Sometimes the Whole Doesn’t Equal the Sum of the Parts

You can only bury your identity for so long. There will always be people around you who say that labels don’t matter, or that how people perceive you doesn’t matter, and while that certainly sounds sensible and logical, it kind of adds up to bullshit.

We all want to be seen for what and who we are. Even if what we are doesn’t conform to the package we might present with (especially if what we really are doesn’t conform with the package we present with), we still have a desire for people to see the real us.

Pragmatists can argue all they want about how it’s what’s inside that counts, and that our happiness shouldn’t be determined by other people’s acceptance, and that you shouldn’t worry so much about what other people think anyway, but those people can shut the fuck up. It sucks to interact with the world and cringe every time you are mis-named or mis-labeled or mis-gendered. It’s an involuntary reaction. You can’t control your discomfort — even if you try to internalize those feelings, a glaring red buzzer goes off in your brain every time someone gets it wrong.

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That’s not my name. That’s not who I am.

Think about that time that dude you worked with called you the wrong name and then you were too embarrassed to let him know, and now every time he sees you he still gets it wrong — are you cool with that? Or does it bug you every. single. time?

Even more simple than that — don’t you get irritated when you give the Starbucks barista your name and she writes it wrong on your cup? No seriously — do you brush it off or do you tell everyone about it for the rest of the day?

Being seen — really seen — is a basic human need.

We all need an identity. Of course part of that identity is what we do in life, the kind of person we are (our morals, our spirituality, our driving force), and a variety of other things, but at the core of our identity are our gender and sexuality (or at least terms that define those in some way).

I don’t think that gender and sexuality are necessarily more important than other aspects of our identity, but because they impact how we relate to others in terms of psychosocial interactions, they tend to be the focus of how we define ourselves. It also naturally follows that because these are the first two identities assigned to us at birth, they end up being attributed as having primary importance.

It’s understandable then, why this is so problematic: The attributes that are at the core of our identities — name, gender and sex — are chosen for us, rather than by us.

Obviously it might be a bit impractical to avoid assigning any of these identities until children reach puberty, but it would certainly be an interesting societal shift if at age 13 we could all have a re-naming ceremony where we decided for ourselves what and who we are. Even that doesn’t satisfy me completely — I think identity can be fluid. I think maybe it should be fluid. In the space of an eighty-year lifetime, why should we be expected to be static beings? Why must we be content to stay in our boxes?

With each label we are assigned as babies, there comes a set of expectations. This means that we are moulded by those expectations, rather than left to grow into who we really are. Even something as simple as the choice of a name can change us because of how those around us make both conscious and subconscious assumptions associated with our moniker. People (think they) know the difference between a Brad and a Brody and a Matt, or a Judith and a Jenny and a Muffy.

So even if labels shouldn’t matter, the reality is that we’ve already been labeled — wanting to re-label ourselves so that people get it right is a pretty natural reaction to what is already an unnatural situation.

For some, making changes coincides with physical transitioning which helps their bodies match the label that they identify with. For others, making changes is not so simple. Not everyone can (or wants to) fit into a normative box. Just because someone is male or female doesn’t mean they will fit into a straight-edged box of how society defines what is male or female. In many cases, a person isn’t going to fit into either binary label. And really, what is the point of setting that as a goal anyway? If we are going to define ourselves, why feel constricted by how society defines those labels?

I suppose the most obvious answer to that question is that labels only work if the person you’re communicating with knows what they mean. That’s certainly been the criticism that people have levelled against they/xe pronouns. I think that’s a lazy excuse. Every day we apply and use unique labels for the people we meet — their names. We don’t say, “I’m sorry, it’s too complicated to call you Dave. I’m going to call you Steve, just like I use for all my friends. Calling you your own name is too much work to remember.” We learn our friends’ names, and when we meet someone new, we don’t assume that their name is Steve — we ask — and then use the right name from then on (unless we’re complete jerks).

The fact that some people are more complicated in the sense that they don’t fit established labels only makes them unique. But we’re all unique. We all possess unique characteristics that make up our character and identity, and people remember those unique characteristics. You know that Bob is your friend who loves show tunes, and that Becka is your friend who loves grapes but only the seedless kind.

When we ask the people around us to use the correct labels or names to identify us, we’re asking for no more than what we all do already for the people we care about: For them to know us and see us for who we really are. By asking, we’re just pointing out that yes, this is a thing that really matters to me. It’s not asking for special treatment — it’s something you should already be doing for someone you care about. It’s just pointing you in the right direction.

When you refuse or ignore your friend’s request to acknowledge their real self, it’s a pretty fundamental rejection. You’re saying, “you’re not worth it.” It’s like telling your friend that you’re allergic to peanuts and they keep offering you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every time you come over. Quite frankly, if you do that to me, I’m going to decide very quickly that we’re not friends. That’s not me being ‘picky’ — that’s you being a crappy friend.

And who needs crappy friends?

/rk

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The Big Lie

Twenty Years AgoTwenty years ago, I reported a rape that didn’t happen.

There are very few people who know this story, and none with whom I could possibly share every detail. Part of that is simply because the more I explain what happened, the less it feels like an explanation and the more it feels like an excuse for something which is clearly inexcusable. I have spent more than twenty years wanting to speak out publicly about it — to out myself and lay myself bare — but have vacillated back and forth. I have desperately wanted to come clean and take responsibility for my actions, but at the same time I have been haunted by the potential repercussions (beyond any for myself) of this kind of confession. The myth that women frequently lie about rape is inevitably falsely reinforced by one woman coming forward (in spite of statistics to the contrary). I don’t want my lie to reflect unfairly on those who have made genuine claims. It has also never been my desire to re-open old wounds for the boy I hurt and whose life I damaged.

But these things have a tendency to eat away at you when they sit unresolved, and although I wouldn’t say that I have forgiven myself for the choice I made, I do understand it more now. That understanding has made it both easier and harder — maturity has given me the emotional tools to dissect and understand the choice I made — that I felt I had to make at the time — but it has also distanced me greatly from the person that made that choice. I cannot imagine doing such a thing today, or allowing myself to be in such a vulnerable position where I felt there was no other option. This means that although I understand it, I find it hard to empathize with it.

***
THE FOOTBALL PLAYER
When the non-rape happened, I was dating a football player. I was 19 and this was the second serious relationship that I had been in after losing my virginity at 18. My first boyfriend had been sweet and caring, and unfortunately I had been a weepy emotional wreck (undiagnosed bipolar disorder, abandonment issues and puberty were a difficult mix). That relationship lasted three months, after which he dumped me (kindly?) and I was absolutely devastated. When the next relationship came along more than a year later, I grabbed on with both hands and held on tight. Very tight.

He preferred a more arm’s length approach. I was not invited to his house or to meet most of his friends. He didn’t want to meet my friends.

The majority of our relationship involved him rarely returning my calls and coming over to my parent’s house after dark to have sex, which we did mostly in the dark, and during which he never removed his baseball cap. Ever.

Looking back, I have to wonder if any of his friends even knew that he had a girlfriend (was I his girlfriend?), and there is a good chance that he was seeing other girls as well. Things came to a bit of a head when, after repeated requests for him to come to a party with me, he refused and I went on my own.

What happened next wasn’t his fault — if I wasn’t getting what I needed from the relationship I should have just ended it (that seems perfectly logical now, of course, but teenagers don’t often have the emotional maturity to go along with their sexual explorations). I was hurt and needed validation.

***
THE BOY (AKA. THE FALSELY ACCUSED)
I arrived at the party feeling severely depressed, but determined to solve that problem by spending time with my friends and consuming large quantities of alcohol. I no longer remember the exact circumstances of meeting the guy I would cheat on my boyfriend with (for reasons that will become apparent later, my memories of the event ended up being so distorted and tampered with that I blocked out a lot of it). Somehow he was there, and then he and a couple of my girlfriends and I headed to a corner store to buy some snacks, and then we returned to the party, after which he and I started fooling around). He was (in my eyes at the time) the mortal incarnation of a Greek god. He was beautiful. Tanned skin, beautiful wavy hair and muscles. But more importantly, he seemed completely blown away by the attention I was giving him and he reciprocated wholeheartedly.

This was, understandably, a pretty big boost to my self-esteem. He wanted me so much and seemed so hungry for me, and I was so wounded by rejection that I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t register with me at the time that part (or all?) of that hunger was less a function of my irresistible desirability and more a reflection of his age.

He was 15. He was a virgin.

Not only was he 15, but he had just turned 15 that week. He was in grade nine and I had already graduated from high school.

This did give me pause. Of course it did. But I made all the rationalizations that I am sure men make of underage girls who they convince themselves ‘look older’ and are ‘mature for their age.’ By law in Canada, it was legal for us to have sex. Barely.

In any case, we did not have sex that first night, nor even when we met up again the next day. I am not certain that was even my goal. It was a bit of a runaway train that, of course, he was going to ride as far as he could, and that I was feeling less certain about the more sober I was. We eventually went home to my parents house and did, finally, consummate what seemed inevitable.

It was awkward and absolutely not horrible physically, but mentally I realized (during) that I had done a very, very stupid thing. I knew I couldn’t continue seeing him (regardless of what happened with my boyfriend) — enough time had passed that I had actually spent talking to him to realize that, while sweet, he was a child and we had nothing in common. He was beginning high school and I was going to head off to university. I had just been his first sexual experience and I had no idea how to deal with the situation in a way that wouldn’t destroy him.

So of course I pretended everything was fine and waited until he called me the next day and did it over the phone.

***

When my boyfriend found out, he was angry, but didn’t yell or hurt me in any way. He didn’t even dump me. He just insisted I tell him everything about the boy and his name. I asked him if he was going to hurt him. He said no. I told him not to. He said he wouldn’t. I didn’t believe him.

TW: Trigger Warnings for talk of rape and abuse after the fold…

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Poly and Crippled: When Your Other Partner is Your Disability

Managing your polyamorous relationships obviously becomes exponentially more complex with the more partners you have. Whether you believe in hierarchical relationships (primary, secondary, etc.) or not, there are still times when having to prioritize is inevitable. Everyone has times when they are a squeaky wheel, and as long as it is not part of a pattern of emotional manipulation, I think that’s completely reasonable. After all, if you add kids to the picture, or other situational stressors like death of a family member, or loss of a job, a little extra attention or comfort may be needed that can, in turn, impact the time you spend with other partners. Certainly this is where having metamours that are friendly or understanding with one another’s needs is important, and hopefully there is some give and take and flexibility with scheduling, so that everyone feels their needs are being met fairly.

broken heartBut what if your wheel never stops squeaking? When you suffer from chronic illness (in my case, both physical and mental illness), and you spend much of your time trying to deal with the day to day issues associated with that illness, it can feel virtually impossible to dedicate any kind of emotional energy to multiple partners, never mind one. It is much easier to speak in philosophical tones about polyamory and your theories on ethical non-monogamy than to actually follow through with seeking out and maintaining multiple relationships. The entire process seems impossibly daunting. When your main focus each day is the struggle of getting out of bed, showering (maybe), finding ways to deal with intractable pain, etc., the acts of communication and caring for the emotional and physical needs of another person seem insurmountable. And quite frankly, like work.

It cannot be discounted either, the stress that this puts on the partner of the disabled person. If you are their squeaky wheel, how can they possibly meet the needs of other partners? I have sometimes thought that the solution to this is to seek out partners during periods of stability, but of course as anyone can tell you, finding partners isn’t quite so convenient that they appear out of the woodwork on request (in spite of what some people seem to think on OkCupid). Even if that were possible, who is to say that the new partner would be willing to put up with an over-demanding metamour? It certainly has never been my intention to sabotage my partner’s other relationships, but I cannot deny that it may have occurred in spite of that. When you are dependant upon another human being for many of your daily needs because of disability, it’s a pretty normal reaction to be a) fearful that those needs will no longer be met, and b) filled with guilt over that fear.

A good deal of the stress I have personally felt because of my situation dissipated when I accepted the fact that, at least for now, the only other partner I can manage is my illness. Right now, it requires my time and devotion. Accepting that, and setting some goals as to how I can satisfy some of the needs that it represents (like learning how to manage pain and gaining further independence) have allowed me to slowly get back to being a better partner in my primary relationship. I had spent so much time obsessed with ‘poly failure’ guilt, that I hadn’t been tending to either my partner or my disability. I also spent such an enormous amount of time worrying about whether he was unhappy because he wasn’t seeing anyone else that it clouded my ability to deal with anything else that needed to be tackled in our relationship. It’s hard to build emotional stability when you’re in self-protection mode.

Whether it is due to disability or some other life change, it’s tremendously important to take the emotional time to process and if necessary, withdraw. It’s a natural byproduct of polyamory that we check in with others around us in order to determine their needs and how we can best accommodate them. The problem for some (i.e. those of us who are naturally co-dependent and ‘fixers’) is that we don’t always look inward (or rather, if we do, we do not allocate the time to mend our broken bits the way we try to with others). I know a few people in the community who have declared themselves ‘their own primary.’ There are certainly some who, upon hearing such a pronouncement, might consider that a selfish act, but really, it’s pretty hard to attend to other people’s needs when yours are constantly nagging in the back of your mind. Being your own primary, to me, seems like an excellent way to communicate to others that you declare yourself valuable and hold yourself accountable to your own needs.

Obviously some of this can be mitigated by being honest (and forthcoming) about your own needs so that others can help — but I think it is even more important that we try to figure out ways (even small ones) to help ourselves. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help, but there is also a lot to be gained in terms of feelings of self-worth and independence, by taking control and allotting time for yourself.

The first step is acknowledging that those needs exist. And sometimes, the second is acknowledging that your illness is your life partner — you need to take care of that relationship so you can take care of the others.

/rk

New Book!

I’m pleased to announce the soft launch of my latest book, “I’Mmoral: Poems for Unrepentant Sinners and Free Thinkers.” For the time being, the eBook is available only on lulu.com, but is being rolled out for distribution through Amazon, Kobo, NOOK, and more. Once I have approved the proofs of the paperback version, I will advise where those can be purchased as well.

cropped-immoral-image.jpegSummary: What would the war cry of a mostly introverted, mentally ill, autistic, genderqueer, physically disabled, feminist, atheist, polyamorous woman sound like? A lot like this. Using a combination of essay and free-form poetry, R.K. confronts the status quo and dissects it, inspecting its parts and discarding the bad bits. In spite of tackling some obviously serious and controversial topics, such as abortion and the anti-vaccination movement, she approaches her subjects with humour and then slaughters them with equal parts derision and kindness.

Price (eBook): $2.99 / Click here to view/buy

Thanks very much for your support!

/rk

Relationship Mono/Poly

Broadly speaking, there seem to be two paths that lead people to polyamory. Some people come at it either right off the bat or early on in their romantic escapades, whereas others seem to arrive at it after a change in trajectory. I envy those who are part of the former group. Like anything that falls into the category of non-normative; a supportive community of family or friends and/or early exposure ends up exacting a huge influence on whether or not we have the confidence to explore certain options later in life.

If you’ve grown up in a culture of heteronormativity and monogamy, the idea that there are different avenues for you to explore may not even occur to you. Or if it does, you might feel intimidated and unsupported, whether explicitly or implicitly: If your community isn’t well versed on these concepts, they aren’t likely to be equipped with the tools to educate or support you.

IMG_0492When I look at young 20-something poly experts, confident in their queer identities and adept at juggling relationship anarchy, I can’t help but wonder how different things might have been for me if I had either been raised in a less normative household, or if I had sought out queer friends in high school and university. Ultimately it was a combination of not knowing what I didn’t know, and not having the confidence to challenge myself to seek out situations that might push me outside my comfort zone.

Monogamy and heterosexuality surrounded me with a lot of hard lines and rules. That wasn’t inherently a bad thing: I like rules (as long as I agree with them). I like clarity and knowing where I stand. The problem with monogamy was that I wasn’t always clear where the lines were.

It wasn’t that I had a hard time being monogamous – I understood clearly what constituted sexual cheating and I believed in fidelity. It was that every other relationship, friendships included, felt like cheating (or at least held the potential for cheating).

It is hard for me to approach a relationship with the notion that it should be categorized with rules for how far it should go, and in what fashion my feelings are allowed to evolve. I don’t, as a general habit, go out of my way to make casual acquaintances. If I choose to develop a friendship with someone, I want the freedom to take it in whatever direction it naturally evolves.

That model didn’t really fit in with what I thought monogamy was. Rather than reject monogamy, I would avoid making friends when I was in committed relationships. Again, this was more about living in a sheltered environment and not feeling brave enough to break the rules (after all, I didn’t really have anyone to break the rules with). It wasn’t until my late 30s (and the internet, and Facebook, and OKCupid) that it became clear that like my sexuality, my relationship style didn’t have to be something that conformed to what society said was ‘normal.’

Coming to poly later in life affects how you approach concepts of non-monogamy. If you’ve been raised in the poly community or as queer spawn, the odds are that your outlook on pretty much everything is tempered by the attitude of “it’s ok to challenge the status quo.” You’re less likely to compare things to the ‘norm’ – or if you do, it’s probably to celebrate that you are breaking the mold rather than reaffirming it.

It’s a bad habit of latecomers to the poly game that we are prone to comparing the poly styles of ourselves and others to what we know about monogamy, rather than acknowledging that polyamory is less about breaking the rules of monogamy as much as it is embracing the freedom to create a relationship style that reflects the wants and needs of the people involved. The existence of polyamory doesn’t mean that monogamy is invalid. They’re just different.

I think it’s natural, when monogamy is the only thing you’ve experienced (whether positively or not) to use that as your frame of reference. I also think it’s natural to approach your first experiences with poly in a piece-meal fashion. Baby steps.

As such, what inevitably happens is that a huge number of latecomers fit a certain profile: married couples that have decided to open up their marriage. They start by dating other people together and establishing a laundry list of rules to keep their primary relationship ‘safe.’

This tends to earn them a lot of scorn from the early adopters.

So what do you do if you are late to the game, but rather than being married and opening up your relationship to poly, you start out single and your first poly relationship results in marriage?

Here I am, finally comfortable in a relationship and relationship style that frees me to fully explore whatever developments might occur in my friendships, no longer internally regulated out of a false sense of obligation, and yet on the outside, I appear to be in a hetero-monogamous marriage. I’ve gone from being a bisexual woman pursued by unicorn hunters, to being in a poly marriage where everyone assumes we’re unicorn hunters.

I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own style and approach to polyamory. To me, that’s the whole point, that you define your own relationship style. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also suck to be lumped in with an entire group of people whose beliefs and approach to poly doesn’t match your own.

I don’t regret marrying my husband, but doing so has made so many aspects of my identity invisible. No one sees my bisexuality. No one sees my gender non-conformity. No one knows I’m poly.

I’m finally at a time of my life where I can (and do try to) express myself and be who I really am on the inside. But if no one sees it on the outside, does it really count?

/rk

Thank You No Thank You

I hate the expression ‘control freak’, but I suppose it’s suitable to describe me, in that when I don’t get to control my surroundings, I freak out.  More than a little.  Being disabled means giving up control.  Even if set out not to, in the beginning, and figure out some work-around schemes to allow yourself to maintain control, there comes a point when you have to cede some or all control to other people.

I hate it.

“It must be so great to have other people do things for you.”

No.  It isn’t.  I might have thought so too, but let me tell you why it’s not.

I'm going to have to go with... no.  Also... fuck off.

I’m going to have to go with… no. Also… fuck off.

You’re probably expecting some speech about how control is important to my dignity and self-sufficiency, and sure, yeah, that’s true.  But what is driving me the most crazy these days is the fact that in ceding control, I somehow lose any autonomy over choice.

I’m not a very grateful person, apparently.

I, too, thought that the hardest part of having to ask other people for favours and help would be the asking.  I got over that pretty quick when I realized that the real and truly hardest part would be to have to be grateful for those favours when they weren’t a) the things I asked for or b) all that helpful if they required me to re-do them myself.

I’m aware of how shitty and ungrateful this makes me sound.  And yet there is a pretty big part of me that doesn’t care.

If it is frustrating when you offer to do something for someone only to have them be ungrateful and critical when you do the thing (albeit the slightly wrong thing) because it’s the thought that counts…

Try to imagine what it’s like to be the person you did the favour for, who asked for help because they literally cannot do it themselves and they now not only do not have the thing they needed, they now know for certain that they will never have the ability to have what they want or need ever again and this is their life now: helplessness and dissatisfaction and people who aren’t going to take the time to figure out what their needs are.

Gratitude feels like a pretty privileged concept to me.

I don’t have a choice to ask for help. Powerlessness has been thrust upon me.  And, yes, I probably need an attitude adjustment, but I’m not there yet.  Because right now it feels like it’s about respect.  It feels like if people respected my right and need to get what I asked for, they’d take the time to make sure they understand the request and that we’re communicating well.  That they’d acknowledge that my condition dictates that sometimes I might suffer from brain fog, which means that I might need some help and prompting to be sure that they get the info they need from me, but that I still do have opinions and needs and desires that are valid.

And if people took the time to understand that… I’d have gratitude.  And satisfaction.

/rkb

My Father Died

My brother and sister scattered my father’s ashes over the water in Port Dalhousie, Ontario. I was not invited. I would not even have known if I hadn’t happened across a single random Facebook post that made reference to the occasion.

It was hardly a surprise, and I acknowledge that their choice to exclude me was the direct result of a situation of my own making.

If I had the opportunity to go back and change how I handled my father’s passing, I don’t know that I would. Even though I was confronted repeatedly with threats of “you’ll regret this” by other family members, I cannot see how I could have done anything differently and still maintained my sanity. (Such that it is.) The word compromise was thrown around a lot. But it’s funny how often, when people are asking you to compromise, what they mean is that they want you to change while the other person remains immoveable.

971298_10152271549526830_1794482042_nI don’t remember who told me he had cancer, that last time. I honestly don’t recall if it was my father himself, or maybe the news came via my sister or my mother. For some reason that moment was deemed inconsequential by my mental Rolodex and not filed away. I do remember the first time he lied and told us he had cancer (at my 16th birthday) very clearly. I remember crying. I remember mourning. I remember finding out that the whole thing was a fabrication, and my slow-growing resentment. But I don’t remember anything about finding out that he had cancer for real. Somehow the details were inconsequential.

To say that I felt nothing upon learning of his terminal illness would not be accurate. I just didn’t feel the right things. I didn’t feel what others needed me to feel. 

I did not rush to his side.

In the years leading up to this point, I had already become estranged from my father. I had tried, for a long while, to mend fences. I had tried to understand the rift between us. I had tried to have real conversations with him, where hopefully we could try to find some kindness between us or something real.

A few years before he died, he invited my son and I on a trip to Nassau and I accepted, uneasy to allow him to pay our way (because these sorts of gifts always had strings), but anxious to make one last try at connecting. I also hoped it would give him a chance to get to know and understand his autistic grandson a bit better.

It was a disaster. My father drank and chain-smoked and dominated all conversation. Any attempts at communication or interjection on my part were mocked or denigrated. He wanted an audience for his superficial boasting and someone to laugh at his jokes. He wasn’t capable of listening, nor was he interested in a heart-to-heart. The majority of his interaction with my son was in anger or frustration; which made the both of them sullen. I spent most of the time with a migraine from the cigarette smoke, and took to drinking and sleeping and escaping to the beach with my son when I could.

When we returned, my father told everyone we had a lovely time.

When he made a similar offer a year later (with minimal interaction in the interim), I declined and I think it hurt him deeply. I told him he didn’t have to buy us trips and I’d rather he just talk to me like a normal human being. He hung up. A month later he had throat cancer.

Chemotherapy for the throat cancer gave him leukemia. There wasn’t any coming back from that.

My stepmother, sister and brother spent a lot of time with him in the hospital, which was easier for them in terms of proximity, but physical distance wasn’t the only thing that kept me away.

My father had his difficult moments with most people, but he had genuine love for the three of them. If he had love for me (and I like to think he did), he was never able to express it in any way that did not hurt me. Somehow by my brother moving to Toronto (i.e. close to him) and me staying in Ottawa (i.e. close to my mother), we had unwittingly identified our allegiances. He treated me in a similar fashion as he did her — but of course since their divorce she was rarely in his presence, and I took the brunt of it.

My sister pleaded with me to go see him. This was a variation on the same pleas she had expressed practically since she could speak. It was almost the entirety of our long-distance relationship. “Please talk to dad.” “Please come see dad.” “Why can’t you do this for me?” “I don’t care if it hurts you — WHY CAN’T YOU DO IT FOR ME?”

It could be argued that a 17-year age gap and growing up in separate cities is why my sister and I have never properly bonded. But the truth is, I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me. Any attempt I have made to get to know her has been thwarted by her obsession with putting our father between us. And so I tried. For a long time I tried to get along with him. For her. For me. Even for him. But in the end I couldn’t handle the repeated cruelty. Not for anyone.

He broke my heart.

Not just once, but on a regular basis.

And I knew if I let him keep doing it, there would be nothing left of me. I couldn’t live my life, or be a parent, and operate in a constant defensive position.

My brother called and asked me when I was coming. I cried. Not for my father, but for my brother, who barely talks to me, and who I wanted so desperately to have a relationship with. I wanted to do this for him, too. But I couldn’t.

My mother didn’t ask me to go. But she said she would go with me, if I went.

I went to see him.

It was a very brief visit. I barely spoke to him. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, because I didn’t want him to have any ammunition against me.

He yelled at my son for making too much noise.

We said goodbye tersely and left. It was the last time I ever saw him.

My brother and sister continued to beg me to come back and see him again, but I knew that was the end for me. I was done.

I wasn’t afraid of seeing him die. I wanted to be able to be what he needed, if he needed me to sit there and tell him I loved him.

But I was afraid he would see it was a lie. And I didn’t want to hurt him.

I hadn’t stopped loving him all at once. It started when he lied about dying the first time and I mourned him and hardened myself to his impending (or so I thought) death. And then, with each repeated hurt, I withdrew a little more, until there was nothing left. I felt nothing for the real him.

I mourned, but it was for the father and relationship I wished I’d had.

And I knew that I couldn’t bear a single cut more. If the last words he ever spoke to me were cruel, I couldn’t bear it. It would tip me over the edge. I couldn’t be haunted by the memory of that moment for the rest of my life.

And so he died. And I felt relief.

Relief that this burden of a man, who had haunted every minute of my consciousness and inspired all my feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, was no longer my responsibility. I no longer had to waste all my energy doing mental gymnastics, trying to figure out what I did wrong and why I could never please him or earn his respect.

I was free.

Because a dead father is easier to explain to people than an estranged father.

Because him being dead means I don’t have to keep trying and failing to fix our relationship.

I finally discovered I could start living for myself, and not just in reaction to him or his actions. I was grateful to find that I could write, without feeling like it would threaten his fragile journalist’s ego or earn his mockery.

I haven’t ever stopped thinking about him. But I’ve started to heal. It’s something I tried to do for such a long time while he was alive, but his continued existence seemed to necessarily dictate his participation in that process. And because he was not forthcoming, I made no progress.

But now that he’s gone, there is only me left to heal our relationship.

I heal.

In bits and pieces, I heal. I still don’t understand why he did all the things that he did, but I’m not angry any more. Without him here to twist the knife, it is easier to feel compassion for him and accept that he can’t change any of it now. He can’t fix it, but he also can’t hurt me anymore. There is comfort in that.

I forgive him.

/rk