I made it back to the apartment close to 8:00 a.m. My boyfriend Derek gave me a kiss goodbye before he drove away, leaving me to deal with the consequences waiting behind my front door. My mother wouldn’t be happy I stayed out all night again even though she knew the reasons why.
She was on the couch waiting for me, her arms folded and a frown on her face. Her boyfriend Glenn sat next to her with something close to a smirk, clearly taking pleasure in the fact I was about to be yelled at. It was that creep’s fault I didn’t want to come home in the first place.
“Sorry,” I said weakly, everyone in the room knowing I didn’t mean it.
“I want you get out,” my mother shouted. “You can stay wherever it is you go at night.”
Was she serious? I was only seventeen years old. Could she legally throw me out of my own home? The stern look on my mother’s face showed she meant business.
I headed for my room after grabbing a garbage bag from under the sink. Stuffing my clothes and makeup inside, I wondered when my mom would come in and stop this whole charade. She probably only said that for Glenn’s benefit, anyway. In fact, he was probably the one who came up with the idea.
I returned to the living room with my bag full of stuff and headed for the front door, expecting my mother to stop me. “Bye,” I called out to her. She didn’t respond. Instead, she stood between me and the doorway with her arms still folded. We paused for a minute, her expecting me to break down and beg her to let me stay, and me waiting for her to say it was all a misunderstanding.
When neither of those things happened, I scooted around her and walked out.
I carried my things to the end of our street, struggling to make sense of what just happened. One minute I had a place to live, and the next I was standing in the middle of the road with a garbage bag. My mom had gone too far this time. Usually, when I was late coming home or didn’t come home until the next morning, she grounded me for a few days and all was forgiven.
That was before Glenn came into our lives.
The Stranger In Our Home
My mother met Glenn in her group therapy meeting at the mental health center. He stood over six feet tall and wore a self-made uniform of overalls and a blue baseball cap. He was loud and scary and made jokes that were always borderline sexual, and I hated his guts.
My mom moved him in about a month later from his own mother’s house. The two of them spent most days drinking and making fun of me when they weren’t having sex in her room so loudly I had to plug my ears.
Glenn had bipolar disorder and my mother suffered lifelong depression, and they experimented with each other’s medication and told me to mind my business when I pointed out that might not be a good idea. My mother seemed to call in sick every other day from the bank job that paid her well so she could hang out with Glenn. They were quite a match, but not made in heaven.
I stopped coming home at night once Glenn was living with us. Sometimes I’d stay with a friend. Other times Derek would sneak me into his house after his parents were asleep. He didn’t want me to go home either, deciding correctly that Glenn was nothing but trouble.
At first, I called my mother to let her know where I’d be, but as time went on, I stopped doing it. It would have been easy to pick up the phone, but my resentment was at its highest point and I didn’t think she even cared where I was, anyway.
I carried my garbage bag over to my friend Tim’s building. He was nineteen and lived in a studio closer to the beach than me, and I knew he had an extra bed. Maybe I could convince him to let me stay a while until I figured out what to do?
Tim was sitting on the carpet with some of our mutual friends eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I sat down next to him and told him what happened, and he told me I could stay for a while until I got my own place.
My own place? I wasn’t even eighteen yet. What did I know about rent and bills and those types of things? Starting to panic as I thanked him, I sat down beside Tim on the floor and watched everyone eat.
That was another thing. How was I supposed to buy food for myself? I couldn’t expect Tim to support me even though I was staying with him. I had a part-time job in the Key Shop at Sears, but I didn’t make enough there to cover rent and food and utilities. I didn’t have my own car and was taking the bus to work and back. How was I supposed to pay for the bus?
As the days passed, Tim was nice enough to feed and house me until I could figure out my next move. I refused to call my mother and ask to come home. There was no way I ever wanted to set foot in that apartment again, especially with her and Glenn’s tenuous mental stability slipping away.
I feared them more than being out on my own, and I prayed things would work out so I didn’t have to come back with my tail between my legs. My mother would have me then. She would have won, and I imagined my life would become increasingly more difficult with the constant threat to throw me out again.
There Was No Happily Ever After
There was also the issue of getting the rest of my stuff. I only took what I could fit in one bag, and there were a lot of other clothes and personal items I left behind. The thought of having to call my mom for anything made my stomach hurt, but I had no other choice.
When I called her, she didn’t sound like the strong woman who’d thrown me out a few weeks earlier. She described how Glenn showed up at the bank where she worked and started harassing everybody because they wouldn’t give her a day off. Someone called the police, and Glenn ended up Baker acted by my mother. Glenn’s mother didn’t want to get involved, so my mom took it upon herself to be responsible for him. It cost her the great paying job she had for years, but at least she was safe from Glenn.
She added that he was carrying a loaded gun everywhere he went in case the government “found” him. He built a decoy of himself with a broom, one of his shirts and his infamous baseball cap and set it at the dining room table just in case somebody busted in to “get” him.
“At least it’s over now,” I reassured my mother, still not quite ready to forgive her. “He’s finally out of our lives.”
“Well,” she paused. “We’re planning a wedding for when he gets out of the hospital, and I’d love you to be my maid-of-honor.”
I set the phone down in its cradle and sat down defeated. There was no way I could go back home with Glenn there. I’d have to figure out a way to make it on my own.
When an apartment became vacant in Tim’s building, we lied to the landlord about my age so she would rent it to me. It was another studio and was $400 per month, which was out of my price range, but I was determined to make it work. I asked at the Key Shop whether they could switch me to full time, and to my surprise they did and made me a manager.
Derek came by often and stayed with me in my new place. I was afraid to admit I was still scared to be alone at night, so when Derek couldn’t stay I enlisted some of my friends to take turns sleeping on my other twin bed. They made sure I was never alone and helped me keep my spirits up.
There were nights I envied my friends, having a real home to go to with a real family who loved them. I was grateful they chose to spend time with me and understood what I was going through at such a young age. After all, I was still a kid. Maybe a kid who was proud of herself for surviving, but a kid nonetheless.
My mother married Glenn a year later, sans his baseball cap. I attended their wedding as a guest, not as maid-of-honor as my mother wanted. I finally just told her I thought it was a bad idea and I couldn’t support it, and surprisingly she respected my wishes.
After the wedding, I went through the reception line and gave my mother a dutiful kiss on the cheek. Glenn was right beside her, and I put my hand out to shake his in some sort of bizarre truce. It shocked me when Glenn grabbed me and pulled me to him and kissed me on the lips.
“One thing I love about weddings,” he joked, “I get to kiss the girls.”
The wedding was the last time I ever saw Glenn. He and my mother moved to Missouri to get a fresh start. Deep down, they knew nobody in Florida approved of their marriage. I had my own wedding to Derek a few years later without my mother to help me pick out my dress or to talk to about any wedding jitters. She’d chosen her path, and I wasn’t willing to follow her down it.
If Wishes Were Horses
As I thrived in my new life, things got worse for my mother. She called and told me she was divorcing Glenn because he was abusing her, and I didn’t say I told her so. I never made the drive to go see them despite my mom’s pleading. Even after Glenn was out of the picture, my relationship with my mother was strained until she passed almost a year ago.
Even now, I know I did the right thing. I left my mother’s with one trash bag and never looked back even though it was a struggle. With the help of friends, I got my GED and a better job and then married my high school sweetheart. Derek and I started out eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner because we were so poor, but over time our situation got better and we did just fine.
It did no good wishing my mother never met Glenn. I resented being forced into adulthood before I was ready. It seemed like she picked a man over me, and I never really forgave her for it until I became older and wiser. I know she struggled with her mental health ever since she was a girl, and part of me believes she did the best she could. When I was an adult, she never stopped trying to make up my childhood to me, and I give her credit for reaching out when it would have been easier not to try.
I’ve made mistakes of my own, plenty of them. I wasn’t always the best mother at certain times, but I love my children with my whole heart and did the best I could before I knew better. The experiences I’ve had as a parent made me see my mom in a whole new light and judge her less harshly.
My experience as a teenager taught me to be a survivor, a skill I’ve had to use time and again over the years. It also taught me to cherish my friendships. Being on my own in the world as a young girl wasn’t a situation I would have chosen, but it gave me the strength I needed later in life to face the challenges that awaited me.
My mother was not perfect, and neither was I. We merely did the best we could to survive.
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