Your parents took me to lunch after church one day, and your father received a rather alarming phone call. You had just been arrested for violating your parole. It didn’t make sense – what could you have done in the time since we left church?
Well, that was the problem. You were at church with me. It turned out you weren’t supposed to be seeing me at all. You thought you found a loophole, that they couldn’t do much if you happened to be in the same building as me. But that day, you held the door open for me as I stepped outside, and being outside together proved you were there with me – your parole officer had been watching from the animal clinic parking lot across the street.
You’re so unbearably selfish. Why would you tell me that meeting with me there was okay? How much misplaced guilt do I have to carry for you?
After that day, I never wanted to step foot in a church again. You really have this power to corrupt everything you touch. It’s not like I had much faith at that point anyway, but you drained any possibility of more.
So now I have to live with the burden that I’m part of the reason you were sent back to prison. But no. I can’t do that any longer. You did this to yourself and you hurt me by doing so. I’m a victim, not an accomplice.
None of this is my fault.
After you got released from prison, you still weren’t allowed to see me due to the nature of your crimes. I was just fourteen, only two years older than that girl when it happened. But we came up with a solution, that we would go to the same church and at least get to see each other on Sundays. I bet Mom was happy I was starting to go to church again, even if it was for ulterior motives.
It was the same church I had gone to as a child, one we quickly left after everything happened. You were running late one day, and your parents (who offered to pick me up each week) were for whatever reason talking about praying for you in this very church back during your trial.
The thing that stuck with me is what they said about my sister, who was eight at the time. She asked if she could pray for the girl, too. They were proud of her for thinking about this girl.
Through all my traumatic memories, I never really stopped to think about her. That there was a victim at the center of this unspeakable thing. I had shut the whole situation away, only ever focusing on not thinking about it when it popped up.
I know nothing about her – her family moved away almost immediately.
My perception of this event has changed so much with time. She has gone from older than me, to the same age, and now so much younger. I don’t think I fully comprehended the horror of what had happened until becoming an adult myself, understanding the vulnerability of youth that you can’t recognize while young. Of course I’m not older than her – she would be in her mid-30s now – but she’s forever stuck as this child, a perpetual victim in my mind.
With how much this still hangs over me, I can’t begin to imagine how this has affected her. We’ll never know each other, but our childhoods became so tainted by the same person. But if she met me today, she’d have every reason to assume I’m an enemy.
After all, it’s not like you have ever admitted to your actions. And who would I be to question my own father? I think an assumption has been made that I believe you, that I could never believe you would do such a horrible thing.
In fact, I find it so painfully easy to believe, to the point that I disgust myself to think I’ve let other people talk me into trying to maintain a relationship with you simply due to our familial connection.
Every moment we spend together leaves me feeling ashamed of myself. But, hey – at least one of us is capable of feeling shame.
Being four at the time you went away, I was too young to understand what had happened. I barely have memories of you existing in the outside world. One distinct memory I do have consists of me sitting on the floor, Candyland set up in front of me as I waited for you to get home. I’m not sure if this really happened or if my mind simply filled in the gaps. Trying to remember the finer details of childhood traumas can be difficult when you’ve put so much effort into forgetting.
Another distinct memory that may or may not be real occurred while Mom was driving me home from some forgotten activity. Something must have happened for me to say I wanted to see you. I must have said it in anger considering how she responded.
“You wouldn’t want to spend time with him if you knew what he did.” Of course no one had told me. How does anyone explain to a child the monstrous thing their father had done? Even in her anger, I think she held her tongue, as if she too couldn’t accept what you had done. “He had sex with our twelve-year-old neighbor.” She eventually got to the phrase ‘statutory rape,’ another term that lightens what really happened all those years ago.
I only had a faint idea of what sex was, but I knew it was something grown men didn’t do with children. You raped a child, whatever that meant – and that fact was being weaponized against me for daring to want a father.
But that wasn’t enough. She tacked on more. If you really cared about me, you would have been picking me up from preschool instead of going home early to ‘have sex with’ that girl.
So you didn’t just do something awful completely on your own. No, if I had just done more for you to love me, you wouldn’t have ended up in prison. It was my fault for not being good enough.
Why am I never enough?
It’s a bit telling that the most vivid memories I have of you as a child involve playing Solitaire.
Most kids probably remember playing catch, maybe even some video games if their dad was cool enough. But all I have is playing Solitaire while you chatted the time away with my grandparents.
It’s true you only had so much time to see us each week, and I guess you preferred catching up on whatever you were missing on the outside and I couldn’t offer much on that front. Or perhaps they just didn’t know to stop for only a bit. To be honest, I was always so bored of your conversations that I largely tuned out. I had a deck of cards to distract myself with.
When we did speak, you certainly promised we would play catch someday – not that I would have ever been interested in that. But I probably said I would like that. To at least do something with you. We promised so much to each other that we never ended up giving. Maybe we both needed to hear those things just to get through this ordeal.
All you really offered to me was empty promises.
It’s a bizarre feeling, to have always wanted to see you but being bored as soon as I arrived. I had an expectation of someone like you in my life, but all you ever gave me was a table to lay my cards on.
My sister would now and then call me out for not engaging with you – it was apparently my job to spark conversation between us. I guess I’ve always been bad at being the one to reach out.
Now and then, I could convince you to join me in a game. War, Scrabble, Uno, meaningless games that meant you were at least doing something with me.
Really, all my memories of you involve subtly but desperately trying to get enough attention from you. But that’s always been my problem, hasn’t it? No one ever seems to give me enough. I ask too much.
It’s funny that, as soon as you were finally physically there, I slowly realized I didn’t actually want anything. Why do I feel like I’m the disappointing one in this relationship? Why must I always be the one to carry the weight of showing up? I don’t owe you anything. You could have done anything – anything – to relate. But it’s always my burden, my fault.
Or maybe I’m missing the full picture. Everything from these times are such a blur to me, maybe the only element that didn’t traumatize me enough to forget was playing a game by myself.
When I was growing up, if anyone asked about you, I’d subtly act as if you were no longer with us. I don’t believe I told anyone about you until getting to college, after spending my childhood suffocating under the weight of your being. Your mere existence has scarred me.
At least if you actually were dead, I wouldn’t have to play this game of feigning interest in forming a bond that should have been there decades ago. You need a ‘son’ – but I don’t need a father anymore. Because, to be honest, I’d rather play a completely unsatisfying card game than spend any more time on you.