Updated: Jul 2
| This is the 267th story of Our Life Logs |
My life began in Pekin, Illinois on February 16, 1962. I was born to young parents who split up in 1967, a year after my little sister was born. My mom moved us to Detroit, Michigan where she later married her second husband, a man who, unfortunately, would beat her to get his way. Two years and a baby boy later, they too divorced.
My mom tried to keep us afloat by tending a bar in the city. One night bartending, she hit it off with a man named Bill who came in for dinner. He didn’t seem the least bit turned off by the fact that she had been married twice before and came with three children fathered by two other men. Mom was smitten, and they married quickly. Bill adopted us in 1974, and they whisked us off to Ohio for Bill’s work. For about two months, things were good, Bill was thriving in his new job and Mom was happier than she had been in years, but the good feeling was fleeting.
Bill began routinely coming into the room I shared with my sister and touching us the way a grown man should never touch a child. I knew what he was doing was wrong, but he convinced me that if I told, my mom wouldn’t believe me, and that him touching me was somehow my fault. He’d always come late after Mom fell asleep. Going to bed became a living nightmare. Would he come tonight? If he did, which one of us would he want this time?
We moved around the west coast over the next few years. The abuse continued, and I became accepting of my fate. A tiny dark part of me knew my mom knew about it but was too scared of being alone to stand up for us. I pushed that thought away because it was too painful to admit. As much as you’d think I would have hated her for this, in a warped way, I understood why she chose to ignore it. Bill was taking care of our family and providing for us. She didn’t want to lose that.
As we moved from home to home, leaving debt in our wake, we settled in Paradise Valley in Phoenix, Arizona when I was 16. That’s where I met the man of dreams. Steve was a shaggy-haired, charismatic trumpet player in my school that had me wrapped around his finger. Being with Steve helped me forget about all the bad men in my mom’s life. He was a shining light in my darkness.
That same year, I became pregnant with Steve’s baby. Of course, we were both terrified, but I was in love and was sure we’d get married someday. I had visions of a picture-perfect family like the sitcoms on TV. Steve assured me that we’d be okay. I hid my pregnancy from my mom and Bill for as long as I could, but they eventually figured it out. My mom was hurt and Bill was furious. He cut off all my contact with Steve, made me quit school, and kept me inside except for doctor visits.
I vowed that after I had my son I’d get a job and move out. Then, Steve and I could be the parents I never had. The only thing I did do, when I thought I could get away with it, was call Steve on the phone…but he seemed distracted. Looking back, I know that he didn’t feel the same pull that I did to run away and be a family. He never even showed up when I had our son Bradley in 1978. I was devastated and felt the overwhelming grief of missing someone who didn’t miss me. But, Steve was just a teenage boy who wasn’t ready to be a father.
I began waitressing and got a small apartment for my son and myself. I started seeing Steve again because I wanted Bradley to have his dad in his life. I wanted him to have everything that I missed. And if I was honest with myself, I knew I still loved Steve. He wasn’t in awe of Bradley the way I was, but I hoped, in time, he’d come around. I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream of a real family.
Bill didn’t like me living where he couldn’t control me, so he called Child Protective Services (CPS) on me. They asked me all kinds of questions about Bradley and treated me like a criminal because there had been “anonymous complaints” that I was drinking and using drugs in front of my son, and that I left him unsupervised frequently. I stated vehemently that none of those things were true, but I don’t think they believed me.
Later that same day my mom showed up at my door, insisting that I come home because being a single mom was going to be too hard for me. If I came home, she’d take care of me and Bradley so I could finish school. I eventually gave in and moved back home. I know it’s hard to understand why, but you must know I was scared out of my mind. I knew I couldn’t rely on Steve, and I didn’t want CPS to take my son away. I told myself it was just temporary.
As the weeks went on at home, Mom and Bill manipulated me into believing I was a terrible mother. Ironic, huh? I started to believe I couldn’t give Bradley the life he deserved. After all, look what kind of life I led. How could I possibly be good enough for him?
When Bradley was 14 months old, my mom convinced me to give him up to a couple that could better provide for him. Again, I gave in. I remember setting him in his bouncy chair, kissing his beautiful head, and leaving. I never knew anything could hurt as bad as saying goodbye to my son.
I would soon find out one thing that could rival such misery.
After Bradley left, I began working full time to keep myself busy. My room was full of gut-wrenching memories of my baby, and I felt absolutely empty. Then, somehow, I began seeing Steve again and found out I was pregnant again not long after my 17th birthday. I felt such joy at knowing another baby was growing inside me, but Steve just wasn’t prepared to be the person I desperately needed, and we split up. When I told my mom about my pregnancy, she was furious and ashamed. I knew I was having a girl, and I told my mom I wanted to name her Ashley. She harshly said, “You’re not keeping this one.”
Turns out, I never got to see my little baby girl. My mom had informed the hospital that the baby should be taken away immediately because I was not keeping it. I begged the nurses to let me hold her just once, but they told me they had been ordered not to. I pleaded with my mom, but she just shoved adoption paperwork in my face and told me to sign it. Not knowing my rights back then, I unwillingly signed away my baby before I could even touch her or tell her I loved her.
After coming home from the hospital, I fell into the deepest depression I’d ever felt. I didn’t return to work or school or contact Steve. I just stayed in my room by myself.
Not long after, I got an unexpected call from my birth father who I hadn’t spoken to in years. After hearing my situation, he suggested I go to visit him in South Africa to get away from everything for a bit. I jumped at the chance and got on the first plane out there. The time away helped clear my head. Six months later, I went back to Phoenix. Then came my fate of falling in love with a man who would change my life.
Mark was funny and sincere with a wonderful heart who didn’t mind my past. They say when you know, you know, and we definitely did. We went on our first date in May 1981. Within a week, he proposed and by July we were married. I told him about the “shame” I had brought on my family and how much I missed my babies. He hugged me and told me that one day we’d find them, and we’d be a family.
In the years that we spent together, we had three children and lived a happy life. Meanwhile, I wavered back and forth on trying to find my other two children. I didn’t feel I deserved to know them. How could I explain why I’d given them up?
With a heart full of guilt, my years went on.
Fast forward to August 15, 2018, the day that changed my life. A woman named Stacy reached out to one of my kids and said she was the daughter I’d given up almost 40 years ago. I came to find out that earlier in the year, Bradley (now named Nathan) had contacted Stacy to let her know he was her brother. In the months that followed, Stacy went on a mission to find all her birth family because she wanted answers. She wanted to hear any information I would give—good or bad.
For weeks, we sent emails that were pages long, describing our lives to one another. Bill’s lies had reached her from all those years ago. She grew up thinking I was a drug addict who never wanted her. I told her I always loved her and I thought of her and her brother all the time. When I asked for forgiveness, she said there was nothing to forgive. She understood, and I was finally able to heal.
It took some time for me to find joy and forgive myself for my past, but I hope my story helps someone else who is suffering or has suffered from abuse find some solace. If I could move on and find happiness after so much devastation, I think it’s possible for anyone. If I could go back, I’d tell my younger self to remember you deserve everything you hope for. You are worthy of love and you are not to blame for every bad thing that has happened in your life. Over the years, I have been shattered into a thousand pieces. It’s taken me a long time to find my missing pieces and put myself back together, but all is worthwhile.
This is the story of Sherry Martin
Sherry is a mother of five who works in childcare. She endured over 10 years of abuse by the men her mother married. She became pregnant at age 16 and again at 17, and was forced to drop out of high school and give up both her children. After almost 40 years, Sherry reconnected with her two children she unwillingly gave up. She has seen a lot of dark days but still does her best to make everyone around her smile. Sherry received her GED In 1983 and was able to find a loving husband after all the abuse and together, they had three children. Her husband unfortunately passed in 2017. Sherry’s journey connects to the writer of this story in a very intimate way because the writer is her daughter, who –if things had gone differently— would have been named Ashley instead of Stacy.
This story first touched our hearts on February 1, 2019.
| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editor: Kristen Petronio |