How Can Love Find a Way?

A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Where Does Hatred Come From?” In it I discuss my mother’s murder and what (I think) compelled my brother to do such a thing. But something else has been on my mind, a question I get quite a lot that usually makes my heart race and my tongue trip up:

“How on Earth did you survive?”

Let me begin by saying that if I’m being totally honest, it still feels some days like I haven’t. Survived, that is. The cycle of abuse is a road that is twisted, long, and arduous. I am still traversing it, and live with the bits of shame that victims often do. On other days, however, I have an answer to the question everyone is really asking – how do two people born from the same parents go in such vastly different directions: one a murderer, the other a motivator?

In more general terms, “How Can Love Find a Way?”

The reality is, it’s almost so simple it’s painful. The answer is that love and hate are both born from attachment.

See, for almost every experience my brother had where he felt alienated and different, I had one where I felt accepted or celebrated. Or maybe even just O.K. with being different.

I came second. By the time I was born, my parents had been separated for a year. They were divorced when I was two, but my dad never lived with me. So, his absence wasn’t an absence to me, it was my norm. Thus, when dad ripped himself from our lives, it was only devastating to one of us.

Then came all our moves. Within my first sixteen years of life I lived in eight homes. I got used to change, and loved switching schools or classes. It gave me the chance to reinvent myself and make new friends. Jesse, however, was a bit of a pariah. Not by choice, of course, but by social design. He was short, chubby, and an easy target. I was short, chubby, and an easy target, but apparently the world thought that was more acceptable in a girl. I got bullied less and made more friends. So, when people didn’t allow either of us in to their lives or picked on us because we looked a little different, it was only really devastating to one of us. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father.

Soon, my brother started attempting suicide. He was institutionalized and given “help.” Here, at these bleak homes for ‘troubled youth,’ he learned to believe he was even more different than he could have imagined. That now, with a triple diagnosis of “mental illness,” he’d never really escape. This was probably the worst time of Jesse’s life. My dad never visited him; Mom and I were the only ones that seemed to care. And so, while I was in middle school, I visited mental institutions and wrote him letters, begging him to stay here with us. He would keep one of those notes in his wallet for years. Through all of this I learned how dark people can feel. But more importantly, I learned how good it felt to give people reprieve from their darkness. These failed suicide attempts were devastating for him, and of course, extremely devastating to me. But I had my studies to throw myself in to and excel at and friendships to seek asylum in. Thus, it was really only life-damaging for one of us. Especially since Jesse had already been rejected by our father and peers.

When my brother left high school after being told he didn’t fit in to the mold they provided, he eventually found exercise and drugs. He grew fit and powerful, more toxic. He had grown sick of being told by society how different he was, and with his newfound strength his previous shame was gone; now his emotions had morphed in to anger. In turn, he became extremely violent towards Mom and me. We were his scapegoats. There were tires slashed, holes punched in the walls, swift kicks to our guts (literal and figurative), obscenities screamed, and so much more. It was Hell.

Mom, left with little other options, called the police on him several times. When he was released, Jesse slept in an old car he bought from Craig’s List, other times at friend’s houses. But he wheedled his way back home each time, as many abusers do. Then Mom would eventually kick him out again. Within this cycle he somehow found his way in to the army twice, despite a juvenile record of domestic violence.

Mom and I reveled in our freedom from him whenever he was out. Without him home we were able to focus on our personal and professional endeavors. I was sailing through college with a 3.9, was an officer in my sorority, and had a great job working for Arnold Schwarzenegger right out of high school. For every hurdle Jesse had collided with, I was jumping over two at a time. And when he was eventually kicked out of the military a second time for erratic behavior, he came home to find me even more successful. Which made him that much angrier. Especially since he had already been rejected by our father, our peers, the school district, mental health professionals, and now the military.

He brandished his isolation like a sword, swinging it at anyone he saw as a threat, which eventually became everyone. Girlfriends, strangers, it didn’t matter. However, he swung most often at home. Jesse reached out to my dad a few times at this point, but Dad was dealing with his own demons. So, while my brother’s identifying parent was slipping deeper in to a depressive, drunken state far from us, seeing us less than he ever had before, Mom and I grew closer. She and I became best friends. We didn’t speak of our heartache much, because I’m not sure we ever had a grasp on what ‘it’ was, but our bond was deep and inexplicable. We knew we needed each other to survive the toxicity in our lives.Which made Jesse hate us even more.

Thus, two weeks after I finished college, Jesse killed Mom. It had been a long time coming; there were aerosol cans sprayed at lighters, knives thrown in to walls, online dating and email accounts hacked and spoiled. And despite my world being rocked, I survived. Because I had been shown in life that bad things happen. A lot. However, they always stop. And there’s always love on the other side. Or on the underside. Or somewhere; it can always be found somewhere. In the encouraging words of a teacher who didn’t know why I was at school as much as possible, but still let me have my safe place. In the stalwart support system of a sorority. In the home of a best friend whose parents may not have known exactly what was going on, yet still had an open door policy. In believing in someone even when they don’t. In my mom’s encouraging words and resiliency. Where there is hope extended, wherever connections are made, love can be found. That’s the answer to what saved me from a life of hatred and bitterness: hope in the form of attachment & love.

So, remember that next time you see someone who may seem different, struggling, isolated, or even angry. A little love can go a very long way, especially for those who haven’t received much. In some cases it could be the difference between a life of love and a life of hatred.

Thank you to everyone who helped me see the love when it may have been difficult to do so on my own.

If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please read the resources on the National Domestic Violence Hotline and consider reporting the abuse to the authorities.

Tomorrow is Another Day

Thirty-seven years ago today my mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three years ago yesterday, I gave birth to my own son.

Every cell in my body wants to have a sit down with her, to trade birth and/or parenting stories. But, as my brother stole her life eleven years ago, I haven’t been able to. I never will.

Yesterday I baked a cake. It wasn’t beautiful. No one in the family could identify what it looked like: a guitar? A banjo? A magnifying glass? I didn’t mind though; all I kept thinking about was the cake my mom made 30 years before, the one she served my brother’s friends at his 7th birthday, that looked almost the same way. I wanted to talk to her about it, laugh at their coincidentally-matching, misshapen figures. Maybe argue over whose was worse. But I couldn’t, so I wrote about it instead. This was was my way of feeling closer to her: writing and baking

Yesterday, my son’s birthday, I spent the day wondering if I’d hear from my brother. Far too much of the day was wasted wondering if he’ll, in a final show of selfishness, steal his own life. Sometimes I hope he does, sometimes I pray he doesn’t. Either way, I am healing from a life of trauma and abuse. And my abuser, despite being behind bars, still has a strange, distant power over me.

Some days are easier than others. 💓

To All the Friends I’ve Lost Along the Way

I have lost many friends over the years. A few were stolen by Death (may they rest in peace), but far more of them I have lost to life.

Some of those losses have been easy; a simple cease of communication was enough to loosen our bonds. Other endings have been sloppy & painful, leaving both parties scorned. Some are intentional, others unintentional. But the common thread among all of them is that they have been necessary.

See, I believe everyone comes into your life for a reason, but not everyone stays. Those exits happen for a reason, too. We cannot expect to be able to keep everyone. We are dynamic, as are what we need and what we want. Our relationships must ebb and flow, too.

So, to those friends who I have moved on from, or that have moved on from me, I wish you the best of luck in life. My absence does not mean I am wishing you ill will; on the contrary, I hope you are soaring. I hope whatever may have caused the gash between us to have healed when your wounds were less fresh. For, it’s true: we cannot find a place for everyone in our lives. But, we can always find a place to wish them well.

Where Does Hatred Come From?

Where does hatred come from?

I originally answered this question on my blog almost two years ago, but in honor of the many lives a shooter stole today, I thought I would repost it. This conversation MUST happen.

*A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?

I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.

I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now just over three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.

But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess.

This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”

So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. And then within a short amount of time, his violent attempts were re-directed at Mom and me (but mostly Mom).

In middle school, I watched these trials. I watched society tell Mom what was doing wrong. I watched society tell my brother how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. I watched them both fail over and over, and everyone around them show them how they were screaming up instead of offering help. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them to go through.

Their increasingly tenuous relationship forced Jesse to leave home for a bit. Unfortunately, his stint away delivered him into a volatile military career. It only took a few months before it came to a screeching halt and his mental illnesses became apparent; he had chosen to stop concealing them under the duress of boot camp. He somehow exited with honorable discharge, and still, very little mental health benefits. Upon his return home to Mom he felt even angrier and isolated.

And, to make an incredibly long and painful history shorter, after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom.

But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.

So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to restrict guns more. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting (although stricter laws on both cannot hurt our children more than the guns literally have).

This is about love. No matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Agnostic, Democratic, or Republican. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic level, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.

As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.