You’re So Fucking Special. I Wish I Was Special.

Joyce was bringing home strays again. She and Larry started doing this in my early childhood, bringing home airmen that became part of the family until they weren’t anymore, and then bringing home new people. When I was little the strays were Joyce and Larry’s ages, late-teens to mid-twenties. But now Tonia, Sean, Bonnie, and I were teenagers and the strays were our age. They weren’t only airmen now. They were airwomen, young work colleagues, people from church, neighbors. 

These people seemed to adore Joyce. They called her mom and tried to be best buds with us kids. Sometimes they played D&D with Sean. Sometimes they tried to play with hairstyles with Tonia or discuss science fiction with me. Play video games with Jerome Michael, jump rope with Bonnie. Sometimes they spent the night on the couch. Some of them stayed for weekends, went out to the lake with our family. I seriously resented these strays, for many reasons.

I Google Image Searched “stray airmen” and got this.

All of the kids living with Joyce and Jerome were in pain. I spent as much time as possible away from home because I couldn’t stand being unfavorably compared to Tonia, being mocked for my figure and my ugly face, for being both over-emotional and sullen. For being unable to take a joke.

Tonia was so clearly the favorite, she became unbearable to live with. Her self esteem had been shredded by Larry and Lynne; being the favorite didn’t rebuild it. Because even being the favorite meant you had to pay Joyce’s price. Tonia was told she was beautiful and praised for her figure and hair and makeup. But she was reminded she couldn’t dance because she had no rhythm, and she wasn’t as smart as me; never would be. Tonia was taught the only things she had to offer the world were her looks and her meanness. Joyce kept telling everyone how mean Tonia was and always had been. Tonia started living up to the image. She picked fights with everyone except Bonnie. She was bossy and she took everything she could from Joyce and Jerome. Joyce ate it up. 

I don’t even blame Tonia for acting like this. Well, NOW I don’t–at the time, I resented that she was so obviously the favorite and that she seemed so out of control. But living with Larry and Lynne, Tonia had been not only the unfavorite, but she’d been mistreated to the point of being beaten bloody. Who can blame her for reveling in being doted on and favored?

Sean was still drinking. He skipped school. He snuck out. He stopped talking and listened to his music at full volume. He called us girls names and had no time for Jerome Michael. Bonnie was retreating into silence again. And Joyce rode Jerome Michael constantly. He was ALWAYS in her bad graces; he couldn’t do anything right. He was too loud and too quiet and he didn’t do chores but he did them wrong. His grades were good but not good enough. I was still in therapy and I hadn’t told my therapist about Lynne’s abuse. I never did. Because I had locked it away so tightly in my brain that I actually forgot what had happened. The therapist never pushed; we were dealing with the miserable here and now.

To be in the middle of this chaos, to be mocked and teased and ignored, was bad enough. But to walk in the door to see Joyce’s latest stray at the dinner table hanging on her every word, listening and laughing while she told supposedly funny stories about us kids…it was too much. I wanted to scream at them all and tell them how fucked up we kids all were, what a terrible, selfish person Joyce was. But she charmed people. No one believed she was anything but a loving, caring mother. In fact she loved being a mother so much, she invited these young people into her home and family! My first husband told me I was wrong about both of my parents: they were both charming and caring and loving. I was selfish to want more from them. (There are MANY reasons he was my first husband.)

I feel like we would lose the strays when they finally realized Joyce was lying or mean or selfish. The strays would leave, but they didn’t take us kids with them. And they were replaced immediately. I also felt torn up and terrible about being so angry at Joyce and her young friends. Joyce had saved us from Larry and Lynne. Hadn’t she? If I wasn’t interested in being at home with her, why was I so pissed off about the strays? But you know? Larry adopted Amanda, Bubba, and Shana within two years of losing us. I started calling them his replacement kids. I still call them that. And here I was, walking into my own house and other replacement kids were sitting at my table. And I was still there! I wanted to scream at everyone:

I EXIST!

And get this: Joyce and Jerome are still bringing home strays to this day. They take in the children of their grandchildren’s friends, to “Help out the parents.” To “Give the parents a break.” To “Help straighten out kids who are acting out.” I want to pull out all my hair. Why in the hell would anyone give Joyce their kid to straighten them out? Why do the strays get to drive around in Joyce’s convertible while I drive on bald tires I can’t afford to replace? Why don’t these strays ever ask themselves why none of Joyce’s own kids are never around? Why am I the ungrateful daughter when I say, “No more. I don’t want to be a part of this any more.”?

What was so wrong with me and Tonia and Sean that we had to keep being replaced over and over and over? Tonia just wanted so badly to be loved. Sean just needed to be someone’s favorite for once.  I…forget what I said about disliking being touched. I just wanted to be taken up into someone’s lap and rocked like a baby. 

Instead we got to watch the strays laugh at lies about us. We got to listen to the strays tell us how wonderful Joyce was, how loving. We were bereft. No longer allowed to be each others’ parents and not having a parent to take care of us. 

I couldn’t move out fast enough.

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