The Triumph of a Thrown Away Boy
By Sondra Martin Hicks
The Full Story of John Borgstedt
John was one child against the world…
While John Borgstedt has overcome more trauma and rejection than most people, his story is not one of victimization. His life demonstrates the overcoming power of grit and determination, a testament to the life-giving qualities of perseverance and relentless hope. In his story, you will learn about this extraordinary man and how he finds the courage every day to keep going and let a little more of his past hurt fall away. You will travel his path from a little boy locked away in mental hospitals to an inmate in solitary confinement to a compassionate warrior fighting for justice for broken children. Aftermath is a story you will not soon forget. It’s a story that may change your own life.
READ THE BEGINNING OF AFTERMATH
Imagination is a powerful thing. Sometimes it’s the only thing we have that gives us hope—hope for happiness, for love, for significance. Hope that something better is coming. Sometimes circumstances in our life are too hard to accept; in our imaginary world we are free and in charge. We are the king and we matter. But even in our imaginary world we can learn that every king has a mortal enemy. Knights and dragons attack from the front. The toughest enemies, however, attack from behind. Sometimes they are the people we love the most. Betrayal can be the worst pain of all, especially when you’re a small boy and the betrayers are your mother and father.
I first met John Borgstedt in 2010. He had just released his biography, I Love You Mom, Please Don’t Break My Heart, and wanted a film version of his book to use in his advocacy work for abused children. He called seven film producers and I was the only one who took his call. John’s brief description of his story caused me to take a deep breath and let out a sigh. The emotional price sounded too high. His story was compelling, but it took many months of John’s tenacious pursuit before I agreed to move forward with the film. We released the documentary with the same title as his book in 2011.
Since that time, John and I have developed a very special relationship. I’ve watched him grow and develop in so many ways. Staff that worked with John while he was at the Texas Youth Commission from 1988 to 1996 told me he has done what very few from the juvenile system have done. He has pulled himself up and out of the pit and fought hard to make a new life for himself. John had a revelation in the midst of nearly impossible circumstances that if his life was going to count he would have to be the one to make the changes; no one else could do that for him.
In addition to almost daily time with John, I have read and studied thousands of pages of medical and psychological records from doctors and hospitals and reports from the Texas Youth Commission to learn more about his life from a third party perspective. What I have discovered are qualities about the human condition that are difficult to absorb. My own life experience gave me little to relate to the cast of characters that constituted John’s formative years. The egregious treatment he received is truly beyond comprehension. This mother’s heart broke time and time again as I discovered what this little boy had to endure. The more I resisted being pulled into his story, the more I felt God calling me to open my heart to John. It has been a ride like no other.
While John has overcome more trauma and rejection than anyone I’ve ever known, his story is not one of victimization. His life demonstrates the overcoming power of grit and determination, a testament to the life-giving qualities of perseverance and relentless hope. In the pages that follow you will learn about this extraordinary man and how he finds the courage every day to keep going and let a little more of his past hurt fall away. You will travel his path from inmate in solitary confinement to a compassionate warrior fighting for justice for broken children. It’s a story you will not soon forget. It’s a story that may change your own life.
CHAPTER 1: BORN INTO THE WILDERNESS
“The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a Wilderness.” Havelock Ellis
The Mistake. That’s what his mother thought of him when she found out she was pregnant. That’s what she thought of him when he was born on December 21, 1977. That’s what she considered him to be every day for the rest of her life. It was even what she called him.
Only his birth certificate disagreed. It called him John Christopher Borgstedt.
He could hardly have been born into a worse circumstance. Betty Borgstedt, his mother, stood five foot seven, pale, and thin. She was mentally challenged and suffered from severe emotional instability. Adopted as a baby, she discovered in her 30s that mental illness ran in her birth mother’s bloodline. Her birth father suffered a nervous breakdown when she was young, having held a dark secret for three decades that almost destroyed him.
At six-four and with a solid frame, Kyle Bordstedt was a young man with a daunting presence. His emotional volatility and penchant for throwing his fists made him not just daunting, but frightening. Not well educated, Kyle never finished high school and had difficulty reading. He may have suffered from dyslexia. In John’s early years, Kyle worked as a welder. He drank often and he drank a lot. Alcohol abuse combined with pent up anger and a short fuse made him a wickedly difficult man with whom to cope. Wounds from his own childhood suffocated whatever desire he may have had to demonstrate real love.
Betty’s parents, Jack and Sally Rosencranz, lived next door to the young couple. Betty and Kyle’s children called them Granny and Pawpaw. Pawpaw worked as a supervisor at a steel plant and Granny was an LV medication nurse in a nearby hospital. Pawpaw was caring and loving to his grandchildren—when allowed. Granny lived in fear of Betty, who felt her mother both resented her and was jealous of Betty’s relationship with her father. Betty didn’t hesitate to vomit her emotions all over her mother at the slightest provocation, bullying Sally into silence. To keep Betty’s wrath at bay, Sally placated her in whatever ways her daughter demanded.
Kyle’s parents lived less than an hour’s drive away on a 100-acre ranch. The children called Hank and Erma Borgstedt Grandpa and Grandma. With only an elementary education, Hank had worked as a welder, but was retired by the time John was born. Erma was a nurse at the same hospital where Sally worked. Grandma ruled the roost as best she could. Grandpa was simply mean. They had one son besides Kyle, a gay man with whom Hank rarely spoke.
Kyle’s relationships with both of his parents were strained and laced with resentment. Adding to the dysfunction, Hank and Erma despised Betty, their daughter-in-law, and she hated them in return.
In almost every way, love and peace eluded the entire extended family.
Wounds bled openly. Empathy for others didn’t exist. Relationships were mean spirited and cruel. Poison ran through all of the ties that bind.
At the time they married, Kyle was eighteen and Betty was fifteen. Their mothers had introduced them. Betty married Kyle on the rebound from a twenty-two year old who had just broken up with her.
The only thing she and Kyle shared were pasts full of hardship. From the start, no one in their lives failed to notice their one overwhelming reality: a marriage that was rocky, devious, and downright ugly. A combination of past wounds, alcohol and drug use, and mental instability sent their union racing toward destruction. Early on, Betty accused Kyle of abuse. He accused her of being crazy. Both were right.
The marriage produced two daughters. By early 1977, Meagan was three and a half; Shelley was two. The marriage itself had become so combative that Betty and the girls finally moved out. Unsurprisingly, Kyle refused to pay child support.
After a three month separation, Betty learned she was pregnant. She and the girls couldn’t make it on their own, so they moved back in with Kyle. Five months later John, The Mistake, was born.
A year and a half later, Betty and Kyle had another baby boy. They named him Michael. From his birth, Michael was Betty’s favorite. Though his family life was highly dysfunctional, he escaped the worst of the abuse and the emotional abandonment. Those were reserved for John.
From the moment John climbed out of his crib, he became the weapon of choice for his parents to use to vent their frustration and anger. It took very little for Kyle’s volatile temper to hit rage. When that happened, he would grab toddler John and ram his head into a wall, kick him, or even throw him out a window.
Betty was more creative with her angry outbursts. She specialized in letting John know he wasn’t wanted. She made sure he knew at every opportunity he was a mistake and never should have been born. Her rejection of John was both overt and passive aggressive. She dominated him both by physical force and emotional manipulation. In particular, she was never above twisting the truth or lying if it achieved her purpose.
In April of 1983, when John was five, the hatred of Kyle that consumed Betty’s mind and heart brought her to the brink. She devised a plan to get rid of him for good. She poisoned him. Kyle lay writhing on the floor in extreme pain, foaming at the mouth, when his mother happened to stop by the house and find him. Erma’s nursing skills saved her son’s life.
Not wanting police involvement, Kyle chose not to press charges against Betty. They divorced. The four children remained with her. Meagan was now nine, Shelley eight, John five, and Michael, four.
Kyle was removed from their lives, but the chaotic home environment they had always known had taken a terrible toll on the children. Meagan withdrew into herself and tried her best to be invisible. Shelley played at a friend’s house as much as she could. John was developing social problems and had trouble playing with others. Michael mostly stayed to himself.
Perhaps a healthy mother could have put their lives back on course. But the children didn’t have a healthy mother.
“I have never read an account of human suffering this intense, and I have never read an account of the victory of the human spirit and of the grace of God this triumphant. Aftermath makes you wonder if you can bear to turn another page until you then can’t stop turning the pages. John’s story will make you reconsider what is possible given sufficient determination and healing love. Most of all, it will challenge you to make a genuine difference, both in your own life and in the lives of others.”
David Gregory, New York Times bestselling author of Dinner with a Perfect Stranger
“John’s story absolutely shook me to my core. I had no idea that a person could survive such a pitiful childhood, let alone rise to accomplish all John has in his advocacy work for children. I was saddened and equally gladdened by this story that gripped me in the first chapter. I experienced every emotion while turning the pages eager to see the young boy become a young man and rise out of tough circumstances. This is a story of triumph over tragedy with lessons we all can take to heart.”
Pamela Boubel, Career homemaker
“Grab a tissue! This is a must-read riveting story about a life of abuse that becomes a story about love, redemption, God-given strength to forgive, and a new life. God is still working miracles.”
Dan Bunting, Media producer