I was 7 years old when my father decided he wanted to divorce my mother. I was the oldest child of three, a Daddy’s girl, and I was devastated.
I remember being upstairs in my bedroom when I heard my parents talking in hushed tones downstairs in the front room. It sounded like my mother was crying. As quietly as my little, slippered feet would move, I tip-toed to the landing above them where I could see them and listened.
“Please don’t go,” my mother was pleading with him. He was sitting on the couch, and she was on her knees in front of him, tears streaming down her face.
“You’re a good wife and a good mother,” he told her.
“Then why do you want to leave us?” she asked him.
“Because I just don’t want this,” he explained. “I don’t want to be married anymore.” Then he gently took her hands off his knees, stood up, and walked out.
My mother collapsed into a heap on the carpet and cried, huge sobs racking her body as she tried to be quiet and not wake us kids up.
Just as quietly, I crept back upstairs and climbed back under my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets. Then I cried, too. Why does Daddy want to leave? What did we do wrong?
Fast forward ten years. I have a boyfriend who is a straight-A student, he has a good job and a cool car, and he’s getting academic scholarships to college. We’re both seniors in high school and I am president of the dance troupe. I am an over-achiever, a perfectionist, taking as many advanced placement classes that I can manage so I can get college credit.
And I’m pregnant.
He wants to get married. I don’t. He wants to keep the baby. I don’t. None of the things he wants to do to “remedy” the situation will work for me because then EVERYONE WILL KNOW. And that’s not acceptable.
Everyone will know that I’m NOT perfect. They’ll think I’m a slut. They’ll look down on me. And my mom – oh my God! My mom will KILL me!
She always told us kids that if we had sex before marriage, it was sin and we’d go to Hell. In fact, if we girls even thought about sexual things, we’d go to Hell. So I pretty much figured that’s where I was headed for SURE now! And there was no way, NO WAY, I was going to raise a child in that home. After my father left, my mother had become physically and emotionally abusive toward us kids. I wouldn’t subject a child to that environment.
So, with my boyfriend’s reluctant cooperation, I had an abortion. I had convinced myself “a fetus is not a person yet,” and so I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Besides, I told myself, I was actually “saving” a baby from having to live in an abusive home. Now I could hide this “mistake,” this evidence of my imperfection, from the world and go on with the perfect life I had planned.
Fast forward two more years, to my second year in college. It’s day 2 of my 3-day stint in the mental ward at the hospital. I had attempted to overdose on Tylenol and Southern Comfort. Luckily, I was dramatic enough to call my boyfriend (not the same one from high school) to tell him he “wouldn’t need to worry about me anymore” (we just had an argument the day before when I found him in the bedroom of another woman). Worried by my cryptic message, he came to my place and found me in the backyard where I had vomited and passed out behind some hedges.
Still attempting to put on an image of being perfect, I didn’t tell the ward’s therapist about anything from my past. I told her I didn’t know why I was so sad, but that it scared me that I would want to hurt myself. I agreed with her that I had a lot going for me, and that suicide isn’t the answer when things get difficult. Yes, ma’am. You’re right. It won’t happen again. I’ll be okay. I’ll get help. I told her whatever I needed to say to get out of there.
Ten self-destructive years later, I find myself talking to the police officer who responded to my 911 call. I’m telling him that I’m fine, and that the argument between my husband and me just got “a little out of hand.” We’re fine. Everything’s perfect. I can handle it. No one will know. No one can see. Hide the black eye and the fat lip. Lie. Again. No one can know.
Another ten years pass with me hiding my pain, hiding the abuse, hiding my shame. I keep smiling. I have to look happy. I have to show everyone that I’m okay. I’m good. Everything’s perfect.
Then he hits me again, and this time two of our kids are home and hear us. He had stopped caring if the kids could hear us arguing a while ago. As I lie on the floor, I tell him he hurt my neck and I think I need an ambulance. He tells me it was my fault and that I deserved it. I can hear the kids crying downstairs.
I finally manage to stand up and tell him I’m done. I don’t want to be married to him anymore. He has threatened in the past to hurt me, to bury my body in the desert, to do something to the car so I would wreck, and it would look like an accident. He has locked me in the house, he had locked me out of the house. And his last threat was to make the kids hate me if I left him, no matter what it took. That threat made me stay another year, but then I finally left.
I had met someone else, someone who made me feel good about myself. I felt like things were going to really be perfect this time. I wouldn’t have to fake it.
I tried everything I knew to be what this new man wanted. I gave him all the sex he could want, plus some; I cooked for him, cleaned his house, babysat for him; I was always there for him. I was, what I thought, the perfect girlfriend.
Then I lost my job. Then he went back to the wife he had left. And I finally had a breakdown.
The “perfect” new life I had been building, all of my “perfect” plans, came tumbling down around me, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was broke, trying to raise my son, and I felt utterly alone in the world. I felt like a failure. I felt lost and broken and dirty. I felt like I had been used in life and then thrown to the gutter like trash.
No matter how “perfect” I tried to be, no matter how hard I tried to paint this picture for everyone to see of what a wonderful, happy, perfect life I had, it just wouldn’t stick. I couldn’t make it perfect, and that wasn’t acceptable!
Then one day during the “breakdown phase” of my life, as I call it now, I was driving my son to school. I gave him my last three dollars so he could eat lunch (unbeknownst to him), smiled and waved at him as he walked into the school, then drove away wondering what I was going to do. I was so panicked and so distraught that I had to pull my car over for fear I would wreck because I couldn’t see through my tears. I turned on the radio and put my head in my hands and cried. And I pleaded with God– please help me! I feel so lost!
Then I noticed the song playing on the radio. I didn’t recognize it, so I looked at what station it was on. It was on a Christian radio station. I had NEVER put my radio on that station before. The words to the song touched me to my very core. Touched me in a spot I had kept hidden in a very dark place, hoping no one would ever touch, no one would ever see.
The words I heard were:
And to all of the people with burdens and pains
Keeping you back from your life
You believe that there’s nothing and there is no one
Who can make it right
There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace an