Lean

Continued from “Mutation”

This business of the obligatory goodbye kiss had to end, we had decided. It was increasingly uncomfortable the older we got and the less affection we could summon. So, carefully and with a much practiced presentation we gathered our courage and asked for space to exchange the kiss for a goodbye hug. We steeled ourselves and stood strong when he responded as though we had accused him of molesting us. We demurely stuck to our guns when his elaborately crafted extreme questions and rhetoric nearly pushed us into reflexive backpedaling and conciliatory apology. And we were flush with shocked relief when at last our request was granted. Rarely was a petition honored– never without an ordeal–, especially when it was a question of  household policy. We clapped each other on the backs (when his was turned) at our diplomacy.

Short lived exultation, I assure you. Over the next few weeks several awkward hugs were exchanged, each heavy with disapproval and a sense of my willful withholding of something due. But the right to an un-violated body is something Dad himself had taught (during the endless “Every man ever wants to rape you” lectures). It wasn’t the first time I’d been stuck in a quandary due to conflicting teachings or expectations. How was I to know that allowing myself to be manipulated by the emotional pressure into relenting wouldn’t simply result in a moral lecture of epic proportions anyway?  So with bated breath I chose not to relent.

A soft embrace. At last the awkwardness is gone. He has forgiven me my assertion. Respected my need over his. His arms welcome me, draw me in. Relieved, I relax against him. The hug draws out just too long. I feel caged, start to extricate myself. His arms go hard. A trap. Confusion and panic tumble over me. I shift, but the embrace holds me tight. We are leaning, leaning back. I can’t steady myself with my arms pinned. Still leaning– I try to relax but he pushes it too far. My reflexes take over and I stop thinking: My heart races, I start, go rigid, put my foot back solidly and push against him. I am free. He is angry. “What’s wrong? You don’t trust me? You think I’d let you fall?? You really think so lowly of me? You should trust me with your LIFE. I am your FATHER.”

We didn’t win. We never do. A hug is no longer a welcome refuge from an uncomfortable tradition. It is the new unstable ground, sometimes safe, sometimes a test of demanded trust– a test I must pass by suppressing all instincts of self preservation, submitting to fear and recovering on my own time.

The last time I saw my Dad, Aug. 2013, I dreaded the goodbye hug. When the time came my body was tense and cold, the hug rigid. Even then, even after so many years, even hugging his 28 year old daughter, Dad leaned just noticeably enough, and chuckled to himself at my startle reflex. His head shake seemed to say, “You never did learn, did you?”

I hope I never will.

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Mutation

Note: This is not a story of sexual abuse, blatant or hinted. Please feel peace to read what IS without fear of another shoe dropping.

Are we proving Evolution or disproving it as we watch every detail morph into something new, since the gradual but traceable changes always form a corrupted and distorted echo of the original? Beauty to repulsion, sweet to sickening, purest intent to the chaos of self-service, affection to control.

A sweet little family, laced through with the bright and happy threads of hippie love and natural rhythm. Childbirth is beautiful, the body a wonder. The bond of parent and child breathes health into the world, a pure and innocent relationship like no other. Nothing owed, everything given. An adoring father loathe to leave his beautiful young family; a goodbye peck on the lips– a sweet and innocent gesture .

A tradition.
An expectation.
A demand.
A shackle to track our coming and going.
Evolution. Mutation. Corruption.

My father worked from home some days, in his woodworking shop or somewhere on our 9 wooded acres. His coming and going was always uncertain– any moment of any day he would walk through the door, always read to catch us in “the act”. Thoroughly safe days were rare, as was the absence of anxiety. Lacking a solid way to know when it was a home day or an away day, it was best to assume he was always around somewhere. Screw Big Brother or Santa, Dad is watching. But that’s not the point of this story, I suppose. Just the context.

Expectations. Living up to Dad’s expectations was akin to godliness (we gave up on cleanliness for a while in the middle years). So when it was time to head in to town, most commonly for a home school group event (a highlight in my childhood memories to this day), we were careful, oh so careful, not to leave without a goodbye kiss. No matter how late we might be (you try gathering five kids post chores and getting them and their projects and your shopping list and your library books to be returned and…) our well trained eyes would scour for a sign of Dad’s van. Better late than defiant–our friends and teachers would forgive us. Spotting the van would mean a trek down the driveway, across the road that bisects the property, down the old driveway to the shop or burn pile or fence– wherever Dad was, that’s where we had to go.

The affection of the ritual long forgotten, the sound of lips connecting was to me the click of a lock released. With a kiss I was granted the freedom to leave, to briefly be in the great Elsewhere. It was a cumbersome tradition, but one we all knew better than to bypass. We all have brains full of reasons shouting at us in His voice, always His voice:

 Is your time so valuable?                   Better things to do than love your Father? 
A slap in the face                                 Do you know how hard I work for this family?       You can’t even be bothered to                      How do you think I feel 
No matter how busy I am I always find
 you before I leave      How would you feel if i
My time is more valuable                          I am most important
I                   Me                      My


Rhetorical questions stand no retort, the assumption of irrefutable conclusion built in. Into my brain they sank and grew roots, and faithfully I followed their edict. Each day I made whatever trek necessary for that goodbye kiss, to receive a stay of lecture, and each day I became more and more empty.

Landmines

I am angry.

Yesterday I was hurtful. I tried not to be. First, I felt hurt. Then I took a deep breath, smiled, said it was OK. My friend’s smart. I wasn’t believed: “What do you really feel? I want you to be honest.” “I’ll be fine. I just have to adjust.” “But what are you feeling?” And I said what I was feeling. I never planned to act on it, I was just feeling it for a minute then I’d move on. “That’s just not fair,” he says. I never said it would be, I just felt it. And I wasn’t going to tell. I was pushed. And what I was feeling was hurtful. I wasn’t lashing out, I swear. I was gentle and tactful, just matter of fact honest. But as soon as I voiced it I felt illness settle into my stomach. I was certain I’d vomit. I needed out of the conversation. I had been hurtful, and that was unacceptable. The original pain I’d felt was also my fault. Why was I hurtable?

I shook my head as if doing so actually helps clear it when emotions are the fog settled over me. Why am I blaming myself for both the hurt and the hurting? Why do I believe this about myself? It’s just not reasonable, but I can’t unbelieve it. At least my stomach can’t. My stomach needs to understand why I feel so culpable and I pause to trace origin….

Ah yes. A lifetime of submission to a man who has shouted a reality into existence in which, since he is always right and true, if he is angering it is because I am rebellious, if he is angry it is because I am wrong. All anger is the fault of the Other, as he does no wrong.

Fuck.

I am past this.

I have been working on this for years.

I don’t believe this shit any more. I know better through and through.

Yet I am blindsided by bullshit feelings of complete culpability, denying myself of the right to exist if that existence is counter another, if my needs are inconvenient or unsettling. What is that?

Dad didn’t just emotionally and spiritually abuse me as a child. He created a world that was safe for him, and demanded we all live in it. Then, to keep us from leaving, he seeded the whole world, past present and future, with landmines. Every step I take, every time I feel safe to venture out and say “I am free of the Voice!” I round a corner and BLAM! No legs to stand on. The world will never be free of landmines, no matter how many I diffuse. Damn him.

Today I am okay with being angry.

It’s OK to laugh.

For a blog to prosper one must post consistently, so visitors don’t give up on you. I know. I’ve resisted writing all holiday season, though. My journal has padded my purse everywhere I’ve gone, but I just couldn’t dig into that file in my brain. I have stories, timely and seasonal. “Christmas,” “Y2K….” But I couldn’t. I wanted to be present in the here and now, enjoying what I could, not hating and hurting during the festivities. Sometimes healing means letting it rest.

But not wanting to say NOTHING of my interaction with Santa of years past, I offer you this: A satirical song by a beloved artist, which is so apt it hurts. Santa=Satan anyone?