Without Fear

The year that my mother died was one of the hardest years of my life. So much changed in such a small amount of time that when I think back on it, much of what happened is fairly blurry. I was 16, and my biggest worries up until then were what I was doing with my boyfriend this weekend, or what I was going to wear to school the next day. The course of my life was suddenly and swiftly altered, and I felt fairly out of control. Things seemed to be happening around me without my permission. It was during this hectic year, however, that I first took a stand for myself, and made a bold move that I have never regretted.

For the first couple of months after my mother died, my family tried to go back to "normal," at least as normal as we possibly could be. Despite my family's pleas that I move to Washington to live with my grandmother, I stayed in our home in Michigan with my little brother and my stepdad. Things were tense, but bearable. My stepfather could be a very volatile person; for much of my life I had been very afraid of him. It was easy to send him in to a tirade, and the stress of our current situation did not help him at all.

To say I was frightened of my stepdad would be an understatement. I was terrified to be left in the same room alone with him. He had never physically hurt me, although I had seen the bruises he left on my sister. I was always scared that I was going to make him angry. For much of my life, I had relied on my mom and my big sister to "protect" me from his tirades--he would get angry for the smallest things, and his fury could last quite a long while. With my mom gone and my sister away at college, there was now no "buffer" to protect me from him. I lived every day in fear that I would make him angry, make him scream and call me horrible names and possibly hurt me.

One day, my sister was visiting my brother and I and she took us to the movies. We left a note for my stepfather telling him when we would return. Unfortunately, the movie we went to see was sold out, so we went to a later showing. We returned home half an hour later than we intended. My stepfather greeted us with a screaming match. How inconsiderate of us to be late! Why didn't we call? He couldn't believe how we could do this to him! As usual, my sister took the brunt of his anger--for every scream he threw at her, she yelled back, doing her best to keep his attention on herself and away from me and my little brother. She stormed out of the house, him following after, screaming at her. She asked me to come with her, but I said no. I couldn't imagine how angry that would make him, but I didn't want to find out. Instead, I sulked away and hid in my room. He stopped yelling after my sister left, and he also stopped speaking to me.

About a week later, after a week of silence from my stepdad, I came home from school just like any other day. By this point, I had stopped trying to speak to him, since the only response I got was a cold shoulder and silence. He was sitting in the living room, and I walked past and went to my bedroom, where I had been spending the majority of my time lately. A few minutes passed when my bedroom door burst open, and my stepdad stood there, his eyes bulging out of his head and his face bright red with fury.

"You come home and you don't even bother to say HELLO?" He roared at me.

I looked at him blankly, my heart starting to race. I had no idea how to respond, so I tried to be honest.

"You haven't spoken to me for a week. Why would I say hello to you?"

Unfortunately, this only managed to anger him further.

"You ungrateful bitch. You never even said sorry for being late on Sunday. It's like you don't even love me anymore..."

Typically, this kind of language from my stepdad, and the lengthy tirade that followed it, would do nothing but reduce me to tears. I would cry and curl up in a ball until he was done, and hope that he would calm down. But today was different. I'm still not sure why it was different--maybe because it was the first time I'd really faced him completely on my own. This day, I didn't stand down and wait for the storm to pass. This day, I decided to fight back.

I gave my stepfather a tirade of my own. I told him how terrified he had made me for the last 13 years of my life. I told him how there was never a day that I wasn't afraid to be left alone with him. And I told him he was right, that I had no love left in my heart, no patience left to deal with his tyranny.

My words took the wind out of my stepfather's sails. He left my room, still angry, but no longer screaming. I sat on my bed staring at the door, in shock. I wasn't certain what to do next, but something told me I didn't have much time to decide. I thought of going to him and apologizing, trying to make everything better. But I also knew if I did that, we would have to go through this same thing another day, for some different silly reason that made him angry. At that moment, I made one of the craziest decisions of my life. I decided to walk away.

I quickly packed everything that I could fit in a suitcase and my backpack. I had no idea where I was going to go, but I knew that it was the right time to leave. As I was walking out of my bedroom, my stepfather was walking back down the hall, starting to scream at me again. I gave him one last goodbye, as calmly as I could muster, and told him I wouldn't be back. I walked out my front door, dragging a suitcase behind me, and headed down the road.

Part of me said I should turn back, but most of me felt like this was the bravest decision I could have made. I walked down the road, not sure of what I would do next, but certain I had done what was right for me. Even though I was technically "running away," I felt like I was running toward a better future--one where I didn't have to be afraid all the time.

I left that house and I have never looked back. I stayed with friends until my sister and I could get an apartment together. I managed to finish my last two years of high school in relative normalcy. Although I still struggle with it, that fateful day I learned that I can stand up for myself. It was like fighting a battle with my arch nemesis and winning. I was free in more ways than one that day that I walked down a busy highway dragging a suitcase behind me. I was free to live my life without fear.


kate said...

what a courageous moment in your life! i am so glad you had the strength to do what seemed to be the best thing for you. thank you for sharing such a beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

Wow, without a doubt one of the most courageous posts I've ever read. You should be so proud of all you endured and how you handled it. I hope it brought you peace to write about it... it is amazingly admirable.

AmandaRaeShelton said...

That is true courage. I think most people go through their lives wishing they had courage to do that. Courage to change their lives. Too often we stay in a bad situation out of fear of the unknown.

C (Kid Things) said...

This is courage. Thank you for sharing.

Corina - Down to Earth Mama said...

I am glad that you had that courage. Your life is no doubt better for it.a

Corinne said...

What an amazing story of courage! I'm left speechless, but just want you to know this was one of the best posts I've read today.
(and I love the picture in the upper corner!)

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine the kind of courage it takes for a sixteen year old girl to walk out of her family home and into the unknown. You may be one of the bravest people I have come across today. Thank you for sharing your story.

ck said...

Wow, Jenn. Just wow. Thank you for sharing such a life-defining moment. I can only imagine how the air felt as you walked away from that house...

SoccerMom said...

Wow, Im speechless. I dont know how you did it.

That had to be a incredibly tough situation to be in.

Thank you for sharing such a difficult time in your life.

TKW said...

Whoa! That is an amazing story! I am so proud of you for saving yourself, at such a young age, from a thoroughly toxic situation. BRAVE.

Sarah said...

This is amazing. Amazing in that way that you wish you didn't have to really live through it, of course, but amazing just the same. It is a life-defining moment not just because it changed your path, but I imagine that it also changed your mindset from that point forward.

Walking away is brave. Writing about it, in many ways, even braver. I find that visiting my toughest moments sometimes feels like it takes even more courage than I can remember giving when I was living them. It sounds backwards, and I'm sure it is as those moments are so long ago, but I swear it's true. Writing period is brave. Bravo.

Allison @ Alli 'n Son said...

Wow, I'm so impressed and thankful that you finally stood up for yourself. That took so much courage. Can you imagine what your life would have been if you hadn't walked away? You are in a much better place now.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine what it took you to do that, but I was so glad to read that you did. I lost my mother at a young age too, and it has defind my whole life, but I was fortunate to have a loving father to rely on. This is more than one young woman should have to bear. Thank you for sharing.

goofdad said...

Amazing ... simply amazing! It amazes me how cruel people can be. I'm so glad you were able to get out of that bad situation!

Rudri said...

My words will seem shallow here. To have the foresight to walk away and make a new life for yourself at such a young age - not only courageous, but inspirational.

Glad to come over and visit your words through Five for Ten.

natalie said...

Found you on Momalom....

I always think it is so melodramatic on Lifetime when they have those "Moment of Truth" movies - but this was your moment of truth. This was the moment you drew a line in the sand and that. was. it.

You're passing that strength on to your littl'ns now.

Lee Vandeman said...

Wow. Another incredible story of courage. This story and the one posted at The Kitchen Wife's are the two that I am remembering the most in my cruise around the blogosphere.

Everyone is right. This IS courage. What a brave soul you were then and are now to share your story.

Thank you.

Jenn said...

Wow, what a story. The true meaning of courage.

Anonymous said...

This gave me goosebumps.

I found you through the comments section of my blog and I will be attentively listening to everything you have to say.

You have inspired me. Sending hugs.

"Mommy Wants A Drink"