Trigger up: message in a bottle that will never arrive or break

10/08/2011

Hello reader, this writing is triggering for me to write, let alone read, so I can only imagine what it would be like for someone else. But I need some place to put this stuff, and this bottle is the only place I got. So read with care, and click away as needed. Trigger warning for: childhood abuse, rape, childhood neglect, I don’t even know what all.

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking so much about the tiered tracks of colonialism and patriarchy in our lives. You spent so much of the years I lived with you reading military histories deep into the night, your bedside lamp burning until dawn. Often I would find you in the morning before I left for work, light still on, book collapsed and glasses still astride your face. You and I did not talk about the ethos of those narratives, only the events, the ways that wars are won–we talked about them like they were games of chess, not wages of terror visited upon brown bodies. Bodies not entirely unlike ours, in shade or feature. How funny that you kept your dark hair long and shining, defiantly, even while claiming not to see color. Perhaps you were just too tired of being seen for yours. I remember you in a rare snappish moment with a stranger (usually you reserved your brute force for those closest you). We were near your office and an elderly native man spare changed you, tried to call you cousin. You sucked your teeth haughtily (or I imagine you did) and snapped back, “I am not your cousin.” I remember being shocked a little that my father, usually so over-generous, could be so cold to someone so obviously in need. But then I remember, too, the summer when you got too dark watching us kids poolside at the apartment and you were stopped 3 times in 2 days for the same busted taillight. Was it a speed trap, or were they out to get you? There were other times, I don’t remember them all. You were always being asked if you were Indian, and you were always saying no. And to be fair, we’re the sum of our parts, not just that fraction, and so I don’t call myself native in any sense but that I grew up in this state. People didn’t start to ask me what I was until my hair came in as dark as it is now–each year successively darker, like my body is shirking off colonization.

You believed that my body was a colony unto itself and that you were the sovereign power. You taxed me with forced affection, even after I ceased to welcome your touch. “You act like I abuse you!” you exclaimed after I cowered under your embrace, which at a moment’s notice could have turned to a slap across the face. When you found out that I had been raped, you never asked me if I was okay–instead you yelled for hours about how wrong it was to engage in pre-marital sex while I cried myself thick and swollen shut with mucous, trying to tell you about my rapes. Later, when you found out it wasn’t consensual you apologized offhandedly with no feeling: “Sorry. I didn’t know.” How could you not know, how could it not occur to you? I was fourteen years old. Maybe in some distant place and time sex with a fourteen year old girl who has been abandoned by both parents can be consensual, but not where we lived, not how we lived. And you never thought to ask if I was okay! This broke my heart, and like a bad shoulder mended but never healed it still hurts when the weather turns stormy. The nightmares that used to wake me up screaming were not about my rapist–they were about you, in his place.

The last time I saw you it was as I broke free from your grip, bruises in the shape of your hands already rising on the back of my neck, welts that later bloomed black swelling the cartilage of my ears. I went to job interviews like that, covered my bruises with thrift store finds and a thin veil of hair. Did I leave off my earrings, so as not to draw too much attention to any discolored flesh still exposed? I remember thinking of it, but I can’t remember what I did. No one asked. No one said, you should leave him, girl, for which I was grateful because being forced to the awkward response that I already had and that it was my father who was responsible, not just any man, but that man, would have been almost too much to bear. In between job interviews and panic attacks and struggling to finish school we photographed my injuries and I moved my things into a tent in a friend’s backyard. The cops didn’t call me back for two weeks, and by then I had too much on my plate to even think about pressing charges (which probably would not have stuck, anyways). I wish I had wheatpasted your office, but what would the posters have said? “This man beats children” might have been sufficient. After all, I wasn’t the only one you raised a fist to, and I probably won’t be the last. I was 18 and I was legally an adult but I was still a child, tho I had already dealt with the vagaries of bills, rent, budgets. I was probably more responsible then at 18 than I am now at 26, second adolescence or something. Remember how you used to forget the bills, and the water would get shut off? I started to remind you, and you resented it. But you were the adult, you were the parent, these things were your responsibilities, and if you couldn’t claim that responsibility then you should never have laid claim to it at all.

I am learning Spanish again, this time in a classroom and not the backseat of your dirty beat-up car. I can hardly say it: I am learning Spanish so that I can speak to my father’s family in Mexico. But not to you. I do not want to speak to you, and don’t imagine that will change in this lifetime, tho life is long enough to allow for it. What I come up against more than anything is not what you did (tho I miss rock’n’roll jeopardy and browsing bookshops, I do), it is what you didn’t do, the places you should have stepped in, been present, where you instead stepped off, disappeared altogether. You let them, your wives. Threaten me, starve me, demean me. It’s not the physical starving that gets to me–I went hungry but not emaciated, not eating-out-the-garbage, just dizzy and achy. No, it was the starving for support, for love, for recognition of my individuation. They saw me as part of my mother, the woman you still loved and hated, and they were jealous of me in turn. You let your wife threaten me, “if you don’t come home now you can never come home again!” mere minutes after you assaulted me, as if it were simply a matter of differing opinions and not escaping the brutality of your violence. She would have watched while you killed me, I know this. She would have burned my body for you. I don’t know why she held you in such high regard and me in so little, but she would have allowed you to take my life before her very eyes. How could anyone? She could. You let these women into my life. You put your hands on my throat and tried to wring the life from me. I can not hate them, I can not even hate you–but I can close the door. No more. I will not allow you and your inability to set boundaries or respect boundaries invade my life anymore. I am no longer your child, I am an adult.

With love and respect for myself,

RD

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