When we left off, my family had been seeing a couple at our church for counseling and they were actually helping. My brothers were maturing; my dad had cut back on drinking and started hearing our concerns again.
Unfortunately, this was not to last. The couple counseling my family had crossed an invisible line in asking my mom to change. Within a very short time, my parents quietly informed my brothers and me that we would not be counseling that couple anymore– they didn’t understand what my mom was going through as a Navy wife– and were “undermining her authority as a parent.” Thereafter, my parents began meeting with yet another church couple, this time an associate pastor, who was former military, and his wife.
By this point, I was a full-time Running Start student with classes every day and used the excuse of studying to stay away from home as much as possible. Dad deployed in August of that year for Afghanistan but left for briefing a month earlier in July. Without Dad around to provide balance, Mom rapidly lost any semblance of sanity she’d previously maintained.
Have you ever seen a herd-bound horse react to being separated from its herd? The horse panics, screaming and running the border of whatever pen they are in, tosses their head and froths in particularly severe cases, unable to cope with even temporary line-of-sight separation from its herd. That was our home life without Dad.
We all found excuses to stay away from home as much as possible. I took refuge at the barn, feeding breakfast at 9:30 and staying until dark– 9:30pm during those long, summer days. My brothers took refuge at friends’ houses, spending the night as frequently as allowed. Sometimes even that was unpredictable. Writing this paragraph, my memory flashed back to a time Christian was at a friend’s home and had planned in advance to spend the night, but late– 9:30 or 10 at night– Mom “forgot” that she had given him permission to stay and texted him, demanding he come home immediately or be grounded.
I had all of Mom’s computer passwords so that I could print things out for school. Since she used the same passwords for everything, I did what I felt was necessary for self-preservation and took to reading her e-mails and Facebook messages on weekdays while she was still at work. I didn’t want to invade her privacy and I didn’t feel good about doing it but that was the only way I knew to be prepared for the ball of emotion that would walk in the door late at night. As the oldest and self-appointed protector of my brothers, I was responsible for managing Mom’s emotions and thus I had to know what to expect before they hit me. We never knew whether she was going to be in an okay mood, or primed to explode because the kitchen sink wasn’t clean enough (that actually happened).
Mom’s e-mails and Facebook messages revealed a rollercoaster of emotions from day-to-day. I read virtual epochs accusing my dad of abandoning her, of not loving her, of not supporting her, of cheating on her, and of not being attracted to her anymore– all while he was in Afghanistan, sometimes outside the wire. 24 hours later, I’d be reading sexts (trust me, you DO NOT EVER want to read your parents’ sexts) and at the same time, she’d be sending e-mails to the wife of the Navy couple they had been meeting with, claiming that my dad was an alcoholic and abusing her. Once convinced to stay with dad, she flipped to the other extreme.
Suddenly, she was SUPER NAVY WIFE. She did what she should have done earlier and found a hobby; she started working out to lose weight and surprise Dad when he got home. Unfortunately, the hobby wasn’t distracting enough to keep her sane. She forbade my brothers and me from talking to Dad without her present. We had to cc her on any e-mail we sent him, we couldn’t Facebook message him, and we were only allowed to videochat with him on her computer with her sitting front and center. She ran the house with an iron fist. Challenging her was out of the question because she’d threatened our deployed dad with divorce unless he backed her up (read: went along with literally anything she said). They were “a team,” something that is generally good parenting but in this case was unquestioningly abusing us. She held sexy videochats with Dad in the open family room while we were getting ready to leave in the morning in spite of requests to keep it in her bedroom. (There are things I cannot unsee.) She repeatedly lied about Christian’s behavior to elicit Dad’s sympathy, drove a wedge in Dad’s relationship with us, and we were helpless to change it.
In conclusion, the year Dad deployed was nightmarish. It wasn’t nightmarish because we missed him or because he was in a war zone in frequent danger. It was nightmarish because Mom lost her mind and three kids were left to manage her meltdown by themselves as our friends and church family looked the other way.