My Abortion Story

April 1988. I am 19, taking tetracycline — again — because my boyfriend brought home Chlamydia , again. Scott and I’ve been living together almost a year, and I’m days away from passing my physical to join the U.S. Navy. I’ve already aced the ASVAB and am months away from escaping my hometown — forever. But, that morning, minutes after I swallow my little yellow antibiotic, it comes right back up with bile into the sink—like a splat of mustard.

Scott and I started dating weeks before my 21-year-old brother Tony died in a motorcycle accident. Tony was my everything. Best friend, hero, soul mate, you know the clichés. But mostly, he was my witness to the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse we’d hidden from the world throughout our childhood. And when they lowered his coffin into the soil on that rainy day in May of ‘1987, I watched in agony as my brother, and everything I knew about the past, was swallowed by the earth.

Right around the time I started dating Scott.

Scott moves into my apartment days after Tony’s funeral, hefting his worldly possessions in a black garbage bag. He’s tall with long blond hair, and beady green eyes. At first, living with him is better than living alone. But over the next several months, I learn two things: 1. my father wants to hear nothing about my grief over losing Tony, and 2. Scott can’t keep a job longer than a paycheck. Cook, caregiver, guitar teacher. The only job he can keep? Drug dealer.

Selling weed’s fine, but he tries to be Mr. Big Time with coke, buying an 8-ball for $250, snorting too much, then cutting the rest with crushed Vitamin C and selling the mix to hapless customers. Even that is better than when he simply takes people’s money and takes off. More than once, a mutual friend stops me on the street and says a pissed off buyer will be coming to my apartment to “rip Scott apart.” Too bad that never happens.

We need Scott’s ill-gotten gains. I pay for groceries, rent, utilities, washing clothes, bus fare. But, I’m naïve. In high school, I only had one steady boyfriend, and Scott’s my first live in. I don’t know the rules. And with Tony’s death, I’m vulnerable. Once, when Scott’s mother visits, she says, “Don’t bug Scottie so much about getting a job.” I tilt my head like a puppy trying to decipher what her human is saying.

When I tell Scott I’m pregnant, he leaps around our dim apartment, kisses my belly, and says, “We’re having a baby.” I want to puke. He forgets I’m joining the navy. When I tell my father, he loses his mind. Yelling over the phone that Scott’s a piece of shit, he’s trying to trap me, and that having a baby with someone binds you for life. Funny, I think. I haven’t seen my birth mother since I was six months old. My father divorced her and took custody.

He goes on and on, how I’ll end up barefoot and pregnant, living in a tenement on the crappy side of town. I’ll be a welfare mother for life. By now, I’m bawling my eyes out. Then he ends the diatribe with, “If you have that baby, I’ll never talk to you again.” The words echo in my head. I’ve already lost a mother. And a brother. I can’t bear losing my father. And I believe him.

Somehow, his harsh words touch something deep inside me, perhaps a woman I’ve yet to become, a woman projecting far into the future, who imagines the possibilities that may lay ahead, years, decades, from now, education, career, real love, children that will be cared for, a woman believing she deserves better than this, a woman freed from the town swollen with wonderful and terrifying memories of her childhood and beloved older brother, a woman who somehow knows Scott will never raise her to a level where she can see the horizon, rather drag her down, down, down, into the lowest valley where the water has dried to dust.

“Here’s what you’re gonna do,” my father says. “I’m gonna give you the money. And you’re going to have an abortion. When you get your tax return, I want every penny back.” Although we’re on the phone, I nod my head Yes. Then he says, “I love you.” I choke out an I love you too.

The day of the procedure, Scott’s MIA, never comes home. My stepmother picks me up, drives me to the clinic. Protestors cluster in the parking lot, tote bright white signs splattered with scarlet fetus parts. Elbows. Fingers. Toes. Comma-shaped bodies. They holler “Baby Killer” and “Don’t do it!” I flip them off, then stand alone and watch my stepmother drive away.

The waiting room is crawling with girls and women of all ages. Not one empty chair. Two protestors burst through the door and kick in a security window. The abortion doctor sprints in from the back and threatens to the call the cops. Shoves both protestors out the door. One by one, women disappear into the back, have the procedure, rest in a room full of couches and pillows. They give us birth control pills. Tell us how far along we were. Me? Nine weeks.

My stepmother shows up. I slide into the backseat, (there were groceries up front). “Here,” she say, whipping a box of maxi pads right at my head. “You’re gonna need these.” Ow. I rub my welt. She drops me off at my empty apartment. I lie on the couch, bleeding, cramping, crying.

Scott walks in and tells his friend Tom to wait in the hall. “So you did it,” he says — more statement than question. “Of course,” I say. “I told you I’m joining the navy.” I failed my physical because of the pregnancy. The nurse told me I could try again two months after the birth or two months after termination.

Scott turns toward me and sneers. He grabs one of my wrists, yanks me off the couch and throws me to the floor. I struggle to get up. “Damn-it,” I say, following him to the dresser. He rummages through the top drawer. “Where have you been?” I say. “I had to do this all by myself.” He looks at me and says nothing, shoves something into his front pocket. Then he turns to leave.

“Please don’t go.” I pull on his jean jacket. Scott turns and pushes me, hard. I fall backward just as he opens the door. Tom’s wolf-gold eyes meet mine as I’m ass-first on the floor. His face is a mix of pity and shock. “Goddamn-it, Scott,” I say, “do you know what I’ve been through?” The maxi pad feels like a wet diaper.

Boom. Boom. Boom. The neighbor on the other side of the apartment bangs on the wall. A common occurrence, and the landlord has threatened me more than once. Of course, Scott misses every visit. He turns to me and says, “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”

That fight is the last straw for me and the landlord. “Howie” evicts me, and I evict Scott. I move in with my friend Sandy, leave my current job and work with her at her parents’ bakery. Our apartment, which is on the bottom floor of a two-story house, sits across the street from the bakery. Sandy’s mother has one rule: Scott is not welcome in the apartment.

At the two-month-post-procedure mark, I pass my physical and enlist in the U.S. Navy. (woot!) On February 1, 1989, my parents drive me to Syracuse, New York, to stay at the airport hotel. The next morning, I fly to Orlando, Florida, where I begin boot camp at the Naval Training Command where I’m in company K048. In May 1989, I receive meritorious advancement from E-1 to E-2 at Pass in Review because my sense of humor kept morale up during the rigors of boot camp.

Chantelle Garcia, Me, Diana Sanchez — Pass in Review Day

Scott stayed in our hometown. Last I heard, he was a heroin addict. I settled in the PacNW after four years in the navy. Went to college, had kids, work as a writer. Have not done so well in the love department, but sure enjoy being a mother of three amazing people.

About ten years ago, Scott found me on social media and IM’d me. I ignored his messages until he finally wrote, “What’s wrong? Can’t say ‘hi’ to an old buddy?” Old buddy? This guy… I wrote something about how we lived together for a year and a half, and that I thought we were more than buddies. I didn’t mention the abuse, the abortion, the money he stole from me, the drugs, etc. I just blocked him. I don’t wonder what he’s doing now.


My first memories include my older brother Tony and my father, also named Tony. The three of us lived in an apartment on Hazel Street on the west side of Binghamton, New York. My father and mother had split in April 1969, when I was four months old. At the time, my father was a cobbler’s apprentice at Ye Old Cobbler Shoppe, under the mentorship of his best friend Danny.

When Danny passed away in the early 70s, my father decided to open his own shoe repair and leather crafting business, The Leather Shoe Shop. By this time, I was two and Tony was four. We went to work with him every single day.

As a young girl, I followed every move my brother Tony made. I fist fought other boys alongside him, wore his hand me downs, and spit on the sidewalk. We walked around the apartment shirtless and slept in the same bed. Some of my father’s customers thought Tony and I were twin boys.

Until I was four, I never had a clue that Tony and I were different. But one day, on an incredibly hot August afternoon at the Ross Park Zoo, I came to new awareness. When I tried to take my shirt off, my father said, “Honey, you can’t do that.” I repeatedly asked “Why?” He repeatedly said, “You just can’t.” So, I pulled my shirt up and over my belly, stopping just below my chest.


Once Tony and I started school, I became friends with girls, but I always felt more comfortable among boys. Although not always true, it seemed that boys cared less than girls about gossip and fitting into the status quo. And, until fourth grade, when my father switched Tony and me from the public school system into Catholic schools, I had rarely worn dresses. It was a whole new experience.

Wearing girl clothes hardly wrung the tomboy out of me. I hung upside down from tree branches, much to the horror of my father’s new wife Vickie. She’d pull me off the limb and tell me to act “like a lady.” What did that mean? Now I know it meant, keeping my big mouth shut, wearing a slip beneath my skirt, and keeping myself clean. Vickie insisted Tony and I take regular baths, brush our teeth nightly, and wear pajamas to bed. I wore a nightgown and he wore long johns.

As I came of age, I observed Vickie go from being a doting stepmother to a woman who snapped into a fury over spilled milk, or forgetting to call her “Mom.” She smacked Tony and me around, and threatened us with worse if we told our father. When he was home, she smoothed our hair and laughed at our jokes. In private however, she was a monster.

Vickie’s erratic behavior may have taught me to distrust women. By the time I was in high school, I had fewer than five close girlfriends, and a slew of guy friends. I sat with football players during lunch and chewed tobacco with them at hockey games. Once, when I had one line in the school play, I stepped out onto the stage met by a roar from one corner of the auditorium: “Cindy!” It came from my flippant coterie of young men.

One of the pitfalls of being a tomboy is unsolicited jealousy and rage from girly girls. I’m an incurable flirt, and I have had many problems with the girlfriends and wives of my male friends. Secure women, with solid relationships, tend to let me be who I am. But to those who can’t handle it, I am forced into that ladylike role again–the one set forth by my stepmother.

And here I am today. Still that tomboy at heart but dressed as a girl. My hair is long and curly. I wear a little bit of makeup. And thanks to the three children I had, I have… ahem…curves. My flirtatious nature still intact, I am both loved and hated by different women. Some misconstrue my gregarious nature, and others believe it’s who I am.


Since I was a kid, my best friends have almost always been introverts. I want to be more like them–able to think before I speak, more thoughtful than talkative, able to find comfort in solitude. Conversely, I seem to draw them out of their shell. I make them laugh, encourage them to tell their stories, and find out what life means to them.

For many decades, I’ve tried to be more quiet. To listen more intently. To allow others to speak their truths. And while I have gotten better at that, the tomboy in me is still alive and well and living in Idaho. I can dress up, but I prefer a T-shirt, jeans, and Converse. I love a crowd, drinking beer, and quoting movies. Some of my best friends are guys, and yet, I do love the company of women. (Vickie’s been out of my life since 1998.)

We are all walking, talking contradictions. The thing is, you have to be comfortable with who you are. And most of the time, I am.



Why I Say I Love You

It was May of 1987. I was 18, and my brother Tony had just turned 21. We were hanging out with a few friends at my apartment. In my white stretch jeans and loose hanging sweatshirt, I stood in front of the small group telling them stories about my and Tony’s childhood in our father’s shoe repair shop. After 16 years, our father was preparing to retire and Tony was going to take over the family business. He said I could work at the shop with him.


inchwormDuring my make-shift stand-up routine, I talked about the time Tony and I got lost in the woods on a day-camp hike. We were both bawling and eventually found our way back because I remembered the InchWorm toy smiling in front of a run-off valve. I talked about the massive Easter egg hunts with our 12 cousins at our grandparents’ house. And, how we took scraps of leather, wet them under the tap, and stamped our names in the hide with brass tools.

I started to walk toward the kitchen to get another beer. In this particular apartment, you had to walk through the bedroom to get to the kitchen. Imagine! I hadn’t noticed my brother followed me. Tony had silky brown hair, bright green eyes, and freckles. He was wearing a brown leather jacket. “Hey,” he said, “you made me cry when you told those stories.”

I smiled. That made me so happy. Usually my main goal was to make him laugh, but if I moved him that much. Wow!

“You’re the most important woman in my life,” he said. “I love you.”

Gulp. I looked at my white leather elf boots. I felt so embarrassed. My brother had called me ugly the first nine years of my life. We used to fist fight in earnest during middle school. And, since he had been in the army for two years, we hadn’t been around each other that much. I barely eked out an “I love you too.”

“We are going to have so much fun working together in the shop,” he said. “We’ll be party buddies for the rest of our lives.”

* * *

Two days later, Tony and I had brunch at Friendly’s restaurant. We hung out for most of the day at his place, and then he drove me back to my apartment on his motorcycle. We had a couple beers and listened to Run DMC’s Raisin’ Hell. At around 8 p.m., Tony left on his motorcycle to go to the store. I fell asleep on the couch. Three hours later, I was awakened by the phone, and the soft voice of my uncle Joe saying, “Tony was killed on his motorcycle tonight.”

As you might imagine, my life was forever changed throught that experience. I went from being a carefree 18-year-old party girl to a full-on grieving woman. A woman who cried every time someone said the name Tony. A woman who threw up when she ate. A woman who jumped at the slightest noise. A woman who was certain the ghost of her dead brother would visit to tie up loose ends.

Why had I been so afraid to tell Tony I love you? He was my brother. My rock. My shield. The first boy I ever loved. And, he had invited me to work with him at our father’s shop!

So, today, if I love you, I tell you. Tony’s death was a precious lesson. He was 21. He would never grow old. That taught me how short life is. In 1987, I started to tell my family, my friends, and even acquaintances “I love you!” And you don’t even have to say it back.


Emotions Just Are

When I was in second grade, I was using a stapler and pushed a staple into my index finger. As soon as I saw the pearls of blood, I started to cry. My teacher, Mrs. Blabac,  walked over to help me. A few classmates circled and called me Cry Baby. I cried harder. At the end of that year, in my report card, Mrs. Blabac wrote: “You’re sensitive. Never lose that trait.”

As far as I can remember, no one has ever praised me for being sensitive besides Mrs. Blabac. At home, my father preferred the smiling, happy Cindy. My brother Tony was stoic and level, and I was an open book whether I was happy, sad, angry, or excited. If my father caught me crying, he sent me to my bedroom.

All through elementary school and even into middle school, the name Cry Baby stuck. No one showed me how to manage my emotions, or explained that emotions just are. It’s taken me decades of therapy to figure that out. And, I am still learning how to manage the slew of emotions that stir inside me. One therapist said, “You have a lot of emotions.” Do I?

One thing I have realized is that the more a person is uncomfortable with their own emotions, the more he or she detests the expression of someone else’s. I have been called “dramatic” “psycho” “bi-polar” and more. Although I am not someone who can pretend that everything is okay, I am a person who wishes to be open and honest. Sometimes that means “emotional,” and that upsets some people.

By the time I got to high school, I learned only to show the smiling, happy Cindy. People preferred that girl. I even earned the notable Class Smile. Looking back, I know I was a relatively happy kid, and at the same time, I was hiding the fact I was part of an insanely dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father, abusive stepmother, and two brothers who acted out in the most outrageous ways. Tony got into fist fights, and Jack got kicked out of every elementary school in our district. And me? I was a girl “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

My current therapist told me “emotions are not bad or good–they just are.” I love that. Many people view anger and sadness as bad, and happiness and joy as good. But are they? When I’m sad, I make bad decisions. When I’m happy, I make bad decisions. Noted EQ guru Travis Bradberry advises us not to make any decisions when we are really happy or really sad. Emotions are temporary.

All of that said, I recommend we follow our hearts.



Do as I Say and Not as I Do

Years ago, I promised myself that when I became a parent, I would never use the phrase “Do as I say and not as I do.” It’s hard to believe I actually heard this phrase from my stepmother all the time when I was a kid. My parents smoked cigarettes and pot, and got drunk as all get out, then told my brother and me not to smoke or drink. My stepmother used the word “fuck” as a convenient adjective, but my brothers and I were scolded for saying “freaking” or “sucks.”

While I never used the phrase with my kids, I know I’ve implied it. Nothing turns a person into a hyprocrite faster than being the parent of a tween. “Mom? We learned about drugs in school. Have you ever done drugs?” “Mom? Is Dad the only man you’ve had sex with?” “Mom? How old were you when you first drank alcohol?” You see my point. Unless you plan to divulge every naughty thing you’ve ever done in your entire life to your maleable child, you will be forced into being a hyprocrite. At least my heart is in the right place.

When I reflect on the barrage of mistakes I’ve made throughout my life, things like spreading gossip to falling for a guy who said he loved me and didn’t to dumping a guy who really did love me, telling and/or believing lies, and getting married when I should have run for the exit, I hope to protect my kids and loved ones from making the same mistakes, suffering the same hurts, and enduring the same humiliations. Of course, that’s not how it works. Everyone needs to learn for themselves.

For instance, my first serious boyfriend, “Randy,” and I started dating three weeks before my older brother Tony was killed in a motorcycle accident. I was 18, a grieving mess in need of love, and fresh prey for the malignant narcissist that Randy was. He charmed his way right into my life: I moved him into my apartment, never charged him rent, and never had a job (except the occasional drug deal). Randy cheated on me incessantly, stole money from me, and somehow I believed I loved him.

After a year of catching Randy in lies, being evicted from numerous apartments because of fights, and seeing him come home with hickies from other women, I finally dumped him. He started bawling and slapped me across the face. “This is why I’m leaving,” I said. And while I thought I was free, over the next several months before I left my hometown for the U.S. Navy, Randy slithered in and out of my life. Today, friends say he’s an incurable heroin addict still living in our hometown.

What surprises me is that during that 18 months, my father never said a negative word about Randy to me. How difficult it must have been for him to see his only daughter crying hysterically when Randy stood me up, the crappy apartment I shared with Randy, and the long-haired bum in tattered jeans and concert T-shirts holding his daughter’s hand at family functions. Although my father knew this relationship was a disaster that would blow up in my face, he never said a word.

If you’ve never had a Randy in your life, consider yourself lucky and unlucky. Lucky because you haven’t suffered the hell of loving a malignant narcissist. Unlucky because you’re still innocent enough not to recognize a malignant narcissist when one oozes into your life. You may fall head over heels in love with him or her and be blindsided when their house of cards drops on your head.

My friends and family members who have been burned by a malignant narcissist and I have so much to talk about when we get together: the endless love letters at the beginning of the relationship, the speedy pleas for commitment, the soul-mate and “us against the world” bullshit, and of course, the frequent hot sex. (Distraction!) If you’re at a vulnerable point in your life, it’s very easy to get seduced by a Cheshire Cat–they are charming, good looking, and unbelievably skilled at lying. The worst part is NO ONE can convince you this person is a lying, cheating, despicable waste of your time.

Once the narc has earned your trust and loyalty, just like a cat with a dead mouse, they toss you aside. But you have already fallen in love. So, now you’re sunk. They start criticizing you, are probably already cheating, find excuses to see you less, and when you share your feelings, they call you needy, weak, and crazy.

All I can say is trust your gut! If something smells fishy, gives you a stirring in the belly, or just feels wrong, get out. Better to miss out on a lying, cheating, asshole who may be fun to hang with than be dumped by a lying, cheating, asshole who will never leave you alone. And the narcs favorite line is … refer to the title.

Red Flags Schmed Flags

When I was 32, I attended graduate school in Bellingham, Washington, at Western Washington University. Go Vikings! Part of my graduate program included working as an English Composition Instructor. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had, and I truly enjoyed interacting with first year college students. Part of my responsibilities included meeting with students one-on-one to talk about their assignments, college, and the writing process.

By this time in my life, I’d been married, divorced and widowed, and had two daughters. I still believed in love and everything, however, sometimes I had to check myself when I met with students who were 18 and had unbridled hope regarding the world that awaited them. One young woman I’ll never forget was talking to me about her plans after college. “I’m going to marry my boyfriend, and we’re going to live happily ever after.” My gut told me to say, “Gimme a break! Whatever!” but luckily, my best self butted in and warned me to, “Shut up and smile.”

The benefit of youth is having ignorance of what could go wrong. The benefit of experience is having insight into what could go wrong. They are both liabilities as well. However, whether we are young and naive or old and weathered, we still fall for people who will hurt us no matter how many red flags wave in our faces. With as many episodes of Forensic Files, true crime documentaries, and murder mysteries I watch, I feel adept at sniffing out scary people. But in real life, I’m just as hopeful and romantic as my former college student.

Since it is not my goal to out any specific people from my past that turned out to be a dud, I’m simply going to provide a list red flags I ignored (at first) because I believed in the hope of a budding relationship. I hope you find these humorous and relatable. Also, try to remember that I’m in a good place now and share these because I have learned, and gained distance, from them. Enjoy!

  1. On a date, my boyfriend kept staring at the door and repeatedly hiding his face behind his menu.
  2. My boyfriend told a mutual friend, “Cindy’s not very pretty, but I’m going out with her anyway.”
  3. While driving through Seattle, my boyfriend was unable to find the tattoo parlor where he planned to get a belly button wring (yes, I know) and threw a frightening temper tantrum.
  4. My “sober for two decades” boyfriend smoked weed all day long.
  5. My live-in boyfriend “had” to stay at his mother’s house every time he got sick because I did not take good care of him.
  6. Although I was married, a young man kept telling me that “we were soul mates,” “we were destined to be together,” “I was too good for my husband,” “that I deserved better,” and that “he was my true love.” Barf.
  7. My boyfriend’s sister pulled me aside a few weeks into our relationship and said, “I don’t know what kind of show he’s putting on. He’s not a nice person.”
  8. My boyfriend said my son was weird. (you’re outta here!)
  9. Last but not least, my boyfriend freaked out when I asked why he was on Tinder.

I hope you laughed at these as much I as did while writing them. No doubt there is a guy or two out there talking about the red flags he ignored at first when he was dating me. Best wishes to all.

It’s All My Fault

I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility over the past couple of days. For as long as I can remember, I have felt “responsible” for other people’s feelings — their happiness, anger, sadness, hunger, well-being, etc., etc. Some of it, I believe, comes from being an older sibling. I was seven when my brother Jack was born, and from the moment I saw his pursed lips and downy hair, inhaled the baby scent from the top of his head, I wanted to protect him. It was both understood and stated, with my father’s tireless refrain: “Watch your brother. Watch your brother. Watch your brother.” I adored Jack, and enjoyed feeding him, changing his diapers, and cuddling with him on the couch.

The responsibility thing really hit home during Christmas 1977. I brought home an ornament I’d made at school: green construction paper, red yarn, and silver glitter. Although I don’t remember, I must have left it on the dining room table where my stepmother was displaying all of her Princess House crystal. I was at school when Jack pulled on the table cloth and hundreds of dollars of crystal crashed to the floor. When I arrived home that evening, my stepmother screamed and screamed. Since Jack was only a toddler, and was trying to get my ornament, the broken crystal was all my fault.

Years later, when I started dating, I took responsibility for the feelings of my boyfriends, and anyone else who came along. If X had a bad day, it was up to me to cook him a nice meal and let him relax so he cheered up. If X wanted to go to dinner, I chose the restaurant, and if he disliked the meal it was because I had made a bad choice. If X’s family didn’t like me, it was because I was too sensitive and analytical, so I tried really hard to be amazing and wonderful.

Most recently, I’ve been reflecting on how I felt responsible for my father’s happiness. His wife was an incurable cheater, and I never told him, until 1988, when he received an anonymous letter saying “Your wife is sleeping with my brother. He’s married and has five kids.” My father confronted my stepmother, and of course, she said it wasn’t true. So, he hid a tape recorder in his bedroom. Confronted with the evidence, she said, “How dare you spy on me.”

My stepmother was a special kind of crazy, both unpredictable and prone to violent outbursts, the kind of crazy I couldn’t manage as a 20 year old. But, I figured since my father had confided in me, and was planning to divorce her, I should take him out for a drink and spill my guts. We went to the No. 5 in Binghamton, New York, and drank late into the evening. I told him everything I knew about her cheating, starting from when I was four until the present day. My father showed no emotion. The following day, he filed divorce papers and sent them to his mother in law’s house where his wife was staying.

A couple of weeks later, my father invited me to dinner at his house with Jack. On the drive over, he said, “I’m gonna take her back.” I started bawling. All those stories! All of her lies! “How could you?” I asked. My father said when he brought over the papers, she fell to the floor and started kissing his feet. She promised over and over to stay faithful. “I don’t approve,” I said. “But you’re a grown man.” He smiled, and answered, “You’re absolutely right. You’re so protective. Just like grandpa.” Damn straight.

There have a been a couple more times in my adult life where I have had the opportunity to let a person I care about know they were being cheated on. Both times, after telling, it blew up in my face. So, if you’re keeping track, that’s three strikes. I’m out.

It really sucks to see someone you love getting hurt by someone else simply because they are a good liar. However, if you out a cheater, that falls right in line with shooting the messenger. You’re going to get hurt unless the person you tell has an enormous amount of self awareness, and believes you, not the cheater. At the same time, if you’re like me and have a visceral reaction to seeing your loved ones getting screwed over, perhaps you can explore those feelings in a blog post.

P.S. My father and his wife renewed their wedding vows in 1988, moved to Florida the following year, and bought a business. Ten years later, he filed for divorce and they went through an acrimonious process. My father moved back to Binghamton.

Can I Get a Witness?

My older brother Tony turned 21 on May 1, 1987. He came to my apartment, and my roommate and I threw him a small party. We drank Michelobs, and I told stories about Tony and me from the old days when my father owned The Leather Shoe Shop.

One memory is of Tony and me, holding hands, watching a fight between our father and his girlfriend Cathy. She slaps Dad’s eyeglasses off his face. In another, Tony and I walk along the sidewalk at the Vestal Plaza amid a frighteningly loud thunderstorm. I’m bawling. Tony has his arm around me, and repeatedly pats my shoulder, saying, “It’s okay, Cindy.” And in another, I’m on my tricycle, and he nudges me down a steep hill. I remember nothing after the crash, but for a week, I had one hell of a shiner.

When I was four, Tony talked me into stealing a Planet of the Apes squirt gun from Grand Way department store. planet-apes-galen-water-gun-pistol_1_88852e60c2be6a48e133f52a290bfd7eOf course he didn’t say, “Steal.” He said, “Take.” We walked back to the shop where my father’s new girlfriend interrogated me and promptly dragged me back to the store to admit what I had done. The next time we visited Grand Way, Tony handed me a Magic 8 Ball, and said, “Slip this in your sleeve.” Without hesitating, I said, No.

The stories made him laugh. Sometime during the party, he pulled me aside and said, “I love you. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of years hanging out together.”

As kids, Tony was timid; I was hyper. When my father brought out the video camera, Tony hid and I danced around. When I complained to Tony about our stepmother’s abuse, he said, “Just keep quiet.” He never complained. Instead, he started smoking cigarettes and pot, and drinking at 12. When our stepmother slapped him, he stared her in the face and took her abuse. I screamed when she hit me, hoping the neighbors would hear and call the cops.

Tony and I rarely fought with each other, but when we did, it was about the dumbest things. I hid the remote so he couldn’t change the channel, and he punched me until I gave it back. I called him a “Buck-Toothed Beaver.” I punched him in the arm as hard as I could, and he stood motionless, then said, “Did a fly land on me?” But, if I wanted to send him into a rage, I sang “opera” at the top of my voice. I laughed so hard his punches were painless.

By the time Tony and I were in high school, there were no more fights. We became allies fighting against a common enemy. “If you don’t tell Dad you saw me smoking, I won’t tell him you were with a boy, and not at the movies.” Deal.

In 1983, after coming home drunk too many times, running away from home too many times, and getting kicked out of high school, Tony joined the army at the urging of my father and his wife. Tony earned his GED in the military and was relegated to being a cook. After two years, he was done. He moved to California, fell in love with an awesome young woman named Erika and came back to New York.

I was delighted. Tony planned to take over my father’s shoe-repair business, and he told me I could work there too. I could quit my job at McDonald’s and have a career. Tony and I were going to be together again! For the first time in years, our family spent Christmas together.

Two nights after Tony’s 21 birthday, my uncle Joe called and told me Tony was killed on his motorcycle. He’d been riding to the Great American grocery store on Main Street in Binghamton, our hometown, and was struck by a red Dodge Demon. Tony died instantly. My father and his wife were on an emergency flight back from Florida where they had been looking for a house.

Because I was 18, I had zero coping skills to manage my grief. All I could think was How could he do this to me? He was abandoning me. I would have to live without him and deal with my stepmother alone for the rest of my life. How would I get through this? I took a cab to my paternal grandparents’ house, so I could be with my family while we waited for everyone to get the news.

That night was a blur–falling asleep on my grandparents’ couch, crying, listening to the grief-stricken wails of my relatives, watching the EMTs fail at giving Tony CPR on the TV news. My father called from an airport and asked how I was feeling. All I could say was “What are we going to do?” He said, “It’s gonna be all right.” When he and his wife returned to Binghamton, I stayed at their house, and slept in the extra bed in my 11-year-old brother Jack’s room.

There was the wake, the funeral, and the burial. It was raining like hell that afternoon, and the cemetery was all mud. Beneath the sagging tent, my entire family gathered in folding chairs. I sat beside my father and held his hand. When they lowered Tony’s coffin into the ground, I started sobbing. He was my only witness to our abusive childhood. The truth about Dad’s wife and how she treated us was buried with him.10339581_10152373663143187_8140426827575809783_n

When I interact with people who have an acrimonious relationship with their sibling or siblings, I’m often surprised and sad. Tony was my best friend, and for 18 years I worshipped him. He’s been dead for almost 32 years, and I’d give anything for five more minutes with him. They say the strongest bonds are forged in fire. Our chaotic childhood bonded us for life. His impact on me was profound and lasting, and I still think about him every day.




Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

My father died in 2012, when I was 44 and he was 66. The week of his funeral, his former girlfriend Angie, whom I hadn’t spoken to since 1972, called me at my paternal grandmother’s house to offer her condolensces. We were talking a while, catching up, when she started laughing. “Oh, Cindy,” she said, “when you were little, you said everything that was on your mind at that very moment.” I started laughing. “Nothing’s changed,” I said. “I’m just older. Every day is a challenge to keep my mouth shut.”

I appreciated Angie’s comment. It was cool to gain insight into my behavior as a kid, since I only had my family’s perspective and my memories. Also, Angie reaffirmed what I had always suspected — I was born spouting the truth with little awareness of the consequences.

My father once told me, “You couldn’t be more like me if you tried.” I liked that my big honest mouth might have come from him. He was the kind of honest that only a tolerant, easy-going person might appreciate. And, although I’m sure he had to have told some lies sometime during his life, I remember him as always being brutally honest. If you wanted flattery, my father was not the man to talk to.IMG_2494

I often wonder where this compulsion to tell the truth comes from — Some of it, I blame on the catholic church with its confession obsession. My father attended catholic school, and so did I. And as long as I can remember, I’ve never been able to keep a poker face and bluff. I’ve heard some people say things like, “I don’t have time for bullshit.” That resonates with me. It takes a lot of time and energy to be fake and a lot less time to be honest.

Part of me likes to believe my father and I never lost the childlike innocence that leads someone to tell the truth, even if it’s brutal. One time, my father lost a customer at his shoe repair shop because I stood beside him while he was ringing her out, and said, “Daddy. That lady has green teeth.” I love that he didn’t punish me.

My father always said, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” As I came of age, instead of following his advice, I saw him as intensely cynical and lacking trust. I had no idea about wisdom and learning from experience, and I projected my honesty onto others–thinking that everyone around me told the truth. Hah!

One of my favorite lines from an episode of Friends is when Phoebe says, “People will believe anything as long as it’s a compliment.” Although I’ve always seen that as a half-joke, a recent issue of Harvard Business Review includes an article, “How to Negotiate with a Liar,” by Leslie K. John. She says, “Humans are particularly inept at recognizing lies that are cloaked in flattery.” Insert here, the fable “The Fox and the Crow” where the fox, seeing a hunk of cheese in the crow’s mouth tells her what a lovely singing voice she has. The crow caws and the fox catches the cheese in its mouth. Liar!

When I was 16 and fell in love for the first time, the boy I liked said, “I’m really attracted to you and want to be with you. I’m just not a commitment kind of guy.” So, I let him have his way with me, repeatedly. Imagine my dismay when he showed up in my independent study class sitting next to one of the girls from the popular clique. I learned later that day that they were exclusive. And it’s not only teenage boys who tell that lie. I fell for the same lie from a 40 year old man. What he should have said was, “I don’t want a commitment with you.”

Back in 1987, when I dated my first pathological liar, his untruths piled up like so many of our household bills I ended up paying. “Scott” was highly skilled in lying, having been severely abused by numerous stepfathers as a boy, spending time in a boys’ home, dealing drugs, etc. The day I realized I had wasted 18 months of my life with this selfish, demented jackass, I rode the city bus to downtown Binghamton, walked into the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station and enlisted in the navy.

Detecting a liar is difficult for most people, myself included. According to Leslie John, a reputable study shows that regular people tell one to two lies per day. If that’s the average, imagine the sociopaths we come into contact with and the whoppers they tell! If only the Pinocchio nose were a real thing, none of us would ever have to wonder if someone was telling us the truth. Moving forward, I will continue to be honest, and to work toward being as diplomatic as my friend Hailey, and to trust my gut. They say flattery will get you everywhere. As long as what you tell me is really what you believe, I will believe you.                                                                                      78966166c3571e822f9bd384aa578434--disney-love-disney-stuff

Breaking Bad (Behavior)

Back in the summer of 2009 I started seeing a therapist because my childhood haunts were interfering in my eight-year marriage in a very real way. I was blissfully married, and I was afraid I was about to destroy everything. But why?

My therapist “Bruce” was (and is) one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. His face is careworn, and his hair hangs to his shoulders in thin white strands. He looked sort of like Bill Murray, and we joked about how much we loved the movie What About Bob?

Bruce was old enough to have been in practice during the I’m OK; You’re OK phenomenom of the 1970s. However, Bruce developed his own version of the mantra: “I’m fucked up; you’re fucked up.” That saying felt so much more real and relatable. And, after I left my sessions with Bruce, I felt sane and normal.

Bruce and I discussed childhood abuse of all types, and the lingering effects. I was sure those “effects” were leading me to think Eric was going to dump me. Other than his being extemely introverted and pensive, there were no real signs. And with the gift of hindsight, it may have been better to talk to Eric instead of the therapist.

Regardless, another topic Bruce and I talked about was breaking the cycle of abuse. He said the statistics show only about 1 in 5 people is able to succeed. I wondered about myself. By this time, I had a 17-year-old daughter, a 13-year-old daughter, and 4-year-old son. I had given them spankings on occasion, and did my fair share of yelling. But abuse?

When I had my first baby, Jessica, she was so beautiful and precious with the most perfect little fingers, I could NEVER imagine hurting her. Her father and I agreed there would be no spankings. Then he left to serve on a navy meteorological team in Japan, and I stayed state-side with his parents and Jessica.

After Jessica learned to walk, like most toddlers, she ventured around and got into things she shouldn’t touch. One day, I tried repeatedly to keep her from sticking her hand into the kitchen garbage. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, I took her right hand and lightly slapped it. She started crying. My chest ached, but she never touched the garbage again.

When compared to the “spankings” I received as a kid, I would say my kids got off easy. I never used any weapons, like leather belts, wooden spoons, or knuckles or diamond rings to the head. Slaps across the face were also a no-no. I’m aware people have strong opinions about physically punishing children, and as for me, because of the severity of the beatings my brothers and I endured, I dislike anyone hurting someone smaller and weaker than they are.

Now that my daughters are grown, they blast me for being a fiery-tempered smart mouth when they were young more than inflicting physical punishments. I was 23 when Jessica was born. I divorced her father when she was two. I remarried when Jessica was four. Nine months after that wedding Josie was born. Then her father died when she was 18 months old. That’s a lot of chaos for two young girls and one woman to endure.

Although I’m resilient and loving, I am also brutally honest–like my father. He wasn’t always tactful, and he sometimes called me names like “goddamned dummy” or “nutcase.” At the same time, he was slow to anger. So, if he punished me physically, I had to have done something really wrong, like when I accidentally set a fire behind the Vestal Plaza in New York and got the belt. That only happened once.

There are definitely times I have snapped at the girls, yelled, or made a huge deal out of nothing. And, when I catch myself sounding like the icy voice of my former stepmother, I clam up. Fortunately, I apologize to my daughters when I’ve done something wrong. With my son, it’s so different. I was 36 when he was born, and although I’d like to say I have mellowed, to be honest, I was just plain tired.

My son was wild as a toddler. He had blond curly hair and a crooked smile. When he ran out onto the volleyball court midgame, then turned and grinned at me I wanted to thrash him. But he was so freaking cute, how could I? When his father and I eventually separated (my prediction of wrecking the marriage came true), Vinny was five.

Now, Vinny is a chill teenager. I couldn’t tell you the last time I spanked him or yelled at him. And over the past 18 months, with his sisters out of the house, and his father extremely busy with his new life, my son and I have spent an enormous amount of time together. We spent 8 days in New York, took two roads trips to Portland, OR, and many road trips to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. In the car, we don’t listen to music; we talk. We talk about anything and everything. No subject is forbidden.

In my childhood home, there was no talking about feelings, no apologizing. There was no, “How was your day?” or “Do you want to talk about something?” When I watched the Brady Bunch, I was so envious when the mom or dad knocked on the kids’ door and asked to talk. Especially since there was a character named “Cindy.” If only my parents had come into my room with a soft voice, and said, “Cindy. Are you okay?”60354929

One of my favorite things about my relationship with my kids is our inability to keep secrets. I have always talked to them as if they were adults in training (because they are). And, as much as I loathe when they gang up on me, make fun of me for mispronouncing current band names or rappers, or pointedly argue with me — that is how their father(s) and I raised them. They need to advocate for themselves even if it pisses someone off.

My oldest daughter once said I was too easy on her growing up. My middle daughter says I was abusive. My son may be too young to look at me reflectively, but right now, we are as close as siblings. There are three things I have taken away from my father’s parenting: 1. Never be afraid to act silly in front of and with your kids. The humility will go a long way. 2. Tell the truth. 3. Don’t be afraid to apologize for your bad behavior. In that way, you teach forgiveness. I had to learn that one in spite of my father. I’m fucked up; he’s fucked up. We’re all works in progress, eh?