Toxic Mother II: She Bears a Sixth Child, Peter, - - And Puts Him Through Living Hell.
I and my four younger siblings thought growing up in separate, ever-changing foster homes was hell -- and it was. But compared to what Peter Romanos went through, it was a walk in the park.
Peter, 64, is my brother, technically my half brother. We have the same toxic mother and different fathers. The five of us escaped our mother's full wrath through abandonment. Peter was not so lucky. He took a direct hit from a toxic mother of breathtaking cruelty.
This is Peter's story.
Warning: Some of the scenes described and the language quoted are graphic. Sorry. I believe in polite and tasteful language as much as anyone, but sometimes they can get in the way of the unvarnished truth -- which is the goal here. Peter's story is therefore not prettied up.
“The hurt is deep,” he said when I called him recently to ask him about his experience with our mother. And before long, he was pouring out, between tears, a long pent-up story of a toxic mother's horrendous abuse. He says he still has horrible flashbacks and cries in his sleep.
He spent days writing down long-suppressed memories and soon envelopes containing his hand-written pages began arriving in my mailbox. In between outpourings, he would write, “George, I can't do this. It hurts too much. What good is this going to do?”
Yet he kept going.
Along with his long handwritten pages, Peter sent a large number of old photographs. One of them was the photo of Peter and our mother, shown above. However, with the one he sent me, he had carefully cut himself out of it, leaving an empty outline.
He despised our mother so much he could not bear to see himself in a photograph with her, even if he had only seen one or two such photos. “I hate the memory of our mother,” he said. And as we talked and as I read page after page of his hand-written notes, I understood why.
After our father died in 1944 and she handed me and my four younger siblings over to foster care, our mother wasted little time in moving on. In that same year, she met Peter's father and they were soon married. Peter was born in Somerville, Mass on August 17, 1946.
I never knew that Peter even existed until he was a teenager and my sister Ruby and brothers Reggie and Victor visited him at his school. They are shown in the photo with Peter. Nor did he know that we existed. Our mother never told her new husband – Peter's father – that she had five children. She didn't say a word to Peter, either.
Our mother and Peter's father divorced after about six years. Soon after, on a hot summer day when Peter was seven, he was shipped out to a family in Lynn, Mass. The family was out of control, consumed by alcoholism and sexual deviance. Peter recalls that he was constantly told to run to a bar to ask the man to come home.
When the man came home drunk, he would beat his wife and then he would beat Peter. Afterwards, he “had bruises all over” and cried for his dad. He loved his dad. “My dad was my whole life,” Peter said. “My father was a proud man, a man of great respect. Everyone loved him.”
If so, why didn't Peter live with him? First, Peter said, our mother had legal custody. It pains Peter to admit the second reason. Although he says his father was kind, funny, generous and would take him out to eat, he was a gambler. A lifelong gambling addiction “brought him to his knees.”
Peter's father never had a regular job or settled life or home, Peter said. Most of the time he lived with his sister in Cambridge. If he did get lucky and get some money, it was quickly gone. But Peter knew that his father loved him and always did his best to see him and look out for him. The photo shows Peter and his beloved dad.
When Peter's father found out about what was going on in Peter's Lynn home, he managed to have him removed. He was placed in three successive homes, all Greek-speaking, his father being Greek. All three homes were abusive. Finally, he was placed in his Uncle Charlie's home in Belmont, Mass.
It was here that Peter spent much of his childhood. Had Peter finally found a home with family and with love and where he felt safe? In a word, no. Peter unhesitatingly describes his Uncle Charlie this way: “He was a prick. He smoked stogies and ran around in his shorts ranting and raving.”
He was also a real estate millionaire and the Belmont house was big and luxurious. He made his money, Peter said, “by screwing everyone.” When relatives came over from Greece, “he would sell them a car that he got at auction for fifty bucks and give them a great deal for a thousand.” He washed cars at his uncle's used-car lot and “never got a nickel.”
All Uncle Charlie's money did not make for a happy household; just the opposite. Peter says that his uncle was always yelling and screaming at his Aunt Marie. It got so bad one Thanksgiving that she “took the turkey out of the oven and threw it down the cellar stairs.” He ran out the door.
On top of all this was a special anguish: at the age of 10, Peter could hardly speak English. All of the families he had lived with had been Greek-speaking. It was especially hard at school where the other kids laughed when he was thirsty and could only ask for water in Greek (“nero, nero”). As for grades in school, he says that he “never passed anything except for art. I didn't have to speak for that and got straight A's.”
Uncle Charlie had three daughters and a son. “The son got everything,” Peter said, “clothes, bikes, gifts, etc. I was the bottom of the barrel. His son pissed on me and told me to leave. I cried.”
Living with Uncle Charlie had a couple of saving graces, however. Peter was finally in a neighborhood where for the first time he was able to make a few friends. Also, the neighbors were great, making sure he had food and shoes. More importantly, for the first time in his life he was not beaten. “They never put a hand on me or hurt me as I was used to in the past,” he said.
Meanwhile, our mother entered into a long-term, live-in, sexual relationship with another woman, Lois Simon. One day when he was 11, Peter remembers, our mother showed up at Uncle Charlie's with a woman who looked like a man. She was wearing his father's clothes and bragging about it; she said that even his shoes fit. “I was scared and ran out the door,” Peter said.
Another time when our mother and Simon visited (with Simon wearing men's clothes), Peter's father also showed up. He and the two women got into a heated argument in front of Peter. “My mother took out a knife and waved it in my father's face,” Peter said.
He ran outside and kept running, crying the whole time. He slept in the woods that night. After that, he ran every time our mother and Simon showed up. Besides being confused at seeing a woman dressed like a man, Peter was afraid of them both. He couldn't forget that knife.
Simon had plenty of money from a family trust fund. The two lived well, traveling, buying nice clothes, and eating in good restaurants. “All I saw were the pictures they took traveling around the world,” Peter said. “They got a brand new car every year.”
With these two, the high life and taking care of a kid simply did not go together. They preferred to have Peter around as little as possible. When he was not at Uncle Charlie's or shipped out to boarding schools, he was dropped off -- as a last resort -- at our mother's condo in a building in Brookline.
At one such drop-off, Peter remembers our mother and Uncle Charlie having a nasty fight over money. She was behind on her payments to Uncle Charlie and he tried to return Peter to his Mother and Simon. “We were at the door and my uncle was pushing me into her place and she was pushing me out and they were both screaming at each other,” Peter said.
Uncle Charlie yelled, “Take your kid!” She yelled back, “I can't. I have another woman here!.” She threatened to call the police. Uncle Charlie refused to budge. Finally, she agreed to pay Uncle Charlie what was owed him and he took Peter back to his home In Belmont.
When Peter had to stay with our mother and Simon,shown with him in this photo, he says it was like this:
“Nothing was good. They took turns beating me with a leather strap. I was locked in a room for days. I was the cleaning boy. I would have to get on my hands and knees and clean their fancy rug with my bare hands with Simon standing over me.
“They made me sleep between them and they were both naked. Simon's tits were all over me. They would take turns fondling me. In the morning, I would have to get up and make their breakfast and afterwards clean up and do the dishes.
“One time while I was doing the dishes, they were both in the kitchen naked and playing around. My mother squeezed her tits and said, 'Look, I still got milk!' and Simon laughed.”
He said that when he was in the tub, Simon would “come and play with my private parts and I would get an erection, and Simon laughed at me and asked me if it feels good.” She told him to call her whenever he got in the tub and she would “help you feel good and help you wash up.”
If he got into the tub and didn't call, Simon got angry with him and still did “the same old crap” to him. She “dried my private parts and kissed my pecker,” he said. “I hated her. I told my mother and she laughed. That only made Simon mad again.”
One time Peter and Simon were alone and he had just finished cleaning the rug on his hands and knees with the palm of his hand “as a vacuum cleaner.” Simon had also been on her knees telling him what to do and why he should not be so lazy; her breasts had plopped out. He got up and went to the TV to watch some sports when something hit him in the back of the head – and he blacked out.
When a doctor came, one that our mother knew, Peter was screaming in pain. The doctor urged them to send Peter to the hospital for x-rays, but they didn't want to. They asked the doctor to give Peter a sedative. Later, it was discovered that he had a fractured skull.
“I have the scar,” he said.
Peter begged our mother to leave Simon. “But Simon was her whole world,” Peter said. “She said that she couldn't live without her and her trust fund.” She could, however, live without him.
She and Simon finally shipped their cleaning boy and sex toy off to Boy's Haven, a school for homeless children in West Newbury, Mass. It was run like a prison. Within two weeks, he ran away and hid in the woods. Two day's later, school guards caught him hitch-hiking on Rte 95.
He was brutally punished. Guards pulled his pants down and beat him with a strap – until they broke his will to resist. After that, Peter never tried to run again and did what he was told for the more than three years that he was there. He worked in the fields loading hay and hauling milk from the school barn.
While at Boy's Haven, he was alone every Christmas but one. That one time he was sent to spend Christmas with a family wanting to help the homeless. He did not know them and never saw them again. Peter's father managed to come to Boy's Haven once. He took Peter out to eat, took him in a small plane ride over Newburyport, and gave him some money.
“I had a great time,” Peter said.
But then Peter was told that his father was no longer allowed to visit. He thinks that this was the doing of our mother and Simon. “They did everything they could to keep me from seeing my father. They hurt him every time they had a chance. They hated him. I think they hated all men.”
After grammar school at Cardinal Cushing Academy, Peter attended Boston Trade School. There he made the ice hockey team. “I loved ice hockey,” he said, “and I was good at it. But our mother got me kicked off the team. She complained to the coach so much, he couldn't take it any more. He told me I couldn't play any more because the team had to come first. Our mother destroyed everything I liked.”
Peter left Boston Trade after two years. He never got his high school diploma. In later years, he changed the dates on his Cardinal Cushing elementary certificate and doctored it up it make it appear to be a high school diploma. “I did it because I needed to be able to work,” he said. (He later spent two years in business school.)
Then there was the electrical fire at our mother's and Simon's place -- which they blamed on Peter. Firemen came, put the fire out, and fired questions at Peter. He told them that he had nothing to do with the fire. Appearing to believe him, a fireman gave Peter a piece of paper to sign, saying it would help him get to a better place.
“What I was signing, “ Peter said, “was a confession and I didn't know it.” He was sent to a prison in Shirley, Mass. Along with murderers and rapists, he spent a year locked in a cell. He says it was hell on earth, but “better than what I had.”
After doing a year in prison, he was 18 and on his own. He had no education, no skills, and no good options. To Peter, the least bad option seemed to be knocking on the door of “the prick” in Belmont, old Uncle Charlie.
That's what he did. Uncle Charlie was happy to put Peter to work in his car dealership for starvation wages. He washed and detailed cars for weeks, but Uncle Charlie being Uncle Charlie, Peter saw no money. “I finally realized that this is how he gets rich, “ Peter said. “He pays no one and screws everyone.”
Alone and desperate, with rent to Uncle Charlie coming due, Peter got a job at Ken's Restaurant in Boston as a floor-mopper and cook's helper. In other words, he did whatever dirty job needed to be done. But he quickly learned to cook. He would work as a cook at Ken's Restaurant for the next eight years, while driving a cab part time.
Almost as soon as he arrived back in Belmont, Peter met Loretta, “a wonderful lady.” They had a lot in common. She grew up in foster care, her mom having died when she was 4 years old. Like Peter, she had grown up unloved and passed around from home to home. Like Peter, she was 18 and now out in the world on her own with nowhere to go.
When Peter showed an interest in her, she was thrilled. Someone wanted to love her! Peter says that the two of them were so in love that “we walked in the rain not knowing it was raining.” He says that meeting Loretta was a “great moment” in his life.
Though they were both still kids, just 18, in short order they got married, got an apartment , and began building a life together. Soon they had their first child, Eleanor (11/29/65). Their son Peter followed (5/6/66), then Charline (1/6/67), then Athena (7/22/68.
Peter now had a wife and four kids, an apartment in Cambridge, a job as a cook in Boston – and he was only 23. After several years as a cook, and with lots of mouths to feed, he wanted more. He got a job at the Belmont Water Department and worked part time as a special officer.
He declared his candidacy as Water Commissioner and his announcement was published in the Belmont Herald with his photo. He wore a suit and tie. No one would have guessed that this respectable, upstanding citizen was abused his entire childhood and had served a year in prison. Peter says his father carried the newspaper clipping in his wallet “to the day he died.”
Though he was not elected Water Commissioner, he still felt the pull of politics. He ran for and was elected president of the local American Federation of Labor. He represented the union at the Massachusetts State Convention. “All of a sudden,” he said, “I had senators calling me to sway votes.”
He said he was often offered money to influence votes one way or another. “But I didn't bite,” he said. “I kept my dignity and respect.”
But now his once wonderful wife, Loretta, seemed not so wonderful. “She couldn't deal with senators and councilmen coming to the house,” he said. He began to feel that she was no longer there for him. “So we drifted and drifted and drifted,” Peter said.
He formed a dating service and it did well. Thousands of dollars in checks flowed in, he said. When he asked Loretta to help him handle the checks, he said that she refused. “Instead, she cashed the checks,” he said. Their great love was over. Now when they walked in the rain, they felt it.
Peter says that Loretta was a “beautiful and caring person” and “wouldn't hurt a flea.” If he is sometimes critical of her --and he is – he concedes that the criticisms are mainly excuses to justify leaving her and four children.
“She was a kind and docile woman,” he said. “To this day, it hurts me in my heart for leaving her and the children. I now realize that everything I had accomplished had gone down the tubes. I got married too young, had four children, and left them all. I felt stupid.”
About the time that he and Loretta broke up, our mother called. Both despondent over the break-up of his marriage and bristling with pent-up anger at her and Simon, he went to Brookline bent on confrontation. He told our mother that she didn't deserve to see her grandchildren and that ”Simon should go to jail.”
To his surprise, our mother said she was sorry for her behavior. Peter melted. As he left, he said he needed time to think about it. But as Mother's Day approached, he had done enough thinking.
He sent our mother a card on which he had “crossed out all the good stuff” and wrote the following: “You will never see me or your grandchildren and you will never be able to hurt them as you hurt me.”
After putting this farewell Mother's Day card in the mail, Peter learned that he had lost his father. The loss of his father, Peter said, “sent me over the edge of no return.” He didn't want to live any more. Deciding to end it all, he gulped down a whole bottle of sleeping pills.
Passersby found him unconscious in the street near a phone booth and called the police. An ambulance was called and Peter's limp body was rushed to a hospital in Brookline. There doctors revived him and saved his life.
In a supreme irony, it was the same hospital where our mother was a nurse. She told doctors treating him there there that she wanted nothing to do with him.
Resuming his troubled existence, Peter went on a “women troubles” spree in which his “pecker ruled.” He entered into a five-year relationship with an older woman that he called Lovey. He summed up Lovey this way:
“We were on a love of crazy happenings that ran in circles for five years that eventually went nowhere. I finally left her. It had been a whirlwind of excitement with nothing accomplished but beautiful sex.”
Peter went on to marry and divorce three more times. Three of the marriages were short, each about a year, but one marriage -- to Eleanor – lasted 13 years. During the marriage to Eleanor, who had two children of her own, he hit a lottery jackpot for $60,000 and paid “$52,000 cash for a house in Maine.
One of the short marriages produced his fifth and youngest child, Christopher. He remembers trying to bring him a cake for his first birthday and being turned away by a restraining order taken out by his former wife.
“And after that?” I asked.
“After that, I went on my way again. I tried to see Christopher, but the years went by.”
I asked Peter a big question: “We know the kind of parent our mother was. What kind of parent have you been?”
“Fair,” he said. “Just fair.”
But he said that he has had all his kids, plus the grandkids, up to his place in Maine. “We go fishing, eat, hangout, and have a great time.” In the photo, Peter is shown with his daughter Athena and grandson Alex.
A skilled carpenter with an artistic flair, he creates many of the crafts that he sells. He designs and builds custom fences, wooden shelving, custom wood designs, and repairs lamps. Much of his work is custom-created to order and often includes original art work.
One time when he was selling jewelry, antiques, and collectibles at a flea market in Maine, he says that my sister Ruby come upon him purely by accident. He says he was so happy to see her. They talked and made plans to get together. Little came of them. Of that chance meeting, Peter said, “Small world, isn't it?” Here is one of his collectibles ads.
One constant in Peter's life has been entrepreneurship. In addition to his two stores, a taxi business, creating and selling arts and crafts, and raising turkeys, he ran his own collection agency for six years. “I was good at it,” he said, referring to the collection agency.
He specialized in accounts described by clients as “bad accounts” or “uncollectibles.” He has a dozen or more reference letters from clients extolling his bill-collecting prowess. One of them, from Airport Plaza in Sanford, Maine, wrote: “I used Peter Romanos for collection on a bad check that I had already tried to collect on and gave up. The next day, the party arrived at my store handing me the money due, including charges and apologies.”
He didn't have an office. He didn't need one. “If the client was a college,“ he said, “they would give me an office right at the college. I made the calls from right there, using their phones and facilities. It was a great business with zero overhead. Clients went around talking about all the money I brought in and that's how the business grew.” After his 13-year marriage ended, he sold the collection business and said he had no trouble doing so.
He went back to womanizing and building up his taxi business in Boston and antiques and collectibles business. Then he met Joelene. After marrying and divorcing four times, after numerous flings and break-ups, after years of upheaval, Peter seems to have come home. “I should have met Joelene years ago,” he said.
Joelene weighed over 300 pounds when he met her. She could not walk and was in a wheel-chair. She was told she would never walk again. Peter says he looked right past all the fat and saw something beautiful in her.
When she asked if he would help her, he said yes. And he did. He cooked healthy food for her, walked with her, encouraged her. The weight began to come off. As weeks became months, she continued to lose weight. She lost 157 pounds -- and has kept it off.
Today he and Joelene, who now weighs a steady 138, have a settled and happy life together at their home in Maine. They walk every day around the lake near their home. He does the food shopping and cooking; she does the cleaning and washing.
Weekends he drives his leased taxi in Boston. He drives 12 hours on and 12 hours off, about 600 miles a weekend. I called him on a Monday and he answered in a sleepy voice.
“You sound tired,” I said.
“Are you kidding?” he said. “I just drove 600 miles. I'm on my way back home to get some sleep.”
Weekdays Peter runs his antiques and collectibles business and spends lots of time with the love of his life, Joelene. Though not married, Peter and Joelene have been together for eight years. She is retired after 25 years working in day care.
“We don't need to be married,” Joelene said. “We're happy. I love Peter to pieces.”
It is easy to see that Peter feels the same way about her. Between them, they have eight grown children and 11 grandchildren. At Christmas every year, Peter dresses up as Santa for the grandkids and for underprivileged kids and loves doing it.
When he thinks of our mother and Simon, it is “pain, hurt, and run for your life.” He still has nightmares about them. But he said that “Joelene is very supporting and understanding and wakes me up when I cry in my sleep.”
So long and keep moving.
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