I have few memories from my early childhood. The things I do remember, for the most part, are not pleasant. Even something wonderful like being with my sister and grandmother running through a park for the ice cream man. My sister and I were dressed in new red outfits, happy as we could be and BAM!! Flat on our faces in a huge mud puddle. The ice cream man drove away. I knew I’d be in a lot of trouble when I got home.
My earliest memory is burned in my brain. I think about it often at the strangest times. I was clinging to my mother trying to get between her and my father. He was hitting her, spitting on her and pulling her hair. I must have been about four. There was a moment when my dad left the bedroom and I rushed to the door. I remember positioning myself as a barricade, my little hands reaching high and wide on the door jams, my legs low in the same way- shaped like an X. When my dad tried to enter the room I looked up at him and screamed with conviction, “Don’t you touch my mother!” He taunted me, “Your mother is a whore and so are you,” and to my surprise, he walked away.
Dad died in September, 2012. He had cancer. My brother called the day before he died. “If you want to say goodbye, come soon,” the message said. It had been a year since I’d seen him. I wouldn’t go. Good riddance.
Sure, my father had a tough life. He was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1932. The family was Gypsy-Jewish and in those days folks like that we’re hauled off to concentration camps and killed. For that reason he never went to school. He never learned to read or write in any language. He learned how to be a hustler. At five foot five, he was the epitome of an egomaniac with an inferiority complex and just plain mean. He was a showboat, always making sure he looked good on the outside. Perfect hair, nice clothes, shiny shoes and lots of classic shiny cars. From the outside people thought we were rich, when in reality, we were just getting by. His motto was, “The only way to have anything in this life is to lie, cheat and steal.” Get them before they get you and boy did he. He would steal from anyone. Dad painted houses for a living. My mother’s wardrobe was supplemented with clothing and jewelry taken from “rich” women’s homes. “They have too much,” he would say. The strangest thing was that everybody trusted him. Folks absolutely loved him. It was very confusing for me.
I was never really allowed to have friends. “Your sister is your friend,” is what I was told. I was her babysitter. Dad loved my sister. He always raved about her. She was beautiful. He’d often tell me, “Why can’t you look like your sister?” She is three years younger than me. When I was barely five years old she and I were playing outside. We lived off Wilshire Blvd., a very busy street in Los Angeles, CA. My sister wandered off. I remember being terrified, not because she was gone, (I’d often wished she’d disappear) but I knew my father would be angry. I went inside and told him. All hell broke loose. He made me and my mom get in the car to search for her. I was in the back seat getting spit on while the tirade began. It was all my fault. We finally spotted her in the arms of an older lady standing in her front yard. My mother ran to get her and plopped my sister in her lap in the front seat of the car, hugging her tight. I was in the back alone watching my dad kiss her, telling her everything was going to be ok.
Dad was never physically violent with me, although I do remember getting hit once at an early age. That one incident scared me a lot. He was so nasty with his words and he always threatened to kick my ass. The verbal abuse was beating me down. I always used to think that since I wasn’t beaten with his hands, I had no excuse to be depressed or anxious. I don’t think that way any more. The verbal abuse and the threat of physical pain kept me hyper vigilant. I think the fear of feeling the pain was worse. Sometimes I wish he just would have hit me- puny little bastard.
I know I have a lot of work to do. Forgiveness can be a bitch. I know however, that I will never forget. I always swore I’d never be like my dad. I try my best to be honest and work hard for everything I have. Reading over what I have written makes me realize that internally, somehow, deep inside, I think I AM him. If I look good on the outside, if I keep smiling, you won’t know how rotten I really am on the inside. Compliment me all you want. I know you are lying. Don’t tell me that you love me. No way that could be true. The cement in my core hardened a long, long time ago. Ahhhh, these must be the deep seated emotional conflicts that persist below my level of consciousness that have added violent twists to my behavior!!!
The wonderful thing about all this suffering is that as I process it, there is healing. Stuffing all my emotions- depressing them with chemicals and indifference for years has been self inflicted torture. Today when I pick up the bat to beat myself, I try to remember the sweet little girl inside that is my real self. I don’t want to hurt her. Thank goodness for trusted friends who are helping me on this journey. Little by little as each day passes I can honestly say, “Yes, I do want to talk about it.”
Permission or Forgiveness, which is better to ask for?