I can’t hear the song “Time” by Hootie and The Blowfish without thinking about it. The endless loop of that song was my weeklong companion amid the chaos of the disintegration of my family unit. It was a cool autumn Friday night, and I had gone to the mall with my friend. We stopped at the music store, and I bought a few CD singles of songs I’d liked on the radio, thrilled at how they only cost a few dollars.
I was to spend the night at my friend’s house afterward, and when we got back to her house, a message was waiting on her answering machine. It was my mother. She said something happened, that she had left, but wouldn’t say to where. I had to scrape my memory for the ancient phone number of her friend’s house and when I called, she told me in crocodile tears that my father had pushed her, that he’d killed our pet rabbits, and she and my brother left before he would turn on them.
My other brother was sleeping over at his friend’s house as well. The next morning, she came to collect us and took us to the battered women’s shelter. I recall the intake coordinator asking my mother what happened, and as another worker came in the room, she rushed to hug her and broke down in tears. To them, she seemed to be the authentic battered wife. To me, though, it seemed fishy.
They helped my mother get a Protective Order against my father, which was delivered to him by the county sheriff, one frigid afternoon. He’d been without us for several days by then, fearful of what my mother would do with us, or to him. The sheriff took all the guns from the house, and told my father he would have to leave. He didn’t have anywhere to go, so he went to the VA hospital and told them he was having flashbacks from Vietnam.
We spent a week in the shelter, surrounded by women and children who’d been through much worse than the simple shove my father had given my mother. From their previous arguments, she would just get up in his face and refuse to move as they argued. I don’t excuse his behavior, but her claim that she was a battered spouse was flimsy at best. Had she actually paid attention to the abuse he levied on his children, she might actually have a case, but after realizing her true intentions, it became clear that this was part of a larger plot.
What we didn’t know at the time, was that my mother planned to leave my father for the man she’d been having the affair with. She did leave for a weekend, staying at a hotel with him, but after her lover told her to go home after he was done with her, she rolled up the driveway like nothing happened. But, after we went to bed, my father gave her a dose of reality. She imagined creating a love nest with this man, taking our appliances with her to furnish this new place. The kids weren’t welcome to come, of course. My father told her she couldn’t take a thing, and if she did leave us, he’d sue her for custody and child support.
Not realizing this would put a crimp in her style, she began to refocus her attention on ways to simply remove the man who she no longer wanted. Maybe she watched a few too many Lifetime movies, maybe she and her lover came up with the plot together, we’ll never know. But, what she still has no recognition for is the inherent damage that her children would suffer as a result of her plot.
At the shelter, we were all shell-shocked, unsure of how to feel and not provided any kind of counseling while we were there. We missed a week of school, our friends were worried about us. We couldn’t talk about it, nor did we really want to. But people talked anyway. The sheriff showing up at the house is something people notice.
When we returned home from the shelter, my father was spending a month in the mental health ward at the VA hospital. In those days, I had a phone line in my bedroom, with a different phone number than the house. My father called me every morning, violating his restraining order, begging me to “fix this” and “get him out of there.” I didn’t know what I should do, or how to feel. But in hearing the desperation in his voice, knowing that no one would be able to fix it but me, I felt compelled to do something.
Slowly, I began to bring it up in family conversations. At first I was shot down, but eventually my brothers came on board. We convinced my mother to allow him back in the house when the order was lifted. He spent the next six months sleeping in the basement. As atonement, he agreed to go to AA meetings, fix up the house, and be more active in our lives. He gave up drinking, which was nice. But the AA meetings began to bore him, and he didn’t want to go anymore. He drove me to my after school activities, only to complain about my mother the entire time.
I hated being alone with either parent because they would constantly badmouth the other. Even though we were all living together again, the issues that lead up to the fight, supposed assault, and separation, were never addressed. There was never an apology. Even my mother’s affair continued unabated.
Soon after, my middle brother (who had just turned 12), began experimenting with smoking, drinking and drugs. He spiralled into a pattern of self-medication that he’s never been able to recognize or remedy. My younger brother isolated himself from my father, and was the first to estrange himself permanently from any member of our family. I continued to battle my depression and anxiety, finally entering therapy at 19. It would take me another decade to come to terms with my family’s abusive, manipulative patterns, and to finally estrange myself from them.
Time, why you punish me?
Like a wave bashing into the shore
You wash away my dreams.
Time, why you walk away?
Like a friend with somewhere to go
You left me crying
Can you teach me about tomorrow
And all the pain and sorrow
Cause tomorrow’s just another day
And I don’t believe in time