CHAPTER 1 WHO WE TRULY ARE
CHILDREN ARE BORN UNAFRAID
Raven; the bringer of light
Knowing its purpose;
Confident and ready.
As all children are, I was born unafraid. I came into this world, knowing that I am a being of light. I understood that I am worthy. I recognized that I am here to love and be loved. I came knowing what I am supposed to do. Aware of my full potential. Confident and ready to fulfill my purpose. Moving forward into the unknown without fear; fear is a learned behavior. This unknown shaped me. The family I was born into in November 1968, is the first unknown I encountered.
Born into this Earth school, my parents give me a name—Terri Marie. They give me a religion—Lutheran. I am born with an ethnicity into a family that has its own set of baggage that they inadvertently pass on to me. This new family told me who I am, not necessarily allowing me to develop as God intended, as a human being of love.
Seeing pictures of myself taken when I was little, I see a spunky, carefree individual whose light is so bright I glow. There’s a glint in my eye and a big smile on my round chubby face. The little girl I see in the picture is ready to take on the world, with confidence and fearlessness. I know where I’m going and what I intend to do with my life.
For my grandmother’s upcoming birthday, my dad, a professional photographer, took me to his studio to take some pictures of me. With the lights shining down on my brilliant yellow dress, he claimed that I intently watched him the entire time he photographed me. He didn’t pose me in any way; he believed in natural shots of me just being me. He says that during this photoshoot, I carefully scrutinized what he was doing and how he was doing it. The looks and expressions I gave him were silent messages; messages that he wasn’t doing it correctly. My eyes told him volumes of information—mainly that he should listen to what I had to say, despite not being able to converse. I always seemed to have an answer, even if I wasn’t asked a question. He declares that one day, I went from being his little girl to being a 40-year-old woman, instantaneously.
My paternal grandmother told an amusing story that illustrates my self-determined nature. When I was just two-and-a-half years old, my mother put me and my litter sister, Tammi, down for a nap and made a phone call in the other room of our apartment. I wasn’t sleepy—I was hungry, and I wanted a snack. My sister was sound asleep in her crib, so I got out of bed. I put on my rubber galoshes with no socks and headed down the steep flight of steps to my grandmother’s apartment. My grandparents owned the apartment building on Clay Avenue in downtown Jeannette, a small town in Western Pennsylvania.
When I got down the steps, I went looking for my grandmother. I looked in the kitchen where she usually was, but couldn’t find her. I searched in her bedroom, but she wasn’t there either. I searched behind the large wooden doors of the sitting room, but I still didn’t find her. So, I headed down another very steep set of stairs, through the first heavy door to the foyer. Another heavy door and a few more steps, and I had made it out to the busy main street of town.
I walked with determination about a block down the street all by myself to Duncan Hardware, the store that my grandparents owned. I stood outside, looking through the large, hefty glass door of the shop as it was too heavy for me to open. The clerks inside recognized me and opened the door to let me in. It was an ample supply store that smelled like oil and wood. It had tall ladders on wheels that moved back and forth, so the clerks could climb up to get items for the customers. I walked straight to the back of the building. I went right past my grandfather, directly past the penny nail display that I loved to play in, to where my grandmother's office was—she was the bookkeeper for the store. I marched right up to her, very confidently, and asked for a cookie for the doll I had brought with me on my venture. Grandma described me as a very independent and fearless little girl.
My parents met while my dad was based at Fort Lewis Army base in Washington State before leaving for his three-year tour in Vietnam. Daddy was born in Western Pennsylvania, from a typical loving family of that era. A slender man with brown wavy hair, intrigued by science, he also had a creative side. He believed in duty, honor, and serving his country. He enlisted in the army so that he could choose his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty); the job he wanted to have was a photographer. He informed me that he married my mother before shipping out so someone would receive his death benefit, as he didn’t believe he’d survive the war. He almost didn't.
If he tells the story, which I only ever heard once, it’s with little emotion, just the facts. While taking photographs from a helicopter that was flying over the jungle, the Huey was suddenly under attack. The gunner was the first to be killed; my dad grabbed the gun and began firing at the terrain below. The Huey’s tail rotor was shot and destroyed, which caused the helicopter to do a tailspin as it smashed into the ground. The crew was missing in action for three days before my dad, the only survivor, was found. The crash broke his back, which has caused him great pain throughout the years.
My mother had a completely different and harrowing history. She is an Athabascan Indian, Gwich’in tribe, Raven Clan, from Fort Yukon Alaska—eight miles inside the Arctic Circle. She spent the first sixteen years of her life as the eldest daughter in this very harsh environment before her mom, a widow with 16 children, gave the three oldest girls up for adoption. She left everything she had known and entered what she called the "white man's world." She and her sisters hadn’t ever seen running water or electricity. She told me they spent their first night watching the toilet water go down when it was flushed and playing with the light switch—on ... off ... on ... off ... on ... off.
In the late fall of 1970, my dad re-enlisted in the army. He was stationed at the 130th General Hospital in Nuremberg, Germany. We moved into a small apartment on Oskar-von-Miller-Strauss near the Dozen Lakes, where we would take walks and feed the ducks. We weren’t there too long because I decided to catch my sister’s crib on fire and the landlord didn’t like that very much.
My parents smoked, as did many people in this era, before they knew that the habit was slowly killing them or how addictive nicotine was. My dad had a gleaming, silver-tone, Zippo lighter, the kind that when you opened the lid, it automatically had a flame. I used to watch him open it, and a little flame appeared for him to light his or my mother’s cigarette. It was always in his pocket except when he went to bed; then, it was on his nightstand.
I had a big girl bed, and my sister slept in a crib in the nursery. It was a large room with a rocking chair, a toy box, and a glass panel in the door so my parents could check on us when we were napping. One quiet Sunday morning, I went to see if my parents were awake so one of them could get Tammi out of the crib. We wanted to play, but both of them were sound asleep and did not hear me come into the room. There on the nightstand, sparkling in the early sunlight, was the silver lighter. I had never held it before. It was cold to the touch. I took it back to the nursery to show Tammi. I shut the door and went over to the crib and opened the Zippo so Tammi could see the flame. Open, close … open, close … open, close. As I kept playing with it, the metal of the lighter casing heated up enough that I burnt my hand and dropped the lighter into Tammi’s crib—while it was open.
It’s incredible how quickly the crib bedding caught fire. Tammi started crying, and I seriously struggled to pull her out of the crib before it was aflame. We hid behind the rocking chair and were screaming—not for my parents to come but for Heidi, our little chocolate dachshund, to get out from under the crib where she slept. It got so hot in the nursery that the glass panel in the door shattered, which woke my parents.
My dad came running into the room in his underwear and bare feet, saw the flames, and grabbed the fire extinguisher that was in the hallway to put out the fire. Tammi and I were still screaming for Heidi, so my dad crawled under the crib to get her. We were all scared, but okay; my dad had the only injury—cut up feet from walking on the broken glass panel from the nursery door. Soon after the fire, we moved to the high-rise apartment building in Nuremberg.
Mom, Tammi, and I were off to the basement of our new home to wash some clothes in the laundry facilities. I noticed that mom wasn't paying attention to us as Tammi and I went to the hallway where the elevator was to play. Another resident came down off of the elevator to do her laundry, so Tammi and I went through the open doors. It was astounding that the wall panel had so many buttons on it! When you pushed the buttons, they lit up! So we, of course, pushed every button we could. Neither of us noticed that the elevator doors closed, or that we were moving. We did see when the elevator stopped, but the doors didn’t open. It seems we caused the lift to stop between floors and we were stuck.
I am not sure when mom realized we were missing, but it took a couple of hours before the elevator started to move again. When the doors did open, we were greeted by firemen in big boots and coats, carrying axes—a little scary, especially when we heard my mother crying. Once Tammi heard her, she was crying too. She ran to my mother; I calmly went over to the fireman to inform him that the buttons on the panel wouldn’t light up anymore. Pragmatic, I always seemed to stay calm when unexpected events occurred.
The Christkindl Market in Nuremberg is well-known for its vendors’ high-quality products, food, holiday cheer, and for being the ideal place for families to gather as part of their holiday traditions. The one thing I remember most about the market was the smell. An odd mixture of stale beer, sweet pastries, and bratwurst all combined—thinking about it still makes me nauseous.
One sunny winter day, my mother, Tammi, and I were on our way to the Christkindl market via the cable car system that went throughout the city. We liked the trolley. This time of year, it was fun looking out the windows and seeing all the incredible Christmas decorations and large window displays the stores had for the holiday season.
As we approached the market, my mother rose and told me to head for the exit. When we stopped, and the door opened, I stepped onto the cobbled stone street. My mother was behind me. The trolley door shut, and it started to move away when I realized that Tammi didn’t get off the streetcar. I began to scream Tammi’s name. My mother seemed confused and looked around the street to see if Tammi wandered off. I started to chase the trolley as it was moving away, screaming for Tammi. A short distance away, it stopped, and the doors opened. When I got up to the streetcar, Tammi was standing in the doorway sobbing. I took her hand and got her onto the street when my mother realized what had happened and started to approach us. I was calming Tammi as my mother started to scold her for not getting off the trolley with us. After this event, I began to hold Tammi’s hand when we were out. I became responsible for my little sister, as I felt that my mother needed help in this area.
Our final apartment in Germany was in the countryside. My dad was able to have a garden near the cellar, where he planted what he thought were pretty yellow flowers, based on the picture of the seed packet. He planted them against the wall, and they grew rather tall. When they started to form seeds in the center, he realized they were huge sunflowers. Tammi was horrified by the garden because these flowers were always looking down on her in a foreboding way. Yet, for me, they were happy flowers.
I was not too fond of the garden because of the daddy-long-legs. I like spiders; I will catch them if found in the house and set them free. They will eat the bugs I don’t like; mosquitos, flies, and the like. Daddy-long-leg spiders were creepy to my four-year-old self, and the garden seemed to be full of them. Their extremely long legs were strange, and they shook their webs as a defense mechanism. My dad caught one to show us that they cannot hurt us. He said that they are poisonous, but that their fangs are too small to bite us; the spiders were safe. Years later, I found out that this story about the daddy-long-leg being poisonous wasn’t right, just folklore, but for now, I was no longer afraid of the daddy-long-leg and helped my dad weed the garden.
Being in the country meant there were a lot of farms around. There was a chain-link fence between the apartment building and a massive cornfield. The fence wasn’t secured to the ground in some spots due to the landscape of the area. At one place in the fence, we could crawl under to get into the cornfield. Tammi and I, with the other neighbor kids, would play tag and hide-n-seek amongst the stalks of tall corn. As evening approached one summer day, we were all heading back home after playing in the cornfield when Tammi got stuck under the fence. We tried to free her by holding up the barrier so she could get through but to no avail. I decided we needed an adult to help, but no one wanted to get in trouble for being on the other side of the fence. Tammi was crying and became more upset when I told her I had to get daddy. She didn’t want me to leave her there, and the other kids didn’t want to stay and get in trouble. After taking a few minutes to calm her down and assuring her I would be back with help, she let me go.
I ran back home and told my dad that Tammi was under the fence and couldn’t get out. At that moment, he didn’t ask any questions. He just ran back outside with me to Tammi. When we got to her, she was trying to wiggle out from underneath the tight barrier. I giggled when I saw her, as she was flailing under the fence, trying to free herself. Once I started laughing, so did Tammi, which made it more difficult for my dad to free her from the fencing. When we calmed down, my dad moved the fence, and I pulled Tammi out. From an early age, I was able to problem solve as well as know when I needed help; and wasn’t afraid to ask for it.
Four families total lived in the small complex in the country; an Italian family, an English family, a German family, and us. All the families had children, and we all played together. At first, it was challenging to communicate, but children are intelligent and innovative. We created our own jargon, with a mixture of words from each of the languages so that we could talk with one another.
Once we got back to the States, my sister and I still used this language with each other. My dad got concerned about this. He asked one of the pediatricians he worked with at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, about it and was told not to worry. We would grow out of it when we got around other children who just spoke English. We did outgrow it. Children are born creative, and they’re ingenious if they are allowed to be what God intended for them to be.
After our return to the States in 1974, we moved to a lovely townhouse on Yellow Rose Court in Columbia, Maryland. It was the first planned community in the U.S. In this home, Tammi and I had a playroom. There was a community play area for the children with a sandbox and swing set. There also was a creek that we used to go and play in during the summer. It was a happy place. My fondest childhood memories with my family occurred here.
My sister and I went to Phelps Luck Elementary school, which we walked to, one mile each way. As a planned community, Columbia had walking trails that we used to stroll on to get to school. Some mornings my mother came with us, but every afternoon we were alone for the return home. We had friends from the neighborhood that we would walk with some days, but Tammi and I always stayed together.
One afternoon I burst through the front door in tears. Some kids at school were calling me “chink-ka girl” because my eyes were slightly slanted, and they said I must be from China. Children aren’t born disliking others; hate is a learned behavior. I was upset that they were calling me a name and that they didn’t want to hear about where I was born. I wasn’t crying because they were teasing me, but because they wouldn’t listen to the truth.
My mother’s reaction was unusual; she got furious. She threw the spatula in her hand at the wall. She started yelling about our Native American heritage, which, at this time, I knew very little about my culture. She was screaming about how the “White Man” came and took our land away, even though no one has the right to own the land of the Earth—it’s a gift for us to be able to use. She ranted for several minutes before she realized I was whimpering in the corner, hugging Tammi. Being so caught up in her own feelings, she didn’t make me feel any better. I felt that by sharing my hurt, I caused others pain.
I learned years later that her adoptive parents didn’t allow my mom or her sisters to speak their native language, Athabascan. They weren’t allowed to keep any of their customs, and all of the clothes and regalia they brought with them from Alaska were thrown away. Their heritage, who they were, and where they came from—all of this was taken away. My mother was emotionally reacting to her past and not directly to the name-calling that I suffered. When who we are is ripped from us, it’s a hard road back to our authentic selves.
Tammi and I loved to play in the creek. We would catch tadpoles and put them in a bucket of water and watch them become frogs over the next few weeks before letting them go. We once had a turtle come to the back patio of the townhouse. Tammi and I were very excited and called daddy to see it. He, however, was not happy about the visitor. That day we learned what a snapping turtle was and how it could “snap” a twig thicker than my dad’s finger in half before we could blink. It was horrifying, but we didn’t get near any of the turtles in the creek anymore.
The creek wasn’t very deep unless we had much rain. We would walk through it a good way to where it pooled a bit. In the summer, we would romp in the pooling water. Farther down the creek, it went under the road through a conduit, which seemed enormous. We weren’t allowed to go into the pipe. You could hear the cars traveling across the bridge overhead; it scared Tammi. I used to go into it and sit against the concrete wall. I thought it was quiet, and since Tammi wouldn’t come in, I was alone. Being alone didn’t happen very often since we did everything together. Only eleven months apart, people thought we were twins. We had the same clothes, but wore different colors—I wore blue, and Tammi wore pink.
Because I saw that mom didn’t always pay close attention to us, I felt that I had to take care of Tammi. This responsibility that I took on meant that we spent a lot of time together. But even at a young age, I knew that I needed my alone time; it’s essential to my soul. So the few minutes I stole in the conduit were valuable.
During our time in Maryland, when I was six years old, I was close to my mother. I helped her stir the macaroni and cheese while standing on a chair in our kitchen to help her make dinner. I learned to mix her drinks—vodka and whatever juice we had in the refrigerator. I cleaned up after she passed out on the couch, so my dad wouldn't find out. My mother was always drinking something from the special cabinet in the wall unit. I realized at a young age that her alcohol consumption wasn’t typical.
As a person with epilepsy, my mother took phenobarbital and, when mixed with the liquor, it would induce seizures. Still, she continued to drink despite the known dangers. I recall one particular day when she fell on the powder room floor. Tammi started screaming, which was my cue to get the wooden spoon she used to beat us with and place it on her tongue until she stopped seizing. The first time I remember doing this, I was five years old. Children are so adaptive and obedient; I didn’t realize that I was becoming co-dependent. Co-dependency is a relationship where one person has an addiction, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way. For me, it showed up as a need to take care of my mother and my sister. To protect mom from getting into trouble with daddy because of her drinking, and to protect Tammi from my mother's inattention.
At seven years old, my parents separated. Essentially, my mom left. Tammi wanted to go with her, but I chose to stay with my dad. Her moving out was the first time that my sister and I were separated, and Tammi didn’t understand why I didn’t want to go with them. I told Tammi that someone needed to take care of daddy since she and mom would be together. My dad sued for full custody of my sister and me. He was the first man to win full guardianship of two small girls in the state of Maryland. I thought this was a solid win for him, but I found out later that my mother didn’t show up to the hearing. She always told me that she "gave us" to my dad and, in her mind, I guess she did. I’m grateful for this outcome. When I look back over my life, I can see God's hand, even though I didn’t feel His presence at times.
Tammi and I lived separately for two months. I continued to walk to and from school all by myself. My dad left the sliding glass door off the patio unlocked so I could get in when I got home from school. While I waited the three hours for him to come home, I would play, read, and watch television. One afternoon I got home, and the TV was gone. I called my dad on the green rotary phone that hung in the kitchen and asked if he took it to work with him. He said no. He told me that some special policemen would be coming to the house and that I was supposed to let them in. They were the FBI.
My dad’s job with the army involved some special equipment, and they needed to verify that everything was all right. I was very excited to get my fingerprints taken; they had to be able to eliminate my prints from the robbers. I asked many questions, and I got to play with the fluffy brush to dust for fingerprints in unimportant areas of the house until my dad arrived. It seems that my mother told some of her friends who lived in the neighborhood how I would use the sliding glass door to get into the townhouse, and they stole the television. Children are born fearless, happy, and intuitive; they learn to fear, to think negatively, and to close off their instinctive selves based on their experiences. This incident was the beginning of me becoming aware that not everyone, including my mother, is trustworthy.
When school let out for the summer, Tammi and I went to visit my grandparents in Western Pennsylvania. We were very excited. They had moved from the small town to the country and had a three-foot above ground pool put in for us to swim. We quickly made friends with the next-door neighbor girls. And a homeless basset hound showed up at the beginning of our visit. The dog stayed for the summer, too. It was a beautiful and loving experience. We had to help clean the house every Saturday morning before we could play; Tammi and I would take turns dusting and vacuuming. We didn’t have to make our own meals as we had done before; my grandmother prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. She read bedtime stories to us, and we prayed every night. She taught me about God. We both knew that she loved us and wanted us to be with her. When we stayed with my grandmother, things felt very different than how my mother handled our daily lives.
My dad got me a cat, which I named Betaline, and we had to leave her in Maryland when we went to visit my grandmother because she was allergic to cats. My dad would call each week to talk with Tammi and me, and he told me that he thought Beta was going to have kittens. I was very excited. Each week he would call, and I asked for a kitten update. One week he said Beta wasn’t going to have any kittens; that sometimes, if the babies are sick, they go to heaven instead of being born. I’m not sure I quite understood, but my grandmother had us pray that Beta’s kittens were happy with God. I liked that idea, even though I secretly wanted the kittens back.
When it was time to go back to school, we went back to the townhouse in Maryland to live with my dad. One chilly one evening, my dad told me to get slippers on my cold feet, and I went up to my room and looked under my bed—and started screaming. My dad was right behind me so fast I bumped into him, holding a tiny fluffy kitten. It seemed that Beta had her kittens under my bed, unbeknownst to my dad. I was delighted. My dad wasn’t; Beta was an indoor/ outdoor kitty, and her kittens had fleas. My dad spent the rest of the evening, bathing them to get rid of the pests. This instance was the first remembrance I had of God answering my prayers.
In the fall of 1977, when I turned nine, my parents’ divorce proceedings started to get more intense, and my mother’s drinking amplified. During Christmas break, Tammi and I moved back in with my grandparents. I was in fourth grade, and it was the first time that she and I went to separate schools. I had to ride a bus for the first time, which was an adventure. I knew one person, the fifth-grade neighbor girl that we played with over the summer when we visited. It was interesting to be away from Tammi from the time I went to catch the bus until she came home. I didn’t feel responsible for watching over her since she wasn’t with me. I was alone but didn’t feel lonely.
After the court hearing was over, and the summer ended in 1978, we went back to live with my dad in Maryland. We moved into an apartment complex called Gorman Manor. Tammi and I shared a room, and we each had our canopy beds; mine was blue, and hers was pink. They were beautiful, so princess-like. We walked to school again; it was just behind the apartment building, and I had a key for us to get back in our home. We played and watched TV until my dad would get home from work. He prepared our dinner each night and then would let us fix his hair with ribbons and barrettes, just like any father would.
Daddy was still in the army at this point, and he received his new orders, transferring him to Okinawa, Japan. He knew that he couldn’t take the two of us girls there alone, so he resigned his commission, and we moved back to Pennsylvania to live with my grandparents. He showed me that parents are to put what is in the best interest of their children ahead of what their desires might be.
In the summer of 1979, Tammi and I became a threesome when we met the new neighbor girl living next door to my grandparents; her name was Missy. Her mom was recently divorced, like our dad. We thought it would be wonderful if they got married so we could all be sisters. We had a great summer, and I started sixth grade at the same school I finished fourth grade; Southmoreland Elementary. Some people remembered me in my class, and it was a fun school year because all three of us were in the same building.
My dad, now working with my grandfather at C&C Lumber, and Missy’s mom did start dating. In January of the following year, they married. Not only did we get Missy as a sister, but we also got an older brother and younger brother—our version of The Brady Bunch. We moved into my stepmother’s house, and we three girls shared a room. We all had dinner together every evening as a family. We girls would take turns setting the table, washing, and drying the dishes each night. We did things together as a family, like weekend outings and vacations. There was no alcohol, no fighting—a calm and hopeful household. We were all settling into our new lives as a blended family.
CHAPTER 2 LIFE-CHANGING EVENT
BEING ABLE TO ASK FOR HELP IS A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL STRENGTH
Raven betrayed and abandoned;
Takes on the responsibilities of others.
As adults, we never know when the darkness will come into our lives. As a child, it’s not something that you expect or anticipate. It’s not something that a child can even understand. A child still has the original connection to the Universe, and talks to God and expects an answer. This connection allows the child who is overwhelmed by the darkness to have true resilience and strength in her spirit. She sees strangers helping her; she sees doors open; sees that light comes through the tiniest of places—and she learns to survive.
Between 1978 and 1980, Tammi and I only saw my mother one time. The visit occurred when she was moving across the country to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I think she was attracted to the large Native American population there. Somewhere that the people looked like her, with almond-shaped chocolate eyes and straight black hair- where mom felt she would fit it—a place where she could be her Native self.
In the summer of 1980, my mother asked my dad if Tammi and I could come out to visit her in New Mexico for the summer. She had told my dad she had been to Alcoholics Anonymous and was no longer drinking. Tammi and I missed her and wanted to go. Initially, my dad agreed but changed his mind about a week before we were to leave. He had concerns that my mother would resume drinking, as she repeatedly did while they were married. I got distraught and thought about running away—to my grandmother’s house next door. I took a very long walk in the woods and calmed down enough to try to talk to my dad about allowing us to go. He consented, to my great surprise. Sometimes the Universe works to prevent anguish and pain, but God does not override our conscious decisions or our free will.
The following week, my dad took Tammi and me to the Greyhound bus station in Pittsburgh. We would travel across the country for three days to visit my mother in Albuquerque. We had books and snacks with us to keep us busy, and my dad gave me plenty of cash—more than I had ever seen—so we could eat at the rest stops. As we were preparing to leave, my dad bent down to hug Tammi goodbye, told her he loved her, and put her on the bus. He turned to me, lifted my chin, and told me, “take care of your baby sister.” He kissed my forehead, and I boarded the bus, excited about the adventure.