My grandmother feared for her life. That’s why she stayed.
She helped raise her brothers and sisters in the orphanage and boarding schools of Kake and Sitka after her parents died of Tuberculosis. Her father was Mexican, came to Alaska to work in the canneries, her mother was Tlingit. She married a white man and had twelve children. Her husband, my grandfather, raped her and their daughters, beat the boys. He was an alcoholic and died of a heart attack when my father was sixteen.
My father watched everyone he loved get beaten or raped for his whole childhood.
I cannot wrap my brain around this. The words aren’t in English.
All twelve of those tiny heartbeats. All of the scared little anxious blood pumping little pulse prayers. Survival blood. I carry it inside of me, suspended in my cells. The tiniest particles you could imagine, all swirled together with my own experiences and everything I have ever touched. It seizes, awakened, and I am trying to cry it all out of me. Like I can somehow love all of the bad things out of their past. I want to go back and Peter Pan my cousin who wet the bed ’til she was a teenager because her father came to her in the night. I think of my friend, neglected as a child. I want so badly to hug all of the love she didn’t recieve back into her.
But I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. I can’t take my uncle’s invisible handprints off of my cousin. My friend can never recieve enough embraces to make up for the lack of love she endured. And I can’t cry my grandfather out of existence.
When I was being inappropriately touched by my stepbrother at the age six or seven, my father had the file labeled “abuse” tucked so so so far away that he didn’t believe it, or he needed to deny it. And he didn’t come back into my life until I was eighteen. Even though he continued to see my brother every summer.
I am left with questions.
Does my father know how to love?
Did his mother love him? Was he ever a baby boy scooped up into the nest of a cradling embrace?
How come I’ve never seen a picture of him as a teenager? A kid, a baby?
Why didn’t my father want to raise me? Did the years just kind of get away from him?
Didn’t he want a baby girl of his own, to put all of his love into?
Didn’t he want to reconcile all of that rage and create something beautiful out of love?
Does he think I am beautiful?
What’s it like to have a father-daughter dance?
What does it feel like to have your father hand you a bouquet at your graduation?
What’s it like to ask your dad for advice?
What is it like to cry in his arms?
What does it feel like to be protected?
Most days I feel ok not knowing the answers to these questions.
But some days, like today, I am curled up, a sobbing little girl. And there’s still this hole in my pumping heart.
And I know that we’ll always be filling these cracks.