My mother came back eventually, but the whole situation never felt warm. It felt staged. After she came back my father got an impressive promotion and we were off to Europe, to Berlin.
My mother was fully aware of the abuses that took place. But, she insisted on living behind her own picket fence, where everything is pretty, everything is fine! If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.
I began to smell that little stench of staged affection and manufactured presentation. I asked later in life why they reconciled. The answer was deliciously coated with a strange truth. “We didn’t want you and your sister coming from a broken home.” No, instead we came from a home of cold abuse. No one spoke to each other, no one could wait to get out of the house, or out of this life.
As my father’s career took off, we were forced to do appearances and photo ops, be seen as a military family having Thanksgiving dinner with the troops, being sociable with the soldiers, act like we like each other, then all leave in separate vehicles to different destinations.
My father pulled me aside at one of those events, saw the bratty disdain on my face and said, “I’ll take care of that look on your face when we get home….”
The more successful he became, the more power and control fueled him. By the time I was 17 he resented me, hated me. I was smarter than him, taller than him, more perceptive than him. And he hates those people with a passion. His condition was quite Napoleonic.
By the time I was 17 the beatings had increased because I knew a secret. In order to quiet me, he took control of any strength I had, but I tolerated it. I could see the end of this happening soon, quickly. I would take his lashings, his pointing a shotgun at me, his hitting me with a 2 x 4, because I only had to wait a little while longer to be out from under his control. Then I could be away, far away, and be any body I wanted to be.
And this is where I pause to write the next line….
The very last time he hit me, I barely flinched, because I wasn’t experiencing at that moment him hitting me…..but, feeling his own father hit him.
My father did not have the best childhood. Seven of them lived in a rickety two bedroom house just next to an interstate over path. They didn’t have Christmases. And if they did, my father got socks, underwear, something he needed. Not something that brought joy.
Like his, my father was abusive to the boys in his midst, but overly amorous with the girls. And as he was hitting me that last time, I could see it all playing out in front of me. This man hitting me thinks, feels, that this is how life is supposed to be. It was fortified in his mind at a very young age. He had been taught this, had observed this behavior as acceptable and normal, and with every moment my skin stung with another smack of the belt on my back, I was realizing it, understanding why he was doing this to me. It is a strange and toxic mix of misunderstandings. I’m going to beat the crap out of you because you’re weak….you’ll either die and prove me right, or you’ll survive and prove me wrong.
He wanted me to be stronger than I was, harder than I was. Do you realize that until I was about 15 when introduced to people, they thought my name was “Grey?” They would ask again, “Did you say, ‘Grey?'” I was too timid to say my own name. Ironically, I was afraid whatever tone or enthusiasm I said my own name with would be met with criticism from my father and another turn at “correcting my behavior.” So I often said my name timidly, head down, eyes staring at the set of boots in front of me….because I had been learning to dislike who I was.
But, that last time he was beating me, I was understanding his anger more and more. What he thought he was giving me in those lessons was a goddamn feeling of self worth. What I was learning, was to doubt myself more and more. That the thoughts, expressions, feelings of who I am are not worth the time exploring. I was to behave as instructed and any deviation is a crime.
Whenever those beatings occurred, my sister would peek her head through our Jack and Jill doors and ask, “Are you ok?”
I’d whimper and cry, “Just leave me alone….GO! CLOSE THE DOOR! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!”
But, even though thoughts about each other were always in the air, we never spoke of the issues hurting us. That was life.
Before I left Berlin and came back to the states on my own, my sister and I shared a glance. I’ll never forget it. I have to say, we never spoke then about how much we appreciated the wonderful amount of privacy that those Jack and Jill bedrooms allowed us to share silently with each other. Two caged children, each being hurt in their own cruel way. I felt awful that I was leaving her there alone…..no one on the other side of the door to run to quietly. Two caged children, unable to speak….but understanding of each other’s pain.
I felt awful the day I left Berlin. I didn’t get a good chance to say goodbye to my friends, but with one glance I was able to say something to my sister.
And that last glance we gave each other as we closed the door for the last time spoke for us. On her end, her eyes swelled with the tears of yearning. “At least he only hits you….”
To which my eyes responded back, “As disgusting as it may be, at least he shows you affection….”
I didn’t hear from her for nearly 20 years….
I guess in the process of healing, I’m told I am to forgive him, bless him with riches, and set him free…..
Dad? If you’re reading this, know that I don’t hate you. I am hurt by you, but I don’t hate you anymore. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you well. I’ve heard you tell me how proud you are of me and, although I am so pleased to hear that, please don’t congratulate yourself for the man I have become….This man you see before you was my doing. I set you free….You are no longer responsible.
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