One summer when I was around 6, my dad drove my two younger brothers and I across British Columbia in a tangerine Ford Capri. It had a black interior and burned my bare skin when I sat in the front seat in shorts. It smelled of hot greasy dust, chip bags, and melting plastic, wires stuck out from the dashboard where the old radio had been ripped out. Dad loved that car. He'd been "souping it up" for months before we belted ourselves in and burned westward to visit Grandma.
He was in a vindictive mood. He and my mom were split up, maybe it was after their first separation, and I remember feeling his indignant air, a special malice held for those he believed had wronged him. He liked to be really righteous when the mood stuck him, you know, state rules about how people should behave or whatever, but mostly he just wanted do whatever the fuck he wanted. There was always a wild, unhinged feeling around him, like anything could be said, or done. We swore loudly, ate licorices and gas station treats for dinner, on long stretches he’d get me to drive or steer while he took a nap, and sometimes a wave of rage swept the car and gritting his teeth, he'd say things like, "That fat old bitch has NO business...what a STUPID fucking hag!" about someone he didn't like. He also liked to drop "secrets", adult stuff I wasn't supposed to know about, retaliative little bombs about my mom, or aunts, or grandparents or my two older half-sisters. Really mean, personal shit. Speeding down the snaky B.C. highway, he told me a big secret that shook my body and caused me to burst into tears.
"Why are you crying? I thought you already knew that." I didn't know. I held that secret in my chest for years. It made me think there were always secrets being held from me. I was obsessed with secrets. "Guess someone should have told you," he said. Guess so. Guess it was always him who told me horrible things about the ones who loved and protected me."You're my best girl, my princess."
"I’m just sitting here realizing that I want you to hate me. Like, I’d prefer that you hated me and things were clearcut in that terrible way rather than this strange, icky greyness I feel now. Could you block me? Or tell me something more concrete so I wouldn’t be able to communicate with you anymore?" This is what I wrote to a nice man I recently met. About a week previous to writing this message, my dad sent me an email with this inside: “As for me being a combined monster/asshole or either or both. Monsters are those people locked up in jails for serial murder, those who have molested, raped and abused and tortured children.”
I never mentioned any of the above, but he has a point:
How to measure our monsters?
I recently learned about the term "emotional incest" and it's like my whole inner architecture suddenly made sense. I've had 35 years of being open and porous to a very sick, broken man. I’ve either been the absolute epicentre of his happiness, or the point blank reason of his pain and sorrow. A princess or a piece of shit. He makes others responsible for everything that's wrong with him and his latest wife is the reason he's 'good' again. He's a vampire. He uses whatever open being to either soak up goodness or as a receptacle to spread his poison. I carried his sick for years. Long after my brothers and sisters were exhausted and boundaried, I held his sickness and I tried to cure it.
When you cut off a parent, people in our patriarchal culture love to tell you to suck it up and respect them as they gave you life. Fuck that. What's a child supposed to do when the parent fucks with their head year after year then dumps them? This is what a breakup letter from a pathetic, weak, spineless man reads like:
“I spent most of boxing day lying in bed, weeping and heartbroken about my children. No more. I have a family here who loves me and respects me, including grandsons who are respectful.
I now need to focus on those good things in my life. I'm busy and happy and productive. I do love you all and miss you all but this is not working, and evidently there is no possibility for reconciliation. You'd all rather prefer to demonize me. So be it. I'll deal with it and the pain will subside eventually....and our lives will go on.
Be well and be happy.
Always the fucking weeping: we all got it in person, over the phone, in emails, I even got one of his weeping episodes over Skype. He never sought out help, never thought anything was wrong with him. He was too rational and levelheaded, of course: like so many blind men, he was smarter than his sickness and his sadness.
I used to like men who really loved me in moments, then cut me out completely. There are plenty of special people like that, sick ones and married ones, they were perfect. My dad has rejected me in so many effective ways. Words, gestures, but mostly words. Poisonous words. I've tried to turn the words inside out -- is that why I'm a writer? Are these little shields against him? Monsters versus Monsters. Booze used to help soften these kinds of truths, all the variations of self-hate I acted out in relationships. I meet a nice guy, we spend some time together and I find myself hoping (demanding) he'll love me forever (before really knowing me) then as I reveal more of my personality, I start wishing he'd quickly hate me and cut me off (before really knowing me).
I thought I could change him, that he'd finally change and look at himself, get help. I thought it’d be different after my last letter to him. I was so compassionate, clear. I wasn't drunk. I just asked him to please respect me and not speak badly of the people I love. When I need to tell the truth my heart pounds. It pounded as I wrote him that letter asking he please respect my boundaries and not speak ill of my loved ones. It's pounding right now.