Eleven years ago this week my brother and I flew out to Edmonton to bury our father. Looking back on things now I realize if I had any regrets at all about my relationship with my father was that I never got to tell him what a bastard he was and how much I hated him.
Dose that sound a bit harsh? Well sorry if it offends your delicate ears and sensibilities but I’m not one of those types who are very big on forgiving abusers. For twenty three years he emotionally abused my mother until on his fiftieth birthday he left her for another woman by leaving her a note saying get in touch with a lawyer. He also drained their bank accounts and cancelled her credit cards so she was left with a house and a child and no money
But that was just the final act in his mockery of the happy family unit. He was also a rapist; more specifically a pedophile who preyed upon his youngest son, me, for whatever reasons people like that do that sort of shit. You develop a twisted sort of picture of the world when the only sign of affection you get as a child growing up are nightly visits from your father.
For those of you who doubt the veracity of the concept of repressed memories, I’m here to tell you that it’s amazing what the human mind can do to protect you. If you’ve ever been in a crises situation and had the thought process of “I can’t believe this is happening to me” run through your head, you’ve taken the first step on the road of disassociation.
There’s an experience people talk about when they say they feel like they’re leaving their body. What they are describing is the shutting down of all sensory receptors so that they are not registering any input of information. You so successfully cut your mind off from what’s happening that even though your body is experiencing a trauma you’re not registering it consciously. It’s akin to the shock a body goes through after any severe physical trauma.
If you do this frequently enough your mind can forget things ever happened, even if your body will retain the memory somewhere on a cellular level. Of course it didn’t hinder my memory loss that by thirteen I was starting my twenty-year association with all things mind, mood, and feelings altering. There’s nothing like a good drug and alcohol addiction to wipe out the memory banks.
The great treat is when you begin to remember. You think you’ve lost your marbles the first time you flashback to being raped. First of all they happen when your awake, usually either just before you fall asleep or just after you’ve woken up. The charming thing about them is you don’t just remember the incidents, but you get to relive them over and over again.
It’s like your body is saying, gee you missed out on it the first time, here you go let’s see how much you enjoy it now. Almost anything can trigger them once they get started, and there is little or nothing you can do to prevent them.
For me they started happening because I had been laid up with nerve damage from one too many knee surgeries and had gone to seek that assistance of an acupuncturist to fix up my leg. I had been suffering from some pretty serious pain in my leg because of misdirected nerve signals, so she was attempting to repair that damage.
Did you know that part of the brain that registers pain is also the part of the brain that stores memories? You see that’s how we learn from painful experiences not to do them again. So when we burn ourselves that first time as a kid by touching the hot element on the stove, the brain records the incident so we remember not to do that too many more times.
Lucky me. My brain had stored up all these pain related memories from childhood so I could learn never to trust my father alone in the same room at night with me again. Being treated for the one pain started releasing the even older memories of pain.
I was fortunate in that one of the people I was sharing a house with at the time was crises line worker at the local Sexual Assault Centre and she slept in the bedroom next to mine. She recognized the symptoms, and was able to reassure me that I was not flipping out. (She came home from a meeting one night really pissed off. Some superior woman type had stood up and said she didn’t believe men ever had flashbacks. My friend shot back wondering why she was woken every morning by the sound of a six year old being raped in my bedroom every morning)
When my father died just under a year later from complications due to Dementia, (he finally went completely crazy for the last five years of his life) I wasn’t prepared to deal with it yet. It was too soon. I had barely begun to recover my memories and try to redefine myself in light of this new information.
I was really pissed. Not only did he manage to escape justice by dying, he got to escape his own memories of his perfidy by losing his mind. I was the one who had to live with it for the rest of my life and work to recover, not him. When the going got tough again, he checked out, first from his memories and than life.
The only time in my life that I have contemplated suicide was during the month after I got back from out west from his funeral. At the time I couldn’t figure out why I would care about the fact he was dead. I should be happy I thought: “Ding dong the witch is dead” etc. But instead I was sitting up all night chain smoking and hating my life.
Maybe I’m a slow learner but here on the eleventh anniversary of his death I’m finally a little closer to figuring out what was going on in those horribly long hours in the middle of the night. First of all was the confusion. I was still so fresh in my memories of the abuse that it was hard not to feel some of the obligatory sadness one is supposed to feel when a parent dies.
Oh did I hate myself for that. How can you even think of being sad that the bastard is dead? What kind of sick idiot are you that you’re sad that the person that raped your for eight years is dead? Part of me wanted to be able to feel sad because that was a way of continuing to deny the horror had ever happened. I wanted to feel like I had a father who was worth mourning. Families are made up of loving mothers and role model fathers who set an example for their sons and daughters.
It was that conflict that really drove home the fact of what he had stolen from my life. I had never bought into the myth of happy families, but I had felt some measure of respect for my father for some of the things he had stood for in his life. When he had gotten sick with his Dementia I had felt genuine sadness that a very intelligent man should lose the power of his brain.
I had always known that he was emotionally repressed and had horrible problems with his anger. His parents had been so typically poor British snobs that it was no wonder he once told my brother the only thing he remembered about his childhood was being beaten.
In his early adult years he had worked tirelessly for social justice and I knew he was proud to count people like Stephen Lewis and his father David among his friends. (Leaders of the Ontario and Federal New Democratic Party of Canada respectively) He was the one who had joked with my friends and me about my phone being taped by the R.C.M.P. after phoning me once and hearing all the clicks and whirs that would happen whenever our line connected.
It was only when he died and I thought of all those things and the memories that people claimed to have of him, that I really began to feel the level of betrayal that occurred. Only now eleven years latter am I beginning to deal with all the emotional aftershocks that were triggered by that understanding.
It has taken the intervening years for me to develop the emotional strength to have the fortitude to do more than scratch the surface of the damage he inflicted upon my psyche. The safe and loving nine and a half year relationship I have with my wife has probably been the only reason why I’ve even been able to do that. I have needed the proof that it is possible to be loved without betrayal of any sort before I could begin to let go of any and all protective measures I had taken.
Emotional scar tissue is a lot more painful to dig through than the physical. But like any infected wound left to fester and scab over, they need to be lanced, drained, and cleaned or they only get worse. As with any hurt the more it has healed over, the more painful it is to re open.
People can very glibly tell you to stop living in the past, and to get on with your life but what they don’t understand is that in these circumstances the past and the present are not separate entities in your brain. You are living in the present but the past has infected the present via your behaviour and conditioning.
The coping mechanisms you developed in order to survive the years of abuse and the subsequent fallout can leave you an emotional cripple. In order to deal with them you need to go back and see their root cause and learn to convince yourself that those circumstances no longer exist. Unlearning the habits of thirty-three years is not something one can do overnight.
This is why eleven years after his death I would like to be able to tell my father how much I hate him for what he did to me and what a bastard I think he was for doing it. When people tell me to forgive and forget, I tell them I forgot for twenty years and look where it got me.
As for the forgiveness, that has to be earned, the person has to show regret for their actions and make atonement. He had twenty years to do that in and never once showed a single moment of remorse for anything he did, let alone what he did to me. Anyway some things just shouldn’t be forgiven.
This is the first year that I’ve actually remembered that this is the week my father died, and ironically his birthday as well. In the past I’ve only realized it after the fact when I’ve gone through a particularly rough time in the first week of January. The fact that I didn’t “forget” this year is a sign that his hold over my life is finally being lifted.
Whatever other significance it may have, it feels like a step in the right direction towards reclaiming my life from my memories. Only then will I be able to finally bury my father where he belongs; the past.