A Twist On A New Beginning

17 Nov

Within the first year after I moved from California to Colorado with my three younger children, I realized something was drastically wrong with Casey.  There wasn’t a precise moment like drawing a chalk line on a sidewalk.  The process was slow and gradual.  Casey was the perfect child; maybe too perfect.  Recently I read an article suggesting that this can be a sign of sexual abuse.

Casey was easy-going, affectionate, gregarious, charming, sparkled with a smile that spread across her face.  Casey rarely exhibited anger.  Then the younger boys began assailing me with tales of her physical abuse, particularly her younger brother Joey who was four.  On a Thursday evening when I got home from work, Joey rushed to my side, recounting Casey’s acts of violence; grabbing him by the shoulder and slapping him in the head with her open hand.  I knelt down to comfort him, speechless.    

When I confronted Casey, in the time it takes to snap your fingers, my sweet, congenial daughter turned into a raving lunatic.  She hurled angry threats at me like heated knives intended to sear my heart; called me filthy names; cussed; and sent a charm box whizzing toward my head.  With the passing of time, similar scenes occurred more frequent.  Casey turned vicious, mean and hurtful as quickly as flipping a light switch and she didn’t seem to care. 

Another extremely disturbing behavior surfaced; her overt sexualized flirting with older men.  Despite attempts to convince myself her behavior was normal, I knew it wasn’t.  I remember the day my doubts disappear forever. 

Several handsome men frequented the social club I belonged to, charming their way into the hearts of the women, single or married.  Two of the favorites were Bruce and Tim.  They possessed the down-home country charm of romanticized cowboys.  These two cowboys were wolves in cowboy clothing and they caught Casey’s eye.

On a Tuesday night, I was volunteering at the coffee bar when Bruce and Tim strolled in together and found an open pool table.  Jokingly, they tossed the pool balls around on the green felt before starting a game.  Casey strolled up to Tim, her hips swaying like a front porch swing.  Immediately, she draped her arms over his shoulders covering him like a human shawl.  Her giddy laughter reminded me of  a young child not a fourteen-year-old teenager.  As I watched her, uneasiness inched its way through my body.

When it was Tim’s turn to shoot, Casey entangled her arms around Bruce’s waist while Tim tapped a corner pocket indicating the ball’s intended destination. Then she wrapped her leg around the upper part of Bruce’s leg.  She stroked the inside seam of his worn jeans as she positioned her face inches from his.  My jaw tightened and my chest muscles constricted.

It was difficult to pin-point what was bothering me.  Since I was prone to ignoring my instincts, initially I shrugged off my feelings as over-reacting.  Maybe their behavior was nothing more than playfulness.  Yet there was a low growl inside me gaining momentum which was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.  My concerns bounced around in my head like tennis balls in a dryer.  I couldn’t peel my eyes from the unfolding scene.  I felt like a spy.  Casey’s behavior was sexually provocative, characteristic of a mature, experienced woman.  Equally disturbing was that neither Tim nor Bruce repelled her aggressive behavior.  Instead, they encouraged her.  I shook off my paralysis; broke up the scene; and took the kids home.

After the younger boys were tucked in, I drew in a gigantic breath of air and released it before striding in the direction of Casey’s bedroom.  She was sprawled on her waterbed in yellow and black Tweedy Bird pajamas with purple, fuzzy slippers—exuding pure innocence.  I doubted my earlier instincts; wondering if I imagined the scene. 

I gathered my courage and began.  “Watching you with Bruce and Tim at the pool table tonight bothered me.”

“Like what bothered you?”  Casey twisted strands of hair around her fingers.

“Stuff like wrapping your leg around them.  I figured you were being playful and goofing around but they might misinterpret your behavior.”

“What do you mean?” Casey asked, nonchalantly scratching a mosquito bite on her upper arm.

“Men sometimes misunderstand.  The expectation is that they are honorable and won’t take advantage of you but that isn’t always true.”

“How can they misunderstand?  Like what would they do?” Casey’s innocent Oreo-cookie-eyes fixed on mine.

I shifted my weight, straightening the hem of my blouse.  “Well, men might get sexual ideas when that isn’t your intention.”

In one swift, fluid motion, Casey clenched the geography book lying by her feet and hurled it at my head.  I lurched backward to avoid the airborne book.  Casey stood up and yelled, “Are you calling me a slut, Mom?  Are you?  Are you calling me a bitch?  Get out of my room.”  She advanced toward me with her teeth clenched and her eyes locked into a smoldering glare.  Startled, I retreated. 

After pulling her door shut, I leaned against the cool, stucco wall shaking and speechless.  Tears spilled down my cheeks like an overfilled tea cup and pooled on the lapels of my rust silk shirt.  Her flirtatious behavior continued.

            Over the year, Casey became a convincing victim.  Her fabricated tales about her childhood rivaled any work of fiction.  Her twisted tales of home life had me on an equal level with the wicked step-mother in Cinderella.  I was a heartless, neglectful, abusive mother.  Some lies were harmless but others were not.  Casey’s sweet, charming, gregarious personality easily roped in any dysfunctional savior within ear-shot who rushed to rescue her.  Her friends were adults struggling to get a grip on their own lives.  They were not balanced people who could sort truth from fiction; but then Casey presented a good sale.  She twisted her yarns to provoke outrage.  Drama swarmed around Casey.  She seemed to constantly stir up a whirl wind of crisis.  She cast out her dramatic hooks to me, friends and adults. 

Words didn’t faze Casey.  I grounded her, she broke the ground.  I took away her phone privileges and she used the phone before I got home from work.  If I banned her from the dinner table, she snuck into the refrigerator after I went to bed.  If I sent her to her room, she refused to go.  When I imposed a consequence, she didn’t care.  If Casey complied, it was her choice and at her whim.  My newly acquired parenting tactics were ineffective.  I was baffled at what to do with a fourteen-year-old who eyes are almost level with yours.  To critics of my parenting who’d say, “I wouldn’t tolerate that behavior.  I’d stop her.  She wouldn’t get away with acting like that.”  I challenge them to take her on.  Although I was powerless, I kept trying.  By the end of the year, I stared down a cobra every day.

Underlying Casey’s behavior was an aura of pain.  I failed miserably to touch the place in her that was suffering.  Yet, empathy couldn’t stop my mushrooming anger at her behavior.  I finally admitted that she needed help and so did I.  The next day I picked up the phone and initiated a search for a therapist who might have the magic elixir to unravel the mystery before I suffered a meltdown but not before Casey left a swath of destruction in our family.

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