family, funny stories, memories, mental health, music, nostalgia, psychology

“Go with the flow”…

A few days ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my relatives, who quipped in passing that she thinks that she and I are both empaths. I didn’t contradict her at the time because I had a feeling that if I did, we might end up fighting. So I let the comment pass, but I was definitely shaking my head about it. I guess I had decided to “go with the flow” and “sweep it under the rug”, which sometimes is a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s not.

Last night, we were chatting again. This relative has been interested in my musical pursuits, which includes my attempts to learn guitar. After I wrote yesterday’s post about “musical flu”, which was inspired by watching an online concert by the jazz ensemble at my alma mater, Longwood University, I actually sat down and learned a new song. I not only learned it; I played it– shakily– on the guitar. No, I don’t play particularly well, but I did manage to play a song yesterday as well as sing the vocals. Fair disclosure, I did the vocals before the guitar part. I’m not quite ready to do them both at the same time. Still working on that pesky F chord, too.

This is a cover of an old song done by Linda Ronstadt with Dolly Parton doing harmony…

I don’t actually relate to the lyrics of “I Never Will Marry”. I just think the harmonies are pretty. I wanted to see if I could replicate them. And, with the help of Chordify and a capo, I was able to play it somewhat. I literally learned the song and the guitar part and recorded it in a few hours. And, because I was feeling tired and bitchy after that effort, I used a clip of my dog, Noyzi, as the video part. The video doesn’t really matter that much to me, anyway. I’m about the music.

A year ago, I could not have done what I did yesterday, even if my efforts from yesterday are imperfect. This was a pretty big achievement for me. I have a long way to go before I’m ready for busking on the street corner, but I felt pretty accomplished.

My relative listened to the song, praised it, but then said she didn’t like the song itself. She said she thought the lyrics were self-pitying. I don’t disagree, but I still think the harmonies are lovely. My relative went on to explain that she doesn’t like “whiney” songs, and that reminded me of a funny story from my past. I proceeded to relate a short version of the story to my relative, but she completely missed the point in a non-empathic way. Since I’m not drunk on wine right now, have nothing better to do, and I’m writing with a clear head, here’s a longer version of the story for all of you dear readers.

When I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University), I was forced to move out of my dorm after the first week of school. I ended up in what was considered the “worst” hall on campus. Well… it wasn’t really the “worst”. It was just a single-sex dorm with hall bathrooms. And, unlike the dorm I had moved from, it didn’t have air conditioning, which really sucked during the late August Virginia summer heat. I imagine the heat lasts longer these days than it did in 1990.

Anyway, the hall below us was an all men’s floor for freshmen. At the time, it was the only all men’s hall that wasn’t used by a fraternity. The women on the second floor and the men on the first floor all hung out together, and most of them attended a mandatory class called Longwood Seminar. It was a special class for incoming freshmen, designed to teach them about how to survive in college. The sections were divided by dorms, which back in the 90s, were still where most Longwood students were living. There wasn’t a lot of off campus housing then, nor did people tend to commute a lot.

I was not in the same Seminar class as my new hallmates were, since I was still in the group I was put in with my original dorm. Because I was not in the same Seminar group, I missed the incident that led up to the invention of the word “brently”, coined by my old friend, Chris.

Back in 1990, Longwood instituted a new rule that freshman dorms were to be “dry”. That meant that alcohol was forbidden on the halls dedicated to freshmen students. Of course, even though there was a rule against booze in freshmen areas, that doesn’t mean people obeyed. One day, early in the semester of our first year, the Longwood Seminar professor talked about avoiding alcohol. And a guy named Brent stood up and said, “If Longwood is so serious about preventing underage drinking, how come half my hall was drunk last weekend?”

Naturally, that confrontation did not put Brent in good stead with his peers. Brent also had an unfortunate habit of being a bit “whiney” and “self-pitying”, much like the song my relative said she didn’t like. Brent would go around saying things like, “Basically, I’m just fucked up the rectum…” as he cringed and complained that he’d just shit his pants because he had amoebic dysentery. I swear… I am not making this shit up. 🙂

Brent also got a lot of people upset because he was involved in an interracial relationship. I’m sorry to say that despite its many progressions lately, Virginia is still a southern state, and even in 1990, some people had issues with the races mixing. Personally, I didn’t really know Brent or his girlfriend that well, and I didn’t care who he was dating. But people supposedly said something to him about his girlfriend and Brent’s response was, “I can have any white woman I want,” which I think we all know is patently untrue. No one can have “any person they want”, no matter who they are. Anyway, the general consensus was that Brent was an arrogant asshole who was very uncool. And he also bore a slight resemblance to Ronald McDonald, except he used to bike shirtless around campus.

Well, people were upset with Brent for busting them in Longwood Seminar class, so my friend Chris decided to play a prank on Brent. He knew Brent had an illegal sword collection in his dorm room. Chris was an English major, so he knew how to draft professional letters. At Longwood, we had a student run Honor Board and a Judicial Board. So Chris wrote a letter to Brent, ostensibly from the Honor Board, inviting him to a “hearing” about his illegal sword collection. Brent, lacking situational awareness, quickly panicked and started searching frantically for the R.A., a guy named Jack.

Chris felt sorry for Brent, so he said, “Brent, man, it was just a joke. Calm down.”

Brent then seized Chris, threw him up against the wall, and snarled, “Oh… so you think it’s funny, huh?” And then he kneed Chris right in the balls.

Chris said, “No Brently… I just feel… SICK.” as he crumpled to the ground. I still laugh when I think about this part of the story.

From that day on, whenever someone said or did anything victim-esque, my friend Chris would say, “Brently!” And we all knew it meant the person was being a martyr or acting like a victim. To this day, I still think of the made up word “brently” when someone is self-pitying or pathetic. Bill’s ex wife is a prime example of someone who is “brently”.

I thought I was just sharing a funny story from my college days. But my relative, the non-empath, immediately calls me (and my friends) out for “bullying” Brent, just because of his looks. She said Chris deserved to be kneed in the nuts, because “karma is a bitch”.

I said, “Wait a minute. People weren’t bullying Brent because of his looks. It was his behavior that did it, although his looks didn’t help. Aside from that, this was thirty years ago. I haven’t seen or talked to Brent since the early 90s. And when I did know him, I wasn’t involved in these incidents at all. I was not mean to Brent, nor am I routinely mean to anyone, unless they ask for it.”

My relative continued on about how she felt sorry for Brent, being “bullied” by us… and she basically lectured me as if I was still a child, even though I’m almost menopausal.

So I said, “I don’t have any pity for Brent. He brought that treatment on himself. Moreover, all Chris did was play a harmless prank and scare him for a minute. Brent committed assault and battery and could have been arrested for his retaliation.”

Again, I really don’t think people picked on Brent solely because of his appearance. I don’t think most people cared who he was dating, either. Some people did, because it was Virginia and some people are backwards and racist. But I don’t think that was the overall attitude toward Brent. It was his arrogant behavior and confrontational attitude that got him picked on… calling out freshmen for drinking when he was, himself, breaking the rules by keeping knives and swords in his dorm room.

So then, I said to my relative, “Anyway– the POINT of the story is not about Brent being bullied. I was trying to tell you about a funny word made up by my friend, which could describe the song, ‘I Never Will Marry’. It’s a ‘brently’ song.”

Now… how does this relate to my relative falsely referring to herself as an “empath”? Besides the fact that she completely missed the point of the funny story and went straight to shaming me, as if I were 12 years old, it’s also because I have many memories of her bullying me. I remember her telling me she thought I was “stupid, fat, and ugly” when I was a kid. I also remember her physically abusing me when I was a small child and couldn’t fight back. I remember many, many meltdowns from her over the years, and a lot of entitled behavior, even after I had reached adulthood. For instance, here’s another rerun story from the past.

Christmas 2003– Bill and I lived in northern Virginia, not far from my relative’s home. My family was having Christmas at their house. My relative, then in her 40s, asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her down there with us. I said it would be okay, but she needed to realize that if things got shitty, we would be leaving. I didn’t want to hang around if there was any fighting.

My relative agreed, so on the day we were leaving, Bill went to pick her up. Naturally, she wasn’t dressed when he got there at the pre-appointed time, so he had to wait for her to take a shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and have coffee. This put us on the road later than we needed to be.

We got down to my parents’ house. All the other relatives were there, and most were sleeping at the house. Bill and I were relegated to the office, where there was a very uncomfortable fold out couch with a metal bar that would hit right in the middle of the back. I had also started my period, so I wasn’t feeling very well.

There was a lot of tension in the air and we were all walking on eggshells… Sure enough, hours after our arrival, I got into a fight with one of my sisters, who decided to get all self-righteous and holier-than-thou with me. My feelings were hurt and, whether or not the fight was my fault, I didn’t feel like staying in that environment, which had become pretty toxic. I just wanted to go home and be in my own house, with a comfortable bed and a toilet where I could tend to Aunt Flow in peace.

Remembering that I had vowed to leave if there was a fight, I told Bill I wanted to go home the next morning. So we told the relative who had bummed a ride with us that we would be leaving early. She had said, before accepting a ride with us, that she was okay with us leaving early if the need arose. But then, when the situation actually came up, her response was to try to manipulate Bill into talking me into staying. Why? Because she was hoping we’d drive her to nearby Williamsburg to go shopping. She wanted us to drive her around, even though at that time, we didn’t have much money, and I sure as hell don’t get my kicks watching her buy stuff. She really can be a terror to clerks and wait staff.

When Bill didn’t talk me into changing my mind, my relative tried. I said I wanted to leave and nothing was going to change my mind. So she flew into an EPIC rage. She was still in bed when we packed the car, but she got up, took a shower, and came storming into the kitchen with wet hair. She screamed at me that she needed to dry her hair and have coffee, so she wouldn’t catch cold. I was just flabbergasted that a woman in her 40s was acting like this. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” Because I knew that having her in the car would be hours of hell, and I had had enough hell.

So, while my relative was still angrily orbiting around the house, Bill and I got in the car and fucking left! And my relative ended up taking a bus home. She gave me the silent treatment for a year after that, not that I minded. Somehow, our decision to enforce a boundary also became a reason for shaming. I remember my dad telling me I was “mean” to leave my relative stranded like that. He had no idea what had transpired, but just assumed, after hearing her side, that the whole thing was my fault.

Leaving my relative at my parents’ house was the right thing to do, but it was also a hard thing to do. Because I have been trained since childhood to overlook other people’s bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs. And when something goes south, I get blamed for it, even if the other person was the one acting like a jerk. I was expected to just “go with the flow” and sweep it under the rug.

My mom was always a big fan of “going with the flow”, and she always tried to tell me that’s what I should do, even when someone was outrageously abusive to me. Like, for instance, the time my father humiliated me in public, treating me like a six year old when I was a married woman in my 30s. That incident occurred, again, when I was doing a favor for my “empath” relative, who had asked us to drive my elderly parents around northern Virginia.

Bill and I were sitting with my relative’s boyfriend in a noisy stadium on the occasion of my relative’s master’s degree graduation. My parents were not sitting next to us, but they must have seemed like they were with us, because some strange woman who sat near us apparently felt we were being too rowdy. Instead of speaking to us directly (we weren’t being any louder than anyone else in the stadium was, and we were all adults), she complained to my parents. And my dad turned around and yelled at me, “Shut up! You’re DISTURBING PEOPLE!” It was really loud, and I’m sure everyone heard it. Including that cunty woman who complained to my parents instead of directly to us. I still don’t know how she knew we were together.

Anyway, after my dad screamed at me, Bill says the look on my face was one of unbridled rage. I wanted to kill my father right then and there. I was absolutely LIVID. Instead, I got up and left. Bill found me, and I told him I just wanted to go home. But because we had driven my parents’ car, that would have meant arranging for alternative transportation. At the time, we had very little disposable income to waste on rental cars or even train fare. Once he had me calmed down somewhat, we found my mom. I went to the bathroom, and my mom was telling Bill that I should just “go with the flow” and not let that incident ruin our “lovely day.”

Bill, being the prince he is, told my mom that actually, my dad’s outburst was embarrassing, uncalled for, and totally wrong, and that I had every right to be as angry as I was. Moreover, we were at the graduation as a favor to my parents and my relative. I hadn’t even WANTED to be there. I had just let her talk me into doing her a favor, yet again. As we rode in the car to the very nice restaurant where Bill and I had gotten engaged the year before, Bill was making small talk while I squeezed the blood out of his hand. I was so PISSED.

It happened to be Mother’s Day that day, and the restaurant was giving out pretty potted Impatiens flowers. They gave one to me and my dad said, “Why do you get one? You’re not a mother.” To which I said, “I am a stepmother.” This was before Ex’s parental alienation campaign had ramped up to the toxic levels it eventually got to. And then, when we sat down to brunch, which my father would be paying for, I proceeded to order steak and eggs, several whiskey sours, and dessert. Bill smirked at me, knowing full well that I was passively aggressively taking my rage at my father out of his wallet.

The following week, Bill finished his first master’s degree. We went back to that same restaurant and had a less expensive, but still very enjoyable, do over of that brunch. And ever since those incidents in 2003, as well as Ex’s sick Christmas stunt of 2004, in which she tried to compel me to spend Christmas with her in my father-in-law’s house, I have become a lot more assertive and less likely to just “go with the flow”. Especially, when it comes to dealing with my relative who, I repeat with emphasis, is NOT AN EMPATH by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is sometimes pretty “brently”.

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Ex

Ripple eff-Ex… volume 2– Sometimes “no” is the kindest word you’ll ever say.

This is a really long and personal blog post. Some people might find it offensive. If you are offended, I apologize… although this story isn’t easy to tell. It’s a lot more convoluted than I’ve explained here. I’ll just say that we tried… and we’re still trying to counteract the “Ripple eff-Ex”.

Back in 2013, on my original Overeducated Housewife blog, I wrote a post entitled “Ripple eff-Ex”. That post was basically the history of how my husband and I came to be as we were in August 2013. At the time, we had just moved from North Carolina to Texas. Neither of Bill’s daughters were speaking to him. Bill’s dad and stepmother were pressuring him to visit more, while his mom was a “neighbor”, in that she lived in the same city. I mused about how a series of decisions had led us to where we were. I was pretty bitter at the time. It looked like Bill had lost his daughters forever and we weren’t going to be having our own family, although I had wanted one. He was about to retire from the Army, and I was pretty anguished about the future.

In my “Ripple eff-Ex” post, I explained that Bill had made a bad decision in marrying his ex wife in August 1990, and that decision had affected many innocent people. It was ultimately a bad decision because they were not suited to each other. He had felt sorry for her and wanted to rescue her and her son. She was looking for a sugar daddy and a source of narcissistic supply. Bill is an empathetic person who hadn’t realized his own worth. He believed she might be his one chance at having a family. And she was looking to upgrade her life– ditching her son’s father, an enlisted man with whom she didn’t mesh– and hooking an officer. I don’t think “love” had much to do with anything.

Their marriage ended in June 2000. By then, Bill and I were Internet friends, and we would meet in person the following year and marry the year after that. Even meeting me offline was kind of a strange decision, given the conditions of how and where we met. Fortunately, our marriage has been successful, despite the odd circumstances that put us together. On the other hand, I kind of wasted three years in graduate school. Oh well… at least it’s paid for.

In any case, Bill’s decision to marry Ex wasn’t formed in a vacuum. It was the result of other people’s choices. There’s actually a whole lot to this part of the story, but I’m not going to get into that now, because it would make this post way too long and convoluted. Suffice to say that there was a series of misfortunes and missteps that had led Bill to his first encounter with his ex wife. And years after they met, it was like a perfect storm of dysfunction awaiting to put them on a crash course.

Bill met his ex wife because his mother had made a series of moves to escape a stalker who had threatened Bill’s life. She had initially left the Memphis area for Phoenix when Bill was a little boy; then they eventually ended up in Houston, Texas, where Bill’s aunt and uncle lived. Along the way, there were experiences Bill had that shaped who he is. Somehow, he learned that he should never disappoint people, even if pleasing others was detrimental to his own well-being or even their well-being. He never learned that sometimes not disappointing people leads to much larger disappointments in the long run.

Somehow, Bill never developed self-respect during that time– and I went into detail about how that came to be. I think a large part of it was because he wasn’t around his father much, and his mother had married a man who was actually a transgendered woman. Bill’s stepfather (or stepmother, if you’d rather– I don’t think he ever really transitioned) treated Bill badly during his formative years– from the time he was ten until he was fourteen, when Bill’s mom and his first stepfather (of two) got divorced. That was when he wound up in Houston, and he and Ex met.

Bill was three years older than Ex was, so they didn’t really get together during those early years. She went on to marry an enlisted Army guy, the father of her eldest son, who had also gone to high school with them. Bill went to college, then joined the Army. Fate put Ex’s first husband and Bill together on a flight to the States. First Ex husband told Ex about seeing Bill, and she tracked him down in Germany and gave him quite the sob story.

“No” is sometimes the kindest word you can say…

Bill never got comfortable with dating before he ran into Ex. He had little experience with women and didn’t think very highly of himself, even though he had a lot going for him. So, when Ex tracked him down in Germany after her first husband had run into Bill, she put the moves on him, and he was kind of like a sitting duck. No one ever sat him down and offered him any hard truths about the situation. Even though his inner voice had warned him not to marry Ex, he ignored it and went through with the wedding. That decision had many “ripple effects”– hence the name of the blog post. It had effects on so many people— his children, his parents, his stepmom, his sister, me, my family, Ex’s husband and their kids, and Ex herself, among others. Of course, had he not married Ex, he might have married some other woman. Maybe she would have been a better match, and I might have ended up an old maid.

Around the same time I wrote the Ripple eff-Ex post, I wrote another post called “Family Shit”. It was about how my mom was upset with me because my dad was in his last months of life, and she felt I was purposely distancing myself from the family. I was confused by it all, since our immediate family has never been particularly close. My parents were married for 56 years, but it’s not like we lived our lives like a Normal Rockwell painting. I have three much older sisters and we just don’t have a lot in common… and every time we’ve tried to have a family reunion, there’s inevitably some kind of fight. I swore off family gatherings, because too many of them had left me in tears and took weeks to get over.

I remember my Mom had wanted me to try to come home for Thanksgiving, but I demurred. I recall saying it was because of the cost. It wasn’t just because of the cost, though. It was also because I had been through so many dramatic and ruined holidays with my family of origin. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had eventually learned to say no, because that was what was best for me. I don’t like to disappoint people either, but I had learned at a younger age that sometimes disappointing people is the best thing to do. It can spare a lot of heartbreak in the long run. I credit my mom for teaching me to avoid trouble by using my common sense. I know she was disappointed that my sisters and I weren’t closer friends– although that wasn’t just up to me. But in not giving in to guilt and going along to get along, I probably spared my mental health. I think I’m better off for it, even though it does pain me to disappoint people.

At that time in 2013, when I wrote “Ripple eff-Ex”, we were just recovering from the years of financial wreckage wrought in Bill’s first marriage. For the first years of our marriage, he was sending a lot of child support to his ex wife for his two daughters, and his former stepson, who was not even legally his. In 2009, we discovered that former stepson was planning a cruel “fuck you” to Bill, as he continued to collect money from the man he’d called “Dad” for years. That was also the year his older daughter turned 18. She refused to speak to Bill, so he cut off her child support. In 2011, he did the same to younger daughter, who also wouldn’t speak to him. Both daughters had sent him letters in 2006, disowning him and demanding that he give them up for adoption to their stepfather. Bill hadn’t agreed to the adoption, but they still refused to have anything to do with him. So, when they came of age and Bill was supposed to support them directly, he quit paying, even though he had tried, unsuccessfully, to contact his older daughter about his agreement to support her until she was 22 years old. Ex had never filed with child support enforcement, so this was easy to do. And there were never any repercussions.

Long time readers of my blog might remember that things came to a head in November 2016, when we were in Ireland celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. Our finances were finally getting straightened out. We had started to accept that the kids weren’t going to come around. My dad died in July 2014, and I had managed to see him before he passed.

It was during that trip to Ireland that Bill’s younger daughter came up on Facebook as a “person he might know”. I was really upset about it, because for years the kids wouldn’t speak to or acknowledge Bill. And yet, they would somehow find ways to “intrude”. Bill would call his father (who died in November 2020) for Christmas and his dad would tell him about speaking to his children, adding that they hadn’t wanted to talk to or about Bill. It had happened so many times over the years… and I was just sick of it. I felt like if they didn’t want to see or speak to Bill, they should just leave us alone and get on with their own lives.

James Taylor gets it. I’ll bet younger daughter can relate to this song.

But then in 2017, Bill’s younger daughter came around. She started to trade messages with Bill. They started to Skype. They slowly got to know each other again. In March 2020, after fifteen years of physical separation, Bill got to hug his daughter again. He saw his grandchildren and met his son-in-law. Then, he made it back to Germany just in time before the borders closed. During that visit, Bill learned a lot more about what went on during those years they weren’t speaking. Bill’s daughter, having talked to Bill for a couple of days, very astutely came to the same conclusion I had, years before. Bill was a victim of domestic violence in his first marriage. She even sent him an article about it. I suspect she knew the truth about Bill, because she’s observed the same behaviors in Ex’s relationship with her third husband.

More has come to light recently. Younger daughter has opened up more… and we’ve learned that much of what happened back then was due to Ex’s bullying tactics to keep her children under her control. She was abusive in all ways, and used manipulation, triangulation, and other forms of emotional terrorism to keep Bill’s daughters away from him and his mother. Bill’s dad and stepmom were marginally acceptable, although the girls were discouraged from contacting them, too.

Bill has often felt guilty for the disaster his first marriage was. He went through financial ruin– bankruptcy and foreclosure. He was estranged from his children and remains estranged from his former stepson and his older daughter. He prematurely left the Army at his ex wife’s behest, although he was able to rectify that decision later. He had a vasectomy because his ex wanted him to have one, although that was later reversed. And now, he’s found out that he was not the only one who was profoundly abused by his ex wife.

What would have happened if Bill had said “No” to his ex wife in 1989? What if he hadn’t taken the bait? He’s not in a bad place now. He has a good marriage to a woman who loves him. One of his daughters has come around to speaking to him again. He has a good job, and has completely recovered from the financial ruin he was in when Bill and I met. He’s even become more assertive and willing to fight for his own interests. But if he had just learned to say “no” sooner, he could have spared himself and others pain.

There’s not much sense in looking back, I guess– except to learn the lesson that major life altering decisions affect more than just one person. By marrying Ex, he brought an extremely toxic and dangerous person into the lives of innocent people. Exposure to Ex is dangerous– she’s affected me profoundly, even though we’ve never even met face to face. But this is not really a sad story. We’ve learned some very difficult and painful lessons. I know how much Bill respects people and wants them to be happy. But somehow, he never learned to make himself happy first.

Now he’s learning that lesson and standing up for himself and his interests. He’s learning that sometimes “No” is the kindest thing you can say to someone. He knows that he shouldn’t have married Ex, simply because he pitied her and had no faith in himself. Marrying someone because you feel sorry for them is not particularly kind in the long run. Because you don’t actually love them… Ex knew Bill didn’t love her. She didn’t love him, either. They made children who have suffered, although both have turned out to be surprisingly resilient and resourceful.

Younger daughter told Bill that she’s paid off her student loans, although I don’t think she’s finished her degree yet. She said that she’s so happy to have paid that debt… which we discovered she undertook at about 16 years of age. At that time, Ex had made her drop out of high school and get a GED so she could take college courses. Ex got younger daughter to take out loans, then used the extra money for herself. That was around the time Bill had quit paying child support for older daughter. Instead of talking to Bill about arranging for the child support beyond age 18, Ex chose to steal from her daughters, forcing them to pay back loans that she had coerced them into getting. She refused to communicate with the father of those girls– the man she CHOSE to be their father– and she ripped them off. I would not be the least bit surprised if she’s also got credit cards in their names, but I don’t know that for certain. I did, back around 2009, find evidence that Ex was using younger daughter’s name on a dating site. She used her age and location, but younger daughter’s name. It’s not a stretch that she also got credit that way, since she would have access to their Social Security numbers. I hope those girls have checked their credit reports.

I think Bill has survived Ex. I think younger daughter has, too… and former stepson, who really doesn’t have anything to do with anyone in his family anymore. Older daughter is still trapped, but I think she knows how toxic her mother is. She’s still there for the youngest child, who has severe autism and will probably always need help. Ex doesn’t take care of him. That’s left to Bill’s older daughter, who is supposedly also on the spectrum. Older daughter was reportedly very upset when Bill’s father died… but she hasn’t had a relationship with Bill or his parents in years. She hasn’t learned to say “no” to her mother and do what is in her own best interest. For her sake, I hope she figures it out soon. There are many people waiting to help her, when she’s ready to take that step.

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education, psychology, teen help

Circle of Hope Ranch: Another Missouri Christian “teen help” snake pit closes…

Good morning, everybody. I am writing today’s post on my new laptop. It’s the first laptop I have bought since July 2014, just before we moved back to Germany from Texas. I bought my first laptop because my computer had been shipped and I predicted wanting to have a computer for the times when I traveled. It seems crazy to buy a new computer for travel now… especially since my old machine still works. But since I’m not having much fun right now, I decided it was time to upgrade. I have Bill’s blessing, too!

This morning, I became aware of yet another Christian boarding school in Missouri that was just closed. The fact that this school was in Missouri is noteworthy, since Missouri is notorious for having little oversight over private boarding schools, such as the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy. Consequently, there are a lot of “teen help” type schools in that state, especially those affiliated with independent Baptist churches. These schools are often located in tiny, rural towns and are set up on vast, remote plots of land, free from the prying eyes of neighbors and authorities, and hard for the children to escape.

The name of the school I’m writing of today is Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch and Boarding School. This place, located in Humansville, a hamlet in southwestern Missouri, was run by Christian couple Boyd and Stephanie Householder, aged 71 and 55 respectively. Boyd Householder faces 79 felony counts and one misdemeanor, which include “charges for child molestation, sodomy, sexual contact with a student and neglect of a child.” His wife, Stephanie, is charged with 22 felony counts of “abuse or neglect of a child, and endangering the welfare of a child.”

News item about Circle of Hope Ranch.

The alleged abuses took place between 2017 and 2020, although Boyd Householder opened the school in 2006. He claimed that his methods could “reform rebellious teenage girls.” His allegedly abusive brand of straightening out hundreds of girls went unabated until his own daughter, Amanda, spoke out on Tik Tok. Amanda has not spoken to her parents since 2016. The school’s official Web site is now defunct, but you can access an archived version of it here.

Having done my fair share of studying these types of boarding schools, it comes as no surprise to me that the Householders are accused of using cruel methods to control their charges. The Christian couple is accused of withholding food, restraining girls, and forcing them to do manual labor. Girls were allegedly restrained with handcuffs and zip ties, and gagged with dirty socks. It occurs to me that the Householders may have stumbled across an effective way to satisfy their needs… free labor that parents actually PAID them to force their daughters to do, and sexual kink. The fact that Householder used dirty sock gags and hard restraints on teenaged girls suggests to me that he’s likely a sexual deviant.

Besides obviously being perverted, Householder also supposedly told one of his charges how to commit suicide. He also allegedly pushed a girl down stairs. Past residents have also alleged that Householder slammed girls’ heads against walls, kept them in strict isolation, poured hot sauce in their mouths, and used duct tape and socks to prevent a girl from using her hands. Boyd Householder’s wife, Stephanie, was less of a participant in the abuse, but aided and abetted her husband in committing them.

A survivor speaks. I had to turn up the volume all the way to be able to hear her.

As I write this post this morning, I’m watching the latest season of 60 Days In, a reality show that has civilians voluntarily entering jails undercover in an effort to help wardens improve security and get information about what goes on inside their facilities. As horrific, dangerous, and violent jails are, at least in the vast majority of them, inmates have basic human rights and some knowledge of when they might be released. Teenagers that are sent to the “therapeutic” or “religious” boarding schools often have no idea when they might be allowed to leave. And they have little to no contact with anyone who can or will advocate for them.

Where was the oversight? Didn’t parents or child welfare workers take note? Well, according to NBC News, legal authorities did receive numerous complaints about Circle of Hope– at least 19 reports were logged since the school was opened in 2006. But thanks to Missouri’s lax laws regarding private school oversight, no actions were ever taken. Consequently, there have been many cases of abuse and even a few deaths at religious and/or military reform schools like Circle of Hope. I mentioned Mountain Park, in Patterson, Missouri, earlier in this post. That school closed in 2004, but eight years prior to its closure, a student was murdered there by another student. There was also a death at the now defunct Thayer Learning Center, a Mormon/military based program based in Kidder, Missouri, when a student collapsed there.

I’ve been following these types of reform programs for about twenty years. Progress has been made, since a lot of the worst programs have been shut down. However, as the news about Circle of Hope suggests, there are still programs out there that operate without any oversight and employ extremely abusive methods to control teens. And a lot of the people running the schools are deviants who are looking after children who need help from trained professionals. But even some of the so called professionals are ill equipped and unsuitable for the job.

I wrote about a program that was located near where I grew up. Hopesville Christian Academy had a history of taking in troubled teens from all over the state of Virginia. Many times, the care was paid for by taxpayers. But then it turned out that the man running the school, who had inherited the job from his father-in-law who had founded it, was sexually abusing his charges.

Also, back in 2008, I became aware of a deviant social worker from Middlesex County, Virginia, the county adjacent to my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia. The social worker, Arthur Bracke, had worked with abused children for many years. But he was also abusing them himself. After he retired from his job, he was outed for being a deviant and wound up in prison, where he later died. As someone who has a MSW myself, it is shocking to me that this man got away with molesting and abusing so many children and managed to retire from his job before he was finally discovered. Before his arrest, Bracke tried to murder one of the three sons he had adopted from the foster care system by intentionally setting his rented house on fire while the 19 year old boy was sleeping in it.

Although there are some good people who work with teens, there are also a lot of bad people. And they take advantage of stressed out, desperate, frustrated parents who just want to pain to end. The kids go off to “rehab” and their parents are kept unaware of what’s going on with their child. Many times, the youngsters come out of these schools scarred by the abuse and traumatized forever. Or, in worse cases, the children end up dying from abuse, neglect, or murder.

I’m glad to read that another school has been shut down. I just wish it had never been allowed to open and operate without any oversight whatsoever. My heart breaks for the children who were forced to endure the abuses at Circle of Hope and other schools like it. Life is hard enough without having your parents send you away to a place where your life is controlled by criminals. I hope justice is served in the Householders’ case. I am all for them getting a fair trial, but I have learned that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It will be interesting to read what becomes of them as they move through the legal system… and I hope Missouri lawmakers are paying attention and take some action to stop these abusive programs. I also hope parents open their eyes and get wise to these places.

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tragedies, true crime

Death of a coward…

At about this time last year, I was reading and reviewing a lot of books about the state of U.S. women’s gymnastics. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might know that about three years ago, former U.S. gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was outed for the abusive pervert he is. He’s currently sitting in a prison cell for sexually abusing hundreds of female athletes over the course of his career.

Yesterday, I became aware that high powered elite gymnastics coach, 63 year old John Geddert, who had once called Larry Nassar a friend and a colleague, was charged with a couple dozen felonies. Mr. Geddert was supposed to turn himself in for arraignment at a sheriff’s office yesterday. When he failed to show up for his 2:15pm appointment, police went looking for him. They found his dead body at 3:24pm ET at a rest stop in Grand Ledge, Michigan. The cause of death was suicide.

I guess he couldn’t face the music.

John Geddert was a successful coach, having been the coach of the 2012 women’s gymnastics Olympic team. But he was also notoriously abusive to his athletes. According to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel:

“John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him,”

And,

“The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault. Many of these victims still carry these scars from his behavior to this day.”

Indeed, in a number of the books I read about Larry Nassar and the huge sex abuse bombshell that was dropped on U.S. women’s gymnastics, John Geddert’s name came up frequently. He was described as the type of coach who would scream, throw things, and punish his gymnasts. Larry Nassar, by contrast, was described as quiet, gentle, and caring. The two men were said to be best friends, and Larry Nassar worked out of Geddert’s Twistars gym where he would minister to the injured girls. They would come to him looking for kindness and caring, having been beaten down by Geddert’s physically abusive tactics. It created the perfect storm for Nassar’s sexual abuse, which went under the radar for decades.

As the abuse was made public, attention shifted to John Geddert, who lied to police when he was questioned about Larry Nassar. Michigan Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark said, “Mr. Geddert knew that Nassar was sexually abusing these patients and that he failed to take action. And that when he was asked about it by police officers during the 2016 investigation into Nassar, he lied about that.”

I’m not all that surprised that Geddert killed himself. He no doubt paid close attention to what happened to Larry Nassar. He probably also paid attention to what happened to Jeffrey Epstein, the fabulously wealthy bastard who victimized and trafficked scores of girls for the pleasures of wealthy and perverted men. Epstein was about to go on trial for his crimes when he was found dead of suicide in his jail cell. There was speculation that Epstein was murdered by those who didn’t want him to talk, but the official cause of death was suicide. I think either scenario is plausible, and I’m sure Epstein felt suicide was better than a lifetime in prison. John Geddert clearly felt the same way.

Gymnasts thought of Geddert and Nassar as a “dynamic duo”.

I’m sure there’s a lot of sadness regarding this death. Many of Geddert’s victims no doubt wanted to testify in court about what happened to them. Geddert cheated them out of justice. But Geddert probably also had friends and loved ones who are legitimately shocked by all of this. I feel sad for all of them. I’ve noticed a lot of comments chastising people who express empathy for Geddert’s friends and loved ones. I won’t do that, because I think those people deserve consideration, too. As awful as abusers can be, they usually do have some people in their lives who have no idea or love them regardless… and when the abuse does come to light, they suffer, but get little empathy. So I want to go on record that I empathize with everyone personally affected by Geddert’s suicide, regardless of how and why they are affected.

I feel sad for all of the parents, too. They no doubt thought they were doing a great thing for their daughters, enrolling them in gymnastics. They put their trust in John Geddert and Larry Nassar, paying them a lot of money for the training and medical care… only to find out that they abused their gymnasts, using them for their own pleasure. I know that I would be extremely pissed off if I had a child who was abused by someone. But then to realize that I spent thousands of dollars for my child to be abused and permanently harmed– I think it would send me over the edge.

So… I send my good thoughts out to those who are upset by Geddert’s cowardly decision to take himself out. I think it’s pretty clear that he was guilty as hell. At least he won’t be hurting anyone else. But that may be small comfort for those who were hoping to see him held accountable.

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Ex

The shock of not being abused…

If you’ve ever been in an “abusive” relationship with someone– be it a friend, a significant other, a co-worker, a spouse, or a landlord– it can be kind of a shock when you’re not anymore. When you’ve been in abusive relationship, you can get “used” to being abused. Then when you deal with another person who isn’t abusive, it’s a surprise. One would think this would be a great thing, and it is. But it’s also confusing and ultimately infuriating, not because the next person is decent, but because you’ve spent time tolerating someone who is malevolent.

When I think about how much time I’ve spent feeling guilty for upsetting an abusive person, it makes me angry. Even though I’m away from that person and they can’t hurt me anymore, I have these lingering aftereffects that don’t easily go away. It’s like recovering from a bad case of the flu, when getting rid of the cough and fatigue takes forever, even though the acute illness is gone.

For the past year, I’ve been recovering from the four years of abuse I put up with from our former landlady. I know some people reading this don’t believe me when I classify her behavior as abusive. That’s fine with me. You can believe whatever you want. I was the one living this experience, and I’m still recovering from it. I’m still angry about it, although I’m slowly getting better.

Our toxic living situation has left me with some very unpleasant aftereffects. For example, it took many weeks before I stopped worrying and obsessing about things in our current house that I knew would have upset the ex landlady. It took a long time before I started feeling comfortable in my own home. She would come over and spot a pile of leaves where the trash bins are. I would watch her body language change to one of fury, as if we were the dirtiest people ever. She’d grab a broom and furiously sweep.

Or, say I didn’t completely shovel all of the snow from the driveway because I wasn’t going anywhere and wasn’t expecting visitors. She’d come over without calling first and get super bitchy because I didn’t sweep or shovel to her standards. Or say there was a small clump of dog hair in the doorway that she’d claim was “encrusted”, but was actually just akin to a dust bunny that took seconds to wipe away. I swear, if I had known it would have caused her so much angst, I would have made sure it wasn’t there when she came over. But she rarely told me when she was coming, so a lot of times, I wasn’t prepared for company.

Even though she didn’t live in the neighborhood, we were expected to keep things to her standards. But she never really told us what her standards were, so I’d always have to guess– and it was virtually always after she’d chewed me out. And frankly, I don’t think I should be expected to keep my housekeeping to her standards. Not when we were paying rent to her. It’s one thing if something is so dirty that it’s a safety, health, or legal issue. It’s another if you’re simply an obsessive clean freak and feel like everyone else should be one, too.

Our current landlord lives next door, but he leaves us alone. I’m not even sure he knows that one of our dogs died. This morning he reminded Bill to turn off the water to the sink in the garage, since the weather is about to turn cold. He actually trusts Bill to do it. Our former landlady, by contrast, would have to come over to do it herself. Whenever there was a repairperson or inspector coming by, she had to be there to supervise. She rarely trusted Bill or me to handle these tasks, even though we’re middle aged people who have been renting for years.

While Bill was talking to our current landlord today, he told him about the tree in our backyard that died over the summer. I don’t know why it died; it just did, and it was leaning over. On Columbus Day, we cut the branches back and stocked the wood for the fireplace, but left some of the tree. The whole time we were cutting, I was thinking that our ex landlady would have had a conniption if we had taken it upon ourselves to cut that tree on our own. But our current landlord was fine with it and said he would take care of removing the rest of it. No fuss, no muss, and he treats us like adults, instead of children or employees. Ex landlady would have probably accused me of killing the tree… or she would have claimed the dogs peeing on it killed it, or something else asinine like that.

Our current landlord also noticed the green wire for the robot mower, which has a border wire that goes around the yard. He was about to pull it up when Bill explained what it was. Instead of being angry that we were using a robot mower, he was intrigued. And when he came to get the tree, he went through the back gate instead of through the house because he’s been doing yard work and is dirty. Former landlady never would have passed up the chance to inspect/snoop. I would not be the slightest bit surprised if she came into the house when we weren’t there and had a look around.

When I think about spending four years in that living situation, I feel angry, even though it’s over now. I’m appalled when I think about how much stress we experienced and eggshell walking we did to appease that bitch– someone we were PAYING a lot of money to every month. When I realize that I actually fought to stay in that inferior house because I was afraid the next landlords might be worse, I am absolutely gobsmacked.

I actually tried to stay in our prior house because I had gotten used to the abuse and passive aggressive behavior, and I didn’t want it to start anew with someone else. I knew ex landlady was abusive, but at least we knew her. A year ago, she was mostly ignoring us, which was actually the best part of our four years living there, because she stopped showing up unexpectedly, disrupting my peace. I didn’t like her behavior; it made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. But at least I knew what to expect and we’d managed to “break her in” somewhat. I was afraid the next landlord would be worse. What a mindfuck! We should have left when she screamed at me the first time.

I remember Bill would tell me he’d gotten an email from her, and I would always groan because I knew there would be some kind of complaint or insult within it. In the beginning, when we were in the “honeymoon” phase, she was always pleasant and polite. Bill would remark about how “nice” she was. But then, as time went on, she turned into a total harridan. I dreaded seeing her or having to speak to her, because the relationship had become so strained. And not a single one of our meetings was initiated by me; she would simply come over and knock on the door. In retrospect, I should have refused to answer unless she made an appointment.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve lived with an overbearing and intrusive landlady. When I was in Armenia, my landlady lived in Hungary, but came home for the summer. While she was in Yerevan, she’d let herself in to my apartment when I wasn’t there and let her son help himself to my food. I’d find dirty dishes in the refrigerator. One time, I came home after an evening out– I’d been at the embassy watching a movie and drinking beer. She and her father were waiting for me in the apartment– they’d let themselves in while I was gone. Dad was smoking a cigarette, even though I’m a non-smoker. When I came home, they confronted me with accusations that I didn’t pay them rent one month. It was patently untrue, and I had proof, although she still accused me of lying and theft. They wrongly assumed they could squeeze an extra month’s rent out of me because they had accused me of “theft”. At that time, I was easily upset and they probably thought I was a pushover. I got so upset that I hyperventilated in front of them, which made them so uncomfortable that they left.

Once they were gone, I went on the rampage and called the admin officer at the Peace Corps office, where the ex landlady had been working before she moved to Hungary for the year. I told them what was going on and how fed up I was. When it came time to move out, we had someone from the Peace Corps observing the inspection, just to make sure they didn’t screw me over. I wish we had done something similar when we moved from our last place. We should have had someone from the Mieterverein come over. I think that would have helped the ex landlady modify her hostility, plus give us a third party witness as to how the house looked when we gave her the keys.

It feels strange to have a “normal” relationship with someone after having been in an abusive one. Bill can attest to that very well. When we first got married, I think he was afraid I was going to be like his ex wife. I often had to remind him that we are different people. I am not perfect by any means, but I have never treated him the way she did. I may get angry at times, but I don’t belittle him. I tell him I love and appreciate him, and I care about what he thinks. He deserves all of that and more.

There have been times when Bill has said ex landlady was like his ex wife. Knowing what I know about Ex, I know our ex landlady wasn’t as bad… I mean, she never sexually abused Bill. But a lot of the behavior patterns were similar. It makes me wonder how she treats her friends and family members. She’s probably very controlling towards them, too.

I’m glad to be out of that living situation and relieved to be in a better one. And though it’s kind of strange getting used to not being abused and insulted anymore, I’m determined to do it. No one should have to live that way.

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