“Mom”

“From now on you’re going to call her mom,” my dad said to me, pointing at my stepmother, “and you’re going to call me dad,” he said to my stepbrother, pointing to himself.

And so it was.

Until it wasn’t.

It was 2001 and I was done. CPS had removed me from the home, it was highly unlikely that I would ever go back, and I finally felt safe.

I decided that I was no longer going to call her mom. I would call her by her first name because she was not my mom, had never behaved like a mother toward me, had never treated me like her daughter, and, quite frankly, it felt insulting toward my biological mother to call that piece of human debris mom.

She pretended that it didn’t bother her.

“I don’t want to talk to you, Gina,” I would say into the receiver before hanging up the phone at the nurse’s desk. The judge actually had to order my father and step mother to stop calling me at the hospital because it distressed me to such a great extent.

They called relentlessly. Most of the time I wouldn’t say anything; the nurse would call me to the phone, tell me who was calling, and I would hang up. Some nights were so bad that the nurses would turn the ringers on the phones completely off.

I remember the first time I saw my siblings after several months during one of our perhaps three “family therapy” sessions. My stepmother and stepbrother giggled as I was brought down from my unit at the youth facility.

“What’s so funny?” I inquired.

“You’re wearing glasses! You look weird!” My step brother admitted as he and his mother burst into peals of laughter together.

I was damned proud of those glasses. Having needed them since at least the age of ten being able to see clearly felt miraculous. I’m terribly nearsighted and when I take my glasses off people are sometimes a bit surprised by just how poor my vision is.

Every year in the beginning of the school year, I, along with all of the other students in my district, were required to go down to the nurse’s office for hearing and vision screenings. When I started taking home failed vision screenings I was told by my step mother that the only way I was going to get glasses was if I was so blind that I was walking into walls.

My younger half sister received glasses shortly after her very first failed vision screening. How I envied her glasses and her ability to see.

The family therapist at the youth facility, clearly taken aback by my step brother and his mother openly laughing at my appearance, tried to salvage the session into something productive but it was too late. I gave my younger half sisters the beaded bracelets I’d made them, hugged them, and cried as I was escorted back upstairs.

Calling my father’s wife by her first name felt good. It was a declaration of my freedom. It was telling her that she would no longer harm me, that I was no longer her whipping post, and that I was not afraid of her.

S.Ziegenfuss

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