I'm not real.
I had the unfortunate luck of growing up with a verbally abusive father. He pretended he was decent--and I'm sure he is, to some extent--by always scolding us when we name-called. He insisted, "don't call your sister stupid!" A good principle.
Of course, inevitably, sooner, later, he'd refute his good principles with his own baffling logic.
My brother and sister and I would arrive home and need some rest from a hot, tiring day at elementary school. So we plopped down and watched some afternoon cartoons, usually mindless, usually bright, usually distracting. We took to the habit of bringing our snacks--steamed green beans and ranch, cantaloupe, Goldfish, juice and crackers, grapes--to the television and eating, mesmerized, indiscriminate. We'd sometimes even watch infomercials just for the hell of it. Hell, we were very easy-to-please children.
The clock creeped toward 4:00. The shows winded down into prime time.
Then, the customary knock on the door. It was banging and clear and it meant two things: clean up and shut up.
We all fell silent and watched a strange, foreboding person create dark blobs in the crack of light under the door. The knock, again. A loud voice yelling over the TV--no one was even watching it now, their eyes were on the door--and one of us would have to get up and pull the door wide open for my father to storm into the house.
Now, if we didn't obey the two golden rules, my father would rip loose. Why are your things strewn all over the floor? Don't eat in front of the TV! How many times have I told you that? Turn off that disgusting stuff! Are you going to clean up or not? Well, don't just stand there, go do your homework!
We quietly filed down the hall.
We were children; we forgot everything. Everyday, though, my father would arrive home and remind us of all of our shortcomings. Since I could hardly remember to set my backpack down in my room, instead of the living room, I was the reason my father was so upset. Since I tended to leave my peeling sneakers by the door, instead of in the proper closet, I was a family failure. Since I hated the silence and talked back to my father, I was disobedient, impudent, and deserving of every single ounce of guilt I could humanly muster.
I quietly filed down the hall.
I heard my father thrash his tongue in the waters of the kitchen, berating my mother for anything she decided to cook that day. Or berating my mother for anything she decided to not cook that day. Or berating my mother for the shortcomings of her miserable children. Or berating my mother because he couldn't remember how to speak to her as a human being.
It was like this for a long time.
Sometimes we would get everything right. We were spot on. Our backpacks were put away, we turned off the TV before he came inside, our shoes were gone, the house was spotless. We were diligently crunching away on our homework, looking up spelling words and filling out multiplication tables. My mom had picked the right thing to cook that day. My father came home, enraged, and couldn't find anything to yell about.
So he muttered unpleasantly as he looked about, and we cowered in fear, my father the army sergeant coming to inspect our bunks. And, at the end, he'd yell at us to drop and give him 20, anyway. Just because.
Thus the verbal abuse would turn into ambient abuse, for a few hours, days, perhaps a whole week--and then it would slide back into the shouting and screaming and stupid, useless pain.
Sometimes he seemed to want to calm himself down. But it didn't work. He had just fallen into the habit of taking it all out on us. And you know, you just get into the habit.
My mother didn't know how to cope. I'm sure she's a decent person too--just frustrated, maybe, at both her trouble communicating with her second-generation children, and at the emotional quagmire that trapped her independence and happiness. So she did what worked--she began transferring the abuse.
"If you don't clean up," she nagged and nagged, "he'll come home and yell again. He'll yell at me and it's not even my fault." My mother was scared and depressed and powerless, and she made us feel her fear and growing sense of helplessness.
I grew older and quietly filed down the hall without so much as a glance at the TV. I'd eat my spaghetti at the table, toying with my peas and eyeing the slits of light lined up on the linoleum. I took my backpack to my room. I stayed in my room when my father came home, and all I could hear was relayed frustration, from my mother, my sister, my brother. I heard their grunts under their breath, and the subdued slams as they set their things down in the room. I heard the stress cracking in their voices. I was still afraid that perhaps my father would storm into the room and take his turn at me. Sometimes he would. Sometimes he wouldn't. That's the way things were.
Finally I began to muster up the strength to change and grow. Finally I began to struggle against my father's definition of me, the second child, and I cried. I was unhappy and he couldn't figure out why. I was unhappy and my mother couldn't solve it. I was unhappy and I got headaches and I cried and I couldn't tell them why.
My mother was tired of my crying. "If you don't stop crying," she knocked and nagged, "he'll come inside and yell again. He'll yell at me and it's not even my fault." She tried some empathy, but she couldn't calm me down. Ever since my first headache, something had fallen and crashed and exploded in my view of the world, and I couldn't figure it out. She tried some empathy, but I was a crying existentialist, and I didn't see any use in empathy.
Finally my father came in and yelled at me to open the door. I didn't open the door. I didn't open the door. I didn't open the door and then I opened the door--tears streaking, rushing madly out of my lacrimal ducts, pushing their ways to my chapped cheeks, tracing lines down my fragile throat.
He yelled at me, WHAT'S WRONG.
I shook my head and cried and bit my lip. I clutched myself tightly and felt a terrible wail welling up inside of me.
My mother was standing at the far edge of the room, observing, silent.
He yelled at me, WHAT'S WRONG.
I sobbed, I don't know, I don't know. I don't know I don't know.
He yelled at me to KNEEL AND CROSS MY ARMS and I cried in silence and complied.
He yelled at me, WHAT'S WRONG!
WHAT DO YOU WANT!
WHAT IS IT?
DAMN IT, WHAT IS IT!
The more he yelled, the more I cried. The more I cried, the more he yelled.
He lurched forward and tore a plastic clothes-hanger from my closet and yelled and yelled and began to beat me.
I shut up and let him have his rage.
It lasted for about one entire second before my mom yelped forth in tears and slapped her hands at him uselessly until he stopped. In all, it might have lasted 3 seconds.
The bruise on my thigh lasted for a month.
And I will never trust my father.
He makes small talk with me now, but I sullenly answer his questions. He makes unfunny jokes and laughs to me, but I muster up the smallest sheepish grin I can find and allow him to have it. Sometimes he is a genuine human being.
But fuck that.
I've made a habit of putting my shoes away. I bring my backpack to my room, unfailingly, every afternoon after school. It's not even conscious anymore. I eat in the kitchen. I steal away to the bathroom because it's safe, private.
I've made a habit of fearing him, loathing him, distancing myself from him--and, well, you just get into the habit.