In a matter of weeks after I moved out with my daughter into my own apartment a crisis unfolded in my cousin's household. I will refer to my female cousin as Lee and my male cousin as Darrin.
Darrin was the cousin living with my family when I ran away from home at age 17. He is about five years my junior. I think it is fair to label him sociopathic. (His father, a retired police officer, doesn't argue with this label.) No, my mother's efforts to reform my male cousin didn't work. At all. The older he became the less his parents were able to control his behaviors. Drugs, violence, theft, promiscuous sex, cruelty to animals; if it was bad he was doing it. He had been difficult even as a very young child; the difficulties only increased with age. I am sure that he was one of the reasons his parents marriage was strained. There were other reasons, but I'm sure this was not an insignificant factor.
The next part of this story is in my cousin Lee's own words. This is from the letter she wrote to my dad in the summer of '05. Names and places are changed to protect the guilty and the innocent:
These are the circumstances which landed Lee in my parent's home. As you can tell from what was said, her home was in turmoil. Her parent's marriage was in trouble. Her elder brother was running wild. Lee was having to raise herself because her mother was bored with parenting. Her brother was the favored child by her mother...the above event is just an example of how that was the case.
The next significant time that I spent with Aunt D was when I was fourteen years old. My mom dumped me in Aunt D's lap quite suddenly one day. Mom and Dad had decided that we needed to leave [the city they lived in] to escape from Darrin. Darrin's constant scrapes with the law, violence at home, drug use, and licentious behavior were making things very difficult for all of us at home and for Dad at work. I think the last straw was when a local drug dealer began making threats of violence against our whole family because Darrin owed him money. I desperately didn’t want to move away from the only friend I had bonded with since my family began moving around when I was nine. We did move though, and within months Darrin was living with us in [new city], anyway. In retrospect I can see that my parents’ marriage was already in trouble. My mom had already announced to me while we were still living in [previous city] that I was now "an adult" and she was "through raising me." I ran pretty much wild, as our household continued to revolve around Darrin and his needs, problems, and violent outbursts. I lived in an atmosphere of constant stress, turmoil, chaos, and violence. I broke out in skin rashes, had headaches, and lost my eyelashes as stress ate away at me physically and mentally. I couldn’t make real friendships and was very withdrawn. Dad was busy at work and still trying to straighten out his errant son, and my mom had begun "living her own life" by attending church and developing friendships there and volunteering at the library. I was as alone as could be.
Darrin continued to rule our home. One day as I was sitting at our kitchen table eating and Darrin was in the kitchen fixing himself something to eat, he suddenly, out of the blue, turned to me with a malicious, frightening grin on his face...in a scary, satanic voice he hissed, "I am the devil, and I am going to kill you!" My eyes opened wide and I laughed nervously and uncertainly..."Darrin?..." I said...all of a sudden his distorted face fell back into its natural expression and he laughed in his regular tone...the scary voice gone, he laughed, "Oh, just kiddin’ Lee!" He really scared me.One day, soon after that, my mother and I were having an argument...I don’t know what it was about...screaming, yelling, and anger were the rule in our home, not the exception, so who knows? It doesn’t matter…what does matter is what followed our angry exchange. I went into the bathroom, and Darrin followed me in...in an instant he had grabbed me by the throat, forced me down over a tall standing laundry hamper, and was choking me! I couldn’t scream or call for help or make any sound...the next thing I knew, my mother was practically climbing Darrin's back, peeling his hands off my throat, screaming for him to stop. Finally he let go of me. I was crying and shaken...my mom instructed me to pack my things; I was going to Aunt D’s house! I was astonished and confused...why was I being sent away? Darrin had just tried to murder me, and he was staying...I was being exiled without a word of explanation! I quickly threw a few belongings into a bag, and Mom drove me the four-hour drive to your home. I remember screaming at my mom in the car that I didn’t want to be sent away...she would not answer me or explain what I had done wrong. She never addressed the fact that my brother had just attempted to strangle me...she just stoically drove the four hours. When we reached your home, my mom told me to stay in the family room-kitchen area, and she went up to your bedroom to await Aunt D’s arrival. Apparently, she didn’t want to sit in the same room with me while we waited for Aunt D. I remember Aunt D’s surprise to find me in her kitchen when she arrived home. She went upstairs, and she and my mother had a long conference. My mom left immediately following the conference with very little said to me except, "Good-bye." It has only recently occurred to me that perhaps my mother didn’t ever tell Aunt D about Darrin's attempt to strangle me. She probably didn’t want to admit that a murder had almost occurred in her home and instead of punishing the guilty one, she was exiling the victim! Most likely, she presented me to Aunt D as in need of discipline. Even though I had been allowed to pretty much "raise myself" since my mother declared me "a grown-up", I doubt very much that she presented that picture truthfully to Aunt D. Anyway, I was left in your home by my negligent mother who couldn’t find it in her heart to protect me. I definitely felt like I had been "dumped" into your laps, and I was exceedingly embarrassed and self-conscious of that.
Now that my cousin is in the custody of my mother it is important to describe what Lee's attitude toward her was. I'll let her describe it...again from her letter to my father:
I tried not to be a burden in your home. I was a bad kid with a stunted character, so I don’t blame Aunt D for everything that went wrong. I got blamed sometimes for things I didn’t do and sometimes for having motives that I truly didn’t have, and, just as when I was younger, I accepted the blame without telling the true story. One day soon after I arrived, Aunt D told me that I would begin attending [a private Christian school] the next day. I started to cry, as I was just overwhelmed with one more change...Aunt D put her arms around me and quietly said, "I know, honey, you’ve had a lot to deal with all at once." That amazing moment has lived in my heart ever since! That was the first kind, loving touch or sentiment that I had been given in months and months...maybe years! I was starved for love and understanding! That moment seared a love and loyalty in my heart for Aunt D that made it possible for me to accept the false blame, the wrong understanding of my motives, her back-handed criticisms, and her exacting demands...they were over-ruled in my heart by my gratitude for her acceptance and love at that crucial moment when I let my guard down in front of her and cried.Side note: My mother consistently would offer comfort to my sister and I after we had broken down into tears. Most often those tears were the result of our mother pushing us emotionally until we broke down. This was an important part of her brain-washing technique. She instinctually knew to present herself as a "comforter" after we were sobbing. It creates a Stockholm syndrome response. Your tormentor and jailer is transformed into your solace and sustenance. It was very effective. My mother's animal instinct told her at this moment with my cousin that Lee was very vulnerable. My mother didn't have to beat her up to get her to the tears, but she saw those tears and used them to her advantage. The advantage my mother always angles for is that of a savior. She comes in on a white horse and saves you from whatever and you feel eternally grateful and assume the best of her motives even when things start going horribly wrong. This pattern has been repeated so often in my mother's relationships with me and others that I can assure you this was the dynamic in this little vignette my cousin shared above.
Many years after these events I listened for some time as my cousin described what it was like for her in my home during those months. She was foisted upon my sister by my mother. Everything my sister did, she was expected to include Lee. This was not something my sister seemed to appreciate. She took special delight in little torments of her cousin. Or she would take advantage of her for an audience as my sister preened and bragged about her conquests and exploits. Never mind the years of my behavior toward my sister where I didn't punish her for being forced upon me by our mother. My sister didn't choose to "do unto others as you would have them do to you." She was cruel, arrogant and used our cousin as a scapegoat. My sister could now steal things and blame our cousin for it. Lee is willing to admit to her deficits in character. Whatever her character failings at the time, she never once stole anything from my family. In fact, she made it a point to eat as little as she could and to minimize any financial burden her presence may incur.
Lee made it a point to make herself as small as possible. She would wash her clothes in the bathtub so as not to burden my mother with her laundry. (WHY didn't my mother inquire about my cousin's laundry? Good question. My mother really didn't give a crap about Lee. She was an inconvenience.) Lee only had a few items of clothing, so frequent laundering was necessary. When my mother finally took her out to buy some clothing, my mother bought frilly and silly girly stuff that wasn't at all what Lee was used to wearing. She wore them without complaint. Lee would tuck herself away in a dark corner of the furthest room in the house for hours at a time trying to stay out of everyone's way and notice. Her existence in my family's home was lonely and scary.
I could regale with with many little details of the torments my sister and mother put my young cousin through, but I prefer to cut to the chase. I will let my cousin tell one more story in her own words so you can get just a bit more of a feel of life for her at my parent's house. Again, I'm quoting from her letter to my father:
One day, after washing your [delivery] truck, Aunt D came outside to find me to chastise me for some wrong thing I had done. I don’t remember my crime or whether or not I was truly guilty this time. Let’s assume I was. Aunt D stood before me and chastised me...I don’t remember why she was angry, but she was. She grabbed both of my arms and continued to scold me. I wrenched myself free of her grasp and walked away from her. I was only about ninety pounds at the time and not prone to violence. I didn’t want to fight with her or hurt her, but my home life had taught me that when things get physical, the best thing to do is to get away! That’s what I did...I got away. I walked away into the house. Later that evening, I was summoned in to the family room. You and Aunt D were waiting for me. Aunt D sat quietly in a chair off to the side, and you did all the talking. You said Aunt D had told you what had happened between us earlier that day...you said I was never, ever to touch your wife again and that if I ever did, you would kill me! Looking back, I have to assume that you were not actually serious about killing me...however, I took you at your word, Uncle R. Your threat was one of the main motivations in my plan my escape. Wouldn’t you have quickly found a way to "get out of Dodge"? After all, it was clear to me that you had been made to believe that I had acted out violently towards Aunt D. What was to stop the next story told about me from being worse? What would stop you then from keeping your word and killing me? .... I have to wonder if thinking that I had tried to hurt your wife didn’t make it easier to think other bad things about me later after I left your home. I ran away from your home and didn’t look back because I received unfair, unjust treatment there. I was grateful to Aunt D for every kind thing she did for me...I wanted to be bonded to her and to believe that she meant well... but when I realized that again Aunt D’s "truth" was far from reality and that you were willing to defend her to the death, I knew I wasn’t safe there.Lee's serious plans for running away were shortly set in motion. She had two friends she was able to maintain contact with through letters. One of them lived in southern Cal. These are the only two human beings on the earth who had any idea of what she was enduring in my parent's home. They took pity on her and helped her make plans for her escape. She was sent money for taxi and bus fare.
So a second young girl makes a get away from my parent's house of torments. Unfortunately for Lee, her plan didn't work as well as mine. She had the major disadvantage that her father worked for the State police. This means that State authorities were able to stop the Greyhound bus southbound on the Interstate to force my cousin to get off the bus.
My sister's role in the next scene was primary. Stay tuned.