Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Christie. She was a normal, happy, 14 year old middle-schooler, who complained about homework and played the clarinet in band and rode her bike to the park after school to play with her friends. She’d been raised in a family that went to church on Sundays, had dinner at the table every night at 6pm, attended youth group on Wednesday nights, and her most prized possession was a David Cassidy lunch box.
She was quite a pretty girl. She was petite, with golden blonde hair, bright blue eyes, smooth skin– and puberty had been more than generous to her figure. She wasn’t yet old enough, or worldly enough, to understand her body or the teenaged boys reaction to it, all she knew was that the extra attention was flattering and– she kind of liked it.
Maybe she encouraged it a little bit, as young girls flush with hormones might do. Maybe she teased a little, flaunted a little, so ripe with newly blossomed femininity as she was. But in spite of how a little playground, childish flirting might look, she was pure, innocent, and clueless. She’d never even held hands with a boy, let alone kissed one. She hadn’t even had a school dance come up yet, where one might have a reason to stand that close to a boy – in the dark, where all the first kisses she’d read about took place.
All of those new things were just waiting to be felt and experienced, those new and exciting and wonderful firsts. They were things she was looking forward to, in that heart-pattering, tummy-flipping way that young girls might dreamily anticipate.
Until that one day at school when she was the last one in the shower after gym class and her adult male teacher came in and pushed her up against the locker room wall and
She didn’t tell anyone.
There was no one safe enough to tell, you see. About a year prior, her parents had separated. Her dad had been caught in an affair and her mom kicked him out and he was so enamored with his new freedom that he seemed to have forgotten that he had kids. The man who had sat at the head of the dinner table for 13 years, who had taught her how to ride a bike and tucked her into bed at night and tickled her until she cried with laughter hadn’t been around to see her for weeks. And when he had visited last, he’d been… different. Distracted, rushed, with a new tan and a new woman.
Her mother, who had once taught Sunday school class and sewed new dresses every Easter and Christmas, now had a job for the first time in Christie’s entire childhood, and not only that, Mom had a boyfriend. And not just “some guy” but some guy who used to be friends with both her parents, who had been her dad’s co-worker for years, a guy who had young kids of his own that Christie herself had babysat for on the occasional Saturday night to earn a few dollars for the movies with her friends.
Christie’s mother and father were not having an amicable divorce. In fact, there was much anger and bitterness and hatred. The worst of it, and what ultimately set the stage for Christie’s silence, was an accusation from her father toward the boyfriend that the only reason he (the boyfriend) was dating Christie’s mom was to “get at” his daughter; his beautiful, innocent, clueless little girl had suddenly gotten caught in the middle of accusations and questions that she didn’t even understand. Christie’s mother was so wounded by her husband’s affair after 15 years of marriage that she no longer believed anyone was above betraying her, not even perhaps her own daughter, and she grilled Christie about “being touched” while spewing hatred about men, all men, every man. They were sex-starved, penis-focused perverts who only ever wanted one thing from girls. Christie’s mother questioned her repeatedly about what she had said, how she sat, what she wore, how she acted when she was babysitting. Had she asked for it? Did she want it? Was she flirting, showing too much breast, standing too close?
Christie’s mother ranted and raved about sex and men and perverts and slutty women with such vehemence and bitterness that the very idea of now going to her mom and telling her about the rape filled her with such fear and panic that she’d rather swallow a bowlful of razor blades.
Was it her fault?? Had she flirted? Had she stood too close to him? Was her gym uniform too tight, too short, too revealing? She didn’t know. It must have been. She’d caused it.
There was nobody to tell. So she swallowed it, buried it.
After the rape, things changed inside Christie. Things had changed for everyone, her mother, her whole family. But gone was her innocence, her childish anticipation of firsts. She didn’t go to church, she skipped school, she started hanging out in the high school yard, she sneaked cigarettes and beer, and slipped out her bedroom window at night.
At 15 she found out she was pregnant. The father was an older boy, all of 16 himself. He wanted nothing to do with her, or it. Christie, now “fat”, wasn’t the hot, blonde chick with the big tits that he’d enjoyed flaunting around his group of pot-smoking, class-ditching friends. Christie missed her first school dance. He went with someone else. Christie, humiliated and embarrassed, dropped out of high school.
Christie was just a few months past her 16th birthday when she went into early labor with her daughter. Her mother wasn’t home, she’d left town, thinking it was safe to do so with Christie being weeks away from her due date. Christie went to the hospital with her grandmother, where the baby began to experience complications. Teen mom and baby were rushed into an emergency c-section, where, according to Christie after it was over, there wasn’t time for the numbing medications to work and she felt everything. She screamed, she cried, she vomited, she blacked out. Baby was found breach and blue and wrapped in the cord.
Two years later, pressured from his family, the toddler’s father married Christie in a no-frills, court ceremony, and joined the Army. He and Christie and child were whisked off to the barren loneliness of Kansas where they set up home in a tiny two bedroom, single wide trailer. Christie had never been away from her mom and family. Not ever. In the days before cell phones, before internet, and being too poor to even have a landline phone, Christie’s only contact with anyone was when she and her daughter trekked down to the payphone to make a collect call to her mom, and hope she was home to answer.
She didn’t- couldn’t- tell her mom that her new husband was mean, cold and cruel. She didn’t – couldn’t- tell her mom that he spent his paycheck on booze and cigarettes and poker with his Army buddies, that there was hardly enough left to pay bills, that she and the little girl were hungry a lot of the time. He’d never wanted the child, he’d certainly never wanted to marry her, and he made sure to tell her that as often as possible.
Not that that stopped him from fucking her, though. He held it over her head, that she was good for nothing else, obviously. She couldn’t get a job without child care, which she couldn’t afford anyway, and she had no transportation, didn’t have a license, and hadn’t even finished high school, and since she was just going to sit on her fat, lazy ass and sponge off his hard work, the least she could do was earn her keep and spread her fucking legs. Besides, she wanted the kid to eat, didn’t she??
With no money left over for extras like birth control, Christie was soon pregnant again. It was months before she told him, and when she did she sported a few bruises after, and a few more months before she told her mom, sputtering and bawling into the dirty pay phone with her 3 year old at her feet. As Christie’s due date drew nearer, panic began to set in. Her memory of the traumatic painful birth of her first child was as fresh as the pink scar that zipped up her stomach. In a moment of pure desperation she begged her husband to please let her go home for the birth, she cried for her mother over and over, and he finally forked over the cash for a bus ticket, likely glad to be rid of her and the squalling toddler. Gathering up her 9-months-pregnant self and her daughter, Christie rode the bus for 18+ hours straight.
2 weeks later her husband demanded she bring HIS son home. Fresh from another cesarean, with a newborn and a toddler, she took the bus back to her husband. Alone.
The marriage limped along for another year or so, until he was dishonorably discharged from the Army after getting caught with drugs. He dragged them all back home but with nowhere to live, Christie and her two kids moved in with her mother, he moved in with his mother, and shortly thereafter, Christie filed for divorce and custody of the kids he didn’t want.
She took her driver’s test and got her license, then applied for and got a second shift job in a factory. The wages were low, but the work wasn’t too hard and the paycheck was steady. Pretty soon she was able to get a tiny apartment on the wrong side of the tracks. The factory crowd was an easy crowd to work with, and soon enough Christie had made friends. The new friends often went to the bar after work, to wind down and drink off the monotony of assembly line work. At the bar, Christie had fun. There was dancing (finally! A dance with a boy. Her first.), laughing, joking, forgetting. At the bar, Christie didn’t think about her kids or her bills or her life. There was nothing but darts, the pool table, a beer and a smoke, and dancing.
Going out after work soon progressed to going out on weekends, too. Someone was always having a party somewhere, more opportunities to numb, drown out, ignore. Nobody really knew how adept her young daughter had gotten at taking care of her little brother. From finding him food, to diapers, to entertaining, to watching him while mom was either gone or passed out or too drunk to move. Christie didn’t mean for it to be that way, but the guilt was easier to swallow with a beer chaser.
One day, Christie met a guy at the bar. His name was Dave. He was handsome, gregarious, personable. His family was wealthy. He dazzled Christie with his charm and flirtations, with his money. He promised her an easier life. Yeah, he sometimes got a little short tempered when he drank, but… Christie was used to that. Plus, he had an endless supply of cocaine, and Christie hadn’t even known how much she enjoyed the rush that coke gave her until it was too late.
She left her apartment behind, quit her job, and moved herself and her kids into his house. He had a nice house, a big house, her kids didn’t have to share a room for the first time in their short little lives. One has to wonder if she knew that her son snuck into his big sister’s room almost nightly, to climb into her bed and cover his head with her blanket in an attempt to block out the crashes and bangs and his mother’s cries as Dave, drunk and high, slammed her around that big, ol’ house.
Christie began wearing sunglasses on days that weren’t very sunny, and long sleeved shirts on days that weren’t chilly. She began avoiding friends and family, and trying, almost desperately, to get someone, anyone, from grandparents to aunts and uncles, to please watch the kids for the weekend? Or the week? Some people thought she was just trying to get rid of them so she could drink more and snort more coke, and I suppose, as a full blown addict, that was part of it. But mostly, and because I still believe she was a good person, she was trying to protect them from Dave in the only way she knew how.
She was trapped, not only because she had no money and nowhere to go, but by addiction and the allure of the steady stream of drugs and alcohol that Dave provided. So what if it came with a few fists and kicks? With enough shit in her blood stream, she couldn’t feel them anyway.
The final straw came when the children’s grandparents were driving them home after a weekend spent watching them, and upon pulling into the driveway of Dave’s big, ol’ house, the sounds of a fight came drifting out into the driveway and those two little kids broke down, terrified, begging and crying to please don’t leave them there, to please take them back to grandma’s house, please please please get mommy, and can we go, please now please. PLEASE.
What had been “known” was know KNOWN and Christie came out of the house with a broken nose, missing two teeth and a dislocated jaw. There was a trip to the emergency room, a trip to the police station, a trip to the legal aid office, and a trip to the courtroom, where, in spite of the photos and doctors, Dave’s family’s attorney obliterated Christie on the stand.
Apparently, money can buy a lot more than just cocaine.
Christie didn’t recover well. I would like to say that she beat her addiction and bettered herself, a battered woman success story to inspire millions everywhere. But no. She sank deeper into addiction and alcohol, suffering all of the usual consequences of being too drunk too often. From abortions after one night stands at the bar to drunk driving charges to car accidents (where nobody got hurt, miraculously) to financial troubles to lost jobs to health problems.
Her children were not babies anymore, her daughter was in the double digits, her son not far behind. Christie was just in her 20’s, though one would never guess it. She looked much older, but she was still pretty, in spite of her hardness. Still blonde and petite, with a great figure even after two kids. She’d long ago learned how to use her looks and her body to get what she wanted. And she did. Unfortunately, all she usually wanted was another drink, another snort.
And then she met Brian. Now, to be sure Brian was as big of a drinker as Christie was, but he was a nice drunk at least. In many ways, they were bad for each other. The amount of alcohol the two of them could put away would be impressive if it hadn’t been so alarming.
In other ways, though, Brian was the best thing to happen to Christie since…. ever. He was sweet and romantic. He was funny and genuine. He owned a home, had a steady job. And he thought Christie was beautiful. Christie had become hard and rough, but Brian softened her edges. He brought her flowers, he bought her dinner. He complimented her constantly. He almost doted on her.
He proposed. They married. Her daughter and her son walked down the aisle. They moved into a home together. Christie and Brian, for as much as they loved each other and made each other happy, kind of ‘forgot’ about the kids a little too often. The kids had grown up their entire lives around alcoholism and addiction, around neglect and abuse, and they were tired. So very tired.
In a twist that surprised everyone, the children’s father- the abusive, dishonorable discharge, forgot he had kids father – had turned his life around. At some point during Christie’s destruction, he had found God, remarried, had another child. He was quiet, gentle, stable. He offered a home to his first two children.
Imagine if you can, a girl of around 13 who had known nothing but chaos and dysfunction, who was facing many years more of chaos and dysfunction. A girl who wasn’t turning toward the life she’d been raised in, but was fighting it, hated it, wanting nothing to do with it, at all, ever, and having this peach of a life dangled before her, by the father who had abandoned her, who wanted to make it right.
The father her mother hated.
Christie may not have made good choices- ever. But she was THERE. She’d STAYED. She’d fought and she’d been beat and she’d gotten back up only to get knocked down again, and still she was there. He? Ducked out for a decade, didn’t know or care if the kids were alive or dead, and now he wanted to swoop in and take it all away from her.
For all of Christie’s faults and mistakes, she loved her kids. She may not have known how, she may have been damaged and done damage, but her love was genuine and fierce.
So when her daughter disappeared one day? When her daughter called from her father’s house and said she wasn’t coming home? Christie shut down.
Christie was so wounded, felt so betrayed, that when the day came to appear in court as the ex filed for custody, Christie didn’t even show up. And thus began a hurt for the both of them, mother and daughter, from which they’ve never recovered.
Christie’s daughter, who may or may not have been cemented in her decision to live with her father, took her mother’s absence like a knife to her heart. Mom hadn’t bothered to fight for her.
Christie’s son hadn’t known his sister was leaving, either. He also felt abandoned and betrayed, left now on his own to cope with his mother and new step-father’s alcoholism. Only he also got a front row seat to the pain and hurt his mother experienced over her daughter’s leaving, and even if he would have been better off with his father, even if he really wanted the same opportunity to escape his life, he couldn’t leave her, too.
He loved her, as all children love their mother whether they necessarily deserve it or not, and at just 9 years old, he hardly had the maturity to make those kinds of decisions. What should have happened was that same father who was hearing first hand from his daughter the circumstances of his son’s life with Christie, should have filed for custody, fought for custody, or done something – anything. Anything except ASK a 9 year old boy who had just watched his mother cry for weeks straight over her daughter leaving if he *wanted* to leave her too. Of course he said no.
And so he stayed. Alone. And largely raised himself. Alone.
The years passed, as they do. Christie and Brian remained a seemingly happy, in love, functioning-alcoholic couple. They started a business together. He opened an auto repair shop, and Christie worked alongside him, learning how to do the simpler jobs and running an auto detailing service on the side, while also working as his secretary, answering the phone, doing the billing, scheduling the jobs. They bought a home, had some dogs and lived what was, without question, the very best years of Christie’s life.
All in all, both kids turned out okay. Daughter got married and had a couple of babies, and though she and her mother aren’t close, and never will be again, Christie adored her granddaughters. Unfortunately, Christie and Brian’s alcoholism limited the amount of time the daughter was willing to allow her children to spend with their grandmother, but at least she didn’t cut her out completely. It could have been worse.
Son, too, grew up, got married. Got a job. Doesn’t drink a whole lot, neither of the kids do.
For almost 18 years, Christie and Brian built a life. Though it took years, Christie finally let her guard down. Somewhere along the way, the cocaine and other drugs fizzled out. She’d even cut back a little bit on her drinking, and she’d quit smoking, too. She developed an interest in gardening, flowers and vegetables, and a keen interest in wild life rehab. She was happy. As happy as she had ever been.
I think, for everyone who knew Christie, who knew even a little bit of her life before, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, a happy ending. If anyone deserved one, or…. maybe even if she didn’t deserve it, she could have it.
And then, one random date night out with her husband, Brian and Christie ran into an old friend of Brian’s. An old girlfriend from high school, someone he hadn’t seen or spoken to in over 20 years. She’d moved away after school and was only just now back in town. For old time’s sake, they all three hung out that night.
A few weeks later, not more than a few days after Christie’s 18th wedding anniversary, Brian turned to her and, completely out of the blue, said he was leaving her. That day. Right then. For the old flame.
There was nothing that could have prepared her for that pain. A thousand broken noses and kidney punches would have hurt less, she said. For months, she locked herself away in the house that he’d emptied, refusing to talk to people, refusing help. Drunk and suicidal.
She didn’t see it coming, she said. She’d had no idea that anything had gone on beyond that one chance meeting at the bar. They’d celebrated their anniversary like they always do, full of romance and love. Nothing had been different at all. She was completely blindsided.
I wish I could say she was surprised, but she’d already been so beaten by life that when bad things happen, that 14 year old girl who is pressed up against the locker room wall whispers in her ear “You deserve this. It’s your fault.” and she believes her.
Christie never really picked herself up from that blow. She went off with the first guy who paid attention to her because she had never, in all her 44+ years, figured out that she could live and be happy with just herself, that she didn’t need a man, not to fuck, not to buy her beer, not to slap her around.
Because.. Christie does believe she needs that. She does believe she deserves that. Her alcoholism, which had settled some, spiked worse than it had been in years and years. She immediately moved in with this guy, who was just as useless of a drunk as her previous choices, who promptly swindled her out of the money she got in the divorce from the sale of the house and splitting of the business. She was, again, without a job, she’d never gotten her drivers license back from the many many drunk driving charges she’d gotten over the years, and she was, once again, trading her body for booze.
Her relationship with her daughter, strained as it already was, plummeted to new lows. Now, not only was she too drunk to be around her granddaughters, this guy she was living with was even worse. He was… slimy.
Once again, the only one left was her son. To pick up the pieces, to babysit, to rescue. Again, there was suspicion of abuse. One too many “I tripped over the coffee table” stories to explain away this bruise or that black eye. And yet… drunks do stumble. A lot. She would never come out and say he hit her, because she knew her son would have beat the fuck out of him. She also never denied it. It was always “We just got drunk.”
No matter how many offers she got (gets) from family – her son, even her daughter, her mother, her sisters- to move in with them, take a break, recover, she wouldn’t do it. “I’m too old to sponge off family” she’d say. What she was really worried about was who would supply her alcohol. Full blown addicts have a hard time focusing on much more than their supplier. For her, she had to suck some dick, maybe take some hits (or maybe not), but the booze was always there. He never let her down that way.
Over the next several years, as her alcoholism has taken an even harder toll on her body and her looks, and, I suspect, her brain function, she’s lost…. everything. All of her belongings, all of those things that are important to most people- baby pictures, keepsakes, mementos- all gone due to the consequences of heavy drinking, lost jobs, evictions, family that has given up. Grandchildren she barely knows.
But the booze is always there.
Christie is 54 years old now.
She JUST left this slimeball who may or may not have been hitting her, but was certainly abusing her in other ways.
She moved in with another guy that nobody knows. Sometimes I feel like I’m just waiting to get a call. You know the call.
I have offered until I’m blue in the face to let her live with me. I have begged. What I won’t do, though, is feed her addiction. I will help her in any other way, though.
She’s 54 and I feel like time is ticking down. Time to get better, time to do better, be better. But maybe she’s the best she can be.
This last Christmas, I set an alarm and Master and I got up somewhere around 3am so we could Skype with the grandkids in Germany on their Christmas morning. My sister, who lives just a few miles from her son and his daughters, got too drunk on Christmas eve to make Christmas morning with her grandkids. That makes me want to shake her until her eyes bleed. But that is a pattern they are used to and I hate that. For them, for her.
She doesn’t get a free pass on the mistakes she made. But she very likely wouldn’t have made those mistakes had the other stuff that isn’t her fault not happened.
Alcoholism ain’t no joke.
I’ll never give up on her, though. Not ever. Maybe because I can’t forget the image of that locker room.