I was about one and a half years old when I woke up from my sleep and crawled out of my room and down the landing near the top of the staircase. I watched my father drag my mother down the stairs by her beehive hairdo. It was about 40 years later that I mentioned this to my mother, who had seen me and had hoped I was too young to remember. The reason? Dinner wasn't ready.
I had to catch my breath when I heard this.
This was not a one-off event. I found a letter written by my mother to her parents that my father was violent and she wanted to leave. I saw no evidence of it being sent. There are many letters.
My father and mother split when I was about four years old. It took a while to find a new home. I don't recall the actual details, as a four-year-old shouldn't. I recall the tension and anger from my father, and my mother wound up like a tight spring. My sister was 1 1/2 at the time and she was protected from all of this. I went to visit my father every Saturday, alone. My mother would drop me off outside a specific location where he would be waiting for me. He would buy food for us to take home, where he would leave me alone to watch TV and eat my sandwich. Father would sleep or read the papers. It was what it was, and my sister was too young to be included in these weekly trips. He wasn't partial to talking or having fun together, and he was definitely not warm or cuddly. I was very good at keeping myself occupied and not bothering him.
It was dutiful and I fulfilled my duty.
Rufus sits up straight at all times, his hands resting on his knees like a schoolboy from the past. He is a master of facts about everything, sharing intimate details about every shop they would pass on the way to the meeting point.
He was never physical with me, never laid a hand on me except this one time he was driving me home and got angry about something and went to hit me. I squared up to him, and he never tried again.
At some point, the weekly visits turned into family lunches, where a brown envelope with cash was given to my mother if she turned up. She relied on his support to pay the bills and when she didn't, he would pretend he forgot the envelope and would 'owe' her for next time. He used these lunches to stay physically connected to her. I was the messenger when she didn't, using me like a pawn to exercise control over her. The harm he caused me was irrelevant to him.
I was collateral damage.
I asked him how he felt, but Rufus cannot recall feeling anything. Detachment, a powerful survival tool.
Their constant bickering was confusing for me. He would call the house phone, and my mother would end up shouting at him down the phone. He was relentless, and I questioned why she left when nothing changed. She tried to shield me from her emotional state, pretending things were just fine. They were far from fine, and when my sister started school, she worked to pay the bills. It was the 70s and being a divorced woman was not easy.
He hurt me more than he will ever know. He used to delay paying my school fees until the school threatened to kick me out. The teachers treated me like I was contagious, different. It was as though my parent's situation allowed them to dismiss me and ignore me in class like I was not worth teaching. I learnt to sit quietly, not make a nuisance of myself and daydream. I went from being very bright and curious to having 'learning issues'. Society was cruel, and I was punished for having divorced parents. Money was his power tool over my mother, forgetting I suffered the consequences of his nastiness.
You know what is really fucked up? That 35 years later, when my grandmother died (his mother- she was evil and used money to control him too) they finally got divorced! All those years he withheld her freedom and when she was legally free, they re-married. I never knew they weren't divorced, my mother had one super long-term relationship and I knew Daniel had wanted to marry her. Maybe this is why he left? I will never know because she passed away many years ago.
She claimed he was sorry, he was more mellow, but he pushed the blame on her saying that it was her behaviour that caused him to lash out. He never took any responsibility or accountability for his violent, controlling behaviour. He was an asshole. Watching them live together and treat her better, hmmm, he was still not good enough in my opinion, but she was at peace with her decision. Too many maybe's and questions that I will never get answers to. If only we had found her letters before she died, we would know the reasons why.
How did you feel about this reunion?
I didn't feel anything. I trusted her decision and she assured me it was all good. I always felt fully loved by her and I know she did her best to protect me. He was still an angry man, this time older, and after years of no contact, I had no choice but to spend time with him. He hadn't changed towards me or my sister, he was still a shit dad. Has this affected me, and my parenting? I don't think so. I love my child, we spend time together hanging out. Although I never married, I don't believe that it is based in my childhood trauma.
If you were to meet Rufus, you would find him charming, kind, caring, and gentle. I wish I could have captured Rufus's subtle facial movements reflecting his pain and sadness. The way he slightly shuffled in his seat, re-living painful memories, his voice monotone at all times.
What stood out for me was his smile that lit up the room when he recalled sneaking into the garage as a little boy and getting ice lollies from the freezer chest without getting caught. If only that had been his first memory.
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