Friday, June 2, 2006

The Apple of My Eye

Our oldest daughter, 1F, was very much the 'perfect kid' growing up - trustworthy, helpful, loyal, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and all the rest. She was a sweet kid, and as the kids kept coming along, she became sort of Molly's 'junior mom'.

We didn't allow our kids to date in high school. 1F mainly didn't fight us over that, but she wasn't terribly appreciative of it, either. During her junior year of high school, she had a 'boyfriend' more-or-less clandestinely, and when Molly found out about it, 1F continued with the relationship until the boy got tired of the drama and moved on.

1F graduated from high school in 2001, and took a year off before starting college. She got a job bussing tables at the local convention center, and moved out of our house, into a household of single women all belonging to our Christian community.

Late in the summer of 2002, about a month before she left for college, she started telling us about this guy she'd met at work, who was so charming, and paid such flattering attention to her. Molly and I were very uneasy about it, but we didn't have any real basis for saying anything much more definite than "be careful". Then she told us how she went out with him for a drink after work, after which he took her to a motel, "and stuck his tongue in my ear." OK, that set the alarm bells ringing!

She was completely out of her league with this guy, and I told her that she had no idea what she was dealing with, and she should run, not walk, to the nearest exit. But she couldn't bring herself to believe what we were telling her. Yeah, he might have 'issues', but they were because of his rotten parents or his rough upbringing. He was just basically a nice guy, who most people misunderstood (she really said that!), and she just soaked up the snake-oil he was pushing.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that she'd be going away to college that fall, and that would be that. But, it turned out that her two roommates were both borderline head cases, so she spent most of the fall immersed in roommate-drama, in addition to the pressure of college-level studies for the first time. And how did she deal with the stress? By calling her 'friend' (I'll call him 'F-bomb'), pouring out her anxieties to him over the phone.

One day in October, she just left - walked away from school without a trace. For two days, no-one had any idea where she was. We finally found her back in town, working at her old job at the convention center. Where F-bomb was. We convinced her to move back home, helped her finalize the administrative details of quitting school, and tried to help her come down from the stress she'd been under.

And she started seeing F-bomb again. We'd never met the guy, so we asked a few questions. How old was he? About 32, she said. A big red flag, since she was only 20. Her behavior became more and more outrageous - she'd go out on dates with him, and not come home until 5AM. When we confronted her on that, and the bad effect it had on the life of the rest of the family, the bad example to her siblings, etc, she just said, "Fine - I'll move out." So she did - and moved in with F-bomb, two weeks before Christmas.

After that, we barely heard from her over the next few months. She wouldn't tell us her address or phone number, so the only way we could contact her was for Molly to go to her place of work, and in due course, she quit that job, so we couldn't contact her at all; we could only wait for her to contact us.

It became pretty clear that F-bomb was playing her like a puppet. She systematically cut off all of her closest friends, including her best friend since they were both in diapers. One woman, a family friend who had been something of a mentor to 1F, tried to talk to her, and 1F threatened her with a restraining order.

1F had a credit card, and he rang her up for $10,000 and a used SUV, ruining her credit in the process.

Also, it turned out F-bomb wasn't 32 - he was two years younger than I was. He had an ex-wife and two kids, who were in high school with our other kids. One day, his son grabbed 3M in the hall and said, "My dad is dating your sister; how weird is that?"


Over the course of the next three years, she left him and went back to him more times than we could keep track of. One time after they'd fought, she was wandering alone in his neighborhood at 3AM (probably the worst neighborhood to be found in our town), and was attacked and raped. To this day, nobody has any idea who did it to her, but she was left lying unconscious on the sidewalk across the street from F-bomb's house. F-bomb and his brother threw her in the back seat of his car, drove her to the hospital, dumped her by the ER door, and left.

About two years ago, she moved out from his place for the last time, and back in with us. She had a good job, and was getting her feet back underneath herself. But she couldn't stay away from F-bomb. She hated herself for it, but once or twice a week, she'd miss dinner without calling us, which we knew meant she was seeing F-bomb.

All this time, we consoled ourselves with the fact that she hadn't gotten pregnant. Maybe he was 'shooting blanks'. But alas, she finally did get pregnant, and that was the last she saw of F-bomb.

Our grand-daughter, who I'll call AG (Adopted Girl, get it?) for blogging purposes, was born this past winter.


For the last several months, 1F has been seeing a counselor who is helping her deal with some of the issues that made her particularly vulnerable to someone like F-bomb. Molly and I have sat in on some of her sessions; as you might imagine, several of her 'issues' radiate out from her upbringing. We are still very much 'in process' with the whole thing, but we have learned a couple things.

The 'junior mom' role that we reserved for her was not a healthy thing; it effectively robbed her of a lot of her 'childhood'. As a kid, 1F was almost freakishly responsible - the 'first-born pleaser', in spades, doubled and redoubled. Which was nice for us, but she'd have been better off with a bit more freedom to just 'be a kid'. And, she felt like she always had to 'fix' everything, so when I lost it, or Molly did, or chaos reigned, as it often does in large families, 1F felt like it all fell on her to 'make it better'.

And the thing is, I could often see that going on with her. I could see her trying like mad to just 'make it better', to restore control. And it bothered me - I knew what she was trying to do, and I knew that she shouldn't be taking that burden on herself, but I didn't know how to get her to relax and let it go.

And somehow, a guy like F-bomb, who needs 'fixing', especially a streetwise guy who knows how to look like he 'needs help', is exactly the kind of guy who would hit her at her vulnerable point. Add to that her own insecurity at being out on her own in the big, wide world, and his 'father-figure-ness', his ability to 'show her how it's done', and she was easy pickings.

Today, I think, she's a stronger, wiser young woman, albeit with scars on her psyche. She has restored most of her lost friendships, but the years of traveling in 'different circles' sometimes make for awkwardness. And, her story has gotten around - not everyone knows quite how to approach her.

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