Jekyll Island Beach 2012

Jekyll Island Beach 2012
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Friday, June 18, 2010

THE ROAD HOME, Chapter 7

The Rogue Speaks:


I was an adult with three children of my own when I dropped the “startle marble” that shocked my siblings. I had confronted my mother many years before, and even though she knew, had seen it with her own eyes, and I had known that she had seen it, she refused to believe that she had had any part in it. She lied.

I needed help. Robert Frost once wrote that “home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in.” I went there, and they didn’t take me in. They shunned me, called me a liar, and my mother, the woman who had told many times over of the agony of giving birth to me, the hours she had spent in labor to bring me into the world, denied her own complicity.

“You are alone,” I said to myself. “You have to work this thing out for yourself. You are stronger, smarter, clever enough to do it, so scrape them off! They are weak, sick, unable to help themselves, or even want to.

I separated myself by distance, and began to try to build a normal life. It was anything but easy. They refused to let me escape. They came after me, day after day, month after month, year after year, trying to drag me back into their madness., and at the same time, punishing me for having told the truth.

I had moved to Chicago in 1978, and after the birth of my fourth child in 1979, I took a part-time job with a flower broker in 1981. I did well at that job, and was offered a full-time position with an international import broker. When my soon-to-be ex-husband lost his job, and we found ourselves moving to Birmingham, the president of the brokerage decided to set up an office for me there, with the understanding that I would return one week a month to work in the Chicago office.

I was working at my desk in Chicago, when a call came in from my sister. “What is it now?” I wondered to myself. I found out soon enough, as she raged at me about being there when I should have been at home with my children. At that time, I was making more money than my father had ever dreamed of making in a year—money that we needed.

“I know what you’re doing!” she raged. “You’re probably up there sleeping with some man!” The mere thought of that was so bizarre, that I didn’t know how to respond at first.

Finally I spoke. “You people have absolutely no idea just who I am.” I said quietly.

“You people?? YOU PEOPLE??” she screamed. I quietly replaced the received back in the cradle and went back to work.


The night before my father killed himself, he asked for my forgiveness. He was 50 years old. The abuse had begun when I was only 10 years old. Sometimes I think that it began earlier than that, but I can’t be sure—the memories are hazy. Did she know, my mother? Did she know? Yes, she did. She had always known. But, because her life was all about her, she had thrown me to the wolves.

The night before, he wanted me to go for a ride with him. “She’s tired, “ my mother had told him. “Let her be! The baby is due in only two months!” This was my first pregnancy, and my then husband and I had come from Nashville to Atlanta so he and his father, and my father could go hunting together. It was something that my father rarely did.

She didn’t want him to be alone with me because she knew he wanted to talk—about his life, my wedding, the impending birth of my first child, and HER. Oh, she knew! She knew he was tired and sick. She knew that I had won in my battle to get him into treatment for his mental illness that had ravaged him for so many years. She had fought me tooth and nail for such a long time now.

“Stay out of this!” she had told me. “ I am not going to air our dirty laundry!”

“Don’t you care that he is suffering? Don’t you want him to get better? And what about ME?” I would ask. “Doesn’t my life mean anything to you? You KNEW! And you did nothing to help me! Nothing to help him! HOW COULD YOU?????”

“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST FORGET ABOUT THAT!!!!” she screamed.

As my father and I drove into the city, he began to talk. He asked if I knew about my mother’s first husband, Arthur, who had “mysteriously disappeared in Miami on the eve
of their planned move to the Virgin Islands so he could begin writing the All American Novel.” That was the story that my mother had told me. Told about how he had been an expert on Russia and spoke fluent Russian, told of the FBI searching for him in case he had been kidnapped. It had gone on and on. I knew perfectly well what had happened to him. He had jumped into Biscayne Bay--committed suicide, leaving his glasses perched on the sea wall. And I certainly knew why.

My father talked about his life with my mother, how disappointed he was that she had let herself go, about the spending sprees she went on, about how she had no concept of money or what it took to make it, about how she had made her two boys the center of her world. Then he wanted to talk about me. “I’m sorry,” he said, “for what I did to you. I am so sorry! I hope you can forgive me.”

A little after 5 a.m. the next morning, he came into the room in which I was sleeping. Not my old bedroom that I had slept in as a teenager, but the guest room down the hall. I held my breath as he approached the bed. I pretended to be asleep, hoping he would go away as quickly as he had come. He stood beside the bed, and brushed the hair off my forehead. Then he left.

The “girls” had plans for lunch at noon,, and we arrived back at my parents’ home around 3 in the afternoon. It was a perfect fall day, with a brilliant sun hanging in the sky, and the leaves just beginning to turn. When everyone had left, and I was alone in the den, I was suddenly struck by a sense of foreboding. Something was not right. He had done it. I knew he had, but I didn’t want to believe that the help I had arranged for him had been for naught. Shortly thereafter I heard a car in the driveway, and my mother’s two brothers entered the house.

“Where’s your mother?” Dexter, the older one asked.

My mother met them in the living room. After a few minutes, I opened the door, and saw her sitting on the couch, her hands covering her face, her shoulders hunched. My uncles, sitting on either side of her, looked grim.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“It’s your dad,” one of them said.

He had been found in his car, a couple of miles off one of the main roads near a television tower. He was dead from a gunshot wound to his head, a note to my two uncles lay on the seat beside him. The help that he had so desperately needed had come too late. His grief and anguish, his tortured life, was just too much for him to bear.

8 comments:

Joann Mannix said...

Judie,

I am so sorry for the pain and devastation that circumscribed your childhood. So very sorry. To sit here and read your story is a testament to your strong and abiding spirit. How you you taken the horrors of abuse and risen up and so far above those scars is extraordinary. You have told such a dark and difficult tale with such dignity and care and courage.

Once again, I am so sorry for the terrible travails you have been through, but I am also filled with admiration for how nobly you have walked out the other side

Judie said...

Thanks, Joann. I have a feeling that when we have to go back to Atlanta again, the ghosts will be gone. I've gotten a lot of pretty important feedback on this story. Thanks for sticking with me.

Sarah said...

It's so hard to believe our parents could be selfish and ignoring their children's needs. What a torturous childhood you have had! But look at how you've come out--a strong, beautiful and great person!

Judie said...

Sara, it has been estimated that 1 in 3 women have suffered sexual abuse. I am certainly not alone in this, but in writing about it, I cannot tell you how much better I feel.

Thank you, Sara, for your kind and loving words.

nothingprofound said...

Judie-wonderful how you've not only survived all this, but risen above it with such grace and courage. There wasn't a breath of animosity in anything you wrote about your father, only compassion and sadness. Strength and understanding like that is not easily come by. I think there does exist in some people such a love of life, such a will for happiness, that they simply won't allow any circumstances to drag them down.

Judie said...

Marty, my father had been sick for soooo long. Among other things, he suffered from bipolar disorder and paranoia. He had been hospitalized at Bethesda Naval Hospital when he had a complete breakdown while in Brazil--he was a war correspondent with Time magazine--My mother wanted only to get him out so she could go back to her life. From the time I was quite small, I knew he was ill. We must have compassion for people like him. In my heart, I had no choice but to forgive.

Angelia Sims said...

That is a tough, tough situation, and I don't know of anyone that could have emerged from it with a spirit like you have. A strength and understanding that surpasses anything written on the studies of abuse. And you truly did it on your own.

I am impressed, I am saddened, and I am uplifted by the telling of your story.

I grieve for the mental illness. I grieve for those that do not think they are worthy. Such pain, and such loss of life.

Judie said...

Thanks for the kind words. This was an ongoing issue that went on for more than twenty years. My mother pitted her children against each other for support. She once told me that I was her smartest child. I think she was probably right about that, but she just didn't know it. My sister and my older brother (six younger than I) just were ill-equipted to deal with his illness. My sister was my mother's favorite daughter because she was the one who clung to her apron strings. My mother favored the boys and made my brother, who suffered from ADHD, among other things, believe that he was superior to women. He couldn't live up to her expectations.

I fought tooth and nail from the time I was a freshman in college to get help for my father. He was really a quite brilliant man, but needed someone much smarter and dedicated to see him through his mental illness. My mother was not that person.