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My Second Chance

Updated on November 7, 2008
KT (2nd grade) on vacation at the beach in Vancouver, BC, Canada
KT (2nd grade) on vacation at the beach in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Looking at that first picture of me, sitting on the beach in the middle of Christmas break, smiling, you'd never know the truth.  Even at that age, I thought I was going to die early.  Not just a random "early", but at age 26.  In fact, I was sure of it.  My life goals in elementary school included finishing school, having a steady boyfriend at age 22, and working with kids.  I didn't ever think that I would live long enough to marry, let alone have children of my own, so I put these things out of my mind. 

KT (third grade) at the Children's Museum in Portland, OR, USA.
KT (third grade) at the Children's Museum in Portland, OR, USA.

My life growing up was like the second picture:  all smoke and mirrors.  My parents were both too caught up in their lives, after their divorce when I was four, to take care of me properly.  They tried, in their own ways, but there's a reason for the saying that being a parent is the only important job that doesn't come with a training manual.  My parents desperately needed that training manual, or at least a few classes.

Outwardly, there were no obvious signs anything was wrong.  I excelled at school, had some friends, and played sports in elementary school.  I was in band from sixth grade through tenth grade, and continued to get A's and some B's.  I went through "normal" teenage rebellion, confused everyone by focusing on studies rather than the dating scene (part of my rebellion), and went to college.

Inwardly, however, I was a mess.  I would come home to a dark, gloomy house ruled by moldy pop cans, dirty dishes, and neverending piles of laundry, which my chore list said to clean up by the time my mom got home.  I would eat graham crackers with peanut butter for snack, then do my homework and chores.  When I was really young, my grandma (Mom's mom) would babysit me, and she would do the chores.  After she was done with them, she would sit me on her lap and turn the tv to the evening news.  Yes, as a four-year-old and five-year-old, I watched all the horror and destruction, all the bad things going on in the world, in my own living room and had no say in it at all.

Things were a bit better at my dad's.  No chore lists, and we did the dishes and laundry together.  I had actual sandwiches, milk, and fruit to eat, and dinner was home-cooked rather than random fast food.  I learned to cook from my dad, and it's one thing that I enjoy to this day.  But, things weren't always that rosy.  Dad was always wrapped up in his family tree work, for himself and for others, and at least every other week would drag me off to a library to sit in front of microfilm viewers and do my homework there.  We would be there from the time he picked me up from school until 7 or 8 in the evening, at which time I would be almost throwing a fit at the library, telling him he needed to get off the viewer and take me home to get me something to eat. 

School was my sanctuary; no wonder I excelled at my subjects.  The only times I acted up were when I hadn't had a breakfast that morning or dinner the evening before.  Then, most often I got sick and was sent to the nurse's office.  She would get me something to eat from the cafeteria, some nice cool water, and let me take a nap for as long as I needed to.

In third grade, I remember feeling so angry one day that I got out my scissors (which had actual points on them), stabbed myself repeatedly in the thumb, got up and got a band-aid from the teacher, then went back to my desk and cut a good chunk out of my hair.  When I got home, I didn't want to tell anyone what happened, and was sent to my room crying in punishment.

In sixth grade, I put fast-drying school glue (O-Glue) all over my hand.  I had a habit of putting it on my thumb, letting it dry, then peeling off the "skin" and grossing my classmates out with it.  That time, I was having a bad day, and did my whole hand to see if I could get the skin to be oxygen-starved and turn colors.  One of my classmates told my teacher, who sent me down to the school counselor.  I tried to tell her what was going on at home, but she chalked it all up to the fact that my great-grandma had died four years previously (although she somehow thought that had happened far more recently), and sent me back to class with a report.

My mom got mad at my teacher for this, and has never forgiven him.  Mom claims that she tried to get my dad to agree to send me to counseling, but it never happened.  Neither of them ever went, either, which my mom also blaims my dad for. 

In middle school, I was one of the kids who got picked on, so I started fighting back.  I became a bully to two kids, and regret it very much now.  I read to escape, so much so that I wrote "I live in a dream" on my binder.  I had almost no friends, no social activities, and wasn't allowed anywhere by myself.

My grandma and grandpa referred to themselves as my "caretakers" rather than my grandparents, and even signed two cards (birthday and Christmas) that way.  One year, they gave me a cookbook as a present and wrote in it "For Karen, because it's Danny's birthday."  Danny is my older cousin.

My dad would be at the library until late, working on his projects, so I would make myself dinner.  When I was at Mom's, I still had the chore list that I never could complete, and got in trouble because of it.  I wasn't allowed to use the stove at Mom's, so I ate what I could from the drawers, usually cereal, oatmeal, instant breakfasts, granola bars, and fruit snacks.  Mom still doesn't get how serious the situation was, because she still laughs that one time she came home and asked me if I'd had dinner, and I said yes.  She asked me what I had, and I said, "A graham cracker and peanut butter sandwich."

At this point, and many times before (yes, in elementary school as well), I'd contemplated suicide.  I knew I could never go through with that, though.  I asked various people about neglect and child abuse, but their answer was "No, your parents love you, and they would never abuse you."  Little did they know, but I knew I was being neglected.  I wish that someone had reported it then. 

In high school, I had an abusive band teacher.  Everyone agreed on that, and he was later put on paid leave.  I had the full support of my family on that one, and many of my friends were in the same situation.  I didn't feel so alone then.  It was something to rally around, something that I belonged to, even if it was a bad thing in itself.

College was college, and I was away from my family for the most part.  I came home on holidays and summer, but mostly didn't have to deal with them.  I was mostly happy, for the first time in my life.

Then, after college, I was back at home again, at Mom's all the time.  Same issues:  ants crawling over me while I slept, dust allergies from the house never having been vacuumed while I was at college, dirty and moldy dishes.  The electricity and garbage bills were left up to me a few times, with my minimum wage paycheck.  I wanted out. 

I got my own apartment, a good job, and that steady boyfriend. Life was starting to look up. Then, that boyfriend left, and my family started blaming me for things. Once again, I was overwhelmed.

This time, I made the most important decision in my life. I got on the phone at 10:00 at night and called a fellow member of my new church, who was a psychologist. I talked with her for an hour, and made an appointment to see her the next week. Walking into her office was the scariest thing I'd ever done, because I knew it would change my life.

A real smile
A real smile

That was when I was 23. It took three years of counseling, and now lifelong anti-anxiety medication, but I have now made it to age 30, with a loving husband and a good home. My life's flipped 180° for the better. It's a long road, and one that is a challenge every day for me. My husband and my faith in God are what get me through every day. They are my rocks, my strength.

I have a good volunteer job, and a part-time job as a sales representative (which only pays if I don't spend too much on the products myself). I have cats, which I used to be allergic to. But, most of all, I have my life to live, and live as I see fit.

It is a true gift.


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    • seamist profile image


      9 years ago from Northern Minnesota


      It sounds like you had a miserable childhood to say the least. I am glad you stayed strong throughout the ordeal and have peace and a loving family of your own now. May the rest of your life be full of blessings and rainbows.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 

      9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Wow KT, was an open and touching story, you had such a terribly hard time, and survived to tell the tale. I admire your strength and bravery for sharing this with all of us :)

    • KT pdx profile imageAUTHOR

      KT pdx 

      9 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      Thank you, MM. When I was younger and first realized what was going on, I did wish that it were physical, for that reason. No such "luck". That's why it's important for those in authority positions (teachers, counselors, school nurses) to know ALL symptoms of ALL kinds of abuse. Back then, that was beginning to be realized, but not taught as much as it is now.

      I have forgiven everyone in my family, and am thankful that I am able to forgive them. One thing I've learned about forgiveness, though, is that sometimes it's best to forgive and move on, rather than forgive and try to get them to do the same. You can only control yourself (back to the serenity prayer), so I fogave and moved on. My family's still in my life to some extent, but they don't have power over me anymore. I still have to keep reminding myself of that when they try to control me still, but it's true. At least now I have my husband to also remind me of that.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi KT, Powerful story. Emotional abuse is so devestating. In some ways it would have been easier if your parents had hit you. At least the authorities could see the damage being done to you.

      To say I'm sorry for the pain you've lived through is a major understatement. But, I'm glad to see you got therapy and now have love in your life. What I have learned in my life is the power of FORGIVENESS. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive your mother, father and grandparents. They did the best they could with what they knew at the time. Holding onto resentments will only keep you down and won't affect them at all.

      Lovely, inspiring hub. I know it will help many readers. MM

    • KT pdx profile imageAUTHOR

      KT pdx 

      9 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      Thank you, everyone. I hope that someone in similar circumstances reads this also, and knows that he or she is not alone. Bard, thanks. Amanda, my mom grew up in similar circumstances (see the part about how my grandparents treated me -- that was her parents), so she doesn't really "get it" because of that. I don't even try to have discussions about my past with her because of that. Too complicated. Jim, at the time I sought help because I knew I would be over the edge if I didn't, and it took me a while in counseling to realize where all the anger and hurt was coming from. When I did, that's when it all started to make sense.

      Again, thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting.

    • jim10 profile image


      9 years ago from ma

      It is nice that you shared such a difficult story. I'm glad that you found that second chance. It looks like you realized the pain your parents caused you and you took control of your life and created a better future for yourself by seeking help. You should be very proud of yourself you are such a strong person.

    • Lgali profile image


      9 years ago

      nice one

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      9 years ago from India

      KT - it's so wonderful to see that after all that, you're still so full of love inside, counting your blessings and looking forward to life - only an extraordinary human being can rise above circumstances like you did!

    • Dottie1 profile image


      9 years ago from MA, USA

      Glad you reached out for that help and had the faith to know that things can change and often do for the better so long you keep that faith! Thanks for sharing your story. Others will benefit from it. Thumbs up. ~Dottie~

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      Hi KT,

      This was a moving read. At points I felt so angry on your behalf. Children are such a precious gift, and such a privelege to have, that I can scarcely believe how badly some parents behave towards them. Unfortunately many of these things go in cycles, and it may be that your Mom had problems in her childhood too, and didn't actually know that she was doing anything wrong. Thankfully you are now much happier, and your life is on a whole new path. Long may it continue!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 

      9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you KT, for sharing your moving story and answering my request! After all that hell in your life I am so glad to hear you found your path out of it and onward!


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