It was late in the evening. You had your hands on the back of mom’s wheelchair, with her tipped carefully backwards off of the front wheels. I had a small arm entwined around the neck of my uncle, who held me.
“Take her away from here! Get her out of here,” mom yelled, waving her arms around.
My arm curled ever tighter around my uncle. I cried and reached towards my mom, tiny hand grasping at the air as the tears streamed down my face.
Angrily, as you were for most of my childhood, you wheeled mom out of sight, and into the garage. I know that what followed was an anger that made you tear her from her wheelchair and plant her in a corner. I know you yelled at her over those cigarettes you caught her smoking. I know that it was loud enough, and terrifying enough, that even the neighbors stopped her the next day to ask if she was okay.
This is my earliest childhood memory.
In the years that followed, anger dots my memories — consumes them. I remember being afraid of you. My own father. I was terrified of you. When I heard your ankles crack as you walked down the hallway, I’d leap into whatever position I felt I was supposed to be in.
I remember when you would come into my room, Keith Green playing in the living room, and tear me from my bed sheets in anger that I wasn’t up early enough.
I remember when you would come home and pull my chair over backwards while I still sat in it. You hadn’t even changed out of your dark-green slacks and your button-down shirt that was your everyday work clothes.
I remember when you would come home and sit me down on the long couch — the one that faced that fireplace we never used — and yell at me for what felt like hours.
I remember when you would pull out that stick meant for mixing paint, and you’d spank me until I cried and pleaded and promised to never do it again. I remember the one time that you didn’t have the stick, and it was just a belt instead.
I remember when you’d hurt the animals that were my pets. I remember Gretta’s cries emanating softly, and then the noises that followed as you ensured her nightly silence. I remember when you threw Isis into the barbeque pit outside, her face smashing into it before she fearfully ran off.
I remember how you dragged me into church until I cried every Sunday and mom told you that I wasn’t going there anymore.
I remember drawing you and mom pictures — pictures that you kept up until moving out of that old house — to tell you both that I loved you after you screamed at each other.
Even as I got older, things didn’t change much.
When I was 8, you almost died. We took you to three hospitals and it wasn’t until the third that they properly diagnosed you with guillain barre syndrome. I sat in the ER waiting room for hours for you, watching as men came in with half a face from motorcycle accidents, and kids came in with rags pressed to their bloodied heads.
The next day, Gretta died. I watched her bleed out to death in the street, right in front of our home — life slowly slipping away as I choked on my tears and screamed.
After you came home, you were so angry that you had lived. And after the divorce, you hid the cigarettes in the refrigerator and yelled at me when you’d find me up late, hiding on the laptop that you said, “reminded [you] of [my] mother.”
Around this time, I was going through sexual trauma at home. I never felt like I really had a father, and so I spent time online, with older men, who treated me terribly.
I was so alone. I started having panic attacks regularly by then. Night terrors woke me up in frozen fear, clawing at my own skin to make sure I was awake and alive.
Mom got remarried. You kept on being angry. And I kept on being alone.
I couldn’t figure out what was so insignificant about me.
I wanted to die. You told me you wished you had never “fucked” my mother. Your angry tirades seemed to lessen after you met Sandy, but still, I walked on eggshells around you. You told me my sarcasm and smart mouth would never get me anywhere. You told me I should take a secretarial job instead of pursue games. Grandfather asked if I was going to pose for Playboy at 18. You told me this was his way of complimenting me.
I was a tiny, insignificant girl who’s only value was in her appearance.
You told me how to cut my hair, sarcastically remarked on my nails, hair, and makeup. You told me my depression was simply a matter of lack of sunshine, and blamed me for my diagnosis of lymphocytic vasculitis.
I never stopped being afraid of you, dad.
You’d tell me that you were just an asshole when you would make me cry, but it didn’t make it better. I was gutted, hollowed out from over a decade of being on the bad end of your anger.
There was no excuse. I was a tiny child. I spilled things, I fucked up, I was growing and learning.
Later, I’d take you out to dinner with my then-boyfriend, Tom. I felt safe with him — like you couldn’t talk down to me in front of everyone with him there, like you couldn’t trap me on a couch to yell at me. I felt free to be myself.
Afterwards, you’d tell me that you didn’t like who he “turned me into,” and it broke my heart. I realized, in that moment, that I’d never be the person that you wanted me to be. That you expected me to be. That I couldn’t be that person. That I’d always take up too much space, that I’d always be too loud, too sarcastic. That I’d always want an education that you didn’t place importance on. That I’d always wear too much makeup, or wear my hair in too many colors, or paint my nails too much.
You’d pull me by the arm to the car and trap me there to tell me how you always walked on eggshells with me. That I was too delicate. Too much like my mom. Too much of all these things you didn’t like. I cried and felt so insignificant in the wake of your anger, and too afraid to move.
Sandy sat quietly in the back seat, and I felt so alone. Was I the broken one? Was this normal? Who was I?
You’d shake me and scream about how you were an asshole, regret sinking in.
But that was it. That was the moment that you laid a hand on me, and my heart shattered like glass.
You still write me, but I don’t open your letters, because when I do, you still don’t know what you did wrong. You still don’t see the decades of abuse you laid on me and how much pain it has caused me.
When I was younger, I wanted to die to end the pain I was in. I fantasized about bleeding out on a white floor, just letting the pain slowly slip away until there was nothing left of me. Worse, I couldn’t even understand the pain I was in, because it got into me so early. So young.
It has warped me in ways that I am only just now starting to understand. When Michael shuts a door too loud, pangs of adrenaline course through my body and make me ill. When he gets angry, I want to hide and crawl on my face with apology. I still curl up on the couch like that tiny child. I struggle to make healthy relationships with people, and I am flooded with terror at the prospects of standing up for myself. I carry shame, like a noose around my neck. I live in constant fear of “not good enough.” I can feel the sadness lurking beneath the surface of my reality at all times, waiting to pull me into it’s arms with a familiar embrace.
But I’ve cut off my hair so I can’t hide behind it, and to prove to myself that I can be beautiful without it. I’ve started taking medications for the CPTSD and panic disorders you’ve left behind on me. I’ve been seeing a therapist for a year now, where I cry and work out what normal, healthy person responses to things look like, because I don’t have them. I’ve spent years, and will spend potentially decades erasing the damage you’ve done to me.
But some of it is permanent. Like the vasculitis you blamed on me, that was a likely result of the anxiety and trauma in my life that caused my body to cannibalize it’s better nature. Some things will never heal.
I know we don’t talk. You still don’t know what you did wrong, and maybe you’ll never know. Maybe you’ll still blame me. Maybe you’ll still tell me I am broken, when I know that you are the one that is broken.
I know you’re getting older, and it’s hard because I want to love you so badly. And I know how much I’ll miss you once you’re gone… but loving you hurts me so much because you’ve hurt me so much. You betrayed my trust before I could even discover what trust meant.
Perhaps one day we’ll talk again, but I know you won’t have changed. So for now, I’m just waiting for the moment where I’m okay, despite knowing that.
Happy Father’s Day.