Bite Size Memoir: Crazy

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 20, 2014

Bite Size Memoir for Carrot RanchSeveral years ago I was accused of writing a letter that was mass-distributed to neighbors in a rural district where my father’s parents live. It was about them being pedophiles. Which is true. But I didn’t write the letter.

I made my escape decades ago. You might think me crazy for the amount of therapy I’ve slogged through as a survivor of incest. It’s a disgusting word and I wish it wasn’t a part of my vocabulary. I’ve learned that the healthiest members of such generational sickness are the ones who seek help. Few do.

Instead it comes out in skewed ways. Most likely the letter was written in retaliation from another family member. They’re seriously enmeshed; the generations live in close proximity and they constantly bicker and war over familial power. I moved away. Twice. The first time they drug me back “home.”

The second time they knew I was dangerous—I wasn’t afraid of them anymore. I spoke out.

It took years to heal, lots of therapy, taking parenting classes, building a nucleus of trust within my own family with a supportive spouse and children who grew up without knowing my messed-up relatives. I grieved. Escape is lonely. The “family” protects the abusers.

Crazy, I know.

So, when Lisa Reiter prompted us with her clever Trekkie memoir about a time that was crazy for her, I couldn’t think of anything else but this stupid letter I didn’t write, and me and my cousin getting blamed for it. I wanted a funny story, a light story, but crazy is heavy word on my shoulders.

The good that came out of the letter incident is that it reunited me with my cousin who shared in childhood horrors. She had been blackmailed into staying silent and it broke my heart when she told me that she had to stay away from me after I got out. You leave and they shut the door on you. You have living family, but they are neither loving nor caring. You have parents that breathe but are dead to you. They protect the lies and do everything to discredit you. They tell everyone that you are the crazy one.

It’s beyond crazy and no wonder few make it out.

The letter was my cousin’s ticket to freedom. Because they thought she conspired with me, they let her go. With her own children, she escaped. Years later, she’s now happily married, ranching in eastern Montana and has support. She’s officially listed as crazy. And that’s the sanest place to be where we come from.

Crazy Cousins by Charli Mills

We’re like orphans, clinging to each other for support. My parents refuse to speak to me after we reunited, and her mother disowned her after the letter accusation. Yet they have no problem chatting with the pedophiles that walked us across brimstone as children.

My cousin and I have no family. Neither one of us will return to crazy-making. Bribes of horses no longer work on me. Blackmail no longer ties her. We have boundaries.

She sat in my kitchen a few months ago with her Montana rancher who believes she’s not crazy. We swapped stories as only cousins can do.

“He used to give me silver dollars afterwards,” I told her.

She nodded, and then a huge grin spread across her face. I got the feeling she was going to one-up me. “He used to give me two-dollar bills.”

We laughed uproariously. We survived. And we share this craziness.

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  1. lucciagray

    Trully heartbreaking, except for the fact that you survived well enough to be able to look back without anger and see the only good that came of it: your relationship with your cousin. Thank you for sharing, and I don’t think you’re crazy at all, you’re a corageous survivor???

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Luccia. I was reading today about contentment and happiness and although we pursue the latter we need the foundation of contentment first. Our attitude and choices lead to the inner work of that foundation. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. TanGental

    I read this open mouthed. Somewhere back in the 1890s a great grandparent of mine had a daughter by his eldest daughter and it was ‘adopted’ as his own. That abuse feels like what it should be – history not something so close and personal though I know it stil happens. To live with the moment, not to know it as a story but the continuum of one’s life feels like a mind bending horror and yet there’s still humour, lightness of touch and, heavens, almost empathy in what you say, Charli. What you say about giving up the sanctuary of family, however twisted it might be, is so true. Freedom comes at a price which makes you must make you wonder what sort of freedom it is. It may not seem that way to you, the person living the story; but to me, on the outside and afforded this glimpse within it is clear it takes real guts to do what you and your Cuz have done. And to post about it. One big Blug (blog hug) from South London is on its way.

    • Charli Mills

      I woke up this morning thinking, oh, why did I post that? I honestly toyed with just sending it privately to Lisa. The prompt compelled me, but I sat on the post until last night and decided that I choose what to write (or not) and what to post (or not). Part of breaking the silence is that one has to say it out loud. So I posted. And when I saw (and read) the first five comments this morning, I was overwhelmed but in a good way. It takes courage to comment on something like this, too! And yes, it does seem like something that should exist in history, but it’s a very complex dynamic. Sometimes there are isolated incidents (as with an ancestor) and other times it creates an enmeshed cycle of behaviors. From the outside looking in, it’s almost fascinating–that these behaviors are text-book. Of course, being caught up in the dynamic is crazy-making. I’ve long learned to get over being threatened, called a liar, told that I suffer “delusions” or endure my husband getting slandered. Freedom does come with the price of giving up a family of origin. I grieved a long time ago for that, but as you’ve said before, grief never truly goes away. For years I appeased that natural desire for family by researching the Hub’s genealogy. His family is somewhat distant, but caring and certainly not crazy. His family tree is fabulous and one day I worked up the courage to look into mine. Yes, crazy comes from crazy. But really, it’s only a few broken branches. My maternal family is much, much better but my father’s family isolated us from them so I didn’t make connections until I was older and really wished I could have known my maternal grandparents better. My grandfather was a writer and we did connect before he died. He left me his unpublished works and all his research on Cob McCanles. So you see, this does come around full circle and into better things. Thanks you for reading, commenting and for the Blug from South London.

  3. Annecdotist

    It’s one hell of a journey from the craziness of an abusive family to the discovery of genuine humour within the experience. You can’t force it, but it seems to me that that’s where true liberation lies. Reading your memoir, I could sense the excitement of that discovery towards the end, although I’m wondering if for you, as for me as the reader, it took you by surprise. Humour doesn’t wipe out the horror of what happened, but it deliciously illustrates your strength in having said no to its continuation. Now, that’s a real hero’s journey!!

    • Charli Mills

      It has been, and thank you for catching the humor. I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually see that. When I read the prompt, I just couldn’t stop thinking about me and my cousin. It felt like going into high seas and then laughing at the storm in a moment of triumph. I think every moment of breaking the silence is, in a way, victory. I’ve never really liked the word survivor, loathe the word victim and would prefer something like Gladiator. I feel warrior-like when I take on the memories that bubble up, and now you know why the hero’s journey takes on so much meaning for me. I believe in overcoming circumstances with attitude, learning, choice…and laughter! Thanks for reading and commenting on this post, Anne.

      • Annecdotist

        No, I was really struck by the laughter, perhaps because the background stuff I’d kind of guessed from the stuff you’d said. But I was also wondering why it resonated so strongly for me: I felt I might have had a similar experience but couldn’t bring it to mind. Just now I remembered that there is a very similar scene towards the end of my novel. Don’t want to say more in case it’s a spoiler, and the backstory is very different, but obviously I’m tuned into the idea of transforming trauma into laughter.

      • Charli Mills

        For multiple reasons now, I await the eventual publication of your book.

  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    That took real courage to write and escaping and surviving took a similar courage also. There was a period when I worked in Intensive Care that almost all our admissions over a long period were people who had been abused as children. I couldn’t believe how common it is in our society for this kind of abuse to occur. I can remember going home to visit my parents and thanking my father for not having done what in the world I was living in seemed to be more the norm than otherwise. Unlike you Charli these people didn’t survive the abuse of trust their elders inflicted on them. It takes a strong will not to let the craziness that surely must be the result consume you. Instead you can see the craziness of the people who should have protected you. I’m so glad you and your cousin escaped, I’m so glad you survived (and I know how difficult that must have been), I’m so glad you found a loving partner and your parenting took a different route to that of your own parents and I appreciate you sharing this with us. I too am sending a Blug but from the sunshine coast. That means it has extra warmth.

    • Charli Mills

      Wow, Irene, you were really brave and compassionate to work in an Intensive Unit like that. The Hub has often joked with me that when he feels frustrated about his parents, he just thinks about my family! He would understand your gratitude toward your father. I would think that one might burn out quickly as a healthcare provider in such a situation, or at least need breaks to rejuvenate and know the whole world isn’t that crazy. I’m sad for those who don’t survive, but also frustrated by those who choose denial. At some point I actually became interested in how the mind works, how behaviors cycle, that it’s really about issues of power and control. Part of my attraction to writing fiction is the ability to explore these ideas without having to be in them. I also get to launch the hero’s journey and create characters that figure out how to overcome their circumstances. Maybe that will get boring after a while, or maybe that will be my signature style of noveling. I always believe there is a way out. It’s about choices and living with those choices. And, it helps tremendously to have a partner like the Hub and to see that there are different ways to parent and live. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience in your comments and especially for the sunny Blug!

  5. Sherri

    Dear Charli, your courage and bravery in posting this leaves me heart-broken that you should have suffered such betrayal at the hand of your family. The shame, the secrecy, the lies, the manipulation, the utter depravity and sickness of it all. Thank God you walked away. And you are right – the minute you showed them you were not afraid of them any longer you won my friend. You broke the power they thought they had over you.
    ‘It was at these times that she knew her life would never be the same, from the time of that very first betrayal. Yet she knew she would survive.’ From my last post to you…with huge hugs from across the sea and in all that is good in the world for you… <3 xx

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Sherri! It’s been uplifting reading these supportive comments. The ugliness thrives in the secrecy, so I’m glad I chose to hit post. I questioned my sanity upon waking up this morning, though! It is about power, and learning empowerment. I see that empowerment more overt in memoir, but it is there in fiction, too. And your lines echo the duality of betrayal and survival, or as I said to Anne, being a warrior. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting. Accepting your huge hug across the sea and sending one in return!

      • Sherri

        Empowerment it is…and you were right to post this. Feeling that hug too…thank you my friend 🙂

  6. Lisa Reiter

    Dearest Charli, strong, inspirational and empowered Charli.. Thank you for sharing this. You are beyond crazy, you and your cousin and I’m relieved (whilst also horrified there’s more than one of you) to think you can share this with each other. I agree with Anne and believe finding and sharing humour between you cousins seems liberating and emancipating.
    And sharing it here – with everyone else – removes their old power over you entirely. I know it’s been gone a good while but other readers may draw strength that there are other happier places to have and replace that kind of family. Your survivorship is a beacon of hope.
    Much love and a big (wrapped up in jumper) hug from my wet and windy hillside, Lisa ???? xx

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for providing this forum, Lisa. I think back to that first “bite” and hesitating about memoir and what it might invoke, but I’ve found it empowering. And when you prompted with “crazy” I sat on the response, ultimately deciding that I’d post it. Grateful for the support and hopefully, as you say, it might help other readers know there is a fantastic reward in living empowered. It doesn’t change anybody but you; it doesn’t erase the past or promise a golden future; it means not living in the shadow of someone else’s unhealthy control. And yes, I’m grateful to have a cousin to share the emancipation with! Thanks for the hug from wet, windy and hilly England!

  7. Morgan Dragonwillow

    From one survivor to another, I’m glad you posted this, I’m glad you got out, and I’m glad you found the help you needed to have good boundaries. Sending you lots of love, light, and hugs.

    • Charli Mills

      Those boundaries are so important, aren’t they? Thank you for reading, Morgan and I’m glad you are out of your situation and working so tirelessly to empower others through embracing poetry. I’ve enjoyed your poetry in the evenings as your book sits at the arm of my rocking chair. Love, light and hugs to you, too!

  8. Sarah Brentyn

    I’ve read this but haven’t commented. So much has been said about the disturbing, disgusting, horror of this. So much has been said about your strength and courage. I wanted to leave a positive thought for you but my heart hurts. I hate that this happened to you. I guess I can leave you with the fact that I think you are an amazing woman and, yes, a strong, courageous person for getting the hell out of there and becoming a loving, nurturing, independent woman despite them. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah. I was lucky to find the strength to leave, to have support and encounter good people along the way. It gives me a grand appreciation of what matters in life! 🙂

  9. lorilschafer

    Well, Charli, I’ve been thinking since yesterday about how I wanted to respond to this. My instinct was to congratulate you on your bravery. But then I thought, wait – that’s horrible! Why should YOU have to be brave to admit that something terrible was done to you? That burden ought to be placed squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of the perpetrator and anyone who covered it up.

    But that’s exactly the way it is. The innocent are afraid to speak and the guilty go on. And the guilty will go on as long as the innocent are afraid to speak.

    So thank you for sharing. I’m glad you did. I suspect it’s been on your mind for a while, from little things you’ve said, though of course no one wants to pry. I hope it’s liberating. I hope it feels as if a burden has been lifted. I hope it feels like coming out of a very dark and dreary closet and finding friends waiting in the kitchen.

    But however it feels, know this. There’s no judgment here. You’re not among family; you’re among friends. With no reason to scorn or deny, with no self-interests to protect. With no ulterior motive except the desire to absorb, and perhaps relieve, some of your pain.

    And know this, too. For us, this changes nothing. It doesn’t define you for us any more than it does for you. You are not Charli Mills, unfortunate victim. You are Charli Mills, Novelist. Charli Mills, Rough Writer. Charli Mills, Born Buckaroo.

    And those are all pretty amazing people to be.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I suspect we both have enough distance between past experiences and present circumstances to write deliberately–when and how we choose.

      I once felt that the bravest act was leaving and staying away. Then I realized that it required bravery to withstand the campaign my father’s family launched to vindicate their patriarch. No kidding–after that letter hit mailboxes, another cousin held a huge country BBQ at his roping arena, inviting the entire neighborhood and hanging a banner that “honored” his grandfather. It’s those kinds of actions that make it so complex and hard for Joe Public to even understand what’s going on. Easier to blame the two “crazy cousins” not present in the ensuing melee.

      I think it becomes more about fortitude over time and not caring about the lies that might be circulating. Because those circulating them no longer have meaning in my life.

      As to those who cover it up, I was reminded of it as I read your precursor to your memoir. The school principal that once buddied around with you, then ignored you after your mother got a foothold in your school–that reflects the disquiet people have in the face of something hard to comprehend. Really, what can they do? I can come up with a full list of what they can do, but ultimately it means asking others to be uncomfortable. It’s easier for them to look the other way and diminish the issue.

      That’s why I confronted my daughter’s stalker, school and his family because they wanted me to simply accept that he was unbalanced. I wanted them to know that I’d protect my daughter from his behavior even if it meant exposing his mental disorder. Speaking out becomes the tool of empowerment, but this reception is not typical. As you state, there’s no need for protecting self-interests here, among friends. i’m grateful for that.

      Thanks for the big buckaroo boost, too! 🙂

  10. Amber Prince

    I think you might be one of the bravest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. To not only be able to break away from such a horrific place/experience/childhood/family, and grow into an adult who is so full of kindness,laughter and cheerful words, is incredible.
    It breaks my heart to think of you and your cousin as children, and any other children, having to not only endure such nightmares, but to not even have your own family to rely on to pull you out of the darkness.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, that took great courage in and of itself.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Amber. I’m glad I could raise my children away from that. It’s given me a different perspective on what’s important in life. And, I wish I were braver taking the dogs out at night! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  11. ChristineR

    Charli, I cannot really add anything that has not already been said. The whole thing strikes horror into my heart, and knowing that there are so many of these family predators in the world is sickening. Thank you for sharing. I pressed like because I appreciated your humour with your cousin at the end. I breathed a sigh of relief, that you could laugh together.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Christine! We could all get swept away with despair over the wrongs in this world, but that sweet spot of living is rising above it. And humor, for me, has been a step up.


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