I get that people don't necessarily understand why I feel driven to write about the past. We live in a climate of "just let it go" and "move on." It's tempting to see the memoirist as obsessed about the past, a bitter person out for revenge.
If that's what my project were about, I wouldn't be writing. Really, I have moved on and revisiting this era of my life is painful and intensely unpleasant, more than I even imagined it would be.
If all I wanted to do was a hit piece on my ex, like the archetypal bitter ex-wife, I'd be done by now. What I'm doing is so much more complicated than that. I'm trying to demonstrate why battered women stay. I'm trying to encourage battered women of the future to leave sooner, and men who batter to get help for themselves.
To do so, I have to portray both myself and my ex-husband in all of our complexity, good and bad. I have to show my own low-self esteem and fear of abandonment. I have to show his moments of compassion, caring, and grief, in order to humanize him.
I am sure that for his adult children, it is hard to hear some of these things about a man who has always been very careful about the face he presents to the public and even to his children. I remember one of my daughter's half-siblings saw a picture I had of him from before I met him. He was extremely thin in this picture, and as I gave it to her I said, "He told me that he was doing a lot of speed back when this was taken."
Later I heard that she asked him about that and he said something like, "Not everything she says about me is true."
It's easy to dismiss accounts from ex-wives or ex-employees. They are supposed to be bitter and out to "get" the guy. Well, any of us might be exes someday. Will we automatically become liars?
One of the things I am bitter about is the molestation my daughter suffered when she visited her father one summer. I am bitter that it happened and just as bitter that he has never owned up to it, casting her as a liar to her half-siblings. I am sad that her sisters don't know how much she cared about their safety and well being. She braved seeing her father again as a teen so she could spend time with them and make sure they were safe. He was the last person in the world she ever wanted to see again--but she did it for them.
One sister told her: "He never did anything to us."
When my daughter told me this I replied, "Yes, because you told! You kept them safe by speaking out, by letting him know that kids will tell.
Someone once asked, "Well, if it only happened that once, and was so brief, I don't understand why it should affect her so much."
Yes, why is that? For anyone who hasn't been molested, by a parent, maybe it seems like you can just dust yourself off, avoid that person, and go on with your life. It's not like violent rape, after all.
No, incest has its own unique set of wounds. If you are violently raped by a stranger, that brings its own set of traumatic stress symptoms. If you are touched, even once, by a parent in a way you shouldn't be, it rocks your world in many ways that may not be obvious to others.
You worry that it will happen again. You worry that if you tell, you will lose whatever positive things you get from this parent and be forever rejected. You wish with all your heart that it didn't happen and things could go back to normal. You feel the intense shame of breaking one of our most serious taboos and wonder how your parent could have thought you wanted that. Did you look like you did? You have nightmares, you can't act normal around men (or women, if your abuser was a woman), who are now people to be feared. You can't trust people the way you did before. Anyone could have a monster beneath their skin. You can't trust your own instincts about people because you didn't see this coming. You can't forget it no matter how hard you try to bury it in your mind, and with the memory your skin crawls. You may become angry and hide the softer, more caring and vulnerable side of yourself, the side that couldn't protect you.
If the abuse is ongoing, life truly becomes a nightmare.
My daughter managed to avoid being abused again that summer by burying herself in the old couch they had and avoiding being alone with her dad. She tried to run away. She tried to tell me she needed to come home but her father was right there so she couldn't tell me why.
"It was like every day you have to stand in front of a firing squad and you expect to die, but they don't shoot you." My daughter explained as best she could the constant feeling of being on guard.
When she got home, she stormed into our apartment to the bedroom, shouting, "I'm never going back there!
I assured her I wouldn't make her go if she didn't want to and tried to find out why. She wasn't telling. I asked my son, and he didn't know either. A few months later, she finally told me. I was in shock.
I can understand how hard it is for those who know Mahasraya to wrap their minds around the idea that he molested his daughter. I had the same problem in spite of being abused by him! One thing didn't seem related to the other. But the truth of my daughter's story pierced my denial. The way she reluctantly told me, the halting, sad voice and the apparent hurt and shame on her face broke my heart. I independently verified one element of her story, that my friend's daughter woke up and cried and that gave my daughter the chance to pretend that she was waking up and to stretch and move away from his hand. My friend drove her up there and she was staying in a camper or something, I can't remember now. But it was close enough that her daughter's cry was heard. (My friend asked Mahasraya if he did this and he chose not to reply.)
We made the report to CPS. We discussed pressing charges but they said in cases with no physical evidence, involving two states (it took place in Oregon; we lived in California), it was unlikely that it would be prosecuted. So we made do with counseling and we searched for closure. My daughter's school problems intensified greatly and I spent the next few years trying to get her to school, get her to stay in school, and to help her learn. She had changed from an apparently caring but mischievous child to an angry child with a tough-girl facade. She was labeled "oppositional." She was fighting for her life, internally, and even mental health professionals couldn't see the vulnerability she buried so successfully. These days I see that soft side of her with her children, so I know it's still there.
I chose at that point to cooperate with the child support people. I had given them minimal cooperation previously, not wanting to cause ill will that might interfere with the relationship between the children and their father. Now I felt I had nothing to lose and Lord knows I needed some help paying for counseling and tutoring.
A judgment was made that he should pay $58.00 for child support. Our mutual friend told me that he fled to Hawaii to avoid paying it. Our kids deserved better than that.
I am angry about how my daughter has been treated. If Mahasraya has changed, if he has put these kinds of behaviors behind him, great, but if he's truly changed he will own up to his behavior with his family so they no longer brand their half sister a liar. Otherwise, he is the one living a lie.
One of my daughter's half siblings unfriended her on Facebook today. I had commented on some new pics of my granddaughter and perhaps that made her uncomfortable. Facebook can put you in close proximity with people you often would prefer not to be that close to. I get that. But I hope her sister will give her a break and talk to her in person about these issues rather than go silent. My daughter is not responsible for what I write (though she has given me permission to write about the molestation).