Well, a long hiatus there while I was pondering the idea that I should change the name on my blog. My boyfriend had feelings about it, and I spent the last four months honoring those feelings, but, in the end, it’s my name to choose. I was going to write, “we’re not even married,” which carbon dates me straight away. It’s also an attitude that, combined with my serial inability to stay put in a relationship, has caused me to have quite a number of last names in my lifetime. Some people in my grad program, where I was in residence for some time, could have known me by three different names. So now, I think many of us can agree that it’s time for me to take some agency here and take my blog back, along with the name I made. I like it. It’s a whole lot more aesthetically pleasing than the maiden name that Jim (a pseudonym) thought I should go back to or the name I would have if we got married and I took his name.
I don’t know how many of you have read the essay Junot Diaz wrote for the new issue of The New Yorker: “The Silence.” For me, that piece is a revelation. Now I have written a lot; I have written two drafts for novels and a bunch of short stories, and I was not keeping from myself the fact that my father was sexually inappropriate with me and my youngest sister. I’ve been working with that material for years. I’ve also known for some time that that fact has made me more vulnerable to being abused by other men; I don’t quite understand why that’s true. You’d think that early experience would make me eager to bite the hand or the nuts off someone who so much as tries to touch me. But I don’t.
And I’m a woman; there’s no stigma in having been misused for me that’s equivalent to what Diaz talks about suffering as a Dominican American man who’s not supposed to have experienced rape. But there is a sort of internalized picture of who I am that I carried around with me for a long time, and that picture could expand to encompass a lot but perhaps not the image of the parents who failed to protect me.
I protected them for a long time, like all these other people who have been keeping the secrets for the mostly men who have now been outed in this enormous surge of #metoo. Reading Junot Diaz’ account of how that holding kept him in a cycle of depression and drinking and broken relationships sounded so familiar. I’ve written about it all, but I didn’t make the connections as clearly as he did; I gave my parents a single page in the final accounting, because it seemed to me I’d told it all too often. But in the final telling, this is the key: the moment when the child’s absolute trust in the world is split open, that moment marks one bright kind of line between a life that’s trusting and open and one that’s constantly cynical and believing the worst not only of people’s capacity for love but of their capacity for anything that’s good and decent.
I want so much to believe that all people have the ability to be good. I’ve spent years in religions that teach that this is a fundamental truth. But when you’ve started out young finding out that a person that you trust most in the world can betray you? It’s hard to come back from that, and it’s no wonder that depression and addictions follow. My family is pre-disposed to depression and alcoholism, but once you add in parents who both suffer from sexual dysfunction in their relationship and refuse to acknowledge that fact openly, so that my father brought his unfulfilled desire in his daughters’ direction, and my mother denied that it was their responsibility, well that was a disastrous mess in the 1970s when it happened to me, and it’s even more of a shame on parents now when they must know that there’s therapy available and a door to walk out of.
My dad would carry on toward the end of his life about how he didn’t understand how he and my mother managed to stay together for forty some years, and my sisters and I were all divorced, two of us twice. I got madder and madder at this as I got older, and my sisters had to hold me back from yelling at him that it was alcohol and daughter diddling that made it work. I did confront him about my mom’s drinking, and he said that he never noticed it; he must have been traveling when it happened. Yeah, traveling…a long set of trips on wine and tranquilizers on all those nights when he didn’t want to hear her anymore, trips that freed him from inhibitions about seeing my mother’s younger body in his daughters.
The two of them are dead now, and they can’t hear me scream. My sisters can, and so can the relatives, but they can just put their hands over their ears or mouths or whatever they damn please. I’m not going to be quiet anymore.