When I was 17 years old, I noticed my dad looking at me differently.
That’s a hard sentence to type.
On a number of levels.
The first level is manned by a critic who keeps post atop my hypothalamus (“The hypothalamus controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sleep, and circadian cycles…”). I imagine this critic as a vulture, an animated Disney character. He sounds like John Lovitz, with his shoulders perched up to his head, a long black beak and beady, pointed eyes, “What are you doing in here? Go away. Stop crying. Suck it up. No one wants to read this bullshit. Leave.”
I agree with him. That first sentence reads like every Lifetime™ movie.
I don’t want to write a victim story. I have no interest in crusading against anyone. I don’t want to elicit pity or sympathy. I want to tell a story.
Besides, the vulture’s not scary; you have to know how to talk to him. Appeal to his sense of ego. I bypass him easily enough most days.
It’s the second level that stops me in my tracks. The person standing post here fills me with anxiety and anger and fear (aren’t they all the same?). She is my mother; but not my real mother. It is the hologram of my mother, the persona I’ve created from a woman who I only know through the lens of a daughter.
(What do any of us daughters really know about our mothers?)
I’ve done my best to hide my interior life from my mother. Our relationship is too complicated for me. I keep severe boundaries and strict rules of engagement.
I imagine my mom was hurt deeply and often as a child. I wasn’t there, but I base her abuse on the lapses into mental psychosis she has suffered throughout my lifetime (Lifetime™?).
The mental psychosis diagnoses is my interpretation, stemming from month-long bouts of never leaving her bedroom. Physically violent outbursts and verbally abusive attacks against her children. And, years ago, regular and intense periods of self-medication.
I know that my mom has suffered great tragedies and those tragedies have manifested themselves into actions she wishes never happened. This is the reason for my empathy towards her; it’s how I keep my anger from engulfing both of us. It is my way of finding peace in between harrowing memories.
Should my mom, my real mom, ever read this, I know it would hurt her. I fear it would hurt her so badly she couldn’t recover. And what kind of daughter does that? Who does something so brutal to someone they love so much?
And I do; I love my mom.
but, but, but…
But, why would my mom be the one in charge of the second level? (Alas, I’ve already gone astray. Thankfully this is only a blog with a child’s handful of readers. Going astray is the result of being one’s own editor.)
That first sentence I wrote could be followed by these: My mom knew and only ever used her knowing to attack him. To accuse him. To threaten him.
The way I understand it, she could only ever face what happened to me as a way to arm herself against a man she had claimed war on long before he started looking at me differently.
It wasn’t about protecting me. It was about attacking him. It was a tool. A weapon. It was about her. And him. I was a secondary character.
As you can imagine, this level of my conscious is steep and unsteady. If I scale the wall, as I have done here, I fear there is nothing but a sharp fall into a dark and unending abyss on the other side.
I bite my bottom lip and feel my neck going stiff, hunched over my laptop, tapping my the keyboard without typing any letters. Frantic movements. More than two decades later, this level feels…this level feels like the trap-net keeping my story under wraps, keeping it untold.
And it’s not even the steepest level.
The steepest level is the one where I must negotiate between protecting my family and saving myself. Do I break the silent contract–the one most families have locked up in the cedar chest of their familial collective conscious? This level is not the elephant in the middle of the room. It’s the room where the elephant is kept. The room where we hurt the people we love and keep loving the people who hurt us.
I still have a relationship with my dad. My kids love him. He’s their grandpa.
The episodes–I know no other word to use here–stopped eventually. I left for college. Learned how to binge-drink. Slept around. And drank some more. I graduated from college. Got married. Got drunk. A lot. Fought with my husband. Struggled with depression. Left my husband. Came back to my husband. Continued drinking. Continued losing and gaining weight. Continued struggling with depression.
I know many people can’t understand it, me maintaining a relationship with my dad. I don’t understand it. I am often lost in the woods with it.
Shit happens and every family crisis we survive, I trace back to those…episodes.
I juggle blame with justification. Even now, I want to add disclaimers: he didn’t rape me; he wasn’t my biological dad; I was 17 and already a sexually active young woman (not a child); he drank heavily; I know he loves me.
When I was seventeen, I noticed my dad looking at me differently.
That’s all I can say right now. It’s my seed. I am lost in the woods; I fear that I will never find my way home, and that fear has finally outgrown my instinct to protect the ones I love.
Four words to start a story I will tell it many different ways. Many different times. I will tell it over and over and over again until I don’t need to tell it anymore. I don’t know how it will serve me; I only know it will.
(I am inclined to turn off comments, but wonder if this will serve anyone else. It took me a long time to write that first sentence. I’d hate to take away a space where someone else could write their own first sentence.)
(And by the off chance you think you know me, you don’t. I’m not who you think I am. )