When you are faced with unspeakable pain and suffering, it has been my experience to just lean into it until you are at the point it no longer holds any influence over you. There will be suffering and there will be vulnerability, but then there is healing, and there is recovery.
I know our entries have been raw, but they are real. It would be irresponsible of us to not be honest – this is the whole point of this mental health initiative. In order for you to understand how we got to where we are today, we must open the door to the darkness and despair.
In our timeline, I am now 18, had spent the summer with family in Victoria B.C. and I was on a plane headed to Ontario. The plan was to live with Dad in Toronto, Ontario, and do a final year of high school. I had graduated from high school in Arizona, however I was two credits shy from being able to apply to college. I had decided I would take the year, get some additional credits, work, and just figure out my life.
My Aunt Tara, my mother’s youngest sister, who has been more like an older sister to me, picked me up at the airport. I was so happy to see her! It was an emotional reunion and I felt like I was finally able to breath for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I spent the weekend with her and then it was time to take me to my Dad’s in Toronto so I could get settled in and register for school. I was nervous; my Dad and I had an estranged relationship and it, of course, had been almost two years since we had seen each other.
We arrived at my Dad’s place and well let’s just say I was not used to big cities and I am sure I looked bewildered. I remember seeing what I would describe at the time as some ‘shady people’. It was a very large apartment building close to the north end of Jane Street in Toronto. My Aunt Tara didn’t like the feel of the place and she was worried about my safety knowing that Dad worked long hours as an Iron Worker and I would be walking back and forth from school and my job on my own. The next day she called and offered for me to come live with her and her then husband in Hamilton, Ontario. Dad and I talked about, and he agreed it was probably best. I am sure he was scared shitless of all of the sudden, having an eighteen-year daughter to be responsible for.
Therefore, off I went to live with my Aunt Tara. Very shortly after I moved in and was settled, I can remember vividly the following conversation. The phone rings and it is my Mother. We have barely spoken since I left Arizona four months ago after she kicked me out of the house. I was full of anger and hatred, confused and conflicted. No ‘Hello Kate, how are you?’ Just a blunt, “So you’re working your way through MY family, thought you were going to stay with your father.” I could tell by her voice she had been drinking, checked the clock in my room and yup it was that time. I told her I was an adult now and did not have to listen to her, she laughed in a way that made my skin crawl. I hung up and was visibly upset. My Aunt asked if I was ok, and I gave the robotic “I"m ok, thank you”. The words in my head kept circling and repeating; You don’t talk about it, you don’t tell. End of story. I know now that was the point of my Mother’s call, to ensure I didn’t speak of the horrors that occurred in our lives. But I understood that she was now panicking, as I was no longer under her control. She was beginning to unravel.
I continued to keep silent, put my head down and got a job, went to school, and made some friends. I missed my sisters and worried about them all the time. Shortly after Thanksgiving after having been in Hamilton for about two and half months I got a letter in the mail from my youngest sister. I would later find out that they had tried to send several letters, but they wouldn’t get sent. Now back in Missouri, they were living out of town, with no means of their own to get to a store to buy a stamp and mail something without Mom being involved. The city living and freedom we had all experienced in Lake Havasu, Arizona was gone for them. I excitedly opened the letter in anticipation of contact with my sisters, but very quickly excitement turned to pure panic. Teresa began to detail an incident that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, and alongside her words, she had circled where her tears stained the page as she wrote the letter. “My tears”, she wrote beside each circle.
Over the American Thanksgiving weekend, my sisters, Mom, and her husband travelled to his family for the holiday. There was a lot of drinking and arguing among mom and her husband. Teresa was ten years old and what she heard in those fights was the threats of violence towards my Mother and sisters. My Mother’s husband threatened to kill them all. This felt very real, as we all knew he had guns in the home and had the means to do it.
“We have to do something,” I said to my Aunt Tara, as I showed her Teresa’s letter.
It was time to break the silence, my sisters were not safe. But we had to be careful not to get Teresa in trouble.
“Mom cannot ever know she sent me this letter”, I said.
I described the last two years of our lives living in the US and assured her that this threat was real. My Aunt sat there shocked, and then she immediately enlisted the support of my other Aunts.
One month later my Mom and sisters came to Ontario for Christmas (a gift from my aunts to their sister and nieces). I was so happy to see them, and I had to hide my disdain for my Mother at the time so that she would have no clue what my Aunts were up to. I knew my Aunts had a plan, but they told me it would take time, and they didn’t want to scare Mom off. I completely understood.
Jennifer and Teresa were just so happy to be back in Canada again. They hadn’t experienced a family holiday at our Grandmothers in almost three years. They were each pulled aside when the time was right and asked many questions about what life was like for them, how things were with Mom when they were back in Missouri, how much drinking they were seeing, or if they felt safe. It felt odd to discuss these things openly as it had always been drilled into our heads never to say a word about what was going on at home. But they all shared their thoughts and experiences, as they knew the situation was dire.
With the holiday behind us and school starting up again soon, my sisters and my Mom piled back in the rental vehicle for the long drive back to Missouri. It would be a very quiet ride for them. Mom knew they had said things to her sisters and she was pissed. She gave them the silent treatment for the entire seventeen-hour drive, smoking pot as she drove through each state.
My heart shattered into pieces again, and I sobbed openly in front of my Aunts. They made me a promise that we would get them back. All I could do now was hope and wait.