Growing up I had an amazing childhood. We lived on 85 acres in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, with my family—my parents, older brother and sister—my aunt, uncle and 5 younger cousins, and my grandparents.
We experienced farm living, working hard for our daily bread; grew our own vegetables, raised goats for milk, pigs for pork, rabbits for daily meat and chickens for eggs. We attended Catholic School and believed everything my father taught us, saying the rosary on our knees each night, on the hard tile floor, in front of the shrine my parents created, in the home they built when I was two. The year was 1966.
In that environment of life and death, daily growth and beauty, I never doubted God’s existence. Every Sunday after church we would feast at my grandmother's. All holidays were spent there with lots of family, laughter and love. I truly feel it was an ideal upbringing. The hard work and unquestioned faith made me strong in mind and body. It was a great foundation.
Things began to change when I was about 11 or 12. Although too young to understand the change or explain it, I recognized something was different. There was family dissension; rifts in the fine fabric of our lives. To this day, I am uncertain what transpired.
My mom was the art teacher at our Catholic School. Soon the 8th grade boys were riding their bikes up to our home in the mountains during summer and hanging out. When they were old enough to drive they would show up in the evenings, a few at a time. My mom would buy beer. Many times there would be guitars, and a group sitting around singing, listening, drinking and laughter. At my young age I felt privileged to be included, even though I felt this rift growing wider. My dad would be in bed by 8 PM, getting up at 4 AM to go to work.
Somehow things continued to change. My mother gave my boyfriend permission to have sex with me, saying “Just don’t get her pregnant” one night, in front of a group of these young men. I had told him I couldn't; “my folks would kill me.” I was 14 and now had no rock to stand behind. I lost my virginity. More change—there were strange times with older men who'd been drinking; my mom told them they could have me. There was rape, and anger, and fear. Somehow my faith in God allowed me to persevere.
It was with one of these older men (I was 16, he was 35) I finally shared the circumstances of my life. He told me I didn't have to stand for what was happening; that I had a say, and could make it stop. I had been taught to obey my parents and felt trapped, scared, and angry. I knew leaving the farm, my home, was the only answer. At 17, my dad finally agreed to sign emancipation papers and I went to court. I moved out on my own. It was the best decision I ever made.
But there were many other bad decisions. Being taught by my mother you never say no to a man, and taught by my father you do not have sex without marriage, led to three unhappy marriages. The first being abusive, the second leading to counsel, and the third giving me two beautiful children, whom I cherish.
I raised those two children alone from the time they were 2 and 3, their father living in another state. I was not career-minded, wanting to be a wife and mother. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done to become a career woman with all that it entails.
Eventually the stress of that career led me to a small stroke and physical breakdown at age 40. I had migraines 24 hours a day and was put on Disability. An activator Chiropractor reduced them to 12 hours a day, and I lived basically housebound for over 5 years and could handle no stimulation. It was hell, like dying every day.
One late afternoon, sitting in my recliner, I talked to God. I told him I would try one more time, or He needed to help me leave this Earth, as I do not believe in suicide. But, I was not alive, just existing. I was 46.
That doctor—the tenth Neurologist I had seen—gave me back 70% of my life. I met a sweet man with grown children of his own, and remarried.
It has not been simple. In reality, he had abuse in his childhood that affected him, as well. We separated a little over a year ago and he is working his way through Council. I have watched his progress and have not given up. I do love him, and he is a good man.
12 days ago I slipped and tore 2 ligaments in my knee, while taking my elderly mother to see the wildflowers on Figueroa Mountain. I try very hard to be the kind of daughter I would want to be, to the kind of mother I wish she was. Today I sit here in that same recliner and think of the irony... me being hurt while showing kindness to that same mother. And I am thankful for a heart of God. Thankful for my father; for early life on the farm. All those factors gave me the tenacity, and faith, to persevere.