my most terrifying moment
The most terrifying moment of my life happened sometime in March of ‘92. I may be off a month or two. I don’t have the best sense of time. I lay in bed that night convinced that my mother was going to kill me.
Let me back up a bit. I was an only child, and my mother was a wee bit unstable. I’m understating of course. She controlled every aspect of my life, and her moods were unpredictable. Let’s say for example, one day I accidentally knocked over a plant creating a huge mess, and she was very understanding and helped me clean it up. Two weeks later, I spill some juice on the kitchen floor, and she flies into a rage and attacks, verbally and physically.
When she flew into a rage, she appeared rabid. Spittle would fly from her mouth. Her eyes would roll in her head like she was devil possessed. She liked to claw and pull hair as well as slap. I tried very very hard to be good all the time, but it didn’t really matter. Based on anecdotal evidence, she was most likely an extreme bipolar or possibly even a paranoid schizophrenic, untreated.
The Boiling Point
I could tell an endless number of horrific stories, but on this particular night I was 17 and recently been made valedictorian of my high school. When my mother picked me up from school, I told her the exciting news. She hit me, my head banging against the window, and told me I was too proud, that I was nothing without her.
During this time period, we seniors were evaluating schools and deciding on possible majors. My mother told me I was going to be a pharmacist and that she would move to Auburn with me. We could live together in an apartment, leaving my stepfather behind. My heart sank below sea level. I had been looking forward to college as an escape route. When I tried to make a case for independence, she said she’d kill me rather than have me leave her. I’d seen her take some extreme actions. I believed her. Escape route closed.
So…I lay in bed that night envisioning my future, and the more I imagined, the more convinced I became that even if my mother did not actually grab the butcher knife and hack me to death like she promised, I was going to die anyway. If she was going to continue to dominate me for the rest of my life, I would lose what little parts of myself I had miraculously kept hidden and intact this long. That spiritual death made the butcher knife look promising in comparison.
The Escape Artist
My only option seemed to be a prison break. After getting dressed and packing a small bag, I looked around the room at my treasured possessions one last time and slipped out the door as quietly as I could. I ignored the ugly lemon yellow 70s Ford Grenada that technically was mine. It was too risky. Not only would it make noise, possibly waking her up before I could get away, but knowing my mother’s modus operandi, as soon as she discovered me missing, she’d call the police to tell them her juvenile delinquent daughter had run off again, and if the car was gone, she would say I had stolen it.
I walked a few blocks, past the school, and to a nearby gas station, which had a phone booth outside. It really wasn’t that far, but I was cold and crying and terrified. The walk seemed to last forever, and the bag I carried got heavier and heavier. Now that I was far enough away, I turned my attention to the practical matter at hand. What now, genius?
Fortunately, I had a quarter. I looked up my father’s number in the phone book. My parents had divorced when I was five, and my mother had let me have very little time with him over the years. He was practically a stranger. If I believed the stories my mother told, he was a drunk who would beat and probably molest me. I called him anyway. That should tell you something. Absolutely any situation had to be better than the one where I was trapped.
My father agreed to pick me up immediately. He took me home. The aftermath is another story for another time, but in the end, my mother had lied about my Daddy. (No surprise, really.)
The Long and Winding Road
My father did indeed drink, but he was not a mean drunk. He was a happy, gregarious man who enjoyed playing the guitar and singing what to my generation would amount to old-fashioned country and rockabilly. He left big tips for waitresses, and everyone seemed to know his name wherever we went. He was affectionate, and he disciplined by talking me through situations. He never raised his voice, ever. He let me make my own decisions and my own mistakes. It was a completely different universe.
Unfortunately, I never completely escaped. My mother had kept part of my soul with her after all. I have PTSD, like a war veteran. I wake up in the night struggling and fighting with her still, trying to get away. Sometimes I dream that I’m trying to protect my daughter from her, or even my cats. If I see someone or find myself in a situation that reminds me of my childhood, I react in terror. My first wreck was the result of seeing a phantom version of her in the car behind me. I have a deep-seated fear of people. I suppose I expect them to morph into rabid monsters too. If they don’t, I just wait… Every betrayal becomes a confirmation that the world is a place of misery and disappointment.
Still I fight. This blog you are reading is proof. I may be disabled by mental illness, but I keep trying to live the best life I can. It’s the only way I can see to find victory at last.
Notes from the Author
I’m a big fan of Untypically Jia, so when she said “Tag, you’re it” and left the door open for this meme, I decided it might be fun to give it a try. It seemed harmless enough, much like the “Getting to Know You” Notes I receive sometimes on Facebook. As you can see, I never got past the first question.
Your comments are welcome as long as they are considerate, but please understand, I don’t want pity. Do you pity a boxer who’s knocked down for the count? No, you expect him to get back up and fight again.
I also know that my story is not “special.” I know there are people suffering from lack of adequate medical care, food, water, and shelter. Better or worse is relative to perception. This is my story. It has meaning for me.
There are many of you out there who have your own stories. By writing these words, I offer empathy and encouragement. I may be starting to sound like the proverbial broken record, but you are not alone.