but of course asking a narc not to invade your boundaries is like asking a mosquito not to bite you. They are every bit as annoying as a mosquito too.

mosquito
He kept walking from one room to the next, trying to take things that weren’t his or that had been both of ours but I wanted to keep. I had to negotiate with him over at least 20 items, including the little bit of wall art that I have, and the few decorative items in the living room. He kept trying to take my little white Buddha that sits next to my bamboo plant in the kitchen. I finally convinced him why I needed to have it (“it makes my plant grow”–it really does!) He wanted to take my geodes off the kitchen sill. I wouldn’t let him have them.

He was here for two hours, wanting to go through EVERYTHING, opening every drawer, rummaging in the closets for things I might have missed (there was nothing of his left), even pawing through all the stuff in the medicine cabinet, the cabinet over the toilet, and the kitchen. I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.

But no, this wasn’t all. I didn’t just have one narc following me around the house going through my stuff–I had TWO! My annoying narcissistic roommate was following us around too. Any time I have company she is ALWAYS out of her room, making sure she’s noticed and hijacking the conversation with her inane blabber. She followed us from room to room, talking nonstop about nothing as usual and asking an awful lot of questions that were none of her business. I finally told her I was stressed and I would prefer she didn’t follow us around asking questions, so she went back in her room (sulking, of course), but 5 minutes later was out again, saying she was “just getting some air.” The nonstop talking resumed. I just tried to ignore her but it was hard.

tired

The ex didn’t take much besides what I had packed, but dealing with him being here and pawing through my belongings felt like a huge violation of my boundaries. Meanwhile being yabbered at nonstop by my idiot narcissist roommate was another type of boundary violation. Even my ex was getting irritated with her.

Can you imagine being in your own home followed around by two narcissists, one who wants to rummage through (and possibly take) your belongings, and another who never shuts the hell up?
After he left (finally!) I was so exhausted I had to take a long nap. They just suck everything out of you. Like vampires.

At least my house feels like mine again and I have a lot more room for my OWN stuff now.

Narcissists as co-parents

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narc_coparent

Seven more years of NPD hell.

Gaslight-2

After Heather tossed Michael to the curb, and Molly returned to our new Section 8 apartment, Michael asked if he could move back in. At first I was resolute and said No (surprisingly he seemed to accept this), but he did have a job and managed to secure a place to stay for a few months–first in a basement room of where he worked (their business was conducted in a huge Victorian house) and later as someone else’s roommate.

Molly was having serious issues at school, and oftentimes didn’t even attend. Several times I was called from my job as a convenience store assistant manager to come pick her up because she was in some sort of trouble again (fighting, stealing a pair of expensive boots, acting “high” at school, etc.) When she was there, she hated it. Since I had to open the store by 6 I had to leave my house before 5 am and there was no way I could remain home to make sure she made the bus. Ethan tried but most of the time couldn’t even get her up (he was very good about getting himself up and to school). The school informed me if I couldn’t get her to school, that I could be charged with neglect and willfully keeping her out of school. It didn’t matter that I had to work and that I had no one else to keep an eye on her. Well, as it turned out, I was fired from my job primarily because of my poor attendance due to disruptions and early leaves caused by Molly, so that sort of solved the problem except she still wouldn’t get up most of the time, even if she was home.

When she was home (which wasn’t often), she was surly and snappish and spent most of her time on MySpace, which was still popular at the time. It was 2007 and she was about 15 by now. For three months she managed to keep her activities a secret from me but eventually I found out she was seeing an older man she met on MySpace (he was 23) who had a jail record for selling drugs. I had given up trying to control what she did. She convinced me not to have him arrested by saying she would kill herself, so I did nothing and prayed for the best. I knew they were doing drugs and kept begging her to stay clean to no avail. She had Medicaid, but refused to see a therapist, although she did agree to go in to be evaluated for medications and that’s when she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Countless times the school called meetings to discuss what to do about her attendance and behavior and I begged them to put her into a special program they had for kids with emotional problems but they said she would have to wait until the following school year.

One day Michael showed up at the door and informed me his last roommate had kicked him out again. He told me he’d been drunk and after he was booted out, he tried to kill himself by running his car into a telephone pole. The pole and the car were totalled, but Michael was fine. He started crying when I still said he couldn’t move back in and started the manipulations, convincing me it would be in my benefit to have him there because he would make sure Molly went to school AND he would help me with the bills. Since Molly was more likely to listen to him than to me (and begged me to let him move back in), I conceded, telling him he would have to find another place to live in three months. Well, that three months turned into almost seven years.

At first things seemed fine. Michael stayed sober, was working, and actually did contribute most of his paychecks to household expenses. Molly’s behavior improved a little–at first. She was still with the older guy but was more cooperative when she was home. However I noticed that she was in her room a lot with Michael with the door locked, or sometimes Ben (her boyfriend) was in there with them. If I tried to interrupt them or ask what they were doing, I got screamed at and told to mind my own business. I tried to listen to what was going on in there–it didn’t sound sexual (which worried me) but it did sound suspicious. One day I found a crack pipe on the floor of her room and questioned her about it. She said it was Ben’s and assured me she wasn’t smoking crack or any other hard drugs. Often I smelled pot smoke coming out from the room so I knew they were smoking pot together a lot. I didn’t think pot was so bad, but couldn’t believe her father would be so irresponsible as to smoke it with his under-age daughter.

crackpipe

I tried to talk to Michael about this, but he refused to listen, at first denying they were smoking anything, and then when he couldn’t do that anymore, telling me I had no right to tell him what to do since I had “gotten him the felony” (this was a refrain I would hear over and over again for the next seven years–he always used it as an excuse to do whatever the hell he wanted). So the three of them continued to get high in her room, leaving me out of everything and treating me rudely when they did talk to me. I was being gaslighted and triangulated against again, although this time, Ethan kept to himself and didn’t get involved in our drama. He busied himself on the computer and refused to participate in any arguments. Good for him!

In 2008 Molly broke up with Ben, but her drug problems had become more severe and I was at my wit’s end. One day I was home and Molly was out on the second-floor deck talking on her phone. I had to pick up a few things at the store and let her know I’d be right back. Twenty minutes later, I came home to find an ambulance in our driveway. My heart pounding, I ran into the house and found out Molly had been straddling the deck and had fallen off onto the ground (she was high). She was taken to the ER and it turned out she had fractured one of her lower vertebrae. She wasn’t too seriously injured but she could have been (and she’s had back problems ever since).

It turned out the be a blessing in disguise because finally, after begging for Molly to go to rehab for so long (and the school would do nothing to help), she was court-ordered to go. The one catch was that the only way Medicaid would pay for her treatment (I couldn’t afford health insurance for her through my job), was if I allowed the state to take custody of her. It was a painful decision but she was 16 and almost an adult anyway. It didn’t mean she couldn’t come home to live with me again. What choice did I have?

Molly was irate that I “gave up custody” of her and at first couldn’t understand why I would do such a thing. (Later on she came to understand and told me I saved her life by doing that).

The rehab was a six month live-in program, and Michael and I were allowed to go see her, although it was required a social worker was always present. The visits were awkward and forced, but she did seem to be improving (even though she hated it). She started gaining weight back and didn’t look so pasty anymore. Finally I felt like I didn’t have to worry so much about her.

Without Molly at home, Michael and I started to get along better, until he got fired from his job. At first he seemed to be looking for another one, but soon it became apparent he was spending most of his time in chat rooms and on political websites. I questioned him and he said no one was hiring. I offered to take him around to look but he always found some excuse. He sweet talked me into buying pot for him, even though I couldn’t afford it.

Meanwhile, Molly graduated from her program and went to live in a group home for teen girls with substance abuse issues. She liked the home and made some friends there (she is still friends with two of the girls), but since she wasn’t being supervised as closely, was able to obtain and use drugs. Pain pills were her drug of choice (but anything would do in a pinch, including alcohol), and one day she was so high she was taken to another residential treatment program in Tennessee. She called me crying, and wouldn’t tell me where they were taking her at first, but that she wanted to kill herself. The program turned out to be a sort of boot camp, where the kids lived in a rustic setting where they had to build their own fires for warmth and live in a cabin even in the cold months. But there was hiking and horseback riding. It was supposed to build character. I hoped it would. She hated every minute of it but on her 18th birthday would be allowed to return home.

When Ethan was nearly 18 he told me he was gay. I assured him I wasn’t upset and kind of suspected out that he was. He started to show more confidence and become more social. But at home he was testy and impatient with both Michael and myself. He hated all the arguing and was out more often. He made friends with a female police officer who worked at his school. He couldn’t take being in the house anymore with all the drama, and moved in with the policewoman for a few more months until he could find another place to live.

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Ethan came back home after his 18th birthday but not for long. In mid-2010 he told me he had met someone online and would be moving to Illinois to stay with him. The guy he met turned out to be a supportive and mature person and they are still good friends today although they’re not together anymore. Of course I worried at first but there was nothing I could do. He was 18 and could do what he wanted, but it was actually the best thing for him.

In early 2011, it came to the attention of the landlord Michael was living with me, and he informed Section 8. I was told to move out by the end of the month. We had very little money and had to move into a trailer in a crappy trailer park that was rife with drug and gang activity (two years ago, someone was found shot to death outside one of the trailers). The toilet in one of the bathrooms was literally falling through the floor and the tub in the other bathroom didn’t work. The rooms were tiny and the walls paper thin. The kitchen wasn’t too bad though and even had a dishwasher, although it broke shortly after we moved in. I sold most of my belongings at a huge yard sale to raise funds for the move.

It was becoming apparent Michael was no longer going to work. He had developed diabetes and complained about the food I bought–I got food stamps, but I still couldn’t afford to buy much red meat and he said he needed it to control his diabetes. He became insulin dependent but had no medical insurance so he had to go to the free clinic to get his doses. He also saw a psychiatrist who had diagnosed him with Bipolar and PTSD (!?!) and prescribed him medication, including Klonopin, which he started to sell for cash. At the end of 2011 he applied for Disability (SSI) and so now had a handy excuse not to look for a job–since he was disabled, he wouldn’t get SSI if he was working (this turned out to be false if he worked part time but I didn’t know that).

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In April 2011 Molly turned 18 and returned home. For awhile she seemed a lot better. Even though altogether Molly had probably only finished one and a half years of high school, she managed to get a GED in just one month because she is very intelligent. She started looking for a job and was hired almost right away, but she never seemed to be able to keep a job for long after that, even though she always found one quickly. She refused to attend college, even though if she had, she would have been able to get government benefits for housing and school until she was 26, as well as continued Medicaid. But she hated all the jobs she had and almost always wound up being fired for getting too involved in interpersonal drama. She told me the more I talked to her about college, the more she didn’t want to go. I left her alone after that.

She had a string of boyfriends who were no good for her, although none were as bad as Ben had been, and the most recent one was clean and sober although his future prospects weren’t that good because he only had a high school education and no ambition. He worked as an auto mechanic but only doing oil changes and inspections and didn’t seem to interested in advancing. When they were together he spent most of their time playing video games, with Molly watching.

At the end of 2012, we moved again, this time to a real house. We lucked out–it was another duplex with two bedrooms and in a nice neighborhood. It was an older house with a lot of character and the original Arts and Crafts windows, and I had fun decorating it and painting it (although I never had much furniture). Michael slept in the living room; Molly and I took the two bedrooms. Michael was becoming unbearably annoying, constantly whining about how sick he was because I wouldn’t buy decent food for him, and watching political shows on TV and whining about how much he hated Republicans (I didn’t care for them much either but his constant bellyaching was irritating and he did nothing to help himself). I told him if he wanted better food he would have to get a job. Of course he refused (“but I’m disabled!”) and every day I’d come home after a long day at work to find him passed out on the couch or ranting about politics on Huffington Post. He never bothered to pick anything up and smoked like a chimney–both pot and tobacco. The living room was a mess, and Molly and I always wound up having to clean it. He never washed the many dishes he used, and they’d be all over the place. Living with him was almost unbearable and I was starting to really hate him. When he was high he acted stupid and oblivious to everything (and was loud); when he wasn’t high he was mean and sarcastic, calling both me and his daughter horrible names. He was so ungrateful, never apologized for anything, and just did whatever the hell he wanted. He made Molly or me go pick up his pot for him (I refused to do it after awhile) and complained about everything. He bought lottery tickets or pot from the money he got from the illegal sale of his psychiatric meds (lottery tickets were another thing I refused to foot the bill for). He ordered us around and stole money from me several times, although he never would admit it and tell me I (or Molly) was imagining things. He acted so entitled. Even Molly was becoming sick of him and we started to become closer.

In early 2013, Michael decided he wanted a dog. We already had one (and also 4 cats), and had said I absolutely could not afford another pet nor did we have the space. But telling Michael no about anything was futile. He always had to have his way. So one day I came home to find him holding a puppy. I told him to get rid of it and he refused, resorting to his old “you’re just an animal hater” guilt tactic. He said if I got rid of the dog, he would kill himself. I let him keep the dog.

I love dogs, but I couldn’t stand this dog. He was a jack russel/Beagle mix, cute but the most hyper dog I ever met. Michael refused to control him or discipline him and the dog pooped and peed all over the rugs, chewed on the furniture and everything else he could, and constantly ran off and would bark uncontrollably. When I complained to Michael about it, he would make excuses like “but he’s just a puppy!” He’d say this even though when the dog was over a year old. Molly and I had no luck training him, but her most current boyfriend was able to get him to stop pooping in the house. However, he continued to run off, and many nights I’d hear him barking somewhere in the neighborhood. Three times neighbors called animal control and the third time, I told them to please just take him away. If it happened again, I would have been fined. Normally I would have felt terrible having a dog taken to the pound (because I have always loved animals) but with this dog I didn’t feel at all guilty. It’s not like I had ever agreed to adopt the dog in the first place.

destroyinghouse

Michael was livid and wouldn’t speak to me for days. He was becoming angrier and more unpleasant and sometimes he just acted downright insane. I think some of the “insanity” was fabricated so he could continue to get all the free meds and also it would help him get his SSI sooner, or so he thought. Just about everything out of his mouth was sarcastic, angry and intended to offend. Half the time he made no sense. He seemed to hate everyone and everything, especially his daughter and ex-wife who were keeping him from being homeless and sacrificing so much for him. He kept saying I needed to be more patient because he was sick with diabetes and had mental problems. He never, ever apologized. I’ve never been a mean person but I didn’t like the person I was becoming around him. I was turning into the bitch he always said I was. I no longer even tried to be nice, and tried to be away from the house as much as possible. When I was home I went in my room and locked the door to get away from him. I had no idea how to get rid of him because he threatened suicide every time I did and I knew if he killed himself my daughter would be devastated. I was afraid how it would affect her. Michael always reminded me of this too, and even threatened to kill himself in her room and warned me how that would really fuck her up. Oh, he was evil alright. He never thought of anyone but himself.

One day in February 2014 I got a phone call at work from Molly telling me to meet her and her boyfriend at the police station. She explained that Michael had lost his temper and beat her up. That was the last straw for me. I no longer cared about his excuses, I wanted him out. The police officer there told us to go to the magistrate’s office if I wanted to press charges and file a restraining order. I did but Molly started feeling bad for him (even though she had her eye blacked and had other bruises on her) and refused to press charges herself.

We arranged to go home and pretend we had all gone to the mall. Later that evening, the police came and took Michael off in handcuffs. He was released the next day but didn’t dare come back. Finally I was free! But I had a lot of work ahead of me.

I’ll write a post later (it won’t be anywhere near as long as this one!) describing what the aftermath of his abuse has been like, and the steps I’m trying to take to recover from years of being under his control.

Held hostage: living with the enemy

trapped

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.