Survivor Stories, Guest Post: Fitting In and Forgiveness

I love the voice in this, so strong and funny. The story she describes isn’t pretty, but what she takes out of her experience is.

I am not pretty. I am damn funny, silly and a bit quirky. Those things make me “Too Cute”, as my friends would say. I tried being pretty, but the cost was my soul. I’m fine, really fine where I am.

My Dad, Paul Draper, is handsome. He is a classic “Steve McQueen” type. He has a sculpted chin, dark hair and green eyes. My brother David is handsome. He was a model in college. The fact that my brother was a model probably added 5 years onto the time I will spend in therapy. My mom is pretty, She has red hair and sky blue eyes. Her skin is so china bisque fair, dotted with a freckle or two.

My earliest memory of my Father is him beating me till I urinated on myself. I was four, and he caught me chewing on a doll’s foot. I was in my Pj’s. He struck me until the floor was soaked in urine. He then made me mop my urine up.

My father was raised by an alcoholic father and a distant mother. There were 6 children in 8 years. The foothills of Maryland aren’t conducive to raising a garden, much less children. When my grandfather did work, he was a talented stone mason. A fireplace he crafted stands in a room at Camp David. My dad and his brothers would gather poison snakes, and sell them to a moonshiner. He paid a dollar for every live snake. When you are hungry, in 1939, a dollar bought a lot of food. I am not making excuses, believe me. What has kept me sane are facts. It is a fact, my father grew up hungry, and longing for more than a full belly. At 17, he lied about his age and joined the Air Force.

My mother moved to Columbus, Ohio when she was 19. Right out of high school in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. US 23 north seemed like her yellow brick road. She met my father at a jazz club. He was stationed at the local air force base. That Thanksgiving, he called home to Maryland told his mom he wasn’t coming home for the holiday. My Grandmother Draper hung up the phone, went to her refrigerator and threw the thawing turkey away. Every story, even dark ones give way to levity.

Christmas brought more than presents, my mom was pregnant with me. She and my father wed on St Patricks Day 1962. My older cousins tell the story about our Aunt Von getting drunk. She tried to pick up the preacher. In her defense, he was single.

My dad had traveled the world, seen the sights, but if your girl was pregnant, you married her. Maybe he felt trapped, maybe hunger was still ravaging him, but in 1962 you got married.

I was born that September, pale skin, ice blue eyes. I was given the name Treva. My father said he heard it in Europe. Treva is an odd enough name, add in my looks and the forecast was dim. My brother David was born 5 years later, he is still stunning.

My dad beat my mom, my dad beat me, David not so much. We moved every 18 months, base to air force base. This was during Viet Nam, my dad worked on plane engines. Maybe it was the stress, maybe it was the war, he just beat what he couldn’t cope with. I was just awkward, crooked teeth, frightened of my own shadow. I lost on the gene, and compassion pool.

 I never wanted to meet other fathers, men at all. What saved me? Books, reading; reading saved my life. Reading gave me hope, a place to hide, solace. . I devoured them, because I couldn’t eat with my family. My father decided in 6th grade I was getting chunky. Most evenings , he made me get the bathroom scale and weigh myself. Dinner was on the table, getting cold. I was going through puberty, Did I mention that I has cystic acne? 

 If I didn’t weigh what he wanted, I didn’t eat. It was my fault, he said.  “How could you do this to him?”  My mom would say. By the time I was 16,  my hand had been broken, lips busted , jaw bone cracked. I was told very patiently in the ER to “Try harder with your father”  “Oh, What goes on inside our house stays here” . When asked about my injuries, I repeated what I was told “It was my fault”.   I did tell my high school guidance counselor about the abuse. My father’s anger was escalating. He threw a skillet at my head. I was lucky that the skillet missed. His fist didn’t. My jaw still clicks, and pops.  The Counselor did nothing.

No matter how Paul hit, or Jewell reinforced; I did not fit. I was in school plays, in band, youth group. My brother was starting to play sports. He had white blond hair. His skin would tan . Oh, David.( sigh)

“What are we going to do about her ? My dad would scream that to my mom.  He had hit and bruised her till resistance was futile. My mom wouldn’t have known her own voice, or her own opinion if she had one. The verbal abuse was worse. I knew he couldn’t beat me forever. He had to go to work, coach David’s football team. Work on our yard. Did I mention our yard was perfect?  Yes, we had a curved walkway with roses.

But Treva, “You like me yelling at you, don’t you?”. “If you would lose weight, if you were a cheerleader, if you were pretty, I would stop hitting you ! ”  ” You are so selfish, Treva. You are so fat, and so selfish.”  A boy walked me home from youth group. My father called me a whore. Rob kissed me good night after a date. My father called me the  “C” word.  I don’t know why he was abusive. If I found out today why, to what avail?  Flannery O’Connor  wrote  “Not to adjust our stories for someone else’s comfort”   This is mine: Shit-storm and a Glimpse of Glitter

I won college scholarships to schools close by, but my father needed me gone. I was sent 8 hours away to Milligan College. The people I met there became family, saved my life, kept me whole. I did not know this till I tried to kill myself in 2010.

I graduated college, taught kindergarten, got married, had babies, got divorced, got breast cancer. My dad was right, you know. He said “I hate you ! No one will love you. God doesn’t love you'”  All things said from the pulpit of Paul Draper.

Breast Cancer was the sign for me. Not that God hated me, but Paul Draper was right.  Paul Draper was bigger than God.  My brother David played college football for Vanderbilt. Did his masters at Emory. David did what Paul said, see Treva. Breast Cancer, ha !

 So I began to drink, lots. Vodka looks like water, you cant smell it. Cosmopolitan’s are vodka with a tiny bit of pink. They are cute, and I am kinda cute. So when I drank them “I GOT CUTER” …The Bexley Monk made the best  cosmopolitans ever.  I started dating, some. I had sex with men more.  Newly divorced, dating, breast cancer survivor, what’s a few drinks and a one night stand or two?  First off, I drank so much that I couldn’t stand. And a One night stand is a span of hours, the walk of shame?  

Remember the part about not adjusting your story for comfort?   Giving a blow job to a total stranger is not a date. Whether the drink is pink or blue, its not cute when you don’t know where your clothes are. Its worse, because you don’t know where you are, or what is his name?  You were acting out your pain, Treva !  “Bullshit”  The Bexley Monk was still a bar whether it had a piano or not.  I was a drunk, lost trying to fit, drowning.  Ask my children about their mom during her “wild oats” time.  I stole my daughter’s identity so I could get a credit card. I needed tires for the car. I had people who did care I could have asked.  I stole my daughter’s identity, I called my son names.  How’s that vodka working now?   Paul and Jewell are retired , doing very, very well.  Beautiful home in the mountains of Tennessee.  David married a doctor.  Paul was right about Treva.

There is a thing about the truth, you better own it all. Because if you don’t, it will crawl back somehow. Secrets make us sick. So breast cancer hadn’t killed me, it just made me suffer like Paul said. I didn’t fit, I cant fit so I swallow 50 pills and drink a bottle of Grey Goose. 

I text out to friends “I am Brave. I did it”….  Grace showed up, the invisible thread . Two friends from college and one close by called the police. I woke up three days later in Grant Hospital.  The first voice I heard on the phone was my mom’s  . She said I was a lying disgrace. A nurse was on the line and heard her.  She came in my room and said “Stop what you are doing, you are going to die”   I asked her “What do I do? ”   She said “Don’t listen to your mom ever again”   The next call was a friend from college. He said ” Get Well, We Love You” 

I started going to AA ( still do).   Making amends to my children,  and friends was not easy. I  was a hot mess. Soon I found out that God didn’t hate me,  and I had the world’s most awesome friends .  They called, flooded my mailbox with cards, the good stuff. Therapy wasn’t easy, owning your story means all of it. I hurt and disappointed so many people.  AA tells us to make things right , help others, be thankful.  I started every day with thanking God aloud for something. 
In 2012, my  daughter  had a grand mal seizure. My mom was here visiting Tabitha. While she was unconscious in the hospital, my father called from Tennessee.  My mom had gone for coffee. I answered her phone . My father was just an explosion of venom, and expletives. He went on about how no one could rely on me. I just hung up. When I told my mom, she defended him. She said “He was Scared”.  I think that was and still is the truth.

Can you imagine having to gather snakes to sell so you could feed your family?  Because I can’t.  My dad lied about his age to get in the service to help feed his brothers and sisters.  Can you imagine being that fearful of something so basic like hunger?  I don’t speak to my father. There is no need. He is not in my atmosphere. I have great pity for him. I know that fear, he passed it on. Who does a girl trust if her own father says he hates her?  What do you do to find love? 

Truth and Grace, friends. While my child was still unconscious, I sent one text message “Pray”.  I had so many messages, my phone lit up like Christmas at Bloomingdales.  How lucky and blessed. In a dark , garbage can of a situation my daughter was loved.  Church friends, college friends, people who didn’t know us, friends of friends…invisible thread of truth and grace.

Once when I was away at college, I came home to see my brother play football. He was a senior in high school, all state defensive lineman. I went up to sit with my parents, in the roped off section. A gentleman said “Honey, You can’t be here. This is just for athletic booster families.” I introduced myself to him, his face look dumbstruck. He said “I didn’t know the Draper’s had another child”…Imagine  I had been gone long enough, with 5 years between David and I, Paul’s dream almost came true. She didn’t fit, so lets make her disappear. 

I didn’t fit, but I didn’t disappear.I don’t have to fit any puzzle except my own. My parents were horrific to me. I wasn’t much better to myself. I had to learn a lot. I also couldn’t forgive myself, if I didn’t forgive them. Forgiveness is not about giving a pass. Forgiveness is about humanity. If I wish ill will or maleficence on someone, what does that say about me?  I want you to be in pain; is what that says.  I don’t want to know people who wish pain on others .  I heard a lady in AA  attempt to explain forgiveness to a room of newly sober people. She said “It’s wishing that rotten SOB peace and getting on with your life”….I love that . You can’t be well and hold hatred in your soul. You will fit in where, hate will bloat your being. I do not excuse and I do not hide. Forgiveness, ah!  

This is my story. Whoever, wherever you are find your voice.  I have started writing. I get paid a pittance, but I get paid to write. Don’t know where to start; just show up!  No one in of my tribe of friends  fit the mold . We are people, not jello damn it !  I still don’t fit, even with Spanx on.  That’s the good stuff, friends. 

Treva Draper-Imler  believes in the magnitude of gratitude, a kick ass lip stick, and a story well told. She takes her coffee black, has been in love with Sting since 1978, and does not have her shit together.  She has two kids, (in college) two cats and one lone dog. She would be a minimalist except for her collection of books and Kate Spade purses. Jesus knows she swears sometimes.