A Night in November, final part

a night in november

Part 1, Part 2

I had only been at grandma’s for a few minutes when Mom stormed in and demanded that I leave with her. I thought she was letting me go home, so I followed her outside. As we approached our trailer, she turned to me and said,

“I’m going to find Ronnie. Since you wouldn’t stop him from leaving, you’re going with me. We will walk all over this town until we find him if we have to.”

She grabbed my hand and we took off down the driveway. I was still in my nightgown and I didn’t have a coat on. I was cold and tired, but she wouldn’t turn around despite my protests. We walked down the hill toward the bars; she didn’t think he’d go back to The Buffalo Tavern, so we stopped at Kenny’s, the other bar in town. We didn’t see his truck, but she wanted to go inside to ask if anyone had seen him. As we stepped into the smoky bar, I felt such shame, standing there in my nightgown and sneakers. I kept my head down as she talked to Kenny, the owner. Kenny hadn’t seen Ronnie, so we took off again.

At this point, there was nowhere else to look except for the lake. About a mile and half from our house was Osage Point Park, an overgrown former state park on Keystone Lake that had been abandoned in the 1980s due to budget cuts. We camped there a few times in the summer, and Mom thought Ronnie might have parked his truck there to sleep for the night.

We walked in silence. I kept hoping she’d change her mind and we could go back home. I could sense her resolve in every step, though. She determined to finish whatever this was that she’d started. Finally, we reached Osage Point, and as we rounded the curve in the road leading to the campground, I spotted the blue Ford F-150.

We walked up to the truck and Mom jerked open the driver’s side door, where Ronnie’s head was resting on the window. He awoke, startled, but he looked unsurprised. I think he expected her to come after him. He immediately began cursing her and he looked at me, shivering in my nightgown. He called her a bad mother for traipsing me all over town in my pajamas. He told me to get in the truck to warm up. I climbed in and closed the door, thankful to be shielded from the night air. I was glad to be away from them, too, if only superficially.

I watched them yell and claw at each other for a while before I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I was so tired, and I just wanted it to be over. I prayed, God, get me out of here. Please make this go away.

Just as I started to drift, Mom opened the door and told me to move over. Since Ronnie’s truck was a single cab, there was just a bench seat for the three of us to share. His welding bucket was at the far end of the passenger seat, so I moved on top of it as Mom moved into the middle and Ronnie climbed behind the wheel. He pushed in the clutch, shifted into first gear, and we headed home.

As we drove back, Mom kept at him. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t leave him alone. Now, as a woman, I understand it more. I have felt that insatiable desire to drive someone to the breaking point, the sick satisfaction that comes from pushing all the right buttons just to get a response. I know now that she got off on the drama – it was as addictive as any drug for her.

Ronnie drove on in silence. His quiet resolve fueled her anger, so she slammed her left foot down on the brake, and I flew into the windshield. I hit my head, but we had only been going about 25 miles an hour, so it wasn’t too bad. I just wanted to get home so I didn’t make a big deal about it.

She let up her foot and we continued on. Finally, we pulled into the driveway. I climbed out immediately, not saying a word, and went straight to my room. I climbed over my sister into my bed and I went to sleep immediately.

When I woke the next morning, Mom was gone to work. She worked the Saturday lunch shift at a restaurant in Cleveland, a small city about four miles from Osage. I dressed and walked over to Grandma’s, who told me Dad had called. I called him back and confirmed the time of his arrival. I wasn’t sure whether Mom even remembered kicking me out the night before, but I didn’t care. I was leaving and never coming back.

I walked back to my house and I started packing my things. I looked at my sister, who was watching me pack, and I told her to start packing. I wasn’t going to let her stay without me. Ronnie emerged from their room, hungover but lucid, and saw what I was doing. He said he thought it was probably a good idea for us to go, to get away from our unstable mom. Truthfully, I think he just wanted to be rid of us. Dad arrived a little over an hour later. We loaded our bags, said goodbye to Grandma, and we left Osage. Mom didn’t even know we were gone until she got home from work that afternoon. She tried calling, but I wouldn’t talk to her. I still wouldn’t talk to her at the court hearing two weeks later, when Dad was granted custody of us, uncontested.

Mom died nearly 10 years later, she was 46 years old. During that time, I went on to graduate at the top of my class at Bartlesville High School. I attended the University of Oklahoma after that, graduating summa cum laude, with highest honors. She didn’t attend either of my graduation ceremonies, though I did invite her.

Mom spent those 10 years in and out of prison. At one time, she was listed among Oklahoma’s Most Wanted. She regularly attempted suicide, and I’d receive letters from her telling me she had no reason to live since I left her.

Since I was really disconnected from her during that time, my youngest sister recently shed light on what my mom’s life was like before she died: She wreaked emotional, financial and mental havoc on my grandparents’ lives through her manic depressive fits, drug addiction, and destructive behavior. She and Ronnie finally married, and then divorced, which made her a little crazy and she tried to burn his house down. She spent most of her life in pain and unhappy.

Ronnie died of lung cancer in 2009, and my grandparents found Mom dead in her home a few months later.

I’m a mom now, and I think about that night in November often. There are things I’ll never understand, and I’ll never be able to ask. When I look at my own daughter, I see so much of myself reflected in her eyes. I wonder if Mom experienced that, too, especially because family and friends often remarked about how we looked so much alike. Perhaps her anger that night was really meant for herself, projections of her subconscious. Perhaps it was just a byproduct of mental illness and drug addiction. Nevertheless, when I see the hurt in my daughter’s eyes if I raise my voice at her I wonder how my Mom could do it. Motherhood is complicated, but that answer doesn’t satisfy.

But, mostly, when I think about that November night now, I think about redemption. Being kicked out of my house was an act of grace in my life that began months earlier when I said “yes” to Jesus. The decision to give my life to Christ was the pivotal moment that enabled me to say “no” on that November night. I couldn’t have done it on my own. Instead, Jesus rescued me from the brokenness of life with my mom and his plan of redemption continues as I mother my children, free of drug raids and drunken rants. I’m not perfect, and I often feel like I’m not a good mom. I can feel her blood coursing through my veins when I yell at my children or fight with my husband. I see her reflection staring back at me in pictures and when I look at the mirror. To this day, I still bear a strong resemblance to my mom – to how I remember her, at least. However, that’s where the likeness ends, because I have grace. Amazing grace.

Epilogue: After mom’s death, my grandparents cleaned out her home and found a new Bible with fresh markings and Christian DVDs and music. Though I don’t know with certainty whether she gave her life to Jesus before her death, I believe she was seeking for peace. I hope she received it.

A Night in November, part 2

a night in november

This is part 2 of the story about the night my mom kicked me out of our house.To catch up on this story, you can find part 1 here

Any night Mom and Ronnie spent out at the bar always ended in a fight. Mom couldn’t really hold her liquor well, and by the time she’d knocked back a few White Russians, she’d get testy, sensitive and jealous. This would lead to manic fits of rage that never ended well. Like the Easter before this November night, when Mom and Ronnie had got into a fight after a night at the Tavern, and Ronnie stormed off in his truck. No sooner than his tail lights were fading into the darkness did Mom demand that my sister and I take all of Ronnie’s clothes out of their closet, throw them into the yard and set them on fire. We did as we were told; defying Mom wasn’t something we did often. Our obedience was rewarded a few days later when, after Mom and Ronnie had made up, we had to burn our new Easter clothes in return.

So, when I saw those headlights bouncing down the gravel driveway, I knew that something was coming. As soon as Ronnie killed the ignition, I could hear doors slamming and voices raised. Mom was lobbing all of her usual curses at him: how he didn’t really love her, how she had seen him looking at the other women at the bar, how he was a no-good drunk and she didn’t care what he did. Ronnie was silent, and I could see the defeat in his steel blue eyes when they entered the trailer and he marched to their room. He had made up his mind to leave.

Ronnie was a cowboy – the Wranglers-wearing, black coffee-drinking, David Allan Coe type. He was rugged and earthy. He was a welder, and his skin was as tanned and tough as cowhide. He was also a drunk. He’d have a can of Natural Light with his coffee in the morning and he knocked them back until he passed out at night. He was severe in his rebuke, stingy in his affection, and silent in his manner. He had no tolerance for weakness or ignorance. He wasn’t soft or sensitive. When he told you to do something, he expected you to respond as a horse on the bit – submit or be spurred.

He and Mom fought all the time. The more he tried to break her, the more she bucked until he’d end up with a kick in the head. Their fights were physical and raw. She was a mare he couldn’t tame or control, and when he’d finally have enough of it, he’d walk out. This usually only lasted for a few days, once he realized he had nowhere else to go and no one else to take care of his drunk ass.

Such it was on that November night. My sister and I watched the events unfold, careful not to assert ourselves into the situation. Sometimes, when the fights were particularly violent, I would yell and scream for him not to hurt Mom, but my rebuke usually fell on deaf ears. But, since the events of that last Easter, I preferred to stay out of it. Besides, they were more or less unaware of our presence. We were mere spectators at their dog and pony show.

Not this night, though. As Ronnie stormed out the door toward his truck, Mom turned to me and made a demand that forever changed the course of my life.

“Go lay under his truck so he can’t leave.”

I was struck dumb for a moment. I think part of me thought she wasn’t serious, or at least hoped she wasn’t. Did she really think that the only way to stop Ronnie from walking out on her was to ask me to put my body on the ground next to his tires so he couldn’t leave without running me over? I could tell by the look on her face that this wasn’t a joke, though. She really believed that this was the thing to do.

At this point I should tell you a little bit about my relationship with my Mom. I had always been a Mama’s Girl. Despite the fact that she was in and out of jail and rehab, that she would disappear for days on end without ever telling us why or where she had gone (and this was before the days of cell phones when we could have contacted her easily), that she had disappointed me time and again – in spite of it all, I loved her and I believed in her and I always gave her the benefit of the doubt. I guess this is what they mean by childlike faith – she could make me burn my clothes in punishment for something she had commanded me to do, and I would still worship her as Mom.

That’s the thing about idols. They redefine reality. Happiness, sadness, right and wrong are all given new definitions when an idol grips a heart. However, idols can be replaced – and what I said to my Mom after she asked me to lay underneath her boyfriend’s truck can only be explained as an act of God.

I told her no.

I don’t even know how it happened. I had never told her no before. She had once asked me to hide her marijuana stash out in the yard when the county sheriff was coming to raid the house, and I did it. I rolled joints for her, told lies for her, and had put myself in harm’s way more than once for her.

But on this November night, I looked right at her and I told her no.

What she said next, I could never have anticipated. To this day, I find it bewildering and strange. I knew there would be repercussions for defying her. I expected her to lash out, I thought she might even hit me. Aside from the Easter incident, I hadn’t really had many harsh punishments. I had been spanked as a child occasionally, and I had been grounded once. But, for the most part, my rare disobedience had been met with fairly soft consequences.

Until I told her no.

“You little whore. You’re sleeping with him, aren’t you? Get out of my house. Get out and don’t come back,” she said.

I didn’t even know what to say. And honestly, I can’t remember what I did say if anything. Me – her virginal, pure girl barely a teenager on the cusp of womanhood – having sex with her boyfriend? The idea of it was unfathomable. I was the girl who was mocked as a prude because I wouldn’t let my older brother’s friend stick his tongue down my throat when I was 12.  I hadn’t even developed a woman’s body. Physiologically, I was still very much a child. Her child.

I heard the engine of Ronnie’s truck come to life and he sped out of the driveway. She yelled at me to get out again, so I went next door to Grandma’s and I called my dad. I don’t remember much of that conversation, but I remember he told me to stay at Grandma’s for the night and he would come get me the next morning. It was close to midnight, and he lived over an hour away.

I had only been at grandma’s for a few minutes when Mom stormed in and demanded that I leave with her. I thought she was letting me go home, so I followed her outside. As we approached our trailer, though, I sensed Mom had other plans. She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the driveway, instead.

Stay tuned…

A Night in November, part 1

a night in november

I was 13 years old when my mom kicked me out of the house. It was a late November night in the fall of 1999. I was in the eighth grade – I had recently been voted president of the student council and head cheerleader. Kids at school used to call me goody two shoes and teacher’s pet. They also whispered rumors that I was a lesbian behind my back, because I wasn’t really interested in messing around with boys or talking about “doing it.” Just a few months earlier, I gave my life to Jesus at summer camp and was baptized in the lake. So how does someone like me, the straight-laced goody-goody that I was, get kicked out of her house? Let me tell you.

It was cold that night. Late November in Oklahoma is typically more of an extended fall rather than an early winter, and the days would rise into the 70s and sometimes 80s before nightfall. But it would drop into the 30s at night, and I felt the chill in the air from my bed in our 2-bedroom single-wide. My sister and I shared one of the rooms while mom and Ronnie – husband number 5, though he wasn’t her husband at the time – shared the room down the hall. Between our rooms was the only bathroom, the same bathroom where I found my mom passed out in the tub, holding a butcher knife and covered in her own blood just the year before.

The room my sister and I shared was small, barely enough space for a twin bed. We had a captain’s bed in there, with drawers underneath to store my sister’s and my things. On the floor next to the bed, we kept another twin mattress, where my sister slept – I got the real bed since I was older. Her mattress took up what remained of the floor space, so I had to crawl over her to get to the door. My captain’s bed was tall enough that the mattress was level with the windowsill, and I would often lie in my bed and stare out the window at the road that connected to our gravel driveway. This is what I was doing that November night when I saw a pair of headlights coming down the hill toward our trailer.

I immediately recognized those headlights as belonging to Ronnie’s old Ford F-150. Mom and Ronnie had gone out to the bar down the hill, The Buffalo Tavern, a small beer joint right next to a boat ramp on Keystone Lake, one of two bars our little town of Osage offered its residents for nightlife. Mom had moved us to Osage five years earlier, taking us away from Bartlesville, the city where I was born and where my dad still lived.

We moved to Osage because mom wanted to take us away from dad; Grandma lived there and she had a spare trailer next to hers on a small piece of property. Osage had once thrived thanks to oil – an Oklahoma boom town on the shores of Keystone Lake in the Osage Reservation. It was called Osage City, then – and the railroad, the cotton gin and the oil industry breathed life into it, as it was a division point on the MK&T Railway. I even heard once that there was a movie made in the 1930s about Osage that won several Oscars. I found that hard to believe, though, since by the time we moved there the town had been all but abandoned as a result of the construction of Keystone Lake and the railroad discontinuing service to the area.

In addition to the two bars, there was a post office and two churches – the First Baptist Church and the Little Lighthouse, a Pentecostal church where my great uncle pastored, my great aunt lead the singing, and my grandma taught the kids’ Sunday School class. Mom didn’t take us to church, though – we only went if Grandma made us during the frequent occasions she’d watch us when Mom was in jail or off on one of her “drug sprees,” as Grandma called them.

Though Osage didn’t offer much by way of entertainment, being a kid there wasn’t so bad. In the summers, we would ride our bikes all over town, often ending up at the lake to fish or camp. One year, it was so dry that the lake nearly disappeared, and we would walk out onto the dry lakebed and search for empty clamshells or arrowheads. When we were feeling particularly adventurous, we’d leave our bikes at the boat ramp and walk along the shore to where the abandoned railroad stretched out over the lake. We’d see who was brave enough to walk out on it, and whoever got the farthest before turning back was crowned the most courageous.

When we got thirsty, we’d pedal over to Nosy Rosie’s, an older lady who lived up the road from our trailer and sold soda cans from her kitchen window for a quarter each. We called her Nosy Rosie because she always asked a lot of questions as she performed her merchant duties. There is only one road in and out of Osage, and her house sits right alongside it as you enter the town. She saw all the comings and goings, and she kept a detailed mental record of everyone’s whereabouts. She also told outrageous stories, like how one time she was hit by a passing train traveling 850 miles an hour.  We all knew she was a little crazy, but her pop was cheap and what else did we have to do?

On this November night, Nosy Rosie was probably sitting at her window, watching that old Ford F-150 come up the hill from the direction of the Buffalo Tavern, making a note to ask us about it the next time we stopped for a drink. And though she didn’t know it, she’d never get a chance to satisfy her curiosity. However, I knew as soon as I saw the headlights that trouble was coming.

More to come…

Something to prove

something to prove

For the majority of my 30 years on this earth, I’ve lived like I have something to prove.

When I was a child, my mom’s drug addiction and criminal record motivated this drive to prove myself. I needed to set myself apart from her. I needed to show everyone that I wasn’t like her, that I would never be like her, and that I would make something of myself in spite of her.

Then, when I was a teenager, I felt like I had something to prove to my friends. Most of my friends were children of two-parent households whose moms and dads were wealthy, white collar paper-pushers in the oil industry. I came from a broken, single-parent home and my dad was a blue collar machinist and welder. I had a voice inside my head constantly telling me that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t on their level.

So, I took all the honors classes to show that I was as smart or smarter. I joined the choir to show my talent. I was constantly striving to prove that I fit in. I drifted from social group to social group throughout the 4 years of high school, trying to figure out whether I was a punk non-conformist, an artsy free thinker, or a brainy do-gooder (this is where I actually fit). I often felt like an imposter. I always felt less than.

My low self-worth motivated many of my decisions in early adulthood. What I studied in college, my career choices and even social decisions were impacted by this incessant need to prove something. I’m not even sure who I felt like I needed to prove myself to – but there was this invisible audience inside my head telling me that until I accomplished this task, reached this status, achieved this goal (and these mile-markers shifted and changed) then I wasn’t enough.

And let me tell you, living like you have something to prove is exhausting. The weight of the expectations is crushing. There is no joy in this kind of living. Disappointment abounds. Comparison robs you of contentment.

Since moving back to my hometown, those old insecurities from my youth are trying to wedge their way back into my thoughts. Those friends whose parents worked for the local oil corporation are now employed by them instead – and since I don’t, I find myself feeling less than, again.

But you know what’s beautiful about being 30, instead of 15? You realize something: it’s all so stupid. Whenever those feelings of doubt about my worth or my significance creep into the fringes of my thought life, I have the maturity now to shut it down. I know myself well enough to know that the standard by which those accusing thoughts are trying to measure me are not the standards I care about.

I know I have nothing to prove.

I have nothing to prove because my worth is not in what I own. My significance is not tied up in my status, my title, my career choice or the neighborhood I live in. I am not less than. I am more than. Why?


Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?….No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 ESV

I am set apart by God. I am loved by the Creator of the Universe. Nothing can take that away from me. It’s mine through Jesus.

So, no matter who my parents are, no matter where I work, no matter what my house looks like or what my children do – Jesus loves me and that is enough. I will chase contentment because the case is closed – Jesus is all the evidence needed. I have nothing to prove.

What about you? Are you living like you have something to prove? Who are you trying to prove yourself to? I’d love to hear your story.

define | five minute friday


Five Minute Friday: a community of writers who free write for five minutes on a one-word prompt. No editing, no over-thinking, no analyzing grammar and style. Just writing. Today’s word: define.

Setting my timer and starting in 3…2…1…NOW.

This isn’t very profound, but the first thing I think of when I hear the word “define” is the relationship hurdle known as the DTR: define the relationship. During my college years, the DTR was a significant milestone in any guy-girl interaction. If you found yourself spending time with one guy exclusively, and if feelings started to get involved, and if the time you spent together definitely bordered on boyfriend-girlfriend territory, then it was time to DTR: define the relationship.

Now that I’m married with children, and no longer on the dating scene, the DTR is a less a part of my life. But, I think that it’s a relationship practice that might be healthy in other areas. Such as, food. Work. Friendships. Habits. It might be time for me to have a DTR session with some of the ways I spend my time. I did this earlier this year when I took an extended hiatus from Facebook. Maybe I need to define the relationship with other daily habits that may not be healthy or in my best interest.

Ultimate, to define the relationship is to take a critical look at something that’s becoming a bigger part of your life and to determine where it’s going, and whether that destination is a good place. I can think of several things in my life that need to have a good, ol’ fashioned DTR.

Time’s up. 

What about you? Have you ever had a DTR talk? Is there something, or someone, in your life you might need to define the relationship with?