I knew it would come to an end soon.
It wasn’t difficult to tell. If his increasingly frequent absences weren’t telling, the rage simmering beneath every surface when either of them spoke betrayed the truth. Granted, I was an incredibly intelligent child, but IQ was unnecessary to comprehend my plight. I was living in a domestic war zone and at any minute, a nuclear explosion would decimate the nuclear family they were so hell-bent on preserving for my sake.
My sake. Yes. Because it was healthy to grow up in a home with emotional and psychological abuse thrown around freely. It was normal to bear the brunt of her rage when he wasn’t home. It was for the best that they share a home, even as the resentment grew so thick in the air, it became difficult to see any love that may have once existed. I’d wondered for years if my birth had ruined them, if they would be better off with me gone. I suppose, in a sense, they would have been: they would have parted ways much sooner.
This isn’t to say that I hold myself at fault for their failed union. I once did, but children will bear the brunt of guilt under strange circumstances and sensitive psyches are particularly skilled at such blame-taking. This is merely to say that whenever I hear someone say that a couple is staying together “for the kids”, I want to slap them. I want to shake them and ask if they truly believe that their children are unaware of the animosity. I want them to know that under our covers, we listen to the fighting and wish they would stop, that they would simply divorce already. For you see, none of them are staying together for their children.
They remain together because it’s better the devil you know, and at least the war is familiar.
Children see more than many adults imagine, feel more deeply than some expect. They contain what they can, but it spills forward. Perhaps it’s provoked by years of trauma. Perhaps that one final insult does it at school. There is always that proverbial straw breaking a back. For me, after years of inventing new worlds on paper, years of escaping into music and books, it spilled forward as a head colliding into a metal pole, again and again. The pain was a release valve. To this day, I’m not certain how it began. What I do remember is my then boyfriend thrusting his hand between me and the cool steel and gently saying, “Don’t do that babe.”
Unbeknownst to me then, he’d recently attempted suicide by hanging. To this day, I wonder if the “don’t” was a greater warning, an attempt at shooing me off a dark path.
I look at today’s society, at the increased ease with which people are bullied, harassed, and driven sadly to self-harm and suicide. I wonder if I would have survived, had the internet existed in my difficult years on the same scale as it does now. Then again, home wasn’t much of a reprieve, now was it?
At least, there was music. There was this album, one of the first I chose for myself, the year it finally crumbled away. And one day, over a decade later, I rose and confessed my journey in a classroom, free of the violence that shaped me.
Jeremy – Pearl Jam