The End of the Empire

I never thought it would come to this but perhaps I always did. It was the call from my dad today. He had just come from visiting with my mom in the convalescent home where she had been moved to just a day earlier. Her fractured pelvis had stopped bleeding and she was at least physically stable. Her mental state though has been tortured to say the least, haunted by the daemons of dementia slowly robbing her mind, her identity and her will to live.

The phone rang just after 5:30 this afternoon. It was my dad and he sounded to be distraught and agitated by the tone of voice in which he hurriedly spoke.

"What is it dad?", I asked. "How's mom doing in her rehab?"

"I'm not going back to see her tomorrow", he abruptly chattered back.

"Why?", I asked him incredulously.

"The social workers won't let her go home with me when she gets out - not without someone to watch over her in my house.", he tartly replied.

I had a feeling that this day might come. So many years of seeing how my dad could be... how he would lose his temper. Seeing the physical release of raw kinetic energy against my mom and witnessing her quivering body slumped in the corner as she silently held back the tears. And I, feeling helpless as a young child, hiding with my green blanket in the linen closet, peering out through the wooden slats and feeling helpless and unable to help. I had a feeling that this day would come.

I gathered my thoughts and played devil's advocate. "Perhaps they are concerned for her well being. You, yourself admitted that she tends to wander the house at night while you are asleep, and that this is when these accidents usually occur", I stated.

"No, she is just being careless. She needs to think what she is doing - she never pays attention.", he replied curtly.

It was like talking to the wall. It has always been like talking to the wall. At least the wall never remarked acidic rebuttals back when I spoke to it.

I had told the social workers while she was at the hospital that I was afraid my mother would eventually be released, only to return home and to have another accident while she was unsupervised. I told them that her care was getting to be too much for my father but that he would not accept any help from anyone else either. He was a martyr. He always was a martyr. The self appointed accolades that he did everything, gave everything and expected nothing were always met side by side with the cries of never having the help or support of anyone else - but an offer to help would be met with demeaning replies that he could do it and would do it all on his own without any help that he didn't need.

I had told the social workers what was going on - enough to let them begin to monitor the situation and to take note of the situation. I had wondered whether or not my words had fallen on deaf ears but realized with this phone call tonight, that this was in fact a reality happening behind the scenes...and only beginning to come forth now with my dad's phone call.

I didn't know what to say to him. He never listened, saw, empathized. The rules were his and his alone and so long as you played by those rules, he was happy and in his mind, his family was happy. There was nothing I could say.

So I repeated it again to him, "They are only worried about mom's living conditions at home, being on a second floor". I evaded the root of the issue as it would come out soon enough from any investigation that was ongoing behind the scenes.

"I'm not going in to see her tomorrow", he quipped. "She doesn't appreciate me there anyway. She told the nurse that I was about to lay a hand on her. That's not true - she's delusional".

I ended the call shortly after as I really could not keep my emotions contained. I told him to get some rest and to take a day off - that it would do him, and moreso my mom, a lot of good.

After that call, I felt dead inside. My mom was being lost to the daemons of dementia and my dad was losing his ability to reign in the frustration and anger of his inability to control the situation or himself. It was as if I were being thrust back in time to when the near nightly sessions of abusive language and of physical trauma were so common. There was nothing left at this point.

It was only three years earlier that I had learned through my spouse that my sister was not truly my sister. My mother had been in a relationship with another man before she had met my dad but was too ashamed to ever admit it to me. She confided in my spouse simply because it was easier than for her to face me with this buried truth that she had kept hidden away to fester and mold for so many years.

I had asked her bluntly one time, "Mom, why did you never admit to me that my own sister was the daughter of another father? Why???"

Her reply to me simply was that, "I was afraid you would not accept and love her if I told you the truth".

I knew that was a lie too. She had tried to cover up that failed marriage and hide it away. But secrets cannot be hidden forever and when they are, they grow hideously on their own into monstrous truths which come back at lightning speed one day to blast down the walls which held them back.

I learned that my own mother had been involved romantically with this other man and that she gave birth to my sister out of wedlock. He was an abusive man and my mother refused to marry him so she left the state and moved to live with her sister in Connecticut to hide away from him. It worked... and for over 45 years, my sister's father never did find my sister. Meanwhile my mother went back into the dating scene and met my father while my mother's sister watched over my own sister. She never told him that she had bore a daughter under a prior marriage - never told him that is until my father and her became engaged.

She layed it on him like a ton of bricks crashing down. He wondered how this could be that she could hide this from him for so long. My mother explained how her daughter was living with her sister and dictated to my father that if he really loved her, that this would not change his mind to marry her. She had set the trap and she had lured in her fish, yet the fish she landed turned out to be yet another shark.

When my father's mother heard of this development, she was outraged that my father would marry such a harlot and only accepted that she would allow the marriage if my mother would agree to keep my sister from the family, continuing to hide her away. her only thoughts were of what a disgrace it would be if the family were to catch on that her only son had married a woman who had given birth to a child out of wedlock. My grandmother was concerned only with her own image within the family and the community, not with my mom and certainly not with my sister who was crying daily wondering where her mother was and when she would return.

My mom and dad were married and lived in the apartment of the house next to where my grandmother lived. For three months they were married until one day my mom's sister called up and said to my mother, "You had better take your daughter home with you. She is crying here every day - crying for her mom - and wondering where her dad is". My mother and my mother's sister had both capitulated and agreed that they would tell my sister that her real father had died - never to be seen again. The web of lies and deceit were growing daily on both sides of the family.

My sister was collected from Connecticut and came to live with my father and mother. My sister hated my dad from the start. She saw his violent mood swings and, with the 13 year age difference between the two of us, saw much more of those early and troubled years than I ever did. My father's mother hated my mother for the harlot she was and denied my sister as the bastard child offspring of a harlot. My dad loved his mother too much to stand up to her to defend his own family and so would pace the floor in constant inner rage, having conversations with his id within.

And then I came along......

My sister seemed to end up being the scorned step child that no one loved. It seemed like I was the one they were always giving attention to and ignoring her. But deep within, I was struggling with my own identity issues and my own introversion and insecurities..... dealing with seeing the physical violence day in and day out, dealing with being picked on at school and laughed at and of being beat up, tied to flagpoles with hockey tape and finally, just being ignored after all the fun had run its course and I had been spent.

My sister left home shortly after graduating college. I never really knew her for she was always eager to get out of the hellhole of a house which I languished in.

So long as I didn't complain, so long as I did what I was told, so long as I tried to please my parents, the anger was never seen and the times of physical violence for myself were kept at bay. I so wanted to tell my parents about these feelings deep inside me from such an early age but I dared not sacrifice the little bit of harmony in the family which I seemed to have the recipe to control.

But it has all fallen apart today. My mother was but one anchor in a pillar of deceit and my father was the pillar which commanded life within the family as he saw it to controlled. The pillar of my mother has fallen and with it, any reason to continue this life long charade fell with it.

It was in that conversation with my dad that I had realized that my family was dead to me. Like whisps of images that never really were and never could be, what was left was a sallow shell of veneer around their crumbling lives. A lifetime spent building a webbed facade of lies and deceit were becoming the cancer which killed my family.

There are reasons today why I long for solitude, for the mountains and forests and lakes where no person sets foot. There are reasons why I have chosen to live in the woods, reasons embodied best by Thoreau who once said,

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

It is truly the only place where my soul can find the quiet and solitude which allows me to reign in my own sense of purpose in life and to push forward, hopefully to be able to leave one day, my own daemons which follow me, behind....


  1. Christen,
    I read this with tears and compassion.
    Although I have worked for years to allow the wounds to heal, your story runs hauntingly parallel to mine, about 30 years apart.
    I had a half sister on my father's side who I never really got to know before she passed. And then there's a half brother on my mother's side I've never known.
    It's a long story, but my father has been gone for over 30 years, and just last year I finally made peace with his memory.
    All I can say if you ever need a hug or sounding board, count me in!
    Love, Kimi

  2. Hi Christen,
    Wow what a story that explains so much.
    I hope that you and Joanne are doing OK.
    I miss you both very much
    I know the road has been tough.
    Hugs and Love,

  3. Hi, Christen, what a story. Your desire and ability to lay your life and self bare awe and inspire me. Your story is sad on so many levels, yet you are rising above it. Kudos.



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