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Saturday, January 9, 2016

The One Mistake I'm Glad I Made

Hello dear readers! Sorry I'm a bit late with posting this entry. I normally write ahead of time and schedule when the post goes live, but yesterday, which would have been Day 5 of the challenge, I was not feeling well and couldn't finish writing. Thus, I'm a day behind, but not out of the running!

Day 5 of the 21 day blogging challenge was also a bit of a tough topic, mainly because I couldn't think of anything right off! After some introspection, I can point to one huge mistake I made which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It's longer than what I usually write about, but it's an intensely personal incident that has ramifications that are continually felt up to this present day.

This epic error happened in 2012 when I returned to Illinois from Arizona. Actually, I was forceably removed from Arizona against my wishes because my family freaked out at the possibility that by me staying in Arizona, the money they spent on educating me in college would go to waste if I did not find a job that they approved of which utilized my degree. I, on the other hand, had built up a network of friends and a community for myself in the four years I spent living here in Arizona and I did not want to leave it behind. I was grateful for the material support my parents provided to me during my college years, but now it was time for me to start living my own life and doing my own thing. I knew that the days of finding decently paid work were long gone, so I didn't mind taking shitty, low paying jobs because it was something I could use to establish residency and build a resume. Yes, southern Arizona is economically depressed compared with places like Phoenix or Chicago, IL, but I came to enjoy living in this part of the state because the weather was good, the cost of living was low, and I valued the sense of community I felt. If I left Arizona, it would be on my terms and no one else's. This conflict, my independence vs. my family's plans for my future, would be the spark which set off an explosive family feud.

When my dad broke the news to me that he and my mom were coming to Arizona with a return ticket for me, I threw at him every justification I knew to try and convince both of them to call it off. Instead of acknowledging my independence as an adult, the call devolved into a screaming match and at that point, I felt like my life was over. I had always been an obedient child, always doing what my parents told me to do whether I agreed with their orders or not, but now that I wanted to exercise my independence and make my own way in life, I was met with tremendous resistance which I felt was completely unjustified given my age (I was 22 at the time). I didn't know how to respond to this, so I G-chatted my then-boyfriend now husband for help. He agreed that what was happening to me was unjustified, and advised me to hide out until they left. I was shocked by this suggestion, since the idea of running away was unthinkable. I considered running away cowardly and was looking more for debate pointers, but he advised me not to go that route cuz my parents would emotionally manipulate me into compliance again and that ghosting them was the best way to make them see the light.

My bedroom in the seedy weekly motel

As departure day got closer, I gathered my things together and my boyfriend helped find me a seedy weekly motel to camp out in and I remained there when my family came down to get me. I left behind my cell phone, my credit cards, and anything else that could be used to trace me. Unfortunately, the emotional toll was too much for me to bear and I eventually cracked. I let my guilt take over and let my location be known to my parents after the emotional blackmail and guilt layered emails finally got to me. They got me and whisked me off first to Phoenix, and then back to Illinois.

Despite the promises of open communication and greater freedom, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by going with my parents as my guilt began to wear off and doubts began to arise. I wanted very much to believe my family had my best interests at heart. After all, they bore me, raised me, educated me, it was only right that they wanted me to be better off than they were. My boyfriend warned me that I was making a mistake, as decades earlier he too caved to family pressure and returned to Texas from a brief stay in Arizona. In Texas, he endured years of misery and chaos before fleeing back to Arizona in 1988 to begin a fresh start. He wanted to use his experience to try and save me from the same fate that befell him.

Downtown Chicago, as seen from the Dan Ryan Expressway, on the way back from ICK Chicago

In the meantime, I was put to work in my dad's dental office doing clerical duty. I honestly didn't mind helping out in the family business; it was easy money and I could chill on Facebook in between patients and phone calls. However, the pressure was on for me to find work that actually utilized my degree. It began to wear on my nerves, in addition to the religious persecution I endured since I had made my Catholic intentions known to my Orthodox family. It also didn't help that everywhere I went, whether it was to church or the mall, I had to be accompanied by a family member as though I was still a kid. My complaints about the constant supervision fell on deaf ears, and arguments were becoming more frequent. I was not allowed to hang out with any of the friends I had in Illinois whom I'd known from high school because that was wasting time and I was supposed to be looking for work and getting started on a career. The unspoken truth behind my parents treatment of me was that they were scared I'd run off from them again, which is why they had to constantly keep me in sight. I felt like I was in prison.

One of the few means of relief from this torment was the internet. I could G-chat my boyfriend to let him know what was going on in Illinois, and Facebook so that I could keep up with friends. I was careful not to let too many people know what was going on at home because I wanted to preserve my family's reputation as upstanding members of the church community. Anyone who grew up in a tight-knit, close environment can relate to the isolation I felt during this time period. I could never be grateful enough for the fact that my parents are technophobes and don't understand computers.

Slights like this have a way of adding up (writing says "see you don't know the truth")
There were two breaking points that occurred which finally pushed me over the edge. The first came when I finally was hired by Vector Marketing, an MLM company pushing cutlery which I would later learn was a pyramid scam, and my family forced me to quit before I ever started working because they didn't want me going to people's houses to sell stuff. Though we were all unaware of what Vector Marketing really was, this was the second job they'd made me quit, as the first one was at a call center in Arizona. Then as now, I had just been hired and was about to begin work when they pulled the plug on me because they disapproved of the job choice. Since I was now 0-2 in the job department, my parents deemed me incapable of finding suitable work. I backhanded this insult by telling my parents to find me a job, knowing full well that the horrible job market would sooner or later prove my point about the situation. Sure enough, they never found me a job.

The second breaking point came days later during an argument with my mom in which she admitted that she regretted letting me go to college in Arizona because now she had lost control over me. It was as though I was still a 12 year old teenager and not a 22 year old adult! It was clear to me now that my family really did not have my best interests at heart. All their platitudes about "independence" were for naught. They simply wanted to use me as an extension of themselves; a cash cow to start paying back on all the money they'd spent investing in raising and educating me. No matter the cost, I was to be stuffed kicking and screaming back into the mold of being the obedient daughter who did whatever mommy and daddy told her to do. I now knew that an impoverished, struggling existence in Arizona was far more preferable to the gilded cage I had been stuffed into in Illinois. I acknowledged to my boyfriend that he was right about what would happen to me and asked him to help me escape from Illinois, which he happily agreed to do. When my parents were not in the house or within range of hearing, I began to pack up my most valued and essential items as well as gathering my important documents. Through G-chat, my boyfriend helped me arrange for housing. Some internet shopping revealed that Amtrak had the cheapest one-way tickets to Arizona. I would look for employment once I got settled. My boyfriend also proposed to me online, and we agreed to get married as soon as possible when I got back.

Me in my work uniform. Underneath my sweatshirt is a pair of scrubs appropriate for use in a dentist's office

The day before my escape, my feelings of guilt began to weigh on me again. Everything was in place for me to go, all I needed to do was leave. It also didn't help that I was dragged to a job fair at Navy Pier, which set my escape plans off for a few days. I was not impressed by the jobs offered there, but my dad noticed how I was dragging myself along. He asked me about it, and I told him it was because I didn't want to be there. It was not a total lie, I really didn't want to be at Navy Pier looking at jobs and being told to apply online. The real reason for my lack of energy and enthusiasm was because I was about to leave them again, and the guilt I was suffering from was because I knew my escape would tear the family apart. I tried telling myself that my family brought this calamity down on themselves for the way they treated me to mitigate the guilt, and it helped some, but for an always obedient child to strike back and say no is a huge and intimidating step. That night, I turned off the computer, packed it up and wiped my phone clean to hide the evidence of my communications. I also removed my credit cards, bank cards, anything that could be used to trace me. This was it. A month that started off so promising had rapidly devolved into a living hell. Communication had utterly failed and the feud was getting worse by the day. I had to get out or something bad was gonna happen either to me or I would do something bad to the family.

Early in the morning, before dawn even broke, I quickly and quietly got dressed and grabbed my backpack and computer bag. I made my way quietly down the hall and down the stairs, careful not to wake my light-sleeping mom. I finally exited out the garage and as I closed the door behind me, I kept repeating to myself "don't look back". I knew that if I looked back at the house I grew up in as I was leaving, I would fail in my resolve. As I walked down the driveway and out on the sidewalks to get to the downtown train station and to freedom, I forced myself to face forward and kept repeating to myself not to look back.

I did not look back.

Safe in the hostel

When I got to the train station, I purchased a one-way ticket to downtown Chicago. Once there, I would buy my ticket at Union Station for Arizona, and hopefully soon be on my way. I arrived, but the direct route train would not be leaving for another two days. Not wanting to make a two-day layover in Texas, I decided to holdout those two days in Chicago. By this time, Chicago's sky-high murder rate and gang violence were beginning to make national headlines, but I knew Chicago better than Texas. I bought a disposable basic cell phone at a Walmart not far from Union Station, and went to go hang out at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus not far away to use the internet. With some help from the computer nerds in charge of the computer lab, I finally got online and messaged my fiancee to let him know I was safely out of my family's home. He was relieved and conveyed to me that my parents had been bombarding his inbox with the news of what I'd done. Having dealt with insane parents many times before, it was not a big deal for him to play along. My inbox had a few emails from family, but I would not answer them until I got back to Arizona. I didn't want anyone tracing my movements while I was returning. Since I would not be departing for another two days, I sought out cheap accommodations at a nearby hostel. I spent that first night relaxing, and during the second day I walked around downtown Chicago. I took lots of pictures cuz I knew I would not be back for a long time and I wanted to say good bye to my home city.

Me at Buckingham Fountain

As I settled into my seat on the train the next day, I felt a bit of homesickness mixed with relief. I would miss Chicago, but I was now on my way to freedom; to be with people who actually cared about me and valued me for who I was. I took many pictures of the train ride and at each station we stopped at. The trip took two days before I was back in southern Arizona. At my pre-arranged safe house, I finally emailed my family back and told them I was in Arizona. I also told them to leave me alone or risk legal action.

Good bye Chicago. It'll be a while before I get to see you again. Taken from the train as it was leaving Union Station

With my fiancee's help, I began to settle and get established in Arizona again. Those first few months were hard as I was basically couch surfing and with sporadic employment, no money, and no familial support, I was really on my own. God and I had alot of conversations during that time period, but I knew that this hardscrabble life was far preferable to the middle-class family life I left behind. After my family began enlisting spies to keep tabs on me, my fiancee and I got married for legal reasons and my safety, though we had to do it in court thanks to the money-minded priest who refused to marry us. We then moved into a rotten trailer in a run-down trailer park and not long after that, I got hired at a call center where I would work for the next two years. Life settled down and was good.

As for my family, they continued to harass me and even showed up unannounced to look for me. To this day, they deny any wrongdoing but continue to harp on me finding a job that makes lots of money. We both continue to recover from the traumas inflicted on us, I by a lifetime of control and oppression, and them with the shattering of that parental bond. I really didn't want to do what I did, but I had no other choice. Though relations have improved somewhat, they are still not good and I do not want my children being in contact with my family any more than is necessary, lest they endure what I had to.

My ill-fated return to Illinois proved to be a blessing in disguise because it showed me that no matter what they say, not all families have their children's best interests at heart. They may think they do, but actions have a way of speaking louder than words. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but there was no other way I could have seen it. The other lesson I learned from my mistake was when it came time for me to have children, I would always work hard to accept them for who they were and to respect the choices they make as adults. My job as a parent is to provide my children with the skills they need to function in society, not turn them into extensions of me. At some point, they will grow up and leave me to begin living their lives and making their way in the world. It will be hard, but I have to let them go eventually.

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