It Ends With Me
To my family,
We are grown now. Circumstances have changed with each year, and with it so have each of us in our own way. Todd, you've run far from us. I don't blame you; I did the same thing, but returned with the intention of fixing our family against my therapists wishes. I returned with the hope that things had changed for the better while I was gone, that I would be accepted with open arms. I was wrong, but I don't blame you for your escape. I envy you for your strength, determination, and freedom. I envy you, and applaud you at the same time.
Since I started with you, Todd, I will continue to say that I forgive you. I forgive you and I also apologize for all the childhood fighting we did. We didn't grow up in the best of environments. Even though we are only two years apart, I helped change you. I hid you during the worst of it. I rocked you when you were an infant while hiding in a closet. I shoved you into a chest and sat on it so they wouldn't find us. I sang to you the Barney theme song when you were scared. I watched over you as you grew, and helped you when I could. I tried to catch you when mom threw you down the stairs. I tried to tell her it was my fault in your place, but it was too late by then. I cleaned your cuts as best as I knew how. I made sure you ate when things got really bad. And as we grew up, I continued to try to take your place when things would go wrong. Eventually, I know you caught on, because you started trying to take MY place, but by then it was too late.
You were always mad at me because I did well in school. You were always mad because mom would tell other people that I was the 'good' child with the 'great' head on my shoulders, but would destroy me in private. I know I always talked to you like I was older, like I knew more, but it's because I had the experience. Two years shouldn't mean much for normal people, but for us two years was a lot. I was just trying to help, not make you feel stupid. I know you also hated me because I wouldn't stand up for myself; I wouldn't fight back. You hated how weak I made you feel when I would try to take your trouble, when I would try to 'save' you before you got caught, when I would attempt to hide any evidence. And I would get so mad at you for telling on yourself, for jumping in front of me, for trying to take MY mistakes when you got old enough to realize what I was doing. Don't you realize that, as the oldest child, I was supposed to protect you? No, you didn't, and that's okay. You saw all the awful things that happened to me. You understood, in your own way. It's why we couldn't stop fighting, why you always wanted to strike me but couldn't bring yourself to actually do it. It's why you sacrificed your own schooling to help me take care of my daughter when my ex was on deployment, so that I wouldn't get in trouble. It's why we couldn't live together, even when we were on our own, without trying to harm one another.
I apologize for not realizing how much pain I was causing you, and I forgive you for the pain you caused me. We are older now, and I think we both understand why we acted the way we did. I'm glad you've stopped all your drug use, even kicked heroin on your own (I couldn't be more proud of you), and have found your true calling. I hope your life blossoms from here on out, and I beg you; don't come back.
To my twin siblings, See and Say, where can I start? I DID raise you. I protected both of you, but you understood the moment you were old enough to see. You were born during the worst of the fighting period, but when we weren't quite as poor. I tried my best with you both while mom contemplated drowning either one or both of you. She was suffering from postpartum depression. I didn't know that at the time, I was only nine, but I knew she kept saying such...awful things. Kept ignoring your crying. Kept drinking and partying. She kept trying to kill our father. This was the time when she threw the frozen leg of lamb out of our third story window and smashed our father's car, remember that story? She laughs now, but it certainly wasn't funny then.
I always answered your cries. Your names sounded so similar that everyone else called you 'the boy one and the girl one', but I knew your names. I knew who was crying, when, and why. I came every time to help you before mom could get up. She was home all the time now, and couldn't handle it. I didn't want you to get hurt. Todd helped sometimes, but I would have to hide him too. I missed......so much school. I lied so much, just to make sure you two were okay. On the days that I had to go to school, I worried about you both so much that I couldn't focus. I almost got held back, but managed to pull myself together enough to do both. At nine, that was quite an accomplishment.
So, as you got older, I did drill you. I did try my best to set an example that you could follow, since mom and dad couldn't. I tried my best to explain how the world worked with my limited, but brutally acquired knowledge. I didn't want you to always see darkness; I wanted you both to see that the sun does shine, to appreciate the quiet moments. I tried to hide you both, to hide all of us, as best as I could. I took your pain as well, which you thought was funny at first, until you saw it first See. You finally saw what mom did to me in private when you got me into trouble. I will never forget the look on your face as mom pulled me out of the closet by my hair. I don't remember much of that event, but I do remember your face, and I do remember wishing you would just close your eyes. You wouldn't, or couldn't, but you never intentionally got me in trouble again after that. I forgive you for that, See, so please stop beating yourself up about it.
If I could take your memories of those events, I would. You also hate me for being the 'perfect' child. For always having the right answer, for always knowing what to do. See, you especially, make it known that I am a 'b*tch' and that I 'always have to be right'. You are right. I know the memories are difficult, but you know why I always have to be right. You know why I am always so adamant about you both getting your GED's, about you both getting some kind of college education. You know why I don't approve of your abusive boyfriend, See, but I also know that you will not listen to me. I raised you, but there are some things we all have to learn on our own. I've accepted this. I've accepted that you both are now technically adults, and will have to learn these other things on your own.
Say, I just hope you get out of that house. Yes, mom is on medication and that is great, but you are surrounded by the memories of the abuse you suffered when I left for the Navy. I know you both hate me for that too, all three of you do with Todd included, because I abandoned you all. No one was there to take the brunt of the aggression, and it all fell on the next in line. But you guys fought back. It made life for you so much worse, but I don't blame you for doing that. I still can't believe you guys have honestly thrown our mother around; I couldn't get passed my own fear to even talk back to her. As horrible as this is to admit, I admire your strength and courage more than you know, even though you did strike back. To all of you, but especially my soft hearted and incredibly filled with rage Say, I didn't join the Navy to abandon you, to get away. I joined the Navy because it was my full intention on adopting you, and I needed a steady paycheck and a place to live. I didn't research enough though, and realized too late that I couldn't adopt you. I couldn't do anything. The feeling of shame will never leave me, and I'm so, so sorry you felt abandoned by me. I am sorry it caused you mental anguish, and that you suffered hospital stay after hospital stay, even after I returned. I am so, so sorry.
To my father, first. I don't forgive you, but I understand you better now that I am older. You let your brother do those things to me. You didn't believe me, but who would honestly WANT to believe that? You won't talk to me about it, but that's fine. You were my hero. You, with your army uniform and rucksack, used to be both my hero and my villain. Your temper knew no bounds in those early days. I do remember some of those moments, between you and mom. I remember the belt you always kept handy. I also remember the day you put it away, when you finally hit me with the buckle instead of the leather. It slipped, left such a mark, and you never struck me again.
I know your mother was violent to you as well. I know you were hated in your family, where you were the trouble maker out of the eleven children your mother had. I know you were poorer than most, and all of you lived in a one bedroom house. Your childhood wasn't okay either. You fought, you went to jail, you joined gangs, all in an effort to belong somewhere. And then you met mom, and became so enamored. Your anger and hatred made love difficult for you, but mom loved you anyway. But when she had relations with another man and birthed him a child at sixteen, you lost it for a while. You threatened her, her family, and the man. You knew her family was in the Italian mafia, but threatened anyway. Her father respected you for your bravery, and didn't have you killed....the other man was not so lucky. No one knows for sure how he passed, but we all kind of know. No one goes in that specific way at that specific time. But the child was placed for adoption anyway, so you and her rekindled, and life went on.
As much as you loved and couldn't live without her, you hated her for the betrayal. I understand that was what caused most of the problems. Neither of you two could let that part of your past go. So you both fought, fought over the stupidest and most asinine things, because you weren't willing to let the cheating go. You even cheated on her as 'payback'. But you didn't know any other way because you were always raised in violence, and the cycle was continuing. You couldn't break it either.
I don't forgive you for what you put me through. For being the keeper of your lies. For always borrowing the money I had rightly earned when I would sell my things at our yard sales, always for cigarettes. For leaving me alone with mom when she was at her darkest. For leaving the twins alone. For not being the father figure we should have had, that Todd should have had. For emotionally putting me against mother, knowing full well what she would do when you were gone. For pretending to listen to my rants after mom would destroy me, promise not to talk about it, talk to mom about it, tell her everything I said, and then watch as she repayed me later. For always calling me your special girl, because I was YOUR firstborn and not mom's. For throwing that in her face so that I will feel her ire and hatred and pent up sorrow for that later. For working late and often just so you can escape the constant fighting, but also not be there to protect us. I know you probably thought you were protecting us, but you weren't. For not putting mom in a mental ward when she so direly needed it. For pretending everything was okay, just because you really, really couldn't be alone. For manipulating me, and then See, when mom left you for a place to stay, finally saying you would never return to her....and then promptly leaving us in the dust the second she asked you to come home. For being so inconsistent. For joining a biker gang and putting the whole family at risk when I was gone. For so many other instances, it would fill this entire letter to bring them up.
I don't forgive you, and I'm sorry that I can't or that it may hurt you at some point. Yes, you were much more understanding and kinder than our mother, but you also hurt us by constantly leading us on and then taking her side anyway. I just want you to know that I understand why. I hope that you can heal now that things seemed to have simmered down. I would have forgiven you had you not sided with mom and tried to kidnap my daughter. For that, you will never be forgiven completely. I still wish you the absolute best, and will still help you like the good child that I am, until I figure out how to set healthier boundaries for myself.
Finally, mom. I've left you for last. I tried to hate you. I really, really did. I think, at some point, I actually may have. I used to wish and hope that I was adopted, and you should have seen my face when I found the adoption paperwork. When the year didn't match mine, I begin to explain to you how awful I felt. How disappointed and how I needed a few days to come to terms with actually being born into this family. To be born to someone so full of hate and violence. When I learned I had a half-sister somewhere in the world, I grew to envy her. I fantasized about being her. Especially after finding out my baby picture, torn into little pieces and pieced back together with tape, was hidden behind hers on our family wall. The baby I thought was me all those years wasn't even me.
But I will never forget the day I stopped fantasizing about not being in your life. It changed my whole perspective of you. I was laying in bed after a particularly bad day, envisioning myself jumped into a lake and sinking to the bottom while you watched. Suddenly, the you in my vision didn't walk away, didn't insult me. You cried as I 'hid' under the pier. I remember suddenly being filled with anguish at this image of you crying for me. I remember being confused. I then started to imagine what would happen if I had lost one of the twins, and was filled with true anguish. I couldn't imagine it without crumbling into tears.
I started to see you differently after that. I started my introspective years then, putting myself in your shoes. You grew up wealthier than most. You experienced some horrifying things as well. You told me, while out of your gourd, you did try to tell someone about what happened to me, but dad refused to acknowledge it and fought you over it. I actually believe you about this. I couldn't imagine having to realize you could have done something, but didn't. I couldn't imagine the pain of being forced (grandma made you do it, I know) to give up your first born. I couldn't imagine hiding your pregnancy from her for all that time, fearing what they would do or have done to you, and then have it all done to you anyway. I couldn't imagine knowing my child was out there somewhere, with someone you don't know, growing up or possibly dead. The case was closed and you were not allowed to unseal it; only the child could and that was only if she wanted to. I couldn't imagine that pain.
I couldn't imagine how much you must have hated me when I was conceived, and when you found out I was also a girl. How the bad memories must have surfaced for you. You ripped up my baby pictures. You treated me more like a doll than a child, and your parents basically raised me. You constantly took me to and from different states as you fought with dad, so I had no real place to call home. You partied, and drank, and did other substances to erase your pain due to my existence and your memories. I couldn't imagine looking at me and wondering if your true first born was okay. I couldn't imagine lying to everyone and saying that, why yes, I was your first child.
I think what I'm trying to say is that I came to understand you. It's why I never fought back. I allowed myself to be the broken, horrible daughter you needed me to be. I allowed myself to be your outlet, in hopes that you could heal. In hopes that I could fix what wasn't even my mistake. My existence wasn't my choice, but I did try. I understood you in a way the rest of the family probably never will.
That doesn't mean I forgive you either. You were an adult, and should have taken responsibility of your own mental health instead of taking it out solely on me. However, I do want you to know that I am proud of you for getting help, for finally acknowledging that you are not okay. When I told you that you would never see your grandchild again, it took two and a half years and some more craziness on your part (how, even on all of those drugs and as manic as you were, think it would be okay to try kidnapping my beloved child?), but you eventually went to the doctors. You are still taking your bipolar meds. You have been for almost a year, and it's like a completely different family now. I am relearning who you are. That doesn't mean I forgive you, or that I will forget the past, but I am willing to build a relationship with this new family. I am willing to help you get to and from your appointments, and to help you survive until the disability starts. You will NEVER live with me, but I can do my best when and where I am able to. I can try to trust these two new people, my injured and older father and my mentally disabled and recovering mother, for as long as you two continue on this path. But I can also promise you that I will disappear the moment you two start up again. You both know this, because it was the first rule I ever gave you, and I won't forget the look on either of your faces the day I put that foot down for the first time.
I want to end this by saying this: our family only knew violence, pain, and suffering. See and Say, I know you are both still stuck in that cycle, and it will take time to exit it. Todd, I know you were stuck in your own cycle with your ex, but seemed to have moved on and I sincerely hope you have. As of this moment, I want to state this very clearly: The Cycle Ends With Me. I say this not just for your benefit, but for mine as well. I am making it my personal mission to raise my child without exposing her to the cycle. I want her to raise her child responsibly. I want her to be able to experience relationships in a healthy way. Even though she has her own issues, I do not want her family to be one of them. It's the real reason I left her father. The cycle of abuse you both went through, what your parents went through, what their parents went through; all of that ends here. I will get the help I need, regardless what that help is even parenting classes when I need them, to make sure my child is raised in a loving and caring way. She will be supported, defended, and allowed to grow up with dignity. The cycle ends with me.
I sincerely hope you, my siblings, get the help you seek and need as well. Let the cycle end with you too. When your son or daughter is born in May, Say, remember what you've gone through. Remember to seek help beyond our family when you need it. Don't be afraid; I'll help you, just like I always have and always will. You will be a great father. Keep going to your classes regardless if mom and dad tease you; you are doing the right thing.
See, when you finally find the issue surrounding your infertility and have a family of your own, I hope you realize how awful your boyfriend is to you. I hope you come to the same conclusion I did, and get away. I will also be there to help you when the time comes. I'm just waiting for your signal, and I will be there to do whatever it takes to keep you safe. I don't hate you; I love you.
I love all of you. I've taken care of all of you at various points of our lives. I hate the experiences we had and all the things that have happened, but I understand them now, and I love you. Continue on your individual paths of healing and understanding. There will be days when the trauma is too much for me and I will lash out, I will hate you in that moment, but know that...when the moment is over, I do love you. I always have.
~ Jonathan Swift
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