“Why did you never tell your parents?”
“When would I? When my mother was dying of cancer? After when our family was already splintered? When my father was drunk and sobbing at 2am? I couldn’t do that to him, give him something else he couldn’t protect me from.”
“It’s not the child’s job to protect the parent.”
“Maybe not. But it was mine.”
My grandfather died this week.
Or, as I’ve long thought of him, my mother’s father.
He has never been a grandpa to me. Or a Pa, or a Poppi or anything. He has always been an old man my skin cringed away from. He has always been the first man, the one with wandering hands.
I justify it, that it doesn’t hurt, that it doesn’t harm me, because I only remember one time, on the couch, while everyone else was in the dining room. I was giggling, playing, until I wasn’t, and his hands tightened on my arms, then around my chest and like fire stealing air from a room, I was suddenly bereft.
I find myself crying absently at work full with memory. My voice breaks and I run to the bathroom. I make it home somehow and I run the shower long and hot and silently sob, letting loose a scream no one will ever hear. Facts take their stolid, well dressed place in my head, examine their nails and recite:
My grandfather is dead.
He’ll never touch me again.
He’ll never touch my daughters.
This worry, this pain I know I am not alone in, that somehow, they will find us again, pin us down with malice and silence and take, it slips between my lips and I am sudden and surrounded by light, by relief shaped like candy. In my eyes that little 6 year old skips, in a red dress and shiny bob and giggle and disappears into light, free.
I am free of the hands that hurt me. They are all dead.
But so am I, inside it seems.
I have never told my family. I have mentioned it once to my father as he slid off the end of my bed, drunk, sobbing his failures into his hands. I remember comforting him, wishing he’d go to bed already, I had school in the morning. I started to tell my brother once, and stopped, realizing you can’t speak to a rock.
I have told friends, obliquely or not, I have let loose silk ribbons of my truth, but never a chorus of it. Always trapped in my mouth, the lack of detail, the sore of scabbed memories, fenced in. I cannot be a survivor of something I do not remember, can I?
I remember moist hands, trapped breath, the inside of my eyes. Wrong. I can taste the wrong inside me. The world collapses into a moment I carry like a photo, tattered.
Once my father made me hug him, years later.
Wooden. Turn to stone, to water, to incorporeal ether. He can’t touch what he’s already stolen.
I will never tell my father. I could you know, let it slip, color his coffee. Let him carry it.
I won’t. I never will. Today I bury this. Today I have stared into it’s maw, felt my tears and said enough. I have lived with a rock under my heart for far too long, a child in a corner, wistful and quiet. She deserves more.
So he will never know. As a parent, I’d damn well want my daughter to tell me, but as a child, I cannot burden him with anything more. This life has been sweet and sour enough for him. I can protect him. This I can do.
I am relived. I am livid. I am terrified. I am 33 and I am 6. I am crying and smiling and retching as water spills over my back. Noise rushes between my ears and I am seized by finality, and the gaping future before me.
I am free.