Families Keep Secrets
Posted on October 1, 2018
Never, never, never give up. ~ Winston Churchill
Children deserve parents who want them.
As with most domestic abuse, physical torture was only a part. Dotti destroyed what mattered to me. She did her best to destroy what mattered to me.
Attempted murder within families happens more often than most people realize.
What you are about to read is very personal and extremely difficult to write. I don’t even talk to my friends about these details. My childhood left me in emotional pieces. Keeping those pieces together requires a careful balance. Talking about my experiences unsettles my emotional balance.
Families keep secrets when one or both parents attempt to kill one or more of their children. After murder attempts have failed, parents must keep their murderous actions secret. Keeping their attempted murder secrets becomes the focus of the entire family, even when other members of the family do not know about the murder attempts. Parents recruit unknowing family members into protecting these secrets.
Al and Dotti did so by teaching all of our relatives on Al’s side and her side, as well as neighbors to ignore what I said and discount what I did or said. They didn’t know they were protecting a criminal at the expense of the victim.
My family became an attempted murder secret family just after Thanksgiving during my sophomore year of high school. Once again Al was not living in the home.
It took me 14 years to fully admit to myself and a therapist that an abundance of emotional, mental, and physical clues meant that my step-mother had attempted to kill me. I started talking about the murder attempt slowly, to my trusted therapist.
The attempted murder secret became completely unavoidable during a two-year stretch of intensive therapy. I happened to be keeping a journal so I wrote about the therapy sessions every week. Part of that journal is in this book. Writing this book has taken me far longer than I expected because I am on my own coping with my memories and all the secrets within my life.
Dotti did not want me. I knew that from day one. She made no secret about it. After her attempt to kill me physically failed, she spent the rest of my childhood trying to kill me emotionally, physically and spiritually. Most people I talked to about my childhood ignored me. I was blessed with a few dynamic therapists over the years who went well beyond a typical therapy session.
The myth is that birth satisfies the right to life. Birth requires breath.
Life requires food, nurturing, health care, shelter, and safety. The reality is that children who can breathe do not automatically receive food, nurturing, health care, shelter, or safety. I had little nurturing from my step-mother and no feelings of safety. Al was also a victim of my step-mother’s emotional abuse. That is why he would leave and get his own apartment for months at a time. Dotti was an alcoholic and Al did not know how to stop the abuse or cope with it. Periodically, she erupted in rages that could last for days. Those rages meant I could not feel safe.
The reality for children who survive neglectful and abusive parents can be an adulthood of continuing difficulties. While I was attempting to cope with my attempted murder memories, other people looked at me and saw a bitch, a depressed person, a loser.
People who look like good parents can easily hide their attempted murder secrets because no one believes they are capable of wanting to kill their children. It is a trauma that can spill into other lives.
For years I was unable to cope. My inability to cope with overwhelming trauma was challenging for many years and affected many people.
Some of this may be uncomfortable to read. You will also read about a life that unfolds into some happiness. I never expected any sort of happy ending. I do not feel guilty about coping with my life as best I could. Failing to live my life like others expected meant something was wrong with me, in their opinion. I had to overcome that as well. I do not feel guilty about living my own life in the way that I choose. You will see what I have been able to accomplish in spite of my childhood.
Just a few days after Thanksgiving, Dottie went out to the club where she sang. As she left the house she told me to take care of the boys, and use the holiday leftovers to make us all dinner. I had been taking care of the boys for a few years, so this was nothing new.
We had a delicious dinner that evening, almost like a second Thanksgiving.
Roasted turkey, roasted sweet potatoes and I melted more marshmallows over them, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert. It was so very enjoyable, having dinner with no stress or yelling. After dinner the boys went to watch TV and I got on the phone like a typical teenager.
All the dishes were still on the table and I knew I had plenty of time to clean up as Dotti came home late, after midnight most times. I called my boyfriend Stephen and we made a plan to speak again later again that evening.
I also called my girlfriend Sharon. I told her that I had an uneasy feeling and asked her to call me later and check in on me. She knew I was somewhat intuitive and although was not sure how it all fit together, she took my feelings to mean something and promised to call me later. I got back on the phone with Stephen and just hung out in the kitchen enjoying the evening. It was so nice to be with the boys and hear their playing laughter.
Stephen and I had the most interesting conversation that evening.
“Stephen, do you know what the scariest thing is? It is to not know your place in this world. To not know why you are here. That’s just an awful feeling.”
“What are you talking about?’ Stephen asked.
“I feel like giving up. I am not sure I see any hope for my future. I ask myself every day, ‘who are you?’ and I don’t have an answer.”
“One day you will know who you are. I don’t know who I am either. We are young and we have time to figure that all out.” Stephen was feeling uneasy and wanted to change the subject. It was not unlike me to get into these deep thoughtful conversations.
They did make most people uncomfortable and they usually backed away.
“I’m not a mistake like Dotti says. I know one day it will all make sense.”
“I love you. Don’t give up hope. I’ll call you again later.”
Just as I was getting up from the floor where I had been sitting while talking on the phone, the front door flung open and hit the wall with a bang. It was Dotti. She walked around the corner to the kitchen and saw all the dirty dishes spread across the table along with some still left over turkey. As I stood up she trapped me in the corner and started yelling. I could smell an intense breath of alcohol.
“I don’t deserve to come home to a messy house. What the fuck have you been doing?” she angrily screamed. From the side I could see George ready to walk through the doorway and into the kitchen. Dotti yelled at him to go back onto the family room and then she slammed the door behind him. Ron, Rick and George were at least safe for now.
I was slapped, which was nothing new, and just walked over to the table to start clearing the dishes. Tears ran down my face as no matter how many times this happened, my soul just ached. Each trip from the table to the kitchen was met with a hit from behind on my head. I knew if I said anything it would get worse, however, I could not help myself this time. “STOP!” I said. “PLEASE STOP!!”
As soon as the words left my mouth I hated myself as I knew I had just escalated the situation. Dotti just stood there and watched me load the dishwasher. I didn’t look at her yet could feel her glare burning into the back of my neck.
“I’m afraid I am going to have to call your father and have him come get you,” she said.
“Let’s see how much he loves you. Let’s see if he will come and get you. He loves his slut more than he loves you. I want you out of here. Tonight!”
Dotti picked up the phone and called Al. Then she laid the phone down and said she would continue the call in the back bedroom and for me to hang up the phone when she picked up. I picked up the phone.
“Dad, can you come over? It’s pretty bad here right now. I’m scared.”
“Oh Doretta, I’ll calm her down. It will be okay. I have dinner plans and can’t get there right now.”
I heard Dotti pick up the extension and I hung up. Both Sharon and Stephen had been calling and got a busy signal. They called each other and knew I was not speaking with either of them. They had decided to head over to the house and check on me.
After I finished cleaning up the kitchen I was heading to my bedroom. Just as I entered the hallway that went one way to the front door and the way into a dining room area, Dotti came out in a huff screaming that not even my father wanted me, no one wanted me, and I needed to be gone.
She rushed past me, swung around, pushed me down onto a big green high back chair, picked up the chair pillow, and sat on me with the pillow covering may face and her full weight on top of me. I was about 5’3″, 90 lbs.
Dotti was nearly 6′, not sure of her weight, however, it was lot more than mine. Both her hands were holding the pillow down on my face. She was pressing as hard as possible against my face. I thought I was going to die. I could not catch a breath. I kept fighting.
I was going into shock and was about ready to quit fighting, release, and let myself go.
Then, all of a sudden, I heard voices, and Dottie went flying off of me and onto the floor.
It was Stephen and Sharon. As I gasped for breath they grabbed me and said, “Let’s go!”
I was panicked, not quite knowing what was happening. Gasping for breath I looked around. “Let’s go,” they said. “We need to call the police.”
They pulled me out the front door and we got into Sharon’s car and drove just around the corner to El Camino Hospital.
We found a payphone and called the Los Altos Police department. This took all off about 15 minutes. The police told me I was a reported runaway and that my friends had attacked Dotti. They asked that we come back to the house and meet them out front.
I was afraid to be back at the house. I never knew what Dotti might attempt and the boys were there. I was afraid for the boys as well as Sharon and Stephen. As we rounded the corner there were two police officers standing in the driveway.
I could see Dottie standing at the front door. We pulled across the street and got out of the car. One of the officers walked into the house and the other came over to us.
He asked Stephen and Sharon for their ID’s, and they fully cooperated.
Sharon was 19. Stephen was 18. They were adults. The officer took Sharon aside and spoke to her for about five to ten minutes. Then he took Stephen aside and spoke to him as well. Next it was my turn and we stepped away so he could talk to me privately. I am sure he was comparing stories. He took notes on all three conversations. The officer from the house emerged and the two spoke briefly in the driveway.
Then one of the officers asked me to come into the house with him as he wanted to speak with Dotti and I together. I refused.
“I’m terrified of her. I’m not going back in there. She tried to kill me. Are my brothers okay? They are afraid of her too. Can you take me to juvenile hall instead?”
“Juvenile hall? You want to go to juvenile hall? Have you ever been there?”
“Yes,” I said, “and I would rather be there than here.”
“Will you come in with me and call your father? I’ll ask your mother to stay in the back bedroom while you use the kitchen phone.”
“She’s not my mother! She’s my step-mother. And I don’t trust her She tried to kill me!”
“I hear your concern. I’ll be right there with you. It will be okay. Let’s go call your dad.”
I looked back over my shoulder at Stephen and Sharon, and then walked with the officer to the front door. The other officer walked back out to Sharon and Stephen and they all stood there at the edge of the driveway. The officer and I walked into the kitchen and there was no sign of Dotti. “Go ahead and call your dad,” the officer said.
I dialed his number.
“Hello?” Al said.
“Hi dad. The police are here at the house. You better come over right away. I can’t stay here. Dotti tried to kill me. Please come right away dad.”
“Doretta, what are you taking about? Dotti called and said two of your friends attacked her. Are your friends drink or high and beating up on Dottie? I’m busy and all of this stuff can wait until tomorrow.”
“No Dad, it can’t. Sharon and Stephen are adults and they want to press charges against Dotti. She tried to kill me. They saw it. They saved me. They can you know, they can press charges the police said, they are adults. I think Dotti can get arrested.”
“I don’t belive this. Let me speak to the police.”
I started to turn toward the officer to hand him the receiver of the phone. As I glanced past him I saw Dotti come running into the kitchen.
She was screaming “Fuck you. You bitch. You slut. How dare you. Get out of here!”
She pushed past the officer and grabbed the phone from me. Dotti raised the phone up above her head and flung it full force towards my face. My instinct was to duck, and I did. The phone flew past me and hit the officer square in the forehead. In an instant he grabbed Dotti, pushed her up against the kitchen brick wall, handcuffed her, called for his partner outside, and then looked at me.
“I’m sorry” he said. In that moment, he was my hero. As the other officer came in the door, hand on his gun, he was directed to pick up the phone and talk to my dad.
“Sir,” he said, you need to come to the house and be with your children. We are taking your wife to the police station along with your daughter and her friends. How soon can you be here?”
Another police car pulled up and two more officers were now in the driveway.
One officer walked me out the door and told Sharon and Stephen to follow him to the police station. He told me he was placing me in the back of the car, however, I was not under arrest and I was not in trouble. He just wanted to keep me safe.
“Can my brother George come with us?” I asked.
“No, an officer will stay here at the house until your dad arrives. Once he can get someone here to be with the boys, he will meet us at the police station.”
Once at the police station it was explained to me that Sharon and Stephen were wanting to file charges against Dotti. They were believed. I was believed. And this was now very serious. I was given a Coke and a cookie.
Sharon and Stephen were in another room talking to an officer and I was sitting with an officer waiting for my father to arrive. Three hours later he showed up.
Al, myself and the officer sat together talking and it was explained that Sharon and Stephen had the right to press charges against Dotti, they were adults, and because of the officer being injured, they themselves also had the right to press charges. This meant Dottie could be arrested right then and there and not be allowed to return home.
Al would need to get her an attorney, have bail posted in the next 24 hours, and he would need to take care of the children in the meantime. He also needed to have a safe place for me to be, and not at home. Were there any relatives in the are? “No”, Al said. A lie.
For the first time in a very long time I felt calm. Al, well, he was pale, almost white.
He looked at me and knew this time it was serious. Very, very serious. Al asked to speak with the officer alone and they walked outside the door and sat at a desk where I could see them. They spoke for about an hour. I started to become scared. What if my dad talked the police out of this whole thing? I believed he could.
When we are hurt as kids in a certain way, throughout our lives we will tend to unconsciously seek out relationships in which we are hurt in the very same ways. This is not necessarily because the situations from our youth felt good. It is because it feels familiar. Our defenses are tricky, because they drive us toward familiarity in an effort to shield us from the pain of our past. They may seem like they will protect us.
In truth, they tend to protect the people who hurt us.
Why was Al so determined to protect Dotti when she was hurting me? As I watched, he got up and came into the room where I was sitting.
“I understand that Sharon and Stephen want to press charges against your mother and that means she would be arrested and jailed. Is this what you want?” he asked.
“She is not my mother! Frances was my mother. You know that. You married her, and adopted George and I! Remember? And, yes, I want Dotti locked up!”
“Can we talk about another option?” Al asked in a low voice.
“Sure,” I said.”You can let George and I go live with Aunt Dorothy.”
“You can go live with Aunt Dorothy,” he said. “Not George.”
“I’m not leaving George.” Al knew I would not leave George.
“Perhaps there is another option. I am wondering if Sharon’s mother would let you live with them? You would still attend school, be responsible, and we can see what happens in three months, as Dotti will attend therapy.”
Well, that was an interesting possibility. Obviously Al knew nothing about Sharon or her mother. And even if he did, he was desperate. There was no way he was going to take responsibility for the boys. He was not even living at home during this time. His life would be interrupted. He needed Dotti to take care of the house and the kids.
“Shall I bring Sharon in and we ask her?” Al said.
I had never seen him so desperate. I figured, why not? I’d be free.
“Okay,” I said.
This just broke my heart however.
My dad was not my hero. He was not even being a dad.
After Sharon spoke with my dad, being her most adult-like self, and agreeing not to press charges and allowing me to live with her and mother at least for the next 90 days, the police gave me one hour to go home with my dad, gather my things, and leave the house.
Then Dottie would be released. She could take a cab home as they wanted Al at the house with the boys and he was to stay there, at least for the next 48 hours.
I needed my dad and he was not able to be there for me. I lost hope. My heart was breaking. I was excited to go to Sharon’s, and not for the reasons my father thought.
He said he would come by in three days to visit me at Sharon’s and meet her mom.
Sharon, her mother and I had a lot of work to do in the next three days.
“Sure,” Sharon said,”that will be nice.” And she wrote her address and phone number down for my dad.
I’m old enough now to realize that Al walking away from me wasn’t my fault. It was his fault. It was his own anger, resentment and selfishness that caused him to give up on me.
There will always be an enduring emptiness in my heart.
However, now it is an accepting emptiness. It is an emptiness that is able to be filled.
Al was not a great father. A great father would not have given up on his daughter.
Into my adult years I thought I was screwed up. I thought I needed to be medicated or at least self-medicate myself with cutting, alcohol and drugs to handle my anxiety and feelings of depression. I’m not screwed up. I don’t need to cut myself or abuse alcohol or drugs. I just need people in my life to care about me. I need a support system. I need laughter and silliness.
I am smart and I am successful because I have realized that success is not measured by how much money I have or by how many people know my name.
brave, My success is measured by happiness and love.
My heart will always feel that sting when I think about how different things could have been for our family if Al hadn’t given up.
However, I would never be the person I am today if he hadn’t given up on me.
I wouldn’t be as brave, determined, independent and strong. I figured things out the hard way and I made mistakes, a lot of mistakes. I cried a lot and I sometimes felt like giving up too: however, I overcame. I was able to make it through the hardest times in my life.
My step-mother tried to kill me. Making it through that, I decided that very night I would be able to make it through anything.
They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals. I say only that an abandoned child never forgets. ~ Mario Balotelli
Who do you want to be and what experiences do you want to create?