The Other Story

In the stories people like to tell, home is safe and we love our dads. But you have a different story. Despite everything you have learned about how violence works, there are still moments and days when you are immobilized by its shame. You find yourself back at that place where you long for something that is not yours. You want the other story–the one about the father who would never threaten his wife and children, the father who would never humiliate or physically attack you. You want the father who never brutalized your brother, a father who felt things besides rage.

You agree with Primo Levi; there is nothing inherently righteous about suffering. For those of us who have survived the terrorism of gender-based violence, it only means we know things we wish we never knew. It makes us skillful during emergencies. It makes us calm when things are falling apart and anxious when things are moving along well. It makes us intimate with taking flight. It means people want us around when their hearts are broken.

You dislike remembering the details. You’ve tried using words and they don’t come close to being the right ones. As the saying goes, how can any of it be said? When you do share, people reply with surprise. But you seem so well adjusted. That’s shocking! I can’t believe this happened to someone like you. What do these responses even mean? How can there still be so much we refuse to see?

When your mom tells you she still has nightmares, your mind turns to your brother who sleeps on the floor.
Your mom knows what you are thinking.

“He did not destroy us,” she answers.

But he has irreparably deformed our lives you want to say. It’s been over 30 years since you left his house. You still flinch at loud noises. Beneath the peace you have worked hard to build, a reservoir of uncontrollable dread can still be tapped. His nihilism is that fierce. You have kept it at bay with discipline and love. You have learned the strategic necessity of optimism. Fuck those who think optimism is superficial or naive. They never had to run for their lives. They never had to lie for no reason; never knowing which truth might get them punched or kicked out.

You remember that man from the Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting and how sometimes other people say the things we are unable to say and imagine.
You sat in a circle in a community center afloat in a parking lot in Tucson. You offered only a brief introduction but that man gave his full name and in a quiet voice he told the group,

“My father has been dead for ten years and only now am I beginning to feel some sense of safety, some sense of hope.”