“I can’t stand her, but I have no choice but to put up with her.”
I pushed my ear harder against the door and strained to catch the rest of the bitter words being spoken about me. I was 15 and living with my father and his new girlfriend in a tiny two bedroom apartment. On that particular evening, the girlfriend (let’s call her Darla) was in the living room with one of her friends, steadily working her way through the liquor cabinet.
“I swear she’s got her daddy wrapped around her little finger,” Darla drawled. “He just adores her, and she can’t do any wrong in his eyes. She’s always around, too. I can’t get away from her!”
I could hear the slur in Darla’s words and knew she was just getting started. It wasn’t the first time I’d sat, eyes closed, knees pulled tightly to my chest, ear to the door. It was how I learned that the sweet, syrupy compliments that she gave me when my father was around were only being used to cover the bitter taste of the truth; a truth my father never did want to hear.
Earlier that afternoon, Darla and I had sat together at the kitchen table laughing and playing cards while we shared a box of chocolates. I adored Darla. She was smart, funny, beautiful, and she seemed to know everything that I didn’t about fashion. I looked up to her, loved spending time with her and, for a while, I honestly thought she loved spending time with me.
The first time I overheard her telling her friends that she couldn’t stand me, I was devastated. I can remember standing in front of my bedroom mirror, tears streaming down my face, searching desperately for signs of the unlikable person Darla had spoken of. The next morning, however, I worked up the courage to confront Darla, as well as my father, to find out what it was about me that was so awful. With puffy eyes and a heavy heart, I walked into the kitchen with careful steps, so as not to spill my confidence onto the floor.
“Oh, you poor soul!” Darla exclaimed, rushing over to me, fussing with my hair. “You look like you barely slept a wink! Let me fix you up some breakfast real quick.” She set down her coffee and pulled out a carton of eggs from the fridge. I stood, transfixed, as she busied herself at the stove. Had I imagined what I heard? Had I misunderstood? How could someone who had trash talked me the night before, be happily buzzing about the kitchen preparing me breakfast? I sank into a nearby chair and slowly let out the breath I had been holding. I decided I had been wrong.
“She’s a bitch,” came the snarl. “Honest to God, I don’t know how much more I can take.”
Week after week, I listened through the door as Darla lamented, drunkenly to her remarkably supportive friends about the agony that it was to be sharing a house with me. Day after day, I watched as Darla smiled and laughed and offered advice on how to style my hair and do my make-up. I was on a teeter totter with this woman, and there were no signs of stopping. I began to doubt and question who I was. I withdrew into myself in order to not be too much of a burden to anyone. I became hesitant with my words, and often shut down if I suspected I might have annoyed someone. I stopped being so trusting of everyone around me, and I learned to hold people at a distance. It changed me, and the residual damage is still with me today.
A few years later I caught Darla cheating on my father with one of their good friends, Dan. I confronted Darla, and I told my father what had happened. I also finally found the courage to tell him about all the hidden truths I carried with me; the bruises upon my soul. We cried, we talked, and we cried some more. It was the most honest conversation I have ever had with my father, and when we were done I felt a small piece of my former self begin to shine though. I held onto the hope that my father could help me to once again feel likable and worthy of love. I needed him to help to erase my worry and doubt. I needed him to do anything but the one thing he finally did do. He married her. He married Darla a year later, and I wasn’t invited to the wedding. I guess I wasn’t imagining things after all.