Family skeletons

My mom and I have been talking again after about two years of almost complete silence. We’ve been writing letters back and forth, which I think I’ve mentioned. I got a letter from her a few weeks ago saying things I really wanted and needed to hear from her, so our communication has been more open since then. I’m still a little wary, but it’s really good to be honest for the first time maybe ever.

Yesterday I got a letter from her that shocked me. Not the entire thing, but just one part of it. She told me that when he was twelve, my father had a severe stroke.

My father was an emotionally abusive, manipulative, pathological liar. I strongly suspect he had Borderline Personality Disorder (so does my mother) and I’m pretty sure he was also a (literal) psychopath. I say this mostly dispassionately. I suspected his mental illness was at least partly organic (he was a very premature baby in the 1950s; I’m surprised he even survived) and partly environmental. I knew he had a bad childhood, growing up in the middle of a household of eight siblings (out of 18 total) with a father who was also physically and emotionally abusive. I knew he was the black sheep, not that any of the siblings have ever really liked each other. I knew he got picked on by my grandfather.

Then my mother told me that after the stroke, he had to learn to walk and talk again, and all throughout his recovery, his siblings and his own parents tormented him, made fun of him, made life generally difficult for him. There was one story–I vaguely remember this being told, but it was told as a family joke–that the family was on a roadtrip and made a pit stop. He went to the bathroom, and they all decided it would be funny to leave him. When he came out, they were all gone. This was their son and brother who was terribly ill. This was their cruelty.

It is no goddamn wonder that he grew up with a borderline personality.

He abused us, my siblings and me. He was especially awful to my oldest brother. I’ll carry the emotional wounds from his neglect and his emotional barbs and his harshness until I die. But I am filled with sorrow when I think about a poor kid thinking he had been left by the family who hated him for no good reason. It explains so much about my life and the things I witnessed growing up. It explains why we moved halfway across the country away from the whole family. It explains the screaming matches that went on for hours after my grandfather’s funeral and around our visits before my grandmother’s death. It explains why my aunts and uncles on that side made occasional half-assed efforts to contact me and my brother but never talked much to my parents. Nobody ever talked about this, of course.


It also makes my father’s funeral into even more of a circus of absurdity than it already was. I need to write that story just so you can see the┬ábrand of crazy I came from. Because they are fucked up┬ápeople.

I’m not sure how to process this. I still think forgiveness, at least of the type most people encourage, is bullshit that’s made as pre-packaged advice to get someone to shut the fuck up about their pain and get over it already. But since he died, I’ve sought to at least understand him better. I wanted to know what made him the way he was, and what he would have been like if he hadn’t been so patently fucked up. It adds another layer to think that organic brain injury may have had way more to do with his behavior than I had ever thought. It doesn’t excuse anything he did to us, his children, or my mother, his partner, or anybody else he manipulated or abused, but it explains a lot. And it is so, so sad.