Glimpse into the Past: Excerpt from Focusing Emptiness


I was six months old when my birth father stepped

out and my stepfather stepped in. He was a mean drunk. He hit
people. Mostly he hit my mother, and maybe that’s where my
battle with him began. I don’t know for sure if that’s where it started.
I have no memory of its beginning. It seemed as if we were always at war.
Around age seven or eight I was formally introduced to the
larger family drama by way of my mother’s sister, my Aunt Patty, who
took me aside one evening to show me how to call the police.


“You’re too young to be saddled with this,” she said, “but
you’re the oldest and you need to do it. If you don’t, I’m afraid your
stepfather might kill your mother one day.”


She wasn’t far off. He did almost kill my mother on more than
one occasion. The earliest I remember was of him breaking a whiskey
bottle over her head during one of their fights. I was curled up in a
ball in my room upstairs, listening to the battle below. It was a war
zone down there—glass breaking, furniture crashing. Despite my
brothers and sisters nearby in their own rooms, I felt alone upstairs,
my mother’s appointed caretaker, tasked with saving her.


On several occasions, I managed to make my way down the
flight of stairs leading to the phone and call the police without being
seen by my stepfather, then to stay out of sight until they arrived. But
the thought that my mother’s life rested with me alone brought a
feeling of sick emptiness that would often cause me to shake violently.
Images of my mother being killed and fears of my getting something
wrong, of not being around when she needed me, were unbearable.
Upstairs in my room at night, I would often feel a tangled knot in my
stomach. Then came the images before I’d even fallen asleep, of hooded
phantoms. Pulling the covers over my head, I would wedge myself down low underneath my covers
and scream for help. 


Me with my childhood dog.