While driving home from an appointment Tuesday I was, as usual, listening to NPR. The person being interviewed was a woman who organizes and instructs memoir writing groups. She said some very interesting things. Many of them I wanted to take notes on. And, had my pen worked I would have written one or two on the arm connected to the hand which was grasping the steering wheel as I was driving around town. Probably a good thing the pen did not work. (I know, “Duh, ya think?”)
The one that actually hit me as possible was to write about the dead. “You cannot slander or libel the dead.” She said. It struck me like a bat to the back of my head. This is something I have often wanted to write about. The family dysfunction. She pointed out that you have to be willing to deal with the emotions of the living. Because, the stories told from the grave are often about the still living. What a snag. There are so many pieces of the story of my life that are in the grave. Unfortunately, the people those deceased abused remain walking this earth. It would be very difficult to deal with their emotions.
It is the living who will be hurt. They are the living dead in many ways. WE are the living dead. We look for all intents and purposes quite alive. We breathe, we talk, we laugh. You may even see us cry. Though, most of us reserve that for our most private places, if at all.
I say we are the living dead because, the hurt that we would feel has already been done. The pain we carry is like a vestigial limb. It works. Sort of. We see it in the mirror as if it were the only thing we see. It is so odd that nobody else sees it. I mean it is SO bloody obvious that vestigial limb. It is a permanent part of myself. Pain is a very slippery customer. It bides its time, and burrows into our beings like a mole escaping the summer noon Arizona sun. Dig down an inch or two and there it is. Protected and cool under its cover of shifting sand. Not even time can wash it away. Sand storms often explode around the burrow to expose then, cover it up as quickly as we blink. We breathe in the sand like most people breathe in air. Constant sand blasting.
Blasting sand can rub wood to a fine, smooth, tactile pleasing surface. Or those infinite grains can gouge out great ruts in dense, dark wood, of the forests. Inside those ruts live pain’s larvae. Eating and grunting and boring further in. While to the casual observer those pathways are twisting and shadow hidden. I have seen these stumps made into visual attractions in Chinese gardens. To the wood it is painful. To us it is living pain.
Really? You did not know pain was alive? Some people weather the pain better than others. By “better” I mean they are more adept at ignoring it or suppressing it. Maybe even they cope better with it than I do. I, sadly, am not one of those people. Maybe I used to be. But, the events became far too numerous, overwhelming me and my skin was scoured away to leave all my nerves bloody and exposed. At the worst points. (Never a singular point. They always come in packs.) Even still air on my surface reawakens the pain.
Psychic pain is different from physical pain. I have endured enough of both. I have fully recovered from neither.
Back to the Title or subject or things I just need to remove from myself. I loved hearing this woman speak. I have, for years, wanted to tell the world about some, now deceased, family members. Any respect I may have had for Mil had long been thrown, shoved, and pushed out the window. It had no intention of even peeking back into the window of the house it went out of.
After 16 years together a particular revelation came to light about several family members. This was not something that totally surprised me. I had, for years, suspected this had happened. To what extent I did not know. I am certain there are events that are still being hidden. Every time I brought my suspicions up to my husband he would vehemently deny and shove down any such thing in his family. I always felt that if his denials were sincere they would not have elicited his abusively violent responses.
How many times have we heard, “If you have nothing good to say then, say nothing.” I do not know who came up with this nicety. But. It. Is. BULLSHIT! Only the perpetrators of crimes and their enablers benefit from this old adage. I firmly believe if you have nothing good to say about someone then, it is more important to SPEAK THE FUCK UP!
The person you need to say something about or their enablers do not want their festering boils exposed. When someone is hurting you or someone you love NEVER SHUT UP!!!!
Mil (not her real name) once told me, “It was the alcohol.” I could feel my face instantly shift to fuchsia with the heat of fury and disgust flowing just under my skin as if separating my skin from myself. From the depths of my lungs, my diaphragm contacting like a pole vaulter in the moment she strikes her pole to the ground, pushing, her own weight against gravity forcing her weight off the earth I fucking yelled at her, “IT WAS NOT THE ALCOHOL!!!!!!
“It was the man, not the booze, who chose to drink. It was the alcoholic MAN who used that as his excuse to molest his young daughterS. The alcohol did not rise up out of the bottle all on its own to molest your children. That was YOUR HUSBAND!” Mil used the booze to protect herself from any culpability and Phil (not his real name) from responsibility. She treated his alcoholism as a full deck of “Get out of Jail Free” cards. Phil never earned those cards. Neither did she. There is no such thing for incest, molestation, emotional, and physical abuse. The whole family, their spouses, siblings, and the next generation paid dearly for those lies. That “Get out of jail free” card forever locked behind iron gates inside a small brown-leafed garden of fear and pain those same abused little girls.
I don’t know why but, I was shocked and upset that Mil got mad at ME?!!!? She was furious that I would say anything about it or Phil. In her mind I had no right to be upset. W-hell, SOMEONE should have been upset 50 years ago! Shit! The girls (and maybe one or more of the boys) should fucking be upset about this. Upset, at the least, that their Father incested them. About their Mother covering up for
him? About the decades of covers ups. About the lies on top of lies on top of future abuse that had to be created to cover up for HIM!
Mil admitted that each of the girls came to her after their individual events. They each told her about their separate though, similar events. They each asked their Mother for help. I asked Mil what she told the girls. Mil’s response, “I did not know what to do.” Not skipping a breath, “I just let them figure out on their own how to handle it.” “HOLY FUCKING SHIT ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?”
I totally lost it. Ok, not so much lost it as I did blow the top off the mountain and slathered her entire being with the steaming, angry, hot lava. I could not believe what Mil had just told me. None of it. That it was the booze’s fault, not his? That she, as the adult, the one who was charged with her own children’s protections did not know what to do would convince herself that her children? That Mil could not even muster up a fantasy of what should be done? Blew me away! As if I wasn’t already angry enough with Phil and her.
I refused to tow the family lyin’. I paid dearly for it. I like to think this. But, the truth is there are thins I have not talked about, except to my therapists. Had I known 30 years ago, with the full comprehension of what I know now I would like to think I would have made different choices. But, then I have no way of knowing for sure. I have to own the lives I have lived and learn to see my strengths, humor, and courage. I easily can and do in any one else. Doing that same thing for myself has been a multi-year slog. I have to forgive myself for initially being too hip for my own good, and everything that has come since.
I did not know how to handle a piece of information that should have made me run away at a cheetahs top speed. But, I had never heard of such a thing. It happened in the past. I was assured it would never happen again. I was lied to. Not the first time. Certainly, as it turned out, not the last either. I was too young to know. I was, for all of my own bravado and strength of my own being, unable to conceive of, process, or comprehend any aspect of it. Later, much later, I realized I was being too hip for my own good. I gave him the benefit of the doubt far too easily. I could not see ahead. I did not have the tools required to foresee the breadth of the impacts of the thing I had been told.
It always bothered me. It found a place to live in my psyche. It found a way to infect my entire being. It would be the first of many pieces of information I would find out over the years that would be like another machete on the body of my life. About how I have created my own lies to cover up my own shame. Crap. Shame is a powerful thing. Powerfully infectious, that thing we call shame.
I can see the unfortunate thing about writing about the Dead is that the people they have affected are still Alive. What would the memoir writing expert recommend in this situation. Even if I write about the dead I find that I am writing about myself. It always comes back to me. I wish someone had asked her about this.