The Story of My Life
by: Rebecca Altringer
Remember Charlie Brown, that fictitious character many of us laughed at? Well, I must say there were many times in my life where I felt like Charlie Brown. There was that feeling of being alone and feeling like everything that could go wrong for me, did go wrong.
I grew up in a home that I thought was normal and that everyone’s mom was like mine. I grew up with a family full of depression, anger, alcoholism, incest, lies and betrayal.
My world began to crumble as early as six years old. It may have been sooner, but I can’t recall any memories before that. My cousin, Jim, was ten years my senior when he began molesting me and then brutally raping me with a tree branch when I was ten years old.
I always felt alone and different, as if I didn’t belong. I would spend my days dreaming of better places and a better life. I would spend my nights roaming the streets and watching through the windows of other families, always searching for a place to belong.
I began to drink until I fell asleep because I couldn’t stand the nightmares I was having. Those nightmares frightened me so much that I would wake up crying uncontrollably and terrified. The nightmare was always the same. It was about wolves that chased me into darkness, into swamps, and I would awake suddenly as they were about to strike.
I was married and just had given birth to my son Kevin when my cousin Jim came back into my life. It was Easter and we were at a park with the rest of my relatives. I was watching Kevin play with the other children when I saw a familiar face walking near. At that moment, I realized it was Jim and I immediately began to feel a panic deep within. My entire body began to shake, my mouth became dry and the fear that I felt was that same familiar fear from when I was a small child.
To make matters worse, my mother told me that Jim was living with her as he walked closer towards me. I was told that Jim got out of Patton State Hospital and that my mother knew all about the crush that I supposedly had on Jim. My mother went on to tell me how cute she thought it was. “Cute!” I thought to myself. I then tried to explain to my mother that the truth was that Jim had molested me, but she wasn’t hearing me or she didn’t want to believe me. She just kept protecting Jim and telling me how he changed. I picked up Kevin, got in my car and cried all the way home.
I began to drink every night until I passed out. I broke my promise to Kevin and began to be a horrible mother and I hated myself for it. I just didn’t know what was going on inside of me. I didn’t know that my life was about to crumble.
I went into the garage one day and I swallowed some pain pills that I had and drank them down with vodka. My thoughts were slowing down and the fear that I had felt for so long was now dwindling away.
The next thing I knew my husband was lifting me up and taking me to the hospital where they pumped my stomach and then placed me in a psychiatric hospital. I was only there a few weeks when I decided to divorce my husband.
I thought I was fixed. I thought life would be great from that moment on. Boy, was I wrong. My nightmares were about to get worse. I ended up with no place to live, no job and no money. The only place that I could go was to my mother’s house. She convinced me that Jim had changed and that he wouldn’t hurt me. I got a job, started saving money, and kept Kevin in a day care center away from Jim.
And then the great news came. My mother told me that she was having an affair with Jim and that she was in love. I just felt like my mother hit me dead center in the stomach. She was supposedly a devout Christian who went to church twice a week and yet she was having an affair with her nephew who had molested and raped her daughter!
“My god, how could this be” I thought to myself. My mother had been preaching to me for months about divorcing my husband, yet she was having a sexual relationship with her nephew. I just cringed at the thought and never said a word. I didn’t know what to say. What could I say?
I spent the next few months watching Jim abuse my mother, physically and emotionality. I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out or even where to go.
I had a job as a manager for a delivery company so I would pick Kevin up from day care and began to sleep at the warehouse. I began to drink more and I began to cut myself. I was cutting my arms at first and then I graduated to my wrists. It was a form of punishment to myself. It was a form of seeking help, but what was I doing to Kevin?
I woke up one morning with blood running down both sides of my wrists. Kevin was lying next to me and I just began to cry. I knew I needed help and that I didn’t want to hurt my son any longer.
I admitted myself into a psychiatric hospital and my husband took Kevin away from me. For as angry as I was that my husband took Kevin from me and for the pain I felt from not seeing Kevin, I knew it was the best thing. I was not being a good mother. I was not doing the right thing for Kevin and I needed help. I spent three months in the hospital. I wouldn’t talk to anyone or see anyone.
I had taken the time to work on my issues and to love myself. I realized that my mother was wrong and all the things that I had thought were my fault, were actually not my fault. I came to the conclusion that I was gay and I learned to love myself that way.
My relatives didn’t like my decision to get help or that I was gay. My father hated me once he found out. He thought I was disgusting he was a hateful person not worth associating with.
It was in the last week of August 1989 when I walked out of the hospital a new person, a person who had made a lot of progress and a person who finally learned to love herself. My mother begged me to live with her and she promised that Jim was gone and that the relationship was over.
So I moved back in with her, went back to work for the delivery company and was awarded visitation with Kevin. I loved and cherished every moment that I was able to see him. I spent my weekdays working as many hours as I could and attending counseling.
My mother left to Indiana for a funeral about three weeks after I was discharged. I had only been sleeping for a few hours when Jim woke me up. He reeked of alcohol and he only had his shorts on.
I became consumed with fear the moment I heard him calling my name. I got up to see beer cans and a burning cigarette in the ashtray. I thought to myself, “how long has he been here? How could I have not heard him and most importantly, how did he get in”?
The next 5 ½ hours were the worst hours of my life. I was brutally raped, strangled, choked, beat and almost killed by Jim. I did everything in my power to fight back, but the more I fought, the harder he hit.
Instead, I laid there and prayed. I begged God to give me one more chance to be a good mother to Kevin. I disassociated myself from Jim and then Jim’s mood changed. He actually let me walk out the door and I went back to the same psychiatric hospital that saved me the first time.
They rushed me to the emergency hospital and then Jim was arrested a short time later. It was at the preliminary trial when I realized I was really alone. My mother was not there to support me, my father was not there, my stepfather was not there, and husband was not there.
Jim sat with shackles on his legs and handcuffs on his wrists. I couldn’t and wouldn’t look at him. By the time the preliminary trial was over, I felt the loneliest that I had felt in my whole life. Jim plea-bargained and was sentenced to twelve years in state prison. I was spending my days fighting for custody of Kevin.
I later found out that my mother was still talking to Jim and seeing him at the prison for several months. She never talked to me about the rape. She never showed me any support or love and now this. I thought that was the worst she could do, but not my mother. No, she had to beat that by marrying Jim while he was in prison.
This devastated me. I thought, “My god, how can anyone love me when my own mother doesn’t even love me?” Well, I was wrong because I ended up meeting a woman who not only became the love of my life, but also became my strength, my support and my best friend. She had a daughter, Lindsey, who was the same age as Kevin. Cheryl and I moved in together after my husband gave me custody of Kevin.
Lindsey and Kevin were five years old and they started kindergarten together. I was about to learn a completely new way of life. Cheryl’s family took me in, loved me, and became the family that I had always wanted. I became a private investigator and now I work hard to help other victims of crimes so that they will never have to feel that loneliness that I felt when I was raped.
I have come to learn that what family really is about is unconditional love, understanding, support, and about always being there when the ones you love need you the most. I don’t have those nightmares anymore. They are just a faded bad memory just as Jim has become.
And now I remind myself that I am not really a Charlie Brown. I just had to change my way of thinking and I had to accept who I really was so that I could find the true happiness that I always deserved. I have now found that love and that love makes up for all the pain that ever crossed my path. I am worth being loved and the pain in my past has made me who I am today – a person who is a loved, recognized, cared about, and a good person who finally has a real family. It is a family that completes me.
I am now a licensed private investigator and owner of a successful investigations firm, Ariel Investigations, Inc. in Southern California. I work hard to help victims of crimes and work hard to live a good life. I was recently featured as the prime investigator in the IFC documentary titled, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” directed by the Oscar-nominated director, Kirby Dick and conducted the investigations in the newly released documentary, “Outrage.” I am in the process of creating a new reality series based on my life as a female Private investigator and will be able to reach out to so many other people who need help and don’t know where to turn.