I’ve been thinking hard about ways that I could make this story funnier somehow. If only I wasn’t writing it in stark-raving terror that my father might show up at my door any minute and shoot me, I probably could figure out a way to make it funnier.And as if the terror weren’t an obstacle enough, I’ve got to admit that it is hard to make a story really funny when the best spin you can come up with is that grandma had syphillis.

Now that I’m really blogging, (instead of whatever it was that I was doing before I was really blogging), I’ve been spending time reading the big bloggers. The other day I was reading Seth Godin and he suggests here that there are four things that stand in our way (I presume he means “of success”):

You don’t know what to do

You don’t know how to do it

You don’t have the authority or the resources to do it

You’re afraid

Once you figure out what’s getting in the way, it’s far easier to find the answer (or decide to work on a different problem).

Stuck is a state of mind, and it’s curable.

 

Okay, so I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. I’m call-my-doctor-and-get-meds-for-anxiety afraid. That’s how really afraid of my father I am. I’m so afraid that when I saw that someone reading my blog lives in the state where my father lives, I went and threw up. And then I immediately went back and photoshopped the picture of my dad holding me when I was a baby so you can’t tell who he is. Now he looks like a little bit like Sonny Bono. That’s sort of funny. Thankfully for me, I know that my dad hates both Sonny Bono and traveling. So don’t worry. I’m sure I don’t have any real reason to be afraid. Well, not much of a reason. I’m pretty sure I’m safe.  It’s just you and me and the internet, right?

Another fear I have is that if I keep telling this story pretty soon somebody is going to suggest I go get some therapy. Please, God, don’t anybody tell me to go to therapy. I’ve had therapy. I’ve had A LOT of therapy. Good therapy that helped. And yet here I am afraid. Still.

After years and years of therapy with my main therapist, and then several months seeing this other therapist, I built up enough courage to write my dad a letter. In return, he mailed me back all the pictures of his grandchildren I’d ever sent him. And a few months after that he sent me The Box of Pain.

The Box of Pain is the nickname my husband and I gave this box of personal effects my father FedEx’d me right before he went to prison for holing up in an attic and holding off the S.W.A.T. team for several hours.  (Now you think I’m making this all up, don’t you?  I’m not.)

I don’t have The Box of Pain anymore because my sister wanted it, so I gave it to her.  Among other things, The Box of Pain contained a large, white, three-ring binder of memoirs my father had typed out, neatly, double-spaced, each page encased in plastic. I read it up to the part where he outright blames me for finally ruining his life when I was 16.

The only thing I kept are the hand-written letters my father’s father sent to my father’s mother as he was dying of tuberculosis in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium

This creepy place was sort of like a TB Patient Roach Motel. My grandfather checked in, but he never checked out. See? Not funny. I shouldn’t even try. TB isn’t funny. Some things just aren’t funny no matter how you spin them. He was 24 when he died.

I do have a picture of my grandfather as a child riding a tricycle. It is the only picture I have of him. A much larger version hung on our wall when I was growing up, but when I went back to Tennessee when my mom first got sick, all I found was the broken oval frame on the floor, the picture ripped out and nowhere to be found.

Here is one letter written in May of 1942. My father was 18 months old at the time.

As you read these letters, the first thing that should strike you is that my inability to punctuate correctly is genetic, and therefore not my fault.

The next thing is obviously how very sad they are. In case you can’t read them very well, the gist of the letters is this: My grandfather desperately needed a new pair of pajamas. It comes up in this letter and in every other one he wrote. It seems like he might have had only one pair to wear every day. He begs my grandmother over and over again to bring him new pajamas. Then he says something about her being with “some fellow” and he warns her to “Be wise and stay wise” and to mind her own affairs.

They really are sad letters, especially since my grandmother did not heed his advice. She took up with a man who had some sort of criminal record and had her third child out-of-wedlock with him. Her own sister reported her to DHS who stepped in and took her children away and put them in foster care. My father was given to a cruel couple who chained him up outside and fed him like a dog until he was six years old at which time my grandmother regained custody.

For my grandmother’s part, let us not be too harsh with her.  She had been forced into her first marriage by her own mother when she was 13 years old to a 27 year-old man who threw her out of the back of a truck on their wedding day. A year and my Aunt Christine later, her family had to concede that the marriage was a mistake and helped her divorce him. My grandfather was her second husband; she was 17 when they married.

As I write this story, and read Book Three of A Song of Ice and Fire, I am struck with just how complex and messy life is. We want to reduce everybody into some “good” or “evil” category where everything feels safe and predictable for us. From there we can make our judgments, discerning good from evil.  But people are rarely all good, or all evil.

My father did bad things, but very bad things happened to him. My mother was neglectful, but she was abandoned and left uncared for herself. How could either of them give me something they didn’t even know existed?

Mormonism brought me into contact with “normal” people and gave me a vision for how life could look.  Mormonism pointed to the way my life could be if only:

I was good enough

If I could only be good enough then I could win God’s love, attain eternal life, and break this chain of crazy. Sounds easy, right?

The children’s song from yesterday says that Jesus just wanted me for a sunbeam. And, Dammit, if that isn’t exactly what I really wanted to be.

But if Jesus just wanted me for a sunbeam, couldn’t he have made it ANY easier at all?  I’m left to wonder if Jesus maybe did not want ME for a sunbeam.

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Chloe July 1, 2011 at 4:18 am

I hate that blogger doesn't have an individual reply option.

Thanks everyone for your continued support and comments and love and care.

I know my family isn't unique. A lot of families have messes, some bigger and messier than mine. Jesus said that truth would set us free. So many years I walked in shame over things that I had no control over and I come to preach the good news to myself that my captive heart can be free.

Anyway, thanks again for reading and caring. It means the world to me.

love, chloe

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Julia (Jmmom) June 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I had Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam all day yesterday. :-p

Life is messy and it's complicated. I get so incredibly frustrated with simple answers for complicated questions.

I am so impressed with the way that you are opening your heart and your soul and helping others realize that their lives can be messy and that God can still love them…even if they don't always reflect Him at home at school and at play.

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The Hayes Zoo June 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Chloe – I just don't know what to say. You are amazing for being able to put all this into words and it just goes to show that you are working to break a cycle.

Prayers for your protection, in whatever form you need, as you blog through this 'Box of Pain'.

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Robin June 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I have nothing worth saying. Just, "What they said".

Our pasts are what they are. YOU have made your life something entirely different because YOU are no poor helpless victim of your circumstances. You stood against the garbage and have overcome it.

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Susan in the Boonies June 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I'm so sorry for all the garbage and pain that has passed through your life, and the life of your parents and grandparents!

Sometimes I am ever so grateful for the garbage in my own family that I do not know. What I do know of is more than sufficient.

I'm sure there's plenty more where that came from, because, in general, as you and I both know, people are no darn good.

But I do believe, as I was reading in the gospel of Luke, Chapter 3, this very morning, that the thing that separated Jesus from John the Baptist and his baptism, was that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

I know, I know, then why are Christians still so messed up, right? Why am I so messed up? I can only testify to Spirit's influence for good in my own life, and in the lives of other Christians, and say, "Imagine how much worse we might have been, but for the influence of His Spirit". Because I do believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers.

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The Reader June 30, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Chloe, I am in awe of your honesty and openness with such painful stuff. You seriously rock. I pray that someone, somewhere who really needs to learn and believe the things that you have come to learn and believe will read this and see that there is life beyond our beginnings. That our histories, our beginnings, our forefathers do not have to be the thing in life that determines our futures.

My past is also soap opera-ish, and I'm thankful every day that somehow, someway, I'm not letting it define me. That God loved me, human being and all, is just wow. I'm starting to ramble, but thank you for sharing such truths — that God can redeem even utter shit of a past — for those who might need to read it. ((hugs)) to you as you keep writing.

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dawne June 30, 2011 at 6:25 am

I am now caught up on your blogs! And I must say, your's truly is the first I find to be quite intriguing, well written, and speaking to my heart.
I can't help but think that although we all have had much junk from the past that sticks to us and causes much anxiety and distress, is it not amazing how God can bring redemption and a break in the cycle, especially in our daughters, who are truly loved by their dads and know not of the abuse or insanity that can rage in a family?!
Thank you for being so open and raw with your followers on your blog.

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Chloe June 30, 2011 at 5:48 am

Wine sounds good, my friend. Wine sounds very good.

My mother was so haunted by her fears of going insane and that's why I guess syphilis was the better option.

I am sorry that happened to your family as well. I'm hoping that Jesus wants me for a human being and not for a sunbeam, because just can't be a sunbeam for him. I did learn that he loves me but it wasn't an easy lesson. And I'm still learning it.

Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate you coming by and sharing your thoughts.

Chloe

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Birthblessed June 30, 2011 at 5:42 am

There is trouble with the "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" thing. It's actually referenced in the book "Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse." It's about being told you have to earn love. This is sort of what I was getting at today on my blog- we send our kids these messages that they have to earn love and value. But the Gospel is that Jesus loves and values you. Period. It's a gift. No strings attached. Really.

We can't let go of our past, because they are people that we wish had been better, had been loved better, had had a chance. It sucks to find out that your family tree is littered with people who died of syphilis in an asylum and uncles and grandfathers who were abused or neglected in foster care. Seems like statistically two people would never meet on a homeschool chat room who both share that history, huh?

My daily meditation: Just because insanity runs in the family does not mean I have to go insane.

That may be a quote from Mortimer Brewster, I'm not sure.

Wine, dear? It's not the special wine.

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