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1990: Year of Traumas

November 10, 2014

{{So odd, unsettling to realize that 1990 was half my life ago. Looking back, I marvel I survived such a difficult year. }}

{{Some of these events, I know which part of the year they happened; others, I’m guessing at. It’s been a very long time!}}

As the year began, I was 23 years old, living in my parents’ house. I had negotiated an arrangement whereby I didn’t pay rent because I was attending (community) college full-time. If I received A’s or B’s in my classes, my parents would reimburse me for my tuition (but not fees or books). As long as I earned credits for (iirc) 3 classes per quarter, all I owed my parents was household chores. I occasionally bought gas for the car I drove, or pitched in with groceries. I didn’t have an actual job, but I did occasionally do work for my father (who had his own business), which he paid me for. I was scraping by, dreaming about one day being able to afford my own apartment.

The year before, I’d been working at a bank. When Spring Break rolled around, I took my sister down to Cancun, Mexico, with me. (I had a very mixed experience, and vowed to never travel with my sister again.) For Spring Break in 1990, with no job and very little money, I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. But my mother suddenly decided that my (mostly-deaf) grandmother needed to visit my aunt in OKC that week, but my mother couldn’t accompany Gram because Reasons, so I should go! Um. OKC, where I’d lived 5 years before with the same aunt, and her son had raped me and tried to kill me. Right. Granted, my cousin had moved to Albuquerque, but the whole idea gave me the heebie-jeebies. I said No. My mother persisted, going so far as bribing me with actual money (!). I really needed the money, so I let myself be persuaded. I also told myself I was being paranoid about problems with EvilCousin, since there was no reason he would be there. Plus, my aunt assured me that one of her (other) kids had a “spare” car that I could use while there, to take Gram around, or sightsee on my own. (I was too young to rent a car.) It seemed like a good deal. (It actually seemed Too Good To Be True, but why look a gift horse in the mouth, right?)

So me and Gram went to OKC for a week in March. When we arrived, I was told that the “spare” car was not available to me or Gram because Reasons, so sorry. EvilCousin somehow had decided to visit his parents that week, so I was trapped with him in the house that he’d tortured me and tried to kill me in. Without any means of transportation to leave. He had a car though. (And a job. And gobs of money.)

A nice relaxing week with my grandmother and aunt and cousin became a nightmare of trying to avoid EvilCousin, without making a scene. I was afraid to go to sleep, in case he came into my room and tried to hurt me. That Friday, Aunt had a social engagement for work that all of us mysteriously were required to attend, and somehow I ended up in EvilCousin’s car with him. {{I’ve written about that before.}} I honestly thought I was going to die, and I was only half-sorry about it.

We didn’t die. We showed up at Event. We left. We went elsewhere. We talked, we laughed (somewhat manically on my part). It was just like old times! (actually, it was better)

I was high on lack of sleep and fear and adrenaline. Even so, I’ve had great difficulty in forgiving myself for being happy that night in his company, and staying up all night talking. Being inseparable for the next day and a half. Feeling like we’d somehow reconciled, without ever addressing the bad blood of 1985. (I wanted to. But how to bring it up?!?)

I floated back to Illinois in a daze. In that first flush of Finally, Something In My Life Feels Good Again (Thank the Gods!), I wrote to my aunt and uncle, saying how happy I was that I’d reconciled with their son. That my life felt whole again, blah blah blah.

Much much later, I realized that I wrote that letter because I wanted them to love me again: I forgave your son [who tortured me, raped me, and tried to kill me, although supposedly you don’t know about any of that], so can’t you care about me again now? As is usual with my letters to family members, they did not respond, so I have no idea what they thought.

But… within a week of returning to Illinois, I was a mess. I was having nightmares and flashbacks to 1985. I was a wreck. The enchantment I’d felt like I was under in OKC evaporated. I stopped taking EvilCousin’s calls. I wrote to him to tell him to stop contacting me. I returned his letters, unopened. I wouldn’t tell anyone else why. My mother thought I was being ridiculous. I felt besieged on all sides.

I started seeing a counselor, Ed, that I’d seen some years before (and who had also done some sessions with my parents and siblings and me, as a group).


Early in 1990, my mother was dealing with a tumor that had been found in her jaw. It was large enough that removing it required reconstructive surgery: part of her arm bone was used as a graft. Even though the tumor was not cancerous, my mother feared it would turn into cancer. She was afraid she was going to die from it. She didn’t feel she could share those fears with my father; she turned to me for her emotional support. I was also the person who drove her to many of her doctor appointments.

My mother was rather high-strung, and full of forebodings at the best of times. When she got all worked up, she could be almost hysterical with fear. Trying to soothe her depleted a lot of my emotional energy. I was also afraid that she might die, but I didn’t have anyone to confide my fears to. Nobody tried to comfort me.

I had my own problems. One of them was… I’d followed my mother down the rabbit hole of shopping as a form of self-soothing. Over time, I ran up a credit card bill of almost a thousand dollars, which, given the tiny amount of money I was making, I would be paying down for the next 10 years; my minimum payments every month were mostly chipping away at the interest.

I had asked my parents for money to pay off medical bills in the past, and they had refused, so I wasn’t going to ask them for money to pay off something “frivolous” like personal debt. But I was having nightmares about debtors’ prison. I was getting desperate. Finally, I had a very awkward conversation with my grandmother. When she assured me she had the money and she could afford to lend it to me, I borrowed $1000 from her. She drew up an agreement with a payment schedule, and I committed to paying it back, with interest. I paid off my credit card. I was immensely relieved that my parents didn’t have to be involved in any way!

At some point, though, my mother was grilling my grandmother about not buying lots of souvenirs in OKC, which Gramma innocently said was because she’d lent money to me. My mother came home, livid with me, that I’d “drained Gramma dry”, blah blah blah. I knew the real reason she was pissed was that I found someone who would actually help me.


The OKC aunt and uncle came to visit us some months after Spring Break. That was unusual enough, but . . . EvilCousin accompanied them. And my mother gave him the sofa bed right outside the door of my basement bedroom.

I avoided him as much as humanly possible, but of course, my mother was trying to throw us together, so it was very difficult. One afternoon, he was literally chasing me through the house and yard, while my mother and aunt talked on obliviously. He ran me to ground in the basement; I reached my room first, and locked all the doors. He pounded on them, yelling, trying to get in. I was beyond terrified; I was hysterical. I hastily concocted a plan of grabbing whatever of my things were handy, and escaping out the window wells, leaving home and never coming back. Except that… I couldn’t get the windows open. I called my sister’s boyfriend at work for help. He was willing to come over to my parents’ house and chase EvilCousin away, but eventually EvilCousin did go away on his own. I guess. I don’t really remember much.

After that incident, my (undiagnosed) PTSD kicked into high gear. I thought I was going crazy. And if I could’ve just gone off to a funny farm somewhere, I would’ve been okay with that. Instead, I had to live with my parents. Who, after my relatives left for home, would. not. let. up. about how embarrassing it was that I avoided “everyone”, and was so surly and unfriendly.

Even though I had never wanted to tell them about EvilCousin raping me and trying to kill me in 1985, and I’d had nightmares about that conversation for 5 solid years, it started to look inevitable. Ed (my counselor) said telling my parents might get them to back off about the “surly/so embarrassing” stuff. He said they might be willing to help me cope better. So, trepidatiously, I told them.

It was the most horrifying conversation of my life. (Which is saying something.) Once it was over, I thought to myself, “I don’t know who these people are, or what they did to my parents, but . . . I am not related to these people. These people are not my parents.”

And yet, I was still living at their house, financially dependent upon them for the foreseeable future. So, what to do? I found every feeling in any way connected to them, or that conversation, and I stuffed them all into a box in a corner of my mind, behind 100 locks. And then I practiced thinking of that woman and that man as “friends of the family” or “older coworkers who are nice, in very small doses”, which enabled me to be in the same room with them without screaming, sobbing, or vomiting. Without my skin crawling was much harder, but I managed it. I had to.


The stress of dealing with my mother’s health issues, and the stuff with EvilCousin, impacted my attention for my schoolwork. I decided not to take any classes in the summer quarter, also partially because our family was going to take our last big vacation together, to Europe for 4 weeks in August. I wanted to be able to enjoy that as much as possible.

But first, I had to finish the spring quarter. And… I just couldn’t concentrate on Linguistics, much as I wanted to. Luckily, our final exam was take-home. Unluckily, I first had to take an Incomplete; then, I had to drag the test with me to Europe. I stayed up late every night for at least a week, holed up in the bathroom long past midnight (so I wouldn’t wake my sister), trying to remember how to answer the questions. I mailed the exam back to the States from Germany, praying it would arrive safely. (It did. And I got an A.)


1990 was the year the older of my brothers graduated from college. He resented “having” to take an all-expenses-paid 4-week vacation to Europe, so he stomped around being annoying for the entire trip. As he shared a room with my little brother, my little brother got grumpy and resentful too. They both were total jerks. For 4 weeks. Meanwhile, I had to share a room with my sister, whom I have never gotten along with. The social aspects of the trip were miserable. By the plane ride home, only my mother and I were still speaking to each other. We got drunk on those little bottles of liquor. (My hangover + jet lag wiped me out for 3 full days.)

That hangover did me a favor! My sister’s boyfriend (the one I’d called for help) showed up at the airport, with a dozen roses, and proposed to my sister. She accepted. All I could think about, as soon as the wedding (the next year) was mentioned, was my mother putting EvilCousin in a bed outside my bedroom door, while so much would be going on that he could likely attack me any time he wished.

I did talk to my sister about not inviting EvilCousin, and she said she wouldn’t. But somehow he got invited anyway. And he said he was coming. (Three days before the wedding, after I’d been terrified for 13 months, he sent word that he couldn’t make it after all. I have no idea what changed his mind.)


During this year, I wanted to upgrade from community college, but I really couldn’t afford it on my own. Somehow entangled with my brother graduating from college, I got the idea in my head that my father might’ve softened his stance towards refusing to pay outright for me to attend college. I thought if I suggested going to his alma mater, a pricy Catholic university (like the one he had just finished paying for my brother to attend), he would . . . be proud of me, and help me out.

I know, I know, what was I thinking?

Anyway, this plan proceeded as far as me and him meeting with the financial aid advisor at his alma mater. Who explained how expensive it would be, perkily expecting my father to chip in gobs of money. And it was only then, in her office, that I realized to my horror that he wasn’t going to help. At all. He’d be pleased (perhaps) that I attended his alma mater, but it wouldn’t have anything to do with him!

Since, at this time, I’d been a (closet) Pagan for 4 years, it would’ve actually been . . . really difficult for me to pull off. After all, I’d attended Catholic schools 2nd grade through high school, and had mostly detested the experience (not that my parents cared).

So, I changed my major to something his alma mater didn’t offer. And then, whoops! I might as well stay at my community college, where I can take classes in . . . Engineering. Hey, this’ll be my ticket to my own apartment and my own car — engineers make a lot of money! People will respect me (even if my parents don’t). I’ll be useful. I’ll escape. This is my best idea yet!

In the fall quarter, I took Drafting 101. Unlike everyone else in my class, I could not rotate imaginary objects in my mind’s eye, then draw them correctly. I got sick from the stress, missed 2 weeks of classes, which put me further behind everyone else. Studying didn’t help. Nothing helped. It required an aptitude I don’t have.

I flunked the class.

I also flunked Chemistry, because I’d only completed 9 labs, when 10 were required. (The labs hadn’t gone well, so I avoided as many as I could. I’d miscounted.)

Those 2 F’s meant . . . I didn’t earn credit for 3 classes that quarter, jeopardizing my no-rent-because-school arrangement with my parents. I was good friends back then with a cousin on my dad’s side of the family (whose own dad was even stricter than mine). After the epically shitty year I’d had, I couldn’t quite believe my parents would expect me to back-pay them rent for the fall quarter. M said they would. But I didn’t have $425. (I couldn’t ask Gramma, because I was still paying off the $1000 I’d borrowed earlier.) I was at my wit’s end. M loaned me the $425, in cash, so I’d have it to hand when grades came out and I had to tell my parents that I’d flunked Drafting and Chemistry.

My father did insist on the money.


Somewhere in this mess of a year, I think I had a nervous breakdown.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2014 17:11

    You have my sympathy, yours traumas are related well. i hope you have had better luck with life’s events .

    • November 11, 2014 00:01

      I have had better luck! Thanks for your concern. 🙂

  2. Siderea permalink
    November 10, 2014 19:37

    Jesus. Your parents are some serious fucked up. To say I’m sorry you went through that is inadequate, but I’m almost at a loss for words.


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