Updated: Apr 6
REDEMPTION IN RICHMOND
A Memoir of Resilience in the Face of Extreme Adversity
by Todd Carl
The journey this book has taken me on began in the Spring of 2016. Since that time, several additional events – events beyond the pages to follow – have taken place. The majority of them have left me with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. A few of them left me feeling sad and empty inside. But there is only one event so inconceivable, so over-the-top reprehensible and tragic that I’ve yet to find words that could adequately describe my never-ending angst. With that in mind, my inner circle of friends and ‘family of choice’ were adamant that I include the description of that event upfront so that this book legitimately embodies the appropriate synopsis, “If he went through all that and lived to talk about it, then maybe, just maybe, I can too.”
This memoir is a unique tale about a small town boy unknowingly predisposed to wanderlust, who was overly anxious to grow up, leave the family nest and finally turn his childhood dreams into reality – dreams that his siblings and father deemed fantasy and unobtainable. A husky young kid with crooked teeth who grew into his looks and unexpectedly become the ‘swan of lore.’ A boy who would unwittingly become the unofficial keeper of family secrets, several of them rather dark in nature. The kind of secrets his siblings, father, and one historically violent, unhinged aunt have strived for decades to prevent him, extended family members and the general public from ever finding out.
This book – a complex, multifaceted tell-all – was not written to dignify or glorify their or anyone else’s bad behavior. Instead, I wrote it with the intent of celebrating the resiliency of the human spirit – mine, and millions of others like me. To that extent, the consistent themes woven throughout the pages to follow are meant to inspire, encourage, entertain, educate and ultimately compel everyone to self-evaluate.
To begin with, I was born with a rare, intestinal birth defect and I’ve weathered five heart surgeries and congestive heart failure, all before the age of 49. I’ve endured three car accidents. I’ve been attacked or assaulted – both physically and sexually – more than 10 times, by men and women alike. As a result of all that (and more), I now live every day of my life with an uninvited, annoying, psychological houseguest that refuses to leave: PTSD, a.k.a., Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And if all that isn’t enough to erode the strongest of constitutions, add to that list one more daily challenge: I live – albeit quite successfully – with the societal-polarizing illness of bipolar disorder.
As a Christian (who happens to be gay as well), I’ve experienced the insane, psychologically damaging and spiritually untethered ritual of ‘conversion therapy’ in three different churches, in three different states. On that note, I present this disclaimer: Anyone who is gay is not capable of realistically changing their sexual preference and sexual orientation any more than a giraffe is capable of wanting to change themselves into becoming a hippopotamus. Conversion therapy is a disturbing, spiritual form of brainwashing that is reckless, dangerous and according to many documented and undocumented cases, deadly. Please Google and discover the fate of Exodus International, a former conversion therapy organization I naively aligned myself with at various intervals throughout my life. Thankfully, they are now defunct!
Everything I’ve written about will occur either naturally, by personal choices, vocations, genetics or just dumb luck throughout a person’s life. Then there are certain events, violent or salacious in nature – detestable things no one should ever have to endure – that are often perpetrated against the innocent by those who are old enough to know better. In my case, there were two adult male friends of my oldest brother. One, a beloved middle school teacher and fellow church parishioner, and the other, a self-professed missionary. Add to that a female coworker, certain family members and more.
I’ve fought like hell my entire life to prevent such incidents from becoming the recurring norm. But there remains one incident I’ve not been able to overcome…yet. However, I still believe that nothing is impossible with faith, perseverance and the right frame of mind.
When people write memoirs, sometimes there is no easy way to say certain things without upsetting or offending somebody, somewhere. But the very thought of lying, embellishing or varnishing the truth in order to appease everyone is a personal affront. As a result, I’ve tried to avoid [at all cost] flimsy, vanilla narratives and the very people who crave and propagate such. Facts are facts. Evidence is evidence. They go hand in hand.
The aforementioned events of my life are just a prelude of what’s to come in this memoir. Moreover, I'm not telling you these things to try to shock or impress you, but to let you know I can truly sympathize and empathize with a broad cross section of the world’s population, given the innumerable challenges I’ve endured and overcome throughout my life.
The reprehensible event I alluded to earlier – the one event for which there is no recovery, only coerced acceptance – took place September 22nd, 2020. That event – a deeply penetrating pain – is unlike anything I’ve previously encountered. As a result, a part of me has simply died. Then again, given my track record of inexplicable resiliency – me, the bipolar, gay, cardiac-challenged guy with an unorthodox faith in God – remains hopeful that this “Mount Everest challenge” is not completely insurmountable.
At some point in everyone’s life, our parents will pass away. That is a fact. But on September 22nd, 2020, at 5:43 PM, a 17-seconds long voicemail set in motion a chain of events that nearly destroyed my faith in humanity, and worse yet, God.
A young, mystery woman named Chantal left a voicemail for me, urging me to return her call as soon as possible. Granted, no one is ever truly prepared to hear the news their parent just passed away. Then again, how many people have ever experienced sibling rivalry and jealousy on a scale so epic and dark that would cause a brother – a bible college graduate and former ordained minister – to enlist the help of a complete stranger to inform his youngest sibling that his mother died…six days earlier? To add further insult to injury, I found out within 30 minutes that everybody else – my three siblings and every family member across the country – received their “we’re sorry to inform you” calls within 24 hours of Mom’s death.
After listening to her voicemail, I returned Chantal’s call immediately. She told me my oldest brother gave her the task of informing me our mother passed away – again, one week after the fact. The following are her words:
“I’m sorry to inform you that Yvonne passed away last week. Your brother gave me your phone number and told me ‘Here’s my brother’s phone number. Call him and tell him his mother died!’ I’ve tried calling you several times.”
Understandably rattled, I still had the presence of mind to ask why I was first being notified one week later. Sadly, the young woman didn’t realize (nor did my brother) that I’m not the gullible person they mistook me for. I didn’t accept their deceit at face value. As such, my instincts told me to perform my due diligence and dig a little deeper for answers. What I found was a mystery that is so dark, I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around it. It’s an event that still defies explanation.
Chantal – in her ignorance and naivety – tried her best to make me believe her by saying “I tried calling you several times, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to leave a voicemail with this kind of news.” (I pulled my Verizon call records just in case she was lying – of course, she was. The records proved unequivocally that she only called once – that very day, to be exact.)
Upon further investigation, I was informed that my brother directed the hospital where Mom died (10 minutes from my home) to transport her body to the funeral home of his choice (23 miles from my home) and issued them a “direct to cremation” order. In essence, he was doing everything within his power to quickly dispose of the evidence (e.g., why were Mom’s hands and forearms inexplicably swollen beyond recognition) to try to prevent me from ever seeing my mother’s body, let alone ever finding out the entire truth about her illness and the timeline of events that led up to her death.
What precipitated her death so quickly? Why did Chantal lie about calling me several times? What really took place during those mysterious, unaccounted-for 10 hours between the time of her arrival at her doctor’s office, then the hospital E.R. (all via my brother’s car), and her last breath? The most baffling fact of all? Why didn’t the nurses at Mom’s assisted living facility follow emergency protocol and dial 911 and request an ambulance to transport her to the hospital, knowing she was so gravely ill? But the one thing that continues to haunt me is the conversation I had with Chantal. Specifically, the portion of that conversation where she said, “A couple weeks before she died, her right hand became swollen and she complained of pain. Then her right forearm began to swell, and then her left forearm swelled shortly thereafter.” Unknowingly, Chantal admitted to me that Mom was basically allowed to suffer inhumanely for two weeks without any emergency medical intervention.
I placed a strategic call to the vice-president of the funeral home company where I knew Mom was taken. With his empathetic assistance and some much-needed divine intervention, my brother’s best-laid plans were thwarted, unraveled, and the truth – most of it anyway – was finally revealed.
The bewildered funeral home VP, upon his investigation, called me two hours later to inform me that, for some inexplicable reason, Mom’s body had not yet been cremated – something my brother instructed them to do several days earlier! Who says miracles don’t exist? And as any honorable person in his position would do, he immediately removed every obstacle from my path (e.g., his insolent staff and my brother’s directive) and made my mother’s body available for me to view in less than 24 hours of our conversation. Sadly, there is one aspect of Mom’s death which sickens me and defies forgiveness: my siblings’ unabashed hatred for Mom and their ultimate refusal to submit even the most basic obituary to the press on her behalf; something they did for our father five years earlier. Their hatred and resentment for her during her final years was never veiled, as evidenced by texts, pictures, poison pen letters and discussions via telephone and in person.
A lawyer I contacted, whose credentials are numerous and impressive enough that the state of Virginia has referred to him as a Super Lawyer, told me, “Filing a case against your brother, despite the evidence you have, would be very costly and ultimately not worth our time. The legal profession, I’m sorry to admit, is not always about truth and justice. It’s all about the bottom line. I’m sorry for your loss, but that’s just the way it is.” I was then, and still am, in a state of shock. Before ending our conversation, though, he made it a point to pound one final nail into the coffin of my pain with this remark, “Yours is the worst case of family dysfunction I’ve ever heard!”
After reading all that, you’ll probably find it difficult to believe that the real inspiration behind this book was actually the very dysfunctional, abusive, love/hate relationship between my father and I. In hindsight, I’m convinced that his death in 2015 was far more than the culmination of my lifelong quest for redemption. Instead, I now believe his death unintentionally played a crucial role in fortifying my psyche and my faith in order to prepare me for future upheavals that were yet to come.
Yes, writing this book was always about self-healing and inspiration for the masses. What it is not is vainglorious. And at this point, I have to emphasize it is my hope and overall desire that my story encourages and inspires everyone to never allow the weight of your circumstances to break you or cause you to give in to defeat. We’re all stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I’ve often mused about the way people fight harder for a promotion at work instead of fighting for their God given right to be acknowledged and respected as a human being! Just some food for thought.
I used to wonder “Why are these things happening?” Well, it’s never wrong to question someone or something. Questions are how we learn. But questions also require courage. And tapping into that courage may sometimes require one brave person with enough experience to step forward and lead by example. I hope my story serves as that example, but in an informative, entertaining, intriguing and most of all, inspiring way.
Part of this book – initially written as a legacy for my “family of choice” – was designed to be a cautionary tale of the dangers and consequences of discrimination, bullying, and abuse. I sincerely wish that every reader will reevaluate their lives, consciences, and potential prejudices they may have toward people whom society categorizes as different or undesirable.
Historians are increasingly lamenting how society is breaking down when it comes to how we interact with each other. The human spirit was never intended to be abused, bent, or broken, but it has an incredible ability to overcome.
It’s never too late for redemption.
No matter who you are – young or old, male or female, rich or poor, religious or irreligious, and despite ethnicity or sexual orientation – there is hope. “Healing is the offspring of courage.” No matter what anyone has done to you, is doing to you, or will do to you, self-love is the key to living a fulfilled life.
Fortunately, we now live in a time when people are stepping forth from the shadows, pulling back their veils of fear and courageously saying “Enough!”
People who’ve been victims for years – or in my case, decades – are finally being given long overdue recognition as people who “have value,” but more importantly, “add value” to society. And the mindset of “that’s just the way things were” is fast becoming a very distant memory, albeit a painful and dark memory for some. In a profound way, the voices of few are forever changing the landscape of society…for the better.
A well-known psychotherapist once asked me, “How are you alive?”
When I answered, “I don’t know”, he replied “I know. You’re alive because your will to live is stronger than your desire to die!”
He was right. And because of Dr. Donnie Conner, I received the gift of “permission” to start the process of letting go of the past, which in turn has freed me from a nearly lifelong prison of self-loathing. I no longer fear the past, or the present. And for the first time in a very long time, I’m excited about the future and the possibilities that lie ahead.
An age-old adage, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery. But today is a gift, that’s why it’s called The Present!” has now become my mantra!
I chose to end each chapter of this book with lyrics to a song; a song I felt best summarized that chapter’s subject matter. And now, I’d like to conclude this introduction the same way with some timely lyrics, taken from the famous song ‘Pure Imagination,’ from the iconic motion picture, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
“Come with me and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see, into your imagination
We’ll begin with a spin, travelling in the world of my creation
What you’ll see will defy, explanation…”