Monday, February 20, 2017

On Being Broken

Growing up, I liked books that were complicated. I don't mean complicated in plot or characterization, although those things helped. I mean that I liked books which weren't pure fantasy. The first book series I fell in love with, Redwall, was like that. It was about all these mice and hares and badgers fighting hordes of rats and stoats. It was nice that it had some epic heroism and some strong female protagonists. But mostly, I think that I liked that it let good guys die. In so many other books, I knew what was going to happen from page 1. But in Redwall, I never knew who would survive. And that gave the story stakes. Made it feel real. And I liked that.

Growing older, this didn't change. I liked Harry Potter well enough, but I couldn't really connect to it. Harry had it rough, in a way. But his parents were so good. He had such good friends. And, I guess if I'm honest, I was always jealous of him. I wish I'd had people who loved me like that. People who saw me, supported me, cared for me like that. For all Harry's struggling, I just didn't really buy it. I liked book six the most, because it was the darkest. But even at its darkest, there was always this light that I just didn't buy. It didn't seem real.

In high school, there was literature. And I fell in love. So much of what we read was so complex. The Awakening, Catch-22, all those existentialist novels rocked my world. I loved the authors who were so tortured, loved the characters who were so sad. Sylvia Plath and her "Dying/ Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well." Uggh. It kills me.

And then I read Game of Thrones. And GRRM killed off so many characters I felt like I'd gone to heaven. It was horrific, sure. But it felt real. So, so real.

In retrospect, I understand why. Most of my life was brutal. Not in ways you could see. Not in bruises, not in body counts. But in the casual way that people can destroy each other. My family had so much betrayal, so many kangaroo courtrooms. My father would say such nasty things, would so callously and viciously tear my mother, my sister, and I apart until we were broken and simpering. And then, once destroyed, he would magnanimously take an ounce of responsibility and we'd all pretend to like each other again.

I don't know how my mother and my sister felt; I have learned that my own feelings are not everyone else's. But I know I always felt these shows were hollow. My father didn't have a family: he had a group of hostages. And every time I said "I love you" was as much an act of self-preservation as it was the truth.

I think I've spent much of my life trying to explain how all this feels. How it felt to watch my father call my mom a whore. How it felt to watch him win. How it felt to live with my own private Idi Amin, day in and day out for years and years and years. I have spent so much time trying to describe it. But all I keep coming to is devastation. To darkened halls and shattered glass. To his smug, self-satisfied smile. Content to know he had broken us yet again.

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