I’m going to have to sit in the same room with the man who hurt me deeply me as a child.
No one will tell him to stay away from my mother’s memorial service. Honestly, no one can make him stay away. And now I’m terrified.
My mother divorced my father when I was very young, six almost seven years old. A social worker, after having evaluated my older sister, had told my mother to get him out of the house. My mother did. She always said she didn’t know why but she knew she had to do it immediately. She kept us safe but never believed he ever did any real harm. Not until the last few months of her life.
In my memory, my mother always hated him. I know there was a point, a time when she loved him enough to marry him. She said he could be sweet and kind. Gentle. When the country was swept off their feet by the victory of World War II, so was she by a tall man in a Navy uniform.
If there was a proverbial straw that broken the camels back, it was my mother’s final recognition that both her daughters were abused. Horribly. She could not bear it. Her final, desperate message to my sister as she was falling into unconsciousness was to let her know she always loved her. It was my father who was to blame for always whispering to my sister that he loved her more. More than anyone ever could.
My fear irrational. He cannot hurt me. He is an old man. But there is a dark corner of my mind where he has always lived. He is my fear of heights, of bridges. He is my fear of intimacy. He lurks in his corner, whispering horrible things, making images no normal person would ever wish to see part of my daily life.
I thought about a restraining order. But I have no marks. No visible ones. No bruises or scratches or bloody legs. I cannot prove he hurt me. It was so long ago; our legal system is of no use.
I have not seen him for over seven years. The last time was at my brother’s wedding. I went but without my children. I refused to have them exposed to him. I refused and I hadn’t yet had the memories come flooding back, washing over me, an unwanted movie I could not stop running through my head. The things he did to me as a child. But I knew. The memories were always there, just under my skin. Waiting to be seen, to be heard.
I remember as a teenager, refusing to touch him. To hug him. To have his hands anywhere near me. He disgusted me. I thought it was because he was a mental patient, living in hospital wards that smelled awful, going through shock treatments to try and make his brain right. Just as I could not stand glue on my hands as a kindergartener, just as the smell of a canvas tent makes me want to run, I recoiled from him. It was more than a teenagers disgust at not fitting in. It was that which simmered under my skin.
When I was 25, I decided no more. Never again would I talk to him or have to watch him rock from one foot to another, over and over again. I did not look back once. I never loved him. I could barely stand to be in the same room with him. I felt no guilt. No remorse. Ever. He would send letters and packages, which I returned unopened. I did not want to see what he sent. I did not want to read the words. Ten years went by before the wedding.
His brain was never right. It still isn’t. He is full of ticks, odd movements and he tends to walk around with his tongue out. I am told it is the result of the years and years of medications. I believe he does it to be lewd. Because the voices tell him it’s okay.
He tried to talk to me at my brother’s wedding. I held up my hand and said, no. I don’t want to ever speak with you again. Leave me alone.
He still sends letters, through my brother. Every year. One. Sometimes two. I put them back in the mail, unopened. Return to sender. Addressee unknown.
The hair on the back of my neck stands on end when I think about him. I feel my eyes narrow. My muscles tense so tight they ache.
He will be there on Friday. I will not rob my children of the opportunity to hear a community of people come say goodbye to their grandmother. She did great things. Things I am very proud of. I believe they need to know that. It is a part of her I loved very much.
On my mother's sometimes weekly will re-writing and planning for her death, she would discuss what to put in her obituary. She would assure me it was fine not to list the grandchildren’s names.
I know you don’t want him to know about them. Don’t list them.
But mom, they are your grandchildren.
I’ll be dead. Won't matter to me. Take care of them. Do what’s right for them.
I want to cry out for my mother right now. I want to cling to her legs on the kitchen floor and have her make it better. Make him go away. She always did. For all the things my mother did, she always made him go away if only at the end of a Sunday visit when I would come home, to the safety of hearing her glass of bourbon walking up the stairs.
She never shamed me the way he did.
I will be in the same room with him this Friday.