I can hear the inflection in his voice, his dead calm seriousness. I remember nodding my head, agreeing, and trying not to think too much, careful not to ask if that included him or my brother.
I’m not exactly sure how old I was. I was in high school. Probably 16-years-old, maybe 15. I’m guessing 15 because my dad was willing to talk to me without yelling.
By then, the beatings from him had subsided and the beatings from my brother began in earnest. That’s also about the time the worst of the shit started happening — which would become My Family vs. Me — escalating until the day they told me to pack my things and get out.
Now — as a caveat — I call them “beatings” but neither my father or my brother saw it that way. I don’t think my mother did either. I don’t know, but I think they saw it as I “had it coming,” or “for my own good,” or in my brother’s case, he may have said, “it was self-defense.” (My brother was a body-builder. Two years older and quite a bit larger than me, but… I did fight back.) In my father’s case, he dealt with me the same way his mother raised him. It works like that.
And maybe I did have it coming. I drove them crazy, that’s for sure. They considered me rebellious by their 1950s good-girl standards — though I never once felt rebellious. I didn’t do what I did out of spite or anger. I wanted acceptance by other kids in school, (which wasn’t going to happen). I recall doing things to escape or to find comfort, like finding the misfit boys who liked me, but who would never be approved of by my parents. I wasn’t a drug user or a drinker, but I felt a desperate need to feel loved and maybe — crazy notion — understood and appreciated.
I felt scared and very alone. I told a Christian friend of mine that I didn’t believe God loved me much. (I didn’t tell her that I thought a poltergeist or a demon was following me — that’s a story for another day). I thought there was something very wrong with me – but I didn’t know what.
That’s when the constant thoughts of suicide began. I plotted various tried and true methods. 1. Pills: but how many would I need? Would aspirin work? My folks didn’t have anything interesting beyond that in the medicine cabinet. 2. Jumping out the top floor window at Hellgate, my aptly named high school. Only three stories. Would that kill me or only paralyze me? Being paralyzed would suck. 3. Knives: pain and blood. I was a coward, ultimately. 4. Starvation, bulimia. I tried that for a while. I wasn’t able to get my weight any lower than 93 pounds. And since I was a “dancer” no one noticed anyway. I was at 105 pounds for a while. Pretty average for a 5’2″ female. I admired the girls who could do it. I remember one girl in high school who was so sick with anorexia she looked like a skeleton with clothes on. Regardless, I didn’t have the will-power to pull it off.
My father found a poem I’d written. I don’t know if he took it out of my pack or how he found it. But I can see him reading it in the living room chair under the lamplight. He read silently, his legs crossed, his face frowning. He didn’t say if it was good or bad. But he asked, “Do you think about killing yourself?”
“No, it’s just a poem,” I said.
I felt embarrassed because I knew the poem wasn’t that good and I felt like I’d been caught. Caught again. I can’t remember if he said more. He might have, but he didn’t yell or lecture, that much I remember. He simply acknowledged what I wrote and understood. And for that night, that was enough to deflate the urge to die. A good thing from a small moment in time.