I Murdered My Mother
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it actually does take a village.
By Josh Tartar
My parents divorced before I could remember what was going on. What ever had happened, though, had made her hate him and, in turn, me. She would remind me that my blue eyes were the same as my dad’s and her distaste for those reminders was a factor in her leaving me with him when I was 4.
Taking care of me, though, seemed to be the least of his interests. When he’d hang out with women or just didn’t want to deal with me, he’d lock me in my room and would rarely feed me. I remember getting yelled at and hit when I’d sneak out of my room to steal food or try to escape the house, with no idea where I was going. I just wanted out of that shithole. Eventually, his parents saw what was happening and threatened to involve the cops if he didn’t send me to live with my mother. I was put on a plane back to my mother that same week.
My mother had remarried and just had a son, who would be my younger half brother. Her new husband was a hardworking man who liked to drink a lot and put in as many hours as he could manage at work. He was a provider but to me not much else. In the end, he was as much under my mother’s thumb as everyone else around her.
And with me back in the picture, my position as the unwanted of the two children quickly became apparent. My mother treated me like a constant reminder of the man she hated and told me this often during long lectures on how I needed to “be a man” and help take care of my brother. Then what started as an occasional slap for a perceived mistake or stepping out of line turned into full-on beatings within that first year. As I grew in size with age, the beatings got worse, likely due to my mother wanting to further intimidate me and see me actually hurt. The physical part was easiest to deal with, though, since I’d grown hyperaware of her moods and knew when the beatings would come. I also knew that she could only hit me for so long before it would hurt her hands, and in the end it was really more about showing her that I was beaten down.
My mother calmly and coolly explained to me that if I did anything or said anything that got my brother taken away from them, she’d kill me.
The mental side was another story. My mother would pick apart things I said or did, both criticizing and laying out a bizarre patchwork about how I should be versus how I might become. These talks would involve me sitting completely still while my mother slowly worked herself up in anger and agitation by bringing up my father and seeing some part of him in me. This always ended in violence. After a beating that would leave me with a busted lip, scratched face, neck, bloody nose and bruised body, I’d make my way to the bathroom to clean up and be forced to spend the rest of the day in my bedroom.
I asked for help at school one day when I showed up with a large gash in my head and scratches all over my neck and face. A call to social services put me in front of a nice lady who asked questions about my home life. The implication didn’t resonate with me at the moment and when asked, I began to tell her everything. I told her about the abuse, about the talks and about my parents’ drug use at home. I was sent back to class and didn’t hear anything for a week, until my mother confronted me about a phone call she got saying they would come inspect the home for evidence of child abuse. Very matter-of-factly, my mother calmly and coolly explained to me that if I did anything or said anything that got my brother taken away from them, she’d kill me. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly believed her. I wasn’t touched for two weeks while we prepared for the social worker to come to the house.
After they cleaned the house, removed all the liquor and beer cans, as well as got rid of whatever drugs were there, the social worker showed up. I was about 9 years old, and we all proceeded to lie our asses off. I never saw or heard from the state again. Until later.
I then tried running away from home with a poorly implemented plan, only to be picked right back up by my parents. The result? More punishment and more control. By the age of 12, I’d resigned myself that this was my own miserable existence and I simply lived to help take care of my brother. I was brainwashed into thinking I was nothing and all that mattered was the care of my younger brother and serving my mother.
By the time I was about 14, though, I saw this same scope of abuse begin to start on my brother. This was something he’d only had to witness when it came to me, but I realized that he wouldn’t be spared in the long run. More time passed and the idea that my own life was meaningless turned into a feeling I would lash out at my mother in some pathetic attempt to try to keep my brother from my own fate.
I began to plan, if it could even be called that. My stepdad had a small-caliber rifle that I figured was my only option to cause any harm. When the time came, I was filled with nothing but overwhelming fear. I stood sweating in the dark for an eternity before I finally did what I’d come in there to do. One shot that sounded more like a popping balloon than a gun and I was turning to run before I registered whether I’d hit her or not. I heard her grunt and I was back in my room waiting for the inevitable rage that would come from her.
As insane as it sounds going over this now, I never believed that I could kill my mother. I thought I could hurt her and force her to kill me, but the reality of her actually dying didn’t register with me. Even after I pulled the trigger and retreated to my room, I just sat there waiting for her to come kill me.
The public cares when a child commits murder.
After a lot of time had passed, the reality that things weren’t going as I’d imagined began to set in and I found myself unsure of what comes next. I woke my brother, told him what happened and after a short cry, we tried to figure out what to do. We hid the body and concocted a story that she’d run off with some friends, which was common when she became particularly unhinged. This was a hastily thought up idea and as the days went on with her missing, I knew it was a matter of time until she would be found.
My stepfather finally found her body and the police were called. I was brought into custody, immediately charged as an adult and assigned a public defender. After a lot of court, news people and sitting in a jail cell for five months, I was recertified as a juvenile and quietly shipped into juvenile detention. From there, I was moved into a treatment facility for other kids who’d committed violent or severe crimes, a last stop before prison. That was its own kind of nightmare. That place was eventually shut down some years after I’d been out. When light was finally shed on what was going on in there, it collapsed.
I was put through the ringer in what could barely count as treatment. The only consolation is that all that I experienced there didn’t even remotely compare to what I’d gone through at home. I experienced it all with a cold sense of detachment as I was marched in front of countless strangers to tell my story over and over and over again. This “treatment” was never resolved, as I was simply being held for the longest they could under the law, which was until I turned 18. At that point, I was released and given two months’ rent in an apartment, a couch and an occasional visit from a parole officer over the next six months. Welcome to adulthood.
The public cares when a child commits murder. You’ll see it make the run of the news and everyone will pitch in their opinions on the matter, until it comes time to sentence the kids in question. Like anything, some people take the side of the kid, some take the side of the victim. But once they’re sentenced, you generally never hear that story again. These same kids, whether they’re sentenced as juveniles or as adults, will end up being free again someday, the same way I am. A child isn’t fully responsible for the world that they live in, but an adult has to live with that past and the decisions made for the rest of their lives.
In my case, the warning signs were obvious. Throughout court, and then explained to me again and again after, people knew something was wrong and that things were bad at home. They simply didn’t realize how bad. The few family members who knew failed to help, something they admitted later. The school and social services noticed and failed to help. And when it came down to me, well, I think I failed too. But I feel these things can in some way be prevented or that a child should be able to find a way out without violence, and if sharing my story helps, I’m glad to do it.
- Josh Tartar, OZY Author Contact Josh Tartar