You know the saying that we see in books and movies, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This statement truly describes my year in Arizona. My mother’s boyfriend got a full-time job in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It was right out of the ‘Sweet Valley High’ novels I was reading at the time. It definitely had a California feel - palm trees, sun, beaches, and cute boys.
It was exciting to be seventeen years old in this hot and sunny state. For the first time I actually was feeling hopeful. Maybe this move will fix everything, make everything great. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. As my sister Jennifer described in her latest journal entry, it started on a bumpy ride and she and I had to travel back to Missouri to finish my grade 11 year and her grade 7 year.
Mom had married her boyfriend in a quick Vegas ceremony as soon as her divorce came through with Dad. It was going to take some time for our ‘Legal Alien’ status to be approved, but we finally got into the school system in October. I quickly joined the sports teams as I had always done at my three high schools previously. This was a way to make fast friends and here was no different. I also got a job at a local restaurant that many of my teammates worked at. Weekends were now super fun - we would work, go to parties, and play in sports tournaments. Sports are a much bigger deal in the US, so on team buses, both the girls and guys teams traveled together. I felt like I was dreaming – but I could never truly enjoy it. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and did it ever with a huge BANG!!
We had more money now, and it showed. We lived in a half decent place, and Mom and her now husband lived the good life. They were both drinking heavily and doing hard drugs, and I would find stashes of both all over the house. Even though I continually disposed of them, more would always surface. They met a couple who they partied with every weekend, and boy… did they party hard! That couple had money as well, and a big cigarette boat. It was large, loud, fast, and dangerous. Mom came home many times with severe burns on her thighs, her arms – wherever her skin had touched when she drunkenly fell into the open, hot exposed engine. Every weekend, the two of them would stumble into the house, high and drunk, and start verbally and physically assaulting each other. They would lock each other out of the house, yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs. It was a like a battle zone in our home on the weekends and it just kept getting worse. Again, we were all alone, no family close by, no one to help us.
One night in particular, I stepped in to pull them apart. I honestly thought they were going to kill each other. My sisters lay in their beds terrified. My mother’s husband was right in my face, yelling at me and threatening me with his fist cocked ready to hit me. And my mother did nothing. She actually told me to stop, that I was in the wrong.
“Everything’s fine,” she told me, slurring her words and trying to find her balance.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”, I yelled. “This man is pounding on you and now threatening me, and you are defending HIM.”
My blood boiled with anger, and my heart pounded so hard it felt like it was in my throat. As I looked him right in the eyes, I said “If you fucking touch me, I am calling the cops”, and before he could respond I kneed him right in the balls. As he dropped to the floor, I could hear my mother screaming as she ran to him. One of my sisters ran into the room looking at me with eyes wide. I ushered her back to bed telling her that everything was going to be okay as I tucked her back in.
Things settled down a little bit after that, but it was not a healthy place to live in. Mom and I were barely speaking, and I definitely was not speaking to her husband. My Mom always made life very difficult for us when she was on the outs with someone, and when it was one of us, things were even more difficult. And right now, Mom hated me. I was the one she wanted my sisters to also hate and they were torn, we everyone walked on eggshells, trying to live under one roof together. I was now eighteen and ready to graduate soon, so Mom made it very clear that once I graduated, I was no longer welcome. I had to leave. It was either me or him, so once again, my mother was choosing a man over the well-being of her daughters.
I had some big decisions to make. I played around with some options – getting an apartment close by or going away to school. In the end I decided to leave - leave Arizona, leave the US, and heartbreakingly, leave the girls with Mom. To this day, this decision triggers emotions in me and I’m left sobbing. I. was leaving my sisters. Leaving Jenn to take on the burden of being the oldest, the protector. Leaving them with Mom in this extremely unhealthy and unsafe environment.
How could I do this? What kind of person was I to do this? How could I live with myself?
Nevertheless, I had to go. I wasn’t welcome here anymore. As I hugged my sisters tight, I told them how much I loved them, and waved goodbye at the LA airport. Silently, I had a plan. I was headed back to Canada – back to Ontario. Our Dad and our Aunts lived in Ontario and I was going to tell them everything.
I knew once I did, I would get my sisters back. Back to Ontario. Back to family. And back to safety.