At 12 years old, I was tall enough to position myself between my bed and the door, pushing my feet against its metal frame and jamming my shoulders in, using my upper body as a human barricade. I wasn’t permitted to have a lock. As I got older, my mother’s drunken harassment increased. The nights I had no energy to fight, I would try to shut her out this way. She’d shove all her weight against the door in an attempt to force it open as she met with my resistance. It would enrage her. Like a banshee, she would scream from the other side – how much she hated me, couldn’t stand the sight of me, how she wished she had an abortion, that I was worthless, that I was nothing – all in an attempt to provoke her desired reaction. I would beg her to just leave me alone, my heart pounding and my ears drumming, my exhausted mind winding tighter and tighter. Eventually, on the nights she ran through her verbal gambit of hate and received nothing in return, she would retreat downstairs to resume drinking. Only then could I try to go to sleep.
But one night, after about 5 minutes of silence, I heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the other side. Boom. Boom. BOOM! I stood up and whipped open the door. I caught her mid-swing with a ball-peen hammer, the outside of the door riddled with holes, the floor covered in smashed particle board. “YOU”, she spat. The hammer was suspended in the air like a balloon above my head. Panicked, I shoved her away from me. She doubled back, unable to catch her balance and went flailing to the ground. She cracked her head off the opposing wall. Her eyes were bloodshot and wild. She glared up at me, her knuckles turning white from her grip on the hammer. “Jesus mom, what the fuck…” I sighed in resignation, turned around, and closed what was left of my door, leaving her lying there in the hallway.
In our family, words were weapons. They were carefully crafted for maximum damage. Words helped to deflect, guilt, punish, torture, or even entertain at someone else’s expense. They were to be used to your advantage. Stop at nothing to manipulate an argument in your favor if you found yourself on the losing end.
Feelings were self motivated. Your own always mattered the most, even if they were unjustified or irrational. You were never to question if you were wrong. It was never about seeing both sides. There was only ever one side. Coming to an understanding was unheard of. Compromise was bullshit. What came first was your ego, your pride, your own self righteousness. It was how YOU felt, it was how someone else made YOU feel, it was how angry YOU were in that moment, it was what you did because of SOMEONE ELSE. Fuck being sorry.
Words were also used to spew insecurities. Every irrational thought based on your own internal doubt, disillusionment, mistrust, denial or jealousy would be voiced out loud. It was perfectly acceptable to project your own self-loathing and misery onto others. Make YOUR insecurities THEIR problem.
You were free to speak and act as you saw fit without taking any responsibility, especially if you were fucked up – physically, mentally, emotionally, recreationally – all of the above. If you lied, you were to defend that lie to the death, even if you were caught red-handed with irrefutable proof. But, if it was someone else who did the same to you? WATCH THE FUCK OUT.
My mother’s world was not a nurturing place. It left me in a constant state of fear and hurt as far back as I can remember. It was as if I was always sitting on the edge of something cold and sharp. It was a place where mothers were uncaring, emotionally and psychologically abusive, manipulative – borderline psychopath. Where they would chase handfuls of Xanax with a case of Coors Light. I wasn’t kept at home as a child, as her daughter. I was there as something small to pick on and abuse for the times when she actually paid attention to me. I was trapped in her warped version of loveless motherhood.
I ran away to move in with my father, they divorced when I was eleven. My mother was becoming more volatile, more unstable. Home was an unbearable place to be. I had to get out. What I didn’t know was that I would be trading one kind of survival for another. Neglect, abuse, and indifference were replaced with extortion, broken promises and financial hardship. I wasn’t unable to escape the stranglehold of addiction and the chaos it caused.
Being with my father meant living in a constant state of struggle. It didn’t matter how much he worked, how much money he made. He was financially irresponsible. And he too, was an addict. Years of doctor prescribed pain medications from multiple shoulder surgeries rapidly morphed into a problem he couldn’t manage. His motivation to work tirelessly revolved around obtaining those pills. Little white lines on the coffee table took precedence over stacks of bills on the kitchen table. As the years went by and his addiction got worse, he couldn’t function without them. He needed more, then more, and then even more. Coming home was like playing Russian Roulette. Were the lights still on? Was there heat? Would there be an all-out brawl over who ate the last Oreo cookie? Was he going to demand more money?
Sometimes, if I didn’t give the amount he asked for, my father would scream so loud I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Other times, he would give me a silent treatment as harsh as the Arctic tundra. We only spoke when his anger fizzled out. I could feel the rage like static electricity in the air between us. He would keep things uncomfortable and cruel until I caved or he needed something – whichever came first. I OWED it to him to help whenever he asked solely based on the fact that I was his kid. But moving out on my own, even after I turned 18, meant I would be abandoning him, betraying him. If he could just get straightened out, just catch a break, just get ahead, this time it would get better. He promised. I just had to believe him. And I always did. Because I loved him, because he was all I had.
My permanent escape happened some 12 years later. I left my father without notice in our dilapidated rental house that sat at the end of Crown Ave in South Side. It was the only place we could find on such short notice after the sheriff removed us from our home, now property of the bank. It felt like we were living there as squatters, drifters, vagabonds. Only 6 months had passed since we moved in when I walked up onto its crooked porch to find an eviction notice taped to the door. I wasn’t surprised to see it there.
As I stepped inside, I glanced up into the giant, crumbling hole in the ceiling. Through it, you could glimpse into the upstairs bathroom and see its peeling wallpaper and exposed pipes. I went to the kitchen, moving through the cabinets one by one, same with the fridge, as if one of these times food would magically appear when I opened the door. I didn’t bother to call my dad about the eviction. I knew he knew it was coming. I couldn’t live like this, couldn’t go through this again. Days later, I found my own hole in the wall that I could afford, leaving my father behind for the last time.
My father’s world was not a forgiving place. It was abrasive, a coarse sandpaper, all grit. I lived inside the friction. It was a world where fathers raised daughters like sons. No fluff. No whining. No crying. No displays of affection or I love you’s. Love was money. Love was sucking it the fuck up. Sensitivity was for babies. Patience was nonexistent. Stress was a permanent mood. Bury your pain, never deal with it directly. Bottling it up meant it would eventually explode without warning but that was okay, even if it was directed at the innocent. Anger was the exception to the emotional rule.
Family loyalty meant I must ignore and excuse alcoholism and drug addiction – understand that they would be chosen over me and placed above everything else. But we were never to call it addiction, that would make it a problem. Calling it that put an unnecessary elephant in the room that just made things uncomfortable. Alcohol and drugs weren’t problems, they were the solution. They were what helped you cope with life – all its tragedies and misfortunes, especially the self-induced ones. Destroying others was a necessary casualty if they got in the way of your own wants and needs. Loyalty meant I was to embrace the chaos, accept dysfunction and excuse the never ending toxicity and shitty behavior, even as a child.
To me, love always hurt. I associated it with pain and lies. I began to feel as though love itself was a weakness. It can and will be used against me. It was full of conditions, most that were impossible to live up to, or that changed at a moment’s notice, or were applicable to some but not to all, especially not me. Love made me malleable, easily coerced. Love wasn’t protection. It was something to defend myself against.
It gave me a thick skin and a sharp bite. I grew up starved, confused and angry. Hackles always raised, ready to go for the jugular. I became unforgiving. Untrusting. Reactionary. Unable to tolerate what I believed was weakness within myself and dismissing love as cruel stupidity. Rage and resentment grew from it all.
It was a long, hard road realizing that there was, in fact, another way. I found it through a hellish journey that I took all on my own, one that questioned everything I knew, even myself. I had to start taking responsibility for me. Quit hurting myself. Quit hurting others. Stop using my pain as a suit of armor or a weapon of war. Separate from my demons to start gaining control of them. Stop trying to bury my past. I needed to dig it up. Sit with it. Move through it. Grow from it, for the better. Discover that love exists in a gentler, kinder form – without manipulation, dishonesty, and betrayal. And that I could find it – in myself and in the right people. Come to terms with the environment I grew up in and the person that I became because of it. Understand that it wasn’t my fault that my family did fucked up shit. But it would be my fault if I continued to repeat our history.
I had left my past behind. I had banished what toxicity I could from my life. I had tried to find absolution through an internal expedition of self-discovery and awareness. But a part of me still remains feral. Distant. Untamed. My toxic upbringing dug its claws deep into my psyche. Because of the scars, there is a stubborn, prideful, angry creature that coexists with my present self. The rage hasn’t left me. It lives within me, unsettled. I feel it. It’s a hairball lodged in my throat, a burr stuck to my skin, a dagger thrust between my ribs… pressing, picking, poking.
It is the wolf that waits for me.
My name is Little Pig. And I’ve been running from the Big Bad Wolf since I was a child. Over the years, I have built beautiful houses of stick and straw. Every single one has been reduced to dust and ash. And now, 33 years later, I live in a house made of stone. One would think, this is it. My safe haven. An impenetrable fortress. Protected from the inside out, the wolf no longer a threat.
But even here, in my house of stone, the fear lives. It doesn’t matter how strong the structure. Because the wolf has built her den inside of my head. And there she sits, holding steady, with her unyielding persistence and patience. Her contempt festers under my skin. Her pride courses through my veins. Her poison sits on the tip of my tongue. She has been everywhere I have been and will stay with me wherever I go. She is me.
She is my anger. She is my doubt. She is the rejection of love, of patience, of kindness, of understanding. She is cruel and unforgiving, resistant and defiant. Oppositional. In every thought, in every action and reaction, I feel her clawing through, trying to escape.
She is the thing I keep locked up tight in the dark for fear of what might happen if I let her loose. If I trust her to walk alongside me un-tethered. If I let the ones I love see her for what she truly is, what she could become.
It takes a concerted effort to keep her caged, to remain in control. My anger, when confined and restrained, causes extreme anxiety. The control it takes to suppress and stabilize my emotions, brings the onset of panic. My learned behavior says it’s rational to lash out. Choosing not to, feels like going against the grain – like metal grinding on metal.
During disagreements, it sometimes angers me to be kind, to be so understanding. In the heat of an argument, it angers me to be silent when I want to scream. To show mercy when I feel like none is deserved. To offer forgiveness when it might take me days, months, or years to forget what happened, to forget what you did or said to me. Sometimes, I don’t want to just let it go. I want you to feel my wrath. I want you to suffer.
I’ll smile on the outside. Open my arms in forgiveness. Hear my voice say softly, “It’s okay. I understand. I’m here. I know. I’m sorry.” But the tears that form in the corners of my eyes are not sadness. They are a mixture of fear and loathing. My toes curl inside my shoes, I grit my teeth, I ball my fists behind my back, digging my nails into the flesh of my inner hands until they bleed. I walk away so I can try to reign in my anger. If I can’t, I’ll hide away and take it out on myself instead. I can’t let you see what this does to me. To have you know, that deep down, I still feel that love makes me weak. And that my moments of patience and understanding make me feel like I’m living a lie.
The wolf is there. She is telling me that I am being submissive. Embarrassing. Pathetic. That being kind and understanding will eventually get my heart ripped from chest, my soul sucked out from within me. She is telling me to say something else.
Go ahead, she growls. Fuck your patience. Bury that fool-hearted kindness. Cast love aside. Scream. Scream at the top of your lungs. Show the depths of your fury. Tell them. TELL THEM – Go fuck yourself you piece of shit. Everything is not alright. No, I don’t understand. I honestly don’t give two fucks how you feel. All I really want to do is hurt you because right now, you’re hurting me. Instead of coming towards you with my tail tucked between my legs like a little bitch, I’d love to just rip straight through your throat and watch you bleed out on the floor at my feet. ASSHOLE.
She will break free. That’s what she tells me. And I’m terrified. Because when she does, she will not only hurt me, but everyone around me. The people that I love most. No matter how much time passes between my old life and the new, it is her nature to be angry and unforgiving. The wolf will choose to fight, to protect, to self-preserve, to stay wary and mistrusting – forever trapped in survival mode. She believes choosing love is weak, that happiness is a lie, showing patience is stupidity, and that being kind and forgiving when you’re met with cruelty is pathetic and sad. She will fight at the expense of everything I have built. She will run to protect me, even though I no longer have anything to run from. To her, the more that I love, the more that I trust, the happier I am, the weaker I become.
She is there. Waiting, just waiting, to blow my whole fucking house down.
And the day when I feel like I have finally outsmarted her for good, that’s when I’ll hear it. Her voice, whispering softly in my head:
“Little Pig, little pig, let me in…”
And I’ve got everything to lose if she finally wins.