Always having to skip over the family history section of every medical form.
Not knowing about your ancestry or where you came from.
Never really knowing if your parents were married.
Not knowing the names of your Grandparents.
Knowing that you have a half sister out there and wondering is she ever thought about you.
Making the dreaded family tree in elementary school.
I feel that if this still is a practice in school today, it should be stopped immediately. This was utter torture for me every single time that I had to do it The feeling of embarrassment and humiliation that I felt when I didn’t have names to put in the little boxes of my cut out tree was overwhelming. I hated my self. I hated all of the relatives that felt it would be easier to pretend I didn’t exist. I hated the way my teachers fumbled over their words as they tried to assure me that it was okay that I only had four other names to put in the boxes.
But most of all, I hated the day that my father told me at my brothers funereal that I had “to understand Tiffany, your mother was crazy and I just couldn’t deal with her, but now you are an adult and I would love to get to know you”. My father asked me to dinner for our fifth possibly sixth “dinner” together.
I was 28 years old.
The man who only called every few years when his father was in the States because he needed to trick my grandfather into thinking he saw his kids suddenly wanted to “get to know me”.
I never hated my father until this day. I had a void there before. I always wondered why it was that I felt so indifferent or why my blood ran so cold that I didn’t have love or hate towards him. I wanted to hate this man for my entile life and I really tried but I just couldn’t. I had always imagined that it was the beast who wouldn’t let him see me. For years I gave him every excuse I could think of to give myself the gift of thinking that someone out there may have wanted me.
I was never sure if it was true but there was always the possiblity. I didn’t know what his side was and didn’t want to. I never asked and was perfectly pleased with keeping things the way they were.
But now he just threw it out there. BOOM!
He knew the beast was crazy and he left his children there alone and defenseless. And now, the only other person in my whole life who ever really knew what I went through was gone.
AND I HAD TO UNDERSTAND?
I will never understand how a man can know that his children are in the hands of a monster and just choose to walk away. I can not undersatnd how Billy and I suffered years of torment merely because my father couldn’t handle the beast.
I went homeless.
I went hungry.
I went into addiction.
I went to college.
I worked hard.
I managed to keep a smile on my face every single day so that everyone would think I was happy while I was dying on the inside.
AND I HAD TO UNDERSTAND?
Understand that my father is an immature selfish man who can not handle his responsibilities?
Understand how my father hurts people when he doesn’t even know that he is doing it?
Understnad how my father could possibly think that I could understand this?
I did understand.
And I hate him for it.
I have never been the same since this day.
It was the day I had to bury my brother and the day my father broke my heart.
It was the first day since I was 15 that I really cried and I couldn’t stop.
It was the day I decided to destroy my life with addiction.
It started with my brother’s cancer pills that were left behind.
The day the beast took me to court is a day I always find difficult to relive. Not because she lied to the judge and said she felt physically in danger of me. Not even because she said she no longer wanted me, given up on me. I was too difficult – a troubled child.
What hurts the most about that day are the tears she shed when I was remanded into the custody of the court system. In less than 15 minutes I had been charged, found guilty and convicted of being incorrigible “a person in need of supervision” or “PINS” is what they called it. I was a PINS case and I wasn’t given a single opportunity to defend myself nor was my presence even barely acknowledged. Everyone was too worried about the single mother of three who had an uncontrollable monster at home. Somehow in my 15 years, I had become the BEAST.
As she was escorted out of the court room in hysterics, I witnessed the comforting arms of the court officers, consoling the beast, assuring her that everything would be ok, she did the right thing. And there I stood, watching this display, alone, handcuffed as even my own court appointed lawyer took her in his arms. Waiting for the bullshit to end, all I could think of is how I would get her back. Next, I was escorted to my cell to wait for the sheriffs to take me to my new home. I was now a possible foster child on my way to minimum security jail or as they referred do it – “reform school” That day was hard for me to swallow, but what was even harder was learning years later that the beast felt she was teaching me a lesson “for my own good” about obedience.
My first day at was much like many other girls that came and went. I had my intake interview where I was explained the rules of the facility and the point system. See, at my new home all activities of my daily routine would be graded by counselors barely out of high school who had no education, experience, or training on how to deal with a child like me. They would assign the appropriate amount of points that they felt I deserved and at 5pm each day I would be presented with a point sheet that held my evaluation. Personal hygiene, chores, eating manners, condition of my room, activities, wake up, lights out – ALL POINTS! All the time!
After intake I was brought up to the second floor where 6 apartments were set up and each one housed 14 girls. I would have 13 roommates of my own and only see the other inhabitants during meals and school. I was shown my room and abandoned to cry. They allowed you to do that on your first day, they wanted you to get it out so they wouldn’t have to deal with it later. That was the last time that I cried in my teens. From that day until the day my brother died, I did not shed a tear, not a single tear. Tears would not protect me from my lemonade being spiked with bleach, a fork stabbed into my arm or the riot that sent in over a hundred policemen and fireman to overtake my prison.
Tears were for the weak and I would make it out of this experience alive and when I turned 18 and could not be forced to do anything that I didn’t want to do, I would go to college and make a life for myself. I would become something, anything. I would never allow anyone to hurt me and tears were not an option towards this goal.
Sister Gertrude was tough, she took no bullshit and she was always there. I don’t think Sister ever slept, she couldn’t have. She supervised all of our meals; she just stood there at the front of the cafeteria and watched us eat. If anyone acted up during these meals, all would suffer. Sister Gertrude meant business. Ironically and what still makes me laugh to this day is that you were allowed to smoke cigarettes. This was our encouraged reward. My perception of religion was changing a bit.
A mean nun who pushed cigarette addiction to mold your behavior was just too much for me to comprehend on my first day.
Depending on the accumulation of points on your sheet, you could earn up to 5 cigarettes a day and 3 of these were after mealtime. Sister would turn on the smoke filter and one group at a time we would be called up to the front of the cafeteria. Since we were not allowed to carry cigarettes or any method of fire, sister held them for us, and we stood on line until it was our turn to light a cigarette off of a white candle held by a nun. It was the same ritual meal after meal day after day…unless.. someone acted up, and then our well earned cigarette privilege was lost and the bitch who caused it would pay later…in some way or another. Even though I was well into a pack per day by the time I was 12, I am convinced that it is here that my true addiction to cigarettes began because even when I am able to put in various months of surrender to these rolled up pieces of dirt, it is always the after meal cigarette that I miss the most.
The school was run pretty much the same as the living arrangements. You were to be in uniform at all times and had to wear a pin on your vest with your level number. Newcomers were automatically put on level 1 with basic privileges and could earn their way up or down, depending on behavior. Level 0 was the worst because you were not allowed to talk to anyone and anyone who was caught talking to you was automatically put on level 0. This level was the bottom of the bottom, no cigarettes, social interaction or food with the group. The only privilege allowed on this level was school. After that it was in your room for room restriction and T-table as they termed it, where you were forced to sit at a table for hours and stare at the wall. T-Table sentences were usually given in three hour intervals. Reading material of any kind was not permitted and if you slipped from your upright position, more hours of T-table were assigned. I don’t know why they called it that, but if the T stood for torture, it was a very appropriate name. I was put on this level every time I ran away and I found it a bit comforting, it was as if you didn’t exist and that was what I was used to – I loved level 0.
The school had its very own point system. At the end of each class, we were to be evaluated by our teacher and if, at the end of the week we earned enough points, we were given the opportunity to watch a movie on Friday afternoons in lieu of classes. It was not difficult to earn these movies as the classes were filled with girls of all ages and levels of schooling, so competing with 11 year olds was not too difficult and to my embarrassment I looked forward to these movies each week. Not because they were interesting or because I hadn’t already seen them before, but because it bucked the system. The school received government money for all classes we attended and most of these classes were barely more than coloring books and the basic survival skill of ensuring that the bitch sitting behind you didn’t fuck with you. The teachers at this school were in fear of us horrible human beings and if someone hunted you, a teacher would surely not get in the way.
I was brought to the “school” in the summer of my 15th year. I was evaluated by social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists’ school personnel etc. Every move I made from my behavior to my bowel movements was recorded for one month. After that month, “the school” made their evaluation and it was suggested to the judge that it would take at least 18 months to cure my behavior and he agreed. I would reform myself and then maybe I would be well enough to grace another family with my presence and become a foster child. From my experiences, I learned that the only thing families wanted from a 16 year old foster child like me was chores and sex. I was not about to become someone else’s slave and if I was going to fuck someone’s husband or daddy it would be on my terms, not against my will.
When I was escorted into the courtroom after my 30 day evaluation the handcuffs digging into my wrists, the beast was there. She didn’t acknowledge my presence or look in my direction, but seemed to be very upset upon hearing that I displayed behavior of an abused child. It was next mentioned that I was severely depressed and that I could be a danger to myself. The beast had heard enough, she lost control. Yelling at a judge who had no tolerance for white trash, she dug a deep grave for herself. “Always blame the mother, always blame the mother, she is from the devil.” “You are all alike, believe an evil child over her mother, she’s a liar.”
See, the beast thought I had told on her, sold her out, put blame on her. What she didn’t understand is that for some reason, still unknown to me I protected her. Not only did I not sell her out that time, but I never told anyone until now the story of her abuse. Maybe I wanted to protect her, or my brother, or maybe I was just ashamed. Whatever it was, the beast never would believe it and she didn’t speak to me again for over 2 years. What I didn’t know was that the judge sent the beast for a psychiatric evaluation of her own that day and the results of that evaluation were enough for the court system to fully take me out of her custody.
According to the legal system, I no longer had parents. I don’t know what the beast could have said or done to cause this because she had always been good at playing the victim, but whatever it was, it made her mad and as thankful I was that I was not at home, I feared for Jeffrey. The beast most surely punished him for my sins and the guilt of leaving him alone with the beast is still so shameful that I can not find it within to forgive myself. I abandoned him as Billy had done to me one year earlier.
As other girls earned weekend visits with their families, I spent mine eating and watching TV, making myself throw up and exercising in the middle of the night. I spent each of these weekends wondering why no one cared, why my now 19 year old brother never came on visiting Sunday or why my father who I barely knew didn’t even write me a letter.
I was alone.
I was alone, forgotten, in my cinder block room.
I was angry and alone and since the tears no longer came, the razor blade took over.
Most people think that when little girls cut up their bodies, it is a cry for attention. When I was 16, I didn’t even know there was a name for this or that other children even thought of it but us “cutters” are looking for anything but attention. We want to be left alone and we want to know how it feels to hurt because we spend so much of our lives fighting feelings. I can honestly say that I didn’t think of much when I was cutting up my legs. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself at that particular time or upset, there was just something inside that told me to do it and told me I would feel good afterwards and I always did. Something about watching the blood trickle down my legs and the wet soreness of the wounds made me feel good.
I was controlling my pain.
For the large majority of our lives we lived in a one room basement apartment. Billy was the oldest and since he was a boy 4 years older than his whore of sister who may try to rape him in his sleep, he had his own bed. Jeffrey and I slept with the beast in her full sized bed which leaned up against a wall of moving boxes that reached the ceiling. My younger brother Jeffrey and I spent many hours laughing at the stories we would make up to fit the silly phrase that covered each box.
“Smith This Side Up”.
We would create foolish tales about the beast standing on her head for all of the boxes that were upside down and change the methods in which she became that way. We often wondered why she wanted to be upside down since her last name was Smith and she was, after all, the one who wrote the silly phrase. This was a form of entertainment that we never tired of.
There were always new stories to craft that would make my brother laugh. I loved to make Jeffrey laugh. He was my childhood playmate, he would do anything his big sister wanted from Barbie dolls to matchbox cars, Jeffrey and I were inseparable.
On her good days, the beast would tease us because we slept together like cats. Each and every night our tiny bodies intertwined like pretzels until we found the comfort spot. Jeffrey and I felt this was a compliment as we both loved cats but more than anything else, we loved it when the beast had a good day and we tried everything in our power not to upset her.
We were only a year apart in age but Jeffrey had been born with severe mental retardation and was prone to frequent seizures due to his epilepsy. Many nights at the table would end with my lethargic sibling falling asleep on his dinner plate after having had yet another seizure. Jeffrey’s seizures were controlled by medication throughout much of his childhood and he thrived in the schools he was sent to in a bus that was much smaller than any school bus I had ever been on He was the happiest child I have ever seen and Jeffrey loved everyone he met.
Unfortunately everyone did not love Jeffrey back and this caused many physical confrontations for me as a child. In addition to his learning challenges, Jeffrey’s father was a black man, which made Jeffrey the only “colored person” to reside in the small, largely Republican, very political town we inhabited and also the source of much anger for the townspeople and their cookie cutter children. The mere existence of our family caused deep turmoil for several families and Jeffrey was always a target for cruelty. It is still and may always make my body wince as I recall these memories now but at that time no one would lay a finger on Jeffrey as long as his sister could help it.
If anyone dared to hassle my brother, they had the wrath of a beast child on their ass immediately and if my senses told me that a foul name would be called out to him or the swing of a rock in his direction may occur, the beast child within me of me would attack swiftly.
And for my loyalty to him, Jeffrey took care of me in every way that he knew how. It was Jeffrey who ran to me with a handful of books as the beast was approaching me with the belt and told me to put them in my shirt and pants so it wouldn’t hurt so bad. I had never even thought of this and I loved the way he took care of me. I was called coocha and he was called coo and together we were coocha coo. We used these names for each other well into my teen years and a smile opens up in my heart every single time that I think of it.
I hate people who hate.
The first time I realized that I was alone in this world was during infancy, which by the way also marks my first memorable act of spiteful behavior. Trapped (enslaved) in my crib by a mother who was indifferent to my screams, I did it. I did what no other child in that tiny insignificant apartment would dream of…but I did it anyway. Without thought or contemplation I was on my way to a lifetime of self destructive behavior. Or at least that’s what it was termed later in my life. But I didn’t care; it was my turn to cause pain.
On that lonely night, trapped in the dimly lit room I had finally had enough, so I took a shit in my already soiled diaper, removed it and proceeded to blissfully play with the warm wet chaos it encased. I applied the mess on the walls alongside my prison, and then on my legs, my arms, my face – everywhere, anywhere I could reach was destroyed by the only power I had in my infantile world. Excitement overcame me – I began to laugh uncontrollably. My very first, successful act of total and complete spite. I was ecstatic, although at that moment I was sure there would be many more accomplishments such as these, this one was special, it was my first.
The sound of a laughing child and happiness in the household must have thrown the beast off guard, she was approaching. I could not hear the footsteps or smell the heat of her anger, but I could feel her getting closer. I began this feat with a feeling of triumph, then fear, and then a who the fuck cares kind of attitude. My indifference quickly turned back into fear as I heard the turn of the door knob, the creak of the hinges and the weight of heavy footsteps as the beast staggered through the narrow doorway. Her expression was stark – full of anger. It didn’t take long for the monster within her to take control of the situation.
“What did you do, what did you do” followed by “You disgusting piece of shit what the fuck did you do” was sweet music dancing gracefully in my head. I was, as she had so delicately expressed – a literal piece of shit.
SCORE for me! I am winning. I was winning.
“Billy, get your ass in here now” What did she say?
“Get your sister in the tub right now” What’s going on? What is happening? Why is she calling my brother?
“Throw her in the fucking tub, get her out of here she is a dirty piece of shit”
My brother’s protests against touching his shit stained sister warranted him a firm slap across his face. With tears welling up in his deep blue eyes, my brother slowly picked me up and carefully transported me into the nearby bathroom. As I gazed into these compelling eyes, I could see pain and bewilderment as he tried to fight away the tears. I could also feel the hatred my brother had for me at that moment. He was wondering how I could do this to him – To Him!
“Put the water on, HOT – HOTTER” the beast shouted, louder, more forceful.
“Clean her so I can beat her good.” I still don’t understand that expression.
“Get that shit off of her, I can’t even look at her, FASTER, HOTTER, HOTTER!”
As the warm soggy mess of my spite was rapidly oozing down the drain, I escaped. I was suddenly in a different place, a good place, a place where mommies loved their babies. I went so far away that after a while, I couldn’t even feel the water that kept my skin a sinister shade of crimson for days later.
I can’t say I actually recall exactly what happened next, but I’m certain the punishment came and I’m confident that it was severe. A beating would be the next logical step in a home where a monster can become a mother simply by spreading her legs and where neighbors ignore cries in the night, simply because it is none of their business.
What I do remember is how I felt hours later as I lay in my previously shit soaked bed. That night I felt shame, I felt remorse, I felt guilt. Not for what I had done to my bed, my body or the beast, for all of that I was content, I felt this way for Billy, my brother. Of course she would involve him – punish both of us for my offense. Leave it to the beast to take all the joy away from me during my first act of spitefulness.
Scorpio. That is my birth sign. Said to be stubborn, vindictive, spiteful, unforgiving and revengeful, by any professional astrologist, Scorpios are mostly known for their sting. As I do find this a rather accurate account of my personality, I still have difficulty believing that I became this way due to the month of my birth. After all, my brothers share many of these same traits and they were both born in February.
Would I be this way if I had grown up differently, would my brothers? Do children born in February and November all have parents that screwed up? These are questions that constantly roam around in my mind. I’m sure my brother’s have these kinds of questions too, or had in Billy’s case. He died from cancer when he was 33 years old.
Billy was troubled by his upbringing. Of course the cruelty affected him in irreversible ways, but I think always being the poorest family in town affected him even more.
Billy was the over achiever of our family, Billy was actually the only achiever of our family. For as long as I can remember his two major goals in life were to become a millionaire by age 30 and to escape the beast whom Billy so affectionately referred to as white trash. In every instance of his very short but very successful life, then end product was always on his mind – this nearly always meant more money. The thought of having more and more money ruled his life and he had his first success at age 18. I am almost certain it was close to the actual day he turned 18 when my big brother escaped. Billy left the beast and never returned home again.
As heartbroken as I am that he is gone, in the six months that Billy lived with the sickness that would forever change the lives of all who knew him, my brother achieved a goal that had long been set for him by his sister. Along with a new perspective on what is truly important in life, cancer brought a certain contentment into my brothers life. A contentment he had never experienced before and I believe never would have had it not been for this rapid turn of events. Terminal cancer brought him happiness with his loving wife Barb who would have always done anything for Billy, for which he never appreciated until she became his care taker, his lover and his best friend.
Barb is a nurse and Billy hated do-gooders and especially couldn’t understand why his wife would want to work long hard hours for such a small amount of money. He just couldn’t understand.
Until he got sick.
Billy was at the mercy of nurses and he had the most wonderful nurses that could be had. Altruism was a sign of weakness to my brother, but it is this weakness that became his greatest strength as he allowed these kind and caring people to enter his world. He learned that to be a nurse was not about money, it was about people. Most of all Billy finally let Barb love him the way she always did anyway, but now he allowed his heart and body to experience it in a way he never could. And he loved her back…in a way that he never would.
In those last months of his life my brother finally felt love. I mean he really felt love. He allowed himself to give in to the weakness of being loved and being cared for. See, for me and Billy, giving in to love means opening yourself up for pain, and emotional pain is far more dangerous then the physical anguish caused by his cancer. And if cancer brought Billy this feeling – finally – after years of feeling unworthy, then I am happy for it.
Billy died a millionaire, Billy died free from the beast but most of all Billy died with love in his heart. Money could never buy this love and Billy knew it.
I have never felt this love. I came close once, but my lover was human and made mistakes and I couldn’t get over it. I have never allowed myself to fully give in to the vulnerability of love. I will always feel the void of that loss.
I was so close.