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Tearing Our Family Apart
My mom’s abusive boyfriend put us all through hell
Jennifer H.

Growing up, I didn’t have a perfect family, but all of us were happy. My mom never actually said she loved us but she was always there and gave us what we needed. She signed us up for sports, came to our open houses, and took us to Chuck E. Cheese’s when we got our report cards.

But things changed when I turned 10. My mom ran into an old acquaintance and he came over to our house the same day. They immediately started dating.

The beginning of their relationship was like a fairy tale. He was the dad I had always wanted. He had kids of his own, and it seemed like he was always making them laugh and giving them hugs. He set rules for them that were really strict but I assumed it was because he was worried about them. He made us feel like part of his family by taking us out to dinner and the movies. It felt right.

But after a few months my mom started to change. She didn’t go out as much. She made up excuses to avoid taking my younger sister and me to our sports and Girl Scouts. She said, “You guys don’t need to go anyway.”

Soon we weren’t allowed to go anywhere with my mom, unless he was with us. He would tell us straight up, “You’re not going because I said so.” He wanted my mom to be home as much as possible. When she went out with him, she wasn’t allowed to even look at other guys.

He put her down and made her feel bad about herself. If my mom joked around about leaving him, he’d get serious and say, “You know you need me,” or, “No one else will want you, you’re nothing.”

After they had been together about six months, I saw my mom crying one night. It was the first time I’d seen her cry. She told us that he’d slapped her. By this time, I had also seen him whip his kids with a belt and slap them on the face.

I felt so badly for my mom. I felt like it was my fault because I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I wondered, “Why is he doing this?”

Instead of breaking up with him, my mom decided we should move in with him. He was very controlling. He made my mom cut her hair short like a man and wear really short dresses. She had hickies on her neck that looked like dog bites.

It seemed like my mom chose him over us. One time he told me to clean the kitchen, but I didn’t hear what he said. When I asked again he whipped me with a belt and threw a chair on me.

Later that night I told him, “You can’t hit me because you don’t have permission.” I looked over at my mom and asked her if she had given him permission, but she wouldn’t stand up for me. She had this empty look in her eyes like she wasn’t in her body.

image by Shaun Shishido

I tried all kinds of things to get us away from him. Some nights I prayed to God for him to go away, but God never answered my prayers. I threatened to call the cops, but I was too scared that they’d take us away from my mom.

One day I packed my stuff in a little kid suitcase and asked my little sister to run away with me. I said that we would go find our dad. But she was too young and too scared to actually go, and I was afraid to leave my mom. I didn’t want her to be alone.

I told my mom that she needed to break up with him, that what he was doing was wrong. She’d say, “But he loves me” or, “We care about each other.”

At school I slowly stopped talking to my friends and started hanging out in the bathroom stalls. At recess, I hung out by myself and collected rocks instead of playing tetherball. I didn’t want to be accepted by anyone because I was feeling bad about myself.

My mom saw that I was having problems so she signed me up for therapy, and my therapist got her to come to family therapy. We talked about how he was tearing our family apart. Friends and family had been telling my mom she needed to break up with him. It all finally got to her.

One day, eight months after they met, she told us, “I broke up with him.” I was happy, but I didn’t know how to express it. My family doesn’t talk when bad things happen, so we just moved out and acted like the family was OK again.

After about two months, my mom started going to “the store” for three hours and wouldn’t let us go with her. I got suspicious. I yelled and asked her again and again, “You’re back with him, aren’t you?” She finally admitted that she was. I felt like dying.

They were off and on for the next two years. She would break up with him and we’d all think it was over. A few weeks later she’d be back with him, sneaking around because she knew I’d be angry.

When I found out, I’d give her the usual lecture. I’d tell her that he wasn’t the right person for her and she was being brainwashed. She would look at me like she knew it was the truth, but she was stuck.

My mind was always on my mom. After school I went to a day treatment center where I did art therapy to work on my anger. I was also put on medication. But at school I didn’t feel like I fit in. I would ditch class and use my bus pass to go around the city. Eventually I stopped going to school altogether. I started eating a lot. I would only leave the house once a week to go to the store.

When he came to the house I’d cuss him out, so he stopped coming inside. He would knock on the door and wait for my mom in the car. I hated his guts and I called him “psychopathic idiot.” I even made up a song about it and sang it really loud when my mom was on the phone with him.

image by Shaun Shishido

That November, my mom told him she wanted to break up with him, then didn’t come home. I stayed up all night waiting for her. I was so scared. I believed he would have killed her just so no one else could have her.

When she finally got back, she told me he had kidnapped her. She had a big knot on her forehead, and later she admitted that he had head-butted her. She took pictures to show the cops to get a restraining order, but within two weeks she was with him again.

In March, I was placed in foster care because I hadn’t been going to school. I was put in a group home with five other girls. I was so depressed, I didn’t even care about leaving my family.

Two months later, on my 13th birthday, my mom told me she’d broken up with him for good. I figured she was going to get back with him. But she didn’t.

Even though he was gone, my pain wasn’t. I had shoved the hurt down for so long that it had caused a huge chain reaction. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

His always threatening to hit us made me afraid and intimidated by other people. I had never felt so much anger, hurt, and humiliation. I didn’t see the world as a happy place anymore. I didn’t like myself and I didn’t think I could ever be happy again.

When I went home on weekends I would scream and yell at my mom, “It’s your fault I’m in the group home!” I wanted to make her feel guilty. He was gone and I had no one else to take my anger out on.

In 8th grade, with the help of my school therapist, I talked about it with my mom for the first time without her saying, “Get over it.” I talked about how it made me feel. She looked like she was about to cry, but she didn’t apologize. She never has. She said he was controlling her and it wasn’t her fault.

It took another two years of therapy to finally get over being angry at my mom. Our relationship is better now. I can have a conversation with her without bringing him up. Through therapy I realized that even though he treated her badly, she was used to it because her dad was also abusive. My mom didn’t know what a healthy relationship was.

This experience has stained me. I don’t smile very often and I prefer to be by myself. I’m not good at expressing my emotions. I still have a lot of unanswered questions, like, “Why did this happen to me?”

It was a long struggle staying in school, but I made it! I graduated in August and plan to attend college. I want to be a psychologist or a lawyer. Now that I’m emancipated from the foster care system, I feel a lot more free. But at times I worry that history will repeat itself, that someone will hurt me and I’ll stop doing everything in my life that means something to me.

I’m trying to stay positive. When I’m angry with other people, I write poetry and make collages about the pain I feel. But sometimes I think the anger inside will never go away. It amazes and depresses me at the same time to know that so much pain could be caused by one person.

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