names have been changed and omitted in this post
this post contains language
this post may be triggering/ upsetting to some readers
It was my late sister's son's second birthday party. My youngest sister, just a few short months before she passed gave birth to a son, her only child she'd leave behind after her boyfriend of six years killed her in a fatal car wreck. It had been an extremely difficult grappling of her loss on many different levels... there was the loss of her and then the loss of knowing she hadn't met someone wonderful but instead abusive that we had been unable to pull her away from.... there was the loss that she wasn't going to walk down the aisle one day or be there for her child and would miss so much. It was a profound and compounded loss in that in many ways we'd already lost her before the final one... her boyfriend had been a terrible influence with drugs and alcohol... my sister having been someone with a friendly and kind spirit was a believer in Christ and incredibly smart, as she graduated high school a year early and attended a coveted nearby Christian university. It was a smashing of her dreams in journalism and one day living in New York when she began the path and downward spiral alongside this man we knew to be not good for her. So why did she choose him? I believe it's the cliché reason many of us choose those who are bad for our souls... we are searching on some level for what we never received; attention ie; love. And when someone who is toxic shows us a little bit of good sprinkled here and there.... we believe it because we want to believe so badly that there is good in there... we want to believe in something wonderful after having lived darkness for so long... we go to what were comfortable with and yet may adamantly declare it's different, they are different and we know what were doing. When really we don't. We are the equivalent of being a detriment to ourselves when we erroneously believe our empathy and Christ loving heart will rub onto someone else and magically cure them. We are the walking blind and believing in a goodness that doesn't exist in someone. It could be argued that this toxic person just has problems, needs help, blah blah, blah... but it's not our job or obligation to allow ourselves to be destroyed in the attempted belief we can help or change them. Because we can't. We can't change anyone. All we can do is stay at an arms distance or walk away. And wish them the best.
We were all gathering at my parent's home; our childhood home and it was bound to be awkward. My middle sister was coming... she hadn't been to their home in years due to the estrangement between her and our dad. It was no surprise... between the way he'd treated her for years growing up and then when she announced her engagement to a black man he'd banished her from the family. This family gathering would prove to be a rare one and as most past holidays and birthdays would turn disastrous due to his unbridled outbursts of rage.
The dining room with it's antique hutches and cabinets held collections of Waterford crystal and china and sideboards decked out with elaborate candelabras and oversized decorative platters circled the mahogany dining set. The walls were covered in old fine oil paintings and ornate frames, candles were on the table and overhead hung a vintage chandelier in hues of amber glass that cast prism-like colors on the walls from the sunlight shining through the nearby window. Bright streamers and birthday balloons graced the room.
My dad entered the room and spoke to my sister "Hello, there.. how are you?' He asked and she spoke "Good, I'm good. How are you?" She returned pleasantly back. She had brought my three nieces whom I saw regularly and my son and daughter sat at the table with them chatting. Her husband wasn't going to be a part of something he had never been welcomed into and had stayed home. I asked my mother if she needed help with anything while my then husband and father strayed into the nearby living room to chat. While my mother happily bustled around fetching plates, utensils and napkins on the table my sister's son toddled around excited it was his big day. Braydon was the spitting image of my sister... with his wheat hued hair like her, green eyes and cherub face he was a cutie pie. Everyone was cooing he was turning two and enjoying taking pictures. My sister's boyfriend's mother and step father had custody of him and we had occasional holidays and weekends we spent with him.
My mother announced we were ready so everyone could take a seat.... she asked my father to lift Braydon into the armchair at the end of the dining table. My father did and after we'd all gathered around she soon entered with his birthday cake holding two lit candles. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday" and snapped pictures. Braydon was smiling and staring at the candles aglow and upon prompting gave it a go at blowing out his candles with a little help. After my mother began cutting slices of birthday cake and passing them around she slipped into the kitchen to grab a pitcher of water and extra napkins. It was then that it started.
My dad had been grumbling and fussing at Braydon because when he took bites of his cake crumbs were falling onto the upholstered seat he was seated on. He began picking up the crumbs and telling him "Hey! Braydon! Stop it! Look at what you're doing!" and then "See this?! You're making a mess. You're getting crumbs on the seat!"
I shifted uncomfortably and exchanged a pointed look with my sister. She caught it and looked like she wanted to escape. I spoke "Oh, he's fine. He's just enjoying his cake." But that wasn't enough to shut him up.
"No, he's not.... he's making a mess! He's getting it all over the fabric!" He retorted and having snatched the fork from Braydon now tried to feed him a bite. Braydon closed his mouth and shook his head no... tears began welling up in his eyes and he started crying, Well, great. That's just great, I thought.
My mother came running back in the room "What is going on?!" She exclaimed.
"He's making a mess!!! He's getting cake all over!!!" He yelled.
My mother took in the scene and spoke "Well... okay! He's TWO! That's normal! It's just a chair... it's not a big deal. Stop standing over him!" She exclaimed. When people are unhealthy and fail to recognize normal rites of child development they will always create upset and shame.
My mother saw that Braydon was crying and now full blown sobbing, his little face now bright red and his plate of cake pushed away. Now the room with festive party decorations and balloons took a depressing turn.
"You aren't doing this! You aren't pulling your usual and ruining yet another birthday!! You aren't doing this to another generation!! Get out of here!" She yelled at him.
My husband followed him into the living room where to my horror my father began screaming obscenities at her and then.... "Oh YEAH?!!! WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT!!! MAYBE I'LL JUST GO KILL MYSELF!!!! HOW ABOUT THAT????!!! SHIT ON ALL OF YOU!!! THAT'S WHAT!!!!" He screamed. Some people are not depressed but merely throw ugly threats around as a way to intimidate, shame, control and abuse.
My heart lurched and I saw the types of outrage and chaos I'd grown up witnessing were playing out yet again... and now for the newest youngest addition of the family. My sister looked at me with great alarm... trying to speak soothing words to our nephew... while her daughters sat quietly eating their cake occasionally glancing up through lowered lashes with trepidation at the situation.
It was the same ole same ole way of how our family birthdays, celebrations and holidays had been repeatedly ruined over the years by him. It was yet another reason why I don't want my children around him and yet my ex now continually allows and encourages a relationship between my father and them. I want this shut down but I doubt the ability to get it done because there are always some people who are happy to enable and turn a blind eye.
I abhor the idea that there are those who are perfectly fine with children being subjected to the types of situations as described in this post and many of the other posts I have written here at grace power strength. I believe all children and teenagers need to know what one day you will be free... if you are living with these types of chaotic and abusive ways please know one day this too shall pass. Ask for help, lean on those you can trust, report what you can... look out for your siblings... there is zero reason to be screamed at for spilling milk, dropping cake crumbs, spilling a bowl of cherries. There are always going to be people out there who are happy to blame you for their inability to be healthy. Stay strong.... there is kindness out there... just because abuse is what you've lived doesn't mean it's your life sentence... there is better out there... good people who will listen, who will understand and who will lift you up. This is why I write. This is why it's so important to continue writing... to let those who have lived what I've lived and what many children and yes, even adults have endured that it is okay to not be okay with it. To say enough. To speak up. To bide your time. To get out. To draw lines and boundaries. To say yes to a new chapter, a new life, a beautiful circle with people who truly love you and want good things for your life and soul. Those people are a reflection of God's goodness... blessings. I will keep writing and sharing because it's important for those who feel alone in the dark to know they aren't alone... they are thought of and prayed for. They are resilient and will one day fly free. You can take your negatives and turn them into a story of hope for others... your life can improve. Those who try to shut you down and turn a blind eye to the damages endued will one day have to answer for it. In the meantime acknowledge their ways, cut the cord and wish them well. Enjoy every birthday you can... because we are not all so blessed to continue having them... and don't worry about crumbs... life is much, much too short.
With much love, Jennifer Gafford