In my family dynamic, I played the role of the “Secret Keeper.”
I remember as a small child witnessing and absorbing the energy of my father, a very fun loving charming character, a man who I have many traits from, one example being that he skipped his graduation to go to an “Allman Brothers” concert.
He was hilarious and free spirited, a seduction that always helped me to put him on a pedestal, my mom our polar opposite.
When I was a child, she was about rules, education, religion, and character building.
She is a lover of books, prayer, raising children, drinking hot mocha, needlepoint, discussing topics such as the names of God, her passion over learning the Bible in original Hebrew, a passion she could discuss for hours, dissecting lines of the Bible was part of her every day life.
In attempt to to not be in “trouble” with his wife, in the beginning, he would betray her in small ways. He would take me for rides and errands, tell me to open the console, asking me to open a cd we both knew she thought offensive, wink at me, roll down the windows, play it loud.
It was fun, and I love music, car rides, candy bars, and being silly. We both hated church, rolled our eyes when she began her daily scripture lessons, and I felt special, not just because I was like him, but because I thought love meant being someone’s secret partner in crime.
As the years progressed, the secrets got bigger, and they started to hurt, like a pulsing sick heart beat I hated but couldn’t stop, and I was too confused to really know why. The very thing I loved became the thing that was making me sick, and I hated being near her, my own mother, because she reminded me in her innocence of all the years of silent crime, an offense I put on myself, a blame I did not know was not my own. I believed in being his favorite that I owed him.
He bought me a brand new car, and for all the fun we had, the money secretly given, the inappropriate jokes shared and enjoyed meant I kept my mouth shut. As a teenager, he caught me having sex, and while my mom was away, he walked up a long flight of stairs, opened a door, turned on the light, my boyfriend pulling up his pants, my shame and horror rising like a hot air balloon.
I remember he shook his hand, walked out the door, asked us to shut off all the lights. My mom just that past year dropped me off at church youth group, a place where the last day we all held hands in a circle, pledging our virginity to God. I cursed God, not having a clue why.
Maybe I was made for hell.
I waited like a deer in headlights when she came home, my guilt making me want to vomit at her very welcoming hug, and I realized he had said nothing. I believe he thought he did me a favor.
In keeping his secrets, he would keep mine.
I began smoking, my jeep being taken to the gas station, the pack of cigarettes fearfully forgotten, left on the front dash. He came back with a tank full of gas, money for a night out, and I waited, terrified. He hated smoking. I waited. He said nothing, which said everything. I finally got caught, by a group of church friends, my mother horrified, her and my dad on the couch, while she sat there for hours, crying, yelling, asking me how I could do this to myself, to her.
He just shook his head, repeating her lines. I watched the way her and the boys communicated, the way they played sports, made friends, had school projects and golf tournaments, and I viewed them as authentic, whole, and smart in their choices. I was their crazy sister, and my shame felt like a hand around my throat.
I was a constant source of pain and trouble to my mom, and she went in and out of blaming herself, once asking, “How can four children be raised the same and you be the person you are?” So I took her shame as well, certain she did not deserve it, my presence a reminder that she believed she had failed me.
I became to loathe the very thing I had loved.
I wept in my shame of being the favorite, and even worse, having once liked it. I went to college and did a lot of drugs, and I mean a lot, snorting anything I could put up my nose, and my Dad would put 1000 here and there in my accounts, never asking why, my mom always saying she missed me, that something was wrong, calling me every day, her very voice made me squirm, my secret side life had began to control me, and I was going to die.
My only thought was, “Please God,” as blood poured out my nose and my heart pumped too fast, and then slow, in the scariest slow rocking motion, and I was watching it from outside myself, my own spirit suddenly aware that I was watching my body, but I was not in it.
“Please don’t let me die. Not for me, but for her. If I die like this, she will never forgive herself.”
So I lived. I paced the house for days, still awake, and I knew I had to tell her. If I was going to die, she was going to have to know first. I owed her that. I wrote her a letter that said every drug I had done, what I did, that I had sex, and locked myself in a room to read it to her, a moment that crashed on her like a brick building, falling to the ground, shattering walls, glass, the noise of wailing and screaming, hatred and pain.
I had done this to her.
I had done this. I just did not know why. I was not allowed to come home, and I was relieved, my guilt begging for punishment. She made a bold statement that it would have been easier to have me die to see me turn into this, a statement I etched on my soul with glass, needing the blood to pour to remind me I was human, because I believed I was of something else, something dark, perhaps evil.
On our last conversation, she said my Dad was coming, and that she had argued this to her death. She went on a fast, unable to leave her room, traumatized, and I did not know what to expect. He showed up, hugged me like I was the little girl that played cds in his car, his baby, and he was coming to save me. He told me to put on something nice, that we were going to eat my favorite seafood, asking, “Aren’t crab legs your favorite?“
I was shaky, barely able to walk up the stairs of this nice restaurant, his comments about the beach, the town, asking me about my friends, telling me to order whatever I wanted. I felt like I was outside my body, looking in. At the table, he consoled me.
He reminded me how hard it had been to live with mom, how difficult and stubborn, how it was nearly impossible to talk to her. I will never forget. He was sipping crab soup, “delicious,” he had said. When we got in the car, he put it on speaker, and told her in front of me that I was wrong, terrible to have done this, that I had lied, betrayed them, agreed to not come to Christian counseling. She wept and yelled, furious, and undone in her grief. It was my moment.
He ended the call, expecting a little ride through town, to see the sites. In this moment, I did not decide to die. I decided to rise. I had never said an unkind or curse word to my father in my life.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” I said it with power, conviction, and strength. The car was moving, my hand on the handle, while he nervously locked, while I unlocked, he locked, as he looked at me in shock, like I had slapped him. “Get me the fuck out of your car, you fucking asshole.”
His eyes began to become dark, his speech stuttering, his voice raising. “Young lady,” and I jumped out of the car, him driving next to me, my boots walking me nowhere, but somewhere, anywhere, the possibility of life opening like a flower handed to me by God. I had a lot of walking to do, years and years of walking, healing, and everyone judged me, as harsh as I did, but that day, in my brown leather boots, I realized who I was, what I was made of, that in doing this, to the man I worshiped a god, I could do anything. I am not a fan of rap, but have always loved Eminem, knowing he is all they say and more, in his speech, his addictions, his attitudes to women.
But, in his hate, in his crime, in his guilt, I connect to him, love him for his truth, knowing myself what looks so real to everyone else, can not be judged. When I heard his last song, hearing he had gone through rehab, the first note grabbed me like I was being held in place, someone’s strong wrists holding me down, my heart beat slow, my attention caught in every syllable, every word. “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s okay, cause I love the way it hurts. Just gonna stand there and watch me cry, but that’s okay, cause I love the way you lie. I love the way you lie…”
The tears fell softly and powerfully through the beat, and I knew her, the girl singing was me, and I didn’t need a fist to know what it meant to be burned, by the very match of a man who called you “Daddy’s Girl,” and knew what it meant to love to hurt, because to hurt was being better than not being loved at all.
I do not know my Dad, and I no longer make a judgment about who or what he has done or become, that statement has taken years and years to make. I have made my peace with him, with my God. I bless him, hope the best for him, but I will not stand and let someone burn my house to the ground. I will rise from the ashes, bless the match that lit my pain, light the torch to burn the lies, and use my voice to expose my shame.
Secrets make you sick.
I will not go down in my shame, allowing you to believe you were a great man, giving me everything I could ever want. You gave me cars, money, time, an education, and a house. You want what you always want.
You want my silence.
I love you Dad, that’s right.
But love doesn’t hurt.
Love does not keep secrets. It exposes them.
You can have all the stuff, but I am keeping my voice.
I love the way you lie.