Five years ago, I pulled a handwritten letter from the mailbox that changed my life forever. It was from my father. Strange, because we never spoke.
He'd written three pages; front and back. In all three pages, he apologized, over and over again, for what my childhood had been. It tore the breath right out from me. I remember falling back into my seat, horrible memories popping up as I went over his words. He stated that a lot of it was his fault and that I didn't deserve it. I'd never thought I'd hear those words in my lifetime.
I've never cried so hard in my life.
My first memory in life is from my father hitting me. I still have the scar from the occasion. The home was never home and the last place I ever wanted to be. The home was terror, fear, and oppression, wondering what kind of mood dad would be in and how we'd be made to pay for it. The home was where I got hit with everything you could think of, where the punches struck and I thought I would die because I was bleeding so much, or I couldn't breathe.
Home is where I got angry.
My mother did the best she could. My mother never put herself before anyone else, not even a stranger. She would cook for a week. She taught me to write and embrace my imagination. She often physically shielded me from my father's assaults. She paid a horrible price of her own.
I wasn't the easiest kid to raise. I was a bad student, a juvenile delinquent, and I was completely rotten to my little sister. Some of those beatings? Yeah, I had them coming. My juvenile criminal record rivaled an encyclopedia.
For awhile, I thought I might have a real relationship with my parents. Like the ones I heard all of my friends talk about, the ones that made their stories feel like gut punches. That dream of going home for the holidays for the laughing, the food, and even the drama? Seemed like that was in reach for a little while.
Then, the son I abandoned at birth got placed with them.
And it happened all over again.
I was an adult at that point. I could do something about it now. But I was always afraid that if I ever saw my father again, I'd kill him.
I went through the legal system (it took five years altogether) and obtained full legal custody of him. I still had a tenuous relationship with my family and tried to get my mother to understand why my son wanted nothing to do with them.
But she wouldn't.
I guess I can't blame her. I love my mom. They grew up in different, more violent times. Talking to her and trying to get her to understand--and having my wife tell me to stop trying to get her to understand--was what really made it all click.
To them, there was nothing wrong with the behavior. Fear and distrust were okay, as long as you did what you were told. Nothing else mattered.
Following the court order on my son's custody agreement resulted in a yearlong struggle to get him back. When I finally did, I heard for the last time that my father thought I was a failure for the path I took.
I hate listening to stories about friends and their families, how they go to each other for comfort and solace, or just get together on weekends and hang out. I hate it because it's all I ever wanted in life. I've been on my own since I was sixteen years old. I know how to fight and survive, but getting close to people and forming healthy relationships is something I've always struggled with.
Simultaneously I love hearing about normal stories. I love knowing that not everyone came up like I did. I love that normal still exists.
I don't talk to my parents or sister anymore, and I think it's a silent agreement that we're all better off this way. It sucks because I love my mother very much. I even love my father, if you can believe that. A little while ago, we all remarked how if mom passed first, the rest of us might never speak to each other again. It's hard to admit that you, and your birth family, are better off without one another.
Life is really good today. I'm in a healthy marriage with an amazing woman and partner. I have full custody of an amazing kid I actually left behind at birth (how about that!). Ours is not a home ruled by fear but by love, compassion, and understanding. It's why I rarely leave on my days off.
Cutting people you're supposed to love may be the hardest thing you ever do in life. It doesn't mean you love them any less, but if their absence is healthy for you, then do it. No one has the right to deem you a failure, a mistake, or any of that shit. No one has the right to put their hands on you. Ever.
It's been a long, difficult, and wonderful journey, but I'm a survivor and I'm happy to be here to tell you that it's okay to be yourself. It's okay to look after yourself.
And it is always okay to leave toxic people in the rearview.
Thanks for reading, and God bless.