Continued from My Story – Part 4 (The Second Half of My Year of Hell)
By the end of that first semester at APSU in 1999, my now ex-husband, C.F., decided to move back to our hometown in East TN. Visitation with my son was sporadic at best while we all still lived in the same city. After they moved to East TN, I only saw my son on rare occasions. Not only was it a 5 hour drive to my hometown from Clarksville, TN, but transportation was also an issue, as well as taking time off from work and school. Each visit lasted no more than a couple of hours each time. Much of the time, I didn’t even know where they lived. Before they left, C.F. told me not to worry about the child support until I finished college. In defense of my naivety, I took him at his word.
However, in May 2001, C.F. reported me for failure to pay child support. My life quickly spiraled out of control again due to the added pressure and financial stress. The owner of the printing business where I worked was primarily an attorney. He took my case to court for me. Finally, someone with a heart, or so I thought. Every single attorney I had spoken with, told my story to (including this one), told me the same thing, “You should give up your parental rights.” Just because I gave one child up for adoption under completely different circumstances (or perhaps, similar depending on how you look at it) and struggled for so many years with mental illness didn’t mean that I had no right to be in my son’s life. At that point, I would have been happy with any type of regular visitation, even if that meant the supervised visitation declared in the divorce decree. That was never to be an option as the courts were only concerned with the child support. My life was to be tied up in the court system until spring 2007, unable to leave the city of Clarksville without fear of imprisonment.
I took any statement regarding my parental rights very personally, equally to those callous, judgmental comments that others made to me, stating that I should have made more of an effort to be in my child’s life. I so desperately wanted to be. No one else saw the sleepless nights I spent worrying where my child was because his father moved yet again and didn’t contact me with his whereabouts. No one else saw the rivers of tears I cried or felt my gut wrenching heartache that smothered the life out of me. No one felt my helplessness, my hopelessness, that led me down roads of despair that would frighten even the most sane. No one heard the horrible, awful things I told myself, berating my self-worth. Things, I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. No one fell to my level of despair that cried out for death to take me, let me fall asleep and never wake up. None of these people understood. None heard my voices. They only heard their own.
I did the best I could given the emotional support I had, which was very little. I raised my son for the first 4 years of his life with very little emotional support from C.F. or any family member, for that matter. Telling me to give up my parental rights literally ground my stomach into knots every time I heard it. It was like stabbing darts into my chest. It was like I had a sign on my chest announcing my worthlessness as a person and my failure as a mother. (My God, I lived the Scarlet Letter!) The hopelessness I felt of having a relationship with my son or watching him grow up ate away my soul piece by piece until I was blinded by despair. But anyway, this attorney represented me in the child support case in court. As a result by October, my child support amount was raised and my wages and income tax garnished. More than half my paycheck each week was taken directly.
Then, jets crashed into the World Trade Center…
I didn’t personally know anyone who was there that day or involved in the aftermath. I don’t know why this affected me so deeply, shook my world and beliefs to the point of questioning absolutely everything; but it did. My journal entry from September 11, 2001:
“What a day it has been! America is under attack. Around 8:00 [actually 7:46, Central Time] this morning, one of the World Trade Center towers was hit by a commercial aircraft. About 10 to 15 minutes later, the second tower was hit by another commercial aircraft. A little while later the Pentagon was hit by a third aircraft! And finally a fourth commercial aircraft crashed outside of Pittsburgh near Camp David. This was a totally horrific day. Thousands of people, civilians, have been killed today. People were jumping from windows to get away from flames. Both towers ended up collapsing a couple of hours later. It is estimated that 266 people died as a result of the plane crashes alone. The twin towers can hold as many as 40,000 employees as well as any visitors in the buildings. It is unknown how many survivors there actually are. Life as everyone knows it, changed today. As crazy as it seems, the events of today actually happened.”
I remember that morning quite clearly. I was driving to work when I heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. The radio announcer seemed to think this must be some crazy fluke. Moments after I reached work, still sitting in my car hanging on every word coming from my radio, the second plane crashed. The radio announcer no longer thought this was a fluke. I rushed inside to tell my coworkers. They had heard about the first, but not the second. The three of us just stood there in shock.
On my way to classes that afternoon, I stopped by where my boyfriend at the time, who I will refer to as K.R. (because seriously, he looks like Kid Rock), worked because they had a television there. This was during a 3 year period that I chose not to own a TV. I can only describe what I saw on TV as pure chaos combined with complete devastation. I felt the most gut wrenching pain and sadness totally overwhelm me. As I watched people jumping from those towers, I felt their despair, their hopelessness. Those images are embedded in my mind and my heart. Even now as I write this, I cry when I think about it. We all sat stunned, asking how did this happen? Why did this happen?
It was around this point that my grades started slipping. I began skipping classes. I constantly felt distracted, emotionally drained, and stressed out. This was the last semester that my grades were average. The next two semesters ended with me dropping out each time. Some days I would drive onto campus, look for a parking spot, become so frustrated from not finding one anywhere that I would turn around and go home! I was a mess.
I continued to try to survive the best way I knew how, working my part-time job, attending college full-time, and trying to maintain a few friendships/ support system along the way. Classes were becoming harder and harder to sit through. Work was a distraction, at best, but felt like I was working for nothing because I couldn’t financially support myself on what I was making. I was very close to losing my apartment and the small amount of control I had left in my life. The financial stress became too much again, resulting in another breakdown. At the first of March 2002, I ended up in the hospital for the fifth time due to thoughts of suicide (Hospitalization #5 – suicidal ideation).
While I was in the hospital, K.R. made arrangements with a friend’s father to move us into their home. I will refer to this friend as S.W. (again, not initials for her name, but Spiritual Warrior because she and I shared similar beliefs at the time). Her father and two younger siblings were moving to Virginia, leaving S.W., 18 years old, behind to finish high school. We were supposed to move in to keep an eye on things until the house sold; but shortly after he left, everything spiraled completely out of control very fast. K.R., bless his heart, was only trying to help by finding us another place to live. I was furious that he didn’t bother asking me about the move; or if he did, I was too emotionally compromised to remember it. Much of the time from 9/11 up until hospitalization #5 (even afterwards), I was completely dissociated from myself.
K.R. and I broke up as a result of this move. Maybe, I was mourning the loss of my independence, my loss of control, brief as that control lasted. I guess it came down to my feelings of inadequacy, and my low self-worth only fueled my inability to handle a relationship at that time. By the end of March, I was fired from the printing business where I was working, partly because I had missed so much work due to the hospitalization and partly because I had no transportation due to bizarre circumstances. S.W.’s house was in a very rural setting, not on a bus route. Even though I had a car at the time, shortly after I returned to work at the printing business (after the hospitalization), I somehow lost my car keys. A few days after I was fired, a neighbor from down the road showed up at our house, higher than a kite on something, and returned my car keys to me. Apparently, I had dropped my keys in the driveway where she said she “found” them a week earlier. At least, that was the final story we got out of her. She must have changed it 5 or 6 times while she stood there talking to S.W. and me.
S.W.’s house quickly turned into a party house. All of her high school friends came there to drink and get high and do whatever else they pleased. I realized very quickly that this was a very bad situation for me to be in due to the constant access to a self-harmer’s smorgasbord of choices. To make matters worse, I found a job working part-time at a little hole-in-the-wall beer bar. Normally, I don’t claim this job at all because not only was I working under-the-table for a boss who threatened to use this fact against me; but a lot of things happened while working there that I still can’t discuss. So many things happened in the short time I lived with S.W., about 5 months total. I found myself slipping further and further into chaos again. For the first time in my life, I began using drugs and alcohol to cope with my emotions in addition to the psychiatric medication I was on. I sporadically used alcohol during my marriage for this purpose, but nothing like the summer of 2002. S.W. ended up dropping out of high school. I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t prevent this. By the time I had enough and decided to move out, I pleaded with her father to do something to help her. Thankfully, he agreed that this wasn’t working for her and moved her to Virginia with him.
In August, I moved into a small house on my own, but found I couldn’t afford the rent after I quit working at the beer bar. I had used part of my student loans to cover my living expenses, but there just wasn’t enough to survive. By October, I began dating a guy who I will call P.I. (named solely for his profession at the time). I met him at the bar where I worked. We had only gone out a few times when he offered me a place to stay. It was a kind of weird, messed up relationship from the beginning. Oddly enough, a friend and I caught him spying on us right outside my kitchen window one night prior to my moving in with him. I suppose I should have cut off contact with him at that point, but I was desperate again. After only a couple of months living with him, I realized that he was an alcoholic. I guess you could call him a functional alcoholic, not a mean alcoholic; but he drank up all his money (beer mostly). And he mostly blamed me for never having any money.
I struggled to continue going to my classes; but by this point the stress was too much to handle. I shut down, and I never finished my degree.