Survivor’s Pride

10 comments | December 5th, 2011

(story submitted by Matsu, a Chestist)

Her story is equal parts horrifying and inspiring.  It begins here:

I used to joke that getting married was something my mother would do for fun on weekends. 

She was a child of the 70's, whose own mother ran with greaser boys and regularly flipped off social norms and had a joyfully combative relationship with her husband. Maybe un-choosing that for herself, my mom decided that she wanted a 1950's marriage in the 1980's, and ended up in a series of marriages and years-long relationship searching for one that fit her ideal.

It was her lifelong dream: to have a husband she could rely on and children she could care for, a stable family in a stable home. But the longer she went without finding it, the more she relaxed her standards.  After her second divorce, she was a lonely and vulnerable single mother of a preteen daughter who, she thought, needed a father at a crucial time in her life.

So she found one.

Her third husband was abusive, but intelligent and trained to read the reactions of others. Like most abusers, he knew how to be charming and likeable and introduce his true self gradually,  but unlike most, he was consciously manipulative and careful to find ways to control her, directly and through me. By the time I was in high school, he had completely divided me from my mother.  One morning he would tell me she was too stressed from working overtime (which she was working to pay for his credit card debt and whatever his sons' wanted that week) and that I should come to him if I needed to talk about anything; that night, he'd mockingly suggest I was "playing at being noble" for not wanting to run our noisy, rattly dishwasher while she had finally gotten to sleep.  He would accuse me of being disrespectful and insist my mother punish me, while omitting that I was "disrespectful" for not being thrilled he had woken me up in the middle of the night.

The sexual abuse started later, and was similarly insidious. I didn't learn about "grooming" until later, and what that means, but 'playfully' asking about masturbation habits, and reaching into and under my clothes, and teaching me how to properly through a punch were all part of 'teaching me how to defend myself', which ended, every time, in me being put into a submission hold.  He was teaching me that I could fight, but that I would always lose to him.  Very rarely did I go a day without being jokingly called a whore; the memory of his laugh the day I cracked a joke confirming my whore status turns my stomach. Men should not tell their fourteen year old stepdaughters they should work in porn.

To this day I can't begin to ask my mother what kind of "lessons" he was teaching her.  He abused her financially, by forcing her to spend her paychecks on covering his debts and spending his own on extravagant things for himself; he abused her emotionally, by gaslighting her into such doubt of her own reality that she couldn't believe anything but what he told her, even if that would change from day to day, to the point where he would seriously upset her job security by telling her her work calendar was wrong and her schedule was off.  If he ever abused her physically or sexually, I never heard about it.

My story ends happily.  I confronted him about his attempts to prepare me to be sexually abused, and although he denied it (while reminding me that if he wanted to rape me all day and all night, I couldn't stop him) and the abuse didn't stop, it did change, and he didn't touch me that way again. I managed the rest of those years with a bitter, ready-to-bite-back sort of strength that I am, many years later, still trying to overcome.  For a long while I hated my mother for being inaccessible, for being so ready to think the worst of me at his word, for letting this picket-fence fantasy ruin us both; that would take years to overcome, too.

My mother, one day out of the blue, found religion, and the day she found Jesus, Jesus told her to get the hell out of there. So she took me out of school and we bailed back to my grandparents' house. She describes her experience with a beatific joy, as if all at once, she felt suddenly loved and reassured, and despite her fear and the years of conditioning, she found her confidence to flee an abusive marriage.

Today, her credit is destroyed and her options for retirement are null. But she's happy: her house, a renovated mobile home that she's been steadily teaching herself carpentry to fix (four years ago, it was a dump; today, it's an adorable, cozy little cottage), belongs to her, and only her.  The gentleman who came to live with her years later is dedicated to her, having also recently left an abusive relationship, and being a Southern good-ol'-boy whose mama and daddy raised him right, he is exactly the 50's husband she always wanted: strong, dependable, reassuring, and most of all, gentle and respectful.

I used to think that my mother's quest for the picket fence was embarrassing and poisonous; an anti-feminist throwback to an ugly era of darning socks and tupperware parties and incompetence in anything meaningful. The world was just starting to tell me (among other things) that, as a girl, I could do anything and didn't need a man to help me do it, while my mother was questing for an antiquated idea of feminine livelihood that I had come to associate with uselessness and frivolity and oppression.

Today, I smile on her achievements and see her with nothing but pride. She often worries that she will have nothing to leave me when she passes on, but she has left me with an important lesson that no daughter is too old to learn from her mother:  your dreams are valid, no matter what they are, and you are never too old, or too single, to pursue them, no matter what anyone else has to say about it.   She followed her simple dream of a happy American family into Hell, and came out the other side with the knowledge and confidence that the only way to get what she wanted was to build it herself, and she did.

I wish every mother, daughter, and survivor could be so proud. {end story}

Wow, we've got nothing.  Thank you, Matsu.  Thank you. – OOC



  • V.K.

    Posted on December 5, 2011

    Sometimes I read stories on this blog, and have no idea how you all survived what you have. I am in awe of your strength and compassion.

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  • Ronny

    Posted on December 5, 2011

    I have to ask — has your mother ever spoken to you about what you went through? Does she know? Has she apologized? Do you want her to?

    I agree with V.K. above, total awe of your “strength and compassion.”

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    • Matsu

      Posted on December 5, 2011

      I was so amazed to see they actually posted this. Thank you, OOC. It felt good to get this off my chest, I don’t think I’ve ever told the story quite so close to in-full to anyone before. God bless internet anonymity, amirite?

      Ronny: We were estranged for a long while, but we reconnected, and had a very long conversation. I started to tell her about the sexual abuse, but she broke down in tears at the very mention of it; I lied and told her only that I’d confronted him, not about the grooming or the groping or the filthy comments. I wish I had words to describe the relief on her face. It’s a sick thought, but when an abuser says “Don’t tell your mother, it’d kill her to find out”, they’re right on the money.

      She apologized, but I didn’t really want or need her to. What she went through was much, much worse than what I had. No one is really “equipped” to handle an abusive parent-figure, but I do feel like I was adequately prepared to survive one; most importantly I had already lost a father to alcoholism and a loving stepfather to mental illness. I didn’t accept this man as my father and although we got on well enough (at first), I knew I was never going to call him “dad”. She, on the other hand, actually loved him and trusted him, and desperately wanted to build that wonderful life with a man who pretended to be everything she wanted– after losing a husband to alcoholism, and the man she still calls her soul mate to mental illness. She was afraid and alone and only wanted that safe, stable home. He used her dream to kill her spirit. And nobody should need to say they’re sorry for being so horribly abused.

      Someday I want to encourage my mom to write a book. I think a lot of women could really benefit from her story.

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      • OffOurChests

        Posted on December 5, 2011

        You are so welcome, Matsu. And actually, the thanks are ours.

        We’ve seen and heard a lot of stories in the year we’ve been doing this and yours, both despite and because of all the things that made us want to scream and lash out on behalf of the young girl that was you, is just so inspiring. Your spirit and compassion are truly breathtaking.

        (And you didn’t think we’d print it. huh.)

        XO, OOC

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  • Throwback

    Posted on December 5, 2011

    This one line rang so true for me “I used to think that my mother’s quest for the picket fence was embarrassing and poisonous”. I am really struggling lately with kind of just wanting that for myself. I mean what is so bad about domesticity? Everyone expects something more from me though.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted on December 5, 2011

      Domesticity is only bad if you treat it as the whole of your potential. I will admit I think the world needs more women in positions of prestige and power and higher learning than it does housewives, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be one. But make sure you get that degree first, girl: be a housewife because you want to be and not because you don’t have any other skills!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on December 5, 2011

    I wish your mom had found religion or anything else sooner.

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  • Mimi

    Posted on December 5, 2011

    My mom and dad told us they had a great relationship. For years. In reality, it wasn’t so great. There was no abuse, but my dad pretty much drove my mom nuts. She felt responsible for him, so she couldn’t quite walk out the door, although I think that’s what she really wanted to do. Like Matsu (thanks so much for your incredible piece, btw), I judged her for her choices. I am sorry that I did. I now understand that all couples have struggles, and that compromise is part of the dance. My BF and i are dancing away. I wish my mother were alive so i could be more compassionate and less self-righteous.

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