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Author's note: I think this is a unique story that can tell other people out there that when life gets rough, it can always get better.
When most people think of their childhood years, they think of bikes, swimming lessons, kindergarten and the simplicity of life. When I think of my childhood, all of those aspects come to mind with an addition to one other: the climax of my mother’s problems that culminated in my disappearance to Portland, Oregon for three months, when I was eight. Not by a stranger, nor was I was subjected to any physical trauma. I was taken by my own mother, at a time when I had thought life may have finally been getting brighter. Little did I know that the light had not been a light of hope, but the light of the growing explosive fire that I’d been born into.
As is more and more common in this era, I was baby born by accident. When a woman is to have a baby, especially one she didn’t plan on, many people wonder what kind of mother she will be. My mother is the type of woman that would make many people wary. My mother was emotionally unstable, happy as can be one minute and angry at anything and anyone at the drop of a hat. One week a person was her best friend and the next they were her enemy. She had a history I knew even then that consisted of alcohol, eating disorders and absentee parents. Not to mention she smoked. In her eyes, nothing was her fault but everyone else’s, even her chronic lateness. As a child I learned how to deal with this in my own way, by both walking on eggshells and working her in any way I could get away with. Little did I know then, my mother was manipulative in her own way. It wasn’t until I was thirteen that I learned all these problems were symptoms of a mental disorder called borderline personality disorder. Not to say my mom has no good qualities. She can be sweet and fun, has a unique compassion for animals and is very intelligent. But even so, her faults have often outweighed her good qualities.
I was born July 28th, 1994, to my unmarried parents Lisa and Ed. Although I would receive many stories about the day of my birth I have come to the conclusion of what my father told me: he was not informed my birth had taken place until two days later. From that moment on, the problems never ceased. Although, sadly, I didn’t realize this until I was older, my mother began turning me against my father from the day I was born. As a young child, she would feed me stories and lies about the abusiveness of my father, and would pester me with questions about how he was treating me. What little girl wouldn’t believe her own mother? After all, why would she make such appalling things up? She eventually brainwashed me to the point, that I not only believed her but also began finding ways it was true. I would beg and cry not to go to my dad’s house, claiming I was afraid. Although I am too young to remember most of this, my mom apparently went to the court about this fictional abuse. Obviously, he was found innocent. But this didn’t stop my mother. She still claimed I was abused and hurt but that one day we would leave together and be free. I have often considered what made my mother do this. And after many years, I came to a conclusion- in her eyes I am only capable of loving her. She wanted to have all my love and share it with no one, no matter the cost.
Today, I love and admire my father for everything he has done for me. Yet as a child I was too brainwashed by mother to adore him as a daughter should. But still even with everything that happened at my mom’s I couldn’t deny that deep down, Ienjoyed his house. Things got even better at his house when in 1999, he married my stepmother Jennifer. To my mom, Jen stood in the way of herrelationship with me. According to her, I couldn’t love my stepmom and her at the same time. My father’s family continued to grow when my brother Gabriel was born October 26th, 2000, quickly followed by Alexander (Xander) on December 20th, 2001. Although I would never admit it to myself, life was simpler at my father’s: no cigarette smoke, no temper tantrums thrown by me or my parent, no fear of not having enough money, and my brothers were, at the time, the most adorable things ever.
By the time I was five, I consistently alternated between living with my mom and my dad. When I was eight, my dad made a deal with my mom: if he could have me all weekdays during the school year to ensure I would get to school on time, my mom could have the summers with me. So I spent my summer before third grade with my mom. When I went back to my dad’s, we had moved to a home in Stevensville and I was starting third grade at Lone Rock School. Life was going well. I was growing accustomed to my new school and life with my dad and stepmom. I was, dare I say it, probably the most content and stable I had ever been in my life. But of course my mom couldn’t let that last.
I remember the day clearly, even today. It was Friday, I had gone to school that day and I was going to be picked up by my mom for the weekend. I remember saying bye to Jen, my stepmom, and my baby brothers saying I’d see them Sunday night. I didn’t know how untrue this was. My mom picked me up that day saying we were leaving and not coming back. My heart skipped a beat. I didn’t want to go. But we were leaving. “You’ll be happier Emma. We’ll change our names and they’ll never find us.” So we got on the highway and left to Portland, Oregon to start a life on the run. The drive there was tense and upsetting. We stopped few times but I only remember one specific instance. I had wanted a CD and we stopped to look for it. The store didn’t have it and I threw a fit. However, I wouldn’t say my tantrums with my mom were a rare occurrence. I had learned how to work her at an early age and crying and screaming usually worked. So we drove and drove and drove until finally we arrived.
When we arrived, my mom called a battered women’s shelter in Portland. It was hard to find to ensure abusive husbands and boyfriends couldn’t find the fleeing women and children. In retrospect, I guess this is one time it would have been good if this rule hadn’t applied. So after searching we found it. It was a big beige building in front of a school, disguised on the outside as an office of some sort. The room we got was actually very nice. It was clean and we had our own bathroom. There was a nice communal kitchen, a place outdoors in the middle of place to play as well as a play room.On the way there we’d decided what we would name ourselves. I don’t recall what my mom chose but I chose Julia and our last name became Cruise. As Julia Cruise I began to adjust again.
Because we were trying to hide who we were, my mom couldn’t send me to a normal school. They would ask for previous records, birth information, etc. So the ladies at the shelter informed my mom that there was a school that had a sort of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I think my mom had to give them my name, grade and some general unconfirmable information. So within the week I started at this school (the name of which escapes me). I had to take the bus each day and the school required you to eat breakfast and lunch there. You could not bring your own lunch. The food was pretty gross. Each lunch had a choice of pizza and whatever else they had made that day. I remember the thinking the pizza sauce had a sour taste to it. Not rotten, just sour and watery. My class was a second grade through fourth grade combination class. I don’t remember much about what we did in the school. We had class. Some days we had gym which consisted walking or running around the track. At some point we had some sort of dance class in the gym. The school, looking back at it now, was pretty run down and obviously wasn’t the best. But it was all we could do.
As stated before this shelter was the nicest, and I think the one we stayed at the longest. My mom became “friends” with a woman there who had four daughters. The first, Marissa, was 16, the next, Chelsea, was fourteen or fifteen, Ambrielle was my age, eight, and Natalie was six or seven. Although Ambrielle was my age and therefore should have been my favorite to play with, she sometimes would get bratty and mean for no reason so we were on and off friends. Plus, the shelter had a policy of not going into other residents rooms, so we couldn’t hang out if one of us had to be in our rooms. Over time though, I became friends with the older girl, Chelsea. She was always a good sport about playing with me.
In our spare time, my mom and I went to about three places that I remember: the library, the giant Walgreens or mall (I am unsure if I am remembering one place or two places) and the animal shelter. When my mom and I had left for Oregon, we had also taken the dog she’d always had, Cruella, and our cat. However the shelter did not allow animals in the shelter. So about once a week we’d take about a two hour bus ride to the animal shelter, then the four mile walk from where the bus stopped to the shelter, and then walk back. We also went to the library often and walked to stores. I recall spending a lot of time at a nearby Walgreens, because it was huge and I liked it so much. So that was our life. I went to school and had a long busride to my school each day. When I’d get back to the shelter, I would eat Scooby Doo Berry Bones cereal, because the shelter required the kids to eat after school. My mom did whatever she did. I often hung out with Chelsea and Ambrielle, the two of the four girls we met at the shelter.
After probably a month, my mom decided we were done with this shelter. I remember the day we left. I had gotten of the bus and my mom was waiting, as planned this time, with the car packed. We said good-bye to the four girls we’d become friends with and the memory I still hold today is seeing Chelsea running around the corner and me thinking, “I wonder if we’ll see them again…” We never did.
My mom was looking for another place to live and so for about a week we lived in a motel. Then she found another shelter. We arrived and from the start it was chaos. Since I was born, I’d had this blanket I was extremely attached to. Somehow I’d forgotten it at the motel. I was inconsolable all night. The next day we went back to the motel to see if they’d found it. Sadly, for me they’d thrown it out. So I had to continue on without it.
This shelter was not as nice as the last one. It was in a neighborhood and looked more like a house but was not as nice on the inside. Now instead of taking the bus, I was driven in a van with other students of my school. At this shelter we met a woman named Jan and her six year old son Tommy. She and my mom became friends and we ended up spending a lot of time with them .This shelter allowed animals so we were reunited with our beloved pets and the once a week bus rides and long walks to the animal shelter ended. We stayed in the shelter for a short time then we found a room to rent in a house.
Chapter 10: The Only Actual House
We moved in and rented a room in the house. The guy allowed us to use the kitchen and living room and even let me use his personal TV sometimes. I suppose I got lucky. My mom was desperate for a place and would have taken any. This guy turned out to be a good one, (at least until he turned into the enemy in my mom’s eyes). When we moved there, I had to start taking the bus again and my mom was entirely responsible for making sure in I got to school. Some days she did this just fine. Others I remember waking to the sound of the bus honking at us and my mom hurrying me to get ready while telling the bus I’d be right there. The ride there and back was the longest I’d had yet. Although young minds can deceive, I’m pretty sure that the bus ride was about an hour and a half to two hours long both there and back. By this time it was October and the sun hardly ever shined in Oregon anymore. And little did we know that our time in Oregon was almost over.
Time went on and things were becoming more stressed. I remember one particular evening, I either didn’t want to have whatever food we had in the house or I was just mad at my mom in general, so I threw a fit. And I mean a huge fit: crying, screaming, the whole bit. This occurred more often, the more time we spent there.
Around Halloween, my mom decided we were going to leave and not just to a new motel, shelter, or apartment, but to Colorado. This became even more of a sure thing when she got in a huge screaming fight with the man we were renting the apartment room from. I have no idea what the fight was about, I was probably too young to understand. But knowing what I do about my mom, he probably did something small or possibly even rational that made my mom mad and switched him from a friend to an enemy. We left the night of the argument and went to a motel. My mom wanted to leave for Colorado but I begged her to let me stay another week so I could attend the Halloween party at school. Little did I know how pivotal this decision would be to my future.
So we stayed for that party then we left. I am not exactly sure where this next shelter was, but it definitely was the worst of the bunch. It was older, the rooms were way less nice and the tubs were rusted. This place did not allow animals either so we kept them in the car. I’m pretty sure I was not enrolled in school but our time here was short. I remember the next 48 hours clearer than anything from this time. My mom was in the communal kitchen making spaghetti and I was in a play room with other kids getting some talk about abuse. In the middle, a lady came in and told me to stay after. At the end, I tried to leave anyway but they reminded me to stay. A police officer came in and told me my mom was in trouble for taking me and I was going back to my dad the next night. They told me I couldn’t see my mom. A social worker gave me a plastic trash bag to put my things in. I remember standing there, silent and in a kind of shock, as the social worker asked me do I want this, do I want that? I know I took the stuffed dog I’d had since I was two and an Oregon Public Library Book, Kitty Kong, which is still in my house today. As we left, I saw a flash of my mom in a room with two police officers and I was scared I’d never see her again. It was November and I didn’t see her again till March.
I left the shelter with two police officers and sat in the back of the police car. It seemed forever until we arrived at a sweet old foster lady’s home. It was late and when I got there she told me that there were no other kids and that I could have the couch or a bed upstairs. I took the couch, took out my stuffed dog and when the lady went to bed I laid there and cried till I fell asleep.
The next day I watched T.V. on the couch. The foster lady told me my dad would be there for me that night and I might get to talk to my mom on the phone that day. So I watched T.V. on the couch until she had to go to a friend’s house to get her hair done. I watched more TV there until we left. TV was the only way I could not think about the pain I was in. Later that day, another social worker came to talk to me about why my mom and I had run away. Besides being upset about my mom, I was so scared all day that my dad would be mad. By the end of the interview, I’m sure the social worker could tell that my dad was no monster considering one of my answers about my dad was that he “makes me eat all my food”. Each time the phone rang, my heart skipped a beat, with hopes it was my mom. For dinner the foster lady took me to Popeye’s. This made me incredibly sad. At some point in Portland my mom had wanted to get it and I wouldn’t because I hated the cartoon Popeye and I thought the food would be as dumb as the cartoon.
That night the foster lady took me to the social worker’s office because my dad would be there. She told the social worker I was brave and I never cried. She thought that was the truth. The truth was that I‘d cried almost every second she wasn’t around. So while waiting for my dad, the social worker let me choose a little blanket that I still have today. At some point I looked up and saw my dad. But he wasn’t mad. He was smiling with huge relief and nearly running toward me. He grabbed me in his arms and hugged me so tight. The social worker took a picture of my dad and I that was on the fridge at home for at least the next three years. I went to a hotel that night with my dad and he told me I might be “kind of famous” or more like some people might recognize me because he and my stepmom had put up missing child posters. That’s how I’d been found. Someone at the last shelter had recognized me and called the police. If it hadn’t been for these posters, I may never have been found.
After about a day of driving, we got home. My stepmom was never so happy to see me. I started back at Lone Rock School. While I was in my class before it started a girl, Molly came in and saw me and then went out and I heard her telling another girl, probably Kelly, “Emma was back”. Kelly didn’t believe it until she saw me. My first week back was hard. I was behind at school and within a week of coming home, a dog that had been at my dad’s house since birth, died as if she’d been waiting for me to come home to say good-bye. I ended up having lice from the last, less clean, shelter my mom and I had been at. I had to sleep with vinegar in my hair for a few nights and put each of my beloved stuffed animals in bags. However, as the lice went away, life got better. While I was home with lice, a girl named Jordan, who became my best friend through elementary and middle school, called me to see how I was. That began our friendship. Finally after eight years, my life finally began to stabilize… and stay that way.
My mom apparently spent about a month in jail, and then was put on probation for about six years. I saw her again in March. For a while I could only see her, while being supervised by a guardian ad litem. Slowly we progressed to unsupervised four hour visits, then ten. Now I generally see her every other Saturday, for however long I want. Some might say it’s the definition of irony: in her attempt to keep me for only herself, she nearly lost me.
It has been eight and a half years since this happened to me, half my life ago. I almost feel like my life from Oregon and before was a bad dream or something that happened to someone else. My life now is so different from the path I’d expected. Within a year of my return, my parents (dad and stepmom) had another baby, a boy named Malcolm. I have lived permanently with my dad and stepmom since. I am closer to Jen than I am to my real mom. To me she is my true mom; I just call her Jen instead of mom. And my real mom? I love her and always will… but I will never be close to her or trust her. I have learned of and heard too many lies. She hurt my dad so much. But what hurts the most is how she hurt me. From the day I was born she brainwashed me against my dad for her own selfish reasons and even still today tries to convince me that he is an evil man. But I’ve learned my lesson. And sadly that lesson is that I cannot trust my own mother. We may share the same blood but that is all we have in common now. Everyday I hope she will have an epiphany and realize she’s not okay and needs help; that the things she’s done and does are not acceptable or normal. But I’m not holding my breath. It may happen but in all reality, it probably won’t. Either way, the best thing she ever did in the end was abduct me. Because of that I live in a happy home with my dad, Jen, and my three brothers. I have stability in my life and have for the last eight years.
Most kids can’t say they have gone through what I have. I wouldn’t recommend it but I am happy it happened. It taught me that even when things seem dark and life feels unfair, it can get better. The bright light you see is not always fire, but sometimes is a light of hope. After all, the fire has to burn out eventually, leaving room for growth and life again.