My childhood is a Topic. It’s interesting how everyone else experienced that time. Then there is how I experienced this time. As a young child, no one really tried to talk to me about anything so I spent a lot of time alone with my own thoughts. I spent a lot of time alone, period. It was a very quiet house until it wasn’t. When it wasn’t it quiet, it was dark. His presence was always ominous, his words never kind or soft. My stomach would always be in knots. When I got home afterschool, I would hold my breath. “Please don’t be here.” The shoes by the stairs. The open closet. A loud voice.
It’s not that he ever called me ugly or worthless. It was more insidious than that. He is a very long-winded person who has a distorted sense of self-importance. An orator with a captive audience. An orator who does not know how to read a room. Very charismatic. That charisma is the worst part. Like, it’s bad enough that you’re evil but you flip this switch and people love you. And I have to watch this and I know that you’re evil. That is a slap to the face every time (see what I did there?). I was often reminded of how he gave up his dream for me because of my mother’s actions. I heard, “I did not create this monster” too often. I was often reminded that I ought to be grateful that my nana took me in. He spoke very condescendingly. I was criticized for displaying emotions. I was not permitted to speak freely. I was not to speak about what I felt was abuse outside of this house.
It has become painfully clear that not only was my father abusive, his abuse primed me. It put a scent on me. It’s a fact that childhood abuse renders you more susceptible to domestic violence in the future. Being taught that I should not seek help or speak up when I feel that someone is harmful was a very dangerous and stupid lesson. As an adult, I have a very difficult time speaking up when I am in uncomfortable situations.
When I acted out as a child, it was mostly emotional outbursts. I remember telling my mama “No!” when they told me it was time to say goodbye one Sunday (I hate Sundays til this day. Another day we’ll talk about visitation and those adventures.) At this time I’ve developed feelings of abandonment and separation anxiety. I never wanted to go back “home”. No one is paying attention to the ‘why’ of the outbursts. He just beat me. I just wanted to be with my mother and the part of the family that is kind and warm and loving.
I spoke up. I was beaten.
Reported child abuse to the guidance counselors.
I spoke up.
I was beaten.
I spoke with caseworkers who met with me at school because it was safe. I show the handprint that is still on my face.
I spoke up.
I was beaten.
Crying was perceived as a nuisance and a weakness. I have a very difficult time expressing my true feelings and thoughts because I carry a fear in my heart wherever I go. I am always anticipating a negative or violent reaction when I speak up. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone being rude in the grocery store or when in a pool with a popular figure who boldly reaches down into your panties when your Person is feet away. These little lessons were far more injurious than anyone thought, I’m sure. I have a very complicated relationship with crying. I have perfected a silent cry with minimal funny breathing. I had to hide sobbing for many years. I practiced the silent cry when my other ex raped me.
I think about Zora often, sis came with a good word:
“if you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
It angers me to realize that I lost my voice, my true voice, early on (which explains how I came to latch onto English/reading/writing). People like this are only able to do what they do because they are enabled and protected. My family knows, and knew, that he was a very mean and hurtful person (only two of us use the word abusive, surprising, right?) As such, with this knowledge surprise appearances and surprise “here, talk to your father” phone calls have always been far more harmful than anyone has considered. People like that are able to spin the narrative: “my _____ is acting out”, “you know how ____ are”, “she’s doing this for some crazy reason”, “it’s not like I punched her”, “she….”. Which He said what? Seeing those parallels between my father and my ex(es) is incredibly sobering. I can actually make a flowchart and illustrate The Cycle and trace the connections.
What has been revealed through therapy is that I often conflated the affects of how he treated me with depressive symptoms. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps years of verbal and emotional abuse took a toll. It’s been a very sore space and I have found it very challenging to examine those feelings. Much like most of my Things, this traces back to my childhood.
As a result of my experience with my father, I realize that People like that know how to sell a dream and paint pretty pictures. My ex offered me security and protection from other people’s harm while quietly draining my spirit and covering me in his darkness and invoking his own harm.
Neither of them perceive themselves to be abusive and I’m certain that is why they have both been able to victimize people. I know I’m not the first or the last. My father has been terrorizing my family for years but no one has the balls to tell him about himself. I had the opportunity to do so in October and dear god, that was a beautiful day. I feel exhilarated just remembering the conversation. If there are no consequences, why would someone like that be inclined to change? These are narcissists who manipulate people and have mastered gaslighting. Call a spade a spade or understand that you’re being played. These are not good people. Eventually my belief that “just because you’re family, does not require that I give you space and access” will be better understood.
It feels different. To say, “I do not feel like any of you protected me” helps me to better grasp that what happened in my childhood was not my fault. I grasped that with my exes but I have internalized so much of that man’s shit that I blamed myself for how he treated me. Me. The child. I was the reason he was always so angry. He says he’s proud and he loves but he hurt me and he hurts my feelings deeply. Whew, hurt feelings. I just cringed. I think when I told him that his words hurt my feelings he was thinking some sissy shit. No, that man’s words chipped away at my sense of self-worth. I only felt warmth, more like lukewarmth, when I achieved something academically. (I’m sure we’ll explore that little ditty at some point.) Him cracking me and chipping away at this shell of confidence and worthiness has made it easier for the next person to do the same.
Chip, chip, chip away.
Chip, chip, chip away.
This trauma has to stop somewhere. Even when there is an unwillingness to examine one’s complicity. Especially periphery characters. I’m tasked with healing myself even though I didn’t break me. This fight to reclaim myself, to challenge the status quo and to actively try to stop these cycles of trauma… it’s a lonely fight steeped in dissension. But I have to be very honest with myself in this journey otherwise I will absolutely not reach the other side.
What have I gained from being emotionally dishonest about my feelings about my childhood, upbringing, etc?
Why am I protecting folks’ feelings when they did not protect me?
What am I afraid of?
I have this gross tendency of internalizing and repressing my feelings. It directly traces back to my father. I see that clearly. It has not served me. It’s amazing I got this far without having processed any of this shit. It’s a modern fucking marvel.
I always thought the bombs would drop in my memoir.