| This is the 334th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born on February 14, 1985, in sunny California. I’d love to tell you that being born on Valentine’s Day was the ultimate gift for my parents and that I gave them a strengthened unity, but that would be a lie. I can’t remember a time my parents got along. I don’t remember laughing around a kitchen table or a single family-film night. My memories are a bit darker than your average Disney movie.
I grew up a military brat. My dad was gone for most of my childhood, and my mom stayed at home with me and my younger sister who was born in 1989. On the rare occasion that my dad was home for any period of time, I’d hide with my little sister upstairs in my room as the screaming downstairs went well into the night. I’d make up games to play and songs to sing to drown out the noises of glass breaking and to distract her from the police lights that bounced off the walls. When we’d wake in the morning, my dad was usually gone and there was no mention of what had happened the previous night. I don’t know if my mom thought we were oblivious or if she was too ashamed to address it.
My dad began leaving, most nights, to be with his girlfriend. We all knew it, but he wouldn’t admit it. Many of those nights I’d awaken to hear his truck pulling out of the driveway. As tears streamed down my face, I’d watch his taillights disappear. Seconds later, my mom would come in and tell me that my dad left to be with his new family. Then she’d walk out and shut the door behind her—leaving my tear-stained face all alone in the dark. When my dad was home, my mom would often come into my room and tell me he was talking to his girlfriend. She’d make me eavesdrop on their conversations, even though I begged her not to, and report back what I heard.
As the years went on, my dad spent less and less time at home, and my mom became more erratic in her behavior towards me. One minute she would act like my best friend, and the next, she’d seethe with hatred towards me. For example, she took me to get my nose pierced at thirteen and to get a tattoo at fourteen. She’d talk to me like an adult even though I was just barely a teenager. But, just as quickly, her friendliness could shift to fury with little to no warning. There were days I came home from school and just as I’d set my book bag down, she’d grab my face and peer into my eyes telling me that she knew I was doing drugs (I had never, and to this day have never, done any drugs or even smoked a cigarette). She’d tell me I was being a whore while I tried tearfully to convince her I’d never even kissed a boy. One time, in a particularly violent rage, she threw our vacuum cleaner at me as she screeched obscenities. Another time, when I talked back to one of the many male “friends” she brought home, she made me drink dish soap for being rude.
Her weapon was her words. She could make me feel like the lowest of the low. I constantly wondered why she hated me. And in the moments when she seemed to be my friend, I tried so hard to hang onto our happiness. However, being friends with her wasn’t what I wanted. I just wanted a mom who loved me and accepted me.
As my sister and I grew older, my mom showed my younger sister the kind of love—and even punishment—I craved. She treated my sister like I felt a mom should treat a daughter. And she spoiled her like crazy. While I had to buy my own car that didn’t even have working defrost (and at this point we lived in Virginia where defrost is a necessity), my mom bought my sister a new car. I had to work a part-time job while going to high school, and my mom would come into my room and take my money unless I hid it. My sister, however, was given cash freely to go out with her friends, and she and my mom went shopping regularly. They’d come home, shiny bags in tow, and show me all the great things my mom had gotten them both. I just couldn’t understand why they ostracized me so much. All I wanted was to be included and loved.
I became so depressed that I quit going to school in 10th grade. I began to self-mutilate and began to dream of suicide. My mom decided I was possessed and had me see numerous preachers and psychics to remove the demons she swore were inside me. I even spent a short stint in an in-house mental facility. When the doctors gave my mom a progress report, that essentially pointed the finger at her as my reasoning for depression and mutilation, she pulled me out of there quick.
After that, I tried to deal with my depression in a more positive way by writing poetry and playing music. The school taught a music program where I learned to play guitar. Sometimes, I’d take long hikes alone. On one hike in particular, I made a flower crown as I laid in the field and watched the clouds roll above me. As I spoke to God in my head, telling him I wanted to die, I laid the crown of flowers on a fence. I hoped God would see the love I put into it and take it in exchange for giving me a better life.
• • •
Meanwhile, my mom remarried in 2000. My stepdad was a nice enough man, but I didn’t trust him. He had no idea what life was like with my mom. She acted so sweet and loving around him. I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t an act, that maybe the vile woman she was with me was not who she was towards anyone else.
One night while my stepdad was at work (and after one of my mom’s “friends” had just left), she came into my room and made me call my stepdad to tell him that her heart had stopped beating. I can’t tell you why she made me do this. In my eyes, there never was a “why.” One minute I’d be reading a book by myself and the next I was forced to help her with some elaborate scheme she had concocted.
My stepdad didn’t come rushing home as my mom had hoped. As a matter of fact, he simply sighed and hung up. In the back of my mind, I was relieved. I knew he had already seen this side of her before, and maybe I wasn’t as alone as I felt.
When I graduated high school in 2003, I decided to go to college in Germany where my dad and his wife were currently stationed. It was there, in a foreign country, that I began to feel the safest I had ever felt. I made friends and even formed a relationship with my dad.
One night, my college roommate was having a party. I didn’t want to go, but I was having car trouble and I didn’t have a ride elsewhere, so I stayed. A few hours into the party, a fight erupted. As the scene got out of hand, I felt a guy grab me and pull me to safety.
In the moment of calm, we began talking and hit it off. I fell for his honesty, his realness. He was in the same branch of the military as my dad and was a few years older than me. I knew he was special.
• • •
When we met, he was going through a divorce and was not looking for another serious relationship. But something just clicked between us, and we fell in love. We got pregnant and married as soon as we could. Our first son was born in 2006, and, for the first time in my life, I finally had a family filled with love and laughter.
I am still learning to love myself and accept that I am worthy. I chose to take that negativity I experienced and use it to understand both sides of a situation. I choose to be a more compassionate person due to the abuse I felt as a child. I want to make an impact on people’s lives in a positive way. If I can make even one child feel less alone in this world, then I’ve succeeded. Maybe God did finally accept that crown of flowers I left as a gift for my better life.
This is the story of Toni Ballard
Toni grew up in the 1980s in a nice suburban home with a father who was full-time military and a stay-at-home mother who was physically and mentally abusive. Toni became convinced she was not good enough and spiraled into depression. It was when she went off to study abroad in college that she could better understand her place in the world, and triumphed over her abusive childhood.
Toni passed her certification exam in January 2019 and is now officially a health care provider. She has three children with her husband of 14 years. Since then marrying her husband, Toni has graduated and became a critical care nurse in a NICU. She pursued her graduate degree in nurse-midwifery, so she could help moms and babies in the US, as well as those abroad. She has since delivered 42 babies and counting. Toni fosters kittens whenever she is available to do so and currently has two cats of her own. In her free time, she kayaks and hikes with her family. She is looking into starting her own medical practice one day. Even after her husband is out of the military Toni intends to travel all over the world and hopes to continue on medical missions. She still loves to play guitar and sing when the mood hits her. Toni still talks to her mom regularly and believes no healing can come without forgiveness.
This story first touched our hearts on May 22, 2019.