Promised My Friend

by June
(USA )

This isn't abuse, and what did happen is mostly my fault anyway. But my friend disagrees on both counts, it goes.

I often joked as a kid that my father only felt 2 emotions: happiness and anger. Because those are the only feelings I've seen him display. There was yelling, cursing, and insults I don't care to repeat. When he really lost his temper he would start throwing any portable object in the general vicinity. Not directly at me (or whoever had angered him), but he wasn't exactly being careful to miss either. Though if you actually got hit by one it was probably because you were an idiot who didn't know how to take a couple enormous steps back. But as toddlers, we're all pretty dumb.

These...incidents usually lasted about 10-15 minutes. (When he wasn't looking, I was usually checking the clock repeatedly.) Then he would completely calm down and carry on like nothing had happened at all. They were ALWAYS about nothing. For example, someone spilling a drink or breaking a plate.

Bizarrely, when there was something most would consider truly worth getting angry or emotional about, my father was cool as a block in an icehouse. Sometimes I wonder if he was truly angry at all-if he ever truly lost control, or if he just pretended to in order to keep control. I once saw him go into a (seemingly) homicidal rage and threaten to throw a man on the subway tracks...only to laugh about it with me the minute after the guy ran away, explaining how it was all for intimidation purposes. And another time I overheard him bragging to a friend about how my brother and I were the most well-behaved kids in the neighborhood, and he managed to make this happen without ever laying a hand on making us value his approval, then strategically taking it away whenever needed.

I can't remember the vast majority of my early childhood. Just a few vague flashes of happiness, a bunch of confusing and vaguely frightening images, and then I draw a blank.

Emotion was considered weakness to be quashed. Ex:

When my brother was a baby, he needed to go to the emergency room for this huge cut on his head (my brother was always busting his head open). My brother needed stitches, and I was in the waiting room crying. My dad was trying to puzzle out exactly why I was so upset. (None of my dad's whispered orders for me to get a hold of myself were working, so he knew it must be serious.) I don't talk very much in person, and in addition I was crying too hard to speak, so I wasn't answering his questions. So in the end my dad decided that the reason why I was so upset must be because I felt helpless sitting in the waiting room doing nothing. So he was going to bring me back with him to watch and calm my brother down while the doctors stitched him up. That sounded absolutely terrifying. I quickly choked my tears down and said I felt a lot better, sitting stony-faced for the rest of the day.

Whenever a grandparent or elderly distant relative died and we had to go to their funeral, I sat with my dad in the back of the funeral parlor, and he would make jokes about the ridiculousness of it all and I would have to try to laugh quietly enough so that nobody else would hear. I knew intellectually that it was sad that they had died but...I just didn't...feel much emotionally. It wasn't that I was in shock either, because it's been years now and I still don't.

Besides the dramatic incidents, I would generally be punished for any emotional outbursts. I can't help thinking of expressing things like anger and sadness, even now, as something that's bad.

When my parents were separating when I was sixteen, things got ugly. When I found out about my mom having an affair (I didn't find out about any of my dad's until later) I was the angriest I had ever been...but I still managed to calmly have dinner with her 15 minutes later without hinting at anything being wrong. And keep pretending for 6 months because that's what my dad wanted. I can always think around my anger, and suppress it entirely to the recesses of my mind if there's a reason to do so, even without completely letting it go. It's why I was so good at information-gathering for my dad.

Then things went from bad to worse. My father was sent to prison, and my mother spent every moment possible boinking her boyfriend and spending time with HIS children, instead of with me and my brother, filling the void left by my dad being gone. Incredibly, through the prison email system, my father actually managed to be more present in my life from a prison across the state than he was while living in the same house. I basically forced her to drive us the 2 and 1/2 hours both ways to visit my father in prison. If she didn't, I became rather insufferable to live with. She resented me for this immensely because she claimed my father emotionally abused her.

But anyway, the whole debacle really and truly ruined my relationship with my mother for good. At least we can talk to each other now, but only about surface-level things.

So how did this affect me? Well, I was depressed and suicidal that year, and had planned in detail how I was going to overdose on Tylenol on Thanksgiving Day (for maximum irony-after a speech/letter about all the things I WASN'T thankful for) if my father didn't win his Appeal. He did win, and so here I sit today. I would've killed myself earlier if my dad didn't actually use his...persuasive abilities to convince me of how wonderful life would be if he won his Appeal and got out, and that I should keep going for that. Some of it was exaggeration, but I don't begrudge him that, since it was done for the purpose of saving my life and all. I'm not an ungrateful b***h. :)

And after he got out he became a better person. He didn't actually apologize for anything. He never talks about it, and neither do I. We both just kind of pretend that we've quite forgotten.

I almost DID forget, or at least bury it. Until while I was talking to my friend who had had been abused, this memory just...resurfaced.

When I was young, I had these 3 pet chickens. I live in suburbia, but there are no rules against it per se. I named them Cynthia, Bumblebee, and Via. Yeah, I did name a chicken Bumblebee. Because that's just how I roll. I loved them. Whenever I was sad, my ex-best friend brought them up because the mere mention of them made me smile.

Now my dad didn't like animals. He's allergic to anything with fur, so I didn't have many pets growing up. But chickens have feathers, and don't make noise or dirty up the house, so they were perfect. But he still didn't want them around. I don't know why.

So one day he told me that, and said that if I didn't let him kill them then he and my mom would get into a big fight and possibly get a divorce. I was a kid and I feared my parents divorcing more than anything. So eventually I gave my permission. And my dad chopped off their heads.

I regretted it after, and when a friend of my parents asked where they were I started​ crying. My dad took pride in me and my brother being the most well behaved kids in the neighborhood, so crying in front of someone and then running out of the room like that...was not looked upon kindly. My dad was not pleased to say the least. He told me that there was no logic in my sadness considering that if I really cared about them dying I could have stopped it. Then he made me force a smile, go back, and apologize for being so rude.

I guess in a way he was​ right about what he said, and maybe I don't deserve to mourn for them, complicit in their deaths as I was. I never cried for them again. Not only was it pointless and hypocrisy, but I felt too guilty. But I did decide that since I couldn't help what happened and I couldn't bring them back to life, I would do the next best thing and become a vegetarian. That way I could save other animals even if I didn't save them. And that way their lives had value, even if they ended too soon.

I'm okay, I guess. Mostly.

I just don't...feel much for most people. Even people I call my friends. I enjoy being with them and would never wish them harm, but if they walked out of my life tomorrow I wouldn't feel anything. Our relationship is so shallow I can barely call it that. In-person I can't open up to people. Even when I plan to, I just can't force the words out of my throat. Even if the person is my friend and perfectly nice, I can't shake my fears that I'll either be judged and they'll think I'm a horrible person or that what I say will be used against me someday.

I feel more connected emotionally with the characters I create than I do with most people I know.

Instead of the pleasure most people feel at physical affection, I feel only a growing discomfort. It doesn't matter whether it's platonic or romantic. It's still an exercise in sheer willpower not to pull away, or slap people's hands off, or noticeably cringe. But I've always been like that.

And my friends occasionally comment on my rather...unusual ideas about morality. Such is what happens when you hear one thing from one parent and another thing from the other.

Example: My mother said that lying is wrong and that there should be no secrets in families, only surprises. My father said that such hard-and-fast rules were only for the simple-minded like my mother, and that luckily I was intelligent enough to understand. Then he said that in the real world you can't get through a day without lying, sugarcoating, purposefully omitting, etc. and that people don't want the truth. He also said that the ability to keep secrets is what makes someone trustworthy, that only pathetic attention seekers blab, and paid in ice cream for secrets kept.

I usually try to find a balance between my mother and father's POVs about morality.

So...I guess that's all for now. This is not really abuse, I know, but my friend INSISTED that it was and that I find someone to talk to. So now I shall consider my promise kept.

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