“Murder-suicide, growing up in the middle of addiction, surviving trauma, and being grateful for all of it.” Melody Tarver | Instagram: @mellyybell
It was the summer of 1997 when I received the phone call from my mother. My first husband and I had just gotten married and we were in newlywed bliss. “Jeremy has murdered his wife and committed suicide.” Just days before, I had spoken with my cousin Jeremy. We were very close. I could tell he had been drinking, and when I confronted him, he didn’t deny it. He had been having some struggles with his wife, and she was ready for divorce. He told me he was going to take a three-hour road trip to shoot her after she got off work and then turn the gun on himself. I told him he needed help and that he needed to reach out to his father or I would. He told me he would come after me and kill me first if I was to tell anyone about his plan. By the time I told my mom, it was too late. It was done. He left two very young sons behind that were raised by their maternal grandparents. Our family was estranged from them.
After his death, I suffered severe PTSD. I couldn’t be alone. I thought his ghost was going to come back and take my life. The feeling was potent and real. There were times I blamed myself for his death and his actions because I was under the illusion that I had the power to stop him. I chose to stuff all of it and never look back. As if that wasn’t enough, I had already lived a life of constant chaos all of my childhood. My father was a raging alcoholic. I remember being five years old, hiding in my baby sister’s closet when he would come home drunk, screaming at the top of his lungs, throwing things, threatening my mother. My father is a force to bereckoned with. He has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and prisons (once escaping a maximum security prison), halfway houses, and has had several attempts at suicide. For years, my father has battled with his addiction and depression, and somehow he has survived.
Once my brother was born, he found recovery for what feels like a minute—nine years to be exact. But if you know addicts, once they find recovery, the real shit starts surfacing—the things they have hidden behind the bottle. He went to several psychologists and psychiatrists, attended AA meetings, and was a guinea pig for medication and shock treatments. His depression was unbearable to watch, and his temper was still just as terrifying. I was so tired of living in trauma. It wasn’t the life a teenager hopes for. After his nine-year stint with recovery, he fell off the wagon. He became a full-on drug addict. Crack, meth, heroine, pain pills, the list goes on. My mother decided that divorce was the only way to keep us all safe. He threatened to take us away if she left. He held us all hostage. It was a fucking miserable way to live. I wanted to run away. I wanted him to die. I was broken. I was scarred. And I hated God enough for all of us.
I was 19 when my parents finally divorced. My mother had to file a restraining order because my father was so unpredictable and couldn’t be trusted. My mom, my brother, my sister, and I became one unit. We couldn’t be alone. We all slept in the same bed together because we were scared he would come back in a drunken rage. And when he did, the police would take him away, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch. It wasn’t long before my father became my sole creator, and the men I found myself involved with became my higher powers. I lost myself completely. I became a people pleaser and over-extended myself. I allowed myself to be sexually, verbally, and emotionally abused.
I became someone that thought she could control every situation by some form of manipulation or by isolating herself to the world just to protect her heart. I had abandonment issues and low self-esteem. I refused to be alone, so I became a serial monogamist. I couldn’t stand being in my own skin. I was so afraid that if someone really knew me, they would stop loving me. I was a mess, but I found out quickly that I was also a survivor.
My dad is now in a maximum security prison, for maybe the final time, and now possesses a twenty-year sentence. We have been writing letters for years, and I see him as much as I can. When I do see him, I feel the pain in his eyes. It permeates the deepest parts of my heart. He has three beautiful grandchildren and three very successful children, and he’s missing it all. It takes a lot of emotional energy to keep seeing him, but I keep picking myself up to go, and I’m always glad for the moments we share. I have an amazing bond with my mom and siblings. We never say goodbye without saying, “I love you, call me when you’re home safe.” I am forever grateful for that. I have two nieces and a nephew and three dogs that show me how joy is constant and living in the present moment is significant. My relationship with God has been reignited. I love my father very much, even though he has broken my heart over and over again.
Two years ago, Jeremy’s eldest son reached out to me. He wanted to talk about what had happened to his mother and father. All of the things I had repressed were resurfacing. Emotions welled up and the floodgates released everything. I began to have PTSD episodes and to feel the same feelings I did after he died. I was terrified for my life all over again. I couldn’t sleep. I was in a constant state of anxiety. My boyfriend had to come over at night to walk my dogs with me. It was becoming a disruption in my life. Once I spoke to Jeremy’s son, I was floored. It was an invitation for healing, and I took the plunge. We continue to stay connected, and I love him as if he were my own.
I found yoga in 1998 and I never looked back. Practice has taught me to have unconditional love, to separate my father from this disease that has consumed him, and to forgive myself. I have been gifted with a nurturing heart and compassion that is infinite. I’ve learned that it isn’t about what pose you perfect on the mat, but what you take into the world that is the true practice. There is a safety and allowance in yoga to fall apart and be vulnerable, and then a freedom for re-entry into self-love. My mat has been there, soaking up all of my tears, my sweat, and holding me through the intensity of divorces, breakups, deaths, and PTSD attacks, and really challenging practices. And yoga has cracked me wide open to other conscious practices like dance and reiki.
Gratitude, prayer, and meditation have also become my constant practices, and those things would not happen without me stepping onto my yoga mat. At any given moment, I believe we have choices, and there is so much power in that. We can stay in an unraveled state, or we can move through it and open ourselves up to whatever joy and peace follow the pain and grief. And those things will always show up. I chose to mend my broken heart through yoga, meditation, therapy, and communication with my father. Had it not been for being raised by an extremely strong, loving mother and grandparents to step in to help fill the dad void in my heart, who knows where I
I surround myself with the most beautiful people and find ultimate support and refuge in those friendships. I am with the most beautiful man who teaches me to own my shit, to step into love, and be loved fully. I have created a life for myself that I never knew I could have. I am a strong woman. I wouldn’t change one experience. I would never ask for a do-over. I have willpower, grit, a strong work ethic, and I will make waves if my loved ones are hurt. I am a lover and I feel whole. I am learning to embrace my authenticity. I love myself, just as I am. I have arrived. Finally.
At any given moment, I believe we have choices, and there is so much power in that. We can stay in an unraveled state, or we can move through it and open ourselves up to whatever joy and peace follow the pain and grief.
Photos: Allan Hayslip