The infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
Had cast him out from Heaven
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges …
— John Milton, Paradise Lost
Mother steps out the backdoor of her newly installed, manufactured home with a pot of warm leftovers. From a few yards away, peering out of the window of the dilapidated camper trailer that I lie forgotten in, I can make out the steam rising from the food as she pushes it with a large wooden spoon into the dishes of grateful dogs, hungrily lapping it up. Lucky them, those obedient pets. They haven’t failed her as I have. Haven’t disappointed her. I haven’t eaten in three days and resigned to the idea that my lifeless body won’t be found for many more days to come, mere feet away from where Family breaks bread and give smiles to one another. At least the maggots will eat as well as the dogs. For that, they can also thank Mother.
This fall from grace is my third darkness. My third of four major bouts of depression.
First Darkness: Lua Mater
One day, seemingly out of nowhere, Mother tells Father that she hasn’t loved him for year and wants a divorce. I was twelve years old. In that moment my siblings and I had a front row seat to our stable, complete, predictable world being dashed to pieces by the very woman who brought us into that world. It is from this moment on that she ceased being a parent and we, her children, began putting her needs before our own.
Father was immediately exiled to his half of the property they split where he promptly began drinking heavily to cope with the shock of being unceremoniously dumped by his wife of eleven years with absolutely no warning whatsoever. Reconciliation was out of the question. Mother laughed in his face at his efforts, taunted him, called him a coward for walking away from her and being strong enough to resist the urge to knock her ugly, jeering head off.
It was also terrible for my siblings and I. Brother became withdrawn. Sister couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t “get along.” It was because Mother wanted to bone other men who offered her more opportunities and resources than Father did, period. Dicks that she drug us around to meet whether we wanted to or not – I walked ten miles once to flee the den of one of her fuck buddies she’d marooned me at. I started preferring to dress all in black in solidarity with the light that seemed to go out in my world.
A light I would not get back any glimmer of until I went no contact with the one who extinguished it.
Second Darkness: Trifecta
When I was sixteen, I began dating my first girlfriend. Tracii was eighteen and had recently been dumped from a rebound relationship with a thirty-year-old man who’d returned to his wife. She had big brown eyes and soft lips and I was quite taken with her, most likely because she was the first girl who showed any interest in me (or at least interest that was aggressive enough for me to notice). I was afraid of being touched by anyone but she convinced me to let down my defenses and allow her to get close.
I quickly became dismayed that Tracii was going out and partying with all manner of guys but not ever with me. I was being paranoid, jealous, insecure, she’d tell me; even after she confessed over the phone to screwing her aforementioned thirty-year-old ex and demanded that she tearfully “deserved to be punished” because she was “bad” (which she later denied ever saying to me, like I was crazy or something). My friend, Steve, had become very jealous that I had a girlfriend. Tracii started showing him attention to foment resentment between us.
Her and I had made plans to go to the prom together, I had paid been fitted for a rented tuxedo with a corsage and cummerbund that matched the colors of her dress and all that. After a softball game she played, Tracii told Mother and I that she intended to take both Steve and I to the prom as her dates. Mother, who adored Tracii and was sewing a vest to gift her, nodded in agreement as though this proposition were in any way right or reasonable. I was young, inexperienced, had no context for which to judge the heartrending situation I now found myself in but I decided that this was a bridge too far, it was wrong and I wasn’t having it. So a week before prom, I break up with Tracii.
My friend, Angie, accepts my invitation to be my prom date and, in public at least, I manage to hold it together. Tracii shows up with Steve at prom. It hurts a lot but I deny the pain, intending for my date and I to have a good time which I think we did. Angie (who Father affectionately nicknamed “Legs”) is six feet tall and in heels which put my head smack between two of the most perfect breasts ever created during slow dances. I was pleasantly distracted.
But the next day, I let the truth bleed through. And it continued to gush like an open wound for the next year and a half. Beside myself with grief, I cried for weeks on end. Sister had gifted me some John Lennon style glasses for my birthday that I called my Shades of Sadness which I wore constantly to hide my wet, red, puffy eyes. I’d come home from school and just sob into my pillow. Mother ignored me. Her boy-husband, Motherfucker, would stand in the open door to my room and just stare. Whatever his deal was, I think he may have had more sympathy for me than Mother did but just didn’t know what to do.
Mother continued to have a relationship with Tracii, chatting it up with her like besties over the phone. I confronted her about how badly this girl had left me feeling, not mention she’d punched me in the face because she thought I was putting images in my illustrations of a fetus she’d previously aborted, how betrayed I was by Mother having anything to do with her. “You don’t tell me who I can be friends with.” She retorted. “I can be friends with whomever I want.”
In the span of a few weeks, I had lost my girlfriend, my best friend and Mother. I was in sheer agony without respite. My friends got tired of me bitching about it. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I have journals and sketchbooks chock full of me just spiraling down and out of control.
That summer I got a job at a local tree nursery working out in the fields. Consumed by hatred, I couldn’t feel the sun burning my skin nor the dirt and sweat in my eyes. I was working alongside two gentlemen who would engage in long, fascinating discussions about philosophy and quantum mechanics. Their words were like waves passing through me, I was so numb with and exhausted by anger. I fantasized about revenge, playing scenarios over and over in my mind.
I decided that I would forgive and keep Steve as he meant infinitely more to me than the trash that was Tracii. No surprise, she had treated him no better and he’d soon regretted his ill-fated decision. He boggles how he ever became ensnared by such a horrible and, in retrospect, such an unattractive person.
But I knew. Tracii was a really screwed up person, master manipulator, an apex predator and we were tender morsels, witlessly offering ourselves up to her. But even after all this, I was still enamored with her and allowed her to manipulate and exploit me on and off over the next several years. She seduced money out of me. Tried to guilt me into being a father at nineteen to her anchor babies she kept consummating failed relationships with. It all finally ended for good when she called one day to invite herself over and I told her, “Oh, I really wish you wouldn’t.”
I always wanted to say “yes” because I mistakenly equated being agreeable with being kind and resisted saying “no” because I mistakenly equated rejection with abuse. Abuse that I, myself, would be rejected for. For this was the implicit threat I was being raised to believe that Mother used to control my siblings and I but that also left me vulnerable to exploitation by others like Tracii. Little wonder then that Mother liked her so much and disapproved of girls who treated me kindly.
Third Darkness: Forsaken
I’m living (and dying) in an old camper trailer on Father’s property watching Mother feed her dogs warm leftovers. These are the dark, cold, soggy months of winter and early spring. The propane heater barely works. I spend each of my drab days curled up in a musty sleeping bag, feeling sorry for myself.
Nearly three years prior, I graduated from high school and moved to Seattle. Initially, I roomed with my friend, Steve, and his father’s family but they had problems of their own that I was unprepared and unwilling to deal with. So I moved out into my own apartment, a $315/month slum-plex in North Seattle next door to a crack head named Eugene who insisted I call him Chicago who’s “friends” regularly parked their stolen vehicles in my spot. But it was an improvement!
I attended The Art Institute of Seattle full time, working full time and moving two more times over the next two years. All on my own. My friends described me as being like “a machine” singularly focused on the single goal of graduating and “seeing the light go out” of my eyes along the way. Eventually, I burned out and quit my job to move back home to save on rent while I worked on my graduation portfolio and took the train up to classes in Seattle twice a week. I wasn’t permitted to return to Mother’s. “[Motherfucker] was afraid you’d come back,” she said. So I moved into Father’s place just next door.
On December 12th 1996, I graduated with an AAA in Computer Animation/Multimedia in a ceremony in Seattle, drove home, went to sleep and the next morning woke up to nothing. No purpose. No job. No dreams. Nothing. I had sacrificed relationships (including the one with myself), opportunities of every sort, fun of any kind, everything in my person to complete this one obligation I’d set for myself and, now that I had, there was nothing left either to give or to take. It was like I’d launched full speed off of a cliff and now I was falling. And I fell into a deep depression.
Compounding the bleakness of the season and despair I found myself in, Father rented out the place I was living in to some nightmare white trash bitch and her brood, forcing me to move into the tiny camper trailer between Mother and Father’s places that I now found myself entombed in, wondering how the fuck I got here and, more importantly, how the hell would I get back out again. It all seemed hopeless.
The only times Mother cared to knock on my door was to demand money I didn’t have to pay her part of my student loans, to get a job to get the aforementioned money being demanded and guilt me, saying that she wouldn’t be able to afford to help Brother or Sister with college because of me. I recall Motherfucker loaned me a whole $100 to help me get an apartment in the city where there my jobs presumably were; an endeavor that required at least ten times that amount at that time and I felt so bad for taking the money that I returned it to him a week later.
The Art Institute was little help. Their main concern was me getting a job, any job, to reflect favorably on their high job placement rating which, it turned, out included McJobs. I was completely unqualified for the few leads they did send me on. I did receive an invitation to work for Konami Canada that, to my everlasting regret, I did not take them up on, preferring instead to remain close to my family for support I needed and mistakenly believed I was or would ever receive from them. I was sick! Unwell!
I was trying to push through severe, undiagnosed and untreated depression, again, all on my own with no help from anyone! Especially no help from Family which was extremely hurtful and confusing to me as I earnestly if foolishly still believed the image, the illusion, Family presented that they were loving and supportive. Yet, I was broke, starving to death, discarded and forgotten out in the woods like trash right outside where they went about their daily lives.
Death was imminent. I didn’t know how – I thought about driving off a cliff or succumbing to exhaust fumes – but I was going to die and I was sure Family were going to be sorry that I was gone, that they let me die. I began the following poem as a suicide note but that became over the days I developed it a statement of defiance.
Wearing out my welcome
and I’m eating all your food
Guzzling my tears
and all the guilt I get from you.
You offer all you have
and I take, and take, and take.
And if I never made a difference
what difference does it make … at all?
Watch me stumble and fall
I’ve got no money, job, or friends
no love and no companionship
I’ve got no self-esteem
and I’ve lost all of my dreams
I’m living off of you, my oh so loving host
‘Cause I am nothing to me and you have the most.
I’m the closest thing to the bum on the street
begging for money and something to eat.
What you so provide keeps me barely alive
…and am I thankless in your debt?
Yeah, I’m a fucking parasite
fucking up your perfect life.
I’ll take all the blame
if it’s just the same…to you.
And I do.
I’m the ghost that haunts and nobody wants
but I couldn’t care less for me.
I’ll be outta your hair, you’ll no longer share
your house and family.
Yeah, don’t you worry
…I could dead and gone by tomorrow.
And you’ll know.
Hanging in your bathroom stall
bleeding on the floor.
I can take a hint
when I’m not wanted anymore.
The razor blades are well in hand
I’m swallowing the pills
and I’m looking deep inside your eyes
for anything that kills…at all.
`Cause I’m a worthless loser
a pitiful self-abuser
I’m faithless and I’m fucked
from this bad run of luck
but once I was successful and I lived without a doubt
If I had anything then well it’s all forgotten now
So sorry that I’m so sick and depressed
that the pit of my life has turned into your mess
and I freely admit it, that I am so pathetic
…and am I thankless in your debt?
I’m burned out and broke, and I’ve given up hope
a long time ago
I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve barely survived
I want you to know
Yeah, I’m a fucking parasite
What does it matter anyway…at all?
I’m gonna use you up and drag you down.
and I don’t care if you don’t want me around.
I’m not asking for your sympathy, empathy,
you don’t want any part of me
so, believe me, I can take a clue!
It’s pissing me off so you can fuck off!
’cause your part of my problem too!
—Tarraccas Obremski, Parasite ( March 13th 1997 )
During this time, I had confided in Mother that I was contemplating suicide. I was in my old room that she and Motherfucker forbade me to return to, in the doorway, when I said this. She just looked at me with a blank expression on her face, nodded (in agreement?) and walked away without a word. And it was never brought up again. Not the reaction I was expecting. Very weird!
It was then that I began to realize that Mother would not be sorry if I killed myself. Maybe she even preferred that I die. Not only would I rob myself of everything with suicide but I wouldn’t even receive the attention I wanted in death. There was no point. Rather, I vowed to myself that I would not make important life decisions when I was in an unstable emotional state and that I would live if only to spite the living.
My friend, Aric, got me referred to a job that I will always be grateful to him for, began dating a very nice young woman, I began doing web design and was able to climb my way out of the funk I was in. No thanks to Family. I would’ve been no worse and probably much better off had they never existed at all!
I wasn’t cognizant of it at this time but part of the loss I was feeling was a realignment in Family whereby I had failed some unspoken expectation of theirs, become a disappointment and left an opening for Brother to become the favorite. Which he did.
Fourth Darkness: Persona Problematica
My friend (and Brother’s now ex-wife he was using to support him through college), Joey, passes me a lead that lands me a job at a Dotcom in Tacoma where I work for two years until the Dotcom bubble bursts, I become perpetually unemployed and have a series of blowouts with Brother and Family until, at my wits end, I seek help and learn how to go no contact. I’m being blamed by Family who all side with Brother (now the favored Golden Child) for having and being a problem. By this point, I’ve recognized that they aren’t any kind of solution and given up trying to appeal to any better part of them but I still believe them that I am the problem. That there’s something very wrong with me causing Family to react to me badly this way.
First things first. I am in a bad place emotionally and have been for some time which needs to be dealt with before I can do anything else. The last place I remember being happy was college so I enroll in Tacoma Community College, majoring in graphic design. I take a few classes until I no longer have the money to pay for more, meet some new friends and start dating one of them until we break up and, once again, I move back home, broke, to Father’s place since vacated by the nightmare white trash renter years before. There I enroll in Centralia Community College, majoring in psychology (figuring it was cheaper than therapy), meet some new friends, one of which referred me to a part time job and I set about to solving my problem.
It doesn’t click that Mother’s a narcissist until after I graduate and after dealing with Roger the raging alcoholic narcissistic deadbeat. I was watching a program on domestic violence, how abusers would isolate their victims from family and friends and it occurred to me that this described Motherfucker. That he was the cause of Family’s problems. So I email Mother this notion and, understandably, she does not take it well. She writes back that Motherfucker is the “love of her life” and “he lives for her” and how dare I make such an unfounded accusation and blah blah blah. And somewhere in her response the light bulb lit up for me. He was not the abuser. She was! Even after I apologized for being wrong, she continued to tell Family of what I had accused Motherfucker of but not that I had retracted the accusation or apologized for it, a lie of omission designed to make me look bad which it did and was one of the many lies (known and unknown) that eroded my now non-existent relationship with Sister.
I had briefly studied narcissistic personality disorder in college but never made the connection with Mother, probably because I didn’t want to and because all Family problems were projected outward. I don’t remember her ever apologizing for anything in my life because nothing could ever be her fault. She was subtle, covert. And this sort of narcissist you don’t see so much as you notice the destruction left in their wake. A very different sort of narcissist, functionally, than the grandiose variety that seems to be described in the literature and cited in popular culture but with the same wounds and the same needs. All Family that I blamed for my predicament, Brother and Motherfucker, were being played against me the same way by Mother. Brother, Motherfucker nor I were the problem. She was!
I felt a mix of relief and dismay. Relief because I now had a name for my pain. Dismay because Mother would never not be a narcissist, would continue to be a force of destruction, because narcissists aren’t known to change for the better as they lack the capacity to do so. On the rare occasions they find their way into therapy, I hear therapists refuse to treat them, citing their tendency to manipulate the therapist and weaponize the therapy to more effectively abuse their victims. Further, as I read the stories by other narcissistic abuse survivors, I was more than likely going to lose all Family and I have in all the same ways other survivors describe in their own lives. Scapegoating, gaslighting, smear campaigns, being discredited as crazy, it’s all come to pass as though we’ve all written the same script for each other with all the same players performing all the same roles. Nothing unique. It’s absolutely incredible and surreal and awful all at once! The only real solution, that I stubbornly had to learn the hard way, is to go no contact with the narcissist and everyone connected to them because the person that chooses to keep the narcissist in their life is a tool, an extension of the narcissist, a tentacle that the narcissist uses to worm their way into your life and cause havoc.
Like so many things Family didn’t teach me, I had to learn how to grieve. Grieving is a necessary process of accepting loss in order to move beyond it and continue to experience life. As the scapegoat, Family needed me to internalize their shame. They did not show me how much less permit me to grieve because they didn’t want the ugly truth, their conspiracy of illness, getting out where it might be seen by others that they couldn’t control. So I bottled it up and squirreled it away for them, their toxic waste, believing that I suffered so that I could belong, so that I would be loved.
But the narcissist is incapable of love and their surrogates too broken to recognize what love actually is. I didn’t know how to love myself as I had been routinely discouraged from the idea that I was ever worthy of being loved. When Mother told Father that she didn’t love him, it was one of her rare moments of honesty. Like when she told me that I would never get what I wanted from her. He mistook it for him being unworthy of her love as she knew he would but the much more terrible truth is that she couldn’t love him because she cannot love herself or anyone else. And this is the ruined human being that raised my siblings and I. Who instilled in us her own paralyzing fear of abandonment, that we would always sacrifice no matter the cost to remain close to her, to receive cold comfort in the name of love that she is unable to provide.
I have lost what I never had to begin with. It hurts. But I’ve come to recognize and appreciate friends, people who do like and are supportive of who I am. They are my tribe. I will heal. Family will not, probably. Unfortunately.