“How it all started…”
I guess you could say it started before I was born, if that makes any sense. See, I’m one of those unwanted pregnancies. Sometimes I think I should have been an abortion. But that’s mostly just the insecurity talking.
My dad, like a lot of dads in my generation, wasn’t ready to give up his whole life of freedom for some kid he didn’t even know. So for a lot of my life, I was curious about him and what kind of person he was. All I had were the stories my mom told me, and my brain filled in the blanks on its own, making assumptions based on interpretations and perhaps (probably) some wishful thinking.
But this entry isn’t about him, it’s about separation anxiety. Thanks to that asshole bailing on my mom, she had to improvise and figure things out herself. And so along came Rocky, a scraggly little loser who was 15 years older than she was and I’m pretty sure I can’t even recall any memories from before him. I was calling him “daddy.” I have some vague memories of my grandmother telling me that he was my step father, so I shouldn’t call him that, but I had no idea what that meant. All I knew was that I loved my mommy and daddy and I wanted them to be happy. But they weren’t. Everything’s so foggy… But I remember hearing them fight a lot while I was in bed, and it made me sad and a little scared, especially when I heard dishes breaking and such.
The most loyal and unconditional love you’ll ever receive in this world is from small children and dogs. It’s that innocence and naïveté that people tend to abuse. I loved my step-dad, even though he was abusive. Even though he made my mom cry. And hearing my mom cry was the most heartbreaking sound I could have possibly imagined in my young life.
I think about my daughter a lot when I think about these things. I see a lot of myself in her, and a lot of the problems that I had. No one understands her like I do, and sometimes that’s all that keeps me going. I’ll get into detail about that stuff eventually; sorry I keep digressing.
Rocky was… from what I can gather, not a hunter-gatherer. He was a deadbeat person who couldn’t hold a job and basically tried to leech off my mom, at least as far as I’ve been told. I have no idea what his life was like, and I’ll probably never know. But because of this, she juggled jobs. My mom worked so much that I feel like I never saw her. That’s hard on a little kid. So the first instance I can remember of having an anxiety attack was in kindergarten. Some band came around to play “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid. That movie, my mom tells me, was my favorite when I was too young to remember, but for some reason, that song was my first recorded trigger. A lot of them are songs. Some of them are smells, and some of them are just memories that I have been ignoring for years because they hurt too much to revisit.
This song reminded me of my mom, for some reason. When I heard it, all I could think of was how sad it made me to hear her cry, and I was stricken with an overwhelming urge to be there for her at that moment. I wanted to hug her and give her all of my love, but I couldn’t because she wasn’t there. And that was my first panic attack. I think.
I cried and couldn’t handle being around the other children. All I wanted was my mom. I couldn’t breathe. No one understood. I didn’t understand. It took me well into my adult life, probably around a year ago, before I finally felt that connection to my childhood self and realized what all those uncontrollable crying fits were. No one knew. No one cared to find out.
It is possible that my life could have ended up so much better if anyone would have considered the possibility that, instead of being just a whiny, needy little brat, maybe something about my brain was… different. But that wasn’t the case back in those days. Mental conditions weren’t very well understood yet, and people still thought that kids needed tough love to make them strong. And boy was I going to learn about “tough love,” aka verbal abuse by way of shaming. (Foreshadowing: The Military)
Because my step-dad couldn’t hold a job enough to help make ends meet, my mom was forced to work multiple jobs and I spent a lot of time alone with Step-Dick. And yeah, he was pretty abusive, but I was also a little dog child who thought he was my daddy and I loved him anyway. Oh, dear god…
So… My mom eventually ended up joining the navy because she thought it was the only way she could really make ends meet and provide for me.
It was my step-grandma, I think, who drove me down to my maternal grandma’s house where I would end up living for three of the most formative years of my life. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my mom. And she didn’t want to say goodbye to me, either.
This parting of ways opened the floodgates for my separation anxiety.
I saw my step-dad one last time. It was after I’d been with my grandparents a while… one day he suddenly showed up for some reason. I was hoping my mom was with him, but she was not. Two things happened. He persuaded my grandparents to trade cars with him. So he got a pretty nice Toyota and landed them with a raspy old Bronco. The other thing that happened was, he asked me if he could have my Little Mermaid pillow. He said he wanted something to remember me by, and I knew this meant that I wouldn’t be seeing him ever again. So I gave it to him. And I never saw him again.
My grandma was my only comfort. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve been able to look back and really appreciate how strong she was. I think sometimes she needed me just as much as I needed her, so sometimes she’d keep me home from school. God, I fucking hate school. In first grade, the crying fits were uncontrollable, and they interfered with my ability to do class. I didn’t need an outside trigger. My stupid little brain was happy to trigger itself. Certain songs that my grandma played on her old 50’s mixtapes… most of them were comforting, but a few of them made me feel profoundly sad for reasons I could never understand.
The song is called “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” by the Shirelles.
Breathe. You can do this. Don’t think about it now. It’s only a song… it’ll be okay…
God. That song would get stuck in my head. And I couldn’t ever seem to do anything to make it go away. It was like someone was sitting in my head with a goddamn record player, playing that shit on loop. Over and over again. I wanted to rip my brain out, but all I could do was sob uncontrollably. They’d have to remove me from class. Sometimes I’d go to the guidance counselor, sometimes I’d just sit out in the hallway alone… alone, which is the very thing I never wanted to be.
I started getting migraines when I was, like, 6.
As attached as I became to my grandmother, I still missed my mom with so much pain in my heart. I kept a picture of her next to my bed along with a picture we took together of ice packs on the river, and in second grade, one of the lunch ladies in the cafeteria reminded me of her a lot, so I looked forward to mealtimes twice as much as most kids.
You know, some kids… the older they get, the more mean they learn to be. That innocent sense of love and empathy starts to diminish as they start to learn from their role models and mimic the things they see. Some start early, others hold onto that empathy for a while. So a lot of kids saw my fragility and attacked it. Maybe it made them feel better about themselves, or maybe like Ellie, they saw that those mean kids were safe from getting the same treatment if they joined the masses and conformed to the common goal of torturing the sensitive ones. The older I got, the more shit I endured. The more shit I endured, the worse my anxiety and sensitivity became. And the worse those things got, the worse the bullying got.
My mom visited from time to time. Whenever she did, I let my guard down completely and dared to hope that this would be the last visit and it would end with me finally going home with her. But for three years, every visit ended in more separation anxiety. More trauma. I would cry for days and my situation at school would intensify. My grandma- my biggest sense of comfort- would turn colder toward me as I unintentionally made her feel like she didn’t matter, and I hate that I hurt her feelings so much, but I literally could not control how my body and brain responded to fear and pain.
There was a huge plane crash one time after my mom had flown back to Massachusetts. It was all over the news, and I was crippled with fear to the point where I literally couldn’t breath. The more time went by with no phone call, the more hysterical I became. I couldn’t eat. I felt nauseous.
Those phone calls meant everything to me.
Sometimes on special occasions, she would call and read me a story and sing me a lullaby just like she used to do before we got separated. Even though I appreciated those phone calls more than I could convey with words, I always felt so hollow and empty inside after we had to hang up, so I would cry myself to sleep a lot.
Breathe, Sunny. Breathe. You’re not there now, even if the pain is extremely present. It’s over. You’ll never have to go back there. It’s in the past.
So. When I finally did end up moving back with my mom, she was pregnant, and that scared me, too. I was convinced that she would die in childbirth. Even if she didn’t, I knew that it would be very painful, and as we discussed, the thought of my mom in pain was one of the worst things for me.
My grandmother had been unemployed a lot, and when she wasn’t, I would sometimes be able to accompany her to work, especially when she drove my school bus. But my mom was in the Navy, and that was a lot more demanding than I was prepared for. So the separation anxiety wasn’t over, and for my first half of 4th grade, the panic attacks started up again and once more I was removed from class a lot, crying uncontrollably, and once again, kids identified my weakness and used me as a scapegoat.
Eventually, we got a new home on the Navy base, which meant that I got to go to a brand new school, and this was my chance to start over. I just had to be stronger and find ways to hide my pain so no one would see it. I made some friends on base before I started back up at my new school, and as it would turn out, they were the popular kids. So on my first day of school, they pointed out the boy version of me, basically.
“If you want to be popular,” they said, “don’t hang out with him.” His name was Joseph. To try to demonstrate, they antagonized him and then sat back to watch him snap at us. I didn’t join them. I observed. He ended up being in my class, and at the end of the day, he approached me personally to apologize for his earlier outburst. That apology meant more to me than any chance of popularity, so I ended up completely disregarding their advice, and he became my best (and only) friend. This combined with the fact that some of the kids from my old school ended up transferring to the same damn school and feeding everyone information about my weaknesses resulted in the bullying slowly escalating from emotional to mental to physical.
They dug at my insecurities and learned what buttons to press. I was poor and wore cheap clothes and made my own DIY crafts in order to have what I thought were nice things and would much later become actual fashion trends. I was prematurely curvy, so I was a huge fatass and developed an insecurity about people seeing me eat. I had freckles, which I literally could not control. These days, girls are getting fake freckles tattooed on their faces because their skin doesn’t have a pigment disorder. Ha… Oh, and because of that, I was pale and couldn’t tan, so I was a creepy ghost girl, let’s not forget.
After the bullying finally started escalating to a physical level where I was getting punched and kicked and having my hair pulled, I finally broke and decided to try doing what Ellie and so many other kids did to me. It’s one of my deepest shames. I rejected him for a while to see if it would somehow relieve some of the abuse. But I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t hurt him that way because I knew how damaging it was. He was my only friend and the fact that I tried this, even if it was only for a short time, sickened me. The guilt never went away. Ever.
And the bullying intensified to the point where even the teachers began participating in the behavior to try to win points with the majority. I don’t know if it was because they were the most hated teachers, or if they somehow hoped that it would get the little shits to pay more attention in class, or maybe it was a bit of both. But for fully grown adults, it was not okay and they shouldn’t have gotten away with it. They should have fucking known better.
No one was ever on my side. No one defended me, not even my own mom. She started shaming me for some of the same things, like having a more mature figure than most girls (aka being “fat”). Kids would beat me up, and it was my fault. I was wrong to fight back, so I started just trying to walk away. But that didn’t work. They just started chasing me down and beating the shit out of me. It made me an easier target because they didn’t have to worry about getting hit back.
I finally convinced my mom after trying this that nothing helped and they wouldn’t stop, so a couple of times she lazily mosied on over to their houses to calmly suggest that they maybe stop doing that. But their parents were a perfect example of why they were the way they were, and in their eyes I was just a big dumb loser who deserved what I was getting and maybe if my mom would just be harder on me, I wouldn’t be such a problem child. What they didn’t know was how hard she already was, or that she would ignorantly take their shitty advice and make things even worse for me. She took away from me the one person I had to run to when these things were happening. It wasn’t until I made another friend and spread the violence to her that I finally got fed up and tried calling base security, but god damn the fucking military and their no pain no gain mentality. Why the hell was I so stupid as to call the very important police to deal with such a pathetic matter?
“We’re not your toy. You can’t just call us over such stupid little matters. Take it up with your parents, dipshit. Stop bothering us.”
There was no escape. I just deserved what I got. It was my fault, no matter what.
And on that bombshell, I’m finally going to put this chapter to rest.