Over the course of two months, I’ve found myself slumped over a keyboard quite a bit, trying to find the words to paint a whole, complete picture of living a life as someone who was raped by her father. I’ve come up with three different articles, all radically different, and I suppose I could have just surrendered and published one of them. But I wasn’t satisfied because I wasn’t telling the whole truth. That happens to me as a writer a lot. I get caught up in buzz words, writing formulas, and editing out the parts I don’t think readers will find interesting. I was writing for an audience, puffing out phrases I thought people could relate to. But I’m putting a stop to it right now. My story is solely that. I don’t need to sugarcoat anything, I don’t need an angle (trust me, the experience itself is specific enough for me), and I don’t need people to relate to it. I need to tell it, raw and unformulated: the glorious, gory truth.
I really loved my Dad, so much so that I was blind to his shortcomings, or at least I ignored them because he always cooked the best steaks and played the coolest songs on the guitar. At 5 years old, I began to figure out he wasn’t exactly the best with financial responsibility, that he was somewhat ignorant when it came to my education and needs as an aspiring world dominator. He hated paying child support, drank too much, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and sat around a lot complaining about being poor. While guzzling a twenty dollar bottle of liquor. Grandma stood back silently, her ignorance enabling him to become yet another lower middle class worker with no hope of career advancement by paying the bills when he was short and taking care of my little sister and me almost half of the time.
That’s not to say he didn’t love me back or he didn’t want to take care of his family. I just don’t think he really knew how. He could spend time with us, he could give the best hugs (they smelled of old spice and burnt coffee) and say all the right things to make us feel special (“darlin’, I’ve never heard a singer with so much soul”). But he couldn’t comprehend what it meant to self-sacrifice, or to look beyond immediate needs into the future, or to prioritize things that weren’t beer, rent, and food. Although I honestly believe he tried to be what we needed.
The two of us spent copious amounts of time together once I hit puberty and demanded I got to spend more time with him. We would sing for hours, or get caught up in a Sci-Fi drama, or play video games and eat three packs of ramen. His friends became my family. I was protected (so they said) from all the evil in the world. I used to joke that I had a whole Southern Army at my fingertips; all I had to do was say the word. My step-mom became the person I came to for anything selfish teenagers asked their parents for or needed to know, except she wasn’t my mom, so I didn’t feel weird asking her about sex and tampons and lingerie.
Because my parents were so young when they had me, my Dad wasn’t exactly a father figure. We blurred the lines between friend and caretaker quite often. When he wanted someone to drink with, he’d let me have a beer, or a glass of Jack. When I got older, I became his sounding board for marital problems, money problems, and his issues with his dead father and my overly protective (though well-intentioned) grandmother. He opted for the ‘cool parent’ label, often giving my friends and I a bottle of wine here and a pack of cigarettes there in exchange for our company. By the time I was eighteen, I didn’t need chasers and could easily down a fifth of whiskey and ten beers in one Friday night.
Together with my Southern Army of protectors, we chased happiness around in the dark every other weekend, kicked it around like a soccer ball, scored once or twice a year when one of us accomplished something more than holding our liquor ‘like a man.’ I became one of them, just another member of their motley crew. And when it wasn’t night, when I wasn’t dazzling his friends with provocative dance moves and sultry song lyrics, I became irrelevant, a dependent oopsy-daisy he had to take care of during the week.
When I went to college and saw that there was more to the world than Friday night bonfires and Sundays spent on the river getting drunk (ironically, since everyone told me college would be one big party), it became clear that I was not the immature one. In fact, I had surpassed my father and his ‘bros’ in that department. But even still, I would cave into the pressure and get lost in the night with them, to relive old memories, to satiate my father’s hunger for good company. Deep down, I knew how inappropriate it was to party with Dad like I did with my friends. I knew something wasn’t right about it, but I loved him and I trusted him. I wholeheartedly believed I had the tightest father-daughter bond in all of history.
The night I was raped was one of those nights everyone went a bit cuckoo. Before I fell victim to his unrelenting hands, I knew something was off – the air was too tense and everyone had something cutting to contribute to a caustic conversation about general life frustrations. I was too drunk to function for a good hour after going shot for shot with everyone there. I was in the mood to forget something, and I guess on that front, I succeeded. I floated around the pool scantily clad, giggling and ignoring my best friend’s attempt to get me to bed when Thomas kept rubbing up against me. Dad asked Jess to go to bed out of the blue, and suddenly the only people left were him, his best bro, and me.
I stopped giggling when the door closed. I ignored my gut reaction to curl up on a couch and slam my eyes shut for the night.
Dad drummed his fingertips on the patio table littered with beer cans and abandoned plates of food, clearing his throat, obviously waiting for his friend to leave.
Thomas eventually gave up trying to start conversation, and hobbled down the street back to his house.
Dad disappeared into the house, I thought to get some sleep.
I ran upstairs to our music/hangout/makeshift guest room above the detached garage, ready to pass out on the couch since every bed in the house was taken.
It was close to 3 a.m. I left the lamp on and the door unlocked.
I listened to a few Madonna songs to soothe me into slumber, shuffled a bit on the couch, trying to get the room to stop spinning.
And then he appeared in the doorway, completely naked with an unreadable expression on his face. I didn’t know why at the time, but I wondered where my Southern Army of protectors were when I needed them the most.
It has been 482 days since I’ve seen or spoken to my father. The last words he said to me were, “I’m gonna cum in you.” His last text to me (sent the next day) read, “You alive?” The last time Grandma and I spoke, she ended with “I wish I could see you” as if it wasn’t an option. My step-mom’s last message to me claimed “…you did this not him!!!”
Those words sting. They make me second guess my decision to speak out about my sexual assault, and they make me feel crazy for not just letting it go like they wanted me to. But for every ugly thing they spat at me this past year, I have a thousand positive things people have said to me to fall back on. I have friends and family who support me, love me, cheer me on, and assure me that it was not my fault. And while it always seems to take more positivity to keep me happy than negativity to keep me down, I manage it by surrounding myself with soulful, genuine people.
In all honesty, my life is less complicated without Dad in it. There is no source of tension during the holidays, no one telling me where I have to be for Christmas, no one guilt-tripping me because I didn’t spend all day at one house or another. I don’t feel bad for spending time with Mom on the weekends or feel self-conscious because Dad was always harping on me to lose weight. I don’t feel the need to chase the night; instead, I enjoy it, usually with a glass of wine and my cozy front porch. Relationships with my family members are appropriate and as they should be: loving and (mostly) functional.
I have a lot of issues with PTSD and anxiety, but those who stuck around have shown me more happiness than I ever thought possible: a happiness that isn’t tainted with too much booze, negative energy, and an unwillingness to change: things I so often felt around Dad.
Though for a time, my body felt permanently dirty and worthless, I think my life is somehow more pure today than it was fifteen months ago. I found my strength after being beaten down to almost nothing. I realized how resilient I am, how much my experience can help other people if I let it. He’s given me yet another layer of tough skin to protect me from the inevitable misfortunes (though hopefully less drastic than this one) I will stumble upon in the future.
I still cry, especially around the holidays, especially when I need my grandma’s homemade soup because I’m sick/sad/overwhelmed with life.
I still suffer from panic attacks, especially in situations when I have little to no control.
But I still laugh with my whole body, I still speak with my hands, jump up and down too many times when something exciting happens. I still adore birthdays and anniversaries, and late night runs to McDonalds. I still sing to sooth my soul and watch way too many episodes of TV at one time. I still write poetry and read terrible YA novels. I’m still late to almost everything, and I still drive like a maniac.
In short, I’m still me.
As it turns out, he didn’t really take much from me (because I DECIDED NOT TO LET HIM), aside from all of the complications of having a parent who was unable to comprehend the difference between father and best friend. In fact, his absence has given me clarity and room to figure out my life. It’s given me time to reconnect with family, to reevaluate my morals and set firmer limitations when it comes to other people’s bullshit.
So, maybe this tragedy has a silver lining. Though make no mistake: I’m not excusing or glorifying what he did. I’m simply finding my own angle, a positive spin if you will. I’m a firm believer in finding the good in every situation, no matter how grave the circumstances. After all, I deserve a happy ending and those don’t come in the riddled-with-resentment variety.
Quick disclaimer: I’m writing this article on a ‘good day.’ These happen more often than not (thankfully), but I still have periods where I wallow in self-pity, miscalculate my sadness and end up drowning in it. Today is the opposite, however. Today, I’m in the holiday spirit and able to sit still without my anxiety giving me the shakes. Today, I get to go home and take a nap after work in my beautiful home after making a nice cup of tea and snuggling down in my duvet. And today, I have the opportunity to share my experience and progress with world.
Life could most definitely be worse.
I would like to give a shout out to a few people for their wit, support, and unending patience over the last few years. To JLA and parents, MLB, RJH, MB, AM, Mom, Sissy, Grams, Papa, and family: thank you for giving my life so much sparkle. Without you all, I’d simply flicker and burn out.