The earliest memory I have of my dad is him choking me up against a wall at a train station. The last time I saw him, he slapped me across the face.
His memory barely survives anymore, but still haunts me, when I tell the crazy story once every few years to an inquiring mind, or when my mother reminds me how I'm just like him when I clean out her house, the fire in her words fueled by her own childhood and domestic abuse, along with grief for a dead child.
You can't escape a family like that without damage to your soul, the wounds deepened by devout Christianity that explained it all away as "God's will" then healed and bandaged by therapy, introspection, and Bible burning.
I got married, divorced, then married again, and four kids later it's a veritable mess in my chest, the hormones and lack of sleep opening my scars, the unresolved issues of my mother, my husband, and me infecting scabbed over cuts.
And then you sit, in a therapy session for your oldest daughter grasping tissues in your fist sobbing about how you tried so hard to make it different for her, and yet, even though it is different, very very different, she's still got a part of me in her.
And I can't help but think that maybe, just maybe it wasn't all them after all. And all the time all those fingers I pointed at the crazy father and the complacent mother are turned right back around at me.
I tried so hard to be different, to be involved and interested, loving and kind, caring and honest, every single thing my parents weren't and still, she feels anxious and pressured to be perfect, just like me.
I won't ever know for sure of course, but I'd like to think that because she's sitting and crying in a therapist's office and not hiding in her closet like me, sobbing and wishing to disappear, that it's not the same.
Screw that I know, I KNOW it's not the same.
Fuck you, dysfunction. Fuck you, shame.
I believe that whatever THIS is right now, which is small and anxiety-related by the way, is containable. I'm standing here with guaze and tape and anticeptic cream, like I wish someone, anyone, had done for me.
My mom didn't call my kids on their birthdays, or at Christmas, even though gifts were sent, in both directions. She's mad at me for the words I wrote to her, the ones that made it clear that I could not carry the burden of her fucked up childhood and marriage. The ones where I told her to get help.
I didn't even think about it until my husband reminded me because I've grown used to living without parents.
When my daughter freaks out, when she screams "I'm terrible" when I remind her for the fourth time to set the table in a raised voice, I tell her that our relationship will have its ups and downs, as I move my hand in a wave motion, like a roller coaster. She'll mess up sometimes, and so will I, and that is what makes life so wonderful.
"But my love" I told her, holding up my other hand, "will always be there."
I will always think she is amazing and awesome. I will always look at her and see joy and light, even though I know it might not feel that way between us at the time. And I will never EVER let the damage my own father and mother caused me to ever change that.
There will be demons. But they just don't stand a chance here.
I can't wrap her up in a bubble and stick earplugs in her ears. I can't hide her eyes from the outside world.
But I'm arming her now, with the strongest weapons I can find, the ones I only wish my parents had given to me: love, the kind that is full of wisdom and awareness, empathy and understanding, acceptance and compassion.
The older I get, the more I believe that it's really all you need.