We were running through the yard, playing catch, tag, and hide-n-go-seek.  Yelling and screaming and having a good time as kids will do.  The grown-ups were inside, split into two groups.  Men in front of the TV watching football (specifically rooting for the Dallas Cowboys – back when they still had a chance) and the ‘hens’ in the kitchen preparing Thanksgiving Day Dinner.  The call to the meal come and we would all run inside, all cram into the bathroom to wash our hands (splashing each other more than cleaning our skin), and sprinting to take our places around the dining table while Grandpa said Grace.  My grandpa would be at the head of the table with grandma on his right.  My aunts and their husbands (I had three of them), one unmarried uncle, my mother and Jack A, and my three cousins and myself.

On the outside, it would have looked like the perfect family.  However, the truth was that grandma and grandpa didn’t sleep in the same room (they still loved each other and I would catch them dancing in the kitchen at times) but they couldn’t stand sharing a bedroom.  My one and only blood related uncle was a ‘junkie’ and addicted to every drug known to man.  He lived with my grandma and grandpa because he couldn’t hold a steady job.  My freshman year, he killed himself.  He hung himself in the tree in my grandparents backyard.  One aunt was addicted to any pill that would get her high.  Another aunt was a drunk.  And… the other one was just there.  She’s been disabled for a long time and relies on her very abusive husband for support.  That has never worked.  From growing up in those environments, my cousins were pretty messed up in their own right.  They’ve all been to jail and have their own flavors of addiction.

Of the cousins that I got to see on a regular basis, there was only one that I wanted to be close to, which was my only girl cousin Trixie.  I remember being jealous of her personality, of how popular she was, of the fact that she did drugs on a regular basis and STILL made straight A’s.  I wanted to be her.  Trixie got sucked in by drugs and alcohol.  I remember talking to her when I was sixteen and in a veiled way I learned that she was prostituting herself to pay the mortgage on the house HER PARENTS rented.  Now, she’s an alcoholic working as a bartender (*Sarcastic Eye Roll*).

I was always pressured by my cousins to join in the ‘fun’.  To drink and do drugs with them.  I was tempted… even went as far as taking money from my hidey hole for an upcoming party they were having.  At the last-minute, I chickened out.  The thought in the back of my head was… that would be an escape.  I could get away from my hell for even a short amount of time.  Immediately following that thought was “Would I survive if Jack A. found out?”  The ultimate answer to that was NO.  So I backed out.

I am happy that I did.  I am glad that I stuck behind what I knew deep down was the right decision.

When I made the leap from age thirteen to age fourteen… I  silently began to go crazy.  When you add puberty to the mix of daily abuse it makes you feel like you’re drowning.  Out in the ocean, in the middle of a hurricane, with wave after wave crashing over your head.  I knew that if another wave hit me, I wouldn’t have the strength to keep fighting.  Then I found an outlet in sports.  I put all of my anger, my frustration, and the hatred I could no longer write about into sports.

I played tennis during my freshman and sophomore years of high school.  When we moved to the a-fram house out into the middle of no where, Kim and Jack A. sprung it on me that I could no longer participate in extracurricular activities because they needed someone to take care of Suzie.

I was devastated because the thing that I had as my life preserver in the middle of a hurricane was ripped from me.  I was back to fighting to keep my head above water.

How was I going to get through the next year?  I felt like my purpose for living had just been stollen from me.  I was lost and helpless, left for dead.  I then had to find something new to get me through until I could legally move out and away from them.  I started hiking the woods that surrounded our new house.  I found a spot in the middle of a clearing with a large and almost flat boulder.  When I needed to retreat from my life… I would go there and talk to nothing in particular.  I would cry when I needed to cry, I would scream when I needed to scream, and so that boulder became My Saving Grace.