(Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts originating in work done for a video class titled, “You Are A Writer – Getting Past the Fear and Moving Forward.” Created by Lauren Sapala, the course is aimed at sensitive intuitive writers suffering from toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism.
This series is the result of some intense inner work completed during the first two sessions and is shared here in hopes of aiding others going through similar circumstances. You can learn more about the course here. )
Trigger warning: this series contains descriptions of alcohol abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and sexual contact between adults and minors
Adolescence through College – Act 1
Because the real meat of this story occurs during adolescence, I’ve chosen to split this time period into two posts. This one will cover family enmeshment issues. A second post will cover another type of enmeshment not talked about by Lauren, that of religious enmeshment. (I’m no psychologist and see that enmeshment is usually only defined within family systems. Still, many of the same symptoms I experienced with my folks transfer over to the sphere of religion also so I’m including it here. Sorry to all the purists out there.)
I’m choosing to begin things during the summer of 1972 – the one between 8th grade and my freshman year of high school. I would have been 14 at the time.
Due to the size of my class, the school system decided to create a summer school program for those of us wanting to take Physical Science early. I immediately signed up. There were two groups – one with the “popular” teacher; the other with the “stern” one. Based on my last name, I was assigned to the stern one’s class.
The first session, we split into pairs for lab work. Just like gym class, I was not chosen by anyone. The teacher then paired up the stragglers who were left over. I got paired with a girl I’ll refer to as L here.
I didn’t know her well as she did not run in the same circles I did. (I was in classes for advanced students; she was in those that were for average students at best. ) The only thing I really knew about her was that she hung out with the “wrong”crowd – the kids that frequented “Smoker’s Corner” across from the gymnasium. Oh yeah, she also had a boyfriend with long hair who always wore a green army surplus jacket. Needless to say, we weren’t extremely friendly in our interactions.
Halfway through the summer, things had warmed up between us. The classes decided to take a joint field trip to The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Students could choose to visit the main museum or tour Greenfield Village. L and I both chose the museum.
We spent the entire day together and about the only thing I can remember is laughing so hard that I had a splitting headache on the return bus ride home. I was smitten. Here was someone who understood me and didn’t judge me.
The rest of the summer passed. I wish I could say that we immediately became an item but that didn’t happen. She went back with her boyfriend and by the time band camp rolled around at the end of August, things were somewhat chilly again between us.
I was not deterred, however. Over the next few months, I somehow managed to steal her away from Mr. Green Coat and bring her over to the Light Side. I can’t recall when or even how it happened – I just remember that we were dating during the later part of Freshman year.
L, Meet My Family
L had it rough at home – she fought with her alcoholic parents who only hung out at the local Moose Lodge. In the course of our budding relationship, she had been over to my house and met my parents. My mom, who was “mom” to several of my friends, became friends with her and L began to confide in her.
I guess it began innocently enough. Eventually, mom would pick us kids up from school and L would come home with us. Many times they would immediately go in my parents room to “talk.” Sometimes, my dad would join in the “conversations”.
I don’t quite remember when I realized what was going on – maybe I heard unusual sounds coming from the bedroom; maybe it just became apparent that I no longer was the reason for L’s visits to the house. Anyway, I soon realized that the three-some bug had bit again, this time with my then 15-ish girlfriend.
(I can’t really say when things started. I can’t even say who actually started it. I do know I asked my father about it in the mid 80’s when I tried to reconnect with him and he said it was all my mom’s fault. She, of course, said it was his. And L? She didn’t seem tore up about it as she would openly flirt with my father or openly touch my mom from time to time. And she would just giggle when my father called her his pet name – “Chickie Legs”. For all I know, she got things going.)
Things grew from there. One day, I heard my mom was taking L to her doctor to get birth control pills because of her “difficult premenstrual cramps.” Like before, there were no boundaries as they didn’t try to hide things. L would come over, we’d eat dinner together, and they would adjourn to the bedroom while I studied, prayed, or read.
L’s and my relationship was complicated. I really think we cared for each other in a way. But it just wasn’t enough. We still had to put on appearances – everyone had to think that she came over to my house to spend time with me. We went on dates and did things with other classmates. We wore matching clothes. We did everything that boyfriends and girfriends do.
Well, almost everything. No sex, no kissing. Hell, I could hardly get the nerve up to hold her hand. At times, I know this frustrated her to no end as she “attacked” me on more than one occasion. Once on a return trip from Cedar Point, she unfastened her bra in the back of the station wagon and forced me to touch her breasts. We spent the rest of the trip home making out, all while my mom was driving and watching things in the rearview mirror. I’m not sure if the act was to create jealousy on my mom’s part or if this was something the two had worked out. Confused as hell and unsure who I was supposed to please, I just went along with it. After all, that’s what boyfriends are supposed to do.
This confusion existed everywhere. As I’ll write in the next post, I was struggling with my homosexual urges during this time period and L was my ticket to show God I was serious about changing. At the same time, I wanted to end things as it was clear I wasn’t what she wanted. I was torn morally also – I knew this was wrong and, if discovered, both of my parents would be arrested for statutory rape and we three kids would end up in foster homes. Plus, I was using her as my cover – as long as I was dating, no one would suspect my gayness.
It was a simply a fucked up mess. And….I chose to do nothing. What a fucking wimp.
In some ways, I didn’t have much of a choice. I started to mumble to my folks about wanting to break up with L. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon. Without me, there was no reason for her to come over. No, I had to keep up appearances. My needs and wants were unimportant – I just had to bend to the will of my parents. And I certainly didn’t want to piss off my father. I suffered enough already.
Of course, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And for a time, things seemed to work out. Both parents started attending church with me – L had always attended the local United Methodist where she was a Sunday school teacher. However, their spirituality didn’t seem to affect the relationship any. If anything, my religious views seemed to just antagonize everyone.
The Divorce – Age 16
While all this was going on, my parent’s marriage had also been quickly dissolving. (Perhaps this final fling with L was a last attempt at saving it, I’m not sure.) Physical beatings increased all around and one afternoon I watched my father beat my mom unconscious in the dining room. (I had been sent outside with my younger siblings at the start of it with the orders not to come inside. Still I watched everything through the outside window while keeping the kids occupied.) He hauled off and punched her in the jaw and she simply crumbled to the floor. I was so afraid he had killed her and I didn’t know what to do.
(I go through quite a bit of guilt still about this – should I have gone in there and attempted to break things up? I don’t know what good I would have done – I myself was scared shitless of my father even when I was 16. And f I did go in, my sister and brother would have probably seen him beat me with mom lying on the floor out cold. Talk about a Catch-22.)
Anyway, shortly after that, mom came to me one night and said to get packed – we were leaving and going to my grandparents who lived about a mile away. It couldn’t have come soon enough. Shortly thereafter, my parents were divorced and my father moved back to Georgia. However, before he left, he wrote a letter which I found while snooping in my folk’s bedroom begging L to leave with him – something that would have gotten him in more hot water if she had gone. He could have been arrested for transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. Needless to stay, she didn’t go.
In some ways, things didn’t change much – except my father was no longer involved. L would still come over and my mom and her would go in the bedroom for the evening until it was time to go home. I still pretended that she and I were an item – something I must have been pretty good at as we were considered one of the “it” couples in school. Proms came during junior year and we went, me wearing a pink tux to match her white and pink dress.
Senior year came. We had to move several times as my father screwed my mom during the divorce out of spite and we lost the house. Mom started working at the local truck stop as a waitress. There she met a couple of bisexual truck drivers, Dick and Jim. Before long, she and L were involved with them. Then one night, L freaked out for seemingly no reason and I was told to just let things go. WTF?
In December, L turned 18 and moved in with us.
One night I placed a cassette in my new fangled cassette recorder and hit play. Instead of what I expected to hear, L’s voice came on and I heard an entire recollection of her and mom’s relationship with the truck drivers. Apparently L had taken to Jim and they had “spiritually married” each other until the day came when they could make it permanent. Unfortunately, that never happened – he was killed in an accident on the road. I finally found out why she reacted the way she did that night.
This threw me for a loop. I was so confused about what I wanted and who I was. She was my girlfriend and I cared for her in a way. I needed her to prove to God that I wasn’t gay. I had been the good son and went along with everything that had been asked of me without any real complaint. Somehow in my mind, things were going to work out and L and I would live happily ever after. Except now, I saw just how much of a sham things were.
L graduated early in December which took a lot of pressure off of me at school. I no longer had to pretend to be the doting boyfriend all the time in front of my classmates as she no longer was around. In fact, I got so brave that I told both my mom and L that I needed to take a break. I didn’t want to attend my Senior Prom. After much discussion, they relented and I got to stay home.
L began to work full time and put all her money into the household. She and my mom ran a tiny truck stop out in the sticks third shift – mom would cook and L would waitress. When that closed, I got them a job at the pizza place that I was also working at until L was caught pocketing money from the register. We all lost our jobs. Eventually, she took a job at a nursing home, something she had done previously while she was in high school. Life was rough and we all struggled. Still, we got by.
College – Freshman Year
I had gotten quite good at sublimating my own feelings. I went through years of covering the fucked up nature of this relationship because I had to. I also to deal with my own sexual confusion. And through it all, I managed to graduate 5th in my class. (I was actually tied with someone else.) I had to show the world that there was nothing unseemly going on – one small crack and everyone would see just how fucked up things were. I received enough state scholarships and grants that my college was paid for – I just had to choose which one I wanted.
Because of my religious leanings, I enrolled in Fort Wayne Bible College to study for the ministry. (Again, this was all part of the attempt to prove to God how serious I was about not being gay.) Fort Wayne was about 45 miles from my hometown so I could easily come home during the weekends.
Something happened with my relationship with L during the summer before college. Things had improved after our “break”. Things seemed lighter around the house. One night, I was handed a box from my mom. I opened it and found her wedding rings. Mom wanted me to propose to L. So, like the good son that I was, I did so without question. L accepted. A good time was had by all.
Our relationship improved. L and I began singing in local churches as a couple and we would travel with taped accompaniment putting on gospel shows. School started. The engagement photo hit the local paper and I received letters from classmates congratulating me – they always knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Life seemed good. I attended classes Monday through Fridays while staying in the dorm, then came home on the weekends. L would always be there waiting.
Until one day she wasn’t.
Instead of coming with mom one Saturday to pick me up, she begged off, saying she wasn’t feeling well. Mom went ahead and drove to Fort Wayne alone. When I found out L was sick, I had mom stop at a florist and I bought a rose for her.
When we arrived home, the engagement ring lay on the table with a note breaking everything off – both with me – but primarily with my mom. L just couldn’t handle the deceit anymore and needed out.
We hurriedly drove to L’s parent’s house but they wouldn’t talk to me. We were all a bunch of perverts. L had been secreted away somewhere and we would never find her. Eventually, mom remembered L had a sister that lived in New Haven and we drove there late in the evening.
Oh, the stupid shit we remember. As we drove in the dark, Muskrat Love came on the radio by the group America. I just burst into tears. Hell, it wasn’t even our song.
When we got to our destination, I went to the door and yes, L was there. Eventually she came out. Instead of talking to me, however, she got in the car to talk to mom. I was told to take a walk while they talked.
I remember wondering what was going to happen – everything was falling apart. And again, it became crystal clear that I was just being used in this whole situation. (Well, I guess, I was using L too in my own way to cover my own gayness. I just hadn’t come to that point of true acceptance yet.)
I never saw L again after that. She refused to return to our home. She had cleaned out the checking account while mom was picking me up so the family had nothing. And mom just fell apart. Crying constantly. Drinking heavily.
Things got so bad that I moved out of the dorm and back home so I could make sure nothing happened to her or the kids. I drove back and forth to school during the day and worked whatever jobs I could find to help support my family. And I never had a chance to grieve for myself and what I had lost – I was too busy taking care of everyone else. It was my job.
And life went on.
It took a long time for things to return to a semblance of normal. (Actually, it was only about a year but it seemed to last forever.) I had my own moment of rebellion which I’ll talk about in my next post, but I soon was back in the fold, happily following everyone’s orders.
My mom was now working at Tri-State University and I had stopped in to visit her one day. There, I met a co-worker I’ll call D. She was nice and we hit it off. Soon, she was hanging out with us on a casual basis and we became friends.
Like L, D also had some personal issues going on and mom wanted to help out. D and her 4 year old daughter were living with an abusive guy and she desparately wanted out. Mom offered them a place to stay.
(Mom was always picking up what we jokingly called “strays”. We’d come home and there would be a stranger sitting there – lonesome college students, hitchhikers, senior citizens, you name it. She once befriended this freshman university student from Iran who gave her an expensive looking ring and asked her to marry him after only a short acquaintance. I hate to admit it but I was rooting for him – he was so damn cute. I think he was probably just looking for a green card, though.)
Anyway, D and her daughter moved in. And, as we got to know each other, there was some further attraction going on. (Was it physical? Nah – just a good friendship but I didn’t realize that at the time. I was still trying to prove myself to God, remember?) Before long, D and I were dating.
Eventually, D had to give up her daughter for adoption – the child had some side effects of D and her boyfriend’s drug use and D couldn’t cope with her needs. Afterwards, I stepped in with my white horse, though, and did my Christian duty: I saved D‘s soul. Soon she was also enrolled as a student at the Bible college and we drove to classes together. Next we were pre-engaged and all of our church friends were ecstatic.
I’m not going to drag this out. You guessed it. After only a few months, I discovered that my mom was also involved with D. (I actually saw it with my own eyes: While we were staying in a motel due to a surgery my sister was having, I and my brother were in one bed; mom and D were in another. Early in the morning, mom whispers my name and asks if I’m awake. I play dumb and lay there, feigning sleep. Next thing I know they’re having sex in the bed not 6 feet from me. I just lay there in shock.)
I sure do know how to pick them, huh? At least I seem to know my mom’s type.
Anyway, I don’t let on that I know what I just saw. However, I start to pull away from the relationship. She’s still living in the same house as me and sleeping in mom’s bed but I’m free a lot earlier this time.
I guess the story has a happy ending – mom and D remained a couple for the next 25+ years until mom passed away. Unfortunately, D had a rough go afterwards and ended up a multiple felon for theft. It’s been several years since we spoke.
All kinds of other shit happened during this time – mainly financial – but I’m going to leave things here. Hopefully you can see the degree of enmeshment that occurred. I existed to serve the needs of my parents (and later the church which you’ll see in the next post). No matter what I felt inside, what my heart truly said, it was unimportant. I just learned to stuff everything inside and sublimate who I was. I lived my life out of duty – to my father and mom, then to L, then to my siblings, then to my God. And me? Locked away in a cell buried deep within.
A couple years ago, I googled L. At first it was difficult as she had gotten married. I found her married name listed on her mother’s obituary and laughed – she had ended up marrying Mr. Green Coat after all. (I guess for a time, she had gone lesbian but eventually reconnected with her former boyfriend. ) Then when I searched for her new name, I saw she had died of cancer a few years back. I’m just glad she reconnected with Mr. Green Coat and hope that she had some happiness in her life.
I’ve been in contact with another high school friend and discovered that L had confided in her about everything that went on. Thus, someone else knew – that sent me for a loop for a while. However, the friend didn’t treat me differently which surprised me.
As far as getting further answers from my parents, that seems to be a no go. Mom died 10 years ago and things have come to light that cause me to be suspect of previous answers. My father always blamed my mother and her “lesbian ways” for turning both me and my brother gay. He said he was only involved in order to save L from my mom. We now haven’t spoken in years and I really don’t know if he’s even alive.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. It’s over. Yeah, it fucked me up pretty well and all I can do is pick up the pieces and move on. And that includes starting to tell some of the secrets that have kept me trapped most of my life. And if shit comes out in my story, that’s fine – as they say, “Write what you know.”
Related Parts of This Series
- Out From the Shadows – Part 1
- Out From the Shadows – Part 2
- Out From the Shadows – Part 4
- Out From the Shadows – Part 5
Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash