The Twenty Dollars



I have always wondered if my adoptive father would have been nicer if we were his biological children. Maybe he was just plain mean, or maybe it was that aggression men can feel toward children they did not make. Sometimes his mean behavior was inexplicably tied to nothing; most times it was tied to money. He got really angry if we ever asked for money, even as children.

My older brother, who got the same treatment as I did, asked him for money once, as he was in need and away at college (on his own dime, and not at my father’s expense) and came up short. My father said no. After that brother killed himself we got a letter from his roommate saying he had died owing him $400. My father sent the asshole a check. This made me furious. That he would find his checkbook for the asshole drug dealer to pay a supposed debt for my brother – who he would not even loan $20 to for food. My brother died at 22. My father was not in any way responsible to that asshole for the supposed debts of a legal adult. I wish I’d kept the letter from that capitalist drug dealer (my brother self-medicated his demons with drugs, I knew this; and that roommate was the dealer, he had told me as much, and more). I think I remember his name. Something like NaXX-abedian.

Knowing this weird money thing, I never asked. I had gotten my first babysitting job and worked 16 hours plus a week – every Wednesday and Friday from 3-11 and then some weekend hours. From that moment on I had to buy my own clothes, shampoo, toothpaste etc. My mother would separate my laundry out from the rest of the family and refuse to do it; I was scolded for using “their” toothpaste. That really hurt because it seemed symbolic. I would do whatever was in the laundry basket rather than separate theirs out but, no matter – she’d do a load that was only partially full, rather than throw my stuff in. I was secretly mad about this but could not express that without getting in trouble. Anger was an offense punished by anger-fueled tactics. The irony was rife.

I was 11 years old. I felt like Cinder-fucking-rella.

I broke my leg years later. I did not have insurance as I had started a new job and was in the waiting period for insurance and could not afford the COBRA bulk payment of $750 to carry it over. I went skiing anyway. I was a good skier and had been at it for 11 years. There’s that 11 again. It took two surgeries and 8 days in the hospital plus physical therapy to get on my feet again. I am still paying this off. At my welcome back party at work weeks later I got laid off; me and a lot of other people. We worked at a recession-proof company but the owner saw the recession as a way to profit by getting more work out of the lucky remaining people. Sales skyrocketed during the recession. Those lucky ones left behind worked insane hours and the owner got richer. I could write whole chapters about that guy and the various women in the company he cheated on his wife with and how those women were proud of this status and candidly spoke of the money left on their dressers.

ist2_2426343-homeless-girlOn crutches I was unable to wait on tables or any such thing but a desk job, of which there were none, and unemployment did not cover my rent and all my medical bills so I was in dire straits. I found a job 40 miles away at a factory and worked 4-midnight and when I got back to my apartment at 1 am I would crytch the block home, often as many as a dozen blocks. They never wrorried for me.Once I was chased my drunk guys and barely made it into my building in time to lock the door behind me. They said, “Well, you’ll just have to be more careful. What were you even doing out at that hour?” Sigh. this reminds me of “The Nasty Cold”, a story for another day.

So one weekend I had no food and 6$ in my checking account and I used it for gas and drove to my parents’ house for the weekend so I could eat food and maybe even come back with a few borrowed cans of soup and rolls of toilet paper.

As I was leaving, dear old dad saw my little paper bag with soup and toilet paper and took it back. He was furious. Funny – that same soup and toilet paper lived in a house my mother’s parents had contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the building of. I had asked to borrow $20 for gas and food. “I am not in the habit of loaning money.”

I wish I’d had the courage to gesture at the huge house and say, “ahhh, but you are in the habit of accepting the kind of “loans” that don’t need to be paid back, and all for a non-essential giant showplace of a house.”

I got my mother alone and said, “Mom…?” and she interrupted, “No, please don’t ask. Your father has already spoken to me and he says no.”

“But I have never asked for a dime for college or anything and I have no gas for my car and no food. Can I write you a check and post-date it?” Reluctantly she acquiesced. A week later it was cashed.

ist2_4812164-upset-girlPerhaps these tales don’t seem so bad and they are not about physical abuse (that had ended years earlier after a visit from the police). But the emotional abuse pains me still, and more. I can’t imagine a parent saying not to a child who asks merely to borrow money for food; who has put themselves through college and supported themselves within the home from age 11 on and who has never asked to borrow money. I had my first apartment at 17. They were determined to never provide beyond the bare minimum.

My heart strings have been tugged by complete strangers in wheelchairs and I have given $20 to the random sad story on the street countless times when I have been flush with cash. But my own “parents” would not loan me $20 for food and gas. I don’t know why I did not walk away completely at 17 when I got that first apartment a few weeks after high school graduation. Maybe I thought they’d come around one day. Maybe I thought they’d love me because I was so sweet and so independent. Maybe I bet on the wrong horse.

Explore posts in the same categories: A shaky family support system, adopted family relations, Aggression toward adopted children, Being adopted, Emotional Abuse, Punishment for being adopted, The Unpayable Gratitude Fee for being adopted, What did I do wrong?

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One Comment on “The Twenty Dollars”

  1. cheerio Says:

    he took the bag of soup and toilet paper
    i think that about sums up his character

    i am very sorry you got stuck with them
    i wish people would start to liisten to stories like yours and realize
    that anyone with money (or a loan) can adopt – but that does not gurantee they will be good parents

    now, these are the same folks who doted over the youger brother because he was ‘sickly’, right?

    …does not compute … does not compute… does not compute

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