It's all about telling. It's about letting someone else know what happened to you, even something as sordid as having been touched in that most intimate of places by your own father. It's about trusting in another, to let go of a secret that had been hidden for such a long time. It's making the truth known. But whatever for? What good would it do? Because what stays hidden within is like a poison that will slowly seep into other aspects of your life. Because what stays hidden is allowed to fester, even corrupt. Because when the truth is hidden in darkness, and no light is allowed to bring attention to it, however briefly, something about ourselves shrinks and slowly disappears.
It's about healing.
One might say, "Isn't she being dramatic?"
But it is dramatic. It is a drama that is played out quietly, affecting our hearts, minds, even our bodies. There are no histrionics, voices shouting across the stage to make themselves heard, no clashing of cymbals or banging of gongs, though there are those as well, to be sure. It is more of a mime performance, where the players are faceless and without voice. You don't know who the perpetrator is. Neither do you know who the victim is for no one speaks. And the faces they show to the world around them are still that of father and daughter. After having said all that, it really isn't a performance, is it. It isn't staged, it isn't meant to be seen by anyone. It is experienced.
A few months ago, I was surfing the television channels and came across a program that was titled, "Father and Daughter." Naturally it intrigued me right away. It was a short animated piece by a foreign filmmaker about a father and daughter cycling together. The wind is strong, whipping at their clothes and hair. They stop at a certain point, walk down a few steps and he gets into a boat and rows away. The little girl waits but he doesn't return. She goes off and the seasons change. Years pass and she is now a young woman. Then she has a family of her own. Every so often, she cycles to the location where she said goodbye to her father when she was a little girl. She still waits for him to return. The seasons change again and she is an old woman, too old and feeble to really get around anymore. The world around her is much different from what it used to be. Even the ocean has dried up, making it possible for her to walk on. She walks out and lo and behold, there is the boat out in the middle of the now dried-up ocean. Her father did not return because he could not return. His boat had capsized in the storm the very night he had left and I actually felt sad for the old woman. She slowly climbs into the boat and lays her head down for a while. She is tired. Then she gets up and sees a familiar figure walking towards her from a distance. It is her father. As she is running to him, the old woman transforms into a young woman and then into the little girl who once said goodbye to her father at that very location. I had goosebumps. Father and daughter embrace, reunited at last. It was a simple story but it managed to bring a lump to my throat. Of course it would. And I silently thanked the filmmaker and wondered why he had made it in the first place.
More recently, I sat and watched a talk show as the topic that day was about people who were sexually abused as children and later, as adults, confronted their abusers. Towards the end of that segment, they talked about telling someone what had happened. You shouldn't keep it to yourself; you had to tell. But not many of us do because we do not want to rock the boat or we're afraid or confused. I just stood there and cried as I heard their words. I didn't tell. I couldn't tell. And just because I didn't say anything didn't mean that nothing had happened. We all still lived under the same roof and life went on as usual. But not really. When I e-mailed my family and relatives that my book had been accepted by a publisher, my oldest brother responded by first congratulating me then went on to say, "So all that writing and isolation :} over the years has paid dividends."
It dawned on me that my brother knew about me all those years ago. He didn't know what had happened but he had been observant all along and knew that I kept to myself a lot of the time, that I was painfully shy and loved to write. And I almost wanted to cry and loved him for it. It obviously wasn't an easy time, no, but it helped me to discover - even at this late age or stage of my life - that he had noticed. Someone noticed. I'm sure they all did but he was the one who mentioned it. And why wouldn't he notice? He was only four years older and living in the same house. Our paths crossed every day. I think that I experienced gratitude after reading his words.
I couldn't tell my oldest brother, or any of my brothers, at the time. Later, during an especially confusing period of my life, I told my second brother and his wife. I was staying with them and undergoing counselling on my own, which no one knew about. And I felt that I had to tell them. My brother wasn't particular sympathetic. His wife was but he wasn't. He had a very matter-of-fact attitude about it, that I had to move on, etc. etc. etc. I didn't regret telling him but I certainly wasn't pleased with his response. As I remember that night once again, I realise that my brother wasn't my counselor nor my therapist. He was my brother. What was I expecting from him? I wasn't sure at the time and I'm not sure even now. Perhaps he wasn't ready for such a revelation for I knew that he, too, looked up to our father very much. And maybe, to this day, that is partly why I hesitate to tell the others. Life has to go on, yes. Life has gone on though not always very well. And so many of us live with our secrets, no matter what they are. And just because I still sometimes hurt, or haven't healed completely, it doesn't mean that I should turn everyone else's lives upside-down. Would they be turned upside-down? Or would they be temporarily inconvenienced? What would be the point of telling? It's not as if it happened yesterday or last month or even last year. It happened many years ago and our father is gone. And so I ask myself, what would be the point of it all? Nobody said it would be easy. One is usually leery of "diffcult" things which involve emotions and relationships.
If I could see into the future, it would be so much easier. But there is no magic, no crystal ball. There is only a family, like many other families, that experienced not only the good times but also pain, resentment and loss. If I did tell, something tells me that my oldest brother would be more sympathetic. But still I tell myself, I don't know...
And whatever this experience means, whatever it's supposed to illustrate, I suppose I will just have to share it for the sake of sharing. I was driving in town the other day and, in the rear-view mirror, I saw an ambulance coming up behind me, its lights flashing. I pulled over to the side of the road and it sped by. As I continued driving, I then heard a siren and wondered if it was the same ambulance that had passed me earlier. I looked about me to see where it could be. Why did I need to know? I didn't. I turned my head in the direction of the siren but I couldn't see it anywhere. And then I burst into tears. And I wondered why I was crying. Who was I crying for? Was I remembering the night my father had his heart attack? No ambulance came for him, no sirens disturbing the still of the night. Only his physician arrived in his car. It was a quiet night but everything was experienced in my heart and in my mind for I still remember it twenty-five years later. Was I crying for my father? I don't know.
And even though I can't tell my other brothers, at least it helps to tell my story on these pages. As a young girl and later, as a teenager, I just lived life, not knowing what the future would hold, what memories would later come back to haunt me, what heartache would later return to keep me company.
For now, there are only these words. And if anyone should understand, I suppose my oldest brother would, for I can imagine him saying these same words, "So all that writing and isolation...." Yes, I think he would understand. The truth would be a little difficult to grasp and maybe time would be needed for it to sink in. But I think he would understand.
As for myself - one who thinks a lot - I think that I need to be certain. And in the absence of certainty, I then choose not to tell.