Only a few moments before the four of us had been cheerily chatting. Now, the room was heavy with unsaid words, with the weight of a dam about to burst upon us.
The word hung in the air, waiting. I knew what was to come. I, too, had suffered as they were suffering. My brother and sisters had thirty years of pain upon their shoulders, with no apparent way out.
The sadness in the room was palpable. They felt betrayed and angry.
We all felt the years of beatings and hypocritical Christian belief that had been physically and mentally torturous. We all had the memory of listening to the screams of one of us getting struck by the plastic pipe.
My sister always got the worst. She would struggle with Dad holding one of her skinny arms, wriggling her tiny little body away from the strikes, which only made him angrier and hit harder.
And yet this pain was melded with a twisted version of love. We had always to embrace him after, while he reminded us that the beatings hurt him more than it hurt us. We started to side with him in a twisted Stockholm Syndrome spiral. We would apologise for his behaviour in our own heads and to other people. We loved him fiercely, and would defend him to our friends.
And these apologies still remained. Even after all these years, we were still apologising for him, to ourselves. We still kept the pain to ourselves, without telling him how much it had damaged us, how horrifying it had been. To not have any escape, no control, no recourse.
I remember as a child watching a current affairs episode about abused kids being reunited with their families after some sort of counselling or mediation. There were tears and apologies and it was beautiful. I had commented on how nice it would be to be one of those kids, and experience that unification, with the (now obvious) subconscious need to have that for myself.
“You don’t want to be one of them mate,” said Dad. “As soon as the cameras go, it all starts again.” He had no idea of the need behind my comment, nor the irony of his dismissal.
Both Mum and Dad both saw what they did as normal. We were living a normal life. Not only that, we actively looked down on other families that were more traditionally abusive. That is, they got beaten just cos their Dad or Mum was angry. Lower class beatings were just that, lower class.
My best friend at the time lived in a Housing Commission home. His mum was poorer than us, and had a string of boyfriends, most of whom were fuckwits, and had no problem belting my friend. Of course, my parents made it clear that we were above them. Thinking about it now it’s hard for me to see the distinction between middle class and lower class violence. I guess the thinking was that violence of the Christian god was reasonable and goal-oriented, and used a plastic pipe. The violence of the alcoholic gutter-rat was anger-driven and spontaneous, and fists were used instead. One came from “love” the other from rage.
I had spent five years unable to speak to my dad, and he had no idea why. I had spent years more in surface conversation, with my resentment bubbling close to the top. The time since then had softened me somewhat, and we were then able to connect, but there was still a wall of hate between myself and that man.
Unbeknownst to my siblings in that painful room, I had found a way out. A year before I had written to my Dad, expressing the pain I felt, the pain he had caused me. I ripped the scab off the wound, the wound that had left me with countless sleepless nights dreaming of pain and tears, and vengeance.
I again laid awake for many nights, wondering if I had done the right thing. I remembered back to a therapy session where the therapist had mentioned writing to my Dad to express my pain. I had replied that it would be impossible, and no good would come of it. My father wouldn’t care.
And yet here I was, years later. I had done it. The time had been ripe.
I opened his reply a week later. The first two words made me stop in my tracks.
My world stopped.
I couldn’t believe it.
The rest of the letter didn’t matter. With those two words all that pain ceased to exist. All that resentment that hindered our chats ceased to exist. My sleepless nights ceased to exist.
And when I sat in that room with my brother and sisters, I found my ability to share their hate…
…had ceased to exist.