Stephanie D. Bolinger

Book Excerpts

Chapter 1

To me Daddy was safe and strong. He was laughter and cheers. He was the only time in my entire life that I felt like everything was happy and my little body never felt anxiety or fear. I was so little and do not remember everything about my daddy, but here I will share what I do remember.

Although I did not fear my daddy, I certainly cried when I disappointed him. He smoked cigarettes, which I guess I thought was cool because everything Daddy did was special to me. When he walked up on me outside one afternoon with a cigarette butt in my mouth pretending to be him, he was not happy or smiling. What I do remember most about that incident is that even though he scolded me and made me promise to not do that again, the sadness on his face is something I can still see today when I think of that moment.

Once on a Sunday morning before church, I was being a brat towards my granny, and oh boy, did Daddy dislike me disrespecting his mother, so he placed me over his lap and popped me on the bottom a few times before putting me in my room. He then said, “Now see if you don’t clean this room.” Confused as to whether I was supposed to clean my room or not, I sat on my bed watching my daddy from the window as he stormed through the yard and into the woods across the street. There, he sat on a piece of an old brick fireplace and sobbed. At that time, I did not understand what his tears meant, but today I realize that they were tears of love, because although I needed that lesson, it hurt him terribly to be forced to teach it to me. It is these moments that I reflect back on throughout the scary times of my life to remind myself that Daddy loved and protected me always when he was alive.

Prior to my daddy’s death, my little brother, Jared, and I lived with him in a small trailer in Milton, Florida. Our mother, who was in and out of our lives, lived in various places during this time. The trailer connected to a property that was a junkyard. It was fenced in so that my little brother and I could not get in there, but sometimes Daddy would let us follow him around, and it was the neatest place in the world to us. I can still remember how exciting it was to find little pieces of treasures while basking in the smells of rubber tires, hot metal, and the red clay dirt.

Everywhere Daddy went, Jared and I were right on his heels just waiting for the next funny thing he would say or for one of the huge hugs he often gave us along with the words, “I love you so much!” Other days, he would sit out front and watch us ride our bicycles in the road directly in front of our house. There were teenage girls who lived in my neighborhood, and they drove a hot pink Jeep that I was amazed by. They would drive very slowly past me and wave at me while saying things like, “Hi, princess!” Those girls made me feel so special because I thought they were really important in that cool Jeep.

We would often spend hot summer days swimming at Pond Creek. Daddy taught us to swim early because he loved being in the water, as do my younger brother and I. I remember watching my daddy climb to the tip-top of a tree at the creek and either dive or flip off into the water. I would stand there with pride thinking my daddy was Superman, because to me, he was.

One year he gifted us each a motorized child’s car. I received a black Camaro, and my little brother got a blue truck. Daddy would stand outside taking pictures of us and of course helping us when we got stuck, and laughing as we joyously drove our play cars all over our yard.

Even though we lived with Daddy, he had to let us stay some weekends with Mommy. She had remarried and settled back down in Milton after moving to Chicago for a while. I recall that one of the times Mommy made me mad when I was staying the night at her place, I told her in a matter-of-fact fashion that I was calling the State on her. She replied that she would “dial the number” for me, so I stood there defiantly waiting for Social Services to answer the phone, but Daddy’s voice came over the line instead. I instantly started crying in the most dramatic way possible, begging him to come get me so I could go home.

Daddy calmed me down by offering to bring me my favorite treat, which at the time was a cup of pickles from Burger King. Before I knew it, he was wrapping me with a big hug and handing me a cup of pickles as well as giving me a little talk about listening to Mommy.

Daddy always put us children first, before all else. Regardless, he still fully expected us to respect Mommy as he did. As long as her intentions were in our best interests, Daddy would stand beside her in support of her wishes. When Daddy was alive, he made sure that Mommy took care of us when we stayed with her, and she never hurt us then either. Mostly, Mommy was in and out of our lives at this point depending on where her personal life took her. Our family situation may not have been perfect—and whose is?—but with such a great father who loved us, things felt pretty great.

Chapter 2

For as long as I can remember, I have had vivid dreams. They have always been a big part of who I am. During the time we lived with Daddy in our trailer, and only during these years, I suffered from night terrors where an elephant would come after me. My bedroom had a bay window that spanned the entire length of my bedroom where my bed was placed. In my dream, I would be sitting up in the middle of my bed staring out of the window as an angry elephant appeared and stormed towards my bedroom window. The elephant was so huge that he was way bigger than our house. I also remember that his eyes were really mean looking. Just before he ran right over top of me, I would startle awake every single time. This particular nightmare only affected me while in that home. I’ve never dreamt it again since Daddy died and we had to move out.

After Daddy’s death, our trailer was moved to the family property that is owned by my Granny Lucille Davis, to eventually become a storage shed. Desperate to reclaim a part of my Daddy, I would sneak in there to plunder around to learn anything I could about him. I would also sit on my childhood bed and think about the memories I am lucky enough to have.

Daddy, Jared, and I had a talking bird named Rocky, and I loved that bird so much. I enjoyed standing at his cage playing and talking with him, and I really loved it when Daddy would open the front door to let Rocky fly in nature for a while before he would eventually fly back down to land on Daddy’s hand again. I would stand there in the yard with my arms spread wide as I pretended to fly, imagining what it felt like for Rocky to be flying that high off the ground.

One time I spilled salt on the table that held Rocky’s cage and I blamed it on the bird. I’m pretty sure Daddy knew the truth though because I remember the way he looked at me when I told my fib. Something about that look made me feel bad about lying to him so I didn’t blame stuff on the bird anymore after that.

The last time I saw Rocky was when Daddy stood in our front doorway raising his hand towards the sky to allow Rocky his free time. Our beautiful bird flew in circles above us as he always did before flying away only to never return. After what seemed like hours of us all standing in our doorway staring at the sky hoping he would fly home at any moment, Daddy was honest with us by telling us that Rocky must have either been hurt by other wild animals or he may have gotten lost. It was yet another tough lesson that I will always remember, because Daddy delivered it with gentleness and love.

All of my life, one of my most favorite dinner meals has been breakfast thanks to Daddy starting us off right. He would often surprise us by announcing that we could have our choice of breakfast foods for dinner. We always wanted either scrambled eggs with ketchup or cereal. The best part of our breakfast dinners was that we would all three sit on the kitchen floor to eat our breakfast! Even though I cannot remember the specifics of our conversations I can still see and feel the laughter we shared in my mind and heart. Daddy had such a big smile with the brightest eyes and his cheeks looked really happy when he laughed. 

His love and affection for us were never lacking. Daddy had full custody of me and my little brother; he was the full-time Daddy, Mommy, and provider. In the early morning hours, he would come into my room and wrap me up like a cocoon in my Barbie comforter, and after placing me in the warm truck, he would then go inside and do the same for my little brother before taking us to his sister’s house and placing our little sleeping bodies on her couch so that he could go to work. Sometimes I would pretend to be asleep the entire time but would just listen to Daddy and enjoy his love for us. He would kiss us on our heads and whisper things to us like how much he loved us, how special we were to him, and that he could not wait to get home from work to be with us again.

For my entire life, the only place other besides our old rotting trailer that felt like I could be close to my Dad was sitting at his graveside. I would cry a lot asking God why he took my Daddy and not my birth mother. Growing up as a bitter and broken young girl left me with the frustration of knowing that even though my Dad loved us so much, he had to be taken. Yet my mother treated us as if she hated us and she got to stay. Many years have passed since I’ve had thoughts such as these but as a young girl, they haunted my mind.

As a teenager, I would often run the roads to hang with friends but quite frequently my journey ended sooner than planned and I would find myself sitting at Daddy’s graveside telling him all about my life. Sharing the good with him felt like he was here. Sharing the bad, including my own terrible habits, continuously ripped me to shreds.

I have not visited his grave in years now. It may be partly guilt for not visiting which keeps me away, but it’s mostly because I feel him with me always now. Just as I speak to God today, I talk to Daddy. He’s one of my guardian angels and I believe he’s watching over me with a happy heart knowing that I no longer sit or lie at his grave crumbling to tiny pieces. Instead, I live life as if Daddy is with me at all times, and he is since I’ve grown into a woman who carries his same heart for the world. I keep him alive by my own behaviors each and every single day by shining the light he and God planned for me.

My heart is big, and time has long passed, yet the pain does not seem like it has eased. I was and will always remain a Daddy’s girl. Having the time with my Daddy that I was gifted has held steady as one of the most solid and secure relationships that I’ve ever had. As a child, having a Father figure gave me stability as if it were a security blanket that stayed with me even after he passed away. I feel as though having my Daddy even if only for a little while gave me the strength to hold on all the times that I felt I couldn’t, but did. He taught me right from wrong and he taught me to love. In my teenage years and into my early adulthood love was lacking for me, but I always had some in the back corner of my heart that he instilled in me. I truly believe that if I had not had my Daddy during those vital first years of life I would have become a different, darker person once he was gone.  

Chapter 3

My Daddy didn’t just touch the lives of my brother and me. He was a special person who meant a lot to many others as well. I asked Daddy’s loved ones to share some memories they have of him. Here is what they said:

“Your Dad was a good person. Very loving and a hard worker. He raised you kids and had you. He liked to go out to drink but he did not go out a lot because he wanted to be with you kids.

We had a really good relationship and got along well. He came by almost every day to see me and if he didn’t it was odd. Every now and then he wouldn’t come by for a couple of days, but absolutely no more than two days. At the time of his wreck, I woke up crying and did not know why. Then I felt a peace come over me and I fell back asleep which was the exact time of his death. He and I had a twin type of relationship bond, but we were two years apart. We were like this our whole lives. We always spoke to each other even if we did not see each other.

I did not know what exactly was wrong that day, but I knew something was wrong. Earlier that day John and I drove over to your Dad’s house to check on him, but he had been driving over to our house, so we missed one another and I did not get to see him that day. You know how you were with your little brother? That was your baby, your child that you would do whatever he needed. That’s how I was with your Daddy. We were best friends.

He was a good loving father. He took care of y’all. He would do without so he could get for and do for you kids.

We never see snow here hardly ever. One time it snowed in Alabama, and he drove y’all there so that you could see the snow.


He was not about fast food. He would sometimes get it, but he bought groceries and cooked meals for you kids. The night of his accident he had chicken laid out to cook for you kids.

He fought for custody of y’all. He took care of y’all. He would have never done anything that would make it to where he could not have y’all. He had our help caring for you kids, and he did his best.”

By Mary


“Your Dad was a very good and caring person. He took care of you and your brother well.

We had a very close relationship. He and I were always together when Mary was at work. We used to go out partying a lot and have fun together. He almost got arrested for buying me a beer one time, but I was the adult and he was underage!

He was very good with you and your brother. He always made sure that you were fed, had a roof over your head, and he went to work every day to take care of you. He was a good man.”

By John Paul

The love our Father showed us during the short years we had him in our lives stayed with us throughout our difficult journey ahead. After he passed away we did not know how dark our day’s would become but we always carried his love.

(Why does it hurt so badly? Why do I still feel as though I need her love? It’s not fair that I can love someone who hurt me so much and feel like I need her love back. I just don’t understand.)

Journal entry October 2019

Welcome to Mommy’s World

Chapter 4

After Daddy passed away Jared and I were moved in with our Mother, Pam. By this time she was remarried to our step-dad Mark and lived in Milton, Florida. This was when our hell began. Violence, drugs, alcohol, sexual abuse, and neglect filled up the majority of our next several years on this earth.

Much of this period of my childhood is filled with clear memories, and yet so many are foggy to me. This is likely a response to the ongoing trauma I experienced over years of abuse. Sometimes today, it is difficult to tell the difference between reality and my nightmares, because when I wake up it feels like I am back there again. To tell this story in any particular order is difficult due to the entirety of our days with Pam being a complete whirlwind of horror.

Several of the years when we were under Pam’s care were spent living with one of her boyfriends, Peter, and his three children. This living arrangement was ongoing for several years, but even then we moved around a lot. Pam would get mad at Peter for something, pack us up and go jump in another man’s bed for a few days before begging Peter to take her back.

Once, she took us to a really nice man’s cozy house out in the country. He had a little girl so he would go on walks with her while I drove me and my little brother in his daughter’s battery play car. It was so pretty and bright outside with fresh clear air to breathe. I was so sad when she packed us up to go back home one week after arriving that I cried as I begged her to let us stay; for good reason too, because upon settling in at home life quickly fell into the normal toxic routine.

Pam and Peter drank heavily together and frequented bars. There were some nights when they were so drunk that they would drive a lawn mower to the bar and back. We children spent many days and nights in those bars, but we thought this was normal. My mother and Peter drank and did other drugs, yet Peter always made sure we had a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. To me this period was one of the more solid times simply because we didn’t have to go without food or a warm place to sleep at night.

Pam was always abusive to us during those times, but only to her children. Peter would not allow Pam to touch his children. I’m honestly not sure if this was something Pam and Peter discussed or if it was an unspoken rule, but they never touched one another’s children from what I can remember.

 And as for our abuse, it was constant and immediate upon moving in with Pam. It was so frightening, as a little girl, to go from receiving love and affection daily from my Daddy to feeling like I wanted to die to escape the pain I felt every day inside and out under Pam’s care.

One particularly brutal beating stands out in my memory. It happened, when Pam was messed up on drugs or alcohol (or both), she came into my room where I had a bunk bed. It was one of those old school wooden bunk beds where the edges are sharp and not rounded at all. She took me by the hair of my head and slammed my head into the sharp edges repeatedly until I was bleeding. She got up, sounding exhausted and walked out of the room like nothing had happened. I hated her so badly and couldn’t help myself, so I screamed out “I’m telling my Grandpa!” Pam calmly walked back into my room smiling at me, said “When you do, be sure to tell him about this,” and proceeded to slam my head on that same sharp part of the bed until I passed out.

When I woke up, Jared was holding me crying while Peter’s son Damen was cleaning all the dry blood off me, the bed, and the carpet. I had been brutally beaten, and should have been rushed to the hospital, but even as an elementary age child, I already knew that if Pam seen the blood that she would blame me and the next beating would be worse. So I calmed my little brother down and helped clean up the mess.

As a child, it was impossible for me to make sense of this abuse. Although it was completely senseless and wrong, I internalized it and felt that I somehow deserved it. I knew it was wrong but felt helpless to change it. And although she was our mother—the one who should want to protect us more than anyone else on earth—Pam was always so angry, and never showed remorse for the abuse she gave us.

The abuse continued as the years passed by. I learned to expect it, but the depths of Pam’s cruelty still left me breathless. Before I knew it, I was entering the seventh grade. As was the case during my younger years, Pam’s fury seemed to have no end.

I struggled with wetting the bed throughout middle school. As a child I wet the bed because if Pam caught me awake in the middle of the night, she would beat me until I was on the brink of dying. I wet the bed due to being terrified of her catching me up at night which ended up helping me because she didn’t have time to beat me in the morning before school, or at least not as badly as she would at night. (Of course, bedwetting in older children has also been linked to post-traumatic stress, so it is possible that the physical and psychological abuse I was experiencing also played its own part.)

By the time I got home she would usually forget about me wetting the bed so I would not get beaten again for that particular incident. But Pam would find any excuse out of any situation to become physically violent with me. It felt to me as though she enjoyed watching us suffer—like it fueled her somehow. She would go from one extreme of total physical and mental abuse to neglect, mixed with a few other habits. How we were treated depended on her mood in the moment. She often smiled as she punched, kicked, gouged, scratched, slapped, or slammed us as well as when she broke us down with her cruel words.

Looking back, it surprises me that for the most part we children were allowed to exist in this ongoing nightmare. This abuse was so regular that we were often removed from our home and placed in temporary custody of family members. The courts would just give us right back every time.

Stephanie D. Bolinger
I Was Always Enough I Just Didn't Believe