So I was on the hunt for a needle in a haystack tonight, trying to find my 2013 tax returns somewhere buried in the basement in about 8 full plastic bins because I need them for something with my student loans. Of course I couldn’t find them…found 2012, but not 2013. Anyway, I stumbled upon a stack of letters my mom gave me a few years ago after she cleaned out the attic. She had put together a plastic bin for me and both of my siblings full of old school work and stuff from when we were kids. Some of it is really funny, like my first grade journals. It’s really interesting to see that I definitely was identifying as a boy back then, looking at the pictures I drew of myself and the interests I described having. Everything was just so…male.
But these letters…why in the world my mother gave these to me I have no idea. I would have been better off not receiving them. See, my parents were super strict and harsh with discipline when I was a kid. Harsher on me than my siblings, although I was probably worse behaved then my siblings, although they used to place a container of soft soap in front of my sister every night at dinner as a preliminary warning that if she acted up she would get her mouth washed out with soap. That happened pretty frequently. My parents never hit me, but they were extremely verbally and emotionally abusive. They were huge on guilt. They made sure that anything I did “wrong”, which could have been anything under the sun that most parents wouldn’t have cared about, that I would feel guilty for it. Because of that I still remember most of those times and still hurt because of it. I find it hard to let things go especially revolving around my parents and growing up.
So these letters… my parents used to make me write apology letters to them when I was “bad”. This was up to and include when I was 17 years old and I dinged the car, they still believed that making me write apology letters would somehow make me … learn how bad I was? I don’t know. But some of the things I had to apologize for, after reading through them letters… I was reading something on a cereal box when my mom said it was time to go to soccer practice and I didn’t stop what I was doing immediately, so I had to write a letter. I apparently turned my fan on “high” (this was in the summer), when my dad said I could only put it on “medium”, but I told my dad that my mom said I could put it on “high”. Keep in mind this was always a highly contested thing in my house. I really suffer in the heat and get very overheated and sick in the summer. Most likely why I wanted the fan on high. But my dad would never let me, I think it was just a control thing. Like, why be an asshole about something so trivial? It was always the same with the air conditioner, once he would finally agree to put the window unit in, which usually wasn’t until mid-July, so I had already melted throughout the first half of the summer. Again, I was never allowed to put the AC on high, and if I did, I would get in trouble. I don’t know what his issue was with me being comfortable while I slept. Anyway, yeah, I had to write an apology letter because I a) turned the fan on high, and b) lied. They hated lying, that was probably the biggest offense I could commit growing up, and unfortunately I did it a lot.
Then there was the time it was my birthday, and I guess I didn’t get a gift that I had asked for and I was kind of bummed out about it, and my mom lost her shit because I had had 2 birthday parties and I was also getting contact lenses (this was 5th grade) because I was born with bilateral cateracts and was legally blind, but the contacts helped, kind of. More than glasses. While I get that she was probably dropping a lot of money on the contacts, again, I had to write an apology letter. One of my favorite apology letters is one that my therapist found very interesting. Apparently my brother had been given a ton of gifts for some reason and I had been given nothing. (Keep in mind this was elementary school, so yeah, I was gonna be jealous). I apparently got upset, which was not something allowed in my house (being mad or upset would earn a punishment) and was forced to write an apology letter. Instead of apologizing, I wrote a letter expressing why I was upset, and how it wasn’t fair that I wasn’t allowed to display jealousy, which was how I was feeling. I was then forced to list all my “blessings”, which I listed all of the material items I owned. Then on the back of the letter, I was obviously told that wasn’t good enough, and I was forced to list my “inside blessings”, like love and family and shit like that, which I totally remember bullshitting the whole thing and I didn’t mean a word of it.
The more letters I had to write the more manipulative and snarky I got, yet I still turned them into something my parents accepted. The worst letter I had to write was dated 6/24/01 and it was the time my parents found cigarettes in my room. I was just finishing up my freshman year of high school. I was going through a lot of changes at that time in my life. I was really depressed, I was lashing out, all of my friends were “nerds” (I was really smart so it just happened that way) and I wanted to hang out with the bad kids, so I ditched all of my friends. A good friend of mine (we’re still good friends now) was 2 years older than me and she bought me cigarettes. I remember exactly what happened – I hid them in a box that was full of pictures and buried it in the back of my closet. I ended up having a fight with my parents, which was typical, so I hopped on my bike and rode to my grandparents house to hide from my parents. My grandparents knew what was up with my parents and they couldn’t stand the way they treated me. The shelving units in my closet had collapsed that day, so my dad was trying to fix it and suddenly my parents called my grandparents house and were like “Come home, NOW” so I did, and they addressed the finding of the cigarettes, which my mother claimed she basically “magically” found the box (aka was searching my room and digging through my stuff) and wondered why I didn’t display the box because it was so pretty, so she looked inside and found the pack of Marlboro Lites (ew). They were so incredibly pissed off (yes, I know my mom’s dad died of lung cancer, but I was 15. I mean, what 15 year old doesn’t experiment with smoking?) and of course, I had to write a letter. But another thing they addressed along with the smoking was my “bad attitude” (aka depression). Nearly a year before that my best friend died in a freak car accident. That had caused all the behaviors I listed above. My parents don’t know how to handle emotions, so they just pretended it didn’t happen, just like my sexual orientation and gender identity today. So this time I had 2 things to apologize for. My letter was so full of bullshit it’s actually kind of funny (not really, but kind of), as I ended it with “I hope you can still love me” if that doesn’t tear a parent apart I don’t know what will. I was so sick and tired of being forced to write this bullshit. So I explained in the letter what it felt like to lose my best friend, and how the day before he died he had thanked me for being his best friend (he was bullied a lot). Sheer irony, right? But my parents never got it. It wasn’t until the next year when my youth paster ratted me out for cutting at like 9 pm on a Friday night when I was at a friend’s party that my parents realized I was sick. But they still don’t get it, 10+ years later, as I am still sick with mental illness and they still don’t get it.
My therapist really found these letters interesting because it really showed how my parents treated me growing up. They never made my siblings write letters, as far as I know. But then again they were both athletes and could pretty much get away with anything, especially my sister (minus her early years and the soap at dinner). But they always targeted me, maybe it’s because I’m the oldest and they didn’t know what they were doing. But I look at my grandparents and I know there is no way any of them made my parents do this. Granted one time my grandma chased my uncle with a hatchet after chopping his shoe up because he has OCD and was constantly putting his sneakers in the washing machine… lmao. But in all seriousness my upbringing really has affected how I am now and I don’t think my parents will ever understand that. I have tried many, many times to express how I feel that they treat me differently from my siblings, especially now having come out as trans, I am definitely not the “normal” child, or living the life they expected of me, so they treat me differently. They vehemently deny it, so what else can I do? Every time I read these letters I feel sick. I hate thinking about my childhood because it was not a happy time. I know for certain this is not how I will be raising my kids in the future.