Not Broken Yet

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| This is the 89th story of Our Life Logs |


My parents fought throughout my whole childhood. The very first memory I have is sitting in a car seat by the front door while my parents screamed through the house.

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We lived in a typical Midwestern American suburb in the early 1990s with manicured lawns and fancy cars in each drive way. My neighborhood friends all had loving, gentle parents that would let us run through the sprinklers in their backyards. Once or twice when I was alone in my front yard, crying because my parents had started throwing things at each other, one of the other parents invited me to their house. I spent the afternoon with them, watching cartoons and eating hot dogs.

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For a long time, I was envious of my friends on the block. I would try to spend more time at their houses than at mine. When I turned eleven, my parents seemed to get bored of arguing with each other, and instead turned on me. Suddenly, they proclaimed that I was ungrateful. They stopped letting me play with neighborhood friends and piled on my chores to keep busy. Constantly, they said that I didn’t appreciate what I had, and I would never grow up to be anything.

For the first few years, I worked really hard at being the perfect child. I thought that maybe if I kept my grades high and cared about my appearance, then I could have a happy home like my neighborhood friends.

Eventually, I gave up on the perfect child image–it didn’t seem to be working. My parents ignored every good report card, and still reminded me that I wasn’t good enough for them. In high school, I started skipping class every day. I kissed boys who didn’t know my name and had my first drink of alcohol. At 16, my boyfriend would let me sneak sips from his flask in between classes. I was drunk nearly all the time. At my boyfriend’s parties, he would let his friends pass me around in a circle. I started to say I wanted to stop, he would give me more alcohol, brush the hair out my eyes, and say, “Don’t you love me? Don’t you want to make my friends happy?” I would nod, and the party would continue. I was desperate for love and I believed this was the only way I would get it.

Not Broken Yet-party
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Somehow, I managed to scrap together enough credits to make it across the stage and receive my diploma. A community college took pity on me and let me enroll for classes. My boyfriend got accepted to a college in a different state. So, when he moved, we broke up. I never figured out how he managed to get into such a good school when he was as drunk as I was most of the time.

My parents were still disappointed in me. They made sure to let me know that I wasn’t achieving enough in school, doing enough at home, or worth anything of value to them; they hated me. I hated myself too.

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Without my boyfriend’s dad to buy us alcohol, I was sober all the time. I hated it. I had started relying on the dullness that surrounded my body and my thoughts while I was drinking. The numbness felt better than the shame and humiliation that crept up when I was sober. Shortly after my first semester of college, when I was about 19 years old, I started going around to local bars and stood in the parking lot to find men who would buy me drinks. Some of them took me to their cars or back to their apartments. I barely made it to any of my college classes, preferring to search for affection in all the wrong places.

One night I met him, a gorgeous face with strong arms and icy blue eyes. I was captivated. He was much older than me but seemed to think I was adorable and bought me rounds of drinks until close. I went home with him and stayed every night after that. He lived on the other side of town from where I grew up, in a neighborhood that was a little rough around the edges. He lived among houses that needed repainting and stacks of hay in the backyards that the residents used for target practice. I liked it there. It felt like I finally fit in.

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I stopped going to my college classes all together, so I could spend more time with him or, so I could wait on his couch, smoking cigarettes and drinking until he came back home after work. All I wanted was attention and he gave me plenty. He made me feel brighter than I had since I was a young girl running through the sprinkles at my neighbor’s house.

About three months before my 20th birthday, I woke up very hungover. I went to the hall closet to find some Advil and noticed a box of unopened tampons on the shelf. I stared at it, trying to remember when I had last had my period. A knot settled into my stomach.

That night when I told him that I’d missed a period, he sat in an icy silence. I tried to sit close to him, longing for a comforting hug. What I got was a sharp slap across the face. I was stunned, frozen on the couch with my hand pressed to my burning cheek.

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The next day I made an appointment with a free clinic in the area. Even though I didn’t plan it, and even though I was scared of what would happen, I knew I wanted this baby. I felt like I could start over. I could raise him or her to be happy and smart and loved–everything that I wasn’t. I felt like this baby would give my life a purpose. When I told him that I couldn’t go through with an abortion, he slapped me again. He called me a slut and swore that I would regret this.

He was angry every night after that. He yelled over dinner being lousy, he yelled because the TV wasn’t working, he slapped me over and over again, and I sat in the bedroom crying night after night. I was determined not to drink because of the baby, so nothing numbed the pain. I was raw and falling apart.

Eventually the slaps turned to punches. Bruises covered my arms, legs, and back. I didn’t have friends to call and I knew I couldn’t turn to my parents. This would be just another thing I screwed up. They didn’t even know about the baby.

As my belly grew rounder, he started going out every night. He would come home drunk and smelling of marijuana at two or three in the morning. Sometimes he would pass out on the couch. Other nights he would climb into the bed and on top of me. He held his hand over my mouth when I screamed from the pain. He wrapped his fingers around my throat to silence me.

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He went with me to the appointment where we found out the gender of our baby–a sweet little girl. I daydreamed of pink blankets and hair bows all the way home. I smiled at him from the passenger seat, certain that this would be the end of the bad times.

When we got home and reached the top of the stairs at our apartment, he turned to me. He was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes. I smiled back. This is it, I thought, here comes my happy ending. I was standing right on the edge of the landing. He reached his arms out and I leaned forward. My arms stretched out, I felt his fists slam into my shoulders. And then I was falling.

I landed hard at the bottom of the stairs. My back seared. My eyes stung with tears. I was terrified to move. I didn’t understand what had happened. I’m not sure how long I laid there, but eventually I was able to sit up. I crawled back up the stairs, through the door and into the bedroom.

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Later that night, I stared into the blackness of the bedroom for hours, turning everything over in my mind. I played out my whole life if I stayed there with him. I imagined him hitting me for years and knew that the shame and humiliation that I had been feeling my whole life would never leave. I imaged that one day my sweet girl would make him mad, and he would start hitting her. I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to protect her when that happened. But there was one thing I could do now to protect her forever.

Eventually, I heard him leave. I knew he would be gone for hours and I had a plan. I took his emergency cash, about $500, and put it in my wallet. I filled a backpack of clothes and left as quickly as I could.

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I continually checked the rearview mirror, paranoid that he was following me. I drove for hours. Sometime in the early morning, I found a small motel. I spent all day sobbing. I wrapped my arms around myself and rocked back and forth on the edge of the bed. I waited breathlessly for every kick from my baby.

I found a local clinic the next day and got checked out. Everything seemed to be fine. The doctor’s lips were pressed together tightly, but she didn’t ask me any questions as she examined my bruises. I kept my eyes turned down and didn’t look into her face. How could I have let this happen? It was embarrassing. I wanted to pretend like it never happened.

The doctor referred me to a women’s shelter in the area. I was set up with a room, and was provided with temp work through businesses the shelter partnered with. I did some data entry as I waited for my baby to arrive. The company I was temping for liked my work and asked if I’d like to come back full time after the baby was born. I agreed. I then worked with the shelter to find a one-bedroom apartment.

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My daughter was born on a bright Monday morning, in the early summer of 2011. She was beautiful, with my chin and nose. Her eyes were the same shade of blue as his, but kind and warm. I would lay awake and watch her, grateful that she was healthy.

I saved every penny I could, and we were able to move into a two-bedroom apartment shortly after my daughter turned one. The company I was working for offered to help me enroll in college classes and promised to promote me when I graduated. I stayed up late every night studying and earned my bachelor’s degree. I was exhausted every day, and I thought about quitting several times. Was this really worth it? Whenever I felt like I wasn’t enough, I would look into my daughter’s round, smiling face and feel stronger. She started saving me from the day she was born. She helped me feel strong even when I felt like I had nothing left to give. My promotion came with a pay raise that allowed me to save enough for a down payment on a house with a nice backyard. The previous owners agreed to leave their kids old swing set for my daughter to use.

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Sometimes I wake up at night, drenched in a cold sweat and convinced that someone is breaking down my door. I check over my shoulder and search the faces that pass us at the playground, afraid that he’ll find us. It’s hard to believe that we are really safe, but most of the time I feel peaceful. I don’t regret any of my choices. I haven’t had a drink in years. Supportive friends and coworkers surround me.

My daughter and I have a great relationship. My only real rule for parenting is to be honest. I’m not perfect by any means, and I sometimes still feel overwhelmed and invaluable. But I talk to my daughter about those feelings and try to help her understand that our value comes from us only – something we are learning together. It’s interesting to try to teach her what I’m also trying to learn, but we help each other. She is gentle and kind; she holds my hand and reminds me that I’m a great mom and I can do anything I want to do. I try to inspire her to be whatever she wants to be – right now she’s dreaming of being a ballerina and an author, so we journal every night and she takes ballet classes on Thursdays. We have a dream to move to a house on the beach someday. She calls it our “idea baby” and every night she checks in to see how the idea baby is growing. If I’ve had a rough day, she gives me a hug and tells me that it’s okay, we can try again tomorrow. I feel certain that she will grow into a bright, compassionate adult. I just hope that I can be a part of that.

 

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Section Break

This story was told anonymously

The storyteller survived an abusive relationship and learned self-worth through raising her daughter. The storyteller was promoted at work again and is getting closer to their beach home dream every day. They hope to move within the next year. She volunteers at a shelter in her area for women in domestic abuse situations. Though she still tries to keep under the radar, she’s glad she can help in small ways. Since the birth of her daughter, the storyteller has been able to mend her relationship with her mother.

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This story first touched our hearts on May 17, 2018.

| Writer: Samantha Sussenbach | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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