Despite my parents’ troubled relationship, exacerbated by my father’s yet undiagnosed bipolar condition, the financial instability and poverty we continually experienced, and the limited family and other support resources available, our family grew to include 5 children within only a few years. We lived in numerous apartments and rental homes, moving every year or so, even cross-country several times. Like many people around us, we struggled to live normal lives, making friends wherever we lived, finding joy in each other. These times of happiness and nominal stability were interrupted by sudden bursts of trauma- as our dad would experience his roller coaster of mania or depression and take us along with him, as we’d suffer the emotional or physical abuse that came with our parents’ dysfunction, or as we’d get ripped from our community and move cross-country to start over in a new home and school.
I remember one day in particular as we were on the road in our “beater” station wagon, my parents’ argument in the car created a distraction that ended with us plowing into a ditch on the side of the road. My dad stepped out of the car and began walking in the opposition direction until he disappeared while our mom turned around with blood streaking down her face from the accident, and proceeded to screech at us for what had happened. When we moved from Virginia to Utah we travelled in a big blue school bus that Dad bought for a couple of hundred dollars, I remember throwing up over and over again as we crossed the Appalachian Mountains. I would often take the place of the peacekeeper in the family, helping to stabilize my mother when she got upset. I remember one incident when my mom checked us kids into a hotel and ran downstairs to the car, where I found her getting ready to abandon us “to someone who can take better care of you”. Thankfully, I was able to gradually talk her down from that decision.
Much of my childhood, along with my older brother, was spent helping Dad with his house painting job. David and I spent a lot of time with him, learning to work hard, benefitting from his influence, and hearing the many stories he had to share about his own life. While David continued to serve as my protector with my parents and anyone outside our family, he was my greatest tormentor as well. His years of abuse and stress led to my becoming the brunt of his physical dominance as we grew up. He was always much bigger and stronger, our constant fighting almost always led to my humiliating defeat. As we grew older, we would nearly kill each other several times- and although I was at the losing end of most of our fights, my battles with David provided its own unintended benefits.
After a year in California during the stock market crash of 1987, when we got stranded there due to our car breaking down and ending up living in a junkyard in Victorville for 8 months, we moved back to Utah when I was about 10. Again we bounced around several different homes in the next year and ended up in Lake Shore, Utah. The benefit of all of my fights with David showed up when I was continually pestered by bullies and cliques I found at the different schools- my brother was also new but he was much bigger, naturally athletic, and especially good looking. I was an easy target, but I had also learned to fight from big brother, and anybody was relatively easy compared to him. I became pretty good at it over the next few years, as I moved through a couple of middle schools and my schoolyard fights became a regular occurrence and an activity that I came to enjoy.