I Stole My Life

Dee Richards
5 min readJun 6, 2024

--

Nine years ago, I made the best decision of my life: to never speak to my mother again. It started fairly simple, at first. She had revealed to me that she’d intended to take advantage of my godfather for as long as he was willing to let her do it. At that point, she had been kicked out by a number of friends who rented her a room in their house. My godfather had no room for her but offered a bed in his living room anyway. While we had a toddler in a two-bedroom apartment, my partner and I offered her a space — if she agreed to look for work. She had also had a lot of trouble keeping a job. You will know why if you have read my previous posts (or know my mom) but I will remind you that my mom has an un-diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder.

I am not one to typically throw out diagnoses, but I have a weirdly perceptive mind to patterns. I’ve always seen it as a strong suit. However, the most damning evidence, for me, was reading work from adults who had lived through narcissistic abuse. While doing research for my thesis on domestic violence and domestic terrorism at UCI, narcissistic abuse came up more than a few times. Having already suspected my mother of it, I looked a little deeper. It turns out that a curious mind with access to a college library can really dig a few rabbit holes! The experiences were terrible but, more than that, the lifelong effects were heartbreaking. I can say this from a place of experience. I will never be okay. But, I do try. Living with a narcissist is grueling. With symptoms like requiring constant admiration, needing to feel superior despite achievements, and taking advantage of others to get what they want, every symptom listed on The Mayo Clinic symptom list is accompanied by a painful memory for me.

There’s no way to go into every single thing that I went through with her, but it has caused at least two therapists to cry when I spoke of them — and the list is looong. For the moment, let’s focus on her taking advantage of my godfather. They had been friends for over 30 years at the point in which we had both offered a place to stay. My offer came with a caveat: find a job and move out in three months. He had always been far more lenient with her than any stretch of sensible thinking could account for. He said similar, but she knew he wouldn’t hold to it. He offered her six months, I think. She stayed 18 months. He didn’t offer her rides wherever she wanted to go, but she told me she knew he would do it, and I wouldn’t. And I didn’t think that was fair to a man who had been more a father to me than my own.

After she made me, my brother, his partner, my partner, and whoever else she could rope into it do all the moving to his house, I was done. I hated what she was doing to him. I hated what she was doing to us. I hated what she made us do our whole lives. She was the only person who mattered, and I was sick of it finally. Weeks before, while packing, she decided to downsize her belongings. During this exodus, she gave me our family’s photo albums. They had the distinct smell of 80’s photographs that cannot be replicated. There’s a zhing and clack that came with adding a plastic-sheeted page that feels like memory. I was happy to take them and show my partner my life. When I finally put my foot down and refused to have her in my life any longer, I had “stole” the photo albums. She hadn’t given them to me, I had borrowed them. It was whip-fast how quickly the entirety of everyone I had ever known turned on me. My godfather messaged me regularly asking insistently for the photo albums back. His position after having stood up for him puzzled me until I began on the long journey of realization of everything she had done. When all was said and done, I returned her photo albums, minus every picture of me there was.

Since the day that I stopped talking to her, I’ve had a strained relationship with most of my family. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t great before, but it was worse for a long time. My godfather also stopped speaking to me. My mom took a lot of effort to tell everyone how I had thrown a fit and cut her off. She tried to ruin Easter at my brother’s 7 months later by crying loudly and making others comfort her. I was 6 months pregnant with my son, who she saw only once when he was five. She corralled people at my nephew’s 8th birthday into a story about how cruel I had been in stealing her things (meaning pictures of me). I know she did because she was loudly telling it so I would hear. At my brother’s wedding, after 6 years without contact, she laughed at me bending over. She told everyone of how I had turned everyone against her (meaning my brother because he invited me to the wedding). I’ve said almost nothing to my brother about her over the years, mind you. This was entirely the story she had to tell herself because I had a boundary.

It took a very long time to unspool all the damage she had done to me. I know that without having done so, I never would have gone to UCI. I never would have pursued being a writer. I would have been exactly who she said I was because she “knew me better than I knew myself” and I was “hard to love.” THESE ARE ABUSE STATEMENTS. The shit part is, they still slink through my head like a venomous snake. They are always ready to come back at any moment of weakness. But I really had to steal every moment of my life from her. It started with the pictures, which now have become reframed memories. I see a picture of the fudge she used to make at Christmas, but instead of attaching her to the memory, with all her poison, I think about sharing that fudge with my best friend. I see a picture of me at five in our matching witch costumes, and I instead see proof that I’ve always been spooky. Every day, I get to steal back more of my life, and even create a whole lot beyond her.

--

--

Dee Richards

Dee is a neurodiverse writer in SoCal with 3 awards in CNF & 13 pubs in many genres. Subjects: feminism, identity theory, media criticism, personal narrative.