I am seven years old. My mother, sister, and I are waiting in some kind of office building for my father to show up. This waiting for my father is not new, as my sister and I have not seen my father for almost five years, but it is still somehow rather unexpected, because we are actually going to see him this time.
I remember climbing the stairs to this odd room, a makeshift playroom in an old lobby: a children’s kitchen set to the left, a couch to the right, a plethora of toys in the center like a display in a toy store window. The carpet was gray and brown and looked dirty, smelled like old carpets do. The monitor, a woman with an unrememberable face, sat off to the side, separate from my family, but watching, always watching. That was what she was there to do: watch. This was a supervised visit with my father, an agreement made in court, an arrangement with details that I didn’t know.
My father, a man I did not know, was coming to see us. He was coming with presents for us, though it was not our birthday, nor was it a holiday. I suppose he was coming bearing gifts because he had missed our birthday and subsequent holidays for as long as I could remember. My mother had told my sister and I to make lists of what we wanted from our father, and I remember thinking hard, analyzing, even at such a young age, what would be appropriate to ask for. I asked for chalk, pens, notebooks, a camera with film. I guess my sister asked for a stuffed lion because I remember that is what she received. It smelled like my father’s cologne for months.
What I don’t remember is my father molesting my sister and I when we were two years old. We were so young. Maybe I blocked it out from my memory, maybe I was just too young to process what happened. What started it all, the depravity that has shaped and defined my life in more ways than I could ever imagine, was when my sister and I came home from visiting my father. My mother went to change us and found scratch marks. We said Daddy had been tickling us.
What followed is now a blur, snatches of memory clouded in the inkiness of the past, of harried youth. I vaguely remember talking to adults, therapists. I remember feeling scared, frustrated, confused. I remember wanting my father to not just be a shadow who showed up from time to time. I wanted a relationship with my father that other little girls had. But I never had that.
My sister and I played different roles that day in the office building. She was angry, detached, while I was eager to please, enthusiastic. I was trying to behave like a daughter would with her father. But how did a daughter behave? Wouldn’t she be happy to see him? Wouldn’t she give him a hug and talk about school? I didn’t really know what to do, but I was trying to please everyone, something I did a lot then; it was difficult to figure it out because I could tell my mother was upset. And the monitor was watching us, writing notes on a yellow notepad. Was she grading me on how I was acting? Was my father happy to see us? I wanted him to be happy because I did not want him to go away again. I wanted him and my mom to be like my friends’ parents. But then I knew that he had done something bad to me and my sister, something dads don’t do, and that made everything so confusing.
Though I can’t exactly remember what happened to me when I was two, I can remember feeling uneasy, strange. This uneasiness, this strangeness, followed me. I did not wish to be a victim, but these moments of unrest haunted me in ways that I did not even know were associated with my two-year-old self. I was a shy, uncomfortable kid, I always felt different. I was a little too bookish, too awkward, too serious. I took everything personally, I was sensitive, an aspect of myself that was always thrown at me like an insult. Couldn’t I just take a joke?
At fifteen I discovered alcohol, a sweet oblivion that quieted my over-analytical mind, that enabled me to be loose, funny, carefree. I found that I could let my guard down when I was drunk, that I could be dynamic and brazen. I drank at parties, at my friends’ houses, sometimes at school. What was at first typical high school behavior became my escape, my solution, my salvation. And then it became my darkness. My darkness, like the darkness of my childhood.
Shortly after I discovered drinking, I became lost in it. I didn’t have the wherewithal to look within because within was confusing and sad. I was angry at myself for feeling so hurt so many years later, for feeling something that I couldn’t exactly remember, for nursing injustice like a stiff, bitter brand of poison, but I couldn’t stop.
Alcohol, like my father, was a nebulous entity in my life. More often than not it had a large hand in derailing me from my path: a DUI when I was nineteen, blackouts coupled with behavior so unlike my own, countless break-ups with my solid, sweet boyfriend of over ten years, fights and falls, bruises and scrapes. Then sometimes I could have two glasses of wine and stop, be fine and “normal.” Shortly after my DUI I went seven months without alcohol, only to pick it up again. I didn’t know what caused me to lose focus, to fall so far when I’d made so much progress. Or perhaps I did, but didn’t want to face it. I didn’t know how to face it.
I seem to always need a vice to soothe my nerves. It’s never conscious, this wanting, this needing, but it always seems to be there, ready to take over once the senses are too painfully aware or alive. When I say too aware or alive, I mean the fraughtness of everyday living, both the mundane and the spectacular, it can all seem just a little too much to bear at times. When I was drinking, living was just incredibly hard. Trying not to feel, I would pop the cap off of a cold beer, I would yank the cork out of a bottle of red wine and glug some into a glass, yearning for the release of the slow descent into blackness. I never planned on blacking out. But I did.
This succumbing to darkness was hypnotizing. I drank to forget, to release, to let go. And I knew that this little solution I had stumbled upon was not a smart, sane solution. It’s a coping mechanism that I’d unconsciously developed over the years, numbed in a state of denial, never intending to drink so much, to make mistakes. My chronic impulses kicked in without consent from me and did their thing. Meanwhile, I lied to myself in order to survive, but my survival skills were obviously lacking.
Though my survival skills need work, as of today I have been without a drink for eight months. Sometimes you get so sick of feeling sick and tired that the only thing to do is to change your habits. The habits that have kept you company for so many years eventually reveal themselves to be just that: habits. Not friends, not allies or confidantes, but just bad habits. Alcohol is not my friend, nor is it my answer to life’s problems. Though it is easier said than done, the only way to get out is to give up the ghost. Do I want to live my life paralyzed by what has happened to me? Do I want to be tormented by things that are out of my control, by my past? No. What can I control? My behavior, my hopes for the future and the actions that will get me there. I can surrender to the past or I can surrender to love.
I have family and friends who love me for who I truly am. Even though I so often lost sight of my true, unsullied self, they never did. So I can either focus on what I don’t have, what I will never have, or I can be awed and appreciative of what I do have, what I will always have. I have a voice, I have a mother and a sister who cheer me on, I have a wonderful man who has remained by my side through years of doubt and fuck-ups, I have friends who have forgiven me before I could even begin to forgive myself. And that’s also who I have: myself.
I wish you a wild, free life.