So, I wanted to throw a pity party for myself to purge all this vitriol I’ve accumulated throughout my life. I’ve been trying to process a lot of trauma and abuse I’ve endured while drowning in guilt and shame for the choices I’ve made. If you’d like to get to know the real me better, now’s your chance. Unfiltered for the first time in my life, I intend to uncover the bullshit that’s been hiding my truth.
My truth is that I’m a victim. I desperately wish I were a survivor but I think my trauma will eventually kill me as I’m quite prone to suicidal tendencies. I’m not dead yet so I got that going for me.
For context, I need to tell you about my parents. My bullshit started long before I was even born, with hereditary conditions handed down for generations and epigenetic toxic stress from both of my parents.
My father grew up on a farm in rural Indiana, his mother and grandmother had mental illness and he suffered hemiplegic migraines throughout his adolescence and adulthood, a condition he passed down to me. He and his sisters endured some emotional and physical abuse and he may have endured sexual abuse at the hands of a male family member. He enlisted in the Air Force as soon as he graduated and was quickly stationed overseas. He has displayed many traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. He is obsessively attached to his lovers while also insecure and distrustful of them and has often acted irrationally angry towards his family, God, the system, and himself.
My mother grew up in South Korea. When her father died young, her mother remarried. Unfortunately, her new stepfather didn’t want to have to take care of her and her brother too, so they were sent away to be raised by their aunt and uncle instead. My mother never completed secondary school and was a low class working woman. I come to find out that her family has a history of neurological issues including spontaneous aneurysm and brain tumors. She exhibits anxiety disorders and is predisposed to addiction.
My parents met in Korea in the late 70s, both young and struggling, and got married soon after. My older brother was born on New Year’s Eve 1978. I don’t know the specifics but I do know that my parents separated for a time when my brother was around 2 years old. My mother and brother lived in Florida for just under 2 years while my father stayed in England. They reconciled, and not long after in November of 1983, I was born (doing the pregnancy math, I was conceived around Valentine’s Day after they got back together…tres romantique, non?).
My Terrible Twos
My parents divorced when I was nearly 3 years old. I can’t be certain what all transpired between my mother and my father but from what I’ve pieced together, here’s what I believe happened:
My father began cheating on my mother while he went away on temporary duty, then tried to hide that he contracted an incurable STI from her, and once caught he began to brag about what dirty things these other women would do for him. By his logic it was my mother’s fault for not pleasing him like a wife should that he succumbed to his temptations. She refused to continue sleeping with him and eventually left him when the emotional and psychological abuse became too much. My mother was no saint and had her share of vices. She made an impression on several people with her drunken outbursts and fights over slot machines. When they divorced, my father sued for full custody of my brother and me. Whether it was because my mother was an alcoholic with gambling problems or because he thought that the threat of losing her children would convince her to stay, I can’t be sure. But either way, the judge granted it. I didn’t see my mother for another 5 years.
So, let’s focus on scared and confused 2 year old Lotus, who can’t comprehend why Mommy left, why Daddy is mad all the time, and who only really has her 7 year old brother to depend on for comfort and care.
There are some crucial developmental milestones that occur between the ages of 2-5. By age 3, a child’s brain has grown to roughly 80% the size of their adult brain. By age 5, it goes up to 90%. These years are most known for forging the more intricate neural networks for movement, language, and emotional regulation.
According to FTF:
“The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults. The connections needed for many important, higher-level abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving and communication are formed in these early years – or not formed. It’s much harder for these essential brain connections to be formed later in life.” https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/
Now, I feel redeemed a bit having scientific evidence to back up just how badly my parents set me up for failure, but I also know that much of this information wasn’t around back then, so my parents couldn’t have known the damage they were doing. They were just emulating how they were raised, continuing the horrific cycle of dysfunction.
According to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study, separation from a primary caregiver in childhood (either through illness, divorce, or death) is considered an adverse childhood experience. There are 10 adverse childhood experiences listed that have significant, long-term effects on the developing health and wellness of children who endure them. For more information, check out https://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/
I score 10/10 for ACEs:
- Separation from primary caregiver
- Emotional neglect
- Physical neglect
- Emotional/psychological abuse
- Physical abuse
- Witnessing domestic violence
- The incarceration of a close family member
- Sexual abuse
- Parent with drug dependence
- Parent with mental illness
As a disclaimer, my recollection of my childhood is patchy. I will try to make this as coherent as possible, and the accuracy of my statements may be clouded by repression.
In 1988, when I was 3, my father remarried and my 21 year old stepmother came to live with us. She was a Filipina and younger than my father by 12 years, and most likely the woman with whom he had an affair.
My brother, having had a lot more time with her than I did, still regularly asked about our mother. Often he requested to call her and be able to visit her. This added stress for my father and his new wife. My brother did go to visit my mother once and tried to stay with her. My father showed up on her doorstep across the country with the Sheriff and collected my brother. The law was on his side and there was little my mother, her new husband, or my brother could do to change it without another lengthy custody battle. This event made it apparent that my brother and I were trapped with my father.
Throughout my childhood, I was a bedwetter. Up to an embarrassing age I had problems with it. Because of this, I had never really known what restful sleep felt like. I would wake to already having pissed myself and then I would rouse my parents. I remember their frustration at being woken up in the night, I was chastised for being lazy, accused of seeking attention, and called disgusting and stinky. So, I was given overnight diapers and taught at age 6 how to do all of my own laundering because my parents were sick of having to clean up after my accidents.
I don’t remember having it taken but I do remember seeing one of the very few pictures of me from when I was little. I’m standing in front of my Rainbow Brite curtains, wearing a green velvet dress, holding a doll, wearing a headband atop my shaved head, and I look like I’m crying. I do remember that my head was shaved because I got gum in my hair. After that, my stepmother liked not having to hassle with styling my hair anymore so she kept it short for years.
Eventually, in 1990, my stepmother became pregnant. Once my little sister was born, her contempt for my brother and me amplified. We were not allowed to have anything that was meant for her daughter. We came second, always. She would label my sister’s food and snacks “Do Not Touch – For JoJo Only!”
We were taught, “take what you like, but eat what you take.” I still had no understanding of portions and so I would fill my large plate so that it looked like everyone else’s. I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I finished and I recall several times being made to sit at the table well past my bedtime because I had taken too much food for myself at dinner.
My brother and I were both punished much more harshly than before. My brother once scared a girl who was afraid of dogs by trying to introduce her to his very friendly American Eskimo (my mother gave her to my brother when she was a puppy and he loved her dearly). When my father found out, he spanked my brother so hard, he split a wooden cutting board on his ass. My stepmom used to smack my face when she would scold me and countless times my father bent me over his knee, spanking me so hard I lost my breath.
After having them done at the mall, my ear piercings got infected. My left earlobe started grafting onto the jewelry. I got yelled at for not taking care of my ear piercings (which is a lot for an 8 year old) and then was held down while my father yanked the jewelry out with a pair of pliers.
My first suicidal experience happened shortly after when I drank an entire bottle of Robitussin, hoping it would kill me or at least make me sick enough to need to go to the hospital. All it did was give me a good night’s sleep.
A Nuclear Family
During this time, we reconnected with another Air Force family that we had met in Okinawa. They moved into a house just down the street from us. We’d often spend time at their house for social events or just to have dinner. They had 3 girls around our age, and their mom was Korean. To us, they became Uncle and Emo and often where we would all seek refuge from my stepmother when she was upset about something.
We moved on base and soon after Uncle and Emo moved in right next door. But things changed between my father and my stepmother, she became more distant and my father had started becoming very jealous and paranoid, claiming she was sneaking around on him. With our Uncle’s help, he tapped our home phone to spy on her and they would sometimes stalk her when she left the house. My father and she fought more often, and more violently. Several times the MPs were called to handle the domestic disturbance. In 1993, I believe she was planning to leave him when she found out she was pregnant again. For her, my little brother was a chain that kept her anchored to my father.
Due to her growing resentment towards my father, her abuses towards me and my older brother became much more frequent. I don’t know if she believed it would somehow hurt my father to hurt us or if she was just lashing out at the other people in her life she had control over.
As I outgrew my clothes, my stepmother was tasked with replenishing my wardrobe. I received few dresses unless it was for a special occasion. I was given mostly tee shirts and shorts and hand me downs from my brother. There were a few times where she had bought cute girly clothes for me to try on but they would end up being too small for me, so she’d wear them herself after scolding me for being too big.
I used to have the nickname Hillbilly Lilly, because I went everywhere barefoot. Nobody ever asked me why I didn’t like to wear my shoes, they just thought it was a personality quirk. But the reason is that my shoes were always too small. My toes have grown with a distinct downward curl due to wearing ill fitting shoes for too long.
Being a military brat, we moved around a lot. I remember moving to new schools and kids asking me why I looked like a boy (having short hair and boy’s clothes). I never knew how to answer, just that I really am a girl. As I got older, kids stopped asking and assumed I was a boy and sometimes they would get angry with me when they realized they assumed wrong. Eventually me being a Tomboy wasn’t so strange for other kids. I got good at playing football, throwing frisbees, climbing trees, riding bikes, and hide n’ seek. I had more boys as friends than girls back then.
Due to my mother’s absence and my stepmother’s neglect and abuse, I have suffered a great deal of gender confusion. I still struggle with being female and I think my confusion stems mostly from dysfunctional role modeling at the hands of those meant to care for me.
I remember a Saturday morning, I had not wet my bed and was happy to be the first one up so I could watch cartoons in the living room. I poured a bowl of my cereal and sat in the living room at the coffee table and turned on the TV. I hadn’t finished eating by the time my stepmother came downstairs, wearing only panties, so I must have woken her up. She asked me what I thought I was doing, picked up my bowl and threw it across the room and it shattered on the wall. She then dragged me by my shirt collar through the kitchen and dropped me on the floor. She was basically nude, yelling at me in Tagalog and I just crumpled on the floor. She went back upstairs and yelled at me to do my chores, and to clean up my mess (that she had made).
She used to throw things at me when she was angry with me. She began leaving notes around the house, on doors and desks and tables, with instructions on how to behave while she was at work, but littered with abusive remarks. She’d leave notes scrawled with “dumm Korean bich” for forgetting a chore the day before. I wasn’t the only one she tormented, she would chisel into my Dad’s wooden desk cuss words and Tagalog threats.
My mother came with my stepfather to visit us in Oklahoma once. Emo had arranged it so that she could see us without my father’s interference. I remember spending an entire day with them going shopping and talking about my life. That day was very strange for me because I knew she was my mother and I should be happy or excited, but I was just nervous. She seemed very nice but I didn’t know her and I didn’t know the man she was with and I didn’t want to get into trouble for seeing her. Whether it was because Emo had her suspicions, because my brother told her what was happening, or because my mother pieced it together herself during her visit, eventually she took me to the hospital to be checked for signs of abuse.
There wasn’t enough evidence to suggest physical abuse or neglect, no bruises at the time and no scars. I was a healthy weight with no signs of malnutrition. My mother cried a lot that day and seemed angry but I think it’s because she knew there wasn’t anything she could do.
I remember there was a time I was babysat by a different family for an evening while my parents were gone and I tried to tell them what my stepmother was doing to me. Earlier that week at school, we had an assembly about child abuse, with puppets and everything. And the puppets said to tell an adult if someone hurts you. I told these people that my stepmother hit me a lot and she threw things at me, and called me mean names. When my father picked me up, they told him what I had said. He told them I like to make up lies for attention and when we got back to the car, he got right in my face and shook his finger at me saying, “Don’t you ever tell people what happens in our house.” This one encounter with my father actually lead to years of unresolved trauma buildup because I was too scared to tell anyone anything. (It’s also why I’m so comfortable speaking hypothetically or in rhetoric but so uncomfortable with being questioned, in my mind I’m not allowed to answer honestly and I’m not allowed to lie.)
So, I tried to stay out of the way and do all my chores before making myself scarce. I participated in school activities as much as possible. I even tried to join the football team at the beginning of 4th grade. I practiced for about 2 weeks with the boys until the day they started handing out pads. On that day, the principal and vice principal told me that they wouldn’t let me play football and I could play softball instead. I was very upset that I wasn’t allowed just because I was a girl, and when I told my father, he shrugged and said, “Oh well, play softball.”
Within a few months, my father retired from the Air Force, and we moved off base. I started going to a school where I was only 1 of 2 non-Black kids in my class. It was an entirely different world than having grown up around such a diverse peer group and my trying to fit in resulted in me acting too Black at home. So I was told to stop acting ghetto.
Retiring meant that my father could do as he liked without the military lording over him or maybe he was upset that he no longer had his safety net. He would go on hours-long rage fits where he’d yell about the world being unfair. Neighbors would often call the cops to report yelling and screaming in our house.
I remember a time where I would hide in my closet if my parents were heated. I prayed a lot back then. If I wasn’t allowed to tell people what happens to me, surely I could still ask God to help. I once believed God loved me and wanted me to find happiness but he never answered any of my prayers. If praying wasn’t going to work, maybe I’d try something else. I remember writing God a letter asking him to please help me, if he would take me to Heaven with him, I’d be the best angel ever. I left it opened up in the moonlight of my bedroom windowsill. I had hoped something would change, or I’d have some kind of sign to hold onto for hope. But there was nothing. Eventually I took the letter and crumpled it and threw it away. By age 10, my faith in God began to deteriorate.
Tensions had been rising between my father and stepmother for awhile. One day I was ill and I stayed home from school. My stepmother said I needed to be doing chores if I wasn’t at school but when my father came home and saw that I wasn’t resting and instead cleaning the house, he started arguing with my stepmother. I believe he still thinks what he did was justified because it started with him trying to stand up for me. Really though, he was standing up for himself.
The argument quickly escalated into physical violence. I witnessed my father punch my stepmother so hard in her face that her left eye would swell shut entirely. As she fell back, her body crashed through the wooden door leading from the kitchen to the garage. As soon as he started to pursue her, I ran to the neighbor’s house. That day, my father was put in jail for assault and battery. It wasn’t very long before my brother and I were sent to live with my mother in Utah.
Everything was strange moving there. My mother and stepfather had a daughter and a son together, younger siblings I’d never met. We ate our meals together and played games. We all went on trips and things seemed to be going well. But mom still drank a lot and sometimes our parents would argue and my stepfather would leave.
My younger sister had to miss the first few days of school because one of my games of hide ‘n seek led to a dumbbell falling off the shelf of my brother’s closet onto her leg, breaking it.
I forgot my little brother at the park once. The neighborhood park was a few blocks away from our house and my sister and I were going, and he really wanted to come too. I said I would watch after him. I ended up forgetting he was with us, he was content to sit and play in the sandbox very quietly and I just plumb forgot. Luckily, he was still playing and hadn’t realized we’d left him behind until my mother ran to the park to get him. I felt like such an idiot.
One day when I was left at home and answered the phone, a friend of my older brother called and I told him he wasn’t home. He kept talking to me, and eventually started saying lewd comments, asking how thick my lips were. At the time, I wasn’t aware he meant the lower set. I think my naivete endeared him and he requested I do things to myself for fun. I hung up and felt incredibly confused, I remember my heart pounding in my ears.
This event had begun making me really curious about sex. I remember having to have a talk with my stepfather about a page of writing that was found in my backpack. It was awkward and he did his best to relay that curiosity was normal but my mother wouldn’t be okay with finding more evidence of it.
There was a period where my mother tried to instill behavior in me that was typical of my gender. I was chastised for being “unladylike”, getting too dirty, not having more girlfriends, and being too familiar with boys. Perhaps she began to notice how aggressive I was with others, or maybe she just wanted me to be a “good girl”.
There were some altercations at school, one time I injured a boy for making fun of my younger half-sister for crying about her sick grandmother. In my anger, I pushed him down hard and he fractured a bone in his hand. I was taken to a shrink by my mom, and I don’t know what was said to her, but she stopped and let me buy an X-Men comic from the convenience store when we stopped and she held back tears the rest of the way home.
Afterwards, my mother’s alcoholism began to affect the family. Once I saw her passed out in the bathroom, having fallen off the toilet with her panties still around her knees, and my stepfather had to clean her up and take her to bed. They argued more and he would leave the house for longer periods of time, and my mother would drink and cry and try to impart her wisdom to me that relationships are hard. At least she cared enough to talk to me about it but I didn’t really understand what she was trying to teach me.
In under a year, I had convinced myself that it was my fault that everything was turning bad with my new family. I had been speaking with my father over the phone and he told me if I wasn’t happy there, I could come back to live with him. I agreed, and my stepmother drove up to get me. Later in life, my mother would confess to me that she never understood why I went back to them. She was angry at me for not giving her a real chance, and I was ashamed because I knew I would never be the daughter she wanted me to be.
Continue reading about my life in the next post: Throwing A Rager of Regrets