To Anyone Who Has Ever Said ‘He Loves You In His Own Way’

He loves you, in his own way. Your voice catches on that comma and your eyes slide away. Guilt burns in your throat when you’ve let those words fly. They’re caught by someone you’ve just let down. I don’t blame you for not being able to look at the impact. Makes it harder to believe you’re helping.

You’re my mother. You’ve been married to my father for ages. You’ve spent more time married to him than not married to him. You’ve forgotten what it’s like not to live with a man who berates you and beats you and even rapes you sometimes, though you’ve never actually thought of it that way because no one ever told you you could be raped by your own husband. You end up with three kids, kids you’ve always wanted and love more than anything and you hope he will love them too. He doesn’t. It kills you. You have to figure out a way to live with yourself, knowing that you can’t protect your children from the violence you’ve accepted as a fact of your life. So when they’re terrified, when they’re nursing wounds physical and otherwise, you feed them the lie you desperately want to believe yourself: “He loves you. In his own way.” Maybe you hope they don’t hear the doubt in your voice.

Take it from one of those kids—that lie isn’t comforting. It doesn’t make anyone’s pain go away. It’s a burden of guilt dressed in loyalty’s clothing. Because I may be young but I’m old enough to know what love is and what love isn’t. Love isn’t being too cowardly to protect my brother from having his face burned with boiling water because I don’t want to be next. Love isn’t having my legs broken because he was drunk and I was in the way. Love isn’t living on the street when I’m ten because it’s less frightening than living in that house with him. Love isn’t being forced to steal food and clothes because he doesn’t care how or if we survive, so long as it’s not on his dime.

Maybe you think it’s too traumatic to admit that this person whose actions you’re trying to justify doesn’t love me. Let me tell you something — there’s nothing more liberating than finally hearing that no, in fact, my father doesn’t love me. Because I finally don’t have to feel guilty for not loving him.