Follow the Thread
Eventually, James moved out and I moved back into our old house, where my mother had put in place a restraining order against James. He stayed away for about a month before returning to the house regularly to pick up his kids—my younger brother and sister.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table after he left and my mom calling my brother outside to have a heart-to-heart with him. I heard her explaining to him that James had done some very bad things to us (which my brother already knew and witnessed over the years) and that she needed him to step up and help her with taking care of us all. I remember my brother, who was well into his 20s, responding, “Why? He never did anything to me!”
It was painful to see my older brother, then an adult male, still reaching out to my stepfather to request things like video games and Christmas gifts after the situation that had occurred.
In retrospect, I can only imagine how terrified my mother must have been with four children to care for, one an adult male with no high-school diploma or work experience, and another a self-absorbed teenage daughter who was angry and upset at everyone. Then, there were the two young children who were the offspring of the man who’d cheated and abused. All the while, she’d been unable to secure long-term employment due to her immigration status.
For James, picking up his kids quickly turned into picking up the whole family to go out to dinner. Of course, I refused to go, which led my mother to call me “selfish and mean” and to say that I needed to learn how to forgive.
I did my best to be a normal high-school student. I hung out with friends, worked at the local supermarket, and with the help of a friend who offered to match however much money I could save to put towards a vehicle purchase, I bought my red 1995 Suzuki Swift from the Salvation Army auto auction.
Even after we moved away from James, our family still had some growing pains to work through. My mother and I rarely got along, and my siblings and I rarely got along. I began diving more and more deeply into various cyber/new age/fundamentalist groups where I got to feel like I was in community with people who shared all of the morals and beliefs I felt my parents and siblings (who’d befriended a known child molester) did not. In these communities, I got to be more right and more judgmental; I got to justify not trusting the people of my birth any longer.
One day, I got home and my mother met me in the kitchen. We stood facing each other and my mother said to me, “Look, I can’t afford to live here anymore, so we’re going to move in with James over in the green apartments—and since you have a problem with him, you can find someplace else to live.”
I’m not exactly sure what happened after that. I just remember going to stay with my vegan, equally self-righteous dance teacher in her one-bedroom apartment that already housed her family of four. There, I could wallow in the delight of her condemnation of my mother and stepfather. Then, when it got to be too much for her to house me and she recommended I try to stay with one of my closest friends, my pride wouldn’t allow me to tell my friend that I had been kicked out by my mother after having my stepfather take pictures of me sleeping underneath my blankets.
So I started sleeping in my 1995 Suzuki Swift while working part time and finishing up my senior year of high school. As the Key Club president for my high school at the time, I was expected to attend some of the Kiwanis Club adult meeting. After one particular meeting, I was heading out to find a parking spot where I could sleep overnight and was noticed by one of the adult attendees. She asked me how long I had been sleeping in my car. We spoke briefly about the events that led me to sleep in my car, and one of the members invited me to spend time at her house until we figured out a better option. As a group, they found an efficiency for me to live out of until I finished high school, and as soon as my last class had been completed, I moved out.
It’s still a wonder to me how I managed to finish high school and get accepted into college. But my teenage years pushed me to become the woman I am today: self-reliant, resourceful, and resilient.
By not having the intact family structure for protection and guidance, I learned to tune into my own internal guidance system to navigate my way through the world. Trusting my internal compass not only supported me in navigating my way through high school, college, and graduate school, but has supported me in navigating through well over 30 countries—and now, through my epic long-term road trip in my van.
My current adventure is a way for me to honor the fearless and brilliant 16-year-old who decided to show up to protect herself, who decided she would rather sleep on the streets than live with or off someone who would so callously abuse her and take advantage of his role as a guardian.
It was the decisions that were made then that made me into the woman I am now—and for that, I am forever grateful.
I share this story as a bit of encouragement for any woman out there considering going off course, stopping halfway, or turning back around. Tap into your internal compass. Your body knows the way. Follow in the direction of your heart.