Not too many people know this about me. It’s not the kind of information you volunteer.
I quit school at age 14. I didn’t intend to. It’s not like I thought to myself, “I’m going to drop out of school.” But one day I just lacked the impetus to go, so I didn’t go. And then I didn’t go the next day, or the next day, or the next day.
I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it illegal for a 14 year old to not go to school? Yes, I’m pretty sure it is. So how did I get away with it? I guess I just fell through the cracks. Nobody gave a shit.
Things in my life were a mess then. It’s hard to even communicate the scope of what was going on. Any umbrella term would be inadequate; it was a series of hellish incidents that overwhelmed me to the point of being unable to carry on.
I suppose it had started when my dad left a week before my 14th birthday. My parents’ marriage had been getting increasingly volatile for a few years leading up to it. They both had huge anger issues. My mom had been raised by unloving and verbally abusive parents and had been physically and sexually abused by an older brother, which left her with emotional scars that she had never dealt with. Meanwhile, my dad had gotten a head injury in a workplace accident and had experienced severe personality changes as a result.
They argued a lot, and when they argued, she would verbally berate him, and he would go into a rage and beat her up. He broke one of her fingers once, and permanently damaged a muscle in her thigh by kicking her. Another time he had her down on the ground with a pitchfork at her throat.
One day, during one of their altercations, my mom became convinced that my dad was possessed by a demon. “Get out of this house!” she yelled at the supposed demon. My dad assumed she was talking to him (who wouldn’t?), and he soon complied, going to work one day and not coming home.
Perhaps it would have been easier if my dad had stayed gone, but he would return from time to time to pick up belongings or to do his laundry or to try to get one of us to cook something for him. He didn’t have a place to live, but rather crashed at the homes of women he’d met through his work and sometimes slept in his car.
Every time he showed up, things kicked off once again between my parents. They would yell and scream and my mom would hurl accusations and my dad would literally froth at the mouth and lash out physically. He often threatened to kill her and himself.
I once overheard my dad tell my mom to get me to get in the car so he could drive us all off a cliff because we were all losers. In retrospect, I don’t think he would have done it, but I took things literally back then and was convinced for a long time that my dad wanted to kill me.
Another time, my mom came into my bedroom with a gun, telling me to hide it in my closet because my dad was threatening to kill himself with it. After she left my room I thought about using it on myself. I called a friend and told her. After we hung up, my friend told her dad, and her dad called my mom. I understand why he did it, but it resulted in my mom screaming at me for shaming her.
The rare times my dad would drive me somewhere during that time, he would be drunk (he had previously been a teetotaler; I’d been growing up in an alcohol-free household up until that point), driving like a maniac, and launching road rage attacks on other drivers, one time repeatedly hitting the bumper of the car in front of us because he thought it wasn’t going fast enough on a winding mountain road. I just ducked my head and covered my eyes in terror.
I started seeing a school counselor, but he was unsympathetic. He said, “Lots of kids’ parents get divorced. It’s not a big deal.” It didn’t help that I wasn’t going into detail about the abusive atmosphere. It was partly because I couldn’t find the words to explain it, and partly because my mom had warned me not to tell anyone. “They’ll take you away from me, and then I’ll have nothing,” she said.
My parents did not actually get divorced. And it wasn’t like I could visit my dad at his home on the weekends, as he didn’t have one, and had no interest in having any sort of relationship with me at that point anyway. And he had withdrawn all financial support. My mom and I were living in poverty and were about to lose the house. I was my mom’s confidant so she told me her every concern and worry; I was never shielded from bad news.
Despite everything, my mom only wanted reconciliation and she started getting increasingly jealous and paranoid about what my dad was doing. He was claiming he was just friends with the women he was seeing and occasionally bunking with, but my mom didn’t believe him. She started getting me to come with her as she drove around looking for him and spying on him. Once when she saw his car parked at another woman’s house, she got to me to climb a tree to look in the window. I saw my dad and the woman standing in the woman’s kitchen. The woman was not wearing a top.
These night time excursions often precluded me getting my homework done and sometimes even getting any sleep, and I would get to school the next day unprepared and bleary-eyed.
Speaking of jealousy, my mom even got jealous of me. She once accused me of having sex with my father, not as his victim, but as his seductress. That is the most bizarre and hurtful thing I’ve ever been accused of in my entire life, and I had trouble even looking at my dad after that, I was so nauseated by the thought. For what it’s worth, nothing like that ever went on between me and my dad. He didn’t like kids and really didn’t show a lot of interest in me, appropriate or otherwise, even before things got so volatile between my parents.
My mom verbally lashed out at me a lot, actually. I was constantly being falsely accused of one thing or another. She berated me the way she berated my dad, sometimes claiming that she spoke for God. She was paranoid that I, my dad, and various other people were plotting against her. She would pace back and forth repeatedly quoting the Bible and saying to God, “Contend with those who contend with me. Fight against those who fight against me,” including me with the ones she wanted God to contend with and fight against. She would tell me it was my fault my dad had left, sometimes saying it was because he couldn’t handle being the father of a teenage girl, and other times saying it was because of a certain incident during which he had decided the three of us should have family prayer time and I had refused to comply, but she would leave out the fact that during that incident they had started to argue about whether or not we should get down on our knees, and I ran to my room to get away from the arguing. She also sometimes said that I was the one who had “let the devil into the house” by listening to “secular” radio stations.
And then my mom had what she describes as a nervous breakdown. She stopped functioning. She would just lie on the living room floor and cry. She stopped cooking and stopped eating. I had to take over cooking duties, and she wouldn’t eat unless I almost forced her to. I became afraid of leaving the house, because I didn’t know what state she’d be in when I returned. It was easier for me to stay home where I could keep an eye on her the entire time.
So that’s what was going on at home in the time leading up to my quitting school. In my next post, I’ll explain what was going on at school.
By the way, I must mention that my parents are not like this anymore. Not at all. They are like completely different people now. I will explain further in a future post.