What Happened Upstairs by Marie
The other day I was in the car with my ten year old sister when she asked, “Do you remember when we lived in the Big House?”
Of course I remember.
The Big House came after the Little Apartment which came after Timber Cove which came after the apartment we shared with my cousins, which came after other house all in the span of less than 3 years.
When I was 10 years old, my brother (8 at the time) and I moved in with our mom, her boyfriend, and my sister (then, 2). Shortly after we moved in, my mom and her boyfriend fell apart. For a while, we lived in a small two bedroom apartment with us three kids, my two cousins, my mom and my aunt. Then we moved into an apartment complex called Timber Cove.
At first, everything felt fine, normal even. Until I, nosey child that I was, got suspicious of all the time my mom was spending in her own bathroom. I started sneaking in there, trying to figure out what was so great about it. I found plates with white powder on them, razor blades, a blue cylinder that at the time, I didn’t know was actually a pill cutter. It took my 10 year old brain awhile to understand what was going on. I tried to tell adults that I trusted. Often times I was told to pray and hope that nothing was wrong.
We moved out of Timber cove and into this tiny 2 bedroom apartment. Most of my memories from the Little Apartment are of random men (“Friends” of my mom’s) sleeping over and hanging out with my mom in her room for hours. One of them drank my baby sister’s cough syrup because it had Robitussin in it. Then somehow, it was only one man that stayed over all the time. We can call him Jay.
In the beginning, we liked him. He cooked and helped clean. He was pretty cool to hang out with actually. What I didn’t know then was that while he was gaining our trust as kids, he would eventually be the reason for my mom’s impending heroin relapse and the cause of our neglect.
Soon after he made himself a place in our family, we moved to the Big House. My sister and I were put in the smallest room in the house with a door that couldn’t close and told to share a child sized twin bed. Soon after we moved in, my belongings started to go missing (as it turned out, she was pawning them for drug money). My mom started spending days in her room with Jay, skipping work, collecting welfare. I spent my days caring for her children. Every single night, I would sneak my sister down to the living room so that she could sleep on the couch, the only place she would go to sleep. I would sleep in the chair, if I slept. I made dinner, I made sure neither of the kids killed themselves accidentally. I was 12.
Once, we had a prostitute living with us. When Jay found out what she was because I had found her inappropriate pictures on our computer, he kicked her out. I remember cowering in the kitchen, hands over my sister’s ears, begging him to stop screaming “Cunt” in front of us.
Very rarely, Jay and my mom would go out. It was those few hours that I would hand my sister off to my brother and I’d journey upstairs to investigate. I was sneaky, I would unlock their door using my nails. I remember their room being hot and ugly but their bathroom was the worst. The lighting was yellow and everything was dirty. There was a cup full of needles on the counter. Bright orange medical needles that scared me so much I ran out of the room and left the door unlocked. When they got home, they noticed. They screamed at me for being nosey and grounded me. They tried to convince me that the needles were for Jay’s diabetes but I knew better. The tracks on their arms were too visible for it to be anything else. We lived like this for months. I tried to protect my siblings from what I knew. I tried to raise them.
I told people; I told my friends; their parents; no one knew what to do with a 12 year old who was spouting talk that reflected 3 children being neglected by a drug addicted mother. I was told that “God would know what to do.”
Well it turned out that god had nothing to do with it. One night, as I laid my sister down on the couch and turned on the Little Mermaid, there was a knock at the door. It was a police man asking for my mom. I was terrified. They arrested her on charges of Forgery. She had run out our money and was stealing from her own grandma to feed her addiction. They arrested her and just like that it was over. They sent my sister to her dad’s house and my brother and I to another house. We saved very few of our possessions before the landlord of the Big House threw away everything else that we had.
It took me years to understand that what had happened was abuse. That not all mothers are drug addicts. That neglect is very real and the repercussions take the form of the worst fear of abandonment. Because after all, one of the people who was supposed to care for me and love me unconditionally, left me to fend for myself and my siblings.
When I look at my sister, I remember that she is the age that I was when I raised her and my brother. It seems impossible that someone her age could ever do that, but I did. I don’t know if I can say I am a better person for it. The fear of abandonment colors every relationship and friendship that I have. If my own mother can leave me, so can literally anyone. But I’m working on it. I’m trying to let go of always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a process, but I hope that my story can encourage others to speak up about the abuse that you hear about. I told many people but few believed me.
My advice: Take every child seriously and remember that you are not alone in this.