Like millions of women, Eve Ensler has been waiting much of her lifetime for an apology. Sexually and physically abused by her father, Ensler has struggled her whole life from this betrayal, longing for an honest reckoning from a man who is long dead. After years of work as an anti-violence activist, she decided she would wait no longer; an apology could be imagined, by her, for her, to her. The Apology (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), written by Ensler from her father’s point of view in the words she longed to hear, attempts to transform the abuse she suffered with unflinching truthfulness, compassion, and an expansive vision for the future.
As an award-winning playwright, best known for her play “The Vagina Monologues,” Ensler has used art as a vehicle for anti-violence activism. Her performances are threaded together by the common theme of reclaiming female identity. The Apology continues that legacy by pioneering an important perspective about accountability and apology in our contemporary, fourth wave of feminism.
Following is an excerpt from The Apology.
Charm was my fortification. It served a dual purpose. It lured people in and it kept them excited and delighted long enough to come under my spell. Then, after, even when people felt demeaned or hurt or frightened by me, the charm confused them, but like a fly to honey, they clung to me in spite of their pain. My status among my peers transformed overnight from obscure to mysterious, from abhorred to imitated. I am not sure whether anyone, then or ever, really knew or liked me (and in full honesty what was there to like?), but they followed me, they were in awe of me; they wanted to be near me and have what ever I had.
Of course, it was shimmering illusion, a chimera, but who cared? Charm took the ugly off my grandiosity. It sweetened the arrogance. I was no less a snob, but now people admired me for it, as it seem justified. In those years before meeting your mother, I perfected my performance, and indeed it seemed my whole life was a grand act. Somehow this shining new rendition of myself seemed to ward off my father’s harsh criticisms and contempt. He was impressed by my commitment to this new attitude, attire, and manner and suddenly had faith that I would indeed rise to be the golden boy he and my mother had dreamed of, bringing the family wealth and status. My sisters and mother became even more deeply enamored and devoted. I was the new American king, the pathway to a glamorous and glittering future for all. Even Milton, my vicious brother, was thrown off balance and seemed almost inspired by the entire effect. He gradually started to imitate my way of dressing and would sometimes accompany me to the movies.
The tortured and angry young man inside me was now firmly disguised, costumed in dashing handmade suits. He dressed in confidence and elegance and seemed, at least momentarily, to transform his enemies into admirers through style and charm. As you can imagine, this was a most synthetic remedy to what I can only identify now as soul sickness. I had been cast into the world as the exact opposite of the deep, reflective, philosophical man I had once dreamed of becoming. Instead I was becoming everything I secretly despised.
For I see now, after years of ceaseless self- obsession in the death realm, that there is no pain we can ever truly bury or avoid within ourselves. The tortured man I tried to leave behind would eventually surface. All the years of forcing him underground, all the sorrow and pain I ignored and did not care for, eventually metastasized into an entity and returned as a most terrifying fiend. He claimed my life then, and most regrettably, for the last thirty-one years he claimed my death in limbo. I realize I am speaking of him in the third person. I am by no means attempting to escape responsibility for his actions. It was more an indication of how profoundly detached I became from the person I shall call Shadow Man.
In the same way my parents had not seen or paid attention to the little boy I truly was, in the same way they idealized me and turned me into a king, I learned in turn to do the same thing to myself.
I became God in my own mind. I became all powerful and perfect. Shadow Man had no place in that story. So I banished him the way I had been banished. If he was hurting, I became impatient with him and told him to snap out of it. If he was afraid or doubtful, I bullied him with merciless judgment. If the ragged edges of his low self- value surfaced, I dosed him with grandiose visions of my prowess and accomplishments. If he tried to remind me how far I had strayed from my spiritual longings, I shamed him into compliance by demeaning his impractical and nonsensical dreams and glorifying my rising fortune. I drank him away. I achieved him away. But all the while, Shadow Man plotted, seethed, and stewed. His sense of betrayal, his bitterness, his rage grew like volcanic lava bubbling beneath the surface of my skin. He would not emerge until much later. The ongoing friction caused by the growing disdain I had for myself combined with my arrogance and my utter inability and unwillingness to change my path assured a future in which I would become cruel and violent.
But Shadow Man would not emerge until much later. In those next years I built a life on charm, good looks, and snobbery. I moved in glamorous and fashionable crowds. I modeled for a time, and I was never seen in public without a bombshell actress or an elegant socialite on my arm. I was invited into the most exclusive clubs. I rose seemingly effortlessly to the top of society and the business world. The irony of course was that I despised those impostors and hypocrites who welcomed me and I had no interest in money. I found it beneath me and distasteful, merely a means to maintain my façade. But perhaps it was my very disdain for all of it that brought me fortune.
I’ve noticed that people often seem desperate for the person who has no interest in them. They gravitate toward the most critical and judgmental because that person confirms their deepest suspicion of being a worthless faker. I exploited this weakness to raise and sustain my position. People were intimidated by me, as they could sense my underlying contempt for their pathetic preoccupations. But my charm and looks distracted and drew them in. My life was a game to be mastered, a persona and an image to be styled and perfected. I was what was becoming known as a modern American man.
This is where your mother comes in. My playboy-bachelor days were beginning to sour — adorable rascal quickly descending into uncaring cad. I was close to fifty and had never had a relationship that lasted longer than a few months. I told myself and concerned others, particularly my older sisters, that I was holding out for “the one,” but in truth, I dreaded everything about the notion of marriage and family. To be cooped up in a house with a boring woman and nasty children in dreary routine was a paralyzing notion.
It was about this time that I met your mother. I wish I could tell you we fell madly in love, but that is not what happened. (Although you must know I came to love your mother dearly in my way.)
From The Apology by Eve Ensler. Copyright © 2019. Reproduced by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing USA.