Half a Lifetime Ago


I spent most of my 15th birthday in tears. I had actually almost completely forgotten about my 15th birthday, which is a fairly impressive feat, since it’s definitely one of the worst birthdays I ever had. I think my brain tries really hard to protect me from things and I stubbornly refuse to allow it to do so. Last week I was going through an old binder of mine with David. It had letters I had written to other people. I think it was copies of those letters. Or first drafts, really. If I remember correctly, the finished products were usually longer than the first drafts but that does not mean that the first drafts are short. There are a couple of letters to the teenage love of my life. One of them is a goodbye letter. Now of course it’s not really a goodbye letter. I could tell Baby Me that she’d see him again in a couple of months (I don’t even think it lasted that long) but I only lived in the moment at that time. I do explain in a fair amount of detail to him what happened on my 15th birthday and there it was, it all came rushing back. So that was a surprise.

I was doing a group babysitting thing for a church group that morning. My mother picked me up and I distinctly remember I got into the car with her and asked what she was doing there (someone else was supposed to take me home). She told me she wished she could say she was surprising her daughter by taking her out to lunch on her birthday but that was not the case. And then it started. As it turned out, while I had been talking to HIM on the phone last night at my other babysitting job, one of the little boys  I was babysitting had wet his pants and gone to hide in the corner of his bedroom and I hadn’t noticed, being caught up in the world of nothing else mattering. Their dad came and took me home and then returned to find his son soaking wet and shivering. Not my finest moment.

I was genuinely devastated, for the record. My mother was screaming at me, asking what kind of a person I was and any number of other things. I was sobbing and I didn’t know what to say and we’re driving in the car and she won’t stop screaming at me. She’s so angry, she’s so disappointed. It’s all my fault, nothing is okay, nothing will ever be okay again. It’s hard to over-exaggerate what fights with my mother made me feel like. I’ve never been good with conflict. Possibly this is part of why. I don’t exactly remember what happened next. We were on a highway but I feel like she must have actually pulled the car over to scream at me. In the letter I said that I screamed that I hated her and didn’t want to live with her anymore. I don’t specifically remember that but it’s probably true. What I do remember is the part where I got out of the car and started walking (which is why I assume she had stopped because I did not dramatically roll from a moving car – I was not that hardcore). What I remember is thinking that I knew where HE worked and that I could maybe walk there. Mom was just following me in the car, yelling at me to get back in. I was wearing high heels. I couldn’t remember how far the place was (probably 5 miles or more) but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it and also that mom wasn’t just going to leave me. More importantly that I wouldn’t make it. And you know. I had no money, no phone, no way of getting ahold of anyone. I gave up and got back in the car.

This is when my mother did an entirely unprecedented thing – she took me to someone else for help. This had never happened before and it really never happened again, at least not in this same way. Apparently my mother was so desperate and so overwhelmed that she just couldn’t deal with it. She called my youth leader and dropped me off at the church. She did not come in with me, she did not have any conversation with them in person, as far as I know. She only talked to them on the phone. For all I know she just said “my daughter is fucking an 18 year old (I was not), you have to fix this” and left me there. Whatever she said, I ended up in a chair in the youth leader’s office, absolutely devastated, sobbing, a complete mess. This was the only time in my life this would happen. I would periodically go to youth leaders or pastors, occasionally talk about my depression or cutting. My parents would send me to a therapist when they felt backed into a corner. But there would never be another time where someone would find me that completely undone, where someone would actually see how devastated I could be or how unraveled my mother could make me. No one outside my house saw that, no one outside my home knew that.

She did nothing. I shouldn’t say that, it’s not entirely accurate. She definitely did something. She told me that I had a very big decision to make and that she wanted to help me through this very difficult time but that the only way she could help me was if I made the right decision. She told me that I was disobeying God, that by disobeying my parents, I was hurting God and hurting my parents. She told me that HE was not a Christian and could obviously not possibly be someone who was good for me in any way because God would never want that for me. She told me that if I wanted her help I would gather up his letters and anything he’d given me into a box that I’d give to her for a year, that I’d write him a goodbye letter (at least till I was 18) that she’d read, that I would agree to go to a weekly Bible study with a group of girls that she’d pick out to “hold me accountable” for a year. She did not talk about my mom except how much I was hurting my parents. She did not in any way explore what was going on in my home or what got me to this place to begin with. She had known for a while now, she’d never seen me like this and she never would again. But it did not occur to her to question if something was wrong on a deeper level than the boy I was seeing.

What choice could I possibly make? I was in love, as in love as any completely fucked up 15 year old is capable of being. He was kind to me, he worshiped the ground I walked on.  He saw me, saw nothing but me, in fact. It was not a healthy relationship, of course. It was codependent and pretty destructive. But it was no more damaging than pretty much every other relationship in my life at the time, in a long term sort of sense it would turn out to be significantly less damaging than my relationship with my parents. But of course I said goodbye. Of course I wrote the letter and gathered up all the things and met with the girls. I didn’t stick with it. I went back to him because I had never felt so alive or so seen or so real as I felt with him and nothing that God or the people who served him had could match that. So I went back. But I hid it and I lied and snuck out windows and did stupid, dangerous things. Because being seen is everything.

I’m angry reading back over those things. I’m angry knowing that someone had a chance to see some of what was going on and instead they took their power and manipulated me, even though I know they believed it was for my own good. I’m angry that I was so powerless and so hurt and so broken. I’m angry it happened on my birthday because that just seems like insult to injury. I’m angry that the very best thing, the kindest person I had in my life was a fucked up 18 year old boy who couldn’t possibly do anything to help me. I’m angry at a belief system that made everyone around me truly think the most important thing was that 18 year old boy, was me disobeying my parents, was the possibility of me fucking someone. I’m angry at just how alone I was in that system and how few choices I had.

I was only 15 years old and everything was already so screwed up. I remember a super awkward birthday dinner that night when I stopped crying long enough to come to the table, the birthday plate was out for me and I ate my spare ribs and dumplings before they gave me my presents, whatever they were. No one said much. Everything was already on the table by this point. I’d been caught sneaking out, they knew about my cutting. I had disappointed them so much, they had made it clear that I had lost all of their trust and for the rest of my adolescence they would make it clear I had never earned it back. I hated being a disappointment (I still do), I hated seeing the look on my father’s face while he avoided my eyes. All because I fell in love with a boy I wasn’t even having sex with. 15 years old and it was all over. I’m damaged goods and I’m so alone and so hurt and so devastated and I know that nothing I can do will make this better.  It wasn’t fair. I didn’t deserve that. No kid deserves that.

I know I should be grateful now and I am. I am grateful for my life as it is, I am so grateful for the people I have now and the life I’ve built. But safety should never be so hard to come by.


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