Hardships can make or break anyone. In our case there seemed to be non stop hardships, both making and breaking. Over the next few years I adjusted. To a new home, school, friends, and life. These years were tough, but I credit a lot of who I am today because of them. I really found God and Dad continued to come and go. I started realizing that it was his choices that kept us apart and not mine. Growing up is hard. I lived these years in a state of confusion.
He was broken. And I don't mean physically. Physically he had more strength than most people I knew with working legs. He was capable of lifting his entire body in and out of the tub. He propelled his own chair and really didn't like anyone pushing him around. I liked when he would sit on the couch because I could play. His chair represented fun to me. It did not for him. That's one thing I need you to hear. If this story speaks anything to you, listen to this part. His chair changed nothing for me as a daughter. His child. I didn't love him less. I didn't care that he was "different". He never understood that. He couldn't see it from my eyes. I often wonder if he had, were we would be today. Watching him overcome the obstacles made me proud. I would stand tall beside him but it wasn't enough. His mind told him the opposite. That the world was against him. That he was being punished.
Learning to live without him was hard. Mainly because he was still alive. It was a choice he made for me. I went back and forth with thoughts of anger and despair. Grieving someone who is still alive is something I don't wish for you. Let me be clear, now that he's gone, I still grieve. It didn't take the edge off going through it before. I didn't want it either time and life is unfair that way. So I learned to cope. Poorly. I put my head down and tried to find things to keep me distracted. Mostly good things, a few not good.
At 14 I made a horrible decision. A decision that landed me in juvenile hall for 96 hours and broke my Mother's and Step Father's hearts more than I will ever know.
Yep you read that right...me in jail and to boot, missing my first day in high school. He was back for the moment and I was hanging on every word. Long story short, I ran away from home. It was a brilliant plan, in my mind. I'd run away, then Dad and I would be partners in crime again. Only we became partners in crime literally. I set into motion a plan that caused my brother to do the same thing. It took years to forgive myself for that. I was gone for a few days and the plan Dad and I had made ended very similarly to that day he left me at my Granny's house. Only this time I rode in the back of a cop car and slept in solitary confinement because my cellmate wanted to cut my face off, seriously. I really thought leaving was the right thing to do. It was less about leaving where I was and more about getting back to him. Caring for him and restarting my journey to save him. This time I was released to my parents and he was gone again. What a mess huh? I learned above all that I never wanted to see the inside of a cell again. I became terrified to break rules. This served me well in years to come, but this wasn't the way I wanted to learn.
My point here is to share that his bad choices led to my bad choices. He was the adult yet I suffered the consequences. Always. It felt awful. When I was younger I didn't fully grasp consequences. Now it was painfully obvious that my actions hurt those around me, but I didn't let go. I was determined to seek him out. Somehow being left by him again motivated me to try harder. I often wondered how he felt. If he missed me. The next few years came straight out of "daddy issues" 101.
He did miss me. Missed his life. Loved us. The way he showed it was ass backwards but true. I believe in these times of complete devastation he felt all the same hard things I did. I started to distrust most of what happened around me. I felt alone and so out of place. Unwanted. I don't believe that's what he intended, but it's what happened. So, I stumbled into the most formidable years of my life as a hot mess. I didn't see him again until I graduated high school. These few years hold some of my favorite memories...and if you can imagine some of my worst too...
He had different plans...
I am now 12...almost finished with 6th grade and in a twisted way, life seems to be falling into place. Never in any real world would the life we lived be viewed as normal, but it was ours. I made a few friends...even one with a Dad in a wheelchair like me. We were making it work. His sadness wasn't gone, but better for the moment. Then it happened. Nothing about life is simple at 12 and our story was certainly complicated.
I grabbed a few things to go visit my grandparents. They lived right down the street. He had some "things" to take care of and he'd come pick me up later. He never returned.
He was out of money and the truth was he couldn't afford to keep me and his "habits". The next details will shock you, but it's important I share them.
He owed a man named Jeff in Ohio a lot of money (those are the only details I knew). That man would call at all hours of the day and night threatening me. He'd tell me he'd take me away if my Dad didn't pay. I was terrified to sleep. 12 years old. Terrified to live. Yet my devotion to my Dad was unshakable. I wasn't going anywhere. Dad would try to reassure me that all was ok, but even I could tell he wasn't certain that was true.
After school one day the worst happened. I was walking home...when a green car pulled up slowly behind me, the door flew open and a man grabbed me. Until that day I had no idea what I was capable of physically. My mind knew this was a moment I had nightmares about. It was him. He followed through on his threat. His grasp was so strong on my arm. I screamed and kicked and punched. Crying out for help. I can still hear my voice shrieking. Kidnapped. No. Absolutely not. I squealed and fought with all I had...then by the grace of God he dropped me and spead off. This wasn't how my story was going to go. I ran all the way home. Mortified. I called my Dad at work and explained the details. I didn't call the cops or my mother. I just hid in my closet until my Dad got home. We didn't discuss it. He apologized and we ordered pizza. Seems normal right?
Now you can see why he never returned to get me from Granny's that day but I just knew it was my fault. That he'd left me because I made him angry or that I wasn't a good enough daughter. That wasn't it though. He knew it wasn't safe for me to stay. He couldn't make it work. He chose. The drinking and drugs and strange characters all hours of the night...it was no place for any 12 year old. A child. Especially one that was now being used for randsom. He did this to protect me. I say these words now with certainty but then his actions crushed my soul. My spirit. I didn't see this coming and I wasn't sure how I'd survive. I often wondered what would have happened if that man had taken me...in my heart I know God has a bigger purpose for me so I try to leave that experience where it belongs. In my past.
My grandparents countlessly saved my life over the years. So did my mother and step father. At the time I couldn't see that, but it's absolute truth. So, Mom came to pick me up and again I'm left with zero closure. No goodbye or explanation. He did things this way, I believe, to protect us both, but I felt exposed and torn apart. Abandoned. So I returned to my mothers defeated. Welcomed with open arms but it's not at all what I wanted. Who would protect him? Care for him? Order his supplies? Grocery shop and get the rent check to the office? To boot I found that my step father had taken a job over an hour away and we were moving. The world I had known was crashing down and I couldn't stop it. This all taught me resilience. It also began a terrible habit of striving for perfection. I'm always actively trying to put that habit down.
I didn't hear from him for what seemed like years. We had relocated and I was trying to start over. I didn't want to make that move, but you have to know...that move changed my future. It's the reason I'm writing this now. My step father provided us with love through consistency, stability, discipline, and most importantly God. My Dad knew this was truth, but his jealousy was the driving force of sabotage. Over the next few years Dad would pop in and out. He'd leave a wake of destruction every time. My brother and I were confused and often hurt. Left in tears because of empty promises. It was a constant battle. A wound left wide open. One I'm still tending at 32.
During these years Dad was homeless. I don't know what he really did for money or food and I worried everyday about him. Every. Single. Day. He was lost. Spent many months in jail. We stayed in touch but each encounter during these years brought pain and chaos. However, my love never changed. He hung the moon. Period. Fast forward a couple of years, the chaos exploded and I had to start making decisions...
...Here we are, tradgey has wreaked havoc and now we attempt to rebuild.
As a young child, I wasn't privy to most details. They were ugly and confusing and not for children's ears. No one sat us down and explained any of this trauma that just occurred. At 5, I can't hardly blame them for that. "Listen baby, your Daddy has been shot multiple times, he may not make it, and if he does he will never walk again..." yeah...I'm sure you get how they skipped that part too.
However, their actions set into motion a slew of fear that reared it's ugly head in due time. Side note: When I say "them" I mean every adult in my life that knew the truth. Knew the details. They had to make a choice. Some chose for protection, some chose out of anger, some chose out of hopelessness, but it was very clear that everyone made a a choice. Except us. The kids...we were left to piece all of this together, alone. They had a chance to discuss, share feelings, build coping mechanisms. We did not. So, this is when I learned the meaning of what a big sister really means. A protector. This is when I began carrying heavy burdens. Burdens that were not mine. At 5 years old...and it would take years, decades in fact, before I started unpacking what I collected those years long ago.
In the next couple of years his external wounds healed. He grew stronger physically and we got older. During those first years of rebuilding, it appeared we could do it. We moved a few times around CO, made sure the houses fit his knew found "handicapped" needs. He went back to work, but his once vivid dreams started fading. He had a whole new routine...what once took minutes, now took hours. Simple tasks became frustrating. This is the why. When it was painfully obvious that nothing would ever be the same. I still can't imagine what he went through mentally.
He was angry often and we felt the brunt of it. Cruel words and punishments became the norm. Back then I didn't understand what alcohol was, but I began to learn the times of day it was ok to play loudly or when it was better to stay in my room. Just "being a kid" wasn't how we lived. I mean let's be real, his legs were literally taken from him in his mid 20s...years he should have been thriving, and all of the sudden he could barely perform general bodily functions without assistance. I'm not sure I'd do well in those circumstances either. Two kids, a wife, a household to support. The pressure was too much. He was cracking, but he sure tried. In those years I watched him survive. I knew his heart ached often, I wanted to help, but correcting this problem was far out of my reach. In our CO years I also learned of a sibling I have. My beautiful sister. It was confusing and wonderful all at the same time. Unfortunately this news was told to me in a moment of anger at my Dad (from a family member) and we didn't discuss her again until years later, but I dreamed of her often. I still don't know why she was kept from us. but I'll talk about that later.
The drinking got worse. His anger was taking over all of our lives. He yearned for perfection, but couldn't be satisfied. There just never seemed to be enough good grades, or completed chores to change his mood. But let's be honest that was never the issue. His dreams of our brilliant life in CO were gone...and the Dad I had known was too. So we sold everything, and I mean everything. Fresh start I assume, but as a child I had no opinion in the matter. I was up for anything that would bring his happiness back. Our family back. I'm still not attached to material things today because of this event, however, every now and then I do miss the handmade dollhouse my Granny made for my 7th birthday.
Returning to TN only brought more heartache. CO offered freedom from the cold hard truths. TN did not. He tried to find work, and family took us in. But this was a family divided. Blame had been placed and no punishment received by the guilty party of the shooting. I had envisioned returning to strength and unity only to find whispers and confusion. Why wouldn't anyone talk about this with me? Why is there so much anger? Why does everyone look at me with sadness? Questions that I wouldn't have answered for years to come.
Dad stopped trying and became reckless. His vices were taking over and he was losing his grip. Silently screaming for help, but always putting on the brave face when it seemingly counted the most. He was lost. We were lost. People wanted to help, but he was drowning and wouldn't reach up for help. I was quietly observing all of this, helpless and feeling like it was my fault. That I had failed him, you bet that's a heavy burden to carry, but I did. He and I were connected like that. And although I felt defeated, I believed I could fix it. That I could fix him. A child's mind is an incredible thing huh?
5 years into the loss of his legs my Mama Mer passed. His Momma. Sheer devastation shook our world. She was the light in the darkness for him. Always. I am 10 and overwhelmed that the one human that could still reach him, was gone. He never recovered from this loss either. In fact, it started a tailspin of bad decisions and hurtful actions. Those actions caused my Mom to file for divorce. I know she had her reasons and that is not the point here, but in my story all I could see was red. I became angry. How could we leave him? Abandon him? I could see past what he'd become when no one else could. He was still my Dad, but if we left he'd die. Literally. That was my panic, daily. It began a decade of reoccurring nightmares and fear I still deal with today. I was finally old enough to understand what was happening and I was in for more than I could handle.
My Mom moved forward with her life quickly and I wasn't interested in that. So I (not so politely) asked to leave and live with my Dad. She thought I needed a bluff called, packed up my things in black trash bags...and dropped me off at the car lot he worked at. That was that. I had gotten what I wanted, but I don't think she intended it to happen that way. To me, living with Dad meant I could care for him. That I could make sure he was ok. It wasn't an act of defiance, it was a move made solely out of fear. At 11 I cared for myself and him, walked myself to school and back, cooked my own food (when we had it) and endured things no child should see. Ever.
He was in a fog and no matter what was going on...how crazy things got, I did always know his love for me. I found it in the little things. Elvis marathons together, him waking me up at 2 AM (drunk) after making me my favorite cherry cheesecake, my first boom box, my first CDs, and a pair of brand new roller skates. None of which he really could afford, but he tried the only way he knew how. I learned about survival in that year. I watched him cry more times than I could count. Watched him while he slept countless nights to be sure he was breathing. I learned what evil looks like...it now had a face, a smell, a feeling. But...on a lighter note...what I choose to look back on now is this, I did save him in that year. I refused to give up on him. I had no business being there, but I'm stubborn and I suppose I made my point. Who else was going to do it? I thought. It only lasted a year. I would have stayed forever, but he had other plans. What began as rebuilding ended in devastation...
Gary. Pat. Pede. Dad. Daddy.
Gone at 51, and I'm here to tell his story, our story, through my eyes. We all can use more healing, hope, and grace...that's my purpose here.
This is a story of tragedy and redemption. Our story. The details are full of empty dreams, tears, abandonment, loss, forgiveness, but most of all Love. Bear with me as this will be a series of blogs...but we must start somewhere right??
Daddy's girl. It's a term often applied to the relationship between a Father and daughter. It's supposed to be full of hopes and dreams and safety...but our story isn't quite so lucky.
My first memories of his face are some of my favorites. At 5 years old, he was my first love...my first friend, my hero. I am a Daddy's girl, Bohogs is my nickname from him (Lord, I have no idea where it came from but I own it still today). We were thick as thieves and the whole world knew it. Between birth and 5 we, as a family, had made it from our home in TN all the way to CO. The circumstances of why aren't important...just know many years later CO and those memories, lead me to the man who is now the other half of my heart.
Now, some of my fondest moments with him are deep in the Rockies. Camping, fishing, laughter, sunshine, snow, wilderness, fires...adventure. The memories are fuzzy and misplaced at times but they are always attached to his smile and joy. His charisma and charm. He sure was a handsome fella too. These times are when I remember him being truly alive. Walking. Standing tall. Living.
He taught me to ride a bike. Pushed me to stand up for myself and my brother. Showed me how to catch a football (well any ball thrown my way). Showed me that life is tough but beautiful and that the whole world is in the palm of our hands. We loved and learned. We made memories. Everyday.
He had big plans for our life in CO. Then, something terrible happened. Sharing the details of that moment will not bring it justice. And it's really not the point, however, know this...that horrific event...ruined my Dad. Ruined my childhood. Ruined our future as he knew it. Listen, the unruly course of action he took even until his final days isn't discounted. But for me...and this story...he was shot multiple times, with the intent to kill him, by a family member and became a paraplegic as a result...this stole everything from us. He didn't die the day he was shot, physically, but the death of his spirit and ours began. He never walked again.
At 5 I knew something was wrong, but couldn't fathom for years later the damage it had caused us all. No one was spared.
That's how God protects us as children. He guards our minds and hearts from evil. For many years, I had no memories from before turning 9 years old. Until I did. Do. Tramua they said and they were right. As memories started coming back each year I grew older...well...another time ok? I'm still unpacking some of that here in my 30's.
Anyway, at 5 (and always) my little heart still loved my Daddy exactly the same. In fact I thought it was strange that all Dads didn't have wheelchairs. It made no difference to me how he got around, just that he did. I'm still just as naive in life to this day. It's part of who I am. My husband says it's endearing. I thank God for that. Everyday. Although my spirit has been broken and even crushed at times over the years...I never stopped loving. I'm a lover and I get that from him.
So here we are...tradgey has wreaked havoc and now it's time to rebuild. This is where things get really ugly and complicated, but it's important that I share his parts of the story well. Because what happened to him is the biggest tragedy of all...and I don't mean being in a wheelchair at all. We are all humans, some just have different modes of transportation. Paraplegics are the same people they were before they "lost" their legs, but they cannot do it alone. It's what happens to the mind that we ALL need way more awareness on. I had a front row seat and my mission in life, at 5, became to love my Daddy through it...that somehow I could be good enough, strong enough, brave enough for him...
I believed I could always be his legs. And now I know exactly what that means. be His legs. Capital H.
We lost his earthly body almost 3 years ago, but my prayer is that his story, our story, will bring a legacy of redemption. Join me as I share why kindness is so important to me...for you never know the battles one is fighting.