Father hit my head and kicked me to the ground with ferocity. The shock of the blow surged through my brain like a lightning bolt. “Next time answer me when I ask you a question!” he shouted, then he kidnapped my cousin. They left in the early afternoon and returned in the evening. It was summertime in Maryland, deceptively tranquil, the air felt soft and thick, balmy, an invisible blanket of mist permeated the air like a sauna and starlit fireflies blinked mysterious codes of danger and love.
As the hours passed, I hovered by the front windows anxiously. Thoughts streamed through me, I imagined that Steve was dead, accidentally killed by my father. I felt ashamed and responsible for all the unknowns of what was happening. Then the Big White Van reappeared, like an elusive, metal Moby Dick, it slowly crumbled and crackled over the raw shards of gravel that formed our driveway. Steve exited the van hunched over like a homeless ex-celebrity entering rehab, he was black-eyed, with watery eyes blurry and swollen, his arms were etched with red threadlike lines, the imprint of anorexic branches.
Earlier that day with a fallen branch, I aimed against his bare sleeved arms in complete meltdown fury. Steve said my brother was my lover, that’s what started the epic battle. At that time, I would’ve fought anyone who badmouthed him. My brother was my favorite person in the world. He protected me and everyone in our family, saved even our troubled father. He was the only consistently safe person in my family, I loved him the way a child believes in eventual good, he was my anchor to reality. He took the beatings that were meant for us, he sacrificed himself without self-concern. He was always innocent but he took the punishments and helped us to survive. Steve’s perverted joke triggered me. I was a dormant weapon in full release. I morphed into an avenger, an unceasing destroyer. In complete volcanic apocalypse, I upturned his sweat stained laundry, tossed them in his face and threw what little he had, throughout the moldy, blue, shag carpeted, basement room.
He surprisingly wouldn’t fight back, maybe because he was 7 yrs older than me. I was a feisty, but puny 11 yr old. I repeatedly shouted at him, “You liar!” like a mantra, while he defensively ducked and laughed and backed away from my childish helicopter blows. I pushed and chased him throughout the house, infuriated even more by his mocking laughter. Then I followed him outside and started shouting crazily about his dark asian skin, how it was un-aristocratically dark, (but so was Mine). I was a subconscious victim of Colonialism. I knew the lighter your skin color, the higher your rank. I wanted to destroy him with every overheard inherited insult, every hateful phrase in the world. I never thought I was a racist before, but in that insane moment I was, I couldn’t stop pouring poison onto him with my curses and the rough barked branch that I swung like a baseball bat. It gripped onto his skin and scraped it badly, he bleed, and pushed me back angrily. I knew violence and racism was wrong, but I was out of my mind with fury. WASP neighbors sunning nearby in their glinting swimming pool stared a-gasp, shocked at the violent spectacle of us.
Even after my sister approached, I wouldn’t stop shouting and swinging my club. She then (insanely) called our violent father to referee the fight; that’s when Father pushed and kicked me, face down onto the sharply pebbled gravel driveway, (because I refused to explain why the fight was happening). I couldn’t tell Him about the incest joke against my innocent brother, because He was the one who actually molested me.
Since I was a toddler until I turned 10, before my flat chest started developing, he made me sit next to him or in his lap, while he fondled my bare skinned chest. He stuck his hand under my bra-less shirt and violated my space. I dreaded those sessions that he did openly in front of my siblings and mother. When he called me to sit next to him, the living room would clear. No one wanted to witness what was happening. Sometimes my mother would relieve my distress by calling me to help her to cook. We all pretended that his touching me was normal, but he only molested me while we were home, never in public or at church, so if it was an innocent gesture of protective love, (he would repeatedly say, “I’m the family doctor,”) if it was really so altruistic, why was it only performed in the privacy of our prison-like home?
“You misunderstood.” my mother and siblings repeatedly told me as an adult, “You imagined a sexual intent.” My imagination was strong, but I guarantee that no child would voluntarily imagine their parent as a pervert without due cause. A child’s love and loyalty to their parent was unconditionally set, even after physical or sexual abuse, most children continued to love and protect their abuser.
As a tortured child, who’s now an independent adult, I am both protective and revealing. I don’t want vengeance, I want healing, and the most direct path to it is truth. Years later as an adult, I apologized to my cousin for the violence I enacted on him and for my father’s additional subsequent rage. Steve forgave me immediately, said it wasn’t a problem. He said what happened was really his own fault. “You’re smart and strong, much smarter than I was.” he said.
Cousin Steve was always clownishly humble. He was the willing goofball, laughing stock, scapegoat. He had a thick Korean accent and always answered the phone with, “Yellow”. He was always trying to be funny and that’s why his stoicly authoritarian Father didn’t respect him. His father treated him like a disappointment, but Steve shrugged the rejection off. I pitied him because he was an obviously unwanted outsider in my family, but especially after our violent fight, I felt monstrous, an extension of evil, just like my father.
He never held a grudge against me, even immediately after he was beaten by Father, he apologized to me sincerely with busted eyes and bruised body, and I believe he meant what he said. I still feel the weight of guilt about what happened all those years ago, the memories tunnel through and seep out and even though he forgave me, I’m still ashamed of the rage that existed inside of me. But naming it has the medicinal power to diffuse it, suppression of rage and grief is an explosion that has to be released safely. In writing all of this, in excavating the disavowed mistakes of the past, remnants of repressed grief elevates into art, pain evolves into the alchemy of transformation, the miracle of extreme pressure, the transcendence of coal into diamonds.