In a matter of 2 short weeks our lives completely had changed and everything familiar was now gone. During the long drive in the car to our summer residence my heart sank. It was then I realized we were too far away from home and the little control I had was almost gone. We traded mountains, cactus, dirt and palm trees for full, bushy green trees, green shrubs, indian paintbrush plants, and blue bonnet flowers. Oh and did I mention lots of GREEN vegetation? I didn’t realize how much we were accustomed to shades of brown. Streets looked different, towns and buildings were distinctly different too. It was like the song Aladdin and Jasmine sang on their magic carpet ride “A Whole New World”. It truly was.
Part of me wanted to embrace our vacation and enjoy our new surroundings. I had just tried to convince my brother and sister on the plane we were on an exciting adventure – so maybe some of it tried to rub off on me? The scared and broken little girl inside me knew this wasn’t an option. I mean if I had been used and abused by “family” who supposedly had our backs – then what could happen with these people? I was overwhelmed and in my mind hopelessly thought “how could my dad do this to us”?
We finally arrived at our destination and my dad’s cousin led us to the house. As we carried our bags up the walkway towards the door my eyes were in overdrive. The house was a white, large 2-story home with a wraparound porch. The windows were long and rectangular and big. We walked up the steps that led to the porch and through the front door and into the hallway. The smell is the first thing I remember. It wasn’t a bad smell – just evident that the home was old. The architecture was something I had only seen in movies and I was curiously fascinated with it. As we continued to walk down the long hallway we passed stairs that led to the second floor, and suddenly we ended up in the kitchen.
We were introduced to our great-aunt who had been busy making lunch for us, and the aroma was savory, appetizing and we were hungry. During lunch we sat with our new family and began to get to know each other. I learned it was the driver (our 1st cousin once removed), and her mother (our great-aunt) who lived in this large home. I remember my brother and I remained quiet (unless we were spoken to) during lunch, but my little sister just jabbered away telling her life story. Ha! I have always admired that about my sister – her ability to be open and light-hearted with others. Something that has always been a challenge for me.
Later we unpacked as were told our sleeping arrangements for the next 2 months. My sister and I would share a bed in one room and my brother slept on a twin bed in another room. The first night was the most challenging for me because I was so tired from traveling. Then with the anxiety of our plane ride and new situation – caused my adrenaline to spike and then slowly crash. Later that night I laid in bed for the longest time just listening. I stared up at the high ceiling in the dark in a place I didn’t want to be and cried deeply and quietly. When my pity party finally ended – I officially went back on duty. Protecting my brother and sister.
The benefit of living in an old house -(particularly this one) it had old wooden floors that creaked and squeaked. Which helped me to know if someone was walking down the hall to our bedrooms. The first night I even practiced walking lightly on it to see if I could still hear sounds. I walked all over that hallway and other parts of the house in the middle of the night – testing my surroundings. I finally went back to bed but even as exhausted as I was wouldn’t allow myself to go to sleep. My mind was torturing me and I feared for my brother in the other room. So I got up, woke him up and made a makeshift bed on the floor next to me where he slept for the rest of the night. A short while later I finally drifted off to sleep.
The sunlight directly hit my face the next morning and I woke up. I looked around and realized I was alone in the room. I got up, got dressed and went out to look for my siblings. They were in the backyard where my cousin sat talking to my sister. I wanted to know what they were talking about but my aunt found me and said she had saved food from breakfast. I was torn but my hunger won out. I was also grateful that she left me alone while I ate my food. When I finished I cleaned up – peeked out in the backyard and then went to quickly straighten the bedroom.
When I finally made it outside I wasn’t surprised to see my sister still talking and laughing away with our cousin. I found a place to sit and just listened. During this conversation I tried to read our newfound cousin. What kind of person was she? Did she seem interested or irritated by the conversation? How was she looking at my sister? And on and on and on…
I was caught off guard when I was suddenly asked “how I slept?” Of course I gave her the short answer and replied “good”. The house phone rang and a short time later our aunt came outside to say it was our mom. My sister went running for the phone as my brother and I began to walk towards the kitchen. I listened to my little sister go on and on about our trip so far, then my brother spoke to my mom. I could tell by his voice he wasn’t feeling comfortable in general and then he handed the phone to me. I said “hello” and she immediately said “you better take good care of them” and then abruptly hung up. It was as if she had just slapped my face. I was immediately reminded in that moment of why it was good to be in Texas.
When I went back outside my cousin asked “I bet you miss your mom huh”? I really didn’t know how to respond. Do I say the truth? “No, I’m glad to be away from someone who hates me” or do I just say what I’m expected to say “yes, I do”. I went with the expected answer.
Later that day we were told we would hang around our new home for the next month. This now included attending church in a nearby town 3 times a week. What – people actually did that?! Our family attended mass once a week but now it would be more frequent – in a new type of church. So we were staying in a house with no other kids, a town with no mall, no nothing! What would we do for the next month? Then we learned in July we would travel to Dallas where we all would attend a family conference. That took a while to sink in. I knew what a parent-teacher conference was but what the heck was a family conference? I was irritated and now over this entire situation – I wanted out! But what would that mean? Even if I could convince my dad to let us come home – that meant I would be with my mom again. Her phone call made it crystal clear that she wanted no part of me. So it was either choosing emotional abuse or sticking it out the next 2 months in Texas. I had never felt more stuck in all my life.
My brother continued to sleep on the floor in my room. I felt bad that he wasn’t sleeping in a bed, but I also had discovered he was terrified too. All throughout the day he would stick close to me and questioned everything happening around us. My sister however was like a little butterfly making friends with everyone she met. I didn’t want my brother to be afraid but I also didn’t want my sister trusting the wrong person either. That month in June I slept maybe a total of 4 hours each night. I was tired and felt very alone and ill-equipped to protect anyone. Other than my siblings I didn’t feel loved or missed by anyone. I just wanted everything to disappear.
Looking back now so many traumatic events had already taken place in my life. Now things for us in Texas had tremendously changed and slowed down. I didn’t realize I was beginning to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Reliving the traumatic events as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams about the traumatic events
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the events
- Trying to avoid thinking about the traumatic event (very stressful)
- Always being on guard for danger
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Negative feelings about yourself or other people
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Hopelessness about the future
At the young age of 13 I felt utterly worn out and run down. I didn’t know how much more fight I had in me or how much longer I could hold it together. I could feel my edges starting to fray and come apart and I knew something had to change soon. Fear gripped me as I accepted for the first time in my life I could no longer plan 2 steps ahead. I was hanging by my fingernails on the edge of a cliff for dear life.
Little did I know that before I returned home to Arizona I would finally give up and free fall off that cliff.