I invite you to come with me for a ride back to 1986…
I was still just a little girl, excitedly awaiting my 12th birthday. We celebrated that day by going to the mall, seeing a movie together as a family and then out to eat for some Mexican food, a favorite of mine even back then.
It was a hot summer here in Cleveland and my dad was on his yearly vacation from his job, a smoldering, dirty warehouse that distributed car parts. My loving, stable and very Catholic family (my young brother and I attended a Catholic school and went to church every Sunday) were headed to a local amusement park the day after to carry on the celebration.
My father started to have chest pains while we were at the amusement park. My mom called me back from the giant water attraction called The Wave and told me that my dad was being taken by ambulance to the nearest medical clinic.
After a couple of hours of observation, the clinic allowed my father to leave so that we could go home, shortening our previously fun-filled day. I wasn’t mad, I was only worried about my dad and prayed that he would be alright.
It wasn’t the first time that he’d been sick; he’d had a bad heart from a young age.
About 2 miles away from the clinic, my father started convulsing in the passenger seat of the car that my mother was thankfully driving instead of him. After she frantically pulled over into a parking lot, I ran from the car and into the busy street, flagging down someone to help us.
It’s a miracle that I hadn’t been hit by a car, but thankfully that didn’t happen. A kind woman and her young son decided to stop.
As my mother drove us back to the clinic as fast as she could, the good Samaritan did CPR on my dad, who was having the final heart attack that would end up killing him.
My younger brother, my now deceased mother and I had witnessed my father dying.
Right in front of us. The memory is permanently etched inside my mind.
I never doubted that God existed when I was a kid. From an early age, I learned about how much He loved me. I read my Bible stories and said the Our Father every morning with my class, before we even saluted the flag.
I was a child of God and he was good! I said my prayers daily, I did my best to love and obey my parents, I tried not to terrorize my kid brother too much.
I was a sweet, kind and gentle little girl, who had made her First Communion and went to Confession on a weekly basis, repenting all of my petty childhood sins, like smacking my brother and talking back to my mom.
But after watching my dad die, that all changed.
How could God let my beloved daddy die in such a traumatic, horrifying way?
If He was so good, why would He do such an awful thing to us?
It didn’t make sense. When I went back to school two weeks later to start the 7th grade, not only did my classmates treat me like I was suddenly made of broken glass, I also found myself angry and disinterested at church every day.
If I had had the understanding of what sarcasm was back then, I would have rolled my eyes and said whatever when our priest came to class every Friday to start readying us to make our Confirmation, our promise to continue to be devout young adults.
I believe that my mother was also angry at God for taking her husband away from her, leaving her alone to raise two young children. My dad was 50 when he died and that’s what I remember hearing the most from people, what a shame that Michael had to die so young.
Slowly, we stopped attending Mass and other church functions. Once I graduated from St. Rose and it was clear that I would be going to a public high school, my mom withdrew my brother and sent him to the public middle school as well.
Our affiliation with the church and God ultimately ended.
My teen years were rough. My mom wasn’t around much, she was enrolled in community college studying for her nursing degree. Before my dad passed, she had been a stay-at-home mother.
My mom had loved to drink her beer back before she had met my father and so she started to party again, probably to numb her pain.
My brother and I became accustomed to that lifestyle. We adapted. To say that our lives had taken a 180º would be an understatement. Without my father to keep us on track, the O’Leary household did a major flip-flop.
My brother and I began our journey away from what we had been raised to believe.
I’m not talking ill of the dead. I forgave my mother for those unstable years and she knew that before she died. Trust me, my mother was the sweetest, kindest and most sincere person that you could ever hope to meet. She spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to me and my brother. She was an absolutely wonderful mother, but also human.
She did the best that she could with what she had at the time and the circumstances that she found herself in. If I had been in her position, I’d probably had done the same thing.
There’s no way of knowing, but if my dad hadn’t died, I do believe that I wouldn’t have started down the dark path that I would soon find myself traveling on.
By the time that I graduated from high school in 1992, God was mostly a distant memory.
My brother and I partied ourselves now, while my mother worked the night shift at a nursing home as a newly graduated RN. We drank, smoked weed and acted like little hellions. All of our friends knew that there was no adult supervision at our house, so they took advantage of it.
Thinking back on it now, it was mostly a harmless era in my life. Nobody died or got hurt. We just did our own thing and all I wanted to do was have a good time.
I wanted the boys to like me and after a few dates, I realized that unless I was willing to have sex with them, their interest in me flat-lined quickly.
So I began sleeping with almost (not all) any boy who showed even the slightest interest in me. I had little respect for myself. Occasionally, I’d have a speck of Catholic guilt come from out of nowhere, but then I’d drink it down with a Screwdriver or stifle it with a cigarette.
In fact, I’ve done so many wicked things over the course of my adult life that I’m going to keep the details to myself.
I have already asked forgiveness from God for my many sins.
I got pregnant when I was 22 years old after dating a guy 3 years older than me for less than 2 months.
My instincts told me that he wasn’t such a great guy. Ironically, I was just getting ready to break up with him. I decided to stay and try to have a little family of my own.
He wouldn’t let me get my daughter baptized when my mom asked him about it.
My mom was a wonderful, hands-on grandmother before I even gave birth. Our newly formed bond never faltered and this was when she started thinking about God again, I think for the first time in many years. She wanted to get B baptized behind his back, but I was too afraid of him to allow it.
It was around my mid-20’s when I also started thinking more about God. But I was still angry. When anyone would ask me what my religious beliefs were, I’d either say that I was a non-practicing Catholic or agnostic.
In my mind, He had failed me so many times, how could I ever believe in Him again?
I stayed for 6 years with my daughter’s biological father, until I was finally done with his physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse. After many atempts to escape him, I was finally able to leave and stay gone for good.
My mom, aunt and best friend Fran helped and believed in me. I was so scared, yet proud and thankful to have a new life! I was still young, in my mid 20’s and I planned on steering clear of abusive men.
And that’s when I met my ex-husband, which you all know as asshat.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I was married to an evil, Godless man.
I got so ensnared into his web of darkness. At first I wanted to save him from his demons, but my plan backfired. Instead of redeeming him and teaching him how to love, I allowed him to taint what little light and grace that I had left inside of myself.
I laughed at his inappropriate jokes and his heretical behavior. I brushed aside the feeling deep down that there was something very sexually deviant about him, the overtly sexual way that he talked about woman.
He broke my heart multiple times and was rarely remorseful. I defended him to family and friends for his anti-social behavior, always hoping that one day he’d be the man that I hoped he was, if only I could love him enough.
I felt that I had to be loyal to him, that somehow I’d be able to get through to him and free the good man that I just knew was caught somewhere inside his tormented soul.
He was/is a guitarist for a black death metal band. The lyrics he wrote were always disturbing and in hindsight, extremely evil.
In the beginning of our relationship, after I’d told him that I really didn’t care for that type of music, he assured me that it was just a fake persona. I believed him, but now I really wonder if that’s the truth.
When I became sick in 2011, I started to really ponder the entire God thing again. I began visiting different churches in the area (I was so afraid to enter a Catholic church due to the fear that I’d burst into flames) and when I’d tell him where I was going, he’d heckle me.
“Tell God I said hi!”
“Have fun with God!”
It took my father dying to turn me away from God.
It took my mother dying to bring me back to Him.
My boyfriend Steven reminds me of my youth, when life was full of hope, love and possibilities. I knew that the next man in my life had to be a Christian just like I am.
He is a good, honest and decent man. My mom loved him and I’m sure that my father would approve as well.
It’s been a long, weary, tiresome journey, but I don’t regret a minute of it.
Because it’s brought me back to where I started from.
And this time, I’m not turning away from God. I’m embracing Him.