I disassociate as my heart races. I can’t stand shouting. Anger.
Photos of him. Videos of him. It sends me into a tailspin of panic.
Dread sets into my heart. Fear. Anxiety.
The coldness and pain in all my limbs.
I remember the yelling. I remember the anger.
I remember the whitewashing. The gaslighting.
I remember people saying, “Oh, your dad is such a wonderful man!” and inside I cringed wishing I could tell them that what they see on the outside is a lie.
I remember people saying, “What a wonderful family!” as we plastered on smiles at church after he blew up at us at home beforehand.
“You are all so well behaved!” They don’t know that we were ruled by fear. One toe out of line, one misspoken word, one less-than-smiley smile, we were going to be raged at, belittled, told we were dumb and idiots and….as soon as we got home.
“I never said that,” he would say when I would repeat exactly what he once (or twice or several times) said to me.
He would come home and rage about the incompetence of his bosses, coworkers, and secretary. But I knew it was overblown. Exaggerated. Not real.
I see all this in the media again, and I’m transported back to my teen years.
Laying in bed, without my hearing aids in, trying to guess what the pattern of vibrations indicated. My bed was right along the wall directly below the kitchen/dining room. Certain vibrations could mean happy things–the kids are moving chairs around, walking freely. Or it could mean him stomping, raging, yelling, silent treatment. I’d wake up, frozen, trying to figure out if it’s safe to wake up.
Anxiety would seize my heart when someone pushed back a chair on hard floor. It meant dad was going to grab someone out of their chair at dinner (and we’d better get the booster seat unbuckled and the tray off for him as fast as we could to help him out) and take them back to their rooms to get spanked. Sometimes he would do it for fun and laugh, because he knew it scared us.
Does that sound familiar? “Just punch him, will you?” Because you know it’s just a joke, right?
He would make fun of my deafness. The accent. How dumb I sounded. How people would think he was dumb, too. He’d mime my motions of fear, my words I’d used, the look on my face as I tried to decipher things. To shame me into being better, I guess?
Does that sound familiar? The mimicked spastic movement?
The fear. Instillation of fear. Of how dangerous the world is. How our street is dangerous. Installing an alarm to keep intruders out–and us in. How if I didn’t like his rules, I could go live on the street where I’d be raped.
Obey me, or else. Vote for me, or else. Those people are stupid. Those people are dumb. Those people are illegal. Those people.
The fear–it sneaks in and gathers around you, slipping through your skin and seizing your heart, making you hurt all over. Your skin, your limbs. Your stomach gurgles. It wants food, some pure happy sugar, but it also wants to barf.
You want to run.
Or you disassociate, and then pretend it never happened. Somebody else experienced it, not you. It’s like someone flipped a switch. It’s there, but you can’t access it anymore.
Does that sound familiar?
You want to run to Canada. Mexico. New Zealand. Ireland.
You want to fight, protest, make your voice heard.
You want to freeze. You can’t accept it yet. You wait until it blows over. You curl up in bed.
You want to disassociate. Pretend everything is fine while it is burning up around you. It’s not real, the world is not real, the danger is not real, you’re not real. Ignore the threats. Ignore the danger. All of that doesn’t matter. Make the choice to not believe anything happened. Or maybe your brain will choose for you.
The whitewashing. “Oh, he’s doing much better!” “Oh, it’s not as bad as you remember–your memory is faulty.”
The whitewashing is beginning. The gaslighting. The minimizing. His supporters are in on it, too. You feel unsafe. You can’t stay at home. You can’t go outside. You can’t focus on work or school. You can’t focus at home. You can’t keep on task. You aren’t here. This is not real. You are in danger. You need to get ready to fight or flee. You fear death. Injury.
Wouldn’t it be easier to go ahead and get injured instead of waiting for injury to happen? You want to ease this feeling. You just can’t even anymore.
Because you are scared. Because people are minimizing it. Because people can’t see through the whitewash. The gaslight. Can’t these people see? Can’t they hear?
Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my hand that I might reach you. But my words fell into a well of silence.
It is going to be a long, triggering, four years. Or two years. Or until he quits.
And I am not alone. Other survivors are suffering. Retriggered. Reminded.
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