When I walked into the house that day something was different. My parents were arguing, my mom was crying. It wasn’t your typical you didn’t take the trash out kind of argument, it felt much bigger than that. I hid in my room away from the yelling, the only place that felt safe. I had begged my parents for my own line that Christmas, I had hit that phase of talking on the phone to my friends all night. I went into my closet, it was calm and dark. I called my friend so I didn’t have to feel alone. My mom was saying things like “DID YOU FUCK HERE IN THIS HOUSE? IN OUR BED? DID YOU BRING HER HERE?” Doors were slamming. More screaming and crying. I started crying. I was so scared. My little brother snuck into my room, I called him into the closet. It wasn’t the first time I had hid in there. I kept a secret stash of snacks and toys for times like this. I was the kind of kid who found peace in the quiet, I loved hiding away somewhere and reading a book. I had even turned our linen closet into my own little reading spot but, there was no way I could get there now, this would have to do. So there we sat, clutching each other in fear, sobbing together. I told him everything would be all right, even though I didn’t believe it myself. I just always needed to be the one to keep him safe, I was the big sister, that was my job.
The weeks that followed were much like that moment. My mom walked around in a daze. It felt like she was always on the phone trying desperately to decipher what she should do next with her life. Trying to cope, trying to find guidance from this person and that person. Grieving. It was as if my father had died and in a sense, he had. Everything that my mom knew and loved about her life was suddenly gone. So selfishly just ripped from under her. It was more than a death, it was suicide. My dad had committed suicide to their marriage. And my mom didn’t know what to do with herself. She kept saying “twenty four years, how can I just give up on us after twenty four years?”. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I would lie in bed every night listening to her sob uncontrollably for hours in the next room. But, I never went in to console her. Our relationship just wasn’t like that. I didn’t feel any sort of closeness to her in those moments, I only felt alone. I only saw my struggle, not hers. Not Genes. Not my dads. Just mine.
I tried to care for my brother. I learned to use the stove and cooked what I could when my mom couldn’t. I tried to feed her. I tried to be a good daughter, a good big sister. It all just hurt so bad. I didn’t know how to cope with all these new emotions I was having. My family was falling apart right at my fingertips. My dad moved out. There was no more Sunday breakfast, no more band practice, no more daddy to run to when mommy said no. And I had no control over any of it. I was just a kid. A helpless child. I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t go off to anywhere else I was just trapped there inside those walls alone in this new hell I was now calling my life. And once reality set in, I just became silent. I stared off into space and refused to let the world in. I wouldn’t talk to anyone no matter how hard they tried. I just couldn’t get the words out. It was like they were trapped inside of me and every time I opened my mouth there was no voice. I had no voice. I dreamt of it all the time. I would have these vivid nightmares where I was running away from this boy who was trying to attack me and every time he would get close I would open my mouth to scream but instead there was silence. No one could hear me. I was silenced. But this wasn’t a dream, it was real life.
Eventually my mom brought me to a therapist. I sat down before him and again, silence. He asked me all kinds of questions but I just stared at my shoes until finally he stopped. My mom instead filled the session with her problems because, by now the entire world revolved around them. She cried and complained. She told him it was not their fault that I was like this, they had done nothing wrong. They couldn’t understand what had become of their funny, cheerful child. The creative one who loved to sing and draw. So silly you never knew what accent would come to the dinner table that night. I was a wildcard, I loved to act and dreamed of being on a big stage under the spotlights some day. But at the same time I was incredibly shy and very sensitive. As much as they didn’t want to admit they understood what was going on with me, I understood even less. I was just a little girl and suddenly I was dealing with all these very big things. Things that no one should ever have to see or feel, especially not a child. They should have hidden things better, been even the tiniest bit more discrete. They should have protected us, shielded us from the pain, wrapped us in the warmest possible hug and held on for dear life.
But how do you parent when you can’t even take care of yourself?