That day, all I remember is that my little friend wanted to go back to my house to play. Being in the 1st grade, it was fun to walk to each other’s houses by ourselves since we lived on the same block. As we walked up my front steps, we could hear commotion, so we peeked in the window along the front door. At first we couldn’t really tell what my Mom and Dad were doing, but it didn’t take long to realize they were not just arguing, my Dad was grabbing and hitting my Mom. My friend recognized that they were fighting, and tried to convince me. I, on the other hand, without even thinking twice, immediately began to make up excuses. “Oh, they are just playing. They do that all the time. It’s nothing. Come on, let’s go play in my backyard.”
It wasn’t much longer after that I heard my Dad storm outside with a few belongings in his arms, jump in the car, slam the door and back up so fast in the driveway, to this day, I can still hear the sound of his tires spinning in the gravel. He never said good-bye, he just left, he left my house, he left my mom, and he left me.
A 6 year old little girl doesn’t know how to figure out what that meant. No one took the time to explain the aching vacant place in my heart was supposed to be reserved for my Daddy. Oh my Mom told me that he wouldn’t be living with us anymore. But I’m talking about that one piece of my heart that holds a place for a loving, nurturing father who’s supposed to give me a healthy perception of men in my future. A Dad who models treating his little girl like a Princess so she expects nothing less when she’s older. Without understanding all that, unconsciously, I tried to make it better. I guess I never wanted to be abandon again, so I seemed to constantly crave the attention of boys, no matter how bad they acted toward me. It’s like that empty piece of my broken heart could never get filled no matter how many boyfriends I had. And I always felt like I wasn’t quite good enough, so it was a battle I fought for a long time – fighting against myself to feel prove I mattered, that I had worth. I hopelessly kept jamming the void with other things to replace what I had lost that day.
Broken hearts cause broken relationships, broken marriages, broken families and broken stories. It has taken decades to decipher all that transpired since that day my Dad left. It’s like
I tried to go back and chase after him by running after everyone and everything else in my life. As if anything could really repair the damage done. Someone told me I had put him on a pedestal. It was easier to leave him up there all elevated, than bring him down to my level, because then I’d have to face the brutal fact he had really messed up, messed me up. That would hurt too much, so I kept him up there.
It all hit home when I was going through my first divorce at 30 years old and living far from where I was raised. My Dad, an alcoholic all his life, called me after his usual having had “one too many”. He point blank told me he didn’t really give a “shit” about me when I was younger. As hard as it was to hear that, was as good as it was to realize it wasn’t my fault. He didn’t care about me because all he could care about was himself and his addiction to alcohol.
After all these years, I still juggle how I feel, how I should feel. The reality is that I am in charge of my own healing, and how I tell that story, not to others, but to myself. I am working on not making excuses, covering up or minimizing people’s actions who aren’t treating me right or respecting me. No longer will I run away by busying myself to ignore or avoid hard situations.
I am who I am today, because of that day.
Terry Lynn O’Neill
*LOVE ONE ANOTHER*