1: Before


I am having trouble finding words today.

I want so badly for my words to find significance, and communicate clearly and concisely, yet I find that I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like I have lived many lifetimes, and they are all here scattered before me on my desk, and I don’t know which one to pick up first. To go in chronological order seems a bit boring and perhaps not the best way to communicate; to go in a random order may be disjointed and nonsensical.

I find it hard to ease into things that, to me, have been so deeply significant. I have never been great at small talk, and I don’t know how to gloss over the imperfections and the pain that life brings. It’s like I’m standing with you at the top of a cliff and the only thing to do is just to jump down into the ocean. There is no ladder, there is no trail, there is no lift.

So we’re going to just dive into my ocean. I hope that I can make sense of it all along the way.

Psychologists and Psychiatrists have a well-known approach that our childhood significantly affects the rest of our lives. And it makes sense. Not in the stereotypical ways that are often portrayed, but rather in that so much of who we are comes from beliefs deep-rooted in what was our “normal.” Children, the most innocent of us all, are so impressionable. And they don’t know any different.

My most vivid memory of my mother was when I stood in my room in 7th grade, and she told me that she was embarrassed to be seen in public with me because of the makeup I wore. In the moment, I think I lashed back in a typical preteen fashion. Whatever, I don’t care, I didn’t want to go to that event anyway.

The next day, walking into the mall, I recounted the story to my dad. Tears I didn’t know were there flowed.

“Dad, do I embarrass you?” I asked, as casually as I could.
“Of course not, sweetie,” he said. He put his arm around my shoulders. I broke.
“Mom told me yesterday that she’s embarrassed to be seen with me,” I said through tears.

And so the occasions with my mother went.

Another time, vividly.

“I feel like you don’t want to spend time with me.”
“Christina, that’s stupid. What do you want to do? Go to the mall? I can take you to the mall.”
“That’s not what I’m saying…”
“Well what do you want then? Money? I can take you to get whatever you want.”

And another.

“I feel like you hate me,” I said, tears flooding down my face. As dramatic as it sounds, there were real, true, hard feelings sitting underneath the teen angst. Not in the you-didn’t-let-me-go-to-my-friend’s-house hate me, but more along the lines of, why do you never talk to me about how my day was? Why did you drop me off at school on the first day of high school, when my heart was pounding out of my chest, and not even say “have a good day”? Why is it that when I return from my job at 10pm and you’re sitting on the couch in the living room, you completely ignore me entering the house, like I’m not even there? 

“Christina,” she rolled her eyes. “That is ridiculous. You know I don’t hate you.”

And she walked out of the room.

It’s no secret that I get along with guys much better than I do with women. I don’t think I trust women. I think I am afraid of what they’ll think of me, or what they’ll think to be seen with me as their friend, or what they’ll think about my hard, tough, skin, that has been weathered so much more than I feel like it should have in my 23 years on this Earth.

But guys, on the other hand, I easily befriend. Because my dad and I were best friends.

My earliest memory, believe it or not, of my dad, was when I was in the backseat of his old car, eating a Nutri Grain bar on the way home from preschool. He would talk to me and spend time with me. Some of my saddest days, when I would cry myself to sleep, was because he was on a business trip and I couldn’t see him or talk to him. I loved him so much that sometimes I worried he would die on a plane crash when he was on a business trip.

Despite his working long hours and moving up in his job, he always made time for me (and later, my siblings). His first inclination when he got home was to open a beer, sit with me, and talk to me about my day. Or watch The Soup. Or go to Costco and shop for the week. Or make dinner together. Or figure out where to go to dinner. Or just simply sit with me.

When I worked my first job in 9th grade, he picked me up at least twice – if not three times – a week from work, after having traveled straight from his commute downtown from work. He never complained. He would often take me through a drive through on the way home, because I was starving, and he would gleefully ask me how I was, how my day was, what I had done that day. I can’t remember him ever having a bad attitude even though he probably hadn’t seen home in more than 12 hours at that point.

My dad taught me everything I knew. I would ask him questions about theology, about food, about driving, about stores, about business, about the economy, about politics, about the why‘s and how‘s of God. We would joke together, laugh together, cry together, and just be together. I felt as though I could ask him anything and tell him anything.

I know it tends to be cliche to say “he was my best friend,” but he was. There was no one else I wanted to spend Saturday mornings with (at Costco). Well, I say no one, but I’m not including my misguided teen relationships. But, let’s not dwell on those.

In almost every way, he was the perfect man. He taught me how to love, how to forgive, how to listen, how to learn, how to drive a stickshift, and how to worship Jesus with reverence and humility. He had his flaws. Anger sticks out to me as one of the major ones; it didn’t take much to set him off. As Jesus softened his heart, so his anger diminished. I’d like to clarify here that he never once laid a hand on my mother, myself, or my siblings. His anger came more in the loud-voiced yelling or disbelief. The kind of anger that both scares you and keeps you in line. The kind of anger that I imagine most dads have, perhaps a bit more intensely at times.

Neither one of my parents was perfect. But I can clearly and confidently say that my dad and I were as close as best friends could be. I never once felt anything within miles of that with my mother. She was consumed with herself, consumed with money, consumed with drugs, consumed with keeping up the status quo. Consumed with everything but her family.

As can be expected, my parents fought constantly. On the one hand, there was this selfless, Jesus-following man who sought to keep peace at any cost. On the other hand, you had this self-absorbed, self-satisfying woman who sought her own gain at any cost. The push and pull of this was destructive for all involved.

Arguments began with a myriad of things: the tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt she had racked up illegally in his name; the illegal drugs she was ordering from Mexico; my tears to my dad about how desperately I longed to be loved by her; the way she ordered her life as though there was no one involved but herself.

Going away to college was one of the best and the worst things that ever happened to me. I was glad to be away from the day-to-day, but I was also returning home each weekend, attempting to be some sort of glue to hold my family together. I wanted to support my dad as he desperately prayed for redemption in our household and in her heart. I wanted to spend time with my siblings. I wanted to be the great band-aid that would help all see reason and join together.

In Fall of 2011, my mother moved into the guest bedroom downstairs.

In Fall of 2012, they were legally divorced.

In March 2013, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, because I was ready. I wanted out.


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