Defining Moments

Male and I were studying last night. He for the LSAT, the test you need to take to get into law school, and I was studying math for the placement test I need to take for college that might potentially allow me to skip a whole bunch of elementary math classes, depending on how well I do. As it happens, we both have to take these test in the beginning of December.

Just starting out of the studying process, both of our brains rusty from age and lack of formal schooling in the last decade or two, we were very discouraged. We tried to cheer each other on, but by the end of the evening, we couldn’t help but feel dejected. I said, I wish I had gotten a degree when I was young and not stupid, which got me thinking about getting hit on the head and how that really did change the course of my life. I had to drop out of school. It’s the reason I don’t have a college degree, but it’s not the only one. Then, my brain, in it’s typically meandering way, got to thinking about all the reasons I didn’t do this or I did do that. And I thought about all the things that define me.

Defining moments are things that irrevocably change the course of your life, for the better or worse. They can either be things over which you have no control or conscious decisions made after careful thought. Most people seem to have one. I asked Male what his was, even though I already knew, and his answer was one event, which I won’t go into since that’s his business. On the other hand, I seem to have many defining moments from the time I was born on up. Here are some of mine (SPOILER ALERT for anyone planning to read my autobiography when it’s finally published posthumously in roughly 2052):

  • I had pneumococcal meningitis as an infant and it nearly killed me. My parents wouldn’t know for many years what the side effects would be and there was a chance I wouldn’t make it to toddlerhood. This probably made my parents step back from me, preparing for my death, shaping my somewhat distant and detached relationship with them. Physically, I ended up partially deaf with severe migraines throughout my childhood.
  • When I was still in single digits, I was sexually abused by a boarder we had in our house for a year. This is probably the most defining period of all. I didn’t trust anyone and walled myself up inside. I don’t like talking about it and I’d like to see him dead. Unfortunately, he is not.
  • For my 15th birthday, I received a parental work waiver. I came downstairs and my mom handed me a form to take to school to get a work permit. With no warning whatsoever, I was told that I was officially old enough to work and had to financially support myself from then on. The only thing that was free was room and board. I ran away from home, but they dragged me back.
  • On my 18th birthday, when I was legally an adult, I moved out. Shortly thereafter, I became profoundly addicted to drugs, which caused me to do some rather unpleasant things. I sold myself. I didn’t care at all, in any way, whether I lived or died. I was homeless for months in the middle of a Michigan winter. I overdosed and died.
  • When I was roughly 20, I was hit on the head with a stage light and lost my memory. I had to drop out of college and never got a degree because of it. I have permanent brain damage. I sued them and didn’t even get enough to cover just the medical expenses from having my head sewn back together in the emergency room.
  • When I was in my mid-20s, I was in an abusive relationship. This person destroyed my life and tried to kill me more times than I can count. He nearly succeeded. He was never arrested even though he had multiple felony and misdemeanor warrants out for his arrest. Now, the statute of limitations has expired on all of the warrants, so he will never be brought to justice for what he did to me. I moved clear across the country to California because of it. He is completely free and living in California too; I have been living in hiding ever since.

Those are just the big ones. Those are the moments that irrevocably changed the course of my life. Those are the moments that changed the way those around me related to me, changed the way I thought of myself, pushed my limits of endurance, and changed me physically, geographically or emotionally. Everything I am stems from that. Everything I have ever done, said, thought is all a result of those moments stacked together.

Do these moments all branch from one or are they unconnected? Does my life all boil down to child sexual abuse? That’s a sad thought. Obviously, getting hit on the head doesn’t have much to do with sexual abuse, but the fact that I was even there that night to get hit on the head instead of being away at college where I belonged, certainly does. Everything we do in this life has consequences.

Perhaps had I not had meningitis, when my parents essentially distanced themselves from me, they might have protected me a little better from the monster they allowed into our home. If there had been no monster, I might have trusted my parents a little more and gone along with what they wanted rather than rebelling. I might have gone to college and not become a crackwhore. I wouldn’t have gotten hit on the head, which made me weak. If I hadn’t been weak, I might have seen the second monster for what he was and not have gotten into an abusive relationship.

It doesn’t matter. This supposition is all moot. What happened, happened and there’s nothing that can be done to change any of it. Even if I could change it, I might not because I’m rather fond of who I am now. I am strong because of it. I am not easy to knock down. I sure as fuck don’t want to go through any of that again. I have people in my life who know about all of it and accept me for everything that I am. I have people in my life that I can trust.

Still, it’s difficult not to wonder when you have a past like mine. Could I have been a better person if even one of those things hadn’t happened? Might I have been truly happy? It’s hard not to get angry at what I may have lost and what I gained in return. It’s difficult not to give in to the what ifs from time to time. It’s nice to think of a childhood bedroom where sleep comes easily and you always feel safe. It’s nice to think of college degrees and teeth that were never knocked out by someone’s fist. It’s nice to dream about a normal life once in a while.

You don’t have to tell me what it is, but you have a defining moment where something in your life changed forever? Do you have more than one?

If you or someone you know is in danger, please ask for help (These are American resources. If you are in another country, please, search for local agencies):

The Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
More hotlines available here.

This post is part of the On Being Series.