When Your Mom ‘Divorces’ You
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because rough childhoods linger.
By Michael Finley
When I was around 10, my mom left us.
One of my sisters — the lucky golden child — got to live with her dad. She was our mom’s favorite. And everyone else’s too. My oldest sister, my brother and me? We were left to fend for ourselves.
Which meant we almost ended up in an orphanage. At the last second though, a guy took over our little rental house, and so he was also “taking care” of us. He was always in a bad mood, and my siblings and I felt like we were a heavy burden. Our existence was like some kind of favor he was doing us.
He always came home after 2 am, drunk and angry, which meant we had to tiptoe around the house. I remember being pretty carefree for the most part before him, but that was also before my mom had a breakdown and got put in some kind of place for the mentally ill.
My mom tried to abort me in 1965. But I survived her smashing me into the wall in utero.
Anyway, he slept on a couch in the center of the place, and in the mornings when he was hungover, we knew that we had to be unseen and unheard and not bother him or else some kind of heavy hand would come down. Love and affection? Gone. It had left with my mom.
I was heartbroken, but I didn’t understand or have the words to describe what I was going through. And who would I tell anyway? That person had left. And everything suffered.
I was a few years ahead in math, but suddenly math looked like Chinese to me. I couldn’t focus on a math problem when things didn’t add up at home. I asked the man for help.
“You either get this shit or you don’t!” he said.
So, on top of heartbreak, I was becoming “dumb.” And numb. I started smoking weed at 10. Kids were calling me a burnout. I became a ghost. I literally stopped growing physically. I was afraid to eat. I always had intense stomach aches.
Baby monkeys in a lab who are kept away from their mothers stop growing. I learned this years later in a psychology class and I got up and left because I thought I might break down right there in class. It brought up this overwhelming grief. I dropped out of school.
I didn’t know or understand what was happening. I would go into trances and daydream, have nightmares, hallucinations and dreams that made no sense. I was always afraid to sleep. I had dreams where I would dig into my guts, pulling them out, searching for something in there. These nightmares were from the surgeries I had as a baby.
See, my mom tried to abort me in 1965. It was illegal then but I survived her smashing me into the wall in utero. I knew I wasn’t wanted at some level and I was born very ill. I almost died as I went from seven pounds to two as they did surgeries on my guts and pyloric valve.
I had hernias and gangrene. They told my mom I wouldn’t survive. I always did.
But my mom already had three kids when she became pregnant with me. I was an extra. I was never sure who my father was until I had the man who I thought might be my father take a paternity test this year.
He wasn’t my father, so it must have been the man my mom said had “forced himself on” her. Not a good feeling. To be born from rape.
I would ride my bike all day to escape my house. I would get into fights with kids simply because they seemed happy. My teachers didn’t like me because I was withdrawn, sullen, had no social skills and was often dirty and unkempt. I wasn’t a difficult kid in class: I was quiet and never disrupted things. But not one teacher had the insight, or perceptiveness, to see I was suffering.
I woke up on the ground with a ringing in my right ear — I have lost all my hearing in this ear since — choking back tears …
I liked to read and draw even though I was unremarkable and mostly drew pictures to escape the reality of the boredom of school. I really just wanted to get outside. Outside.
One time I was picking on a kid at the park. His dad saw me and ran up to us hard and fast, knocking me out with one punch to the back of my head. I was 11.
I woke up on the ground with a ringing in my right ear — I have lost all my hearing in this ear since — choking back tears while he screamed how he would kill me if I stood up. I wasn’t about to stand up, but not one adult came to help me anyway.
I was beat and broken, and I swallowed all the pain. I didn’t cry. I was too shut down to do so, and I had long since learned to not let myself feel much of anything. I went back to my house and told no one. Certainly not the man who replaced my mother.
I don’t know if he sensed anything was “wrong” but he took me to the store when I got home. To do some shopping. With our food stamps.
He said he was too “high-class” to be seen with food stamps. But he made a shopping list for me. Which was easy since we pretty much lived off of Coca-Cola, salami and Ho Hos.
He used to call the big, new two-liter bottles of Coke “fat cocks.”
“Don’t forget to get the fat cocks,” he would say.
I would cringe. And go face the man at the checkout line whose contempt for my welfare stamps I tried to ignore.
- Michael Finley