My grandmother approached the topic like an airplane coming in for a landing. She circled the point with a story about a talk show episode she’d seen. As I listened, I met a friend at the door and silently motioned for her to come in.
Fridays have become an experiment of accountability at my place.
I’ve created a writers group of sorts. I’ve set aside a large window of time and offered an open invitation to some friends that I deem “writerly”. I’ve promised free wifi, hot water for tea, coffee and at least one clean bathroom. Aside from the recent string of snow days to have hit the Torok household, it is going well. I use the time to write and when necessary, to do some research.
On this day, I had called my grandmother to ask her about who my father was. This month is all about building his personality profile.
- Who did my family think he was?
- What does it mean to be a pedophile vs. a perpetrator? Which was he?
- Was I his only victim?
- What did he like to do?
- Where did he like to go?
You get it.
To tell a better story, to understand him, I need to think about who he was beyond my abuser.
Yes, to answer the questions rolling around in your head, this is creepy. No, it is not fun. Yes, I do think it’s necessary. My mother says my dad* is worried about me, which in our family is a sign that you may be going to far. I’ve added some #militantselfcare to my life and I’m okay.
Dad, if you’re reading this, I promise.
My grandmother told me that she had been watching Maury Povich the other day. Their was a little girl on the show talking about a man who touched her private area. I wasn’t sure where this was going and then she landed.
“I’ve never asked because I didn’t want to bring it up,” she said. ” But is that what your father did to you? Did he just touch you or what happened?”
This is what happened in my head.
Shit just got real. I turned on my heel to head upstairs and away from my guests. In that moment, I realized we’d never talked about this before. When I was 21 years old, I told her that my father had sexually abused me. Most people who knew me, knew this to be true but because of distance and a bit of a strain on our relationship since my father died, she didn’t know and neither did any of my father’s family.
If you were to ask me now, I would tell you that using terms like sexually abused or molested are correct and socially acceptable but they don’t define an experience. Those terms don’t tell the whole story. How could they?
When I was 21, I chose to tell my grandmother because I realized that I could never be fully me if she didn’t know. I realized that if I truly believed that the abuse was not my fault then I deserved to live shame free and in the truth.
CAN I LIVE?
Damn straight I can.
So sitting on my little stoop, sunning my legs, I nervously told her the truth. Only after she very directly told me to get on with it. She knew something terrible was on its way and she wanted me to let her face it head on.
Once the words tumbled out, she was sorry for me. She told me that she wished that she could have been there for me. There were probably more words that I can’t recall now and then I quickly got off the phone to escape the awkwardness of telling your father’s mother that he was a child molester. Because good times, am I right?
Now she asked for the details and I found myself saying, “Grandma, he raped me. Often and repeatedly.”
She said, “Didn’t he hurt you? How could that have happened? Weren’t you such a little girl?”
“Yes, grandma. I was six. The only thing I can say is that it must’ve happened so often that it didn’t hurt anymore. I think it probably started happening before I could remember.”
I was reporting. These were facts. The hard kind but the kind I know as my past. This is my story and I am, not comfortable but accustomed to the truth of it.
She is not. This was the first time she’d heard it. These truths were landing around her for the first time and I could almost hear them shatter as they hit her skin and fell to the ground. There was the sound of anger and pain in her voice.
“He would have gone to jail,” she raged. “Grandma would’ve seen to it.”
And it was those words, spoken to me as if I were still a little girl that broke my heart again.
Just this week, I spoke to a class of sociology students at Michigan State University and one of them asked me if I had forgiven my father. This topic comes up a lot. We know that forgiveness can offer healing. We are told that it is about you not the person who hurt you. I believe those things to be true.
However, painful, brokenhearted moments like this one is why I also believe that forgiveness is not a one act play. It’s a long running series. Forgiveness is kind of like the never-ending run of those tragic daytime soap operas that we have only recently given up.
Unless you have the Soap Opera Network. In which case, #neverforget.
Forgiveness for me has had to be approached with the acceptance that it is a process for repeated, long term injuries.
When my children offer to include my father in the list of the dead they want to pray for, forgiveness prevents me from screaming that he doesn’t deserve their prayers. It allows me to sit back and recognize that if there’s any one soul in need of prayer in the afterlife, it’s probably my father’s. I can’t imagine there’s much peace or rest for him.
Forgiveness is not pity or absolution. It does not mean there are no consequences. It just means that I forgive. Rage, sorrow, relief – everything else is still on the table.
Grandma, cannot see to anything in the past. I can tell you that her assurances that she would have seen to it if given the opportunity, spoke such kindness to the little girl in me. There’s some comfort in the idea of my grandmother pursuing justice on my behalf.
I never imagined that she would choose me over her son. Before I told her my story, it was the burden that weighed the heaviest on my heart.
Why would my father’s family trust me? Why would they choose me?
As we begin to end our phone call, I headed down the stairs and towards my friends.
“You call me anytime. I know that what happened was horrible but I love you. Please don’t shut me out.”
And there is the answer to it all.
The answer to who I am, how I have survived and why anyone would believe me. The answer to why I do what I do and go where I go is in those words.
I am tremendously loved.
I have called her anytime. I have chosen not to shut her out. I have chosen to pull the tentacles of darkness that have seeped from my father’s legacy out of the relationship that I have with his family because to forget him, I have to forget them. That would be my easy. To remember him, is to remember where he came from. That is my difficult.
“Goodbye, Grandma. I won’t. I love you.”
I sat down at my desk, turned to my friends and said, “Guys. My grandmother just asked me what happened for the first time.”
Stunned I murmured, “I guess I’m not the only one asking the difficult questions around here.”
PS – I know I opened lots of room for discussion in this one. It’s only going to get deeper. Hit me up in the comments.
* For clarity here, I will admit that the man I call dad now is my stepfather. He will hate reading this. (Hi dad. I know I’m your baby girl. Pretend like you didn’t see this!)