Thursday, June 20, 2013

I would give anything to be a family again

I was fifteen when my life started.
I was a normal teenager. My mom let me watch TV when I wasn't playing outside or at the library or doing volunteer work. I didn't meet many new people. Meeting him just kind of...happened. Sometimes I'd go into chat rooms but I never stayed long, it was just a brief moment of experiencing a world of people I could talk to and be anyone I wanted to be.
I decided to be myself. I told people the truth: I was 15, female, but never told them where I lived.
I met Chris in a Los Angeles chat room. I don't even remember why I was there. We started talking and he seemed really nice and funny, so I gave him my e-mail. He told me he was 20. It didn't seem like a big deal to me. Eventually, I gave him my phone number. Then we started writing letters. He wrote me a letter almost every day, telling me all about his life. He seemed so normal, and so interested in me. He asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes. Then one day he said he wanted to meet me, and I agreed.
We agreed to meet in August. He flew to see me and got a hotel room. I told my mom I was spending the night with friends. He spoiled me - he bought me new clothes and jewelry, whatever I wanted. We went out to dinner and took cabs everywhere, which was a luxury to me, someone who was used to taking the bus.
One night we got back to his hotel room and he pulled out a digital camera and asked me to model some lingerie he had bought me. I was uncomfortable but after all the nice things he had done for me I didn't want to insult him and say no. He promised they would never end up online, so I started modeling. He took many provocative pictures of me, until I started to get uncomfortable and asked him to stop. He did, and I took a shower. When I came out of the shower he started taking pictures of me toweling off. Eventually the inevitable happened - we slept together that night, and why not? I was fifteen, and my fifteen-year-old brain believed I loved him.
He had been in town for four days at this point, and was going to leave soon, so we decided it was time to meet my mother, but knew she would never approve of me dating a 20-year-old man, so we told her he was 18. She was surprised at first but gave us her blessing. Later that night, after my mom had gone to bed, Chris started crying because he had to leave the next day. He told me he loved me for the first time. His leaving was so hard, I thought I would never experience anything more painful. I was so wrong.
To my surprise, he was back at my door two days later. He told me he couldn't live without me anymore, and wanted to move in together. I thought, "Wow, this must be love!" It took some effort but we convinced my mom to let him live with us. He helped with the bills and paid rent until he got his own apartment. I started staying with him, sometimes for weeks at a time. He even got me my first cell phone. I got on birth control because I didn’t want to get pregnant yet. He had a job, and I was essentially living with him. Everything seemed perfect.
One day my mother called me to meet with her. She asked me to meet her at the same hotel Chris had stayed at on his first visit. She had me meet her in one of the suites. It was there I met, to my surprise, Chris’ mom. He had neglected to tell her where he was moving. Why should he? He was an adult, my teenage mind told myself. Both our mothers were angry and worried. My mother discovered we had lied about his age. His mother hadn’t even known I existed. My mother insisted I come home at that point.
My mother had been somewhat absent prior to this, but she became more proactive at this point. She got me into counseling through my school. Of course, I never admitted we had had sex, I didn’t want him to get in trouble. It would still be illegal until I turned 16.
Then a few months later I finally turned 16! We were so happy. He asked me to marry him. I said yes. We went to the courthouse to get the permission forms for my mother to sign. She didn’t put up a fight, she just signed. I later realized that she did that knowing that the courthouse would deny our request for marriage, which they did.
Life went on, Chris and I continued dating, I kept going to school and even got my first job. I didn’t really notice at first that he was calling me more and more often when we weren’t together.  When I didn’t answer my phone he would call me several times until I did. I thought this was normal. I thought it was normal to spend every minute together. I didn’t have a social life outside of him; he told me I was his life, and he was mine. I thought that was love.
During this time my mom married a man who led her down a bad path. She fell into alcoholism. I started staying with Chris again to avoid it. At one point I tried to tell my school about this problem, but they told me that as long as I had food and clothing I didn’t have anything to complain about, so I didn’t bring it up again.
When my mom’s new husband started getting abusive towards her, Chris wouldn’t let me go home anymore. Finally my mom and her husband came to their senses, they started going to counseling and went into AA and eventually my mom was her normal self again. But Chris still wouldn’t let me go home. My mom started getting worried – she noticed he had been getting clingy and obsessive, never letting me out of his sight. She expressed her concerns to me and I realized she was right. I talked to Chris about it, thinking that he simply didn’t realize it and it wouldn’t be an issue. I was wrong, he got angry. He forbade me to go back home, told me I had to live with him, that if I went home that he would consider it the end of our relationship and he would die without me. I still told him I wanted to go home.
Our relationship ended that night. I packed my things. He tried to stop me from leaving, physically. He blocked the door. This was the first time I had been scared for my life. I tried calling my mom but he knocked the phone from my hands. I grabbed my bags and tried to make a run for the door and he pushed me down the stairs. I started crying and tried to run, he caught up with me, and started begging me to forgive him, he was sorry and he would make it right. But I was done. I wanted to go home. I told him I didn’t want to break up with him but that I didn’t want to live with him anymore. He ran into the street and laid down, told me he would kill himself if I left. I begged him to get up and we went back to the apartment together. That night, I waited until he was asleep, I left my things there and I went home. I told my mom everything that happened. Her husband called the police and we filed a police report against him. I felt safe finally. I had been so heavily manipulated over the past year and I finally felt free.
He left the state, and my life started getting back to normal. My mother blamed herself for what happened, saying she should have been a better mother. We talked through it and decided to simply move on with our lives. We started bonding again for the first time in a long time.
Legal issues started after that – Chris had put the provocative pictures of me online, which was technically child pornography since I was only 15 when they were taken. I was interrogated by the police many times about the situation. I didn’t cooperate because a part of me still loved Chris. I didn’t want him to go to jail. I missed Chris, I missed the happy times. The stress had my stomach in knots. I was throwing up every day.
Soon after I realized it wasn’t just stress. I was pregnant. I didn’t know what to feel. I called my mother and told her. She was angry, and told me not to come home. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t have any friends. It was only by pure luck that a coworker found me crying at the bus stop, and after hearing the situation, told me I could stay with her. Her and her mother helped me get into housing for pregnant teens.
I told Chris about it, and he didn’t say much but he started sending me some money, and occasionally flowers. Eventually we reconciled and started dating again. We planned to reunite when our son was born. Eventually my mother calmed down, she had left her abusive husband, and she was with me through the rest of the pregnancy.
I gave birth in June of 2006 to the most beautiful little boy I have ever seen. I moved back in with my mom. Once Connor was born, everything seemed okay again. He was perfect. Life was perfect with him. We went on walks, I read stories to him, we took naps together. We were both so happy.
School started again a few months later. My mom would watch Connor while I was at school, and I was doing well. I hadn’t heard from Chris in a while – it didn’t matter. Connor was the only man in my life that mattered anymore.
He was five months old when it all ended.
I was feeding Connor one day before school. Something made me not want to go that day. I almost started crying, I didn’t want to leave him, even just for school. Something was wrong, I could feel it. But my mom insisted I go to school, so I did. I called my mom throughout the day, no answer. I called Chris, no answer. I called Chris’ mom. No answer. Something was wrong.
I was called into the principal’s office that day and served with papers I didn’t understand. They told me that Barbara, Chris’ mother, had been telling the courts that I was endangering Connor’s life by letting him stay with my mom. She had helped Chris file for emergency custody without ever saying a word to me about it. My heart sank. I asked if I could see Connor, they said he was already gone.  I was devastated. What did I do wrong? I had planned to be with Chris, we could have raised Connor together. I went home and collapsed into my mother’s arms. I cried for days. Barbara called me a few times to tell me I was an unfit mother. Social services had already examined us and determined I was fine and Connor was safe and happy, Barbara had no basis for this accusation.
Barbara told me I could come live with them if I wanted to be a part of his life. I took her up on her offer and left everything I ever knew behind, so I could be near my son. She made it clear I wasn’t allowed to be his “mother” though. She wouldn’t let me watch him or change his diaper or feed him or even buy him clothes. I got a job shortly after I moved there, and I moved in with Chris, to make him happy – it was the only chance I had to be a mother to my son, I had no other choice. Chris technically had custody but Connor was living with Barbara. Soon after I married Chris, the one who had manipulated me, who had pushed me down the stairs, who had ripped my son away from me. It was the only way.
Marrying Chris gave me custody of Connor again, but Barbara and Chris took me to their lawyer’s office shortly after getting married, and explained that she wanted full custody of Connor. She said this was only going to be temporary, until we get settled and have steady income, and once we did we would get him back with no hassle. I was so happy, I would finally have my son back. She had me sign papers for temporary custody so that they could get Connor medical insurance, I signed. I asked if we could just take him home for a little while, she said absolutely not, and then looked into my eyes and promised me that this was only temporary, that we were almost ready to have him back again. I believed her.
I took a second job so that we could get a bigger place. Barbara let me be more involved in Connor’s life, but we were never allowed to take him home. I thought we were doing well, we were financially stable, we weren’t relying on welfare or any other sort of government assistance, we weren’t living paycheck to paycheck anymore. She came over one day to look at the apartment, agreed it was a good environment and we were stable. But then she said I had been ungrateful for what she had done for him, and that it was a slap in the face that I wanted him back, and that I didn’t appreciate that she done me a “favor” by saving him from me.]
I began to realize Barbara never intended to let Connor go. Chris and I started fighting a lot. He admitted he didn’t want to be a father and that he would rather have Connor stay with Barbara. He started getting violent again. I stayed with him because it was the only way I could be near my son. Chris got jealous I was making more money than him, sometimes he wouldn’t let me go to work. He would take my shoes, keys, phone, purse, and bike to work with him so I wouldn’t have any way to contact anyone or go anywhere. I walked to work anyway, barefoot, and explained what happened. My manager got me a new uniform and shoes and I was able to keep working. I lost my other job. I tolerated Chris’ verbal and physical abuse, for the sake of my son.
One day I checked the mail, and saw a copy of the papers I had signed so Barbara could get Connor medical insurance. I had been so eager to do anything Barbara asked me to do that I didn’t realized I had signed permanent custody papers, not temporary custody papers.
Broken hearted, I talked to Chris. He had known the whole time, and told me if I didn’t like it, I could leave, so I did. I called the police and was taken to a battered women’s shelter. The low-income housing wait list was a year long. I tried contacting lawyers but no one would help me, I needed my own place and adequate income before they’d even consider my case. I was able to get my second job back, but still didn’t have enough to get my own place. I saw no way out. I couldn’t stay at the shelter forever and I couldn’t get a place to live. Barbara made a point to contact me to tell me I couldn’t see Connor anymore, and that if I tried to fight for him I wouldn’t win. I had nowhere else to go, and ended up moving back to Minnesota. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I tried to keep in contact with Barbara but she had blocked my number. I tried e-mailing and texting but got no answer. I got a job, got an apartment, got a new phone and tried calling them again – they had changed their phone number. I paid for services to try to find their new number, to no avail. I tried contacting lawyers again but they told me that since Connor and Barbara lived in Louisiana I’d have to seek legal help there. I called legal aid in Louisiana and they told me that I couldn’t get help without being a resident of Louisiana. I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do. I tortured myself, trying to figure out what I had done wrong, where I could have been better, how I could have tried harder.
I became pregnant with my daughter in 2008. Barbara contacted me again, gave me a phone number to call and I was allowed to talk to him very briefly. He had been diagnosed with autism. She said some very cruel things about me and about my daughter, reminded me that I would never have a chance at getting Connor back, and hung up.
I tried calling them when Lilly was born. I sent them pictures. They had changed their number and the pictures were sent back to me, just like every letter I had ever sent Connor. When Lilly was six months old they contacted me again and allowed me to fly there to visit. It was very brief. He kept asking me to come home with them. He said he wanted to help his baby sister. Barbara was furious at this and didn’t let me see him any more during my stay there. During the three days I was there, I saw him for about two hours total. At least I had that.
I returned home and a few months later I received court documents stating that he would be legally adopted by them soon and that they didn’t need my signature since I had lost my parental rights. There was an option to sign and appeal the adoption, but I would have to fly back out to show up in court, and I didn’t have the money to do it. I was numb. I cried for days. I felt like he was gone forever. I became depressed. I held Lilly as much as I could, as if someone might try to rip her away from me too.
Chris called me to brag about how he had happily signed for his parents to adopt Connor, and would still be able to see him whenever he wanted.
This was in 2009. To this day in 2013 I have only been able to talk to Connor three or four times a year. Barbara has become extremely controlling, insisting that I tell Connor that I am grateful that she took him, that I was a bad mother, that he’s better with her. Things I don’t believe, that I know aren’t true. I won’t say them.
I have done everything I know how to do, and I want nothing more in life than to have my son back, to be a happy family with my two children, together. I would give anything to be a family again.


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