My Father’s Birthday

My father’s birthday is tomorrow. If he were alive he would be 108 years old. I simply cannot imagine that. I don’t think that’s odd; I doubt if anybody can imagine a parent living to 108.

I had a consistently unhappy relationship with my father.

For the first few years of my life, I hardly knew what he looked like, even though we all lived in the same apartment. He had not wanted children, and when my brother or I entered a room he was in, he was, he would get up and walk out. He just couldn’t bear to see us.

Years later, I understood. He had been abused like I was, and by many of the same people. Although he wasn’t aware of this, unconsciously he didn’t want to pass on the abuse. And I give him a lot a credit for that. But my mother yearned for children, and so my brother and I were born despite his wishes.

When he returned after the war, he showed interest in me. He thought I was bright and talented and that it was his position to correct the mistakes my teachers were making. If he saw something I wrote, he covered the page with dense red annotations. I had to rewrite it including all his corrections.

He also did intrusive sexual things to me. Dancing with me (and dancing too close). He instituted a formal kiss when we said hello or goodbye to either parent and held me really close when kissing me. Kisses on the cheek turned into kisses on the mouth and then to French kisses. As I got older, he did things like ask me to go to “Deep Throat” with him. He had never before suggested we go to a movie together.

That was the day life. Night life was, to say the least, not as delicate.

A the end of his life, he called me to him and said I was the only one he could trust to follow his wishes. He did not want extraordinary measures taken to prolong his life. However, he felt I needed to know that if I did what he wanted, it would be considered murder in the State we lived in. So I was given the choice of murdering him or of torturing him on his death-bed. Thanks, Dad! I did nothing, and he died shortly afterwards.

For many years I was enraged and wished he would die. When he actually did, I panicked. It felt like the world was about to end. I was afraid to go to his funeral, but my cousin gave me some tracks and I managed to get through it. I was a wreck for about two years afterwards.

Later, I figured out that he had wanted me to take over his role in the cult and that I needed to kill him to do so. No wonder I was such a mess.

As the years passed and I got more and more information about the hidden part of my life, I came to a different understanding of his behavior. In my mind, he changed from my persecutor to just another person who had been horribly harmed from childhood by the cult. Just another victim. My hatred diminished as my understanding grew.

Today, I feel really sad that he did not have the chance to remember and change his life. He tried, I know he tried, but he could not break the amnesia. There was no knowledge of the effects of childhood trauma, even severe trauma, in his life time. Nobody talked about it, nobody was aware of it. Nobody was a “survivor” — e.g., aware of their abuse. Nobody could meet another survivor and realize that they weren’t the only one.

I am so very grateful that ritual abuse is talked about today, even though it is often mocked and denigrated. If it were not for the influence of twelve-step programs and the women’s movement, nobody would have permission to talk about taboo personal experiences. They fostered an openness, a willingness to speak about previously unspeakable things.

And so, when my first memories came crashing over me, others were already talking about ritual abuse and multiplicity. On television, even. That gave me permission to take my memories seriously and gave me, instantly, a welcoming community. If my parents had lived to experience a community of ritual abuse survivors, who knows, they might have been able to renounce the cult and become survivors themselves.

If my father’s spirit is in a better place, I only hope he now knows he is no longer alone, has forgiven himself, and knows that my feelings toward him have changed completely.

A Friend’s Death

A survivor e-friend of mine died recently. She had been very, very sick for a long time, but she kept going and she kept going until I thought she might be immortal. She just plain refused to give up and I just plain refused to believe she ever would give up.

In the end, it wasn’t her that gave up, it was her body that gave in. She lay down and her friends came and sat with her and sang her favorite songs and surrounded her with love. And then she slipped away, peacefully. It sounded like a really beautiful death, and I would like to die in a similar way.

I gave something of myself to her after she died. I wrote a letter to her and another to a little that I had been close to. The letters were burned and their ashes buried outdoors in a favorite spot of hers. But I have nothing of hers except for memory of what she was like and verbatim memories of some of our e-mails. (I just now realized I have saved all of her e-mails and also the ones I sent her. So I do have a lot of her!)

I was really surprised at how deep my grief was when I learned she had passed away. I was far more attached than I realized. I cried steadily for several days, and now I am in the crying on-and-off stage. (I am crying now.) The child part of me keeps protesting – “I didn’t want her to die! It’s not fair!” And the adult part simply says, “I miss her.”

Usually when a survivor dies I am very angry, not at the person, but at the cult. So many of our illnesses are caused, directly or indirectly, by the torture we underwent in our childhoods. She was no different from the rest of us in that she was tortured mercilessly. But she happened to die of illnesses that could not be laid at the abusers’ feet. It’s often hard for me to remember that there are plenty of bad things in the world outside the cult and that genetics, infections, auto accidents, all sorts of things, can harm us and they have no connection to the cult.

Of course the cult claimed that they had caused all the awful things in the world and we believed them. Worse yet, they often said we had caused them because we were so evil. The guilt lingered long after we were old enough to realize that the accusation was ridiculous. I have no idea why they felt they had to puff themselves up so much – weren’t they powerful enough and evil enough as it was? I guess they were greedy and wanted all the evil in the whole wide world.

When a survivor dies, I grieve for the survivor community’s loss as well as my own personal loss. We each have a unique voice; there is nobody who can speak for us, speak like us, possess the same wisdom and compassion and beauty. There is a hole in the community that cannot be filled.

One death stir up feelings about other deaths, of course. I’m thinking of Lynn Moss-Sharman and Lynn Wosnak and Vern and Maggie and Julie and Karen Wiltshire and a man whose name I have forgotten who worked for the SPCA and investigated RA cases at the same time and Wendy and Dee and my brother. I think of those I knew who have died but I haven’t learned of their deaths. And then I think of those of us who are limping along and those that are fighting intense emotional and physical pain. I feel filled with sadness.