My Search for Significance
I remember losing my self-worth the day my dad and I raced up to visit my mother in the hospital. I was about seven years old. She was sick with bronchitis and asthma attacks and was receiving breathing treatments. It seemed she was there for a few days and was almost ready to come back home. My dad looked so nervous as he kissed my mother hello. He began telling her how well he had been taking care of things back at home.
Hoping that soon it would be my turn to speak, I nodded yes along with my father’s reassurances to her. I was certain whenever my dad told Moma I was sleeping in their bed I would be able to be seen and heard. Moma’s eyes grew big, and she leaned over the bed and asked me if it was true that I wanted to sleep in their room because I was having nightmares. How could any little girl not say yes to a father’s invitation to sleep where Mommy slept while she was away? I knew someone would be in trouble for lying. I felt all my strength wither away at that moment. Again, I nodded my head in agreement, that I wanted and enjoyed sleeping in their bed with him. I could still hear the echo of my promise to my father — that I would tell Mommy what we did in her bed. But I never told her.
My mother was never very attentive to me or my older brothers. She always buried her nose in books as I sat on my father’s lap and got molested. I wanted to be like my brothers but I was “Daddy’s Little Girl” and the “Crybaby,” so I played my role. My childhood was very confusing, and I learned early that I could only exist if I was smiling and pleasing my father. My needs were not met unless I cried loudly and that would result in guilt and shame for expressing myself. Around age thirteen, I stopped crying and feeling altogether. Very distrustful of myself and the world, I became a bystander to life.
At eighteen years old, I began feeling again when my brother became ill. His mood swings, psychotic episodes, and AIDS scared and embarrassed me. I tried to be emotionally there for my family, but I was not able. After my brother’s death, I coped by mentally escaping any painful event that occurred in my life, including the subsequent suicide of a fiance. If emotional pain reached a certain level, I would quit and start over again. Adaptability in various aspects of my life, beliefs, career, or residence helped me to survive but made it difficult to ascertain what my true feelings and self desired.
Hoping to gain control of my finances and utilize the college money granted to enlistees, I joined the U.S. Navy at twenty-seven years old. I was stationed on a supply ship in a port near New York City. One weekend I decided not to hang out with shipmates out in town. Instead, I went to the club on military base to get a bite to eat. While eating alone, I realized that it was the anniversary of my fiance’s suicide, also the first day we began dating. So many memories flooded my mind. I wanted to escape the sad thoughts. I wanted alcohol to take its course in me. I quickly drank three beers, and during my fourth, a sailor from another ship who I never met joined me at my table. After talking for a while, he told me it was his twenty-first birthday and asked me to walk with him to the bar a mile away from the base.
My first thoughts were to go back to the ship, not to trust this guy — I could get raped. I gave him a few excuses why I would not walk with him to a bar. But somehow, he convinced me it was safe and that we would be back before it got too late in the evening. Going to the bar, we walked down a beautiful path; the trees canopied over us. We arrived at the bar safe, and the people there seemed friendly. I quickly became too intoxicated and told him I needed to go back to my ship. On the walk back to base, he pulled me off the path and began removing my clothes. I could not stop him. I felt like a child getting her diapers changed. He spat on his hand and rubbed his genitals to have sex with me in the dark, scary woods. In and out of consciousness, I was helpless to move away from him or the tree branch killing my back beneath me. I stared at the trees watching over me and was ashamed of what was happening to me. I could have died that day or acquired a sexually transmitted disease. Fortunately, all that resulted was a pregnancy.
I did not know I was pregnant for three months, after which I started feeling very ill. I debated whether to abort the baby. I asked the ship doctor for help but was denied counseling due to military regulations against providing counseling for women who want an abortion. I did not want an abortion per se; I wanted help. I needed hugs and to cry on someone’s shoulder. I decided to keep the baby. Even though I was not proud of the child’s father’s identity and not proud of being a pregnant, unwed, junior enlisted sailor, I so much wanted to become a mom. I resolved my uncertainties over having the baby, but soon learned I would have to abort for medical reasons. I had a molar pregnancy, where the baby does not develop properly and may threaten the life of the mother if the pregnancy is allowed to go to full-term. It was an emotional roller coaster ride — I felt despair to desperation to hope and back to despair!
I was rushed by van to the Navy medical center near D.C. for the medically necessary abortion. Without anyone nearby for support, I underwent surgery and settled in the Medical Holding Company barracks to recuperate. After a few days of rest, I was assigned to work in Hospital Administration. The military insists ill service members return to work as soon as possible. I would get no special treatment. I coped with the loss of the baby by working very late hours. Staying in the barracks was very depressing. All my possessions were still on the ship. No food service was available at night. Ordering pizza soon became nauseating. And I was too exhausted to leave the military medical center.