I’m not shy when talking about the painful bits of life. It was keeping quiet for a very long time that damaged me the most. You know, when I first started to openly talk about the difference between reality and the story spun about how idyllic things had been – so many people were incredibly angry with me. A big focus was put of how I was dishonoring my father and my family, but to be truthful – abuse is what dishonors and destroys a man and his family. Telling the truth does nothing but allow healing to start, if you allow it.
Tara Westover made another interesting point in her book Educated,
“I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.”
I should honestly write the woman a big thank you letter, she helped me process how much healing and writing I still was capable of. I had no idea, to be truthful. So, I’d like to leave you with a short story about something most abusers are capable of – which is knowing the truth of what they are doing. This is a question I have been asked time and again, actually.
‘Do you think he knew what he was doing?’
My answer is always a definitive yes. Here’s where our story begins.
A few years after we moved to Arizona, my parents started going to Death Valley every year right after Christmas. There were small towns with hot mineral springs baths and cozy cabins. We would always stay through New Years Eve because the ballerina, Marta Beckett, gave this extraordinary performance at the Amargosa Opera House that would start around 9 in the evening and end around 11 with intermission. Afterward, there was always a party and you could meet Marta, tour the opera house and the haunted hotel beside it, and take a late night walk through their estatuary garden. It was always perfectly weird and wonderful.
Another thing that was amazing to do was go hiking or for long walks across the fields in Death Valley. Early in the morning or just before dusk, the light was perfect to help you see the sparkle of crystals against all the salt and minerals that lay atop the land like fairy tale glimmering snow. A lot of mornings, my father rose before my mom and I. He would wake me to go with him for a walk at dawn and then to get coffee and hot cocoa at the local cafe.
Before our last winter trip to Death Valley, my parents had some major trouble in their marriage. I took the opportunity to beg my mom to leave and I told her that he was abusive to us. She was shocked that I had said anything like that and forbade me from ever repeating it. I never did, but it came back to haunt me, months and months later.
We were hunting for some crystals and my father was crouched down with a handful he was sorting through. I was very, very, very cold and I needed to pee, so I quietly asked if we could move on. He stayed crouched for a little bit longer and then slowly said,
‘You should know that your mother tells me everything. Everything you say, especially. Well Sara, she told me you said I’m abusive. I’m real hurt by that. Especially because I know that I’m not. You’re a kid who needs to be taught a lot of hard lessons and that’s not abuse. Doing something like this is abuse and I need you to know the difference.’
Suddenly, he grabbed me and slapped across my cheek with his hand full of crystals. I saw bright spots and couldn’t get my breath to cry or scream. But he kept talking anyways.
‘I know what I’m doing. That means I’m not an abuser. I ALWAYS know what I’m doing and it’s for the good of you and your mother. Lessons you need to learn. Abusers don’t know what they’re doing and would do something reckless like that. So today, you learned a valuable lesson. One you don’t need to tell your mom about either.’
Then he brushed my face off, grabbed my hand, and we walked the rest of the way to the cafe. I went to wash my face and we quietly welcomed the rest of the morning with coffee and hot chocolate.