To Return to Myself

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| This is the 461st story of Our Life Logs |


As a little girl born in 2001, I didn’t grow up knowing anything but my family’s small farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the two horses we had and the beef cattle. I can still remember how it felt like to wake up to animal noises, to play in the creek, my feet all muddy and wet. I remember distinctly my little sister, Sarah, her blonde hair, and her sweet face laughing in the creek with me.  I can still recall my camo pants and my dad shooting pigeons in the backyard with a shotgun, while I collected his shells and piled them in my pockets. I can still taste the embarrassment I felt when I had forgotten to unload those shells before school and my teachers sent me home.

But what I wish I didn’t remember— what I wish I forgot so completely—was my father’s drinking. My father’s hands as they beat me. My father’s verbal abuse as he berated me. The bottle that seemed to suck any love he had out of him. I wish these memories left me the way my mother had left him that spring day in 2011. I was just ten years old at the time; my sister was eight. When she left, she also left my sister and me behind, only picking us up on the weekends like split custody. She had enough with his drinking but thought he would still be a good father. Unfortunately, it was my mother’s leaving that started his spiral into becoming someone I couldn’t recognize.

My father found her absence unbearable and turned to the bottle even harder. He would come home, alcohol on his breath, and want to wrestle, fight anything and anyone. There I was in my camo pants, wishing I could camouflage my sister and me into the wall, just so that he wouldn’t hurt us.

“Go lock yourself in your bedroom,” I’d tell my sister religiously. She knew the routine. I knew mine too. As soon as she was safe, I’d brace myself and know that I was the one who’d get punched, who’d be wrestled with, who’d be called names and dirty words. I would always think to myself, “He just doesn’t know how powerful he is.”

Section Break-Mountains

One night, my mother dropped Sarah and me off at the house. He had been drinking all day and when we walked through the door. I immediately felt the tension. I could hear myself almost whisper the routine to Sarah before he sent a blow into my chest. It was harder than ever before and out of instinct, I ran. I ran so hard into the night and up the tall oak tree in our yard with the low branches. It was my little stoop of safety and I stayed up there no matter how much he slurred and begged me to climb down.

After an hour, he decided to invade my tree and as he got far enough to grab my leg, he suddenly lost his footing. The tree shrugged my father off and he writhed on the ground, his ankle all swollen and twisted. I kept asking myself, Do I call my mom? The police? What do I possibly do? He kept muttering to just get him back into the house. My collection of childhood memories will always be weighed down by the day I had to swallow my fear, climb down my tree, and lug my father across our yard, over pebbles and stones, hearing his cries. I was terrified.

Section Break-Mountains

The next morning, after all was said and done, I went to school as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I walked the halls of my elementary school as a fourth-grader, yearning for those shells in my pocket, for the laughter of our family in the creek. I loved my classes because they made me feel like everything was normal—like everything was how it used to be. It was all I could think about; how good my life was before my mom left.

The bruises on my chest and back seemed almost etched into my heart. I never thought to tell anyone. Not until one day, when my mother picked me up and when I was changing for the shower, she noticed. She noticed the colors of my body and she gasped, asking me, imploring. I wish I didn’t have to tell her what I did. In the days that followed, Sarah and I moved in with my mother, away from the man I was supposed to feel safe with, who I was supposed to feel loved by. It was so hard to rationalize.

Over the years, I began to realize what the imprints of my childhood did to my teenage mindset. I had a terrible anger and impatience with the world and everyone in it. My friends watched me distrust any guy who flirted with me, my mother watched me shout and get mad at the smallest inconveniences, and group projects frustrated me because I didn’t have as much control as I wanted. In reflecting, I knew I needed therapy and so, after talking with my mother, I went to my first session at 15 years old.

Section Break-Mountains

I’ll never forget my therapist. She had beautiful features and an even more beautiful heart. She had empathy for me from the start, asking me to draw a family tree, as if she already knew what it was that I needed to talk about. She then asked me to list three adjectives about the different family members I made. I remember feeling so raw as I discovered I did not have good adjectives for my father, much less feel safe around him as a family member.

I cried through all our sessions, organic, pure, and vulnerable tears. I felt myself shed away that bruised skin I was holding onto for so long. “Your mom leaving was your fault,” “You’re worthless,” “You’re not smart,” “You’re not pretty”—all these words my father berated me with came flooding back, but this time I had my therapist by my side and a safe home to come back to. His words and his beatings never mounted to the person I was. I felt that I was able to return to myself.

When was 18, I went to Pennsylvania State University and majored in secondary education. I realized I never wanted another child to feel unsafe in their surroundings. It was my biggest goal to create a safe space for students, so they could express who they are and be who they want to be and be in hands that care. I know I am a better person because of the things I went through. Whenever I am struggling, I look back and I think to myself, “You’ve been through worse, so you can overcome this.”

Section Break-Mountains

Over the years, my father has tried reaching out. He would always say he was sober now and wanted to reconnect and build a bridge to mend our relationship. I have learned to forgive him, but I will never forget those days, that night in the tree, or the way it felt to be insulted.

I agreed to get dinner with my father last year and I let him stay with me in my apartment before my university’s football game. He apologized over and over for his actions in the past and promised he would make it up to me. Last summer, I agreed to live with him for the full season of summer break, but he ended up drinking most nights and passing out in the bathroom, on our little rug. Halfway through my summer break, I asked to move in with my friend from high school, as I just couldn’t deal with his drinking anymore. I packed up my bags and once more left my childhood home.

I know alcoholism is a disease and my father is still my father. I am older now, though, and I know the way I deserve to be treated. I have only peace in my heart and kindness in my veins. I have an aura of empathy because of my experiences and because of my father. I overcame my anxiety and even have a boyfriend now who is the polar opposite of my dad. He is so sweet to me and treats me with love and dignity. I have people in my life who I can turn to for help. In my whole journey that’s the best thing I learned: don’t be afraid to reach out to get help because it doesn’t make you any less of a person. If anything, it makes you so much more of one, ready to face anything in the world.

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This is the story of Brooklin Moyer

Brooklin grew up in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and learned the hard way that sometimes the people you’re supposed to trust in life, feel safe in life with, you actually can’t because of forces beyond your control. Brooklin loved school and her sister Sarah, and both were her haven when dealing with an abusive and alcoholic father. She grew up having to learn how to harness her own strength and her own warmth in wanting to leave this world a better place. She is, therefore, studying to be a teacher for high school students, hoping to serve as a guiding and trusting source of support for each. Brooklin loves the outdoors and is enrolled at Pennsylvania State University.

Me, 2019
Brooklin, 2019.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on November 13, 2019.

| Writer: Laura Zaks | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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One thought on “To Return to Myself

  1. Very inspirational. So many lessons to be learned here, especially the courage it took to speak out.

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