The Last Place You'd Want to Be
Nearing the Anniversary of Daddy's Release
It would have been too difficult to visit Daddy in jail, I reason to myself. I would not have been pleased with sitting with my aunt and uncle(s?) as we drove.
Daddy was in jail for over a year. He missed out on birthdays and family gatherings. The most wretched part of this whole thing? He was innocent of the crime he was accused of—sexually molesting his young teen daughter.
Daddy is human and, by extension, imperfect. Never in a million years would he sexually abuse anyone, let alone his own children. So, when he was due to come over to Mom’s one Saturday morning; when his clockwork 10:30 AM turned to noon, to two, to 2:30 with no word on where he might have been after a late-night Facebook message I picked up around eight the morning he was supposed to come over, I started wondering: Where could Daddy possibly be? & is he okay? He would have written to let us know he wasn’t coming, right? So, where was he? What was going on?
The house phone rang. The number was unfamiliar. If the person called immediately back, we would answer. That was the rule in the household. The number called back. We answered. Hello? Oh, how far away Daddy sounded! Like listening through a tin can and the can is leagues away from the mouth.
Either way, we got our answer: Daddy was in jail. At first, this news horrified me, especially after hearing the crime he was accused of: molestation. This news created dissonance within me. The young teen who was accusing him had a voice, didn’t she? Shouldn’t society always believe the abused before her abuser?
What do you do when the alleged abuser is half the reason you are alive? In all the years you’ve been alive, he’s never sexually abused you. Sure, he’s royally messed up over the years in many ways, but he is imperfect. He is human. He is bound to mess up sometimes, isn’t he?
A part of me is so angry. I am angry at Daddy for threatening death to the older man I was spending time with. I am angry for other reasons, too, reasons I still cannot bring myself to speak. Hurting was all I knew. I was hoping that the time Dad would spend in jail would make him realize how much he’d hurt my soul. I just wanted the burden of carrying my anger off me. I wanted my Dad to hurt for the hurt he gave to me.
Dad’s family makes a half-hearted attempt to raise bail for him. The only aunt you trust lives in Alabama, where Dad is from. She is leader in the chaos. I am thankful for her. I barely acknowledge my more immediate aunt and uncles; after their tax season feast, they still do not help to set my Daddy free. You wonder why they are so full of avarice, so selfish. My aunt is the only one who cares, aside from Mom.
In jail, Daddy is appointed a lawyer. Mom laments, but hopes he’ll be out to start his new job at Lowe’s. The days stretch into weeks. Mom gets a job at the new Amazon warehouse in Robbinsville. I help, more than I usually am asked. I give Mom my disability and work wages. I feel exploited, cheated. I hope Mom gets a job soon. She does. I only give her my disability. She pays me back every cent. I know my mom is trying, but sometimes it’s hard to see it from my vantage point. Still, though, I feel more object than daughter, much in the same way my crush made me feel more object than friend. I just wanted to feel validated for the anger I was feeling toward my Dad.
Daddy writes letters addressed to the family. I read these letters, afraid that I’ll stop hearing how he sounds. I worry about forgetting his voice entirely. His face starts to get fuzzy in my mind.
In my first attempt at forgiveness, I am twenty-five. Daddy has missed my birthday. He has written me a letter for the special day. The letter melts my heart. I want to melt hearts. Daddy has melted my heart. In the moment, forgiveness feels possible.
In the thick of my forgiving Daddy, a memory sticks out.
I am sitting in the back of a Dunkin Donuts. It is Wednesday; I think it’s Ash Wednesday. I just know that it is Wednesday because that is the day I sit in Dunkin and write while waiting for my coworker to come and pick me up.
I write forgiveness into my computer. I want to show Daddy how far I’ve come. It is part apology—I’m sorry if you think I’ve been a bad daughter—I forgive you for your humanity—You are imperfect and that is okay.
A family comes in. They mind their business. A man in a lemon-yellow coat comes in and the kids swarm around him like bees to honey. I assume that this man is a father. He gives the children hugs and fist pounds. I want my Daddy. Oh, I want my Daddy—to hear him, to see him again. I do not want to take my Daddy for granted anymore.
I live through death. Someone sows a freedom seed, but forgets to nurture it. The seed dies. These times are heartbreaking. I start wondering what it would be like to yell at the woman who caused such torment to a man’s family. I am aware of the horror stories Dad would share; however, due to my own anger and his barely audible voice, it was hard to pick up any words. Like your friend who refuses to wear his hearing aids, you hear clouds.
When Daddy is released, there is the fact that he does not like your older best friend. Mom and I talk. I want to be open, but Dad is making it difficult. I still feel hopeful about forgiveness. I shove my thoughts down.
My NaNoWriMo project is stalling. I have different strands in the wind I need to braid. I want to write about religion, (im)perfection, and forgiveness. I am new to writing personal essays and want more experience.
Thanksgiving that year was difficult. I find it hard to cope. I feel alone and hopeless. Mom hears me crying one night, but does not console. My crying is a disturbance to her. I just want Mom to care about me, to stop watching TV for once.
I just want to know I matter.
In the month after my father’s release, I realize—really realize—that he is imperfect. Keeping me from taking a writing class in New York City by threatening to lock me in Mom’s apartment I realize is cruel. I do not mark it as domestic abuse, which is what it was.
I want to be whole, autonomous, and free. I feel caged. I abandon my writing project. I don’t feel good. My coworker gives me a coffee machine because she is moving in with her boyfriend and won’t need it. I do not want to see Dad; I really want to be left alone. I do not want to see my friends, let alone text them. Explaining to one of my friends why I don’t want to hang out would be too time consuming. I learn how to inhale coffee to mask the pain I was feeling. I become a sweet pill my friends can swallow. If I don’t bring up my mental illness attempting to suffocate me, I can be okay.
I do not want to leave Mom’s place. I worry about my hard of hearing friend. I do not want to leave Mom’s. I am dreading the pizza day I agreed to go to a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if my coffee drinking has taken over my life. I don’t care; it makes me happy. I just want to sleep.
I contemplate bringing my doll to hold, but don’t want to be the retard of the group. I’m the tallest in my group. I am the only Black person in my group of friends. I was afraid of standing out.
Do I know I’m falling apart at this point? Yes. I’m hoping I can hold off going to my psychiatrist to get my injection early—the last time I did that, she suggested I go to the Crisis Center if I feel so strongly about it. I call the nurse to tell her I will be in, then to tell her I don’t feel well. By day six, I know I need help, but how the hell do make it one more day?
Getting out of bed is too hard. I don’t want to get out of bed. I barely eat. I want to be happy, but the bed soothes. I sleep. Using my computer, reading, and writing become flat. It takes too much energy to get out of bed and work on the things I love. I do not know how much longer I can keep this up for.
I feel like no one understands. Like no one cares. Everything is too hard. Why do I feel so bad, like I can’t cope? I don’t want to burden anyone with my problems. I don’t open up until it becomes unbearable. Leaving the house becomes a miracle. I want to go back in and sleep my day away. The night, too. I confide in one of my friends who has a mental illness. I call a helpline. The Crisis Center was the last place I wanted to go. I end up in the Crisis Center after a breakdown at Catholic Charities. I am alone in the ambulance. I have lost track of time. I hear that you’re responding to “internal stimuli.” I go to the hospital for nearly a week. I do not mention this to my parents. I have my brother message a couple of trusted friends.
My father and I did not talk. I’m sure he wanted to know what was happening to me, but I was just so angry that talking felt impossible. I wanted to fight, even though fighting was not in my disposition. He would lose “Daddy,” become “Dad” to my mom, “my father” to everyone else.
It took about half a year before I could talk to my Dad again. Now, I text him in the morning to wish him a wonderful day. I am learning that my father is imperfect in his parenting, but that he does care about all the children he has in his life. He became Daddy again.