“They thought I was too young to have it affect me.”
Eve – Journey House resident
Eve sighs, settles back in her chair, and stares straight ahead while I take her picture. Her dark hair is held back with a gray headband. She wears a T-shirt showing a sinister-looking image of Uncle Sam. He has both hands raised. His thumbs are cocked up and his index fingers are like gun barrels aimed out at the world.
Stuffed animals, toy trucks, dolls, a tricycle, and a miniature grocery cart fill the corner of the dining room behind Eve.
She looks up at me as if to signal - okay, I’m ready to talk, and over the next two hours she unfolds the dynamics that have shaped her life for thirty-two years. It takes guts. Often during long pauses, her shoulders wilt as she looks off, as if re-imagining scenes. I sense the hurt alive inside in her - trauma inflicted upon her, and trauma of her own making.
Especially compelling is Eve’s incredulous tone when, with palms raised, she poses the central questions of her life, “Why couldn’t anybody ever do anything right?” and “Why didn’t my parents love me?”
What I couldn’t know at the start of our conversation is that it would end with a gun and another question she might ask herself.
I am an only child. I grew up in a small town in southern Missouri with less than three hundred people. My mom had mental health issues. My dad was an alcoholic and drug addict. He was in Vietnam and had PTSD real bad. He wasn’t home much. He worked as a foreman at a printing press in a town several miles away.
Describe your mom’s mental illness?
Bi-polar, manic-depression. The first mental break I remember was in the first grade. She didn’t pick me up from school so I walked home alone. My whole bedroom had been done up in knickknacks and troll dolls that my great grandma had left me when she died. But when I walked in after school that day there was a trail of them from my room to the backyard. I opened the backdoor and saw a bonfire and my mom chanting and pulling her hair. She was burning all my stuff. She thought I was possessed and that there were demons in my room. It was the first time I saw my mom having a mental break. It was the first time I resented God.
Am I right to understand that your mom burned all your special little girl stuff?
Did the fire department come?
It took five paramedics to get my mom into an ambulance. She was a harm to herself and others. This was her first hospitalization. She was like my grandma, her mother, who also had mental breaks. And eventually I had mental breaks too being into heavy drugs and all. I was diagnosed with bi-polar but I am not mentally ill. Sometimes I think my mom used her mental episodes as a crutch.
Where did you stay after the police and paramedics came? Did anyone think of what to do for you?
There were these retirement apartments near by us. A lady named Lois from that place put her arms around me. I stayed with her a while. I also stayed with friends who lived behind us. My aunt and my dad took care of me sometimes. I mean, I was just six years old. That day I went from having a princess life to something crumbling. My friend’s parents stopped letting their children come over to play. Kids bullied me for having a crazy mom. I became a loner. After a while I hung out with older kids and started getting into trouble.
Did you ever have foster care?
These are massive events. Did anybody talk with you or try to help you?
Not really. My mom was put in the psych hospital for a week that time. My dad talked to me sometimes and bought me things before he was really into his alcoholism. But he didn’t see the destruction firsthand like I did. I was the only one who saw it. I can still remember what she was wearing and the paramedics. (Eve stops talking and starts crying.) Everybody thought I was too young to have it affect me.
Were other times like this?
Yeah. My mom kept a really clean house, but this time the house was dirty. I walked into her bedroom and she was all crazy crying in bed. She said I was the reason she had had an abortion. Huh? She had that abortion before I was born! Some nights she’d wake me up in a frantic state and pull me out of the house. She said Dad was abusive to her but I never observed it. He didn’t abuse me either. She took us to a battered women center. I remember all these women were in a circle around me. They put their hands on my head and started speaking in tongues at a battered women center! It freaked me out. I was in a child’s state of mind. God seemed real scary. I had believed Mom was a Christian and I had believed in God whole-heartedly. But after that, I saw my mom in a different light. Sometimes I was a mom’s girl but she could turn into someone else. So could God. Something that sticks with me is the thought - What is wrong with me? Why don’t I feel any real connection to God? I had lots of real traumatic things like that. Stuff that still affects me.
So, both your mom and God were scary because they were not really what you thought they were?
Yeah. I resented her. I think that maybe she never was the mom I believed she was.
How did your relationship with her evolve between six-years-old and high school?
She’d be fine and then she’d have an episode when her meds wouldn’t work and she’d switch. She slept a lot, with me cooking frozen corndogs in the microwave after all the big meals she used to fix. She began drinking with other drugs in the mix. She wrecked into a ditch. Her first DUI. Her teeth went through her lip. My parents were still living in our house, but they took me to stay with this lady with a daughter three years younger than me. She became my best friend even though there was lots of chaos over there. My dad got wild. He turned into a full-blown alcoholic. He lost his job. He joined a biker group. They partied in our garage One night he was drunk and one of my cousins and his friends ganged up on him. I grabbed a bat and tried to scare them away, but I couldn’t. Sometimes I covered for them - shut off their music, and dumped their beer out. I tried to be the responsible one. Dad had PTSD flashbacks from being a gunner in Vietnam. Mom slept with me. One night she got me out of bed and we went in the front room. The light was on and my eyes were hurting from it. Dad was on his knees with a gun. Because of my height, it was pointed at my head. He also pointed it to my mom. A loaded gun! (Eve looks up as if still seeing it.) He was having a flashback. Acting war out in his sleep.
Right. Then he woke up and freaked out. He hugged me and started crying.
Did he get help for that?
(Eve shrugs.) Yeah… maybe… I guess… The summer before I turned fourteen, I did whatever I wanted. I was on the streets. I had a four-wheeler, a real expensive one. Dad had this new lady friend, Nicki. They were partying buddies. She had chows. Him and her were drunk on tequila tickling each other one night at her place. (Eve shakes her head.) I was there too. Her dog bit my leg so we had to go home. It was awful. Dad left my mom and headed to Sturgis. He believed he’d meet up with Nicki there and she’d score him some drugs - coke or whatever, but instead of drugs she met up with him and took him straight to an AA meeting! There was method to her madness! So… now my dad is living in with Nicki and they are getting sober and all of the sudden my world has completely changed. So now I am hanging out with my mom. Me and her go to Sonic…. and my mom meets this guy there in an Army uniform.
Yeah. He went to the bathroom right there in the parking lot! Anyway, Mom decides to leave me for the weekend at that chaotic friend’s house so she can be with him. She just up and leaves me. That’s when I really wondered what is wrong with me? When am I ever going to be important? Why can’t anybody do anything right? Why don’t my parents love me? You know? They go fast into other relationships but not to me. He was just some casual dude she met at Sonic! A real piece of crap. A pathological liar.
So, by chance they met at Sonic and just like that, they hooked up right then?
Yep. Then my dad calls to tell me that I am moving to (another state) with him and Nicki. They go to AA. He is sober now. So, I move and start attending Alateen. I get a job and go to school there.
Did you really know Nicki at all?
No. I only knew her as a party animal, but now she’s sober and she has lots of money. She puts all kinds of rules over me, like I have to pay to call my mom. Pay my part of their phone bill. I became so resentful. Back in Missouri, my mom got another DUI. She T-boned a vehicle and rolled the other person’s van. An eighteen- year-old girl was in it. When the girl got X-rays, they discovered cancer in her, so that sort of saved her life. A weird blessing in disguise. They thanked my mom and then they turned around and sued her.
Through all this was there anybody consistent you could trust and talk to?
No. I was angry and got more rebellious. I would say I was working late at Hy-Vee or Shopco but my dad knew I wasn’t because he sat in the parking lot and watched me leave work to go hang out at friend’s houses. All night bowling. Drinking. Sneaking around. I had a weird suspicion something was up. I hacked Nicki’s email password and found out she’d been researching places where you can send your messed-up kid. I figured she was going to have me kidnapped! These places say they will kidnap your kid wherever they are and put them in a detention center. I decide I am never going back to Dad and Nicki. I take the bus three hundred miles back to my mom who is still with the Sonic guy.
You were on the loose.
Yeah. Totally. So, Trey was my first boyfriend, first love. I was seventeen and pregnant by him in April 2003. If you can believe it, he stole the tires off a prosecuting attorney’s car, put it up on blocks and put those tires on my car! I go to jail for tampering with a motor vehicle and drug possession. I got put on probation and eventually went to Drug Court. (A court-supervised treatment program which is an alternative to prison for some offenders.)
Were you still in school?
No, we had both dropped out of high school. In September 2003 I woke up in blood. Dried blood. My mom called the hospital. They said if there was no cramping to let me rest. Then blood again. They did an ultrasound and there is no baby heartbeat. Trey was totally disinterested. I was too far along for a D&C, so they tried to start labor with Pitocin. But it didn’t work. My baby had been dead inside me for at least a week. They get this thing like a stick with something that increases the size of your cervix. I delivered my first son in 2003. Mom comes to the hospital and starts acting crazy, so they sent her up to the psych ward.
Did anybody help you through the loss?
No… Actually, right now, I need to break for a minute and smoke a cigarette.
(Eve sits out on the front porch at Journey House and I try to collect my thoughts. This is an especially raw story. We both need a break.)
Dad divorced Nicki and moved back into our old house is Missouri but I didn’t see him. I worked for a while at an assisted living facility where my aunt, my mom’s sister, was the director. I was the lead CMA (Certified Medical Assistant). But eventually I got kicked out of the Drug Court and I went into prison for a one-hundred-and-twenty-day rehab treatment. When I get out, I get with Jake. My oldest living son, who is my second son, Raice, is his. Jake was a big hothead. He got me hooked on prescription pain meds. Then our next son, Clint, was born.
How did you manage the drug use when you were pregnant?
I didn’t use while pregnant. But after Clint was born, I got really bad on prescription pills. Then I got pregnant again, but I didn’t know it for five months. I was using meth. I was very sick during that pregnancy. (Eve starts sobbing.) Our daughter, Taylor, passed away of SIDS at six-weeks-old. We got a phone call from a lady from the Midwest Transplant Network Organ Donation. Would I donate her heart? I said, yes. I had had a lot of trouble with God, but if there is a heaven your soul goes to heaven not your heart. Taylor saved three babies with her heart valves. Taylor’s fourth valve was sent to Pittsburg State for science.
How did you learn all this?
The families who received her heart valves tried to reach out to me but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t because ten days after Taylor died, DFS (Division of Family Services) took Raice and Clint. People deal with their grief and traumatic circumstances differently. I used pain medication and detached myself from everything. I needed to be in the right state of mind to meet those people. I eventually went to in-patient rehab for opioids. But when I got out, I started catching felonies. I have ten felonies now - drugs, stealing a vehicle, high speeds, resisting arrest. I am a violent offender because I assaulted an officer. I went crazy. I didn’t care about anything. I could not get clean. My life was total hell. My dad said, “Eve, I haven’t got time for your shit. I wish you would just fuck off and die.” But instead, I got pregnant again! I got in a high-speed race. I wrecked on purpose. Trying to kill myself. It was the first time I’d tried it. When the cops pulled me out of the car, I was furious. So, while I was in prison this last time I had my baby, Max.
How did that work?
I had him in a hospital and then went back in prison The Mennonites took care of him. Three single women who were sisters - a midwife, a schoolteacher, and a woman with a bakery business. They brought Max to visit me every month, sent pictures, and set up a phone account. He was in such a good place. It was called the Tender Touch Program.
How was it in prison?
Prison is easier than outside. No responsibility. No bills. You are kinda catered to. I thought I could get comfortable in prison. I actually thought that! It scared me! The bottom of rock bottom. I started drug treatment in there. I was very thankful for the prison time because I had abandoned my children to my addiction. Some people become “prison rich.” Comfortable. They have money, girlfriends, and drugs. But I did not want that life. I knew that if I continued the life I was living, I was not going to live.
Prison was a necessary respite for you?
Yes. And when a person is finally done with the life they had, they know it. They are done! I have some college - cosmetology school. I am very smart. I want my own house, a car, and a career.
Did treatment in prison help you clarify your goals?
It helped me understand why I kept using. It helped me clarify a different way of living. I knew I was definitely not going back home after prison. That’s why I chose to come here to Journey House. Why not Kansas City? A bigger city. Better support groups. Variety. I wasn’t too hip on nuns, as I said, I’m not very religious, but I’m not atheist. I just can’t seem to find connection to God. My dad came to see me a couple weeks ago! He has not been a part of my life because he said he couldn’t watch me kill myself. It put him at risk for a relapse. But he misses not being there for my kids too. (crying) There’s a chance of that now. If you can believe it, he’s like the best guy I know. Nineteen years sober. He could do it! He has a new wife who has been sober for fifteen years. Now I understand that everything I’ve done didn’t just hurt me. It’s a ripple effect. I’m grateful for Tender Touch and Journey House. It’s how life should be.
(The door bursts opens and a toddler with a big smile and red hair runs in the room. Eve scoops him up and introduces him. “Meet Max. He’s ten months old.” Max runs over to the toys.)
Max lives here with me now.
How was it arranged?
If you can believe it, my mom initiated it! She called Georgia about Max. She asked if he could live here with me. But I knew I couldn’t take care of Max until I could take care of myself. So, eventually, when I made progress and leveled up in drug treatment Max got to come. We share a bigger bedroom with our own bathroom. Sister Rose and Sister Gabe are amazing. They said, “We know a lady at church who has some extra money and she wants you to make a list.” The lady showed up here, took my list and filled it. Three hundred dollars-worth of diapers, wipes, a car seat.
They are making it possible for you to be Max’s mom.
Yes. I go to the Seton Center for dental. I had all my top teeth pulled. It cost three thousand dollars. They paid for that. They pay for our prescriptions. Anything that we need. You make a list and they pick it up at the store. No strings attached. In my addiction and in prison I had difficulty trusting females. But this is pure goodness of heart. No ulterior motive. I love them. They don’t push religion but I know I am good. I feel it from them. I have to be tender with myself like they are. I have a driver’s license now and Dad bought me a car and insurance. A 2010 Impala.
How do you imagine yourself in the future?
I have a close friend here now. I will stay a bit longer than three months. Bishop Sullivan Center will help me look for a job. I have daycare at Operation Breakthrough for Max. Maybe I’ll be a full time or part time waitress while I finish treatment, which is from nine to two thirty every day. It’s relapse prevention. Knowing the warning signs. Triggers. The people to stay away from. I see a counselor and my case manager weekly to get my bus pass and phone payment for the month. I am going to file for partial custody of my other boys. A win-win if I can see them at least every other weekend. I’m not the villain anymore. This is my family here. I water the garden. I speak up at our house meetings, “Whoever is smoking on the third floor, please stop.” I text Sher, the house manager, if I smell it. It’s disrespectful. Respect our house. It is our home. Respect others. (crying) These women are a godsend. I just visited my mom and her new boyfriend! I am creating a future. It’s so good to be active in my life.
What advice would you give your former self or people struggling like you did?
Ask for help. We know ourselves. We are locked up in shame. I have not heard of any other place like this that has such a high level of success. In a sense, Journey House is really our parent. Shelter, support, guidance, love. Whoever cooks each night says a blessing for the Sisters and Sher. They give their lives for us. Without this kind of support none of us would make it. (Max climbs onto Eve’s lap. She puts her hands around him. I see a tattoo on the back of her left hand. It’s a gun with the barrel formed by her extended index finger and middle finger.)
Isn’t that a gun on your hand?
Eve looks up at me like she doesn’t register what I’m asking, then shakes her hand as if she can make the tattoo magically fly away.
It’s getting removed, but there’ll be ghost of it left, like a reminder. I am thankful for what I’ve been through. I am shaping into the person I can be.
Under that gun is the hand of a loving and capable mother.
I wake up happy to be alive. I’m one and a half years sober. It means everything. …I’m like my dad. I ain’t never going to let anything risk my sobriety.
The Drive Home:
Gifts within a tragic story…
I am haunted by the image of Eve’s treasures turned to ashes. I picture her trembling in front of her father’s loaded gun. Moreover, I am haunted to think that nobody truly helped or understood her pain.
Eve asked the two core questions in her life: “Why couldn’t anybody ever do anything right?” and “Why didn’t my parents love me?” Will someday her own children wonder those same things about her? How would she answer? What insights might she share?
Severe, unresolved hurt is inherited through generations. Trauma is recycled in such a way that children whose own trauma is never acknowledged or healed don’t register the ripple effect, the hurt they inflict on others… until they do.
Healing can also have a robust vitalizing effect through generations. Dormant instincts of true kindness, respect, generosity and unconditional love came alive in Eve at the Journey House. Dormant instincts of mothering, and grand mothering, came alive in Eve’s own mother as well. Her father’s sobriety, is now a healing force in Eve. After decades of despair, he has gifted her a model of strength and courage.
And what of the three babies whose lives were saved by Taylor’s heart valves?
“You should not underestimate the power you have to affirm the humanity and dignity of the people around you. When you do that, they will teach you something about what you need to learn about human dignity, but also what you can do to be an agent of change.”
-Bryan Stevenson – On Being November 4, 2021, Finding the Courage for What’s Redemptive