Her Thirteen Reasons Why

May 16, 1982 was the day life as I knew it came to end. The memory of a knock on the front door and a strange man standing on the front steps of my parents’ home is forever etched into my soul. I went to rouse my mother but her side of the bed was empty. My father lay passed out and snoring. So I waited for that strange man to leave, only he wouldn’t. He continued to ring the doorbell and pound harder on the door when there was no answer. My small hand turned the knob without considering the consequences.

Sunlight poured through the doorway as I cautiously greeted the man who would forever alter my world. He asked if my father was home and I told him no as I had been instructed to do so many times during the first six years of my life. The man, dressed in jeans and a brown jacket, insisted that he speak to my father. Seeing he wasn’t going to leave, I said I’d forgotten my father was home and went to wake him, hoping that disturbing him wouldn’t earn me a beating.

I don’t remember what my father and the man said to each other, only what came next. My father said, “Your mother’s gone to hell, girls” and retreated back into the bedroom. He emerged a minute later, holding a handful of my mother’s dark hair, as he wept, half-dressed and hung over at our kitchen table.

I huddled with my sister, clinging to each other and wailing for mommy to come home. We were six and seven. My only thought was — how could my mother leave me without teaching me to tie my shoes first?

My father went to the fridge and took comfort in a six-pack. He was always drunk or high or both. The police visited our house on a weekly basis. I’d come to resent the men in blue because they did nothing to stop the physical violence between my parents. My dad, at six-feet and over two hundred pounds, always won those fights though my mother frequently gave as good as she got. But the last beating was the worst. Black, blue, and swollen, she slipped away in the early morning hours and drove to a small nearby airport. My mother — pretty, smart, sarcastic, likable, and kind — ended her life in the van my father used for his cleaning business.

But she didn’t just take her own life; she ended part of mine too. Before my mother’s suicide, I had friends and I was a normal kid. After her death, I gravitated toward other kids who were like me — broken, bruised, and anything but normal.

If my mother expected my father to sober up after her death so he could keep me, she sorely miscalculated that man’s love for his children. I bounced between relatives (who did not want me and merely tolerated my presence for the sake of appearance) for a couple of years and ended up in a place that was far worse than living with an addict and his drug dealer.

I taught myself how to survive — don’t talk back, don’t ask for much, do as you’re told, and do not under any circumstances expect to be loved. And I wasn’t. My mother’s death should have taught me the importance of living but instead I was thrust into an environment where survival became my life. College was my only way out so I avoided the pitfalls that plagued my gene pool and focused solely on leaving and not ever looking back.

And I didn’t.

I want to tell you that when I turned eighteen and left, everything got better. I went to college, graduated, found a good career, met a nice guy, and had a nice family. While I did graduate from college and even earned a master’s, the man I married was far worse than my father ever was. The only difference is that I left the first time he put his hands on me. Our son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism two years after our divorce was final.

While I may look ‘normal’ on the outside with a stable job, a small home, and no addictions, I am anything but. There are days when I want to give up. Raising an autistic child alone is harder than I can fully express. I have no social life, very few friends, no family, and the majority of my free time is spent working with my son in ABA therapy. But while the sacrifices are wearing, they are nothing compared to living with the emptiness of having a mother who chose to leave me.

See that’s the rub — my mother may have had her 13 Reasons Why, but she never stopped to consider my one reason why not: if your mother didn’t love you enough to stay, then who will?

If my mother could do it all over again, I’d like to think she’d choose to live. Maybe she’d be here with me now. Maybe she’d even be proud that I not only got out, but that I’m surviving on my own. Of course if she’d lived, maybe I’d be living instead of just surviving too.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for resources and information. Don’t give up. Get help.