Fears and Events and Prayers, Part IV

by Jennifer on April 15, 2009

You can find Parts I, II and III here.

And so we drove away from the house. I was headed back to college after winter break, and didn’t know that I would never sleep in my old room again. Something big had happened, yes, but I had no solid reason to believe I wasn’t coming back, that I was leaving for good. It wasn’t the first time that things seemed like they had to change, and never did. Why should this time be any different?

Let’s go back to two nights before.

In our house, we said grace before every meal, and before the prayer my brother and I couldn’t stop laughing about something. Of course, it only got worse during the prayer. When one of us got it under control, the other one would lose it. (If you’ve ever tried to stop laughing in the middle of a prayer or church, you know it’s damn near impossible.)

My stepmother, Sue,* cut her prayer short, and in one motion jumped up from the table, grabbed my brother by the upper arm and by his hair and pulled him up out of his chair. She dug her fingers deep into his arm and yanked back his head. She spat words that I can’t remember now.

But I remember what I said and what I did.

Across the table from them, I stood up. My whole body shook with the pulse of adrenalin, but I didn’t yell. I hissed.

Stop it. Let him go. That is not how you should handle things.”

Not eloquent. But those sentences held the force of all the years, of all the pain. It was a moment that took every bit of sixteen years to construct (the number of years my father had been married to her). And the truth is, others have done far braver and harder things to face an abuser. But it was the first time I had ever stood up to her. And by then, I had begun to measure the abyss between what happened in our house and how the rest of the world might see it, the distance between what I had always known and what could be.

She twisted toward me with my brother still in her grip, her eyes narrowed in fury. In hate. But then, with a shove, she let him go.

For the next two days, she ignored me except to snipe “bitch” when I passed by a room where she was. And you know what? I was proud to hear it. Something between us had shifted. The result was seismic, and it changed everything.

When it was time to return to school, she drove me away from that house, to Kansas City where I would meet up with the (lovely, kind) people I lived with at school to ride with them the rest of the way back to Nebraska.

The three hour drive to Kansas City was quiet, except for necessary words, few and flat. Sue didn’t look at me.

The next time I spoke with her, on the phone, she told me I was no longer welcome at home. I was shaken but not exactly heartbroken.

In the next few months, the marriage finally broke apart, in part because of what happened when I was home. The next year at winter break, my sister and I testified in court to help my father get custody of my brother, who was almost 17 by then. Without meaning to, I had left him behind, with a row of fresh bruises and broken skin on his arm where her fingers left their mark. My father was awarded custody, but my brother spent only a few months with him before deciding he wanted to move back home, his decision aided by Sue’s threats to disown him if he did not.

Every time I get within two miles of the house where I grew up, a knot forms in my stomach. I expect that will always be so.

Like a tornado, the past has a way of picking up a person and setting her down in a completely different place.  A couple of days ago, Sue’s name appeared on Facebook on my list of People You May Loathe Know. It was a shock. One of  Sue’s nieces made the connection with her on the site. My first instinct was to  block Sue from being able to see my name or profile, but then my sister said, “I’m not hiding from her.” And I knew I felt the same way.

Writing here about these things has allowed me to release the last of the their power to hurt me. I can’t separate myself from what happened, not entirely, but I have learned to unclench my fists and to let the seeds of anger (I held on for so long) drift away on the wind, to somewhere far from me. Some things, I believe, cannot be forgiven, so this is what I do.

I doubt anything will come of this new development, courtesy of social media. But if it does? Well, let her look around. Let her read here.

Sue never had to feel the force of the justice she deserved, and in any of these stories, I haven’t even told the worst of what she did. It’s not my story to tell. But let her find this indictment.

Let her know that she is judged.


On a lighter, lovely note…my beautiful, kind friend Milena nominated me for three categories in The Blogger’s Choice Awards, including The Blogitzer, for excellence in writing. If you have a moment to click through the button below to cast a vote for me, I would appreciate it, so much. Thank you!

My site was nominated for The Blogitzer!

*not her real name

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily R April 15, 2009 at 4:53 am

no, few have done braver things


Mrs. Chili April 15, 2009 at 7:02 am

There’s nothing I can add here. I’m just going to reach over, gently take your hand, and look at this scene with you as someone who’s been there and understands everything you have to say without your having to say a word.


Daryl April 15, 2009 at 7:24 am

You are an amazing writer and person and I hope if ‘Sue’ ever makes her way here she reads not just the posts but also the comments so she ‘gets’ that she is universally detested and not fit to be a mother ….


Jenn @ Juggling Life April 15, 2009 at 7:49 am

The most important thing is that you have not let her define your life.

I was unable to find your blog to vote for it? Do you have a direct link?


Coco April 15, 2009 at 8:16 am

I am cheering for you right now.

And yes, she is judged. Whatever happens, we know you, Sue. You can smile and lie and tsk and pretend that Jennifer and Ducky were “such bad children” or whatever it is you tell yourself that lets you sleep at night…but we all know.


Jenn @ Juggling LIfe April 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

I voted.


slouching mom April 15, 2009 at 8:38 am

You are brave and wonderful. (And I voted.)


jessica April 15, 2009 at 9:30 am

You write so beautifully. I feel the same way about my ex husband and his family. AFter all they have done, so far, none have had to suffer any of the consequences of their actions. It seems everything bounces off them and in turn seems to hurt all those who don’t deserve it. They are viscous and evil and I wait everyday for their karma to come back and him them in the ass. Sadly, it has not happened yet.

I wish I could let go the way you have. Sometimes, I feel like I have and then bam, it hits me again and I get so angry again it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning.


jessica April 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

oh and I voted


V-Grrrl April 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

I can’t imagine carrying the weight of those experiences and memories, all the questions and complexities, the bitter ghost of your birth mother, the raging reality of your stepmother, and your father who remains a mystery…

You’re a survivor and a wonder to have emerged from all of that and not let the vicious seeds that were planted sprout in your life and bear black fruit.


JCK April 15, 2009 at 10:23 am

I see a weight lifting off and floating away here, Jennifer. This is a very powerful, uplifting post. And I will vote for you with absolute pleasure.


anymommy April 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Stunning and brave. Both your character and your post. I voted – wish I could do it again!


jenrantsraves April 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I’m glad that you found your inner strength on that day, and on all the days following. I will gladly vote for you!


Ree April 15, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Jennifer, are you going to BlogHer ’09? I want to give you a hug so you know and feel how much I admire you.


boliath April 15, 2009 at 6:55 pm

I don’t know what to say, I respect the 16 year old you so much, I respect the people who gave you the love you had been missing and do I ever want to wipe the smirk off Sue’s face. I don’t know if she smirked but when I read your stories I always see a smirk.

Bravo teenager you and I’m off to vote.


david mcmahon April 15, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Maybe – maybe – she changed. One can only hope, Jennifer.


the mama bird diaries April 15, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Wow. What an incredible post. I’m so sorry for everything you have been through. I hope Sue takes plenty of time to look around here. That horrid woman.


flutter April 16, 2009 at 12:01 am

I will stand here, with you and help with whatever winds come your way. Bring it.


apathy lounge April 16, 2009 at 7:26 am

There’s a philosophy going around that says people are either “Justice Oriented” or “Mercy Oriented”. This doesn’t mean that the Mercy people are without a sense of right or wrong or that the Justice people don’t have compassion. It just means you tend to lean one way or another. Maybe it’s the way you’re wired…maybe it’s the way you were brought up. Whatever. My gut reaction here is that Sue has never gotten the Justice end of the stick. Ever. I think you said as much in this post. There may be some deep and undiscovered explanation for why she did what she did, but no matter what, the bottom line is she was cruel to children. And now some of them feel guilty for the way they feel about it. You’re right. She needs some justice and she’s likely to never get it. Even so, I don’t want you to feel bad about saying it. To my way of thinking, people who have no mercy in them (especially regarding children) deserve whatever justice throws in their path. The Karma Train…it’s coming.


Janine April 16, 2009 at 8:16 am

I am giving you a standing ovation…for your writing as well as for your act of extraordinary courage! The world needs more people like you…people who will stand up to cruelty and injustice!


Janine April 16, 2009 at 8:16 am

P.S. Congrats on POTD! Well-deserved!


fancy feet April 16, 2009 at 8:42 am

Thank you for sharing this here….for letting us in on your journey. Thank you for your courage and your insight and your heart. It’s inspiring.


Elizabeth Bradley April 16, 2009 at 11:47 am

Good for you. My sister-in-law was an abuser. The result, so many years later is mammoth. My brother finally left her but it was after so much damage was done to their five children. I am glad that you finally made the break from your step-mother and that your brother got away from her as well. Much is said about forgiveness but I do believe some behavior (especially towards children) cannot be forgiven. Great blog!


Auds at Barking Mad April 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm

You are so brave and wonderful and beautiful.

I know this must have taken a great deal of courage to write and then post. One day I hope I can be as brave as you. You have given me a great gift, Jennifer…hope that I can survive all that has happened and put the pieces back together as eloquently and beautifully as you have.


Kimberly April 16, 2009 at 5:32 pm

You are SO brave and inspirational. Thank you for sharing this with all of us; I’m sure it’s painful to relive.

I’m off to vote now – congrats!


Bruce April 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Interesting story. I would be curious to know if Sue ever reads it and if it gives her pause to consider how her actions (or inactions) have affected others in her lifetime. I doubt she will understand how her behavior has shaped the opinions of others or how it has affected how they feel and act, which is the problem with a large segment of our population. They think only for themselves and not for the greater good. Still, at least this medium gives her the opportunity to test the waters and for some self reflection, even if she does not seize it.

Good Blog….


Louise April 18, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I don’t think I ever thought of this story since I heard it–which must have been a LONG time ago. I’ve forgotten parts of it, and now more of the general course of things makes sense.

First, she did not fight when confronted. She did passive-aggressive things, but very few can really handle confrontation. People are menacing because they can be and are allowed to be a lot of the. Imagine how different life might have been had someone confronted her (or her mother) much sooner in life.

Second, adding to this is the fact that this incident is in part what led to the demise of the marriage. Once her cowardly bluff was called, her party was over; she lost the game. Time to move on to new venues.

What you did was no less brave than anyone else who stands up to a bully. You had no idea of the results. You probably thought it would have been much worse.

To those who have hoped she has changed, I wonder if they have known people who REALLY change. It’s a nice thought, but honestly, how often does it happen? If she had changed, she would have asking, no BEGGING for forgiveness. She would have apologized for her horrible behavior in specific examples. To all who wonder that or hope that, I say that I’ve seen her someone recently, and she hasn’t changed. She’s more set than ever. Bruce, above me, knows how it is. People never get it. They can’t get past themselves. It takes a conscious decision to do so, and people like Sue (and Sue’s family, and your mother and other such bullies in the world) have no interest in thinking past themselves.

I know she’ll never send you a friend request, but I hope she finds your blog. (And is obsessive about it as others from your life who have found it.)

She is indicted.


Hatchet April 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Oh Jennifer, my heart aches for you and what you’ve been through. Standing up to Sue must have been incredibly hard, but you did it. It’s amazing how you can break my heart and warm it up again all in the same post. I then re-read all of the other parts of this series and then the other entries connected to it.

Also, your entry about the little girl in your dream and the “lost” one in your neighborhood made me cry.

You have my greatest admiration for how far you’ve come and how far you’re going to go. Take care.


Lennie May 4, 2009 at 3:48 pm

I am so behind in my blog reading and for that I apologize …. the best intentions don’t make up for inaction. But then I come and I read and I am moved all over again and I wonder why I am not here every day. I’m sorry I’m not. Beautiful post. As I’ve mentioned before, I am one of those who share this “sisterhood”, the legion of little girls who had their choices made for them and learned the survival game of get-along. You learned how to win that game and by sharing, help us all win too.


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