Editor’s note: The following article was written by a Lovefraud reader who we’ll call “WalkonMom.”
I used to think that “six” was my lucky number. And sometimes, I used to remind myself to show gratitude for six little things, like, the sound of New England leaves as they rustle underfoot, the first snowfall with really huge flakes, each breath flowing in and out, especially when you recognize that you are free for the first time, the scent of your baby’s head as you cradle and rock her in your grandmother’s rocking chair, the preciousness of each holiday, along with the sacred spirit of wonder that fills you as you see your child grow from year to year. Falling in love, and realizing that, no matter what, you’ll be strong enough to fix any boo boo or heal any abuse in the relationship, however seemingly impossible, because, well, you chose to love that man, and that’s supposed to mean forever, and, besides, you’re a mom—that should be enough.
But to survive in a situation of domestic violence, how much love could it EVER take for you alone to mitigate or hold it at bay? And when you realize that nurturing is never enough, that you can’t solve or ever heal it, and when you need to leave Hell to save your child, how much LOVE will it take to get you both out—alive? How much love will it take, years later, when your once kidnapped child chooses borderline behaviors to blame you for everything the sociopath did?
I’ll never forget. November 4, 2008. The night my 17-year-old daughter returned to NH from NJ after nearly six years, finally reaching out to me for help—a plea in the darkness. It was late, and I was tucking her into bed. My second husband and I had just returned from our honeymoon to pick her up in Hartford earlier that night. She had recently voiced some problems (again) with her Dad. I wasn’t given to know what the seriousness of his issues were over the past several years. She and I had only visited on a few rare occasions during her six-year transition to womanhood.
This is what I do know: While she was away, she’d attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital on multiple occasions. She’d cut herself, developed impetigo from self-injury. She took varying cocktails and combinations of drugs over the years, sometimes in dangerous and lethal quantities. She’d engaged in dangerous sexual activity, run away, sometimes being found on a city bench. Most horrific of all, as I was to discover that night, she held an ominous secret close to her heart, one that loomed much larger than the two of us. Bigger even than life itself.
I’d left my first marriage in 2000, and with nothing, save one child, and a NH restraining order. I was no match for this cruel man who would stop at nothing to punish me. He was incapable of love, and as his warped mind was obsessed with obtaining and destroying the one thing he knew I cared about, his sole aim became that of molding our precious child’s soul into something he could torture me with forever, a meted out, deliberate punishment for my daring to leave his controlling, jealous, narcissistic personage, a payback for my rejecting his penchant for enjoying watching me suffer—and for leaving the abuse. “You’re it until I die, baby,” he used to say, over the years. “You’re IT.”
And so I had to borrow money from Mom to keep NJ courts from snatching my daughter back unwillingly, even as she and I had moved to NH with his physical help, and his written, signed understanding that I had no choice but to leave the marriage because of his abuse.
We endured death threats, were in hiding twice, hired one corrupt NJ attorney, “enlisted” the aid of therapists, NH DOVE attorneys—family services workers. But we were no match for the lies, death threats, the unending stream of NJ Italian family money, all fueling corruption that carried a singular purpose: to wear me down while making me appear as “crazy.”
Thus, we fought a three-year long, fledgling court battle with a corrupt judge, between two states, both warring for the acquisition of my child’s tender flanks.
It was in 2003 that he decided to kidnap our child, at the end of a month-long visitation. And it was during that fateful year that the same vulnerable girl who used to plead desperately for the abuse to stop, decided inexplicably, to go back to NJ—to live with her father.
When she returned for a short time to NH with FBI help, she’d evolved into a demanding, enraged, uncontrollable, borderline, destructive teen, filled with angst, three-inch devil horns super glued to her forehead, and Celtic swirls painted where two eyebrows used to be, in the style of her famous half brother’s band.
Once I’d witnessed just how cleverly he’d turned her head with those expensive Lolita skirts, shit kicker boots and a multitude of other promises to be involved with the band, how he coerced her with things he purchased during his “quality kidnapping time,” I knew my role as a mother was over. All I had left was my right to mourn, to breathe, and to try to walk on.
She walks away
At 12, she’d arrived at her own ironic version of an age of reason. For me, it was just another hellish turning point in the ongoing dialectic of domestic violence, an unholy grail of horror from which I knew I would never emerge, because he’d continue to use her to seek and secure a lifetime of vengeance and vitriol from me. What else could I do? I had to play dead, and let her go. She tried to push my mother down the stairs—threatened to kill all of us. So on one fateful summer day, I watched her put on her goth armor, the teeny weeny sexy skirts he’d purchased, and I let her choose to walk away. July 27, 2003—that remains the date of her death, regardless of our current and future interactions.
And so, this same beautiful soul and creature who once begged me to leave her father, now openly rejected the peaceful life it had taken several years for me and Mom to create for her, after finding the courage to leave the abuse. In the silence of one oceanfront family home, I was left alone to nurse these impossibly painful, openly weeping, inner wounds. From that day on, I mourned my daughter as dead. The mere possibility of having to hold, within, the fear and possibility of her death at his, or her own hands, in light of the risks I knew awaited inside the Hell she was to re-enter, now alone, without a mother’s protection or presence, would have driven any mother mad. I screamed and ripped my hair out for a week, and cried and vomited for one more. Then, I donned my teacher’s clothing, and went back to work, telling the story as if I were reciting summer vacation details. The only eyes that no longer had tears were my own.
No one validates this kind of death as mourning, so again, I was not given the grace of sharing it with anyone, for fear of being called crazy, or over-dramatic. Those few people I brought into the circle of the story blamed me, for being stupid enough to “choose” a sociopath, for letting her go, for feeding her Twinkies in grade school, for simply having been born at all. “What kind of mother leaves her child?” they would query. Well, the kind whose child threatens to kill Mom or use their Daddy to kill the family so that she can live the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (that he promised her, replete with sex, drugs and rock and roll in NJ), that’s who! I couldn’t compete against a band that was becoming famous; without that, he’d have had no power to sway her into the world of the perverse. Boundaries. It all boils down to boundaries.
Loss of motherhood
For six years, half of me tried to imagine living again as some fictitious single woman, one would never be again a wife or mother, while the other half keened as the woman whose child was absent and had died at the age of 12, to a murderous and conscious-less husband. I checked the NJ obituaries on a weekly basis.
Since that time, regardless of whether or not my daughter still breathes, I will always mourn the loss of motherhood. Life can be ironic, particularly if the devil won’t let you out of Hell.
I’ve read that children of divorce in the context of abuse tend to seek love unrelentingly from the parent with whom they feel unsafe, the one they instinctively know does not love them sincerely. My daughter and I were always so close that, had I demanded she stay with me, she would have given me the middle finger and left anyway, not because of hate, but because she needed me to prove to her, against her father’s protestations, that I loved her enough to let her go, to figure out who her daddy was on her terms, not mine, or the court’s, or any therapist’s. She compartmentalized her love, keeping me in a box only for the tough times.
Meanwhile, after years of trying to keep her safe before puberty, and to hold all of this up alone, I was battle worn, devoid of personal power and hope; in some ways, it was a relief to let her go. Years of his unrelenting torture had kept her hostage, and me from moving on with some kind of half-life. You see, she and I were so connected that I know that she knew all this, too. Deep inside, she knows that she and I were always just pawns, even as her budding psyche needed to fill that void in inner space in which we all need to KNOW that we are loved by our parents unconditionally, even if it’s not true.
Just a pawn
She had always been scared of her father’s unpredictable, controlling nature—many NH friends who called, after she left, validated this when they told me how shocked they were to discover she had chosen to live with him. But the hardest part for me throughout all the “she said” accusations, and through all the dirty legal tactics, his M.O., to avoid accountability, was my knowing from his eyes (and her mouth) that she was “just a pawn” between two equal parents, and an innocent victim of a lose-lose, power-over scheme, in which her Mom was the sole instigator, merely a cartoon character in a b-movie, a buffoon, an inconsequential, incompetent piece of shit, whose indomitable spirit as a mother existed in order to be squelched and mocked, at all cost.
Yet she could only see the situation at that time as any child would, stuck between two divorcing parents who would act upon love only and therefore fight for HER behalf. In spite of circumstances, children all need to believe that their very existences hold real meaning, and that both parents are acting sincerely. That is why she felt so vehemently angry. Since she knew that she could always be herself with me, and that I would love her back without question, while holding her very birthright, which carries also a permanent reminder of my sole personal responsibility for her rage about being born in the first place, within my own being.
In 2008, six years had passed since I’d experienced being a mother to my only child, six years since I’d been lost inside his torturous definition of divorce hell, a place in which I was stripped of all motherhood, raped from the inside out by a cruel and damaged man. Looking back, she and I both knew that all this irony and complexity required that she release herself from the fire of her daddy’s life, and from mine. She had needed to figure it all out by herself, to pull herself up by her Goth corset straps, and eyebrow-less face.
Something to show you
Within this set of sixes in years, I hadn’t known if my child were alive or dead, or even whether or not I’d ever find the will to continue living for myself. So simply for us to come back together, just before she reached the age of 18, was a small miracle. Naturally, she and I were catching up, that November night, on lost years of talking, about little things—how she’d run away from Dad again, how she was missing too many days at school in her senior year, how she didn’t want to live in NJ anymore. I remarked on how very thin and frail and sad she was, compared to how she had looked when she had visited in the summer. I asked her if she was feeling better. She’d vomited when we picked her up, lying in the back holding her stomach all the way to NH. She said, casually, “Oh you know, Mom. I’m withdrawing from heroin again; when I ran away from Dad last week, I had to stay with my friends.” Her friends had held her together, even as the drugs to mute the pain of trauma and long-term abuse were gradually killing them all.
I tried not to pry, even as I felt that sudden, old and all-too-familiar adrenaline rush from the past, that trembling murderous rage within that makes you want to kill the bastard that did this to your child, to erase that power-ridden, sociopathic smirk forever from his evil, stinking face.
It was then that she said, “Mom, I have something to show you.” I tried to draw her out tenderly by guessing what it might be, but then she slowly lifted the fabric of her pants up over her emaciated pajama-donned legs, revealing a horrendous, ugly truth, a horrific badge describing the six years she had taken on a un-winnable and pointless battle all on, by herself. Her precious flesh hung in tatters; there was a long series of deep muscle scars running up and down her thighs; some cuts were half-infected, others long healed. A few were one to two inches deep. I could not breathe, but I knew this moment could either save her life or end it; her future, carrying the basic will to live, was in my hands. I felt IT coming. I stayed steady, like a ship withstanding a rogue wave, turning my bow into the white squall.
And then she said, “I know now why I’ve done this since I was young.” My response was a silence in deep waves of impending grief and doom. I held my breath, as I could sense that dread and nausea and relief were rising up faster than I could feel the blood coursing through my veins. Slowly, and with utterly slow agony, she revealed that her 29-year-old half-brother, son of her father (from his 1st marriage), had raped her, had sex with her. He’d done it while her father was downstairs; my former stepson and daughter up in her bedroom. She said that it was consensual, that she loved him, but that it also led her to take heroin. It made her cut. It made her run away. She’d stopped going to school. It was her senior year. She had done this over the years. I knew then that it hadn’t been the first time, but it wasn’t mine to say it. Her half brother had thrown her across the room before coming to see me; that’s when I realized there was no going back. This was bigger than incest or abuse. This was a life or death situation.
My daughter’s precious life depended, in that moment, for me to be stronger for her than the ocean is deep. She needed, more than oxygen, for me to hold her as a fortress- of understanding, compassion and love. And so as I rocked and held her, I struggled to keep all my past wolves at bay. She spoke only of one incident, yet the cutting and the sex and the problems with her father and his son likely occurred since she was a little girl.
As long as I could focus on breathing out into that eternity, into the inferno of that moment, and as I held her, I felt that we both began to let go, to breathe back in all the life from those lost years back into the corpses of one other. To keep the horrendous thoughts from ripping me apart, I consciously drifted into my realm of gratitude, and uttered seven silent things for which I was now truly grateful, as “six” was no longer my lucky number:
For scent of song in a sky of blue, for dancing and healing and walking on, for the gift my daughter bestowed, which was to let her mother go so that she could be free and learn to grow strong enough to climb back into the abyss again to save her daughter’s life, for the phrase “love goes on forever” engraved on our laundry basket by one nine year old child, for newspapers that do not yet contain the obituary of my own child, for the hope that someday truth will prevail over lies, with the spirit of good triumphing over the hell of insincerity.
Lastly, for the power of imagination lying deeply within the understanding that there will always be many different kinds of deaths we must accept, all of which she and I have endured.
Into the fire again
As she was a minor, the abuse was reported by her, to therapists, and to her father, and to DYFS. Yet still, She chose to enter back into the fire again. She is now 21, trying to bully me into believing that “none of this happened,” trying perhaps to assuage her guilt that I’m slowly dying, by striking the truth from the records of her history. She also has developed borderline personality. In the meantime, I’ve been diagnosed with a rare connective tissue disorder, and fear that these things will never be resolved between us, as my time on earth is limited, keeping me from being able to let go of her. Time is short; most of all, it is unfailingly precious.
Motherhood, too, with a sociopath, is a tenuous, bitter, lose-lose hole into which we fall; it burns me inside that the revelation of the perpetrators must die with me. Yes, against my better judgment, I must do as I am told by US therapists: to keep these secrets under wraps until after I die. One never wants to stir the hornet’s nest, and the revelation of the names themselves will be the margin of safety I leave for my new husband and his family, in the event they are ever threatened. It all seems so ludicrous, and it is exactly why perpetrators continue to get away with murder. I will never see the fruit of my womb heal from her own wounds; I will never be able to protect her from this genetic disease, which she, too, carries. Most of all, as she eschews the truth of her history, she refuses to honor our connection as mutually respectful. I am no longer a mother.
In life with a sociopath, I believe now that one gives up the right to motherhood. The rights to breathe and live on are defined by sheer whim, luck, space, and a lot of grace.
Yet, The one thought that will always bring me the only comfort as I die is this:
In the bowels of Hell, there is but one gravestone, and the only surname that is and will ever remain engraved on it belongs to the sociopath and his son.