Then – In the name of the Father
We had been in foster care for 8 months before dad called. In some ways it didn’t even register as I guess we were still mourning. At our young ages we didn’t know what mourning was per se, but we knew that in our short years we had lost our mother, father and grandmother and that not another person in the world cared about us. All of that hurt tremendously, made us afraid of mostly everything, but most importantly we were incredibly sad. We so wanted to be loved and wanted.
Being the stronger of the two I could see that and feel it, but Olivia continued her journey of shutting down and going even deeper into herself. The only person that she would open to was me – but some times she would shut me out because she said she was afraid of getting close to someone else and losing them.
I can tell you that Olivia never left me once while we were there. We clung together at every opportunity. We bathed together, slept together, studied together, stood one in front of the other to get changed in and out of our clothes and we waited. We still had faith that our parents would show up – especially now that our grandmother had died. They would have to come back now. And he did, alone. Well not alone but with someone that was not our mother.
Olivia was so happy to see him – she would have forgiven him anything and in fact did. After all the requisite checks were completed we left and began the journey to our new home. On the way Olivia decided to forget anything that had happened to this point and to move on only with the new life she was going to have with her father. I noticed that she specifically was not going to acknowledge anything about the fact that her mother had not returned – with or without her father.
The drive was quite long and we celebrated the more miles we covered. Nobody would know who we were, where we had come from and we wouldn’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed anymore. Most of all, we were safe and we were with our dad. Life was good – finally. For a few moments anyways.
When we arrived at our new home – it was beyond impossible to imagine and I know I wished we could go back to the foster home. The only shining star if there were any was our new stepmother. I know traditionally they are supposed to be horrible and she was, but she was better than the knight in shining armour father that we believed in.
Without going into too much detail – as we opened the door to our new home and went to see our new bedroom – we found a man in it, with a woman being held against her will and being used in ways that adults should never see and children should never know about.
We had trouble sleeping that night – and for most of the nights that followed, especially after a series of drunken visitors waking us up in some attempt to get to know us. We tried to speak to our father about this and he just laughed and said we misunderstood and were making too much of it. We were not yet comfortable enough with our step mother – and she looked like she was all part of the scene anyways – so we kept it to ourselves and never talked about it, even to each other.
We tried to fit in at our new school – but that didn’t work out very well and tried out our second school in two weeks. We thought this one would be good because it was familiar – it was another Catholic school. At the very least the routine would be comforting. We loved wearing our uniforms and were looking forward to being happy – at least in one area of our life.
Neither Olivia or myself knew enough at age 7 to fear the future or worry about the present – in any way that could have any impact. The days and nights passed in a flurry of activity – in seemingly unending parties. Not to say that some moments weren’t exciting because they were – but definitely this was no place for any child.
Beyond the chaos of our physical home – its effects seemed to follow us to school. In Catholic schools you were uniforms and are allowed one day a month to dress “down” which means casual and to wear anything BUT your uniform. With so much going on at home, neither one of us noticed the day creeping up on us.
Casual day morning – we realized to our horror that we really and truly did not have anything to wear. I don’t mean we had a closet full of clothes that we didn’t want to wear – we really did not have any clothes to wear. The only things in our closet were boxes of dope that were being hidden for our father, by our father.
We had to come up with something and fast, because school was starting soon and we still had a 10 minute walk to get there. The only thing we could find were some of dad’s shirts and a couple of pairs of his old jeans.
He was already gone to work so we couldn’t ask his permission – so we just cut off the jeans to the appropriate length and tied the tails of the shirts around our waists. We tried to imagine we were cool and ahead of the fashion, but truthfully we were scared to death of the embarrassment and judgement that we were going to be subject to at school.
We were not wrong. Kids can be horrible at any age – but pre-teen girls are particularly bad. To top it off, the school noticed our attire and called for our parents.
Our father being his typical self was not home and not available to be found, so his “extra female friends” came to pick us up on his behalf. When I say extra – let me be clear, they were his stripper girlfriends that lived with us, in addition to our step mother who joined us on a somewhat irregular basis.
What little pride we had left was left at the door of our school when we were escorted out by these two women.
But horror of horrors we had to go back the next day. We did however have some modicum of hope because it was a physical fitness day – and our physical education clothing was also provided as part of our uniform, so there would be no repeat performances clothing wise.
It seemed that all was going well until – and yes, you know there had to be a but-Olivia fell and sprained her ankle. She was in pain and the school nurse said we had to go to the hospital.
As with the previous day – our father was unavailable to pick us up so sent one of his burly tattooed biker guy friends, along with his lady friend to pick us up. Our humiliation as he hoisted us both up on his shoulders – was complete. It didn’t matter that we were together in this – and for the first time, we were unable to comfort each other.
By the time we arrived at the hospital we had pretty much surrendered any hope for our lives and couldn’t imagine anything getting any worse. Our aunt was the head nurse on staff and handled our case personally. That should have comforted us, but it didn’t.
My sister went home with a bandaged leg, some pain medication and a pair of crutches. I went with her silently, hoping that despite our current existence, things would get better.
As we arrived home, it was quickly apparent that things were going to get worse before they got better, if they were to ever get better at all. I tried to head towards the washroom only to find it occupied by a man that couldn’t hold his alcohol and seemed to have the worst case of alcohol poisoning in the history of man. Then we tried to go towards the kitchen – a mistake we would remember for the rest of our lives.
One of the drunken men there decided it would be fun to see what would happen if they stacked my sisters leg in between a few of the beer cases in the corner and jump on it. Would it go the other way??? Despite our cries – nobody stopped it and before we knew it, we were back at the hospital.
This time we treated by different doctor and nurse; medical staff that actually cared about what happened. They noticed that we had been in earlier and that a sprain had now become a break in 16 places and wanted to know why.
Much to my amazement, for some reason Olivia felt safe enough to start to talk. I was so surprised, but I was so pleased. I would have stayed by her through thick and thin and never betrayed her and told anybody because she asked me not to. Apparently she had made a deal with god that if either of her parents came back, she would never ask for anything ever again.
But when people that were supposed to love us, continually hurt us in fairly serious ways, she realized that we needed help from the outside.
The doctor took good care of us but was unable to do much of anything else at that time other than make a report and call the police. We were sent home and when we got there the party was still going strong. We both took the painkillers and fell into a dead sleep where nothing would hurt us. Next thing we know there is banging on our windows, our doors and the police are everywhere. They talked to us in quiet voices and assured us that nothing we said would be wrong and that they were there to help us.
Afraid to betray our father out of a mixed sense of some misguided loyalty and fear, we didn’t say a word, but then again, we didn’t have to – they found everything and took him away after assuring that our step mother would take good care of us.
To her credit she did and I think this part means more to Olivia than it does to me, so I’ll let her tell this part.
Then – Maternal Instincts
Hi there, it’s nice to see you again. I would imagine that Seraphina has been telling you a bit about our history so we can understand the now and how it is relative to the future. We must be getting to the part about our mother, or she would still be the one telling you the story. She has a real problem with our mother – well equal to the problem I have with our father, so I cannot blame her at all for not wanting to be the one to explain this part of our story.
Where to begin…
As you know, our mother left us on Christmas Eve when we were 2 ½. It’s hard enough for a girl to grow up without being daddy’s little girl, but something really changes on a fundamental level when a girl has no mother. No, I don’t mean biologically because that is always there, but to not have an actual mother daughter relationship. Well, it changes a girl. It changes who she is, who she will become as mother, wife, a friend and most importantly, to herself.
To say we were stunned the Christmas Eve they left would be an understatement. Except we were 2 ½ and didn’t truly understand the concept of what was going on. That offered a certain amount of protection – for me anyways, but Seraphina understood completely. Maybe her understanding was a good thing for me, because she became my protector in that moment. She was who I went to at all times, for everything – good or bad.
Every night that I cried myself to sleep while I missed my mommy, she was there with me, comforting me to the best of her ability. Every time I wondered what I had done wrong to make her leave, she answered with a hug and a sense of something that I cannot put words to. She just made me feel that no matter what was going to happen, that I would be ok. It’s only now as an adult do I realize the price she paid on my behalf and I don’t know how to thank her. I will however find a way and that is a promise.
Now, back to our mother.
I should actually refer to as the woman that gave birth to us, because a mother in my understanding is something all together different. I’m obviously stating this from a different perspective – that of an adult looking back on a situation and one that has had enough distance from the hurt, that I can be honest about both sides of the story.
After the first police raid my step mother and father – well their relationship suffered a breakdown and in typical dad fashion he left in the middle of the night and we were placed back into the foster system. Fast forward a few years until we heard from him again. He was in a new relationship and again he wanted custody of us.
With still no word from my mother – it was granted.
We went to another new city and this new ‘step mother’ and started again. There isn’t a lot of detail because not much of anything happened at this point in time. There was no repeat of the previous mischief and he seemed to have changed his ways. It may not sound like I care or am giving it too much due considering the horror of the last time I lived with him and for the most part I don’t.
For the other part once you have been so hurt and betrayed by someone, you never truly open yourself up to them or anybody else to hurt you on that level ever again. That distance keeps you safe and that is exactly what I did.
I existed by keeping my distance during this marriage of his and when he left again – coincidently again on Christmas Eve, I was not surprised. Nor was I unhappy when I had the opportunity to stay with my step mother for a while.
She and I spent many days and nights talking and while she was never my mother, she gave me the gift of getting to know who my mother was and put us in contact again.
I should do a little more explaining and not rush ahead so much. Sorry about that – I do tend to chat a lot and race, just ask Seraphina.
After my father left my step mother – I was the one that stayed with her to listen to her woes. I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t because I truly cared, but more because I didn’t have any other place to go. At 15 options are fairly limited. Well, that and the fact she said she knew who my mother was and how I could get in touch with her.
At that point in time, I probably would have sold my soul to the devil if I would have known how to get in touch with him.
It was all rather simple in the end. She had known the entire time how to get in touch with my mothers family the entire time. I asked why she hadn’t said anything before and she said my father had given her a story about my mother, how horrible she was and the only time she wanted anything to do with me was when she needed money for drugs.
She said that now, she wasn’t sure if any of that was true and would be willing to help me get in touch if that was something I wanted. We made the phone call to my grand parents that very day. We arranged to meet with them that weekend and together we called my mother who lived in a different city with her new family.
For the record, she wasn’t a drug addict. She just had a new life, one that didn’t include me. In m opinion she was really quite happy without me being in her life, but when I showed up, what could she do – without making herself look bad.
When we spoke on the phone – it was incredibly awkward but that was expected. She had planned to be visiting where I lived in two months – so plans were left that way and we arranged to meet then. To be honest and I know this hurts Seraphina, but we don’t understand why after 13 years of “missing” us as she said on the phone, she would still wait for 2 months to come and visit.
Then an even bigger bomb got dropped, she had re-married and had 4 daughters. Ok 3 step daughters and 1 biological daughter of her own with her husband, but still 4 of them. So here she has her and leaves, never comes back, then moves on gets married and has another little girl that she keeps to raise. A bit hard for anybody to swallow and I can honestly say that Seraphina still cannot do it – even after all of these years.
I can’t blame her though – as that is how I feel about our father. Funny how each one of us has a parent that we cannot understand or are willing to put any more efforts into.
So.. fast forward two months and we arrange to actually meet in person. I had thought maybe at her parent’s house – or mine, but she suggests a Pizza Place on the corner of some street. I get dropped off in this strange neighbourhood, but the prospect of meeting my mother made up for it. I sat down at a table and she joined me a few minutes later. (we had pre-arranged what we would be wearing).
We were there for about an hour and then she dropped me back at home. We had arranged to meet a few days later, so I could meet my sister. She was 3 at the time and we were going to take her to the zoo. I’m not sure how much bonding I was expected to do at that age, but I did try.
We saw each other one more time before she and my younger sister headed back to their home. While I didn’t see them again for another 6 months, I was able to spend a lot of time with her parents, my grandparents. I will forever be grateful for that time because my grandfather died the following summer.
I won’t go into the details that caused his funeral to be a spectacle because I don’t want to make his memory any less than the dignity that he deserved. I will say however my escape from it all came from the fact by this time in my life I was studying with a pathologist for my Biology grade, had been to a couple of autopsies and had heard the horrors of peoples arms and legs being broken to fit them into sub-par caskets for burial.
True to my nature, my first order of business was to ensure that this hadn’t happened to my newly found grandfather. The one man in my life to date that had treated me with kindness.
Maybe it was my age or the fact that I was curious enough to ask – but ask I did. The funeral director took me downstairs to the mortuary and showed me how they did the embalming, the hair, makeup and clothing. He also showed me how they place the body in the caskets and what happens to them from then until the funeral and from the funeral to the church and from the church to either the burial grounds or the crematorium. Maybe he had extra time on his hands and maybe he shouldn’t have done this, but I appreciated it and was grateful for the peace of mind it gave me.
Growing up Roman Catholic you have a few days of viewings, then the funeral and then the burial service. Not sure if this is just my family or not, but I was raised to believe you are free to touch the person that you love, give them a kiss to say goodbye in death, just as you would in life. I’ve never been afraid of that and hopefully I never will be, because I think it is a beautiful part of life – the time to say goodbye, the time to have a proper ending.
I digress again, back to the topic. The next time I saw my mother (after her fathers’ funeral) I had been flown to see her at her home. It was hard to see “them” settled into their home and their life – and it was obvious that I didn’t have a place there and would never be part of it. Maybe I was too sensitive and didn’t give it enough time – but I truly only felt welcomed by my sister, who was truly too young to understand anything.
During the two weeks I was there I tried to learn about my mother and let her learn about me, but really she wasn’t interested. She was more interested in giving me a talking to for the upkeep of my guest room and other regular things that teens do.
I also tried to tell her of what was going on at home – and she stopped me dead telling me that I couldn’t live with her because she and her husband had made a pact that none of their children from previous marriages would ever live with them. Did I mention that my mothers step daughters are closer to her age and at least 15 years older than I am?
I don’t know exactly what I expected as in, did I expect that she would just say yes and tell me to pack my bags and move. But maybe I did expect my mother to try to help me, protect me – something I thought mothers did naturally. First message received loud and clear.
When I was visiting I bought gifts for everyone as some misguided attempt to bond or share – and specifically purchased matching teddy bears for my sister and I.
When it came time to leave I have two distinct memories – the first not being able to find my teddy bear – apparently my sister in her 3 years old mind thought if she kept my teddy bear, I would stay there with her. How bad were things for her that she wanted a total stranger to live with her rather than be alone at the centre of attention of her parents?
The second and not nearly so sweet memory came in the form of a “gift” that my mother handed me and told me not to open until I was safely on the plane.
I was so excited I thought it was some form of acceptance, some token of love she may have been afraid to show in person. Maybe I had been “reading” all the signs wrong. Maybe she did love me, want me and felt bad for leaving me all of those years ago without ever trying to find me. I was flying as high as the clouds we were flying through.
I even had the temerity to be “bragging” to my fellow passenger in the seat beside me that my mother had given me this great gift and I could open it before Christmas.
I never stopped to think that she may have felt sorry for me because I was celebrating Christmas without my mother. I’d never had her in my life – so anything was good, to me anyways.
As I ripped off the paper and pushed it into the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me. I could hardly contain myself and almost made the same sounds that I did when I was 2 ½ getting my Christmas gift from her. I should have remembered that president.
I sat on the plane completely stunned. This “gift” she had given me was a photo album that showed pictures of me from varying stages and ages throughout my life. With pictures from all the various homes, towns & cities – some even including my fathers other wives.
I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that my entire life she knew where I was were, but made no attempt to find or reach me. The final stab to my heart was the picture of her showing her address to be less than 8 city blocks away from where I lived for almost 4 years. She must have to take great pains to not see me, or to be seen by me.
About half way through the album there was a letter from my first step mother telling her all about what was going on in my life – and asking her to please come and help her daughter. She also said that if she didn’t believe her to check with the list of family members she said also knew, but protected my father.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I couldn’t believe she knew and didn’t do a thing to help me. I couldn’t believe that she had the nerve to visit me face to face and not mention a thing about all of this. I could not believe when I tried to tell her what she already knew, she shut me down. I couldn’t believe she thought this was a gift. Was I losing my mind?
Oh my god, again, another person protecting my father instead of me. I was only a child, could nobody see that? Was she not supposed to be my mother, someone that would protect me? Protect me from those who were supposed to be keeping me safe – but were the culprits?
I did not know or have the skills at that age to process the information I learned so I just shut them down and tried to pretend either I didn’t know or that it didn’t matter. It would take me many years to realize that the only person I was shutting down was me and the only person paying a price of any sort was me. It would take me a few more years to learn that the only person I could trust to take care of me – was me.