I was eighteen when I was told by my mother I had to move out of the house.
Well, that isn’t exactly right. I was also given the option of staying and paying half the mortgage, utilities, and other expenses in order to stay. After all, I was now an adult and she was done raising me, and would get no child support for me either. It was March and I had three more months of high school left.
Rather than stay home, pay the bills and not be able to save the money for college, I decided to move out. My boyfriend and I had been dating about a year and all was grand. We were in LOVE. I could move in, have fewer expenses, not have a curfew, drive to and from high school and then work for six months and enter college a little later than my friends. He was seven years older, settled and would support my decision to better myself and get away from the toxic family dynamic.
All was fine, all was grand. Sure, he had a temper, but he never hit me, just yelled a lot. Nothing like how my mother used to yell, so I was fine. He would throw tantrums if he didn’t get his way about something. Again, I grew up with the master emotional manipulator. I could put up with anything.
This guy loved me, though I always strived to better myself by trying to get thinner or be prettier for him. I had a good, full-time job with benefits at 18, so I was able to give him money when he wanted something. I didn’t mind. You aren’t supposed to keep score when you are in love. And, if he has a slip-up and cheats on you, you believe him when he says he was thinking of you the entire time and forgive him.
Then I got pregnant. I had a good job, was living away from home, had health benefits and was in love. I made the decision to keep the baby.
The temper tantrums became more frequent. He started to throw things, not hitting me at first but one night getting me good in the face with one of my Doc Martens. The first time I went to work with a black eye, I blamed it on running into a door due to my pregnant belly throwing me off balance.
Things escalated. He started drinking and smoking who-knows-what. He cheated constantly, and blatantly this time. When I questioned him or asked why he didn’t love me anymore, he would lose his temper and hit or kick me, including in my belly where our son was growing. More black eyes, along with bruised arms and legs, were to follow.
One time in a parking lot he started to hit me and I laid on the horn, hoping someone would come by and make him stop. Nobody ever came or even looked our way. I no longer wanted to live. He would tease me about my eating disorder or dare me to kill myself.
The kid was born, six weeks early, when I was 19 1/2. M was small, but otherwise fine and came home after the standard two-day stay. You may say I should have considered adoption then, but I couldn’t. I loved my little boy. As selfish as it may be, he gave me a reason not to try to kill myself.
He changed for a short time. Then the beatings on me started again. It was different this time. This was no longer about me, I had M to look after and keep safe.
Finally, and reluctantly, I reached out to family. We hadn’t talked much since I got pregnant since they were very against me having the baby. But I had to deal with it; it wasn’t about just me anymore. I had not told them anything of what was going on in the relationship. I called my mother on a night that he hit me and in a panic I had run outside and gotten locked out of the house.
Help came in the form of relatives who had wanted me to terminate the pregnancy. They offered to help me press charges and let me stay with them. The only thing they wanted was for me to put the baby up for adoption. 16 years later and I still hear the words “He isn’t that old. It isn’t like you have had a chance to get attached to him yet.” To this day, they still bring up my refusal of their help in a roundabout way, though they leave out the condition of their offer.
My family was still toxic. My kid literally was the only thing I had left in the world. And he didn’t ask for any of this. I grew up hearing my mother’s complaints about kids forcing her to stay in a bad marriage. I was already a failure in my family’s eyes for being an irresponsible teenager, could I really live with the fact that my relationship was over and deal with that mark against me too? What about the abuse? What if he decided to hurt M one day? What if M grew up thinking this was the way relationships worked?
The choice was clear to me that night. My kid would not be the reason for staying, he would be my reason for leaving.
I made the decision to leave, but on my terms. I declined the offer for “help” and came up with a plan of my own. Lots of nights when I was driving back from work I would make hasty calls to the one domestic violence shelter in the area from a phone booth. When that didn’t work out (not many resources in 1996 in the town where I lived), I asked friends for help and slept on different couches for months with the baby crib nearby. I drove an hour one way to daycare and back to keep M safe and away from his father until a custody hearing could be held.
My legal fights against this person I once loved lasted almost three years between custody, support, stalking, vandalism, breaking and entry, and sexual assault. Things finally resolved around the time M turned three, when I met his future “dad”. My husband, M’s stepfather, loved him and treated him like his own. Thankfully, he still does now, seven years after our divorce.
The jerk moved on, getting another person pregnant while stalking me. They eventually married and had more children that he is no longer allowed to see. Recently, he moved back to my state after disappearing in 2001 (yes, no support for 12 years) and tried to re-acquaint himself with M. Maybe not surprisingly, shortly after he came back was when M’s depression hit its lowest point and he tried to take his own life.
I have not told M the story about why I left his biological father, and while I am sure he has figured quite a bit out by now, I am not sure if I will. He has formed his own opinions about this guy who can claim responsibility for him getting into this world, though he cannot claim any real responsibility for the person M is today.
Who is M? He is a strong, empathetic kid who cares for others, has a great sense of humor and lousy grades. He has strong feelings on what is right and wrong and gets teary-eyed during “The Iron Giant” and “Free Willy”. He loves cats and hates watermelon. He knows friends can be more precious than family, and that family can take on many different meanings and configurations.
Most of all, he is the reason I managed to keep living then. He is why I am still here today. Just don’t tell him that; I don’t want him to get an ego about it.
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