The last brick

When we were young, my father asked my sisters and I what we thought we'd wind up with in life. He pointed out that we were poor and disrespectful and irresponsible and that we had a 'basketcase' for a mother and that no one had ever wanted to play daddy to us because we were embarrassing.

This confrontation came when he was shacked up in our mother's house after yet another crack binge left him homeless, jobless and friendless. He was angry and violent. My older sister had been going through his things - disrespectful, yet, average behavior? Yes - And found a pipe. Not just any pipe, either. It was THE pipe through which he was smoking rock in my mother's basement and with the tattoo people across the street.

So, she told my mother. And my mother told him to get out. And he came down on the three of us like an avalanche. He condemned us to lives without love and without happiness. He told us we would die bitter old women. He invoked his God on us and blasphemed us into hell.

And then my mother took him to the Greyhound station and bought him a ticket to San Francisco where our grandmother lived. But my sisters and I - 14, 13 and 9 at the time - stayed behind. Shell shocked, we each retreated to our corners: Erin to her room and the telephone, Ashley to the stereo, and me to the kitchen.

We never really talked about it again. We'd seen the fits of anger and violence from him so many times and each time we left him quiet, inwardly seething, but also questioning whether he had it right. How could we turn on him? How dare we question his behavior or motivation?

He blew a staple through a coworkers cheek over a drug deal gone wrong; he attacked my mother and choked her unconscious in front of us because she went on a date while he was in prison; he beat his ex-boss with a baseball bat when she turned over his employment records to authorities.

The list is long and complicated. It includes his years spent hiding in Saudi Arabia to avoid prison time and our days spent in the dark with curtains shut - crawling on all fours because he thought the police were looking for him and my mother couldn't scrape together the money to get him out of the state.

I spent years blaming my mother for enabling him, but I've come to an understanding with that anger. She's human and he came to her for help. He didn't live with us, but when he hit bottom it was us he turned to. And I think, silently, we all felt powerful in that. We knew he'd return to us when he had to. So even if we didn't hear from him for months or years, we knew one day he'd be back.

And now. It's been 14 years since he cursed my sisters and me to eternal unhappiness. 14 years. In that time, one sister has birthed three babies and dealt with her own drug addictions and now she is working on a nursing degree and attending her oldest son's church plays. I have attended and graduated from both an undergraduate and graduate program. I have a loving companion and a wonderful son who both loves us and is surrounded by love.

And then there's my other sister. The one who battled Cystic Fibrosis for 20 years and had to have both lungs replaced in order to survive. The one who consumes fistfuls of drugs every day to keep her body from attacking itself. The one who remembers most vividly how our father turned on her - remembers the way he punched her in the chest when she complained about pain from a hospital bed at 17, the way he spit in disgust after she asked to go back to our mother's house when she visited him, the way he called her a whore after her first date.

That one? She confessed to me once, "I don't want to die, I don't want to die like this and prove him right." So what's she doing instead? She's living and loving in a way she never has before. She - who had the hardest fight of all of us - just got the payoff. As of Friday she became the newest student of London's East 15 Acting School. With her acceptance came crashing down the last brick of fear my father built around us.

I want to say fuck him and relegate him to a life of regret, but I can't. He's still my father. In the past few years, he's cleaned up his act, had some more kids and tried to get his head straight. We'll never know him out of addict mode, but at least we're adult enough to figure out that his mind knows no other way of thinking.

But us? My sisters and I? We went to hell and bounced back - most likely because he convinced us we were nothing and deserved nothing. We fought as if our lives were on the line and maybe in a way they were. We could have laid down and accepted that we were meant from nothing in this life.

Or we could have approached it the way we did. We fought our demons and we're learning to reap the rewards. There's no way you could have told me that it'd come to this when I was sitting at the kitchen table after my father left that day. If you had said to me, "one day you will be so happy it hurts," I'd have looked at you with all the hate I could muster for mocking me, for teasing me and making another false promise.

Thinking back like this opens so many wounds - wounds with scars that reopen when I am left alone with lifetime tv or movies like Antoine Fisher that hit too close to home. But perhaps now that we can all release that last pent up breath, we'll be able to move fully forward with no hesitation and no fearful glances back.

Congratulations, little sister.


  • Anonymous

    Wow, just found you on the internet. Powerful writing and raw and honest. I never tell people about the abuse my father put our family through and it's a relief to see you laying it out here like this. This is only the third post I've read and I'm hooked. Thank you.

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