Intro from Pt. 6 The Worth of Being Separate
I suddenly realized that my sister too had been sexually assaulted by our father. But not wanting to open that lockbox of experience, I quickly shut the conversation down,
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t want to talk about this.”
I was alone in myself again. I couldn’t say anything.
Pt 7 The Worth of Saying “Yes”
Years before that courtroom, perhaps when I am sixteen or seventeen and my sister two years younger, the years hazy from our timeless way of life, my sister ostensibly broke our silence about our father’s sexual assault of us. My mother and I were preparing to leave for the weekend for a rabbit show a state away when my sister told Mom she was afraid to be left alone with our father. I wasn’t there, but I imagine my mother starting to turn away toward the door, as she tosses an impatient, “Why?” before turning to leave.
If there were any whole conversations in our house it usually involved angry confrontations that quickly dissolved into diminishing each other at any sign of weakness. One minute we were arguing one of the finer points of Biblical doctrine and the next we were hurling insults at each other for what we each believe. Those confrontations are a microcosm of the whole of our family interactions.
That moment between my mother and sister probably plays out pretty closely to my moment with my mother right after: my mother distant and cold, annoyed by an interruption of her plans, and insensitive to her child’s feelings. My sister shared her fears of our father sexually assaulting her while my mother and I were away.
This same fear descends on me only years after both this moment and later my father’s conviction, when I am haunted by the PTSD that came of counseling that unlocked the compartments, no, lockboxes where I held all the traumatic experiences of life. When my mother approaches me after my sister’s revelation to her, I am totally oblivious: not just of their conversation, but also of my own experiences. I didn’t look back on any moment, didn’t contemplate meaning or freeing myself or any other things about the molestation, and, most importantly didn’t fear another incident coming. It simply didn’t exist if it wasn’t happening. It only existed partly when it was.
It was other-worldly for me to imagine my sister fearing, at any given moment, through to her teen years, Dad’s inflicting his desires on her, even years after the last time, whenever that was for her. Because my sister and I have not spoken with each other of much of our experiences, I don’t know what my sister or Mom said that day. I don’t know how our mother responded to my sister’s accusation. I only know my experience, and, knowing my sister, our experiences probably diverged. I don’t think my sister sobbed.
That day as a teenager, like a Londoner during WWII not knowing a bomb is about to drop on them, I sat in my very “own” blue ’79 Ford Mustang that my parents promised to repair for me and that I know will never be repaired. Sitting in “my” car, it is one of maybe only a couple of fairytales I imagine for myself: that one day I would truly own it and laugh as I raced down the highway, windows down, with my brilliant red hair swirling about my face. As I write this twenty-something years later, tears stream down my face, and I realize I hurt for that fairytale and I haven’t until now grieved its loss. I also remember now that out in my apartment’s parking lot sits a V6 Honda Accord with tan leather interior and sunroof. It isn’t new, but it’s mine. It’s important. It’s freedom. I care for it well. I know without realizing it until now that I have in this car and the Honda Accord before it realized most of that fairytale, quickly revving up that wonderful V6 to enter and fly down the highway, sometimes, even with my sunroof open, the wind blowing my time-tarnished red hair about my face. I kept for myself the promise I knew my parents never would keep.
All I know is somehow my sister tells Mom she is afraid of Dad. Mom comes to me as I sit in my car. She is grey: grey sweatpants and cut-off-sleeved sweatshirt, grey hazy background, grey-looking expression. As I sit, leaning against the driver’s seat with my legs hanging out the door, I can’t read her time-lined face. A staccato of words, form a grey question, that only someone with my special experience of abuse understands,
“Did Robert ever touch you?”
I turn away from my mother and toward my car’s blue sun-worn seats to sob, to cry harder than I ever cried, to cry when so many other times, other offences, I might have cried. I cry with great shame and with great heartache that I never expressed before. I sob for the disgust I feel for ever having played any kind of role in any of the things my father did to me. My mother silently walks away, leaving only her greyness behind.
I soon lock my tears, horror, and shame back up in compartments I shove to the dark recesses of my mind. I know Mom went to talk to Dad. Shortly thereafter, I stand in my room working on some project, without thinking of either the latest or what might be later. Mom comes into my room to within a foot of my face. Her expression is still grey and her eyes dry.
“Your father says you were a willing participant.”
She simply walks away. It doesn’t matter. Her statement shocks me beyond response.
Shortly thereafter, my parents bring us together for what amounts to a rare family meeting. Dad sits quiet, hunched over, the look of a repentant man, allowing Mom to do all the talking.
“Your dad asked forgiveness for what happened. We need to forgive and forget.” It isn’t a question: It’s a declarative statement not open to discussion.
How sickening. Dad has not changed. He only wants forgiveness because that will get him out of trouble. I know him, if no one else does. He talks to me about things he shouldn’t. I don’t like when he talks to me like that, though I never respond. I know him. I wrestle with the idea of forgiving Dad. What else am I supposed to do but forgive? Anyway, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
My sister and I are lectured about the Biblical need to forgive. For all intents and purposes, we are ordered to forgive and forget. I try to think that I forgive him, because, I think, Biblically, I must and because that allows me to push the locked boxes back to the recesses of my mind. Our parents are my authority, and I think forgiveness is just words and forgetting is part of it. My sister and I go our separate ways, perhaps, forgiving in different ways or, perhaps, not at all.
As I type this twenty-five years later, I’m reminded that many people mistakenly attribute what God says he will do for us in forgetting our sins “as far as the east is from the west” as a model for mankind. Jesus taught forgiveness, too, but he does not there nor anywhere else in the Bible tell us to forget. The Bible teaches us to not hold onto our bitterness or anger or hate. Remembering protects us from future harm. Remembering helps me air out those locked boxes in my mind, helps me understand the PTSD triggers and nightmares, and helps others and me heal. Back then, though, I had no understanding of forgiveness, but forgetting sounded so good.