To an abusive father
We were all listening. She couldn’t endure it any longer. She burst into the room and shouted ‘You fucking bastard.’ It was always my younger sister who was the brave one, unafraid to throw herself between you and your chosen victim, unafraid to call you out for your bullying and aggression. You turned away, screaming and threatening my older brother. You lunged at her, literally roaring.
She was too nimble for you. She darted away down the stairs and straight out of the door, wearing just sandals on her bare feet. It was winter, and she didn’t come home for two hours. She was only fourteen. I stood frozen, tears streaming down my face. ‘She’s not coming home,’ you said to me, smiling, satisfied with yourself for having reduced us all to tears and silence.
She came home later and you ignored her, as if the whole incident had never happened – as you always did. Another display of your rage and violence to keep us subdued, withdrawn and living in terror of the next outburst.
I’m an adult now. Fear is still my daily companion. It is in the air I breathe. Some days the only solace is to sleep: my only escape from reality. I’ve recently discovered that anxiety, low self-worth, insecurity and a feeling of not having the right to exist are common experiences of those who witnessed and experienced domestic abuse as children. Children in these environments develop hypervigilance and are extremely alert to signs that conflict is imminent. The extent of this psychological suffering as a result of this childhood domestic violence can last throughout a person’s lifetime. You clearly have mental health problems of your own: a violent, hair trigger temper, a total lack of guilt and shame, a desire to exert power and control over others. You were good to us sometimes, in the primitive way that an animal cares for it’s young. You fed us, you housed us – but I didn’t ask to be born and you had no right to abuse us.
On the days I don’t feel angry: I try to understand, and sometimes I even feel a bit sorry for you. I keep coming back to the way you hurt innocent children, and an innocent woman and destroyed parts of us irreparably. We have to live with the legacy of what you did, and carry the burden of your abuse.
Now, you are old and I can see that you were human all along, a pathetic, bullying, powerless man who made himself feel better by inflicting pain and fear on your own family. You only know how to pick on the defenceless. I can see how you bow to those with money and power with sickening ingratiation.
The price of your abuse has been the loss of our affection and respect. You are growing old now. You try to hit us now, and we’ll hit you back. You try to scream at us now, we’ll stand up and defend ourselves. I dare you to punch me. I dare you to kick and scream at me.
You have hurt us beyond measure, but you can’t hurt us like that anymore. I plan for the day when your abuse doesn’t define me, the day when you become so irrelevant to me that I feel no anger or pain when I see you or think of you.
For a while, like any dictator, you thought you held time in your hand. You thought you had real power. But all the while, time was grinding life into sand and all your rage can’t stop time, and can’t stop you aging.
One day you’ll have no power and I will know that your voice and your fists and your feet were nothing but dust all along.