It’s been about a month since my father called our family together in the living room and completely broke me.
It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon in our household. Our family had been broken and strained for nearly two and a half years, and I went into the living room expecting an announcement of separation.
Our family had been going through– to put it bluntly– some serious shit. We had major financial struggles for reasons my siblings and I could never put our fingers on. “Baba makes a good sum of money,” we’d always say. “Why can’t we afford rent this month?” Later we discovered that my mother had been putting aside a large sum of my father’s salary to pay for a divorce lawyer.
My parents stopped sleeping in the same bedroom, then speaking to each other altogether.
They often subtly tried to pit us kids against the other parent, which did nothing more than make us resent them both. I had never really understood what people meant by “messy divorce” until I saw my parents stop attempting to hide their marital problems. They only spoke to curse at each other or fight over money.
Being the oldest, I became a watchdog for the younger ones, shielding them from the nastiest bits of my parents’ arguments and letting them know when the coast was clear to go into the kitchen or family room.
I had idolized my father.
When I was a child, I saw him as a champion of human rights and understanding, and as a mouthpiece for my struggles growing up to an immigrant mother with a mental illness. I’d flaunt him to everyone. “Look how cool my dad is,” I always said. “It feels like you’re talking to a friend, not a parent.” Everyone always agreed.
Back to the living room, about a month ago. My father calls the family in the room. My younger sister is gnawing on her nails; she thinks my dad is going to give away her cat. I’m expecting something more calamitous– the divorce. I supportively hold my sister’s hand, and she yanks it away, despising being babied.
She doesn’t understand how serious this is going to be. No one saw what was coming.
“You,” my father said, pointing at me.
Immediately, my mind began shuffling over the past few days. Did I drive past him when I was getting dinner with a group of friends? Did he find out I drove on the freeway when he told me not to? Did he find my social media accounts?
“You fucking cunt.”
There was silence. I had never heard my father use these words, let alone to me. In fact, in my more than 20 years, he hadn’t even raised his voice to me.
“You manipulated us. You purposefully destroyed mine and your mother’s marriage. All this time, I thought it was me who was doing something wrong, but then I realized…it was you.”
No one in the room knew what to do, so they stayed frozen. He continued.
“Yesterday, you said you were at the library, but I know you were at Ryan’s house, getting high and drunk. I saw your car parked outside. I have pictures.”
I had actually been at the library all day. I protested, and he held up his hand.
“Today, I talk. You shut your fucking mouth.”
I did. I felt my sister’s hand slide into mine, and I didn’t pull away. My father continued, accusing me of corrupting my siblings. Of recklessly spending his money. Of getting high at so-and-so’s house when I said I was in class or at work.
“Do you even go to work?” he spat at me. “Or does your income come from you whoring yourself out? Might as well get paid, right?”
He blamed me for the demise of my parents’ marriage, claiming that I did it so I could whore around and keep them distracted. My siblings, bless them, tried to fight on my behalf. He, nicely, sent them out. Then he stood in front of me, breathing heavily after his outburst. I said nothing. My mother, still standing at the side, also remained silent.
“You’re playing a dangerous game here,” my father said. “You are dismissed.”
And just like that, I was sitting at the center of my bed, trying to imagine what I did to merit this. This was the first time in my life that I turned to God, but more out of desperation and aimlessness than anything else. After a short while, I felt I was whispering into the void and stopped.
Then I let myself cry in a way I hadn’t cried in years, which felt good. My siblings let themselves into my room, where they sat on my bed with me and comforted me in silence.
Since then, I haven’t had an actual conversation with my father.
Beyond the necessities (“When will you be home tonight?” and such), we do not speak. I still have not figured out what I did to make him so angry, but I guarantee there is nothing that I have done that would elicit such a reaction.
I won’t lie – I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve been around friends who have been drinking or getting high. I have gone out of the house dressed in a parent-approved outfit, only to change into something else in my car.
But I never do anything that would seriously disrespect or hurt my parents. I don’t go out in short-shorts or tiny crop tops. I don’t sleep around. I have never, despite being around it often, smoked or drank. Not even once.
I have been battling depression for several years now, and I feel that it has compounded since that day.
Every day I think about it. Every day I imagine my future and how my father and I will interact at significant events in my life. Every day I try to think of how I’ll ever forgive him, should he even want my forgiveness. Several times I’ve imagined the relief I will feel when he passes away– then immediately felt horrible for even thinking that way.
I ache for the day I am employed full-time so I can move out and support myself.
My house is toxic and I can feel it suffocating me every time I’m inside. Sometimes I feel like a rambling angsty teenager, but then I remember the words my father hurled at me with such ease and realize that my anger and sadness are justified. This never lasts too long, as I always fall back into the cycle of blame, guilt, and confusion.
I am not his scapegoat. I am not a bad daughter. I will be okay.
I repeat this every time I am overcome by grief but I don’t believe it. I’m not sure if I ever will.