“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” – Peggy O’Mara
She walked back to her room and closed the door. It was nicely decorated. There were streams of ribbons colored in black, grays, white, and various shades of pink for a color accent on her wall. The ribbons were dotted upon with vintage postcards, mostly black and white, along with other decorations that dangled to create movement. It was a sanctuary. It was some place to capture her imagination, to allow her to leave her current world, a place where she felt in control.
She sat on her bed. She was mostly in shock but after 16 years of emotional abuse, she felt overall just numb. She had just started realizing that her father was…not normal. She had not yet begun to realize though that she could be the same. That 16-year-old girl is me.
Before I had walked into my room I now remember the defining moment when I first thought “Something is wrong with my dad.” I had come home from school and was working on homework, or not. My dad usually came home at 6. He would make stops once or twice at a buffet to get food for himself and me bottles of a particular water that I liked to drink throughout the week. This week my father forgot his wallet at the cash register. I was unpacking the goods as the accusations began. “It’s your fault that I left my wallet. I buy this water for you and then I leave my wallet because of you!” he bellowed. I shrank, all too familiar with the displacement of anger being directed at me…again. I walked back to me room and sat on my bed. There are more times than not that my father succeeded in making me believe that something was my fault when it really was not. This was not one of them. By that age, I knew I was not to blame and that his primary reason for going to this place was to pick up the buffet food, and only got the water for me out of convenience. It was also not my fault that he left his own wallet that he was handling himself at the restaurant.
The other defining moment was when I was in college. That’s when shit got real. I had a bad case of reverse culture shock when I studied abroad my senior year in college. I returned to Poland, where my father was living, for Christmas vacation after my study abroad experience, completely shaken up. It was the worst winter of my life. I would only like to scratch the surface here. I had a missed my flight from Thailand and had to reschedule a new one back that also included an overnight train from Germany to Poland. I got off of that train completely exhausted. “Hi, I’m here- can you pick me up?” I asked my father. “No, I can’t pick you up. You know how to take the bus” he retorted back.
I picked up my three bags and made my way over to the bus stop. When I finally got home I quickly realized that my father was already drunk; he was also an alcoholic. I tried not to be around him that much when he was like that. So I did what I usually did. I went to my room. Later that night I overhear hear him on the phone with his friend wailing “Oh, my little girl is here back from school, I couldn’t wait to see her.” I thought to myself “Really?” You really couldn’t wait to see me that much that you didn’t pick me up from the train station? You really cared that much that you couldn’t see how hard it was taking three bags on a public bus? You really cherished the time that we were going to spend together by getting drunk before I even arrived?
Yea, I was not fooled that time either. But I still play the fool. I couldn’t help but internalize the feelings of worthlessness onto me. I didn’t know any better as a kid. I know better now as an adult. But I don’t feel better all the time. I feel that pain and sorrow. I struggle with feeling like I am worthy enough to be loved. I struggle with feeling like I belong anywhere.
I see these images of young fathers braiding their daughter’s hair, beautiful brides walking confidently down the aisle with their strong fathers and can’t help but be selfish and think about myself. Of course, I am happy for them, but at the same time, I feel the familiar sharp pain that has haunted me my entire life. It’s the reminder that I don’t have that, not because I didn’t have a father, but because I had a father that would not want to do that with his daughter.
I know why I feel numb all the time. Because I don’t feel I deserve love from others. So I choose to pretend that I don’t feel anything. Any what’s worse is beyond that I just feel worthless. Whenever anybody even responds with empathy or sympathy to my story I play it off with “Oh, thanks but I can speak normally about it because I am far enough away from it now.” I think back to those words and think “That’s not the truth.”
I wish I can end this story on a positive note, one with an uplifting ending. It’s what I’m used to doing already, right? But, I don’t want to. I’m not pretending and making this uplifting because I don’t feel like that right now. And that is okay.
Written by: Anna (Creator of Echo’s Corner)