Less than 24 hours after reading the stories promoting incest that my father Hank had spent the last three years writing and posting to the internet, I got stuck on the rock of forgiveness.
I’d swallowed the pop culture definition, in which my future happiness and security depended upon extending forgiveness to the man who’d molested me as a kid. Hank the Blank, the same man who then, thirty years later, attracted thousands of fans with stories in which young boys were always eager participants in acts that made my skin crawl to read.
If I wanted to be a wise, sober, evolved person, I must forgive. If I wanted liberation from suffering. If I wanted to be a good man.
I went there immediately. I went there first. And it felt fucking horrible.
Then I read Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, and I came to this passage:
Some survivors attempt to bypass their outrage altogether through a fantasy of forgiveness. This fantasy, like its polar opposite (revenge), is an attempt at empowerment. The survivor imagines that she can transcend her rage and erase the impact of the trauma through a willed, defiant act of love. But it is not possible to exorcise the trauma, through either hatred or love. Like revenge, the fantasy of forgiveness often becomes a cruel torture, because it remains out of reach for most ordinary human beings. True forgiveness cannot be granted until the perpetrator has sought and earned it through confession, repentance, and restitution.
It was only when I read that passage that I felt something like liberation. That I got unstuck. For 31 years I’d tried to be a good boy. I’d crammed 98 percent of my feelings into the farthest darkest corners of myself.
I honestly couldn’t answer Ground Control when he’d ask me what I felt about something. Here I was, the “sensitive” kid, the “sweet” man, and I had no fucking clue what I felt.
“I know depressed,” I told him.
“That’s not a feeling,” he said.
Shit, I thought. I had 31 years of feelings to vent. 31 fucking years. I better start now.
I once remarked to the Manly Fireplug that I had a lifelong attraction to bad boys. Friends or lovers, it didn’t matter. I liked the boys who could tell the world to fuck off.
“That’s cause you’re a bad boy,” he said. It was one of those ah-ha moments. But that was a few years ago, and I stayed stuck on the rock.
After I found Hank’s stories and lost my mind, after I bought a knife for self-protection and positioned myself so that nobody, nowhere, was behind me, so that I could watch everyone and suss out their motives, after I tore Hank the Blank a new one over the phone, after I came home from work every night drenched in my own sweat, after all of that, I gave myself permission to be angry, petty, sullen, and stubborn. I dropped reasonable, diplomatic, and forgiving. I wouldn’t torture myself in the pursuit of “fairness.”
I told myself that if I fucking wanted to say fuck on Dogpoet, I’d fucking do it.
Sometimes a well-meaning person tells me I need to forgive. That it’s the key to my happiness. And sometimes it feels like a cobweb on my face that I just brush off. And sometimes it feels like control, like Hank the Blank himself is imposing his will, trying to bend me to his own fucked-up purpose, and I can’t get away from that person fast enough.
Look, I get it. We don’t want to see people we like suffering. We want to imagine that there could be a tidy resolution to pain, and we gently push our loved ones in that direction.
But there’s nothing tidy about child abuse. There will never be a day in my life that I won’t be affected by it. It’s fucking family. It’s primal. It’s everything. It cuts deeper than anything else, working its way into our marrow. We don’t “walk away” from it. We can’t.
I tried the tidy resolutions and the peremptory forgiveness. I tried whiskey, and meth, and Manhunt, and Playstation, and shoes, and gardening. I got snatches of songs stuck in my head every waking moment for over a year because I couldn’t handle hearing my own thoughts. That way doesn’t work. That way ends with the razor and the gun and the rope.
Look, Hank the Blank isn’t contrite. He doesn’t get it. “It was only an hour of your life,” he told me. Four months ago he made me a promise that he’d seek therapy. I knew it was empty, and I was proven right. Hank the Blank doesn’t deserve forgiveness.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll lug his crap around forever. Four months later I feel less burdened, not more so, because I cut ties with him and decided not to forgive. I’ll feel what I need to feel, once I figure out what a feeling is. I’ll save my love for the people who deserve it.