Tales From the Front: She Saved Herself and Hopes Others Will, Too
Samantha married Chris when she was 16. Her parents did nothing to stop her.
"They never seemed to care what I did. I only lived 10 minutes from them, but my mother stopped by only once over three years -- and that was to borrow money."
It's no wonder that when Samantha left Chris after physical abuse, which included having cigarettes put out on her legs, she didn't go home.
"I actually lived in a friend's car for a month. I worked three jobs to buy it from her. I showered at my gas station job. The showers were meant for the mechanics, but they were nice enough to block it off every day so I could clean myself up."
A year after Samantha's divorce, she was in therapy, and her therapist asked if her parents ever told her they loved her. "I never remember them saying it. I asked my mom why she never told me she loved me. She swore up and down that she did all the time.
"I told her to give me an exact time when she said it. She couldn't. I told her I loved her. We started talking a lot more after this conversation. We actually became friends over the years.
"Long after my divorce, we were talking to one of my nieces who wanted to marry her boyfriend. She was 17. My mother told me to talk some sense into her because I did the same thing at that age. I told her I was 16 when I got married. She told me that she didn't know that. She swore she would never have let me do it if she had realized how young I was."
Samantha's father has been dead for nearly 20 years. They began to reconcile just before he died. "One day, he called me up and asked if I could drive him to the family reunion. He'd had a stroke and wasn't able to drive. On the way home, he told me he hadn't been a good father. He didn't apologize or ask for forgiveness. But just hearing him say it helped me forgive him."
In 10 years of therapy, Samantha learned that her childhood left her craving attention. "Good or bad, I wanted to be wanted -- to be loved. In my mind, being with Chris, who said he loved me and, in his own twisted way, tried to show it, was better than being alone and unloved."
Between Chris and her current husband, who she says is "a wonderful man," Samantha dated several alcoholics and drug users. "But these relationships were very short-lived, no more than six months. With each new boyfriend, I figured out what I didn't want. By my fourth year in therapy, I had a list of must-haves in a man. It sounds corny, but I would take it out often and read it to remind me that I was better than what I was settling for. It helped me look for the right kind of person."
I asked Samantha what she thinks of that 16-year-old who married a man who was so clearly abusive.
"Once upon a time, I would have told you she was an idiot. But not anymore. What I did then shaped who I am now.
"My hope is that someone sees herself in this. I hope she thinks, 'If she can do it, so can I.' I hope it helps her leave and find happiness."
How has your childhood affected your relationships? Send your tale, along with your questions, problems and rants to email@example.com. And check out my e-books, "Dear Cheryl: Advice from Tales from the Front" and "I'll Call You. Not."