Speaking My Truth
I have been thinking quite a lot about how my life has turned out. In some ways, my life has changed in ways I had never imagined. In other ways, my life has become everything I could have ever wanted and more.
I learned from a dear friend, that the best way to triumph over the difficulties in life, is to turn them into a teachable moment, both for yourself and for others. That there is value in every life lesson, good and bad. The best way to turn your pain into progress is to inspire and enable others to do the very same thing. Over the past year and a half, I have learned the importance of speaking your own truth and doing what is right rather than taking the easy way out. So, in order to help others, I have decided to speak my truth, in hopes that others who have been in my shoes will not feel like they are alone.
As a child, I never imagined that my family would become another statistic. Today, nearly fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. I knew that we were never the white picket fence All-American family, and I always knew something wasn’t quite right. Something didn’t fit. I think that young children, especially those who are self-aware are receptive to more than some parents could ever realize, at least, that was the case for me. When I was born, my mother was ecstatic to have been blessed with the gift of motherhood. My father, however, wasn’t. That’s not to say that he wasn’t happy, but rather, not happy that a new person would take up a majority of my mom’s time and affection.
As I grew older, the disconnect continued to the point where I stopped needing the connection altogether. I stopped yearning for the awkwardness and discomfort to stop and instead I put my time and energy into those people who put their time and energy into me. My mom tried her hardest to fill the hole that my father was never able to close up, and she did a phenomenal job. In terms of raising me, she did the work of two parents in one, and the life lessons that she instilled in me are more than I could ever count and it’s more than I could ever thank her for.
For most children growing up, you want think of your parents as perfect…at least, I know I did. Fast forward to August of 2014. I remember the day that I learned of my father’s infidelity as if it were yesterday. As I type this even now, that lump in my throat right before you tear up is there. I’m sure that memory will be with me forever. My mom and I were standing in the kitchen talking about how the imperfections in my parent’s marriage were becoming harder and harder for her to ignore. She turned to me, and at the same time welling up, and said, “He’s made a bigger mistake than you’ll ever know.” In that moment, I realized exactly what she was referring to. A few days prior, she and I were watching a Dateline special and I remember her making a comment about what a mistake the wife was making by cheating on not just her husband, but her whole family as well. As I processed what my mother had just told me, I felt as though the rug was completely ripped out from under me. It seemed like my entire life was a lie and that my world had been completely turned upside down.
Gradually, I learned more and more about the horrendous lie that my mom had been protecting the rest of our family from for the last seven years. I found out that the affair had been going on for roughly that length of time. I found out that my mom confronted my dad in the hotel room of the Ritz Carlton where they spent their twentieth wedding anniversary, and that he outright lied to her and denied his involvement with any other women. I remember seeing him several hours after and he was taking a nap on the couch and at that point, I didn’t feel betrayed or angry and distraught. I felt absolutely nothing. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t feel all of those things later on, but in that moment, I didn’t know how to react to the man who had done precisely what I thought he never would. As I began to process what was going on, I became consumed with anger and contempt. I couldn’t look at him without feeling that pang of anger and betrayal.
One of the most common themes in my parents’ arguments was that my father felt as though my mom pitted me against him and that the fact that I didn’t and still do not have any respect for him was all her fault. In reality, my dad pitted me against him all on his own. Over the years gradually and especially within the last year and a half, my dad has truly shown his true colors and let his anger get the better of him. Many times, it didn’t matter who was home when it was time for an argument. More often than not, on the weekdays, I would be home doing homework in my room while they argued the night away. Much of the time, I would sit on the stairs and listen to them, taking in all of the issues that were being thrown about. Hearing all of those things coupled with what I already knew made me that much more protective of my mom. It’s funny that while some people that I’ve talked to about this have said that I needed to try and see things from both perspectives, and what I’ll tell you is this… One of the hardest things was seeing what all of this had done to my mom and trying to understand how my father could be so cold and hateful. After this particular thing happened, my mom told me that this particular incident was the very moment that she knew she couldn’t be married anymore. One Friday night, my mom and I had a 4-H meeting to attend and just as we were about to leave, my dad decided that it would be prime time for an argument. I don’t remember precisely what this argument was about, but I remember that my dad told my mother to “stop being such a **** (word that isn’t appropriate for Facebook, but one that you never, ever call a woman and rhymes with blunt)”. As we proceeded to back out of the driveway, my mom and I both started to cry, her a lot more hysterically than I did. About half a mile from our house, my mom pulled the car over and told me that she needed me to drive; that she didn’t feel like she could. I remember being so angry that my dad could even think to say something so hurtful. Once we arrived at our destination, my mom didn’t feel like she was ready to go into the meeting, so one of her friends and sweetest most caring people I have ever met came out to sit with her in our car for the whole time the meeting was going on. That was one of the times that I knew that I had to be there for my mom all the time and make sure she felt like someone understood her pain and tremendous weight she was carrying around. I think my rationale was that my mom had always been there for me, so naturally, that was just what you do. You make yourself available for the people that you care the most for and above all, reassure that they are loved and appreciated.
On the night I confronted my dad and told him that I was aware of his affair I remember him telling me that his infidelity had nothing to do with my brother and I. The principle that everything I thought I knew was a complete lie, had absolutely nothing to do with me at all, according to him. That conversation with him was a pivotal one for me. I finally realized that all sorts of things that I had been told over the years. Simple things to major, life-altering ones were all complete lies, fabrications concocted by him to boost his ego or cover his tracks for something that he was able to justify. At this point, I was starting to pick up on the fact that his lies became more and more frequent, and soon there became almost no truth. Over the summer of last year, my dad said that he was taking a trip to Charleston, South Carolina for business. At the time, he said something about it, my mom and I had already been living in a new house for about 7 months so at first, I wasn’t terribly concerned. While he was away on his trip, my mom and I went over to our old house to gather some things that we left there like pictures and scrapbooks. On this particular trip to our old house, I had a tie with me that I borrowed for an awards ceremony towards the end of the school year to return. I thought nothing of putting the tie back where my dad kept all of his other ties, in his closet on the tie rack next to his work shirts. What I found was something I never expected. On the opposite side of the walk in closet, I saw a woman’s clothes that were certainly not my mom’s because she had already had all of her clothes in our new place. I was shocked and angry because what I had hoped wasn’t true, just became completely real. My father’s affair seemingly never stopped. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that my dad’s friend had been in our house and was most likely with him in Charleston. I texted him and let him know that I returned his tie and that I was disappointed that he thought it was okay to see someone while my parents were technically still married in the eyes of the law. He thanked me in a condescending snot-nose way for “taking an interest in his personal life.” A few days later, I went to pick a few other things up. When I opened the garage door like usual the door leading into the house was locked, and that was completely out of the ordinary. Several moments later, my dad answered the door. This may seem insignificant, but he told me earlier that day that his flight would not return until 8 PM that evening, so for him to be home at 3:30 in the afternoon was unexpected. At that moment, I was immediately reminded of how big of a liar he had become, so I immediately got into my car and proceeded to back out of the driveway. About a mile later, I pulled over on the verge tears, unable to take the betrayal and the lies any longer. While this was all going on, my mom was at work and not able to answer her cell phone. Sitting there on the side of the road, I wanted nothing more than to hear her voice and tell me that everything was going to be okay. By the ninth time I called her, she finally answered the phone. When she asked me what was wrong, I started crying and yelling that I needed everything to stop and that I just wished my dad would go away and leave us alone. Not the most articulate, but that was the only way to get my feelings out. My mom calmed me down enough to convince me to drive across town to our home, where she would meet me in a little bit. As soon as I pulled onto the road, I burst into an uncontrollable sob. Thinking back on it, it’s a miracle that I was able to make it back to our townhouse as smoothly as I did because I was in the middle of a full blown panic attack and unable to console myself. Pulling into the garage, I turned off the ignition and walked into the entry way of our house and just collapsed; unable to move or speak or think or feel anything. Waiting for my mom to come home only took about ten minutes, but to me, laying there in a puddle of tears and despair, it felt like ten years. I know now, looking at it that there’s only a so much being strong and putting on a brave face a person can tolerate before their anger and sadness catch up to them, and while laying there on the floor, my anger and sadness hit me like it hadn’t ever previously. Later that evening, my mom and I drove to our old house to discuss what had happened. I knew that my dad brought the woman he had been seeing with him on this trip. In addition to her clothes in the closet, I found a hotel reservation for two sitting out on his dresser. Sitting in the kitchen, I asked him if he brought anyone with him on the trip. He said that he didn’t and that the reason he went to Charleston was to provide aid for those affected by the awful shooting at the church that happened a few days before.
To this day, my father has yet to accept responsibility for his actions and lack of judgment. He has blamed everyone else for his issues and mistakes. During my junior year of high school was prime time that I felt trapped in the hellish vortex that my home life was becoming. As my parent’s marriage began to crumble, their arguments became more frequent. I remember on one particular occasion, they were having an argument on the back deck and I came downstairs to run to the grocery store for a few items I needed for a school party the next day. As I returned home and walked in the door with a package of plates and a box of donuts in hand, my mom was struggling with getting a heavy box from the kitchen to the trashcan. Without thinking, I walked over to her and helped her carry it to the garage. Out of nowhere, my father began screaming at me to “just go” and “get out” over and over. My first instinct was to just stay calm and walk up to my room in order to let the situation diffuse itself. After a few minutes, I heard the thunderous steps as my father climbed the staircase and ripped open my door. All of a sudden, my dad got in my face and started screaming at the top of his lungs how I didn’t understand anything about my parent’s relationship. In reality, though, I did understand my parent’s relationship — and quite well. In fact, I understood it much better than he ever would, and that angered him to the point of confronting me in such an unreasonable and confrontational way. When he was finished making himself look like an out of control idiot, I did the only thing I could think of. I smiled at him. I smiled because I knew that I would always be the better person. I smiled because I knew that in his tirade of anger and jealousy, he had never looked smaller, more pathetic and more insignificant than he did right then and that was one of the few times that I felt powerful and like events going on around me weren’t trapping me any longer. Although that wasn’t the time that I was able to let go of the trapped feelings completely, it was an experience that helped me realize that I wouldn’t feel like that forever.
This weekend, I reached out to the woman that my father began his affair with who has since become his girlfriend, and we agreed to have dinner because I wanted her to hear the truth about how I have been affected by all of this. I knew that the conversation we would have was going to be awkward but I knew that if she and I both went into it and promised, to be honest with one another, that was the only way this was going to work. During this dinner, she and I discussed a lot of what I’m telling you now. I told her my truth and it was such a relieving feeling to know that she was telling her truth as well. When I asked her about the trip to Charleston, she told me that she was indeed with him, confirming what I knew all along. While talking over dinner, she genuinely seemed moved by all of the things I was telling her. One of the things that I wanted her to know most was that the family dynamic that went on was not the same one that was portrayed to her over the years and especially that the version of my dad that she has known is not the same one that I have known. All throughout our nearly three and half hour conversation, I felt like she genuinely took in what I had to say with an open mind and realized how her actions had really played into all of this. It’s so crazy because I never thought that I would get truth and compassion from one of the two people that changed my life in such a drastic way. I was actually very proud of her, and I really believe that conversation was a testament to the fact that she feels guilty for the part that she played in all of this. That in and of itself is something that I appreciate more than I can say because that is something that I’ve never gotten from my dad. Something I’ve yearned for since this whole crazy rollercoaster began, and unfortunately, something I don’t think I’ll ever get.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to think of ways to let go of all of the anger I have towards my father. His actions have hurt me the point that I’m not sure I’ll be able to get over them. So, in the meantime, my goal is to make sure that other people know that sometimes, life is unpredictable, and scary, and not always what you once thought. Life doesn’t always follow the plan you think it will, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be okay. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to triumph and turn your situation that seems never-ending into something positive. Above all, it doesn’t mean that just because something you are going through feels like the worst possible thing in the world, you are never truly alone. There is always someone in the world that will connect with you, and that understands your pain. My hope is that someone reads what I’ve written and realizes that all of the feelings associated with any painful situation will not last forever. Those feelings don’t necessarily go away, but rather, you learn that what happens to you in your lifetime does not have to define you. In every situation you have a choice to be positive and constructive or to let the pain consume you. I choose to be positive and hope you will too. My hope is that if you are out there, experiencing something like this, although there are days that seem never ending, you will reach a point when all of the pain and negativity you feel will change and you’ll be able to turn it into something positive and beautiful for others.