“But What Did He Do?”

When I was a kid and I told people that my dad was a monster, they often laughed. He wore masks on halloween and snuck behind neighborhood houses to scare my friends; leaving me for last, always. There was something in him that people found charming. As he ages and we grow farther apart, I wonder if that charm is beginning to wear off. When I was a teenager, I told people Satan lived inside his body. “Teenagers and their pet names for strict parents… Girl, have you ever met Satan?” I’m pretty sure I had that night in the garage; tears running down my face. Hot and embarrassed; ashamed of the things you said you needed to “teach me.”  “This is what boys want from you. This is what they need.”

Locked doors were not protection. They were pretend; facades that could be easily taken down. One piece of metal pushed perfectly into another and twisted until relieved from its duty. “Goodbye”, I whispered. It’s not a lie that sometimes, being outside of the space where you were taught was safe, is safer. Childhood magic is torn right from your fingertips when you hear a door click into place after you have already closed it and walked away. A feeling of fear and confusion running up your spine because who could you trust if you can’t trust the one who brought you to life? Who do you trust when there are guns off of the kitchen; sitting in front of the front porch windows.

How do you reach out when the threats lie syrup sticky against everything you touch. When you’re 9 years old do you know what “crazy” looks like? Does it look like herbs held in glass flying across rooms? Does it look like love? Does it sound like the cries from your mother in the other room; begging to be let go of? Do locked doors start to look like prison at the age of 10? How about 12? Do normal kids dream of university as a way to get away?

This life births anxiety. It births, panic attacks and eating disorders. How skinny do I have to be to be disgusting? How many miles can I run before I am on the other side of the planet? Will relatives see the pain that is sitting right behind my irises? The heavy bags of him sitting on my collar bones; the hallows so full that they look distorted under a t-shirt too big to really be worn. It wears me now. The questions come in hot. “Why are you upset?” “What’s the matter sweetie?” Words don’t rise but the feeling of vomit does. Choking down the truth and bringing a smile to life is hard work that no one ever acknowledges. This births a good liar. Someone who denies truths because one truth spilled is life or death.

Holidays bring you to the edge. People who could help are in reach but… would they? Doubt settles into your bones and you think; what if they don’t? This is how he wins. How long can someone keep quiet of the nightmares that constantly come to life when no one is looking? When everyone is present… When everyone is staring; how many lives would it affect if I dropped a bomb; explosive… Deadly?

My mother whispers as I’m walking past her, “Breathe. It’s okay.” She pretends like it never happened because he is watching us and one of us will be sure to pay if we make a scene; don’t let anyone see. This is a day of celebration and we are perfectly placed for a perfect family show; it’s like a game of charades. So we play, we smile, and we act polite.

Hiding in the room is not acceptable so if I try, for sure he will come and find me. Footsteps steal my breath from my chest; Grandfather’s hand on his shoulder; I beg silently inside my mind, “don’t make a scene, let him stay.” I breathe as he walks away. Grandfather sits beside me on the bed and I cling to his warm body, cigarette smoke does too but I don’t mind because I think he is the only man in my life who loves me…And my mother too. He can’t save me though.

No one knows.

No one knows.

No one knows.

Sixteen years old and she says, you’re going to go now. You got in and the flight is bought. Sixteen and on the run. Sixteen and saying goodbye to home. Sixteen and gone. When I come back they know everything. They know and now home is no longer home; it is all his and she runs on 2 hours of sleep and anxiety ridden days but…we’re safe.

“But what did he do?”