Have you ever asked about who they were before they became your family?
I hadn’t. Not really.
Considering our family history, opening doors behind me never seemed like a wise or safe plan of action.
Until I got this idea in my head about writing a book about the sexual abuse I survived as a child, I assumed that my mother was simply the woman who smelled like coffee and perfume when I fell asleep on her lap in church.
Her definition was (and I imagine still is) wrapped up in my own self-centeredness. She is the one who spent too much money during a hard time so that I could be the belle of the ball at a high school dance. She is the woman who slept with one eye opened and the blue screen of the TV flickering on until I popped my head into her room to say I was home safe. She grew green beans when we were little but for the life of her couldn’t get a tomato to grow in Texas.
She is my mother. I know her well.
My grandmother, my biological father’s mother, I did not know quite that well.
I remember giving her roses at my father’s funeral. She brought me the soft, slow southern drawl of my family’s roots in South Carolina over the phone but I have rarely been in the same room with her. I only had stories. Vague shadows of tales my father told my mother before he died. The death of a family member is often like pruning limbs off of a tree. Sometimes, unintentionally, you lose a few of the smaller branches and offshoots.
When my research began, I had questions. Now those questions are reproducing like a Mogwai eating fried chicken after midnight.
Correction. Based on this chart of the Mogwai/Gremlin lifecycle, my questions are budding like a Mogwai caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella.
This phenomenon has begun because I knew less than I thought. I knew nothing.
I didn’t know how my parents met or how they fell in love. I didn’t know how my grandmother grew up or what her parents were like. I didn’t know what my father’s childhood was like or who his friends were.
I still know very little.
I feel like I need a crime solving board in my attic to help me keep my own story straight.
My story is intricate, complex and fascinating because it is not mine alone.
It is my father’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my brother’s, my husband’s and my children’s story too.
We are all standing in a piece of the story. Our points of view are different but we are all here tied together.
You are probably wondering what I hope to achieve with all of these inquiries into my father’s past.
Well, so am I.
I am starting to be okay with knowing nothing.
At the end of this pile of questions, there will be no definitive answer to the question, “Why me?”
If that question had an answer, I think all of the unjustly injured people of the world would collectively sigh in relief so loudly, it would shift the planet.
The answer to “Why me?” is nearly as annoying as the redundancy of the question.
About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
The final answer is not a simple fill in the blank response.
The answer is understanding, empathy and change.
If I can show you how ruinous the experience of sexual assault and rape is by telling you my story, then perhaps you will have more compassion for those that are trying to heal around you. You might even become an advocate. You may, if we are all lucky, help me recreate what childhood means in our lifetime.