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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

The Last Straw

Life was not all bad, no matter what you have read so far. I was a happy, carefree child in general. Most of my memories are of playing alone around the farm, in the trees that run along the river. I played all day in ditches, with sticks, and mud, rocks, and leaves. I lived wild yes, but there was a simplicity to it, a kind of peace. It was a counter-balance to the random chaos that was my home-life. And there were good times, fun times scattered here and there with siblings. My father’s drinking had slowed significantly. I would have to say that I think that life got pretty good during my fourth through sixth grade years.

But then, my father made a very bad choice. You see, my parents had this sick game that they played with each other in that they would try to catch the other one cheating. Now this in itself is not unusual, many couples have this unhealthy way of dealing with their personal insecurities and jealousy. The thing that made this unusual is that they choose to actively involve their children, most parents would be able to see how damaging these adult issues could be to their children, and will try to hide it from them. But not my parents, they decided that they needed a witness, so the other person could not deny it when they got caught.

The way that they went about this was to wake me up in the middle of the night to make me go with them, driving around in the middle of nowhere to be the witness when the other was “caught in the act.” I am sure you can tell that this was irritating and annoying to me, but it seemed harmless in comparison, so I quietly went along. They both did it, my mother tended to involve me more when I was little, and my father tended to involve me more when I was a little bit older, but this behavior had been happening for as far back as my memories go. In fact, one of my earliest memories was of driving around in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, on one of these midnight runs, and being so delighted and thankful for my pink fuzzy pajamas with the feet in them that I had gotten for Christmas. They were so soft and so warm, and my feet stayed warm in them too! What a wonderful invention! I have a picture of me in those pajamas, and I look somewhere about 3-4, and I loved those jammies.

Of course, my dad was always some degree of drunk while he was driving me around. This in itself is child endangerment, but that was a different time. These night-time sting operations could happen as frequently as every month or two, or spaced out up to a year, depending on if my dad was on the wagon or not. Winter, I think I was in the sixth grade, around 10-12 years old, Dad and I been driving around all night trying to find my mother. I was not paying any attention to his rambling. I stared out the window at the night. I was more interested in watching the shadows play as we drove by, how the moon made long shadows on the new snow with the trees and telephone poles. It was common not to be able to find her, we had only done so once in all those years.

All of a sudden, something about his words cut into my conscience, and pulled me from my day-dream. “I’ll show her. I am going to kill us both. She would not feel bad about me, but you...that would get her.” I felt what I now recognize as adrenaline being released into my brain. My body's way of protecting me from things that would try to kill me. Survival mode kicks in. My mind clears, my mind focuses. I take in every detail of the situation in one instant, and decide on the best way to survive. My head ripped around to look at him and determine if this was real or just drunken talk. He continued, “I can get going really fast and run us into that telephone pole,” then he rammed his foot down on the gas petal. I went into action. I quickly climbed in the back seat, lay down on the floor and covered my head. There were a few more seconds of acceleration and then I felt the impact of the car hitting the large drainage ditch that was luckily between us and the telephone pole. I heard the crunch of the metal being crushed like a finished beer can. I felt the car settle. I listened to the hisses and plops as the car protested, then accepted its new state of being.

Now the thing you must know here is that as a child I had an amazing ability to completely disassociate emotionally from an event. It was a coping strategy that is typical for children who experience traumatic events. For me, even though I knew it was real, emotionally it was like watching a movie. I tell you this so you understand my next actions, and to reassure you that I am not a sociopath.

When the car seemed like it had settled into place, I checked myself. I did not seem to be hurt, no cuts, no bleeding. Okay, I am fine. I get out of the car. I walk over and open the driver side door. There is my dad leaning over the wheel, covered in blood. I remember thinking he was probably dead. I shrugged my shoulders, “good, he deserves it,” and started the long trek home in the night. It was probably about a mile walk along a country road, so I knew I would not run into anyone. I don't know what I would have told them even if someone had stopped. So here is the messed-up part. I went home, and went to bed. I did not call anyone, did not wake anyone. Went to bed, had a good night’s sleep.

I got up the next morning and there was my dad sitting in his favorite recliner chair. He had gotten cleaned up, but had a very large cut across his face from the top of his head, down his forehead, down the left side of his nose and ending on one cheek. I remember thinking, “Well, looks like he wasn't dead after all.” This was the first time I remember having any emotional reaction. I remember glaring at him. I was not mad or hurt, but rather willing him to try it again. This was not the first time that my father had tried to kill his children, that was going to stop right now. It was feeling of courage, defiance. I stared him down, daring him to try again. I was thinking to myself, “Try it again old man. Let's see how it goes for you.” I was determined to defend myself to the death, his death, if I had too. And I was 100% was willing to do so in that moment. This kind of scares me a little, because I know some place deep inside of me, if the conditions are right, I believe I have it in me to kill someone, and not feel…anything about it. Or at least have the ability to walk away and let someone die. That really goes against my self-identity of a good person who would never do that.

But he did not move, he just sat there and looked at me. I don't know what he was thinking or feeling. It is hard to say for sure. His memories may have been totally blacked out by his alcohol use, or maybe there were bits and pieces, but I do not think he was that drunk. It seemed to me that I saw shame in his eyes. I did not say anything, he did not say anything, we just stared at each other, until my father looked away. Neither one of us ever talked about it. But, I never had any problems with my dad again. I was never again awakened in the night. From that night forward, he was as nice as he could be to me. I would like to think that he saw the challenge in my eyes, and he knew he had gone too far this time. But the reality is this, that night I became heartless enough to leave a man bleeding, and possibly dying…and sleep like a baby.

That night he broke me. Solo stepped out of that car. Everyone has their last straw, and this was mine. By this time, I knew my mother did not care about me at all, but as bad as he was, I always thought that deep down he loved me, and he would never really hurt me. All my siblings gone, and this person, the one person in my life that I thought loved me, just tried to kill me. Not on accident, not in a drunken rage, but he told me he intended to kill me, and he told me why he was going to do it…for no other reason than to hurt my mother’s feelings. This was the value my life had to him; I was literally disposable to him.

Solo is my trail name, given to me by a fellow hiker. It is a name that is earned in some way. And it honestly describes the person that I was during this time of my life, and a side of me that comes out to fight from time to time, as needed. Solo is the side of me that is tough as nails, who never backs down and never gives up. But this hardness comes at a price, she will also kill you if she deems it necessary. Solo does not care about anyone’s feelings, or petty bullshit. She could be seen as a monster honestly, but she sees herself as a warrior, a protector of my life. And as all warriors understand, sometimes you must take a life to save a life. After that night, I felt like I was utterly alone in the world. But it did not spark fear or sadness, it gave rise to fire. There was nothing that anyone could ever say or do, that had not already been done to me by this point in my life…and I was still here. I lost all fear. I lost all fear of physical aggression or violence. I lost my fear of death. I lost all dependence or helplessness. No one was ever going to have control over me or my life ever again. I followed my own rules, my own value code. I needed no one or nothing. I was Solo.

Now, it really pisses me off when other people say how thankful they are for all their trials and tribulations, because that was what made them the person they are today. It pisses me off because I would have loved to have a white picket fence life. Truly with all my heart, I wish my childhood was nothing but roses and sunshine. I hate myself for saying this, but honestly my dad trying to kill me was in fact a “blessing,” because I was going to need to have my new-found attitude to survive the next phase of my life, and the next set of challenges that I was going to be facing. In his own way, my father taught me what he knew. He grew up in the mountains on his own, he taught me how to survive in the wild. For as long as I can remember, he taught me which berries to eat, how to recognize safe water, how to survive in the cold, common-sense things that no little girl should ever need to know, but I would. He then hardened my heart, because I was going to need it. I would have never survived being the soft little helpless child that I was. I guess, in his own way, he taught me how to be a man.

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Jul 22, 2023


I was in Kindergarten with CJ, we were the last class to start at the Otto school. I remember CJ having trouble with coloring and showing him how to color in the lines so Mrs. Thomas wouldn’t get after him. We also would pretend to be taking naps while she played music and then when we started giggling she would get up from her desk and get after us for not napping. I think after reading your experiences he was probably taken out of our class by your mother instead of the school so the rest of the grades he was in the class behind me. But I also remember listening to him talk about all of his theories…


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