She Can’t Even Swim

I live with a verbally abusive father. Before anybody gets all choice-y choice on me, it is not my choice to be here. I have been unable to find work for 6 years. When you are out of employment for that long, good luck finding anyone who will hire you. Add to that the lack of a college degree, the fact that my skill set (administration) is largely automated now, I am, in a word, screwed. The chronic, life-debilitating illness that prevents me from working 40 hrs/week is another story. As is the fact that I’m not “sick enough” to get on disability and would have to claim mental illness as well, in this case anxiety, a diagnosis that would effectively end my ability to have inroads in politics, or be considered for serious writing jobs, among other things. 

So Dad’s a peach. Except not. He has always been a proud sexist, and raised his three daughters to believe they were inferior to men. So it is no surprise that all three of us are, more or less, failures in business, failures in employment, and failures in general under a capitalist structured world, while my two younger sisters are successes as mothers, because that is the only thing women were good for according to my Dad. Which is why, in his mind, I am an utter and complete failure all around.

 Instead of acknowledging how his indoctrination and lack of support left me outside of any academic track, it is apparently my fault that I don’t have a college degree. He and Mom pulled me out of public school and put me in a private school when I would have started middle school. My education was effectively over at that moment, because the “school” was a church with some of the parents “teaching” us. There were no kids my age. I was lumped in a room with three boys, all in grades ahead of mine. I effectively skipped 6th grade not because I was so brilliantly smart, but because they couldn’t be bothered to teach me my actual grade. It was just so inconvenient for them.

 I don’t think I need to give you the entire history after this point to fill in the picture for you. I graduated from highschool a year early, the only person in my class. Because of the church’s indoctrination cementing my father’s, I truly believed that the only options for me were marriage and baby-making. Of course, there were no men my age, and I had no idea how to “get a husband”. So I did the only thing available – I went to the Bible College associated with our high school. I went there for two years. It was not accredited, and it was not a school. It was little more than three sermons a day, five days a week, with a terrifying compulsory prayer meeting every day where you were randomly selected to perform prayer before the equally terrifying head of the school, a man who could have given Napoleon a run for his money.

 After I finished my two years – not even graduating because one teacher lied to me about class requirements – I went back home, because I still, at 19, had no idea what to do with my life. And my parents were, of course, of no help there. Not once had they ever talked to me about careers, or jobs, or school, or paths of any kind. Because women were only good for making babies, I wasn’t worth the effort.

 Keep in mind that I had, throughout my childhood, demonstrated immense natural talent for a wide array of skills. I taught myself how to sight read music at age 6, and sang along with the church choir, soprano, alto and sometimes tenor parts. When my grandmother got a piano a couple of years later, I taught myself 2.5 years worth of piano lessons in less than 12 days (spread out over 2 years of bi-annual visits, between which I had no piano and couldn’t practice). In gradeschool I was always placed with the advanced students, and showed high aptitude in literally every subject. The “teachers” in secondary and high school all thought I had quite a talent for writing, and should pursue it. But we had no literature courses because literature was “of the devil”.

 So I ended up back at home. I was there for less than 4 months when my mother kicked me out because I didn’t want to run errands for her one morning before going to work at my crappy retail job. Since I had nowhere to live, I called some friends at the Bible College and they gave me a bed there. After Mom begged me to come home, I did one weekend while they were out of town. Less than a few months later, she threw me out again, this time after going through my belongings and finding a pair of pants (at the time, she believed that pants were “men’s clothing” and it was a sin for women to wear them).

 I had somewhere to live for a short while after that, and then yet another place after that one. I had to find another job, what turned out to be my first secretarial gig. This was just before computers made their way into offices. I supported 11 people all by myself, and built an office from scratch. No prior experience, just my native intelligence and natural ability to organize, to parse workflows and understand how to make things work. So of course they screwed me over.

 Fast forward to my relocation from SC to Atlanta, which I did because after getting screwed by everyone that I had ever known, I had little else to lose. I asked Dad if he would agree to help me go to a tech school in Atlanta where they taught you how to run recording studios. He somehow agreed, which really shocked me, since he hadn’t agreed when I asked him to send me to a regular college the year before. Maybe he just wanted me far away where he didn’t have to think about me any more. As it turned out, the college program I signed up for didn’t have night classes, which meant that I couldn’t find work other than at convenience stores, a prospect that terrified me. Dad agreed to help with my rent if I found roommates, which I did. I lived in a slum with no furniture except my twin bed.

 Just after the first semester, I heard that my younger sister wanted to go to school for architecture (a field she didn’t stay with), and I dropped out so she could. I struggled to find work and retail was all there was. When a roommate ran up a $500 phone bill and left without paying, I lost my phone. This was before cell phones. When I was too sick to get in my car and drive the 2 miles to the closest payphone, I got fired from my retail job. Eventually I got another administrative job and stayed on that track for 25 years. Because of what I now know is lupus, I didn’t have the strength or energy to work a full time job and go to school at night, so school was put on indefinite hold. Meanwhile, nobody ever encouraged me to pursue goals, or even think about them, because I had income, a roof, and that was enough. Eventually she’ll get married and then she won’t have to worry about it anyway. Right?

 Wrong. I was raped by the second guy I had a relationship with, among other unspeakable things he did to me. I couldn’t bring myself to date for 9 years. When I did, that guy raped me. So that’s 14 years, the prime years when women “get a husband”. So I was even a “failure” at the one thing I had been taught I was “good for”.

 Fast forward to 2006, when I lost my job due to cutbacks, and couldn’t get a good paying job after that, because I have no college degree, because I’m not young enough for those “sexy” jobs in technology, because I’m a dinosaur in today’s world. Because my skills in project management, organization, logistics, and the like are not enough to get me hired. These are considered peripheral skills to “real jobs”, the ones you need a degree for.

 I applied for financial aid a couple of years ago, and was immediately approved because I have made between $1,000-3,700 a year for the last 6 years. Huzzah! Ironically, I couldn’t apply for college because I didn’t have the $35 application fee nor the funds for gas to travel to and from class.

 And for those last 6 years, I have been trying anything and everything to build my networks, to develop new skills in social media and tech, to expand my knowledge of politics and try to gain inroads there (even contemplating running for office whatajoke), getting the odd job here and there, finding a client who has literally kept me alive for the last 3 years and been the only source of income, a client who is borrowing from his parents to pay me, a well nearly dry.

 And today, again, my father screams and yells at me because he is going to abandon the house I’m living in, because he wants to go on endless vacation with his new girlfriend. And I’m in the way of this. He can’t sell the house, so he’s going to let the bank have it. He doesn’t want to feel any guilt about leaving me on the street, so he tells me I am garbage, that I have been “wasting money” and taking advantage of his good graces. That I owe him for all those years of growing up, and times he helped me financially because I couldn’t get a good paying job, and because he has been paying an electric bill and internet bill for me (leaving out that he’s using it himself of course). He can’t scream at me anymore when I ask for a piece of broccoli, because I got food stamps. Yes, he screamed at me when I asked for something green to eat instead of the free bread he got from the grocery store garbage. I am not kidding.

 So while I have been struggling mentally, emotionally and physically to get my feet under me, to find some way to get back to a place where I can support myself, he knocks all of it down, yet again, as he has done over and over and over and over for the last 5 years. And he goes back to his endless vacation, and I am left broken and battered, unable to remember what I am fighting for, feeling like a complete and utter failure at everything that I do or have ever done.

 Because this is how patriarchy works. The water is made too deep for us to find a place to stand, and while we desperately tread water, there’s the man pushing our head under. “Look how worthless and inferior she is! She can’t even swim.”


One thought on “She Can’t Even Swim

  1. In reading what you’ve just written, I identified with the “stuck”ness of it all. Causes may vary, but to feel unable to pursue your passions/gifts/happiness due to circumstances you cannot easily change is one of the darkest places to be, psychologically. I was pointed towards a book that shifted some things for me – not everything, but enough that I was able to get myself to a life that works much better overall. If you are at all inclined, the book is called, “Finding Your Own North Star” by Martha Beck. Best of luck to you.

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