Updated: Sep 18, 2019
REDEMPTION IN RICHMOND
We Shall Not Fight Our Battles Alone
by Todd Carl
This is going to be one of those books that will make you stop and think: If he went through all that and lived to tell about it, then maybe I can too.
Though I was born with many natural talents, so-called good looks, and an uncommon appreciation for the finer things in life (which would prove especially useful during my adulthood spent interacting with the rich, the powerful and the celebrated while working in the world of high-end jewelry), I was also born with a rare birth defect, I’ve weathered five heart surgeries, I’ve been involved in three car accidents, I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and…I am bipolar. I’ve survived the depravity of racial discrimination, sexual-orientation discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, physical and sexual violence (more than ten physical and sexual assaults perpetrated by both men and women), and mental illness discrimination. Some of these acts I’ve endured at the hands of strangers—others, at the hands of those who were supposed to protect me. People of faith. Members of my family.
I’ve tried to kill myself three times.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back took place on Tuesday morning, April 19th, 2016, at 9:42am. My oldest brother, a former ordained minister, intentionally phoned in a false, cruel and utterly damaging complaint to the Hanover County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Department. The official, verbatim, phoned-in complaint reads in part: NEED OFFICER TO KEEP – MEETING BROTHER TODD, WHO IS BI-POLAR TO EXCHANGE MOTHER AND WOULD LIKE “LE” THERE, DUE TO TENSE COMMUNICATIONS. BROTHER WAS GIVEN A KNIFE FOR CHRISTMAS, UNSURE IF HE HAS IT ON HIM…
A form of hate crime born of amorality and jealousy. A witnessed and unprovoked event leaving many around me struggling to understand his motive. A poorly-thought-out act with grave implications.
The death of my father, another life-altering event, pushed me to the brink, but ended up being the very catalyst that saved my life and brought an end to my lifelong quest for redemption.
This story, my story, is meant to do two things. First, to help inspire and encourage everyone to never consider throwing in the towel, in particular, those in desperate search of answers to questions I most likely asked myself throughout my life, the most obvious being “Why are these things happening?” At the risk of sounding trite, let me state emphatically…It’s never wrong to question someone or something. Questions are how we learn and how we grow. But questions 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 does exactly that, and not just in an informative way, but in an entertaining way as well. And second, this book, (initially written as a legacy for my “family of choice") is a cautionary tale of the dangers and consequences of discrimination, bullying, and abuse. My sincerest wish is that every reader of this book reevaluates their lives, consciences, and potential prejudices they might 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 wasn’t intended to be abused, bent, or broken, but it has an incredible ability to overcome.
It’s never too late for redemption.
My story, my life, has been extraordinary, that is true. And I am thankful for every aspect of it…the good, the bad and the shocking. But speaking from experience, I also know there are countless faces in a sea of humanity who matter, who have real names and identities…people who’ve also been through many things they believe few other people, if any, can understand as well. No matter who you are, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, disabled or challenged, religious or irreligious, and regardless of your ethnicity, 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 can overcome all of it.
Fortunately, we live in a time when people are speaking up and speaking out. People worldwide are stepping forth from the shadows, pulling back their veils of fear (veils which many of us have, but few are able to admit), protesting, “Enough!” People who’ve been victims for years – or in my case, decades – of various forms of abuse, are finally being given long overdue recognition as people who “have value”, but more importantly, “add value” to society. Hearts and consciences around the world have been pierced to such an extent, 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.
Decades-old secrets are being exposed overnight, though other secrets and “obstacles” are proving more difficult to the extent, removing them from our paths will require additional courage, determination and time, despite the extraordinary progress that’s already been made. In a profound way, the voices of few are forever changing the lives of many…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” that prompted me to finally begin the process of letting go of the past, which in turn allowed me to free myself from a virtual 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 am finding myself dreaming of a future once again. An 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!
All things are possible.
This book – my memoir – is my gift to you. May you discover something (or several things) within its pages that move and inspire you enough to share the very description of your inspiration or epiphany with anyone you feel may benefit from it.
“He’ll battle no more
’Cause he’s won his wars
Make sure heaven’s table
Has room for at least one more . . .”
from “Another Soldier’s Coming Home” by Janet Paschal
My father is being inducted into Arlington National Cemetery. Directly in front of me, his flag-draped urn is surrounded by several unflappable navy sailors. In the near distance stands the honor guard preparing to fire three volleys from rifles, commonly referred to as a 21-gun salute. To my left stands a bugler prepared to close the ceremony by sounding taps, and off to my right stand two of our nation’s most iconic and instantly recognizable structures that serve as symbols of who we are as Americans—the Pentagon and the Washington Monument. It is truly a beautiful day, but a solemn one.
Dad died six months ago. But, here we are.
My brother Randy told everyone there was no need for my mother to be here. The precious 80-year-old matriarch of our family, who stands approximately 5 feet 4 inches and continues to shrink from the ravaging effects of osteoporosis, is conspicuously absent from one of our most important family gatherings. Randy says her dementia would not allow for her to understand that my eighty-eight-year-old father is being cremated. She was married to the man for nearly sixty-three years, yet an inurnment vs. interment is going to determine how she handles “till death do us part”?
The morning our father passed away, it was me—not my siblings—whom God entrusted to lovingly but carefully inform our mother that her husband had gone home to meet his maker. My mom—my best friend—collapsed in my arms. I took on the full weight of her grief. And I would do it again. Her pain was mine.
Growing up it became obvious that Dad saw our mother/son bond as evidence that my siblings were right all along. I was prime material for any form of character assassination my brothers and sister deemed true. Mocking me and everything I stood for was a favorite pastime that evolved into family lore. Their unceasing, malevolent bombardment of Dad with erroneous intel and specious rumors about me influenced him in such a way that it became clear to me that my lifelong battle with trust issues could be traced to many childhood encounters with “Dad and his platoon.”
My father was the most tortured man I knew, yet we were so very much alike. Our father/son story was the messy “owner’s manual” I carried with me on my never-ending quest for love and acceptance from this man who seemed as guarded as he was vulnerable. A man whose mere presence made a person know immediately when to approach him and when to retreat.
Now that he is no longer with us, I have tears I may not be able to control—not entirely for Dad, but for Mom as well. Because of my siblings always claiming to know what’s best, I now have to miss both my parents at the same time in this moment. Two sweet souls, both of whom have battled dementia for the last several years. Two sweet souls who became my “kids” while I provided care and protection for them 24/7 for nearly 4 ½ years. Two sweet souls who witnessed a dark, callous, and particularly vicious attack against me perpetrated by these three lunatics, who nearly succeeded in causing me to have a heart attack (documented by my local hospital, no less!) a mere one and a half months after undergoing open-heart surgery—my fifth and most serious heart surgery to date. Two sweet souls who, after witnessing this inexplicable, unprovoked event, had no memory of it later that day. Thank God for memory loss at that moment, as it served to protect these two sweet souls from developing PTSD, something I’ve struggled with since 1988, after surviving a violent physical attack while living in Chicago.
But now, off to my right, sit three siblings looking so piously smug, while their titles of “co-powers of attorney” rest invisibly (albeit cockeyed) atop their heads, like battered crowns of exiled, disillusioned royalty. There’s Randy, the former ordained minister with a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Columbia Bible College, who has shockingly announced (in front of Mom, no less): “That woman means nothing to me!”
Alongside him sits his wife, Brenda. A person who, over the course of nearly four decades, has treated Mom with enough disdain that it recently prompted my mother, in her current state of dementia, to refer to this daughter-in-law as, “That overgrown moose!” (Way to go, Mom! Dad would have been so proud of you!) And lastly, there’s my sister Rene. A woman who, only a few short months after our father’s death, standing in front of Mom and me in the very apartment that Mom shared with my late father within the walls of an assisted-living facility, pointed at our mother and said, “That woman hates me!”
Honestly, if she spoke to me like that, I’d hate her too!
Noticeably missing from the fray, is my absentee brother Terry, a police officer I recently discovered—upon participating in several seemingly innocuous discussions with fellow churchgoers from my African-American church, as well as an NAACP chapter president from Brookfield, Wisconsin—may have the alleged sickening label of “racial profiler” added to his vocational list of accomplishments back in the greater metropolitan Milwaukee area of Wisconsin.
Growing up with siblings like these, enduring their unabated whining and sniveling mantra of “Mom and Dad loved you more than us” was tough, I admit. Their incessant complaining could prompt the Devil himself to consider undergoing psychotherapy, along with a regimen of psychotropic drugs.
A sly smirk of amusement crosses my face in the cemetery as one of Dad’s sayings—a “Dad-ism,” if you will—appropriately comes to mind: “I’ll see you in the spring if I get through the mattress!”
Yep. Dad’s here. That’s his unforgettable voice.
I can hear him and I can feel him. It’s ironic, actually, I can’t look up right now because if he somehow managed to return from the dead, watching me from a chair three rows behind, I might really lose it. And if I start with the laugh/cry outburst right now, I might scare my friend John, who made sure to be here as a loving gesture of support for me. John is the newest member of my family of choice.
I know, I’ll focus on the sailor to my left playing taps.
Ba Ba Baaaaa. Ba Ba Baaaaa . . .
Those single notes really bring on the mourn.
Dad, you really loved me. And, out of the four of us, sometimes it felt like a weird, twisted love for only me. I’m going to miss you, Dad.
When John nudged my arm a moment ago, for a second I thought it was because my thoughts went vocal as the music stopped. As it turns out, the nudge wasn’t intended for that reason. Instead, John wanted me to direct my attention to Dad’s flag being folded and then handed ever-so-gently and lovingly to Randy.
How is it I’m not allowed to partake in this consoling gesture? Me, the one who spent the most amount time with him and Mom over a lifespan of fifty-three years (by choice as well as necessity)––more than all the siblings combined? The faithful son who cared for both parents for four years without any help or financial assistance from this brood of vipers. The prodigal son who returned home, dying from right-sided congestive heart failure, all the while being ignored by this group of three to my right.
I manage to snap out of my inner turmoil of contempt versus hate in time to remind myself that this is Dad’s moment, not mine!
The five of us pile into a rented Suburban that my dear friend John paid for and leave the cemetery. Since John is not related by blood, now would be the perfect time to thank him in the form of remuneration from my parents’ trust fund for leasing the vehicle, paying for the gas, taking us to dinner, and purchasing the ceremonial wreath.
No, not this group of superficial, evangelicals. Even though Dad passed away the morning of Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, and his remains were kept in storage until today, six months later on October 6, 2015. Surely, six months would be ample time to extract funds from the trust, presided over by my brother and sister, for such an important day. A fund established, ironically, to cover such costs since my parents said they never wanted to be a burden to their children.
Dad, I envy you. Your worries and concerns in this life have finally ended.
Sitting behind the wheel, navigating the joyless ride of my “leftover family,” my thoughts turn to Mom, who can’t love me out of this. Then my thoughts shift to Dad, who I’ll probably end up blaming for all this. But anything would be better than the darkness of a lifetime of nightmares that relentlessly taunt and seductively encourage me to just “give in” and finally grab hold of that inner peace I’ve searched for all my life.
Only this time, that peace may come in the form of a razor-sharp pocket knife, a few strategically placed slashes, and a bathtub of hot water. Only this time, not even my friend John will find me until it’s too late. My conscience, however, immediately reminds me Mom needs me now more than ever, and taking my life would be abhorrently selfish. This inner turmoil is more than I can bear. Please God, if you’re really out there and observing, I need your help!
Another Soldier’s Coming Home
artist, Janet Paschal
lyrics by Janet Paschal
Strike up the band
Assemble the choir Another soldier's comin’ home Another warrior hears the call He’s waited for so long He’ll battle no more ’Cause he’s won his wars Make sure heaven’s table Has room for at least one more Sing a welcome song Another soldier’s comin’ home His back is bent and weary His voice is tired and low His sword is worn from battle And his steps have gotten slow But he used to walk on water Or it seemed that way to me I know he moved some mountains And never left his knees
He faced the winds of sorrow But his heart knew no retreat He walked in narrow places Knowing Christ knew no defeat But now his steps turn homeward So much closer to the prize He’s sounding kind of homesick There’s a longing in his eyes
Strike up the band
Assemble the choir Another soldier's comin’ home Another warrior hears the call He’s waited for so long He’ll battle no more ’Cause he’s won his wars Make sure heaven’s table Has room for at least one more Sing a welcome song Another soldier’s comin’ home