...this morning i revisited some material i wrote a few years ago...after elizabeth was born i thought maybe i'd done the wrong thing, having a child who would, perhaps, inherit something in the blood that would turn her into a copy of her grandfather...or worse, that i'd snap and become something like my father...
...i wrote some of this during that time...some of it i've tweaked...for the last two years it's been the introduction to the memoir...i hope it does it's job...i welcome/need comments...thanks, everyone...be brutal...
I am the daughter of a convicted rapist.
It’s taken nearly three decades for me to admit that to myself.
These words are a confession to the rest of the world.
The last time I saw my father I was seven years old, a month before my eighth birthday. I was trying hard to be both the son my father didn’t have and the young lady my mother wanted me to be. So far, my father was winning. I played baseball. My favorite toys were my He-Man action figures. I rode a black BMX bicycle. My best friend was a boy who lived three blocks away. I’m sure that the last time I saw my father I was wearing cut-off jean shorts and a white t-shirt, my long blonde hair tucked beneath my Mickey Mouse baseball cap to keep myself cool in the California desert. I was wearing Vans, blue canvas with white laces, and tube socks pulled to my knees. Though my mother dressed me each Sunday in a frilly dress, white lace socks, and patent leather shoes I’m sure I was convinced that I was my father’s son.
What I’m not sure about is what my father looked like. Was his hair blonde or light brown? Was he balding? How tall was he? What did he do for a living? Did he wear glasses? After his arrest in July of 1985 all pictures of him disappeared from our house, he possessions followed shortly after. His car was never returned from the Los Angeles County impound. It was as if he’d disappeared. Or like he’d never existed at all.
I’ve spent twenty seven years believing my father was a deceitful, evil, sick person who raped women and used his family as a cover for his crimes; that he had always been strange, a troubled person; that because of my short temper, pinched lips, and constant scowl I acted and looked exactly like him; that if I wasn’t careful, one day he’d come for me, or send one of his prison pals to come for me, and I’d suffer. Maybe not die, but suffer.
It took some conditioning to believe all of this, but it worked.
I’ve spent twenty seven years living as the child of someone who never existed.
I’ve spent twenty seven years living as the child of one of the most notorious criminals in California State history.
I thought I would die with it. That after I was gone the evil, the sickness, would go with me. It is the son who inherits the sins of the father, I’d been taught in Sunday school. I would take the burden off my sisters and keep it all for myself.
Then some things changed.
I had a child, a girl. And I told myself I would not raise her with the same fears that had ruled my childhood. And I told myself that when she was old enough I would tell her about my father. And then it occurred to me that I had nothing much to tell.
I was sure I could think of something. I’d been trying to write about my childhood—in secret, furtive moments, in fear of my family’s reaction—for a quarter century. But I didn’t want conjecture, rumor. I didn’t want my daughter’s grandfather to be simply a handful of newspaper articles over twenty-five-years-old.
I didn’t want it for myself.
I was tired of it all—the secret I’d kept for so long, the fear of the dark, of open windows, of strangers. I was thirty four years old and I’d not once slept with my bedroom window open. I’d never gotten into my car without checking beneath it for a predator waiting to slit my ankles and abduct me.
I was more afraid of passing along fear to my daughter than I was of passing on any mental illness that might live in my blood.
And something else—having a child raised the question of why my father had children of his own. If he was the sick, evil person I’d been taught to believe how had he managed to marry, hold a job, attend church, have three girls he never once touched sexually?
It occurred to me one afternoon, as I was watching my infant daughter play in the grass of my quiet, safe, suburban house 3500 miles from the California town that had been the ruin of my childhood, that I’d never asked anyone anything more about him.
I’d been too afraid.
If someone had said to me the day before, the hour before, the second before I’d had this thought, that fear was a powerful motivator, that it could damage a person faster than a bullet, I would’ve laughed. Something inside of me would have tugged. There would have been a mental snag. But I would’ve laughed.
I watched my infant daughter crawl along, pull blades of grass with her nimble fingers, squint against the sun that turned her blue eyes crystal clear, and thought to myself,If I don’t let go of this fear, I’ll never be her mother.
I’m trying to let it go.