Good Girl, the fixer

It didn’t start well and probably won’t end well either.

They got married almost 50 years ago on a cold February day in front of the justice of peace. That evening the bride cooked supper for her new groom and sponsors. Then her husband walked out the door for his 3rd shift job as the freezing rain started to fall from the heavens. The bride spent her wedding night alone.

He wasn’t the same after the war years before. She wasn’t the same either after watching her mother die while he was away. The husband spent many long hours staring off into space holding a gun. Many a times he wanted to pull the trigger. He flew into awful rages that one time left his bride with bruised ribs. She wanted to leave, but he said he would change so she never did.

Soon after they had several kids. First came the Good Girl followed by the Wild Child, then invisible, and ended less than 5 years from the first with Baby Boy.

The husband didn’t really change all that much. He still was depressed and flew into rages. Good Girl wished her dad loved her. She wished she was as beautiful as the girls in the magazines her dad loved. When she was very little she stared at the glossy photos of the girls on the center page. She showed the pictures to others little girls who told their parents which got Good Girl into trouble.

The wife never told the husband she would not tolerate her children seeing the magazines he left laying around the house. She buried her head in the sand. She was always working. After the wedding night, the husband didn’t want to work that much. Plus Wild Child was always taking up her time. Wild Child physically attacked all of his siblings. He hurt them then they were sent away to mend their own wounds because they were normal.

The mom screamed and confronted anyone that posed a threat to Wild Child. Even if he was hurting someone, the mom yelled not to hurt Wild Child as he was pulled off of them. The mom yelled if Wild Child was not treated like royalty. He was sacred and meant to be worshiped. Everyone should know that their world revolves around him. There was a list of rules to be followed in the sacrifice to him of their childhood.

Meanwhile, invisible was invisible. Baby Boy acted like Wild Child so he could get attention. Dad was fond of harshly disciplining him. He called Baby Boy lazy and stupid. Dad liked to scare Baby Boy so he could laugh at him. invisible laughed along with dad and dad protected him. Good Girl acted like she didn’t care to stay under the radar. Dad neither hugged nor hit her. He just said mean words. She felt bad for Baby Boy, but instead of protecting him she hid so she wouldn’t get hurt.

Mom complained, but didn’t do anything. She wasn’t cruel herself, but didn’t protect the children from Wild Child or dad. She cried louder than the children so they would take care of her. The mom was a martyr and Good Girl became the fixer.

One day everything changed. The children grew up. Good Girl stayed close to home to help fix. Wild Child became Mild Child. But still the mom raged. They didn’t brush Mild Child’s teeth good enough. They don’t exercise him. They don’t make him the right foods.

invisible moved far away in the middle of nowhere. Baby Boy left too. He told his parents how much they hurt him. Then he left home, got married, and joined a healthy family so he didn’t have to come back to his broken one.

The mom and dad grew old. Still the mom did nothing, unless she had to yell at someone about Mild Child.

Then one day the mom decided she wanted to confront the dad about all of the bad things he has ever done. She asked the Good Girl to come with her. This made the Good Girl feel upset and stressed out. She asked the mom why she wanted to confront now and not 25 years ago. The mom said she couldn’t then because invisible would disappear forever if she did.

Good Girl did not want to be put in the middle of the mom and the dad as missiles were being fired. She wanted to be the Bad Girl and say ‘no’. The mom’s family was calling up Good Girl to be the fixer. They tried to make her feel like a bad daughter for not helping the martyr so they did not feel guilty living their perfect lives.

Good Girl is very strong because she built a fortress around herself, but she is crying to be let out. No one sees that.

Good Girl no longer wants to be a fixer and will not go. Good Girl never wants to see her dad again unless he is calling with an apology. Good Girl is done and just wants to live her own life. She thinks her parents should be helping her, not the other way around. This makes her sad. It is hard for her to move on because it never seems to end.

 

Compassion rages

After I heard the news, I felt both intense compassion and rage towards my father simultaneously. It’s really hard to explain because I can’t remember feeling such extreme polarity before. How can I still feel compassion towards someone who is so easy to justifiably hate?

He was a horrible father. He was the role model of what I didn’t want to be as a partner and parent. He hated us and called us stupid. I never felt like I was good enough. I never felt like I was enough of anything. Smart enough. Brave enough. Happy enough. It’s hard to feel like I was never enough, unlovable, despite my best efforts.

He tormented us. He laughed at our fears. Even worse, he taught us to laugh at our siblings shortcomings and fears. If we laughed, we wouldn’t be targeted next. We were pitted against each other for sport. How could there be unity? Most of the time it was safe to pretend not to care. I’m sorry I did not comfort you, brother, while you cried. I was just a coward trying to survive.

My dad is a depressed man. He lived a life of regrets. I see that now. He wasted his life in front of the TV screen, not playing ball with his kids. But I always felt calm if the TV was blaring when I came into the house. It was the silence I feared most. In the silence, I never knew if I would find him dead. Do you know how scary it is to feel that fear as a child?

He often flew into rages over nothing. He was abusive, but he is still my dad. When I was a child I hated him and wanted him to burn in hell for all of the things he did to hurt us.  But now I feel pity for the mess he has become.

I had to see him one day after it all happened. My mom hasn’t been well and needed me to give her a ride to the doctor for tests. After the appointment, I sat down with my dad. It was mostly small talk, the only real conversations I ever had with my dad.

I felt a lot of stress leading up to our visit. What would I say? Would the rage or compassion come out? I had to be wise with my words, but was coming up blank. Should I tell him what a fool he is? Should I tell him how some of his actions hurt me? Should I scream and yell at him like he did many times to me?

Instead I told him I loved him as tears poured down my cheeks. He told me he loved me too. I said I was sorry. He asked why. I said I was sorry that it had to be this way. This wasn’t what I would have chosen.

He looked sickly, like he lost a lot of weight. He is already in hell. That is what you get when you live a life you regret. What good would heaping a few more coals be for someone who is already burning in hell? I felt pity towards him. I never wanted to see him burn. I just wanted him to be a dad to me.

I don’t have any regrets over how I handled the situation. More than anything, I don’t want to live a life of regrets. I don’t want to be like him.

I don’t want to be his daughter, yet I am. My compassion rages.

 

My pretty mask

I panic as I sit here waiting. I know I have catastrophic anxiety, but in all of my worry I never imagined this.

Waiting is terribly hard when you know something bad is going to happen. This time it really is. I hear the time bomb ticking its countdown in my chest. I want to stop it but I can’t. I just have to brace for the explosion and pick up the pieces when it is done.

The panic sets in. Maybe somehow this is my fault. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I could’ve stopped it. Will I get in trouble? This paranoia is making me crazy.

I feel angry. I am broken already. PLEASE STOP MESSING UP MY LIFE! Will it never end? Sometimes I secretly wish you were dead. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I am supposed to protect you, yet you never kept me safe.

I am so sad for what I didn’t have. Everywhere I go it is rubbed into my face. Maybe my life would be better if I wasn’t in it. I can’t stand feeling this way anymore. I’m drowning, alone. I reach for your hand, but no one is there. I grab at whatever comfort I can find as I go under.

My therapist says I need to break this conditioning. But maybe somehow it is my fault. Maybe somehow I can fix things. I don’t know what to do. But I know what you will do. You will ask me to be a doctor when I’m not even a nurse. Did you forget that I am hurt too? How did I get chosen to be the bellhop for your baggage? Will you never stop ruining my life?

I want to feel joy. I long for peace. But you never set me free. I am foolish enough to think I am getting away when I stick my arm outside of my cage. I fear I will always be trapped here. How can I get out of this? Every time I think I’m out, I’m still locked inside.

The numbness is wearing off too soon, the pain isn’t gone yet. HELP ME! I want to hide in the dark empty void of my mind. But you said it is not safe in there anymore. The demons live there that ravish my soul. But can’t you see I am already in hell? I’ve gotten used to the warmth of its raging fire. Now I’m so cold.

You can’t let them win. Feel joy in your times of sorrow. I wish I could. I feel like I am going to throw up.

Is my life some sort of cosmic joke? Funny, but I’m not laughing. God, what is the purpose?

You mar me with your filth until I can’t even see the goodness in me anymore. I could wash my hands of it a million times and still see the dirt you left behind. I want nothing to do with it.

I want to be on a warm beach somewhere serene. But even there I will find no solace, no escape. Everywhere I go, you come with me.

I see your reflection every time I look at myself in the mirror. My beauty mocks the ugliness inside. It oozes out of me. I wish I was ugly on the outside so no one would notice me.

I put on a smile and say everything is fine. I wear my pretty mask with all the glitter and glitz. I’m okay. I’m good. How about you?

Why am I not happy all of the time? I seem to have it all.

It’s amazing how easily people believe the lies they want to hear.

I’m glad you like my pretty mask. But I have to ask. When will the show end? I’m getting tired of acting normal.

The path

It’s very important. That is why I got up before everyone else did, so I could tell you.

I am on a narrow path. It leads from my house to the backyard where there is a clothesline that I can hang my laundry on. There are two people on my path, a man and a woman. They walk down the path twice a day at the same time everyday. I’ve gotten used to them, their patterns.

The path is very plain. I only have the things there that I need to survive. No more, no less. One day a garden light is put a little way off my path. I think the two people put it there because they are the only ones I ever see on my path. But I didn’t see them do it. I really don’t know because they never speak to me. They just walk in silence across my path in the morning and disappear until they walk back in the evening.

Nothing happens for days after I notice the change. When I think it is safe to veer off the path to look at it, it becomes a vicious snarling dog. Every couple of days I notice another garden light is added. I am curious, but I have to get used to it first. After a while it almost belongs there and feels safe. Maybe I can look at another one just outside of the path I must not stray from. Once I do, instead of a vicious dog I see a golden retriever. I am very frightened because I can’t seem to differentiate safety from danger.

I cry out in terror. Seeing the dog, any dog, triggers the panic in me from the vicious dog. The people show up at an unexpected time and laugh at me because I am afraid of a harmless tail wagging golden retriever. I feel frightened and alone.

It was safer to never veer from the path. Instead I needed to be more rigid and structured to feel safe and find comfort. I must follow the same routine, the same pattern. Everything must stay exactly the same. Nothing will change and I will be safe. I’m not sure the people are safe, but they are predictable if I stay on the path. If I try to leave it, they are not safe.

Every day there are more garden lights. I don’t even notice them anymore. I stay within the boundaries. But one day something scary happens. The wind blew my laundry off the line off my path. I was responsible to care for my laundry. It was part of the routine that must be followed. I now have a dilemma, a conundrum of sorts. I have to grab my laundry, but I am terrified to veer off the path. Maybe if I grab it as quick as I can and come right back then nothing bad would happen.

Nothing happened when I grabbed my laundry, except I began to notice the world outside. It changed me. I began to see things differently. I went back inside my mansion and noticed for the first time that I was only using a few rooms. There were garden lights outside of doors that I was afraid to even go into. There was so much more out there to see, to be, if I didn’t let fear stop me.

Anxiety has a way of trapping us in what we know. It was important to cling onto at one time in order to survive. Now I see a whole new world out there to explore. There are rooms in my house I have yet to go in. Fear always stopped me. I clung to structure and routine. But there is so much more. Maybe it will be safe now.

The dream awoke me. It all makes sense now. I must write this down.

The floodgates have finally opened and poured onto my paper. I can write again. I am back.

 

Amongst the weeds

I wouldn’t say that I am the overly jealous type, not about material things anyway. The biggest thing that causes me jealousy is relationships.

I felt jealous when your parents moved up from a southern state just to be closer to you. I should have been happy for you, but sadly that was not the feeling it triggered.

The last time I saw my parents together, they were fighting. My dad went almost a year without showering when my mother said she couldn’t take it anymore. Now she said that he must shower once a week or there will be consequences. On that day, my mom and I went somewhere. When we got back, my mom asked my dad if he showered yet like he was a small child. He did not and she yelled that he better hurry or he would be in trouble. I would never ask them for marriage advice.

My dad did not attend Alex’s graduation. He did go up north with the rest of the family (not including us). He sat around all weekend in his underwear. This bothered my SIL Carla greatly and she complained about him. Carla and my brother Mark helped clean out my parents shed. Carla said now that it is cleaned out a little, they can fill it with more crap. Or maybe they can buy another car. Carla said she would love to buy a hearse for my dad. It was funny, yet it was not.

I felt jealous when your brother told me he was going to move closer to home to help you and your husband raise your first child. I know your family will be there for you anytime you needed them. I could probably count on one hand how many times we were able to get away when our kids were little because we didn’t have anyone to help us.

I had to schedule my 3rd C-section to be in the hospital over the weekend so my husband could watch our other kids. He just started his business and had to work on the day our last child was born. After he came back from working a few hours, my mom dropped off our other two children at the hospital because my brother Matt had an appointment. Matt always came first, even on the day I gave birth.

I found someone else with demons. We hold each other’s hands as we walk through our own hell fires. Paul is the only person I can count on and I trust he will be there until he can’t be. We’ve had to rely on each other.

Paul never had a dad. His mom had a brief marriage when Paul was little, but she left her husband because she said he was abusive. Martha did remarry after Paul grew up and left home.

Paul did not have one single person from his family to invite to our son’s graduation, unless you count his step-dad. His step-dad Darryl attended but brought a new girlfriend that we met for the first time that day. Darryl has moved on with his life. Paul shared his grief over the thought that his mother will no longer be remembered. He is an orphan. His whole family is gone.

Paul grew up with a great void. I grew up in an environment of dysfunction and abuse. We had to rely on ourselves to survive. It gave us grit and strength beyond belief. But there was no one to turn to when we needed help or advice.

It’s tremendously hard to create a healthy family without having a firm foundation to build our house upon. You may envy our fierce drive and independence, but behind it lies brokenness, emptiness, and pain. Maybe you envy our financial success, our big house, and attractiveness. But I’ll tell you what. We both would give everything we have in exchange for a healthy family of origin.

It’s amazing that we survived and thrived as beautiful flowers among the weeds in which we were planted.

 

 

Being in a better place

I met with my therapist this week.

She asked me what I thought about living in my old house. I told her that my old house wasn’t anything special but it suited the purpose at the time.

She then asked me what it was like living in my dream house. Did it change me at all? Do I feel like I am a ‘softer’ person? Did I give up some of my determination?

I said that I don’t think I changed at all.

To this she responded, what if you were a healthier person inside? Do you really think that it is going to change you for the worse?

She trapped me in my own thinking.

Maybe I could have inner peace without giving up some of the grit that survival awarded me with.

I did what I had to do in order to survive. But now I am stuck because I know no other way. It suited its purpose at the time, but I no longer need to live there.

Why am I so fearful of being in a better place?

 

 

Depression

As I was getting ready for the last show, I saw a car pull up to the theater long before the show started. It was a navy blue car, the same color, model, and make as my dad’s car. The passenger door opened and a very large man struggled to get out of the car with a cane. He had his head down, but I could see a mass of white hair and a long white beard.

I knew my mom was coming to the show. But was my dad? Would he finally tell me that he was proud of me? The man looked up and I realized that he wasn’t my dad. I felt sadness for what never was and what probably will never be.

Depression, it hit me the hardest in my late teens and early 20’s. As I mentioned before, my childhood was the hardest period of my life. My brother Matt, who is less than 2 years younger than me, had some very serious health and mental health issues. He was violent towards me, towards others, and to our pets. He hit me, pulled my hair, and clawed my arms on a regular basis. I think he killed my cats. He threatened to poke my eyes out with a knife. The list goes on…seriously, just read the book once I finish it.

My dad was depressed too. He withdrew from the family. When he was home he would sit on the couch and ignore us while watching TV. If the house was too quiet, I worried that I would find him dead somewhere.

My dad is the most pessimistic person I know. His life mottoes are ‘sh!t happens’ and ‘life’s a bitch, then you die’. He never hugged us or told us that he loved us. We never had father-daughter ‘dates’. Nothing. Instead he told us that we were stupid and laughed at our feelings, dreams, and fears.

I consider myself a realist, which probably is just a nice way of saying pessimist. But I will never be like my dad. I will never tear someone else down to lift myself up.

My dad is everything I don’t want to be. He never took care of himself. He ate a lot of junk food. He never exercised. He weighs almost 350 lbs. He hasn’t brushed his teeth in years. He hasn’t showered in almost a year. He is lazy and hates to work. He doesn’t clean up after himself and is a hoarder. Once one building is full, it’s time to build another shed. He doesn’t finish anything he starts. My parents built their house in the 1970’s and the upstairs bathroom still has not been finished. Simple repairs lie in disrepair for years. He is even too lazy to bother getting dressed if he doesn’t want to.

Maybe that is why I do everything the opposite. I eat healthy, run marathons, can be a workaholic, try to maintain a healthy weight, get things done right away, and am a clean freak. I don’t like things that he likes just because he likes them. But the truth is, I am still his daughter. I can’t hide from that.

In early childhood, when my dad emotionally checked out, I was called up to the plate. I started trying to fix the problems at home. Nothing was kept from me. I was handling responsibilities that no child should have to handle.

A 6 year old should never have to watch her 3 younger brothers in the lake even for a few minutes. My youngest brother almost drowned that day.

A 13 year old shouldn’t be making the call whether or not the neighbor should come over and put our dog out of her misery when she was suffering a painful death. I made the wrong call and I have to live with that.

A college student shouldn’t have to help raise 3 teenagers. But that is what I was doing.

I home-schooled one year of middle school and two of high school so I could help my mom out. Even though I attended college in the drunkest city of the United States, I never went to a single college party. Most Saturday nights you could find me at home helping shower my disabled brother. Then I graduated from college, got married two months later, and right away started a family of my own. At times I feel like I am suffocating.

Sometimes I yearn to be the child I never was. In some ways, my kids are older than me. I gave them everything I didn’t have. The pendulum swung too far to the other side. I only told them the things they needed to know. I only let them be kids. I gave them few responsibilities and chores. I shouldered that responsibility so they didn’t have to. I was wrong. I realize that now. But how can we be functional parents if we both had nothing but dysfunction to model from?

I get depressed when I have memories of the horrible things that have happened to me. The PTSD depression is the worst I’ve ever experienced. Burying my painful feelings in the moment is a future time bomb. The feelings I’ve repressed have a way of coming out tenfold. The depression from that is intense and irrational. The urge to end it all is hard to fight. By the grace of God I was able to make it through to tell you about it. I want to say that will never happen again, but here I am stirring up my demons.

I actively mourn the childhood I never had. There is something joyous and magical most people experience that I’ve never had. It is utterly devastating. I don’t know if I will ever be able to get over it. It is the kind of depression that no pill can cure.

My life is everything I’ve ever wanted it to be now, yet somehow I cannot outrun the demons of my past and find peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doubt

Would you be willing to hurt people you are closest to in order to help strangers?

Fear that is toxic. Anxiety whispers an endless echoing rhyme. Worry incessant. Doubt creeps in like a vine that entwines the wrestling demons running around in my mind.

I’m not sure I can do it. It’s too risky. Who do I think I am? Do I really think this will be a bestseller? Do I really think that my poison will be a tonic? Do I really think that my story is going to make a difference, change things?

Really, Alissa, you couldn’t even save your own family.

The thoughts painfully pierce my poorly healed wounds. The scabs tear away and bleed onto my parched paper skin. The memories scratch at the demons inside. They wreck havoc on my mind. Tears slip from my eyes.

Now I understand why there aren’t a lot of siblings telling their stories. I get it now. It is too painful. If the story is going to be effective, I have to be brutally honest. But that honesty is going to hurt, not just myself but other people.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with a lady from the local autism group. She wants me to be on a panel representing siblings of autistic children in front of a group of parents. There are not a lot of programs available for siblings because they are ‘normal’. I think that is very tragic if a child needs help and doesn’t receive it because they aren’t special enough.

My goal is to write a book about my story as a sibling. I want to advocate for siblings. My thought was to write a book and donate a certain amount of the proceeds to go towards helping siblings that are struggling through support groups and therapy, etc. Just how it is all going to come together is not totally known to me at this time. I would be willing to donate my time and money to help other’s struggling through what I’ve experienced.

Maybe tomorrow I will have some answers. But as for today, I never want to write again. I want to delete my blog. I want to throw the book that I started into the trash. I feel unsettled, almost angry and sad. Restless.

I am at a crossroad of sorts. Will it make a difference? Am I just picking at scabs and bleeding out into my words? Will it heal me? Or will it hurt me and those I love? Should I just let it go?

Will I be able to help others? Am I being delusional that I can make a difference? Would it be worth it if my story can help someone contemplating suicide if  my family turns away from me? Maybe my vision is too grandiose?

I am absolutely terrified, but I think it will be worth it.

What if I don’t help anyone and end up alienating myself from my family? Do I have the strength and courage to do what needs to be done?

I have my doubts.

Luke’s visit, part 6

I don’t like it when people touch me, neither does Mark.

Luke has always been an affectionate guy.

Maybe it just boils down to personal preference. We had the same upbringing.

We remember the bite marks on our arms, the scratches, head butts, eye pokes, kicks, punches…that we received from our autistic brother Matt.

My dad seemed afraid to hit or hug me. He would tickle my brothers and I which was miserable because he just wouldn’t stop when we told him to.

Touch was not usually a good thing, but I did like my grandma’s hugs.

My dad was not gentle in any way. He would squeeze my mother in hugs too tight until she would cry out…stop you are hurting me. Her cries would draw in my little brothers. They would jump on my dad and try to get him to let go while he swung at them like pesky mosquitoes. It was all a game.

Now Luke was a mama’s boy, which really seemed to bother my dad. If anyone tattled on Luke, he would get it. Mark and I never got spankings, but Luke always seemed to get in trouble. He hated my dad and did a lot of things to bother him like cutting the cords on his electronics. Mark and I never really did the things that would fuel my dad’s anger.

There are some things I feel bad about. Sometimes my dad would fly off the handle with Luke about minor things that I tattled about. There was also a period of time that Luke looked to me to be a second mother. He clung to me and I pushed him away.

There were times when my dad was a little rough with Luke and Matt. But most of the scars came from Matt. He would out of the blue attack someone. It would bother me that no one told him what he was doing was wrong. In fact, if we tried to defend ourselves or retaliate, we were punished. He couldn’t help it, but we could.

It was always hard to see Matt hurt someone, stranger or friend. Sometimes we could see the signs beforehand that he was was agitated. I always felt guilty that I couldn’t stop it from happening. Sometimes I felt responsible for it. Maybe if I noticed sooner, I could’ve stopped it. Why should I feel responsible for my brother’s actions?

His actions had a direct effect on my life. It was the reason that friends weren’t allowed to come to our house. It was the reason I lost friends. It was the reason for my isolation. Matt was so violent that he wasn’t allowed in school for 3 years. A teacher came to our house for Matt. My mom pulled us all out of school. I spent one year of middle school and two years of high school at home. I only saw my friends a couple times a month.

My cats became my friends. Sometimes Matt would hurt them. If they tried to come in the house, my dad would pick them up by the tail and throw them out. But I always let them sneak in my bedroom window.

There was nothing normal about my childhood. Yet here I am trying to live a normal life.

 

Luke’s visit, part 5

I don’t understand why he did the things he did. I don’t like to think about it, much less write about it. It makes me feel incredibly sad to tell you all of these things.

We didn’t travel much as kids. The only place we ever went to was the family cabin up north. I can’t even remember one family meal at a restaurant. Matt’s violent and disruptive behaviors made it nearly impossible to be welcomed anywhere.

I didn’t like the weeds in the water at the lake. Oftentimes, we would walk to our neighbor’s cabin nearby to swim. They raked by their dock giving them a sandy beach. They knew my parents and were okay with it, although I never remembered asking and they always glared at us.

There was that one time that my brothers and I thought it would be a great idea to throw the neighbor’s decorative rocks off the end of their dock. They were so angry. We were too little to get them out of the water at the end of the dock, the water was over our heads. My mom didn’t swim.

After that unfortunate incident when my brother almost drowned, we were always watched more closely in the water. It was my dad’s idea for my mom to put me in charge as a 6 year old of my 3 younger brothers in the water. They thought I would holler if something went wrong, but instead I froze when Luke went under.

After that, my mom would sit on the neighbor’s dock in her lawn chair to watch us swim. Sometimes if my mom wasn’t able to be there, she would send my dad. He was never really happy about that.

We didn’t have fun playing in the water with dad. He would grab our ankles while we swam under water and yank us back making us choke, sputter, and gasp water. It was all a game, like tag, you see. He seemed to think it was fun.

He thought it was terribly humorous that I was afraid of weeds. He grabbed my little body and planted my feet far away from the sand into the weeds. The few minutes he forced me to stand there seemed like hours. I was so terrified feeling the slimy weeds and what I imagined slithered underneath. Even to this day, I rarely like my feet to be uncovered.

I cried in terror and when he finally let go, I ran as fast as I could through the weeds to shore. All the while, he called me names and threw mucky weeds, a dead fish, and sticks at me. Then he swam back to our cabin through the weeds. He said that I was such a baby for being afraid.

But I still loved the water. I wanted to learn how to swim really good. My mom gave us basic swim lessons so we didn’t drown but said I couldn’t take the advanced class because they had doctor bills to pay for Matt.

Last summer I swam across the lake up north. I swam right through the weeds even though I was scared. I even competed in a Half Ironman. But I always remained a beginner swimmer.

My brother Luke’s daughters are really good swimmers and are on the swim team. My oldest niece, who is just 10, competed in her first triathlon this year. Luke set up a mock triathlon course for his girls up north. At least I am glad that he is the father that our dad never was. They have been given so many opportunities. They don’t have to grow up being afraid.